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

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Japanese Hell (Japan, 1999) [35mm] - 3/5
Oddly fascinating trash by Teruo Ishii. A messenger from hell gives us a walking tour to the inferno, where silly looking demons are torturing and dismembering evil doers. As a sign of true inspiration and delightfully poor taste, the "victims" in the film are obviously real persons: otaku murderer Tsutomu Miyazaki and the perpetrators of the Tokyo subway sarin attack, all of whom were still alive (some awaiting trial) at the time. The film then proceeds to show what lead these men to hell. Inadequately budgeted and not convincing in the least, but strangely satisfying, and compared to modern exploitation, even well made. No CGI or tongue in the cheek humour, but instead fun sets, light and practical effects. Also, it's impossible not to smile at the closing credits which feature pretty women undressing against colourful sets - in hell! Good old Ishii. There's also a clever cameo by Tetsuro Tamba!

The Dragon Tamers (Hong Kong, 1975) [DVD] – 2.5/5
John Woo’s second film as a director is a kung fu film with a couple of interesting elements. Carter Wong and James Tien train and fight in Korea. Groovy score, nice winter setting and plenty of female fighters who do topless scenes. However, a plot would’ve been nice. At 104 minutes the film feels long because the storyline doesn’t have a clear objective. The best thing about the film is Pinky Violence villain Ryoko Ema as evil Tae Kwon Do sister! Her martial arts skills may not compare to the male stars, but she does well for someone who I believe has no martial arts background (she never appeared in a karate film in Japan) and is frankly more fun to watch than film’s competent but unexceptional main villain.

For those who don't know Ryoko Ema

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Left: Ema & Reiko Ike in Sukeban: Diamond Showdown (1974). Right: Yuko Kano and Ema in Sukeban: Crazy Ball Game (1974)

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Ike, Miki Sugimoto and Ema in Terrifying Girls' High School: Women's Violent Classroom (1972)

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

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Africa’s Light (Japan, 1975) [35mm] – 3.5/5
This a bit of a slow burner for nothing much happens in the film. However, you’ll be surprised by how it grows on you. The film is about two semi-slackers (Kenichi Hasegawa and Kunie Tanaka) with an ultra-intimate friendship (wait for the scene where sick Tanaka pees in his pants, and Hasegawa then dries him with a towel) working, slacking and drinking in a freezing Hokkaido town. For a modern comparison point, imagine an early 2000s Nobuhiro Yamashita film with less humour and more 70s grit. Cinematography by Shinsaku Himeda is solid, and the film’s minimal score is quite lovely. The film was a Toho production, one of the many mainstream films by Roman Porno master Tatsumi Kumashiro. His other mainstream film, Failed Youth (1974), is often considered one of the best Japanese films of all time.

The Association (Hong Kong, 1974) [DVD] – 3/5
“She was from a good family, but she was not a virgin. Look at those huge nipples.” This line, spoken by the film’s hero, sort of summarizes what’s wonderfully wrong about this sleazy kung fu film about a detective determined to bring down a woman trade association. One moment he’s giving a moral lecture to a lecherous old man exploiting women; the next, he’s attaching electric wires to a female suspect’s nipples to interrogate her. Messy plot and relatively standard execution keep this from being great, but it does move at a good pace and offers some fun to be had. There are quite a few (naked) Caucasian ladies in the film, and as typical to Asian films of the era, they are no beauty pageants, to put it kindly.

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Birdcage Inn (South-Korea, 1998) [DVD] – 3.5/5
Early Kim Ki-duk film contains some amateurishness and forced artistry, but is surprisingly well written with genuinely interesting characters and a wicked sense of humour. The film somewhat resembles the Japanese classic The Family Game (1984), but with Kim’s usual prostitution theme.

Aroused by Gymnopedies (Japan, 2016) [DCP] - 4/5
Terrific start for Nikkatsu's Roman Porno Reboot Series. The unexpectedly touching drama follows an indie director past his prime, with a wife is in hospital, a film project demolished by an uncooperative actress, and bills piling up. Like some of the best Roman Porno's, this one feels completely of its time. What is different is not only the low key approach that sets it apart from the more carnivalistic film biz Roman Porno's, but its approach to women. Beautiful as ever, but also independent and fascinating. Case in point: a seductive young lady decides she's not ready for it after all, and rejects him after having undressed. Our protagonist is sent back to his regular state of mixed irritation and melancholy. This wouldn't have happened in the genre back in the day, nor the characterization that immediately follows. Itsuji Itao is excellent as the half-pitiable, half-scumbag director, and co-star Sumire Ashina is a real discovery. Moments of humour are perfectly fused into the otherwise quiet film. Oh, and there are 6 sex scenes in 83 minutes, nearly all justified by the story.

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I am a Hero (Japan, 2016) [VoD] - 3/5
Surprisingly decent, if uneven, big budget zombie film by director Shinsuke Sato, whose earlier films (Princess Blade, Gantz) range from terrible to horrible. It's a bit too long at 126 min, but features some stand out scenes like the edge-of-your-seat zombie outbreak on city streets. Oddly enough, the computer assisted splatter is exhilarating, with the best CGI blood I have ever seen complementing practical effects. Strangely though, the rest of the CGI (helicopters etc.) sucks as you'd expect.

Antiporno (Japan, 2016) [DCP] - 4/5
Roman Porno Reboot film no. 4. This takes a bit of digesting. Sion Sono's big middle finger to Roman Porno, society, men, filmmakers. Art, abuse, rape, vomit, schoolgirls. Lots of full frontal. Three hours of dialogue packed into 76 min, delivered almost always shouting. Non-stop classical music. Tokyo Ga-Ga-Ga. Shot mostly in one room. Amazing visuals. Multiple layers of fiction and reality. Metafilm. Feminist statement. Poignant, pretentious, excessive. Likely to anger most audiences regardless of sex. Ami Tomite totally hot. Cool. Take the title seriously.

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

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Mongol: The Rise to Power of Genghis Khan (2007): 4/5

Well made historical epic film that shows an intriguing look at Mongolian culture. It's a bit slow at times but doesnt get dull, its more of a drama than an action movie and the CGI blood looks off putting.

However, Khan is not shown here as a brutal tyrant but instead an inspiring leader and hero.

