[u]Master of the Flying Guillotine[/u] (1975, Yu Wang) - [color=red][/color]
Not much to be said about this film. By now everyone knows it, and everyone knows it's fairly entertaining. I didn't think it was the exceptional be all and end all of kung fu films like some have said, however. It's an entertaining story, but takes too long setting itself up. The low budget hurts it a bit. There's some questionable screenwriting problems. A couple fights are underwhelming. All in all, though, that's really it. I suppose some of these could be nitpicks more than actual flaws, and that's true. It's not a great film, but it's damn good and a whole lot of ridiculous fun. For the most part it's quite entertaining.
I really enjoyed the martial arts tournament that is held early in the film. It's a great showcase for a lot of different styles, and there's some really great fights in there. I loved the fight with Win Without a Knife, a sneaky Japanese who takes his opponent to town with tonfas and proves his name false. There's a great fight where a guy with rope beats a guy with a sword while fighting over a sword pit. The weapon fight that starts it off is awesome. And, of course, who doesn't love the Indian with extending arms? The Muay Thai boxer was pretty cool, too, and the girl who fought using Eagle's Claw was cute.
Yu Wang was excellent as the One-Armed Boxer. He's a great hero. Kang Kam was equally excellent as the Master of the Flying Guillotine. He's a great villain. The weapon itself wasn't quite what I was expecting, but it's still pretty cool. It's like this flying hat that rips your head off. The conclusion of the film is a really great set piece. The One-Armed Boxer and his students devise a plan to take the foreigners out of the picture one by one, so that the One-Armed Boxer can take on the assassin one on one. It's a really cool plan, and the fight scenes during this part were exceptional. Very, very entertaining stuff. I only wish the Indian made it to the end. He has extending arms! So cool!
I first heard about this film because of the notorious MTV edit, featuring dubbing from various rap and hip hop stars, like Andre 3000 and Big Boi. It sounded pretty funny: it's a film about a bunch of kids beating each other up with psi powers, after all. But people told me [u]Volcano High[/u] was worth seeing in its original form, because while the MTV edit is "stupid," the original Korean edit is "spectacular," or some such nonsense. So I skipped the MTV edit (which I still think I want to see anyways; if it's as great as that [u]Kung Faux[/u] show, it should be amusing) and went straight to the source. Spectacular? Yes, if they meant "spectacularly bad."
From what I could gather, [u]Volcano High[/u] is about a bunch of kids who, for no reason, have psi powers, and who, for no reason, beat each other up, and who, for no reason, want to get their hands on this scroll that, for no reason, will put an end to some teacher war that, for no reason, is being waged, and which, for no reason, is never actually discussed in the film. To put it simply: I have no idea what the fuck this shit is suppose to be about. To call the story and plot in this film paper thin and undeveloped would be an insult to paper thin and undeveloped stories and plots everywhere. [u]Volcano High[/u] just might take the prize of being the most nonsensical film I've seen all year. It is sloppy, poor storytelling through and through. Terrible narrative, no cohesion as far as plot goes, completely undeveloped and near absent story and characters, and just a whole lot of inconsistency in terms of premise, characterization, tone, etc. It's extremely absurd and, quite frankly, annoying to the nth degree. Watching this film is like randomly banging your head against a wall for two hours. It's repetitive and without any discernable point.
There is some good in this, I suppose. Certainly, it can be a very amusing film, and certainly, I would much rather watch this again than, say, [u]Blade: Trinity[/u]. Sometimes this film is so nonsensical that, well, it's a lot of fun. A random subplot with this young girl who tries to get Kyeong-su to join the rugby team is so fucking weird and funny, and I really enjoyed the antics of Ryang, the leader of the weightlifting team and the toughest kid at school. There's a lot of comedy in this film, and I must confess that I was indeed laughing quite a bit. It's just so fucking silly! But the best part is everyone's hair. I couldn't get over how ridiculous everyone's hair was in this film. Kyeong-su's hair isn't anything too extreme, but then we have Ryang, who has this giant set of wavy hair with yellow and red bangs, and the leader of the Judo team (I forget her name), who has this hard, zig zag patterened hair weaving all over her head, looking almost as if it was drawn on in some anime. What's with the crazy hair? I don't know, but I love it.
And now we get to the real reasons I really hated [u]Volcano High[/u]. Sure, it being the most annoyingly nonsensical film I've seen all year was pretty painful and boring. But what makes it even worse is that it's ridiculously bloated. This film clocks in over two hours, and there's barely enough story here for two minutes. It becomes a bloated, boring, stretched out, pain inducing film with this runtime, and made sitting through that much more aggravating. You'd think a film about psi battles wouldn't be so fucking boring, but it is. But wait - there's more! You'd also think psi battles would be really entertaning. But they're not. The action in this film blows pretty hard. The special effects suffice, and there's no CGI stunt doubles which was appreciated. Overall, the look of the fight scenes is impressive, and the climactic one on one fight was certainly fun at times and quite stylish. But overall, the fight scenes feature really poor and uninspired choreography, and terrible, random editing. It's the most simplistic, unimpressive shit ever. How can you actually take psi battles and make them so pedestrian? It's crazy! I didn't think it was possible. But [u]Volcano High[/u] succeeds with flying colors. It's just a terrible, annoying, and hardly entertaining film.
