What asian film/series have you just seen.. marks out of 5

Film Reviews and Release Comparisons
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HungFist
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Re: What asian film/series have you just seen.. marks out of 5

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Fearless Comrades (不敵なあいつ) (Japan, 1966) [VoD] – 3/5
The man with the guitar is back. This plays out much like a follow-up to Akira Kobayashi's earlier Wandering Guitarist and its sequels. Kobayashi is a musical yakuza who breaks up with his gang after growing sick with their inhuman practices. He arrives in a new town and finds work in a hotel / bar, but of course they are also harrassed by the local yakuza. The owner's daughter takes a liking in Kobayashi, as you'd expect. Kobayashi is also accompanied by a side-kick guitarist, who is a complete idiot! This is another good Shogoro Nishimura film, but also a reminder why he never gained much critical acclaim. He was a skilled technician capable of bringing tremendous entertainment to the screen, as well as just serviceable films. But he rarely made a number of himself behind the camera. He didn’t have many trademarks, concurring themes or messages. This film is a Kobayashi show inside out, with little indicating Nishimura of all people stood behind the camera. It suffers from lack of originality & stand-out scenes, but still works just fine as a slick, harmless time waster. Three sequels followed.

Police Department Story 22 (警視庁物語 全国縦断捜査) (Japan, 1963) [TV] - 3.5/5
Another strong 60s entry - the late films in the series were generally better than the early ones. This film also somewhat ushers the series to a new era. Opening with an unusually brutal killing shown in detail and then proceeding with a nationwide manhunt, this has a strong, gritty docudrama feeling. The best seqment takes place in US occupied Okinawa where the documentary touch is especially strong. Throughout the film there’s also a highly effective mix of wide shots and tight close-ups. None of that is necessarily new in the series, but the intensity is now in line with the various other hard hitting Japanese gangster, crime and samurai films that begun deconstructing cinemic myths around 1963-1964. Oh, and one odd thing: young Hideo Murota appears briefly, but is voiced by someone else (he might have been too hungover to record his own voice – just a guess). One of the best, and longest at 82 min, entries in the series.

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Re: What asian film/series have you just seen.. marks out of 5

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Il Mare (S. Korea, 2000) - DVD first time viewing: 3/5

Touching romance about two people living in different times (?) who communicate through sending letters with a mailbox at a house called Il Mare (The Sea). I liked it but wasn't quite sure how it was resolved in the end Was it happy or sad? Was the girl delusional because of her car accident and she was really talking to her ex in the present and not the other guy from the past? Then at the end they finally do meet?
The subtitles certainly aren't the best, and could be improved if this was released again today.
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Re: What asian film/series have you just seen.. marks out of 5

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Cobra Girl (Hong Kong, 1977) – 1.5/5
A chaste countryside girl falls in love with rich playboy returning from abroad to family farmlands. But the guy’s sexy female cousin and deceitful childhood friend have already crafted a shortcut to riches for themselves, and the new girl is in the way. This is a strangly dull non-horror from the director of The Human Lanterns. Despite the title and poster, it never decends into proper terror, and exploitation is limited to the sexy cousin losing her clothes and shagging her partner 2 or 3 times. There is an actual cobra in the film, but surprisingly enough she’s the main character’s pet and righteous guardian angel who comes to aid shen she’s bullied by bad guys! Basically, what this film really is, is a long, tame romance melodrama with 15-20 minutes of thriller and cobra violence thrown in.

Hawk of the Harbour (波止場の鷹) (Japan, 1967) [VoD] – 3/5
Hardly innovative but otherwise decent Nikkatsu Mood Action with Yujiro Ishihara as the head of a small shipping company who gets harassed by the yakuza. When he refuses to take part in their smuggling business, they try to force him and even get Ishihara’s sister killed. Stoic Ishihara resists resorting to violence to the point of the audience’s frustration. This is another pretty solid effort by invisible director Shogoro Nishimura. My review of the previous year's Nishimura film Fearless Comrades could be reused here with minor edits: this one could do with stronger finale, but the welcome lack of comedy evens things out. What this film really has going for it, besides the rock solid art direction expected from Nikkatsu films of this era, is heavyweight villain actor Toru Abe as Ishihara's loyal, short tempered employee. Though he wasn't always cast as bad guy, rotten yakuza bosses had become his bread and butter by the mid 60s to the extent that most genre film fans probably have never seen him play anything else. Here, in a rare good guy role, he gets to stretch his acting muscles a bit more than usual, which makes for delightful viewing for yakuza film fans.

