Thursday, August 20, 2015

Thursday Movie Picks: Foreign Language Movies - Asian Language Movies Set in East Asia (Non-Horror)


I am practically bursting with excitement for this week's Thursday Movie Picks. I've discovered "real" East Asian cinema for myself a few years ago. By real, I mean getting into genres of films produced there other than the one I always knew that part of the world for. Like most, the early part of that discovery was heavy in horror. In recent years, it's become what they're most known, particularly the Japanese. Our host, the wonderful Wanderer at Wandering Through the Shelves, has made this a no-horror zone, so I won't be getting into any of the greatness they have to offer the world in that particular genre. Everything else is fair game. And you know I'm going to try and fudge the rules a little, at least, but that's just what I do. Don't judge. I'll just say swing by Wanderer's place and join TMP right away. Now, let's get on with the picks. By the way, far more than three today. Just couldn't help myself.

A Chow Yun-Fat Double Feature

 
City on Fire
(1987)

Hard Boiled
(1992)
For those of us who call ourselves cinephiles, City on Fire is an important movie to see. The plot is simple, Chow Yun Fat plays an undercover cop trying to infiltrate a gang of jewel thieves. On it's own, it's an excellent entry into this undercover cop sub-genre. However, it's place in cinematic history was elevated and secured when a large chunk of it was lifted, stretched, and fleshed out and made into a little movie by the name of Reservoir Dogs. The other movie is just pure, unbridled, action of the most gleefully ridiculous variety. Again, the story is simple. CYF plays Tequila, a cop out to find out (and kill) who killed his partner. And let me tell you, there's just no telling how many bullets his gun holds. Seriously, try to count. That should be enough to let you know if you want to see this, or not. For me, Hard Boiled is CYF and director John Woo in all their glory before they started making crappy American flicks.


Battle Royale
(2000)
Since we're talking about movies that got ripped off by us Yanks, let's just go there. Right there. You know that movie that started by sending a bunch of teenagers out into the woods for a contest where the goal was to be the last one living? Yeah, this movie has the same premise...and came out eight years earlier...and is better...far better. To be precise, this one just has the government kidnap an entire class of ninth graders and sets them out into the woods. Forget all the pageantry and preparation that go into the US version. These kids are merely given a bag with food, water, and a "weapon." I use the term weapon loosely because what each kid gets is pretty random. One kid gets a gun while another gets a pot lid. If you like that US stylized incarnation, and don't mind blood and guts, I urge you to see this movie. And just to make another Tarantino connection, one of this movie's stars, Chiaki Kuriyama, went on to play the unforgettable Gogo Yubari in Kill Bill Vol. 1.


Poetry
(2010)
A woman raising her grandson learns she is in the early stages of Alzheimer's. She also learns that her grandson is part of a group of boys who have been continuously raping a girl who has committed suicide. To deal with her first issue, she takes a class on writing poetry in an effort to keep her mind sharp. To deal with that other problem, she's got to jump through a lot of hoops. What transpires is one of the most beautiful movies I've ever seen. If you've been coming around here on a regular basis you may have seen me write about this movie before. I'll keep taking opportunities to do so until you all see it. As far as I know, it hasn't been ripped off by an American. Yet.


BONUS SECTION!!!

I'm just going to keep it real with you. In my intro, I mentioned that "real" meant finding movies in genres other than the one I knew all my life. However, I wouldn't be true to me if I completely left that genre out. Of course, we're talking about martial arts flicks. I could go on and on about how much they were a part of my life, but I'll save that for another day. Right now, I'm just giving you more picks. Oh, one last thing, though all of these are in a foreign language, I believe the default on whatever DVDs you might find is the English dubbed version.