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Dawn of the Felines (Japan, 2017) [DCP] - 3/5
Like many slice of life films, this realistic look at the lives of three Tokyo prostitutes is a bit of a slow burner. It takes its time and paints a bleak, de-eroticised image of everyone. Helmed by the youngest of the Roman Porno Reboot directors, Kazuya Shiraishi, it also feels the most modern. The film looks digital and is poorly lit, with next to no shadow detail. An artistic choice perhaps, but combined with shaky handheld camera it works against the film. There are, however, moments where , existential tones shine through the images and the film manages to captures something of its era. In terms of realism, the film gets halfway there. Most of the characters feel real, and you begin to care for them as the film goes on, but there are also once-in-a-lifetime encounters and comedic moments that feel out of place.

Red Spell Spells Red (Hong Kong, 1983) - 2/5
Rather amateurish and truly uneven horror film in the vein of superior Shaw Brothers black magic flicks as well as Italian cannibal films. The concept is a combination of the two: a group of Hong Kong filmmakers unleash an evil spirit that begins slaughtering them in a small, superstitious village in Borneo. Special effects and gore scenes vary from lame to imaginative, even slightly epic. Close-ups of, and zooms to manically laughing faces are especially irritating, and cheap. Unfortunate animal cruelty is plenty even in comparison to Italian films. The first half an hour is quite a drag, but there's no denying the second half, for the most part, works. The climax, however, is disappointing.

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Police Department Story 12 (Japan, 1960) [35mm] - 2.5/5
The 12th film in the long running series (Sonny Chiba co-starred in parts 15, 16 and 17). The majority of the films were one hour b-features, while some, such as this film, ran close to 90 minutes. They were all written by a former police forensics, who loosely based them on real cases and emphasized realistic police work. This one is an average entry. An unknown woman's body is discovered in a cargo train travelling between Tokyo to Osaka. Where was she killed, and did someone try to mislead the police by transporting the body? Shot in Tokyo and Osaka, with a decent use of locations.

+ Sonny Chiba Special: Part 40

Samurai Reincarnation (Japan, 1981) [35mm] - 4/5
Jubei Yagyu (Sonny Chiba) fights undead swordsmen in this unique swordplay horror epic that seamlessly mixes historical characters with supernatural fantasy. Considering its large budget, it is amazing how dark and atypical it is. From the "hell on earth" opening with thousands of decapitated bodies lying on ground to a storyline that spends its entire first hour following villains, and Jubei Yagyu fighting the beloved Musashi Miyamoto who has turned into a zombie, this truly goes against conventions. Sonny Chiba designed the action scenes, including the stunning final duel against Tomisaburo Wakayama in a burning castle that still makes audiences wonder how the hell did they do that? Modern CGI spectacles look pathetic in comparison. Hideo Gosha was originally set to direct, replaced by Kinji Fukasaku after Gosha was arrested for possession of illegal weapons.

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Ninja Wars (Japan, 1982) [DVD] - 3.5/5
An enjoyable big budget ninja actioner with a relatively high exploitation factor for what is essentially an idol film. Hiroyuki Sanada stars, Kadokawa idol Noriko Watanabe is his ninja girlfriend who is captured and killed by evil monks who need a virgin's tears to produce a love potion that will help them rule the country. Sonny Chiba has a small but important supporting role as a mysterious ninja who is assisting Sanada. Violence and sex are prominent although not very graphic, but it's love that conquers all in a surprisingly romantic climax. As an 80s Kadokawa production it's a far more commercial film than the 70s genre flicks, and features far superior production values. The film was the year's 3rd most popular Japanese film at the box office (a double feature with Dirty Hero)

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White Lily (Japan, 2016) [DCP] - 1.5/5
Hideo Nakata hasn't made an interesting film in almost two decades. His Roman Porno Reboot film does little to change this. The embarrassingly bad lesbian drama is like an arthouse film directed with the finesse of a 70s porno director, or alternatively, a horny, heterosexual male without a clue about women. Probably the most ridiculous thing about the film is extremely LOUD moaning from all females from the slightest of touch. There is something good about the film, however. The last 20 minutes is twisted and darkly humoristic; like The Family Game goes Roman Porno. But it's too late. Oh and won't somebody please tell Nakata that combining eros and pottery wheel has been a bad idea since 1991.

+ Sonny Chiba Special: Part 41

Kabamaru the Ninja Boy (Japan, 1983) [TV] - 2/5
Exploitation film favourite Norifumi Suzuki delivers one of his most family friendly films with this silly action comedy based on a manga. It follows a teenage ninja boy (Hikaru Kurosaki) from the mountains entering a Japanese high school, trying to charm a pretty girl (super-cute Kumiko Takeda) and competing against another school's sports team. It was a Japan Action Club production with their rising stars (Kurosaki, Junya Takagi, Hiroyuki Sanada) in the lead roles. Unfortunately most of the action is strictly comedic and rather underwhelming except for a few nice stunts. Sonny Chiba appears in a small supporting role as a ninja master, while Hiroyuki Sanada is a woman-like, long haired club leader. Another similar, slightly better Suzuki / JAC ninja comedy, Leave it to Kotaro, followed in 1984. Trivia: Kabamaru opened as a double feature with Jackie Chan's Half a Loaf of Kung Fu, and was the year's 10th most popular Japanese film.

Legend of the Eight Samurai (Japan, 1983) [DVD] - 4/5
An extremely entertaining samurai fantasy based on the Satomi hakkenden story, which Kinji Fukasaku had already adapted into a disappointing sci-fi film Message from Space a few years before. It's unmistakably a Kadokawa production, with fine production values and superstar cast starring Hiroko Yakushimaru and JAC sweetheart Hiroyuki Sanada at the height of their idolhood. Sanada was in terrific physical shape at the time and Yakushimaru, one of the cutest girls ever to grace Japanese cinema, had the kind of freshness about her performances that other idols couldn't even dream of. Sonny Chiba and Etsuko Shihomi are an added bonus. The sets are wonderfully over the top, the film is colourful and there is a genuine feel of a fantasy adventure. Special effects vary between great and amusingly cheesy. The soundtrack, with songs by Dan O'Banion, contains more greatness than is humanly possible to express in words. An utterly enjoyable (and enduringly popular in Japan) piece of pop samurai cinema for boys; only a notch behind Fukasaku's finest films.

