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
(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.
(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.
(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.
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.
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