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin
AKA Master Killer
(1978)
If there is one company synonymous with kung-fu flicks, it's Shaw Brothers Studio. They made many of my all-time favorites of the genre. Here, we get the story of a young man whose parents are murdered. All by his lonesome, he makes his way to the Shaolin Temple where he hopes to learn kung-fu and avenge the death of his parents. He is taught, but only because he becomes a monk. Monks tend to frown on killing folks. What he has to go through to learn martial arts is amazingly difficult. Just know that just about every one of his training sessions would be banned here in the States. Look at the gif above. He's following a light with just his eyes. If he moves his head, those things on either side of him will burn his face. And that's one of the easiest things he has to do. Nice. For those of you that have seen Kill Bill, you have already seen this movie's star, Gordon Liu. In Volume 1 of  KB he plays Johnny Mo. However, it's in Volume 2 where he makes an indelible mark by playing Pai Mei, the white bearded masochistic master The Bride trains under. So yeah, KB was heavily influenced by this film. Just an FYI, I will be giving this a re-watch in preparation for a post where I compare it to another American movie it curiously has a lot in common with.

Kid with the Golden Arm
(1979)
A few years back, Wu-Tang Clan leader RZA made his directorial debut with a film called The Man with the Iron Fists. Guess what. RZA has seen this movie, probably a lot. While many of you panned it for being campy and silly, it was great to me because it perfectly recalled the 70s era kung-fu flicks I grew up on. RZA, who also wrote, has characters named Brass Body, The X-Blade, Jack Knife, Silver Lion, and Bronze Lion, among. The Kid with the Golden Arm has some named Golden Arms, Silver Spear, Iron Robe, Short Axe, and Long Axe. Here, our heroes are trying to transport and protect a large shipment of gold. In The Man with the Iron Fists, um...yeah, they're trying to do that as well, among other things. Like all three of my choices, Kid with the Golden Arm has achieved legendary status within the genre.

Wu Tang Clan
(1980)
If you're at all familiar with 90s hip hop you know of the Wu-Tang Clan. This is the movie took its name from. Many of its members use stage names, even song titles, inspired by this and other martial arts films. Indeed they've even used a healthy dose of martial arts mythos and adapted it to fit a hardcore rap group. The movie itself tells the story of a group of monks thrown out of the Shaolin Temple by Manchurian-backed Qing rulers. They train to become masters and head back to the Temple. I think I can leave it there. Over the decade following its 1980 release, a slew of films featuring Wu Tang (or Wu Dang) in the title appeared, some more closely related to this than others. So this movie was highly influential in its own genre before transcending the screen, entirely.


Click below for more Thursday Movie Picks

28 comments:

  1. OK, with the exception of Battle Royale, the rest I haven't seen as I definitely need to put some old-school John Woo/Chow-Yun Fat films in my list of films to see for next year. Maybe I should have one of them as my Blind Spots for next year.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Old school Woo is great. Just an fyi, though. He didn't direct City on Fire. That was a guy named Ringo Lam.

      Delete
  2. Oh, the first two were Hong Kong crime stories (the finest sub-genre in Hong Kong to date, in my personal opinion).
    While Battle Royale is very intriguing and tense. Also the sequels, although, not merely as suspenseful as the original.

    The bonus were all great! I watched some of them when I was kid, loving wuxia films.
    Anyway, Wu-Tang also has Pai Mei (later in Kill Bill), right?

    I forget to put all my favorite Pai Mei films.
    Great picks!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Haven't watched the Battle Royale sequels. BR2 is in my Netflix queue so I should give it a go soon.

      I think, but honestly can't remember if Pai Mei is in Wu Tang. Been a long time since I've seen that one, myself.

      Delete
  3. Yeay, someone picks Battle Royale! That's my favorite film and the only film I've watched from your list, haha.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If you've only seen one, that's a good one for it to be.

      Delete
  4. I also chose Battle Royale. That film was amazing, and yeah, Hunger Games totally ripped it off. lol There's a lot of interesting stuff here that I haven't seen.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. More love for BR. I would absolutely love to hear your opinion on Poetry.

      Delete
  5. My knowledge of this genre is so thin I don't know if I've even seen three so obviously I've seen none of these. I have heard of Hard Boiled though and it sounds like the one I'd probably find the most accessible.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think you might enjoy City on Fire a bit better because of an actual attempt at a plot. Hard Bouled is great fun, but little more than 2 hrs. of gunplay. In any event, the Hong Kong crime flicks are heavily influenced by the west. I'd love your opinion of Poetry, though. I just think it's such a great film. That one is Korean, btw.