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Roman Porno treasure hunt: part 41

Wet Lust: Opening the Tulip (Japan, 1975) [35mm] - 1.5/5
This is clearly one of those films Tatsumi Kumashiro did because he, too, needed to work to make a living. A Roman Porno pachinko film. Yeah, sounds like something he came up after having too many beers. It's a Kumashiro film so it does come with some good moments (and satire), but those moments just underline the fact that they didn't really have a solid idea for a feature film. Quite boring overall.

Pink Salon: Five Lewd Women (Japan, 1978) - 2/5
Noboru Tanaka's modern take on a 17th century novel, presumably quite different from the source material. For its first half Tanaka focuses on the depressing lives of five prostitutes, without finding a satisfactory balance between sleaziness and character drama. These scenes are also solely lacking the visual style of Tanaka's best films. There are, however, numerous magnificent scenes during the second half when the girls hit the road on a minibus and the film turns into a road movie. Of all Tanaka films, this one has the best use of music with the director blasting pop and rock. One of the songs used in the film sounds something like Bee Gees doing heavy metal.

+ Sonny Chiba Special: Part 42

Leave it to Kotaro (Japan, 1984) [35mm] - 2.5/5
Another typical mid-80s Japan Action Club film, again based on a manga, directed by Norifumi Suzuki, starring Hikaru Kurosaki, and favouring comedy over action. It's about a mischievous modern teenage ninja (Kurosaki) who spends his days hanging upside down in front of girls' dressing room window. There are more panty shots than you can keep track of. Other students finally get sick of him and put a reward up for his beloved long hair. Then a blonde Caucasian girl arrives the school and falls in love with the pervert ninja, which leads to the film's best, and dumbest, laughs. It's a silly, mostly entertaining but a bit overlong comedy with some action and stunts. Hiroyuki Sanada and Etsuko Shihomi play supporting roles, and Sonny Chiba makes a quest visit in a fully English language role. Suzuki did much better with the more action oriented Roaring Fire a few years earlier.

The Last True Yakuza (Japan, 1985) [DVD] - 2/5
Kosaku Yamashita was one of the best ninkyo yakuza directors back in the 1960s, but he never seemed quite that comfortable with contemporary films. This yakuza epic suffers from a typical 80s approach to the subject matter. It leans more towards human drama than yakuza mayhem. The production values are fine, but the film suffers from a lame delivery, bloated 125 minute running time, and an intended female audience appeal that never worked well with yakuza films - all symptoms of the decade. Sonny Chiba has small but decent supporting role as a simple minded, expendable gangster who is ordered to carry out a hit. Hiroki Matsukata is the real star, with other big names such as Koji Tsuruta (in his last role) and Tetsuro Tamba making brief appearances along the way.

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Roman Porno treasure hunt: part 42

Pink Hip Girl: Love Attack (Japan, 1979) [VoD] – 2/5
Koyu Ohara’s 1978 film Pink Hip Girl was a charming youth film despite being a Roman Porno production. Here Ohara takes another step towards mainstream. Unfortunately the magic is gone. This time Rena and Yuko find themselves employed by a Lolita Pink Salon in order to gather money for abortion. Despite the abortion plot, the film looks and feels like an old American sitcom minus the humour. Energy and cuteness have been toned down, and the film lacks the travel theme that made the first film so original. The best thing about film is the cute title, and "Funky Disco Princess" – a disco song of the late 1970’s by Spinach Power.

Pink Hip Girl: Proposal Strategy (Japan, 1980) [VoD] – 3/5
This is more like it! The third film brings back the snowy landscapes, dispatching its heroines to Hokkaido. Although it doesn't compare with the original, it’s a cute film with some excellent supporting characters and catchy pop music. Although released under Nikkatsu’s Roman Porno banner, it was very much a mainstream affair aimed at wide audiences. There's so little sex that, had it been released in liberal countries such as Germany or Northern Europe, the film would probably have been considered suitable viewing for junior high school students.

+ Sonny Chiba Special: Part 43

Yakuza Warfare (Japan, 1991) [DVD] - 2/5
A typical early 90s yakuza drama from an era where genre cinema had become something of a dirty word. As a result yakuza films had also transformed into over-long, all-star character dramas which lacked the kind of explosive energy the genre used to be known for. Yakuza Warfare starts well enough: two gangster buddies conduct an attack in enemy headquarters in favour of their clan. One manages to escape, the other is arrested and thrown in prison. Years later the when the latter is released from prison, the former has become a successful yakuza, but the game has changed. The yakuza are now suit wearing businessmen who don't want too much trouble with the authorities. Lots of slow-moving, un-engaging drama ensues before the predictable climax. The small amount of action featured in the film only reminds of what it lacks: balls and attitude. Sonny Chiba has a small and rather forgettable supporting role as one of the yakuza bosses.

Triple Cross (Japan, 1992) [DVD] - 3/5
Kinji Fukasaku returned to the streets after a long hiatus from gangster movies. A group of veteran criminals (including Chiba in a supporting role) receive tip about a money truck from a young hothead (Kazuya Kimura). Things go badly wrong. Unusual to Fukasaku, the film portrays the older generation in a positive light while the youngsters have gone completely crazy. Especially Chiba's young, attention hungry girlfriend (Keiko Oginome) becomes an endurance test for the audience. There's also a rock band/ rock music theme that feels out of place. Fukasaku fares much better with the veteran actors and in creating suspense and action. There is a long, brilliantly edited car chase near the end that is probably the second finest chase scene in Japanese cinema, only second to Fukasaku's own Violent Panic: The Big Crash (1976).

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Shimauma (Japan, 2016) [VoD] - 2.5/5
A friend of mine called this "the film that most resembles Ichi the Killer since Ichi the Killer, albeit with less style." His description is quite accurate. A young gangster runs into a cross-dressing geek whose business is mutilating and torturing people for money (though he's starting to get bored with it because they "always torture the guy and rape the girl. So usual!"). Non-stop sadism with a revenge plot ensues. Director Hajime Hashimoto did the superb Flower and Snake: Zero a few years ago. This one tones down the eroticism to a handful of graphic nude and sex scenes and ups the bloodshed. The violence gets a little tiresome towards the end, but there is no denying there is something strangely captivating about the film. Performances are fine, and there are some great moments of black humour. The fact that is got an R15-rating in Japan is a miracle, and not a small one either.