Towards the end of his career, Akira Kurosawa decided to share with the world what went on in his little old Japanese head when he went to sleep. Unfortunately for us, his dreams were pretty damn boring. In his third to last film, [u]Dreams[/u], Kurosawa rocks our proverbial socks with some jaw dropping style, featuring some of the best use of color I've seen in quite some time, and a memorable synthesis of music and visuals. In fact, the score is probably my favorite part of the film (well, besides the Martin Scorsese cameo). But between these eight segments, all of them are far too insubstantial to really have any kind of effect, be it while watching or long afterwards. Look at the pretty pictures! I said, half falling asleep.
Like many of the films from Kurosawa's early period ([u]Drunken Angel[/u], [u]No Regrets For Our Youth[/u], etc.), [u]Dreams[/u] can be far too simplistic and heavy handed for its own good. This is especially fatal when it comes to the fact that these are supposedly the man's dreams. How many people do you know who dream of an old man talking to you for ten minutes about how "technology bad, nature good"? Alright, so maybe Kurosawa really did dream like that. Who am I to say? But good Lord, then, am I glad I'm not the same. And translating such dreams to film is simply not going to work. At least, not for me. Take, for instance, [i]Mount Fuji in Red[/i], which is nothing but the last three survivors of a nuclear power plant explosion rambling about how man is just going to kill himself with such technology. No thanks, Big K. [u]Dreams[/u] is simply too much talk, not enough show, and far too obvious for its own good.
Thankfully, not every segment is as bad as [i]Mount Fuji in Red[/i], though most were similarly unsatisfying to varying degrees. The one segment I can honestly say I enjoyed was [i]Crows[/i], simply because it was so much damn fun, and by far the most eye popping segment. Martin Scorsese even has a cameo as Vincent Van Gogh! The beginning of this segment, when one of Van Gogh's paintings transforms into a real scene, was breathtaking. Watching Akira Terao hop around in various paintings of Van Gogh was really amusing, and had me smiling like an idiot. I also have a soft spot for [i]The Peach Orchard[/i], simply because of the dance of the dolls sequence. That was the best example of the synthesis of music and visuals in the movie. Absolutely beautiful stuff. Overall, it's easy to love [u]Dreams[/u] for its style. It's full to the brim with great music and visuals.
Where [u]Dreams[/u] ultimately goes wrong is in how each segment is ultimately too short, too monotonous, and as previously mentioned, too simplistic and heavy handed to be anything other than insubstantial. A lot of these dreams come down to people just talking about a certain topic in the most direct, simplistic way. How the hell can dreams be so monotonous, obvious, and dull? It's beyond me. Each dream is also far too short, which must be mentioned. There isn't enough time for any to make an impression because they're all over before they even begin. There isn't enough time given to draw one in and develop interest. It kept me disconnected by shifting to a new story with every blink of an eye. [i]Sunshine Through The Rain[/i] ends just when it feels like it's getting good, for example. [u]Dreams[/u] would have been better, I think, by being a hell of a lot longer or by cutting the number of segments down to, say, four or five, and just fleshing those out.
[u]Dreams[/u] isn't really a bad film. I can't call it a bad film. Admittedly, I did enjoy some of the segments to various degrees, and the style is just amazing. The colors! The music! Martin Scorsese! Some of the segments have really nice editing and rhythm, too, especially the first two ([i]Sunshine Through The Rain[/i] and [i]The Peach Orchard[/i]). But for all its jaw dropping worth, it's simply too insubstantial. Segments are too short and too obvious to develop any kind of connection with myself as a viewer. I was never really involved with the film beyond a "look at the colors!" level, and afterwards, there was no lingering effect. It just isn't a meal, you know? I had an appetite for a good movie, and [u]Dreams[/u] left me as hungry afterwards as I had been before. I appreciate its technical craft, but come on Big K; those dreams just aren't interesting. If [u]Dreams[/u] is any indication, Kurosawa's late period (which, for the sake of argument, I will define as his color films) is every bit as rocky and problematic as his early period (which, for the sake of argument, I will define as his pre-[u]Rashomon[/u] films). Oh well, at least he partied hard during the 50s and 60s.
[u]The Steamroller and the Violin[/u] (1960, Andrei Tarkovsky) - [color=seagreen][/color]
[u]The Steamroller and the Violin[/u] is the school thesis film of legendary Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky. Running only 45 minutes long, it is a short film about a brief relationship between a young musician, Sasha (Igor Fomchenko) and a construction worker, Sergei (Vladimir Zamansky). Sasha is the violin and Sergei the steamroller of the film's title. It is a simple, sentimental tale of making friends in unlikely places, and what each character teaches the other. Sasha represents the artist, and Sergei the everyday working man. The film is ultimately about how the artist can inform the working man, and vice versa; it is about what each has to offer to the other.
