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Raging Fire (Nou Fo, 怒火)

Director – Benny Chan – 2021 – Hong Kong – Cert.15 – 126m

***1/2

A cop comes up against his former disillusioned protégé who is now the mastermind behind a criminal gang – in cinemas from Friday, November 12th

A big deal is about to go down. Uber-honest cop Cheung Sung-bong (Donnie Yen) heads a unit constantly in trouble with his superiors owing to his refusal to take pay offs and play their corruption game. They consequently repeatedly block him from accessing supplies and equipment he and his men need to properly do their job. This has gone on for years, with officers cracking under the inevitable strain from time to time. One such is his protégé Yau Kong-ngo (Nicholas Tse), booted off the force for beating a suspect to death. Cheung has kept in touch with him in the interim.

The night of the big deal, Cheung is denied his team’s required equipment and consequently arrives late to the scene of the incident. The absence of Cheung’s expertise on site causes a fellow police colleague to be killed along with various gang members. Unbeknownst to Cheung, the second gang involved in the deal – which double-crosses the first – is headed up by the disillusioned Yau.… Read the rest

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Collectors (도굴)

**1/2

Director – Park Jung Bae – 2020 – South Korea – Cert. 12 – 114m

A disparate group of tomb raiders attempt to outwit each other to find and obtain a valuable archaeological artifact in this lightweight, comedy caper – from LKFF, the London Korean Film Festival which runs in cinemas from Thursday, November 4th to Friday, November 19th

A grave hunter probing the earth with a cane-like tool hits an object several feet down. Putting his ear to the Earth, he hears a muffled child’s voice: “help me”. Horrified, he starts to dig the earth with his bare hands.

A strikingly graphic 2D-animated title sequence, in two-tone light ochre and black, with hands reaching out to one another through shafts of light, a boy crawling up an underground tunnel, a boy and girl reunited with an adult, a man crawling between multi-storey buildings by rope, high heeled female legs walking through a museum display of cultural artifacts, lots of modern urban imagery including driving a fast sports car through a city, lots of underground digging / mining imagery and a couple of male characters, one looking suspiciously like Indiana Jones, complete with hat and whip.

Burial alive is just one of the many disparate elements thrown together in this lightweight, comedy caper which combines historical Korean archaeology with grave robbing, double-cross, a super rich, big business villain, ruthless gangsters, Seoul locations, and a happy-go-lucky wheeler-dealer thief hero.… Read the rest

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A Moment Of Romance (Tin Joek Yau Ching, 天若有情)

Director – Benny Chan – 1990 – Hong Kong – Cert.18 – 92m

***1/2

When a biker and gang member on the lam from a jewel heist takes a well-to-do girl hostage then falls for her, their romance is doomed – from the London East Asia Film Festival (LEAFF), on now

Gang member Wah (Andy Lau) is the archetypal bad boy who, in the opening sequence, speeds through a narrow gap between two lorries and wilfully breaks a wing mirror on a stationary police vehicle as he rides past. Director Chan keeps up the mayhem with a sequence of two competing lorries on a makeshift racing circuit, each with a pretty girl standing on top – until one of them crashes into a stationery car sending the falling girl through its windscreen and scattering the onlookers as the police approach.

Ascendant gang member Trumpet seems to have it in for Wah and puts him on getaway car duty for a jewel heist. Wah must improvise when cops happen by chance to turn up outside the building while the crime is in progress and during the ensuing pursuit by car, in which he gets the robbers successfully away from the scene, and on foot, his only way of escaping the cops is to take an innocent bystander hostage.… Read the rest

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Taste Of Tomato (蕃茄田)

Director – Li Ho – 2019 – Hong Kong – Cert. N/C 15+ – 30m

***1/2

A human finger fragment turns up inside a tomato in an out of town vegetable plot – FREE TO VIEW in the UK in the Fresh Wave short films strand of Focus Hong Kong 2021 Easter from Wednesday, March 31st to Tuesday, April 6th

Four characters in a vegetable garden out of town, three men and one woman. No names are exchanged. Some pretty basic living conditions. It’s not exactly clear what they do for a living, but snatches of conversations give hints. One talks about removing two kidneys from a man who, when they opened him up, turned out to have four. So he took out two as a favour, because the guy would probably have died had he left them in. There’s a pre-title sequence in which a man drives through a long underpass, parks at a garden in the dark then starts digging. Intimations of cloak and dagger lifestyles.