+ Sonny Chiba Special: Part 46 (parts 44-45 are here)

The Storm Riders (Hong Kong, 1998) [DVD] - 1.5/5
Sonny Chiba has a surprisingly good and large role in this otherwise terrible big budget Hong Kong fantasy. Chiba is an evil lord who raises the sons of his dead enemies as his own. The kids grow up to be swordsmen who look just like boy band members. The film looks very much like a mixture of a 90s video game (with excessive use of primitive CGI) and television drama. Fights are mostly computer and wire assisted. If there is something good about it except for Chiba, it would be the way the film treats bad guys as central characters and makes them quite sympathetic. Chiba has plenty of screen time, as well as many fight scenes, but the Cantonese dub robs him of his charismatic voice. Frustrated with his, I was switching back and forth between Cantonese and Japanese audio tracks until I realized that while Chiba sounds better in Japanese, everyone else sucks in both languages, and it's better to watch the whole thing in Japanese.

Explosive City (Hong Kong, 2004) [DVD] - 3/5
Japanese female assassin sent by a gangster boss (Sonny Chiba) is captured in Hong Kong after she fails a political hit. Unremarkable but nevertheless enjoyable crime film works suffers from some fashionable fast editing and shaky cam used to speed up the pace (not just action). Plot and storyline are surprisingly functional despite lacking in originality, and the closing scene is very stylish. Alex Fong and the bilingual Hisako Shirata make uncharismatic leads, but Simon Yam and Sonny Chiba stand out in their supporting roles. Chiba doesn't have terribly much to do, but it's still nice to have him there. He speaks his lines in Japanese. Eddy Ko and Suet Lam also appear briefly.

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Gakidama (Japan, 1985) [DVD] - 2/5
55-minute straight to video (shot on 16mm) monster movie from the "golden age" of Japanese underground splatter and straight to video horror. This one was clearly inspired by Gremlins, featuring a mini-size blood thirsty monster that not only likes biting and slicing his victims, but also frequently attacks their genitalia. There's some wonderful special effects work, as well as some not-so-convincing but nevertheless amusing monster puppet work on display. It's just too bad that the film is neither very gory not especially interesting. Except for a tense bathroom sequence, it tends to be a little bit boring.

+ Sonny Chiba Special: Part 47 (part 2/2)

Shuryo no michi 8 (Japan, 2013) [DVD] - 2/5
This yakuza film series is the DTV equivalent of a low budget television series, with 75 minutes episodes that continue from where the previous one left off. To extend the comparison, they are not too different from women's TV dramas; they just replace housewives with grumpy old yakuza and love stories with yakuza conflicts. The films do not fare especially well as standalone films. There isn't much to speak of in terms of production values or high quality; however, this instalment at least, is more watchable than one might expect. The film also has at least two undeniable assets: Sonny Chiba as one of the yakuza bosses, and Asami as his daughter. And they do karate sparring together.

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Biotherapy (Japan, 1986) - 2.5/5
Straight-to-video splatter with an utterly ridiculous plot about a revolutionary serum, and an alien who is killing scientists in the most brutal ways to obtain it. It's unintentionally cheesy despite the gruesome effects, and hardly convincing in any area, but well paced at just 35 minutes. There's a certain charm related to the film unmistakably being a product of its time and genre. Amusing junk.

+ Sonny Chiba Special: Part 48

New 7 Color Mask (Japan, 1960) [DVD] - 3/5
Sonny Chiba landed his first acting role with a bit of luck. Drafted by Toei in 1959, he replaced Susumu Namishima is Toei's first ever superhero TV show 7 Color Mask after Namishima had dropped out. Chiba took his role as Detective Ran, a master of disguise fighting all sorts of foreign super villains threatening Japan. Ran's ace in the sleeve was turning into an invincible masked superhero, 7 Color Mask. It's a world where kilt-wearing masked villains are running out in the daylight, the police bow to a private detective who solves all crimes in their behalf, and everybody is always fooled by the sillies of disguises. A bit of child-like mindset is required from the viewer. Chiba himself looks self-assured as stylish as hell in black suit, also benefiting from solid production values. The main liability is unimaginative writing. Ran's invincibility always saves him from any trouble, and storylines tend to drag a bit, with bad guys getting caught when "the time is up".

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Mid-August Commotion (Japan, 1962) [TV] – 2.5/5
Toei's early 1962 release The Escape, which was one of the many films depicting the February 26th Incident of 1936, must have been a success since this movie, released in August, is almost a carbon copy. It is, however, loosely based on a different true story. This one deals with Japan's surrendering in WWII. On August 14-15 the surrendering declaration had already been prepared for broadcasting; however, a group of rebel soldiers attempted a coup d'état (just like February 26th) by invading the emperor's palace. Koji Tsuruta is the hero trying to get the recording out of the house for public broadcasting. It's a standard film that works pretty well once the action begins; however there's a good 45 minutes of talk before things start rolling. Sonny Chiba, who had a tiny role as a solder in The Escape, has a few more minutes of screen time here as a doctor invited to the house as a part of the plot to get Tsuruta out.

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Gambling Den: Drifter (Japan, 1970) [TV] - 3.5/5
No. 8 in the series. Koji Tsuruta is a wandering yakuza searching for a young woman who had cut her ties with her yakuza father and doesn't even know he's been dead for years. Director Kosaku Yamashita's ninkyo films were always elegant, old fashioned and well written. This film is no exception. There is a fine scene in the beginning captures the genre's essence. A benevolent old boss, stabbed by an enemy, dies in Tsuruta's arms. Tsuruta tells younger gang mate "this is how we, wandering yakuza, end up". As outlaws and outcasts, the honourable yakuza would try hard to live by the code and never exploit the innocent; yet they'd end up dying on a cold alley stabbed by a faceless enemy henchman. That's the tragedy and romanticism of the ninkyo way in a nutshell.

Cyclops (Japan, 1987) - 3/5
A group of men are seeking a new carrier for a parasite-like creature in this 52 minute horror film that comes with an amazing pay-off. There is no splatter prior to the climax, but once it gets there the film turns into a jaw dropping monster special effects extravaganza full of flesh, blood and slime. Those who remember the last few monster bosses from the Resident Evil 2 (video game) will feel instantly at home. Not too much happens in the film prior to that, and it's directed and edited in a truly odd fashion. For example, when someone rolls in her sleep, we see her rolling about 30 times, from 6 different angles. It's jarring, yet somehow interesting at the same time and makes the film more watchable.

