Press "Enter" to skip to content

Month: August 2004

Mirror mirror

I figured Into The Mirror was going to be just another postmillenial Asian horror film. (How quickly we become jaded!) Turns out it’s a cop movie about the redemption of a man who got his partner killed and now labors as a security guard. His story just happens to take place in the context of a clever slasher movie with Asian horror elements to it.

The lead, Ji-tae Yu, was the antagonist in Oldboy, and while I didn’t like Oldboy that much, I remember thinking he was good. I’m coming perilously close to having enough of a handle on Korean cinema to go out hunting obscure DVDs. Gotta keep a handle on that tendency.

But back to the movie. It was exceedingly slick and well-done. All the Korean movies I’ve seen over the last year or so have had excellent production values. The horror gimmick in Into The Mirror is, of course, mirrors — the department store in which various awful things take place is full of them, and plenty of other reflective surfaces. The cinematography rocked the house; once the mirror theme was established, you couldn’t blink without getting creeped out.

The director made pretty top-notch use of the theme, too, all the way through to the truly disturbing ending. I think it was effective because, as we all know, mirrors are a little creepy, and they do feel like a window into another world. Into The Mirror nails that feeling in the same way as — bear with me, this is an odd comparison — Alice In Wonderland.

The other thing I found interesting is that, insofar as it uses horrific elements, it draws more on slasher movies than on recent Asian horror cinema. Sure, there’s a mystery and a spirit and a unifying theme, but… it doesn’t have the linear elements I associate with the Asian stuff, and it doesn’t have the predetermination aspects. C.f. Ringu and One Missed Call, in both of which you know you’re going to buy the farm.

Of course, the spirits and the tragic motivating intelligence behind it all are still there, so maybe my distinction is without merit. I’ll have to ponder on it.

We also got a new trailer before this one: Dark Water, the new-to-North-America movie from Hideo Nakata, who directed Ringu. It looked pretty good. Hm, and looks like he’s directing Ring 2 over here in America. Interesting.

With violins

That was kind of like finding a string quartet in the middle of a Metallica album. (Yes, I know.) After two days of gleeful carnage, sudden action, and low humor, Robot Stories came along and provided two hours of gently humanistic science fiction.

There’s science fiction as the literature of ideas, in which the driving force is the concept; then there’s science fiction that uses the tropes of science fiction to tell stories that couldn’t exist in the world in which we live. Greg Pak’s movie is the latter. The best of the four independent segments is the last, “Clay,” which tells the story of a dying sculptor grappling with the possibility of uploading himself and finding immortality. It’s a common enough science fictional concept, but the segment is not about the implications of uploading — although Pak clearly understands them — it’s about the implications of the human decision to upload or not upload.

It warms my heart to see quote unquote art films walking this territory. This made a really nice change of pace from the rest of FantAsia, and now it’s off to see a Korean horror movie.

Singing electric

The biggest obstacle in the path of machinima is the lack of expressiveness in 3D game engines. Of course, Malice@Doll’s characters were completely without expression, so maybe it’s not such a big barrier after all. Red Vs. Blue gets around the problem by using characters in powered armor. This works out just fine.

Burnie Burns, the director and creator, has enough of a handle on what he’s doing to pull off double-takes, both in the character animations and with the camera, which is more than I can say for some traditional directors. He’s got the chops to make machinima believable as cinema. He also knows how to protect his weaknesses: for example, shaky voice acting is fixed up by filtering everyone through radio static, which makes perfect sense in the powered armor context.

As a movie, Red Vs. Blue is ambitious. Much of the story is twenty-something gamer humor; the characters aren’t futuristic soldiers, they’re a bunch of geeks in powered armor behaving like you’d expect geeks in powered armor to behave. Albeit ones who’ve been through basic training. Burns goes for real emotion here and there, and sort of hits the target, but if this was a live action film it wouldn’t be worth more than a few chuckles.

Notwithstanding, it’s tremendously cool as a signpost and it succeeds on its own terms. It’s — ah. It’s not amateur, it’s proficient. It proves that the tools can do what they need to do in order to make a real movie. The remaining barrier is facial expressions, That’s a problem which game publishers want to solve, for many of the same reasons; it won’t surprise me if ten years from now machinima is as mainstream in the same way that print on demand publishing is mainstream today. Which is to say “marginally” but also “promising.”