Events start to leave a strange taste in the mouth when one of them bits into a tomato and summons the others to show them it contains about an inch’s worth of dead human finger (the bit with the fingernail).… Read the rest

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Ishiro Honda Double Feature: The H Man (Bijo to Ekitai-ningen, 美女と液体人間) and Battle In Outer Space (Uchu Daisenso, 宇宙大戦争)

The H Man

*****

Director – Ishiro Honda – 1958 – Japan – Cert. X – 86m

Battle in Outer Space

*****

Director – Ishiro Honda – 1959 – Japan – Cert. U – 90m

Alongside the standalone release of Mothra (1961) comes a double bill of two more Toho science fiction movies directed by Ishiro Honda with special effects by Eiji Tsuburaya: , The H Man (1958) and Battle In Outer Space (1959). The Toho studio is associated more with monster movies than any other genre, notably Godzilla (1954) and Mothra. The superior entries in this cycle tend to be the ones they directed, including the initial 1954 film which ticked all the right boxes to prove a massive success.

When no-one at Toho was quite sure what had made Godzilla work, the pair collaborated on a number of different SF films before everything came together on Mothra. The H Man is a monster film dressed up in gangster trappings while Battle in Outer Space is an epic with space stations, flying saucers, rocket ships, an alien moon base and alien mind control… [read more]

Over at All The Anime, I review Eureka!’s Ishiro Honda double bill Blu-ray.

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One Night (Hitoyo, ひとよ)

Director – Kazuya Shiraishi – 2019 – Japan – Cert. N/C 15+ – 123m

****1/2

A woman murders her violent husband after years of his beating up the kids, goes to prison then returns 15 years later to find the siblings in turmoil – played online in the Japan Foundation Touring Programme 2021 in the UK

A night of torrential rain proves a defining moment in the lives of the Inamura family which owns and runs a taxi business. Koharu (Yuko Tanaka – Princess Mononoke, 1997) enters, dressed in her usual suit she wears to drive customers around, to announce to her three teenager children, “I’ve just killed your father. Nobody will ever beat you again. You can live however you want. You’re totally free.” Expressing no remorse and convinced she’s done the right thing, she promises to return in fifteen years then disappears to hand herself in to the cops.

Koharu’s designs of freeing her kids from their father’s years of violent abuse don’t quite play out the way she had hoped. Their father would beat them for any suggestion that they’d want to do anything other than work in the family taxi business. The eldest Daiki (Ryohei Suzuki – Our Little Sister, Hirokazu Kore-eda, 2015; Tokyo Tribe, Sion Sono, 2014) is a stutterer whose relationship with wife Fumiko (Megumi) is mired in divorce proceedings as he struggles to hold down a regular job.… Read the rest

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The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil (Akinjeon, 악인전)

Director – Lee Won-Tae – 2019 – South Korea – Cert. 15 – 109m

****

Better the devil you know. A no-nonsense cop and a ruthless gangland boss join forces to catch a serial killer in this South Korean thrilleron BBC Four Sunday, March 7th 22.00 and for one year after

Violent motorist Kang Kyung-ho (Kim Sungkyu) tailgates cars then after he and they have both pulled over stabs their unsuspecting drivers to death. One night, he picks mob boss Jang Dong-su (Ma Dong-seok) who fights back and gets away, inflicting wounds on the killer despite being first stabbed in the back. Meanwhile, his nemesis, cop Jung Tae-suk (Kim Mu-Yeol), is pursuing the same serial killer. Cop and gangster enter into an uneasy alliance to catch the murderer.