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Colonel Panics (Japan/Australia, 2016) [Yubari Fanta] - 4/5
A superb cyberpunk film about a man hired to test a virtual reality game that seems more realistic than the reality itself. The game appears to be infected with a computer virus that makes characters harbour extreme right wing ideologies and apparent hatred towards women. While the film looks stylish and sounds even better, and is sure to raise some eyebrows with its graphic sex and violence, it's the ambitious screenplay that really makes it work. What is the connection between the film's two storylines? What is the relationship between actual reality and manufactured reality, and which one is influencing which more? The film takes quite a bit of brainwork just to get a hold of it and is almost impossible to fully digest with just one viewing.

+ Sonny Chiba Special: Part 49

Special Tactical Police (Japan, 1963) [TV] - 2.5/5
One of the longest running detective series in Japanese television (801 episodes), Special Tactical Police was also extended to silver screens with two feature films. Both films ran approximately one hour and were released as b-features in theatrical double bills. Oddly enough, although the characters were familiar from the series, the cast was new. Sonny Chiba is the first billed; however, he is given very little to do in the film and mostly takes the back-seat as one of the detectives. The real star is head detective Toru Abe in a rare good guy role; Toei fans remember him from countless villain roles in yakuza films. From a technical point of view, Special Tactical Police is competent enough, but it does tend to lean too much on talk instead of visual storytelling, making it feel much like a television show episode with a theatrical aspect ratio.

Special Tactical Police: Part 2 (Japan, 1963) [TV] - 3/5
The second and final Special Tactical Police film. This time the detectives are investigating the poisoning of a diva-like fashion model. Plenty of talk ensues until the case is solved. What makes the sequel a notch better than the first movie is the final 10 minutes, which packs the kind of emotion and intensity that were largely missing from the first film. The movie also comes with occasional beautifully shots that capture the early 60s urban landscapes via black & white widescreen cinematography. Sonny Chiba's role is unfortunately once again minor. Although he has a decent amount of screen time, he only has a handful of lines.

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Wicked Priest 2: Ballad of Murder (Japan, 1968) [TV] - 2.5/5
Tomisaburo Wakayama is an ass-loving priest travelling Japan and fighting evil whenever he's not chasing girls. Average yakuza / jidai geki film that doesn't really stand out on any area. Guest star Bunta Sugawara is the film's most memorable character as vengeful blind priest. Note: I have not seen the first film in the series.

Wicked Priest 3: A Killer's Pilgrimage (Japan, 1969) [TV] - 3.5/5
The second sequel is sexier, funnier and features better action that part 2. This time Wakayama travels to a small seaside village terrorized by a mix bunch of thugs and anti-government rebels. Things slow down somewhat during the middle third, but there's a fair amount of splendid cinematography that captures the mythical atmosphere of the by-past (cinema) samurai era. Wakayama also has a great fight with Sugawara.

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+ Sonny Chiba Special: Part 51 (I didn't miss part 50, I just seem to have accidentally repeated some number twice)

Decree from Hell (Japan, 1964) [TV] - 2/5
While Toei's gangster movies are best remembered for the chivalrous ninkyo movies (roughly 1963-1972) and the documentary style jitsuroku movies (roughly 1969-1977), there also existed a third sub-genre that we might simply call "contemporary gangster film". Decree from Hell belongs to this genre, and like many others of its kind, it suffers from the lack of strong genre identity. Chiezo Kataoka is a gangster boss who barely escapes an assassination attempt by Toru Abe's evil gang. A gang battle ensues. This is a forgettable time waster with a fairly routine storyline, a bit of action and some humour. There's quite a bit of focus on the gangsters' families and gangs, including Sonny Chiba as Kataoka's teenage son who wishes to gave no part in the criminal business. The film is a part of a very loosely related series of "Hell" movies, all starring Kataoka.

Tale of Japanese Burglars (Japan, 1965) [DVD] - 3/5
A bit slow, but eventually powerful tale of a professional burglar who witnesses a far bigger crime. Years later, after he has gone straight and started a family, he discovers innocent men have been sentenced for death for a crime they didn't commit - but he cannot testify in their favour without revealing his own crimes. Despite the thriller plot, the film is in equal parts a family drama and a critique on police and government corruption. Rentaro Mikuni is quite excellent in the lead role and keeps the film interesting even during the very long build-up. Sonny Chiba appears as assistant defence lawyer - his role, which comes during the last half an hour, is brief but very good.

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Wicked Priest 4: Wicked Priest Comes Back (Japan, 1970) [TV] - 2/5
The third film was the best of the Wicked Priest sequels. The fourth, in turn, is the worst. An instantly forgettable standard yakuza flick with a weak plot and plenty of dull comedy scenes.

Wicked Priest 5 - Drinking, Gambling and Women (Japan, 1971) [TV] - 2/5
Another underwhelming entry with standard yakuza film storyline and lots of comedy. It's a bit naughtier than the earlier films, although still refraining from any nudity. What makes this a notch better than the previous film is the great Wakayama vs. Sugawara due that ends the film on a good note. Sugawara's character also appeared in his own spin off movie, the ultra violent Whipmaster (1970), which is better than most of the Wicked Priest films.

New Female Prisoner Scorpion #701 (Japan, 1976) [DVD] – 2.5/5
Toei was quick to reboot the series with Yumi Takigawa taking over Meiko Kaji’s role. This one is a loose remake of the 1972 original. Director Yutaka Kohira helms passable WIP entertainment, but his visual eye is no match for that of Shunya Ito. There are moments where the film really takes off, such as Nami’s final mission of revenge, but most of it is fairly routine. Takigawa is a pretty girl, and she did well School of the Holy Beast, but she lacks the kind of charisma and strong screen presence this role requires. The film is also surprisingly light on exploitation with very little in terms of sex and nudity. That being said, the film is by no means bad, just a little underwhelming compared to the original.