      Delete
  6. I love Asian movies....in fact I watch them as much as the English speaking one.

    I love Battle Royale - the novel and wasn't that impressed with the movie

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The book is almost always better than the movie, so no surprise, there.

      Delete
  7. I have so much to see, since I've seen...ONE OF THESE!!! Poetry is a great pick. I really want to see Battle Royale.

    ReplyDelete
  8. POETRY. So beautiful. Can't believe I didn't think of it for this. I've gotta see the John Woo/Chow Yun-Fat movies. They look too good. I've seen part of 36th Chamber of Shaolin and it was lots of fun.

    I wish people would stop saying that Hunger Games ripped off Battle Royale - yes, Battle Royale isolated kids and told them to kill each other first, but Suzanne Collins hadn't heard of it when she wrote the first Hunger Games novel, and there's enough difference between the two that she could have listed it as an influence and no one would have thought less of her. And the intentions behind the two are completely different. So yes, they're similar.... but Hunger Games isn't a rip off.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Always happy to see love for Poetry. Great movie. Just a warning, only Hard Boiled is directed by John Woo. Both are great, though. Hope you get to see the rest of 36th Chamber.

      We'll just have to agree to disagree on the HG vs. BR debate. I know Collins says that, but I'm not buying. Maybe I'm too much of a cynic, but there are lots of similarities in the way the games themselves play out that make me feel that way. I will give her credit for crafting a bit of a different narrative around the games, but just can't believe she had no earthly idea of BR's existence. To be fair, the reason I think HG is a lesser movie have nothing to do with that issue. It's all about how bloated HG is. It takes 2 1/2 hours for what could/should be done in at least 40 fewer minutes. It's mid-section sagged so badly because of this. In the end, it was decent, but lacked the raw, concise power of BR.

      Delete
  9. I have not seen any of these:) I am surprised that, so far, nobody has picked a Bruce Lee film

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I debated doing it, since I could've just made a post out of his films and be done with it. For me, personally, his movies are bigger than that and deserve bigger treatment. They get their own posts when I can...

      http://dellonmovies.blogspot.com/2013/04/the-way-of-dragon.html
      http://dellonmovies.blogspot.com/2014/01/movies-i-grew-up-with-enter-dragon.html

      Delete
  10. Poetry sounds interesting, adding it on my watch list. Battle Royale is awesome!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Never seen Battle Royale, good to hear your rave and will check it out.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I one day hope to be as cool as you. No, seriously, I never got turned on to classic martial arts movies. I think I was born too late or something. But the movie that inspired the name Wu-Tang Clan has to be seen. They are easily in my few favorite hip-hop groups. I also regret never seeing any of John Woo's early Hong Kong flicks. I need to so bad. Cool picks as always, Dell!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the compliment. Great thing about living in the 21st century is we can find all of these pretty easily. Glad to see a fellow member of Wu-Nation.

      Delete
  13. Hard Boiled is a kick-ass actioner and you reminded me I need to check out Woo's other Hong Kong classics from that period, especially The Killer (1989). Had no idea Wu Tang Clan got there name from a movie! I agree Battle Royale is similar to Hunger Games, last I heard the author Suzanne Collins claims it's a coincidence, as she wasn't aware of Battle Royale at all at the time. She definitely has a motivation for lying about it so she doesn't get sued for plagiarism.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Still need to see The Killer, myself. You hit the nail on the head with Suzanne Collins.

      Delete
  14. Is the US version you're referring to The Hunger Games? To be fair I don't think THG is a complete rip off of Battle Royale. Like you said it does have the added pageantry. Reality tv is a big part of the THG; not only is it reminiscent of the gladiator games of Roman times which were also for public viewing, it is also used as a means of controlling the poorer districts. Battle Royale on the other hand is a very closed event (only the results are made known publicly), possibly used as a means for control but they don't show much of the world outside the battle, and it always seem to me to also be some sort of experiment.

    ReplyDelete