Is this the real life

Was that another day? I think so. I lost track of reality around the time I walked out of Harry Knuckles and the Pearl Necklace, which drew so heavily on action movies and the vocabulary of action established by Hong Kong kung fu movies, and walked into Executioners From Shaolin. When I woke up this morning, I expected the television to speak to me in Japanese. I’ve seen movies in four languages and trailers in a couple more, and I’m not even talking about the cinematic vocabularies I seem to be obsessing on in other posts.

Watching the permutation of the audiences has been fascinating. Toolbox Murders was clogged with people in death metal T-shirts who cheered when victims bought it. The Miike movies had a gender-balanced audience, somewhat to my surprise. Perhaps he has intellectual street cred, these days. Executioners from Shaolin drew a male, vocal audience. The guy with the Exalted rulebook didn’t attend any movies I saw, but I walked past him two or three times today.

And everything outside is in French. There’s some terminology around apartments that I can’t figure out; everything’s a 1 1/2, or a 2 1/2, or a 3 1/2 — like that. I’m guessing it means rooms, but I’m not sure. There was a big chunk of mayonnaise on my shwarma this morning next to the tahini. This area of Montreal is pretty multicultural, too: Chinese and Thai and Vietnamese and Middle Eastern. Funky and fun.

This is exactly why I decided to see 14 movies in three days. It was the right decision. Can’t wait for tomorrow.

One D, three D

Malice@Doll. Uh. Fetishistic 3D CGI adult anime set in a future without people. Malice is a sex doll who encounters some sort of monster that changes her into a human and gives her the ability to do the same to other machines. There are tenticular penises involved, sometimes, but not always. Things do not go as well as the newly human Malice had hoped.

I think it was some kind of allegory for the danger of letting women and robots get uppity, although Malice does get to transcend at the end. Everyone else goes back to normal, though. A fair number of people walked out during the movie, and Hillside Strangler has been displaced as the worst movie I’ve seen so far.

That Jack

Toolbox Murders starts out as a simple slasher flick, then takes a sharp right turn into semi-Masonic horror. But the slasher element never gets too far away. Basic plot: nice young couple moves into creepy apartment building with alchemical symbols on the floor. People die. Wife discovers something she will regret discovering, and explores it. That last bit is the sharp right turn, and if you’re the kind of person who really liked the house in The Blair Witch Project and that cave in Jeepers Creepers, you’d really like the places this movie goes.

Despite Tobe Hooper’s fairly good track record, I believe Toolbox Murders went more or less straight to video. Kind of a pity; it’s better than most slasher flicks that hit the theaters. Also, it’s got Juliet Landau (who you may recognize as Drusilla) in it. Most of all, it’s got a tenuous grounding in Jack Parson’s Babalon Working.

Seriously! It’s pretty tenuous, though. Really just a one-line tossaway: “They worshipped a god, a man who mixed magic and rocket science.” Since the movie takes place in Hollywood, and since the antecedent to “they” is Hollywood stars, the reference is fairly obvious. Well, if you’re a Jack Parsons fan. The timeline works out, too, if I’m not mistaken.

Anyhow. I’m not going to say it’s a great work of art, but I will say that Tobe Hooper has a very good sense of how to make a simple movie scary. His use of setting is superb; in order for this movie to work, the apartment building has to be creepy but conceivably a place where people would live, and he pulls that off with flair. I’d definitely recommend looking Toolbox Murders up if you like horror.


Now, see, we’re back to the joys of genre films that don’t wink at the audience again. After Harry Knuckles I was kind of resigned to Enter… Zombie King! being another semi-pro cheese-fest. (Note to self: get some info for this movie entered into IMDB, stat.) As it turns out, Stacey Case is a serious fan of zombies and wrestling and his movie rocks hard.

It’s the same basic precept. Once you accept a world in which masked wrestlers are superstars of justice and zombies roam the earth, there’s nothing in the movie that sacrifices the plot for the sake of laughs. Occasionally the wrestlers serve as top secret consultants for the government, and that’s cool too. Since the movie takes itself seriously, it works.