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New Female Prisoner Scorpion: Special Cellblock X (Japan, 1977) [DVD] – 2.5/5
The second and final New Female Prisoner Scorpion film stars Yoko Natsuki, who was just about the most uncharismatic actress you could imagine for the role. Thankfully, the supporting cast fares much better, with yakuza film stars Takeo Chii and Hiroshi Tachi as prison guards and karate villain Masashi Ishibashi as the warden. The screenplay features a couple interesting elements, such as Chii’s character who has his own way of doing things. Director Yutaka Kohira and screenwriter Tatsuhiko Kamoi keep the film moving especially during the second half, but as far as the surreal scenes go, it’s painfully obvious they lack the understanding of the material that Shinya Ito had. In Ito’s films the surreal images served as exaggerated symbolism as well as visual feast; here they serve no purpose and tend to be more amusing than impressive.

+ Sonny Chiba Special: Part 52

Bitches of the Night (Japan, 1966) [TV] - 3/5
A well made, atmospheric, although remarkably tame exploitation melodrama about a playboy bartender (Tatsuo Umemiya) who pretends to be gay in order to approach women. He is in cahoots with another opportunist, a young woman (Mako Midori) who trying to seduce a rich married man. Their attempts at making easy money can only end tragically. This is a rather aged morality tale about the sinful life in urban metropolis, but captures the era, the bars and the cityscapes very nicely. It's also becomes quite interesting and touching when Umemiya fools a naive country girl (heartbreakingly played by Reiko Ohara) into living with him. Sonny Chiba makes a very brief appearance as a policeman looking for his sister. He only has two scenes. The film was part of the "Night / Yoru" series, which consisted of very loosely linked movies where Umemiya plays pimps or other such characters.

Game of Chance 2 (Japan, 1967) [TV] - 3.5/5
This is an odd series for each of the three films represent a slightly different breed of yakuza films. The first movie was an off-note ninkyo drama about a somewhat dishonourable yakuza gambler and single father (Chiba) looking after his 6 year old son (Hiroyuki Sanada). The sequel is a much more typical ninkyo film with all the usual genre elements and themes, but oddly enough Chiba has now gone from a gambler (bakuchi) to a street vendor (tekiya), which is a different sub-genre of yakuza films. The father-son relationship between Chiba and Sanada works wonderfully again, and although Chiba may not have been a yakuza film star comparable to Takakura or Tsuruta, his youthful energy distinguished him from most other actors. Only Chiba could pull off such extremes as wild snow fight with his son only moments before a melancholic ninkyo walk to enemy headquarters and near certain death. The film's snowy winter setting also adds its own flavour to the film and helps it overcome some uninspired, occasionally incoherent screenwriting.

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The Red Panther (Hong Kong, 1983) [DVD] - 3/5
This is one of those "only in Hong Kong" films that mixes silly comedy and relatively outrageous exploitation as if there was nothing odd about that combination. The film follows a comical dumbass of a detective (with awesome porno moustache) trying to stop a killer uses a surgeon's knife to perform operations on live victims (he also attacks dead bodies from time to time). It's frenetically paced horror/thriller/comedy with some semi nasty violence and a decent amount of nudity. Too incoherent to be genuinely good film, but also impossible not to like.

Red Angel (Japan, 1966) [TV] - 4.5/5
Disturbing yet beautiful and deeply touching study of humanity and the madness of war. Ayako Wakao stars as war nurse serving Japanese soldiers in China. The field hospitals are a hell on earth with floors covered in blood and rotting bodies lying everywhere. Some of the injured soldiers are letting their wounds get infected in the fear of being sent back to the battlefield, others are denied returning home because their dismembered bodies would hurt the public morale. She keeps helping them even after she's molested and raped, but it's unclear whether she's a blood covered angel or a woman so numbed by the brutality of men that she no longer feels anything towards herself. She later falls in love with a morphine addicted doctor who keeps amputating men night and day because that's "all he can do". Poetic, brutal, thought provoking and extremely powerful.

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Himalayan Wanderer (Japan, 1961) [TV] - 2/5
A very loose sequel to the wonderfully nutty The Big Gamblers of The Amazon. Unfortunately this one is not half as much fun. It has the same lead cast, including Chiezo Kataoka, but that's where the similarities end. In this film Kataoka (not a gambler this time) finds a yeti in the Himalaya and brings him to Japan. Not much interesting happens since bringing a yeti out to the public is no easy task and we end up spending too much time with a fake-yeti (Eitaro Shindo). Reporters and gangster businessmen alike are after the real yeti, who spends most of his time sleeping in Kataoka's bathtub. A poor man's King Kong with a lot of filler material between the relatively good opening and closing parts.

Strange Days (Japan, 2017) [Yubari Fanta] - 1/5
Two sleazy guys run a popular actor's workshop where they hold their customers in captive and basically turn them into sex slaves. How else would an aspiring young actress learn to play roles such as rape victims? Director Yasushi Koshizaka is a veteran of countless straight-to-video exploitation films, e.g. the "Days" and "Missing" series. This is his first independent film in 19 years. He did almost everything behind the screen from financing to directing and cinematography. There's evident potential for an outrageous satire and commentary on how Japanese film industry treats women. Such hopes, however, are best buried immediately. The miserable, badly acted and amateurish looking film is basically 115 minutes of misogynism that comes as close to hard core pornography as possible without crossing the line. If this was intended as satire or social commentary, it must be one of the most misguided, ridiculous attempts at it in the history of cinema. It makes Cannibal Holocaust look utterly sincere in comparison.

+ Sonny Chiba Special: Part 53

Game of Chance 3 (Japan, 1967) [TV] - 3/5
This must be only yakuza film series where each film focuses on a different breed of yakuza. This time Chiba's character, who was a gambler in the first movie and a street vendor in the second, becomes a forestry worker with a small honourable clan harassed by a villainous gang. The ninkyo tension rises from conflict between the hero's will to set things right and his promise to stay away from yakuza life. Another typical ninkyo element walks into the film in the shape of Tetsuro Tamba who is after Chiba to avenge his brother. "It was a fair duel and I hold no grudge, but I cannot let the man who killed my only brother live" he says. The film is well made, but it does feel very familiar after the previous two entries. The continuity seems a bit confusing at first until Chiba's dead wife walks into the frame and the viewer realizes the series has rebooted itself at some point. Hardly rare in yakuza films of the era, but usually the filmmakers remembered to inform the viewer of it.

