Highlights from last week and this week:
Drunken Angel Criterion (1948) directed by Akira Kurosawa
"In this powerful early noir from the great Akira Kurosawa, Toshiro Mifune bursts onto the screen as a volatile, tubercular criminal who strikes up an unlikely relationship with Takashi Shimura's jaded physician. Set in and around the muddy swamps and back alleys of postwar Tokyo, Drunken Angel is an evocative, moody snapshot of a treacherous time and place, featuring one of the director's most memorably violent climaxes."
Kurosawa's period samurai films were my knee-jerk favorites for a long time. But as I have matured to the ripe old age that I am, I have come to love his contemporary films much much more: Stray Dog, High and Low, The Bad Sleep Well, Scandal, The Idiot, Ikiru and this amazing film. As with Kurosawa's best films, Drunken Angel is a dark vision of humanity. Most, including Kurosawa himself, site this film as a turning point in his career where he starts to assert his own style. It was also the first film in the legendary partnership between Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune. Not to be missed.
Paprika (2006) directed by Satoshi Kon
"Techno-geek Kosaku Tokita invented the DC Mini to allow therapists to enter a patient's dreams and explore his unconscious, but an evil cabal uses the Mini to create a mass nightmare that causes multiple suicides. Psychotherapist Atsuko Chiba uses her alter-identity, "dream detective" Paprika, to intervene. Entering the nightmare, she witness a bizarre parade of appliances, toys, and kitsch objects: All of her intelligence and imagination are needed to escape this nightmare and its perpetrators. As he did in Millennium Actress and Paranoia Agent, Kon effortlessly carries the audience between reality and fantasy, confirming his reputation as one of the most talented and interesting directors working in animation today."
I would second that last line. Paranoia Agent was nothing short of brilliant in my book, and where Millennium Actress revels in a feature by-the-book narrative, Paprika swings past Paranoia Agent and fully embraces the more typical turn-the-world-upside-down anime narrative. The animation is fantastic and the story is giddy goofy.
Dragon Tiger Gate (2006) directed by Wilson Yip
"SPL collaborators Donnie Yen and Wilson Yip join forces once again for this high-energy adaptation of Wong Yuk-Ling's popular manga Dragon and Tiger Heroes. The Dragon Tiger Gate is a Hong Kong martial arts dojo co-founded by the descendents of Dragon and Tiger. Separated as children, Tiger fights for the cause of good and Dragon goes to work for fearsome drug smuggler Ma Kun. Tiger gets into a scrap with Ma Kun's gang and ends up in possession of the Lousha Plaque - a sacred icon of immense value to the powerful criminals. As Tiger attempts to lure Dragon away from the dark side, the pair is forced to work together for the first time in years in order to defeat formidable Lousha Gang leader Shibumi, whose penchant for one-on-one fights sets the stage for an explosive climax."
I resisted the temptation to buy this DVD when it came out in Hong Kong due to reports that it was worse than Yip's previous film SPL (and unlike most, I wasn't terribly impressed with SPL.) Plus I really have a problem with the hair that Donnie Yen, Nic Tse and Shawn Yue are all sporting. Nonetheless, action fans take note, the fights are sure to be some of the best you will see in film today. And I'm not talking about fast editing manuvers, I'm talking one-shot wonders. Donnie Yen is on a revival of sorts, not only as an actor but also as action director. This guy can still move like nobody's business.
Take 'em or leave 'em DVDs of interest: Waitress, Vitus, Skin Walkers and The Namesake
Exiled (2006) directed by Johnnie To
"It's 1998, and the Portuguese colony of Macau, a city along the Southern coast of China, is about to be handed over to Chinese authorities under a long-standing agreement. As the people of Macau ponder how their new leaders will deal with the criminal underground that's long been part of the city's support system, a pair of hit men from Hong Kong arrive in town to execute a gangster who has turned his back on the syndicate to make a new life for his wife and children. While the Chinese syndicate want to be sure he doesn't share anything he learned while in their employ, two strong-arm men also arrive in Macau, determined to see to the former gangster's safety. Starring Nick Cheung, Simon Yam and Francis Ng, Exiled received its world premiere at the 2006 Venice Film Festival."