There are political and social motives at work behind this film, as we see in the artist and working man relationship of the narrative and the backdrop of old Russia being torn apart in the advent of a new Russia being built. Unfortunately, what I know of Russian history is little, and thus I'm not the person to be asking about specifics, as I have no idea exactly what Tarkovsky is looking at in late 1950s Russia. I can, however, tell you whether or not the narrative, the story being told, works. It sort of does, but not nearly as much as I would have liked. And the style is poor. Tarkovsky is still a student and it does show.
The cast of the film does effective work all around, and at times [u]The Steamroller and the Violin[/u] can be a charming, enjoyable film. Unfortunately, the characters and the main relationship are really short changed. That could be because of the short runtime, but given the laid back pace and an extremely long introduction, there was more than enough time to explore this relationship more. As it is, it feels rather contrived, like Tarkovsky was just content to throw them together suddenly, run through a few scenes, arrive at a climax that is underwhelming and unaffecting thanks to all the short changing, and end the film. Tarkovsky just doesn't give enough to work with. Honestly, the film feels rather rote, like Tarkovsky just stuck it on autopilot. The style would seem to confirm that.
Tarkovsky's camera doesn't do much here, and the visuals aren't too impressive. There is much that works, however, and there are some very memorable images. But for all that is good, there is a lot that isn't, such as the opening scene with the kids harassing Sasha. Poorly shot, poorly edited, and the whole "kids picking on the musician" thing was handled improperly, resulting in some unintentional comedy. I do sort of like the film, though. As I said, the cast is effective, and Tarkovsky does have his moments, and it's an often charming film. Some wonders are worked here despite the lack of material. I especially enjoyed a sequence where Sasha sort of flirts with a young girl while he waits for his violin lesson to begin. It captured childhood at its most innocent and playful. Still, I needed more. There just wasn't enough material, and thus the film just sort of peters out by the end, and I found myself unaffected and unengaged. It's a really rough, unimpressive package. Worth seeing only for exploring Tarkovsky's roots and completing his filmography. Otherwise, not entirely worth seeking out.
[u]Vampire Hunter D[/u] (1985, Toyoo Ashida, et al) -[color=seagreen] [/color]
I first watched [u]Vampire Hunter D[/u] a few years ago. I remembered nothing of it, other than not really liking it much. Many people have since told me of how great it is, and how much better its sequel, [u]Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust[/u], is. So, alright, I decided, I'll give [u]Vampire Hunter D[/u] another chance before seeking out and watching the sequel. I hate to disappoint all you fans out there, but the only thing rewatching this film has done is remind me of why I didn't like it. This film just plain sucks (pun fucking intended).
I can best sum this film up as being vapid and insubstantial. There is absolutely nothing interesting about the plot. In comes vampire hunter. Vampire hunter storms castle, rescues girl, goes back to castle, defeats Count. Exit vampire hunter. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, since it's only 80 minutes long, but good Lord the film just has such little story. There was barely enough story here for a 20 minute short film. So it follows, too, that there is absolutely no substance. This isn't a case of style over substance; this is completely style, zero substance. The characters are barely defined, have no reasons for many of their motivations, and basically just do what the plot asks of them. It's terribly weak, and terribly boring. The film does have its moments, though. The introduction of Count Lee is atmospheric and creepy, and the introduction of D is very promising. The music in the film early on is effective, and there's some great shots that would have worked in a better film. D himself is a cool character, well drawn and always half in shadows. He's mysterious and badass, which always makes for a compelling lead for such a film.
Now, being all style and no substance, it would follow that with great style the movie could still be fun. But the style sucks. It's very pedestrian, and very unimaginative. There's random creatures everywhere for no reason, and they're poorly designed. The design of most of this film, excluding some of the main characters who look quite cool (especially D, and that's all thanks to Amano, I'm sure), is incredibly bad. It even mixes fantasy with sci fi elements, to a very uninspired effect. The animation itself is very poor, cobbled together and lacking in fluidity. And the action scenes blow, not simply because of the poor animation, because they're just really unimaginative. The only cool scene involves a mutant who can warp the space around him, causing D to stab himself. That's about the only time the film managed to approach being really cool, although I suppose I should give credit for some of the more explicit moments of violence (like when one character has his face pulled back and the inside of his head explodes outwards), which were a lot of fun to watch.
[u]Vampire Hunter D[/u] is the kind of film where a monster will randomly show up, throw a bomb, and then disappear again. Stuff will just happen for no reason. One character will even die twice, and though I'm sure there's a reason, one is never really given, so I'll just assume the filmmakers are morons. Also, we'll see the female characters' tits frequently, and for no reason at all. Because naked cartoon characters are cool, I guess. If the film has one good thing going for it, it's the idea of aristocrats as vampires. It's a rather blatant attack on the class system of early European nations, but it's quite an amusing one. Unfortunately, it isn't very well developed. It just sort of says "hey, the aristocrats were like vampires!" Hey, okay. I imagined an ending where the peasants rose up and revolted against the vampires, killing them or sending them fleeing from the countries. Now that might have been interesting. But [u]Vampire Hunter D[/u] is not the kind of film that has much of interest going for it.