Key Hunter (Japan, 1968-1973) [TV/DVD] - 3/5
Chiba's most important, although not best, work in the 60s. The detective TV series focusing on Japan's International Secret Police was created as a starring vehicle for Tetsuro Tamba. Hayato Tani, Eiko Okawa, Yoko Nogiwa and Chiba, who was in charge of creating the action scenes, co-starred. The slightly uneven series mixing action, thriller and comedy is today best remembered for Tamba's cool charisma and Chiba's wild stunts, that include breathtaking moments like Chiba climbing out of a speeding car and grabbing on to a small aircraft that is about to take off. The series made Chiba an action superstar and earned him fans like Jackie Chan. Comedic episodes with the female cast fare much worse. The storylines often leaned towards pure fantasy. One of the best episodes features a criminal who has changes his face with a plastic surgery trying to escape. His girlfriend, the detectives, and a bunch of assassins all infiltrate the same flight with him but no one knows each others' identity.


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Kunoichi ninpo (Japan, 1964) [DVD] – 4/5
Great debut feature by Sadao Nakajima feels like a mixture The Ballad of Narayama (1958) and Female Prisoner Scorpion (1972) with female ninjas. The atmospheric exploitation flick follows a group of female ninjas fighting against male ninjas who have been hired to assassinate them. Solid action and many visually stylish, surreal sequences. The use of studio sets is cool, although sometimes very obvious. There are also some bare breasts on display, although only in non-sex scenes. 1964 marked was the year when nudity started becoming common in mainstream films in Japan, but it was still kept separate from sex for several years.

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Kunoichi kesho (Japan, 1964) [DVD] – 1/5
A miserable sequel by Sadao Nakajima to his own terrific debut film Kunoichi ninpo. This time he goes for a tongue-in-the-cheek parody which even features musical scenes and constant nerve-breaking comedy. An unfortunate reminder that stupid post-modernism existed in genre cinema already 50 years ago.

Karate Wars (Japan, 1978) [DVD] - 2/5
One of the few Japanese karate films not made by Toei, but Shochiku. The film's production background is more interesting than the movie itself. The film was produced by Ikki Kajiwara, the author of the comic books Karate Kiba and Karate for Life, as a starring project for his brother Hisao Maki, who was a student of Masutatsu Oyama. They shot the film in Japan, Hong Kong and Thailand, utilizing many local martial artists. Unfortunately it's a pretty poor film with an unremarkable storyline about a Japanese martial artist (Maki) who travels to Hong Kong and Korea to fight local fighters. After a slow start the movie picks up some pace as it moves to foreign locations and remains watchable enough. Maki is amusingly wooden in the lead role, especially as an actor. His fights suffer from the Steven Seagal syndrome where he barely needs to do anything but walk around and the opponents drop dead. Although there is certain realism to the fight moves, he looks surprisingly slow compared to the likes of Sonny Chiba.

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The Bedevilled (Hong Kong, 1975) [DVD] - 1.5/5
As the short lived Pinky Violence genre ran out of popularity in the mid 70s, Reiko Ike found herself looking for other work opportunities. She had small supporting roles in Toei's yakuza films, did one movie for Nikkatsu, and also found time to appear in this Hong Kong horror. Unfortunately it is just about the worst movie you could get with the Ike + Golden Harvest + HK Horror combination. Ike is an innocent wife raped by a sleazebag young master. The man is later found dead, with Ike missing and her husband getting the blame for it. Court drama and vengeful ghosts ensue. Ike looks great in Chinese clothes (and yes, she does get rid of them multiple times) but it's hard to get excited about the film. As a court drama it's boring, as horror it's just silly. It even end of an educational moral note. Do not expect anything shocking or sleazy.

+ Sonny Chiba Special: Part 54

The Bodyguard (Japan, 1974) [TV] - 4/5
Not to be confused with the unrelated The Bodyguard films, this TV series is an undiscovered gem that features some of Sonny Chiba's best karate action. Chiba stars as a member of a private bodyguard company. He's fantastic in the series, but co-star Shihomi makes perhaps an even bigger impression. She's never looked as cute and energetic as she does here kicking guys in the face. And while the series may lack the excessive bloodletting and sex of Chiba's mid 70's films, the action looks and sounds painful. It also says something about the series' grittiness that a lot of the time the bodyguards fail to keep their client alive till the end. Adding to the effect is a fantastic, badass score. The only negative is the mostly unremarkable and uneven writing that sometimes fails with drama or introduces unwelcome comedic moments.

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13 Steps of Maki (Japan, 1975) [35mm] - 4/5
This is perhaps Etsuko Shihomi's most enjoyable, and certainly sleaziest, film. Shihomi is a girl gang leader straight out of a comic book, spending half of her time saving her delinquent karate girls from trouble. It's basically a pinky violence movie with karate action instead of gun and knife fights. Although there is little plot, the film is well paced. Lots of solid action, no irritating supporting characters or comic reliefs, very little in terms boring side plots, and just when you might start getting a bit tired of it they throw Shihomi in prison and the film goes all WIP. Great theme song too! Sonny Chiba has cool cameo as Maki's brother, and Roman Porno actress Meika Seri appears as assassin in the prison segment. Someone really need to put this film out on DVD and BD immediately.

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

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Iron Ox: The Tiger Killer (1975)

Effective basher featuring no real heroes or villains; instead we see the dangers of vigilantism and revenge in a story that actually kept me on my toes – not something I can usually say for kung fu movies, which are usually pleasantly familiar. The cast is mostly unknowns, Wong Fei-lung excepted, but perform well; fights are OK if a little repetitive, and the soundtrack uses too many Enter the Dragon cues for their own good. Well worth seeking out – I was alerted to its existence by an article in an old annual for the Kung Fu TV series, of all things!
6/10

Gamera vs. Guiron (1969)

My favourite of the Gamera films, this is very much like the sort of story a child would write, and I mean that as a compliment. Then it gets weird, what with the brain-eating alien women and all…
Guiron is one alarming looking monster; imagine a dog crossed with a piranha crossed with a knife, and the sight of him slicing up a Space Gyaos (basically a regular Gyaos painted silver) into hunks of deli meat (with blue blood!) proved too much for AIP, who removed it from the American TV print. Gamera gets to do some cool gymnastics, and the poor American kid looks like Richard Nixon!
6/10

Gamera vs. Zigra (1971)