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Re: What asian film/series have you just seen.. marks out of 5

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Suriyothai (Thailand, 2001) - first time: 2.5/5

Epic period movie about a Thai queen around the 16th century, some of the acting and staging is good but I found it a bit boring and tough to get through :(
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Re: What asian film/series have you just seen.. marks out of 5

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Killer Constable (HK, 1980) - first time: 4/5

I found this a very cool swordplay/action movie. Chen Kuan Tai plays a ruthless constable who kills criminals first and asks questions later, going after a gang who robbed the treasury of 2m taels of gold - and there are some really inventive fights - in THE SEA, in the rain, in pitch dark :o
The ending is a tragic one - wasn't expecting that :( Seems a bit different from the Shaws norm.
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Re: What asian film/series have you just seen.. marks out of 5

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Fist of Legend: Extended Edition (HK, 1994): 4.5/5

This is the first time seeing the Taiwan extended version of this classic Fist of Fury remake. TBH I haven't seen it for so long I couldn't tell what was new, I don't remember Ho Yuan Chia's corpse being dug up, it definitely feels more grounded and realistic than Fist of Fury - Bruce was Superman and beat everyone fairly easily. Fist of Legend is also more tolerant to the Japanese side especially with Chen Jun's relationship with Mitsuko.
The sole Mandarin track isn't as big a problem as I thought it would be - during that period the movie is set I'm guessing most Chinese would probably be speaking Mandarin anyway (and Fist of Fury's original soundtrack is Mandarin) - however it feels odd hearing all the Japanese characters speak Mandarin.
The subtitles certainly are a blast from the past - burnt in Chinese/English with some grammar errors and things have changed for the better these days. Weirdly sometimes a word in Japanese will have something in brackets next to it in the subtitles for translation. Does anyone know what the opening/closing text (characters displayed down the screen) means?
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Re: What asian film/series have you just seen.. marks out of 5

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Hand (手) (Japan, 2022) [DCP] – 3.5/5
Of hands and lonely souls, through the eyes of young woman keeping scrapbook of all the middle aged men and dates who substituted for her own distant father over the years. Until she falls genuinely in love with a guy of her own age. It should come as no surprise that Daigo Matsui, one of the few contemporary Japanese directors worth keeping an eye on, delivers with this film that is the first in Nikkatsu's 2022 Roman Porno Now project. His earlier films include the charming coming of age film Our Huff and Puff Journey, and while working with a bit older characters here he still manages to deliver a couple of the cutest (sex) scenes you're going to see anytime soon. It's also a delicate, thoughtful, beautifully acted and ultimately surprisingly touching film. On the negative side, it's also very much cinema of its day, another tale of non-cinematic characters in search of identity in the middle of everyday greyness, complete with compulsory narrator voice. And it runs 99 minutes, something the old Roman Porno never did, save for the rare daisaku double features. But perhaps that's alright, because this is Roman Porno now.

Violent Gang Overcome (暴力団・乗り込み) (Japan, 1971) [TV] – 2/5
It’s always good for a yakuza film to have at least one original scene that hasn't been done to death in the hundreds of other similar films. This one has two. The first comes when Akira Kobayashi is holding one of Toru Abe's hoodlums as human shield and then very casually decides to set his hair on fire! Wow! The other one comes at the very end, but it is better left unspoiled. Unfortunately those two scenes are pretty much all this contemporary Nikkatsu gangster film has going for it. Made during the brief Dainichi era (a distribution joint venture between Nikkatsu and Daiei, both of whom alone struggled to deliver the industry standard of two new feature films every two weeks for a double bill) before Daiei's bankruptcy and Nikkatsu's Roman Porno switch, it still sports stylish production design and a big name cast (hero Kobayashi, reckless pal Eiji Go, lone wolf Rinichi Yamamoto, and no real reason to be in the film Meiko Kaji). But it lacks energy and emotion, and resorts to the kind of dry, talkative and corporate-like depiction of the underworld that doesn't give the viewer much reason to care. The ending is good at least.

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Re: What asian film/series have you just seen.. marks out of 5

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Police Department Story 23: Confession (警視庁物語 自供) (Japan, 1964) [TV] – 2.5/5
This one starts out much like any other entry in the series, with a dead man floating in a river. But what awaits at the end is a family tragedy sobbing marathon that would not be out of place in a domestic drama made for housewives. Here it may be, as touching as it is. Coming in the heels of the gritty and modern part 22, this feels strangely dated and regressive in comparison. Newcomer Michio Konishi (who debuted earlier in 1964) helms the picture otherwise competently, but without particular energy or personal touch. The running time is back to 58 minutes after the longer than usual part 22.

Safe Word (愛してる!) (Japan, 2022) [DCP] – 3.5/5
When Nikkatsu announced their directors for the Roman Porno Now project, it was not hard to guess Daigo Matsui would fare well, and Shusuke Kaneko would deliver a stinker. But Koji Shiraishi tackling S&M was a complete question mark. Happily for us, this may be the best of the bunch. The gloriously bonkers, endlessly uplifting and sympathetic tale follows a female pro wrestler gone badly performing idol (phenomenally good, funny and cute newcomer Misako Kawase) scouted by an S&M club owner (almost equally good non-binary model/talent Ryuchell) as dominatrix. Only she doesn't initially realize it's an S&M job, and requires going through the "slave" part first, which results in lots of extremely funny reactions, especially since she sports quite an attitude and a wrestler's physical responses. This film is really quite the opposite of a vintage Nikkatsu S&M film where noble Naomi Tani would be subjugated to a blue collar male power / sexual get-even fantasy. Shiraishi's film instead is a female empowerment piece and a love song to being a happy pervert. Here all the "S" is committed by women to men, or by women to women, who all enjoy it. Shiraishi shoots it in his trademark faux documentary style (done well enough for you to stop noticing it almost immediately) and lets the film run too long (10-15 min could have been snapped from the 94), but the first grade direction and superb performances really make this quite a cheerful experience. And yes, not to belittle Shiraishi, but this feels like early 2000s Sion Sono in more ways than one.

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