The wrestling was also fairly decent. Whoever was under those masks either had some actual training or put some time into working on their moves, which is nice. The screenwriter tossed in a couple of technical wrestling terms without being a showoff; also good. And Case clearly also has a handle on the importance of wrestling dynasties and family and honor.

Mind you, you don’t have to be the mad wrestling fan that I am to enjoy this movie. My pal Chris thought it was just grand. There’s honor and battle and zombies and love and at least one very disturbing kiss. The acting was a cut above what one might expect, although that may have been because most of the protagonists were behind masks.

Good clean fun. I want to do something with the concept of a small squad of masked wrestlers working as government agents someday. I also want to find a clean segue into noting that I got an extra kick out of the movie because I wrote part of a RPG supplement with zombies and wrestlers in it, but it’s getting kind of late so I’ll give up on doing it gracefully and just get it over with.

Across the generations

Nothing like seeing a pristine copy of a Shaw Brothers film on the big screen. I think the colors were a little less saturated and the picture was a little more crisp than those on the DVDs I have; I expect the digitization process accounts for both of those. I wouldn’t really say I prefer either. Either way, I’m getting the superb kung fu and the dramatic period pieces and all.

Executioners From Shaolin is one of the inspirations for Kill Bill. Tarantino’s Pai Mei looks precisely like the Pai Mei from Executioners, down to the beard stroking gesture. This Pai Mei was somewhat less sympathetic, though, being the type of person who’d burn down the Shaolin Temple and work towards eradicating every last escapee. Tarantino’s Pai Mei might have done that kind of thing, but you didn’t see any of that on screen. Plus in Kill Bill, it’s the villain who kills off Pai Mei, not the hero.

The cool thing about Executioners is that it takes place over what has to be 30 or so years. Hong Xi-guan flees the temple as a callow youth, but in the next two hours he finds true love, gets married, and has a family. And, of course, does a lot of kung fu.

Plenty of good fight sequences, including a really good pole fight on a staircase about which I will say no more lest I ruin it. There’s an extended period of domestic kung fu which is right up there with the funniest Jackie Chan scenes. Finally, the early noble stand against ridiculous odds, brought to us by the sublime fists of Gordon Liu, is also top notch.

Edit: there was a special trailer for Man of Iron before Executioners. It made me wanna see it — cool period Shanghai piece directed by Cheh Chang. Yeah.

My fist your face

Harry Knuckles and the Pearl Necklace is an example of a semi-pro film that sort of works, unlike Hillside Strangler. The acting is kind of painful and the script is too full of action movie in-jokes that go on too long, but the tongue is in the cheek and the totality is fairly enjoyable. Besides, “Smells like fish — tastes like pain” is a great line, so that’s all good.

The plot, such as it is, centers around Bigfoot and a pair of scientists and a bagpiper and Santo the masked wrestler and a lost relative and nuns and… you know, there wasn’t really a center as much as there was a loose narrative structure on which they hung a bunch of funny bits, now that I think about it. And that’s the difference between a movie and a comedy routine.

Before the movie, the director was introduced as someone who had a real passion for wrestling, but I can’t say I saw much evidence of that besides the presence of Santo. The wrestling itself was minimal.

Oh — these are the guys that did Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter. So there’s your pedigree. On to the next flick.


OMG Cutie Honey OMG. How sad I am that I would not have seen this epic were it not for the cancellation of Porco Rosso. OMG.

I am fairly certain that, during the making of this film, not once did anyone say “We shouldn’t do that because it’d look goofier in live action than on the comic book page.” I think that there was no restraint involved in the making of this movie. Restraints, perhaps, but not restraint.

Think Holly Golightly as a superhero, without quite as much depth to her character, and you’re pretty much there. The villains are great. Black Claw is what every bishonen wants to be, but cannot be, for they do not have minions with violins providing a soundtrack at dramatically appropriate moments. The other Claws aren’t bad either. The reporter has the best hat ever, which is good, because he also has a great origin story.

In all seriousness, I think the exuberance was very effective in carrying Cutie Honey through what might have been ridiculous moments had it ever winked at the audience. The secret of great genre film — c.f. Pitch Black — is a willingness to take the rules of the particular genre seriously. Cutie Honey gets that.

OMG! Cutie Honey! Honey Flash!