Last of the original cycle of Gamera films before Daiei went bankrupt. Judging from the fact this takes place largely in a Sea World style theme park, I expect they ponied up the dough. Zigra is a bizarre bird/shark hybrid (who talks!), who is assisted by a lovely possessed geologist in a mini-skirt! Worth it just for the sight of Gamera playing his theme song on Zigra's back! As you do…
5/10



Champ vs Champ (1981)

Dragon Lee is at it again in this hokey rip-off of One Armed Swordsman by way of Crippled Avengers. Better fights than usual, but with an odd emphasis on comedic moments such as Dragon dancing with his foes to classical music or pulling down their pants (!), any resemblance to Bruce Lee is purely coincidental. The filmmakers clearly expected us to be in hysterics over the excruciatingly annoying idiot waiter (the sort for people who think Dean Shek is too subtle), but the real chuckles come from the Gandalf-ish old sifu, who dismisses the depressed Dragon as a "lily-livered coward" and who is later referred to by a rather underused Eagle Han Ying as a "long-haired son of a she-goat!"
4/10


The Thundering Mantis (1980)

Leung Kar-yan leaves sanity behind in this decent kung fu comedy…a comedy which becomes awfully dark in the last reel. Decent support from Chin Yuet-sang and Eddie Ko help too, but everything is stolen by a freakishly talented child performer who must have gone through hell to learn the stunts he does here. Most of the fights are made even cooler by the sampling of Riz Ortolani's theme to "Brutes and Savages."
And this film makes it official: Leung Kar-yan is the Messiah.
7/10


Challenge of the Boxers (1973)

Taiwanese basher…Chinese vs Japanese…same old, same old…wait, what's this? Chen Hung-lieh as a not-so-bad Japanese pining for his lost sweetheart? Well, it's different, I'll grant you.
5/10


Big Brother (1974)


Taiwanese basher along the lines of Boxer from Shantung (country bumpkin goes to the city and joins a life of crime). Extremely mediocre, with a poor lead, and far too many comedy punches-to-the-groin for its time. Not terrible, but nothing special.
4/10


Seeding of a Ghost (1983)

OK, the first 20 minutes aren't very promising. Phillip Ko has a brief encounter with a wizard that is so random and brief you feel you've missed something. We get 20 min of softcore shennaigans between Ko's wife and Tsui Siu-keung (including a Baywatchish slow-motion run in the surf) which makes you wonder if someone accidentally changed the channel.
But once the crazy supernaturual hijinks begin, the film really starts to up its game. Brain-eating, throwing-up of worms, nude exorcisms, intercourse between a withered corpse and a cartoon…this film has everything. And the ending, featuring an alarming Alien-style birth, is so surreal it becomes far more unsettling then you'd expect.
And nothing signals that the-times-are-changing then seeing Shaw matriarch Ouyang Sha-fei fleeing in terror before a mass of hentai-ish tentacles…
7/10



The Tattooed Dragon (1974)


Considering how poor I found A Man Called Tiger and Seaman No.7, my hopes were not high for this third collaboration between Lo Wei and Jimmy Wang Yu. But it's not too bad, just very ordinary. A very young Sam Hui is a supporting lead, sadly minus his voice (he is dubbed into Mandarin) or indeed any songs; there's an OTT mass suicide scene that comes out of nowhere; the fights are formulaic but decent; the Thai scenery is pretty; and there's a dog which is definitely NOT called Lassie which steals the whole show!
Note: Wang Yu seems to have transformed into a Jo Shisido lookalike overnight!
6/10
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Taxi Hunter (Hong Kong, 1993) [DVD] - 2.5/5
Uneven thriller features a solid Anthony Wong performance and cool, urban early 90s Hong Kong cityscapes, but suffers from predictability. From the very outset it's quite obvious how the story is going to play out, a problem made worse by the fact that it's a drama heavy film, which makes it feel emotionally manipulative in a very obvious way. Also,although often mistaken as a CAT III film, this isn't one, nor does it contain anything that would warrant such a rating.

Yakuza Masterpiece (Japan, 1970) [VoD] - 4.5/5
Shintaro Katsu gives the performance of a lifetime in this absolutely mind blowing yakuza film by Yasuzo Masumura. Katsu is a hot headed gangster who treats women like trash, except for his little sister (Naoko Otani), whose innocence is his only pride. He guards her night and day and beats all the boyfriend candidates to hospital, desperately trying to make sure she won't become what he is. But after he lands in jail (for not only beating the shit out of four men, but also the policemen who came to arrest him) she's left alone. Ironically, she chooses to follow her brother's path. A thoroughly gripping film with amazing performances by Katsu and little sister Otani, who can more than stand up against Katsu. This film serves as a good reminder that modern Japanese gangster films are nothing but a lame joke compared to movies like this; and Otani has more balls than the entire male cast of Gonin Saga (2015).

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Velvet Hustler (Japan, 1967) [DVD] - 2.5/5
Considered one of the Nikkatsu Action classics, I must say this wasn't entirely my cup of tea (admittedly I'm much more of a Toei man than a Nikkatsu fan). The Nikkatsu Action labelling may be slightly misleading, as it often is, considering there is essentially no action in the film. Tetsuya Watari is a young, flamboyant playboy gangster who performs a hit in Tokyo in the opening scene. The rest of the film he spends in Kobe, mainly sitting in the harbour, going to trendy bars, and getting bored with his girlfriend. Stylish execution, but not much happens in the film.

Big Time Gambling Boss (Japan, 1968) [DVD] - 4/5
Part 4 in the Gambling Den series, generally considered one of the finest yakuza films of all time and compared to Greek tragedies by Yukio Mishima. The comparison is apt as the film plays out like a "Japanese Tragedy" arising from the traditional codes of honour, loyalty, and seniority. The tragedy begins when Koji Tsuruta, the highest ranking man in a yakuza clan, refuses leadership out of courtesy. The second man in line (Tomisaburo Wakayama) is bypassed for to being in prison although he's about to be released. A dishonest senior member (Nobuo Kaneko) gets his own candidate (Hiroshi Nawa) selected despite Tsuruta's objections. Valuing gang loyalty above anything, Tsuruta accepts the decision and backs it up, unlike friend Wakayama who begins a fight against the new boss who doesn't not realize he is being used by Kaneko. Beautifully written and in a way restrained (no major final fight), although overly melodramatic story about the conflict between personal feelings and a loyalty for a system.

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