It's too bad this film didn't get a theatrical release here (for selfish reasons, of course.) This is one of my favorite this year. I did not resist buying this one when it came out in HK early this year, and fans of To's The Mission should not miss this film. Although Exiled is not the sequal to The Mission that it was rumored to be, it is similar beyond casting. This is Johnnie To at his best.
Czech Dream (2004) directed by Vít Klusák and Filip Remunda
"Two students from the Czech Film Academy commission a leading advertising agency to organize a huge campaign for the opening of a new supermarket named Czech Dream. The supermarket however does not exist and is not meant to. The advertising campaign includes radio and television ads, posters, flyers with photos of fake Czech Dream products, a promotional song, an internet site, and ads in newspapers and magazines. Will people believe in it and show up for the grand opening?"
Hey, it is really good to see this film come out on DVD. This played at the MSPIFF in 2005 and although I missed it, everyone I know who went and saw it, loved it. It also got some good press locally. I am thankful that it didn't just disappear resulting in me forgetting about it.
Drama/Mex (2006) directed by Gerardo Naranjo
"Two interlaced stories unfold over the course of the same long, hot day in the once lush and now decadent resort town of Acapulco. The first involves the beautiful and cool Fernanda, who is forced to deal with the sudden emergence of her ex-lover, Chino. Her boyfriend, Gonzalo, must now compete with the intense sexual tension Fernanda and Chino share. The second story concerns Jamie, an office worker with hidden indiscretions, attempting suicide in a beachfront hotel-until a precocious and equally dishonest teenage girl disrupts his plan. They will all converge in a stark and harrowing portrayal of moral ambiguity."
I'll admit to missing this film twice. Once in a screening at the Walker and a week long run at the Parkway.
Mikogami Trilogy directed by Kazuo Ikehiro
The Trail of Blood (1972): Rival gangs are at war with one another, ravaging the countryside and slaughtering anyone who defies them. Unfortunately for them, they messed with the wrong guy. When Jokichi, a famed wandering yakuza soldier, tries to go straight, he quickly learns that you only leave the Underworld by getting sent to Hell! The Fearless Avenger (1972): Thirsting for revenge, Jokichi rashy attempts to assassinate the evil Chogoro, but ends up being captured by Yakuza. His life is spared by Boss Juzaburo, in order that the harmony of an important commemoration not be further disturbed. Though now even more of an outcast, Jokichi is asked by another Yakuza boss, Umezo, to guard Oyuki, the wayward daughter of Juzaburo. The tragic consequences of this assignment will lead him into a deadly trap and a final confrontation with Chogoro. Slaughter in the Snow (1973): Jokichi's success in getting revenge has resulted in a hefty price being put on his head, and it's only a matter of time before he runs into Kobunji, master of the throwing knife, who, while he really likes Jokichi, has his professional reputation to uphold."
Another very interesting release from Animeigo.
The Killer Snakes (1975) directed by Gwai Chi Hung
"Fear slithers straight up your spine in this notorious Shaw Brothers shocker from the director of The Boxer’s Omen! Mocked and abused by everyone around him, a meek young man lives near a haven for reptiles and, upon discovering a wounded snake one night, discovers that he has a unique psychic bond with his cold-blooded neighbors. Impoverished and sexually frustrated, he’s soon pushed to the breaking point by those around him and vows to unleash his fury in a perverse, delirious attack of scaly serpents like nothing you’ve ever seen!"
I have seen this film, and it is only slightly less silly than the Shaw's Oily Maniac. Gwai Chi Hung was a productive director for the Shaw Brothers with action hits The Teahouse, The Lady Professional, and Big Brother Cheng as well as camped up horror films Bewitched, Corpse Mania, Hex After Hex, and Ghost Eyes. You won't get scared watching The Killer Snakes, but you will have a boat-load of fun.