As South Korean gangster and crime movies have developed in recent decades, they’ve generally become slicker and, on one level, technically more proficient. Yet on another level, earlier South Korean gangster movies, while rougher around the edges, often have a lot more going on underneath the surface. This one however, while covering everything with the contemporary, superficially fast-paced and slick veneer with lots of impressive car chases and extremely violent one-on-one or group fights, achieves much more interesting dynamics beneath the slick, mass produced veneer.… Read the rest

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ManHunt (Zhui bu, 追捕)

Director – John Woo – 2017 – China, Hong Kong – Cert. 15 – 109m

*****

Hong Kong action director John Woo’s return to form – currently on Netflix.

The late Japanese actor Ken Takakura who died in 2014 appeared in more than 200 films and made his name playing ex-cons and gangsters for Toei studios between the mid-fifties and mid-seventies. He was a major inspiration for Hong Kong director John Woo who here remakes the 1976 Takakura vehicle Manhunt.

Du Qiu (Chinese actor Zhang Hanyu) finds himself in a Japanese bar swapping notes on movies with the mama-san Rain (Korea’s Ha Ji-won). Almost immediately, a loutish group of men in suits storm into the same bar to demand he leaves so she can give them her full attention. Once he’s gone, Rain and her partner Dawn (the director’s daughter Angeles Woo) proceed to gun down the suits, the camera whirling around them as Woo choreographs the mayhem.

Du is a lawyer working for a pharma company. The morning after a huge corporate event he wakes up to find a dead woman (Tao Okamoto) lying next to him in his bed. Implicated in her murder, he goes on the run.… Read the rest

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Pixie

Director – Barnaby Thompson – 2020 – Ireland – Cert. 15 – 93m

***1/2

A free-spirited, rule-bending Irishwoman takes on a world of small-time gangsters from the inside – in cinemas from Friday, October 23rd

The West of Ireland. Fergus (Fra Fee) and Colin (Rory Fleck Byrne) have received a tip-off about a shipment coming to a country church. Colin has recently split with longtime girlfriend Pixie. Entering the vestry and presumably expecting gangster types, the pair are surprised to find four priests, two who are visiting from Afghanistan “to discover the lessons we’ve learned from dealing with the IRA”. Our two protagonists, suspicious that Catholics don’t exist in Afghanistan, find themselves in a shoot out. After which, they discover the bag containing the drugs shipment.

We’ve not even met the central character yet. Pixie (Olivia Cooke) adores and dotes on her gangster stepfather Dermot O’Brien (Colm Meaney) but hates and distrusts her quick-tempered stepbrother Mike. She heads out to drink tequila in a bar where, coincidentally, Frankie (Ben Hardy) and Harland (Daryl McCormack) are picking up pills from Daniel (Chris Walley). Frankie always fancied Pixie and, encouraged by Daniel’s lewd, drugs-fuelled suggestions regarding Pixie’s sexual proclivities, Frankie, with Harland in tow, drives out to Pixie’s remote house at two in the morning.… Read the rest

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A Dirty Carnival (Biyeolhan Geori, 비열한 거리)

Director – Yoo Ha – 2006 – South Korea – 140m

*****

As GoodFellas as it gets! Yoo Ha’s gangster film compares favourably to Scorsese’s classic on many levels, an underrated dirty gem of Korean noir – from the London Korean Film Festival (LKFF) 2017

Byung-doo, 29, (Jo In-sung) is a smart, lean and hungry gangster on the mean streets of Seoul, in A Dirty Carnival. As a debt collector he successfully collects payments from difficult customers. Yet his immediate boss Sang-chul (Yun Je-mun) pays him so little that Byung-doo must constantly beg him for the money to pay his mother’s apartment rent. Looking out for those beneath him and determined to better himself in the wider organisation, Byung-doo realises that its overall boss Hwang (Chun Ho-jin) would like nothing more than to get the sycophantic Prosecutor Park (Kwon Tae-won) off his back. Sang-chul clearly isn’t going to do anything about it so Byung-doo takes the task upon himself. He and one of his men drive into the back of Park’s car in a secluded spot and he kills the prosecutor when they get out of their cars to exchange details.

Byung-doo’s best mate Min-ho (Min Nam-koong) is an aspiring film director who can’t sell the script for the gangster film on which he’s working because the studio producer he approaches doesn’t think it’s realistic enough.… Read the rest