Monday, November 28, 2011

Superman in Istanbul (Super Adam Istanbulda)


Director: Yavuz YalinkiliƧ
Starring: Erdo Vatan, Safiye Yanki, Hayati Hamzaoglu

I've seen my fair share of no budget Turkish extravaganzas in recent years, but even going by the criteria.that these films have laid out, this is a particularly desperate affair. The Superman costume looks as if it will rip apart at the seems at any moment and there is absolutely nothing in the way of production or film technique to be had here. Yeah, I know that can be said about any number of like Turkish Pop films, but for some reason, I really felt it this time. If ever a film looked like it was made on the fly, it was this one. Yet despite my whining, this is a Turkish superhero adventure made at the height of these films' popularity and as such, there is plenty of fun to be had.

Lensed in 1972, Superman in Istanbul portrays the Man of Steel as a secret agent from America who along with his female sidekick, infiltrates a hippy flop house that is actually a front for a human traffic ring (at least I think that's the jist of the story as my dvdr came without English subtitles). The majority of this 63 minute epic consists of fights, tortures, escapes, more fights, more captures, more tortures, more escapes etc.

The opening scene is actually the most memorable segment. After being repeatedly stabbed, an unlucky damsal wanders the streets, blood running down her legs to the point of leaving bloody footprints. As she stumbles about, the film's credits are literally written on the ground beneath her. This seems to be the only part of the film that shows evidence of any real thought or consideration.

One thing noticeable about this Superman is that he doesn't fly. He arrives on the scene via commercial airliner. This undoubtably is due to the fact that there was no budget for any effects whatsoever. To make up for this, our male and female pair do summersaults during combat; LOTS of them. Even when there is no reason for it, they'll just do all sorts of front and back flips. It was an attempt at making a spectacle of the fight scenes, but comes off as more comically awkward than anything else.

Despite the seeming negativity of this review, I actually did kind of enjoy Superman in Istanbul. It can't compare to 3 Dev Adam or Bedmen Yarasa Adam, but it is still an action and sleeze filled Turkish film from the 70s and that alone makes it worth seeking out.

                                                                **1/2 / ****

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Yes Madam (aka In the Line of Duty 2) (aka Police Assassins 2)


Director: Corey Yuen
Starring: Michelle Khan (Yeoh), Cynthia Royhrock, Mang Hoi, John Shum, Tsui Hark

The story surrounding the various titles for this seminal "Girls with guns" film is about as checkered and downright confusing as any I've ever come across. I first saw this film in 1988 (dubbed in English as Police Assassins 2) and to this day, I'm still a little fuzzy about it's genesis. To the best of my knowledge it was filmed in 1985 as Yes Madam, but shelved because the Producers at D & B (a new and short lived Hong Kong film company) considered it unreleasable (!). When the semi sequel, Royal Warriors was a hit the following year, Yes Madam was dusted off and finally released as R.W.s sequel. In other countries, Royal Warriors was known alternately as Police Assassins and In the Line of Duty, so Yes Madam was similarly retitled once again as the sequel, even though it came first. Got that?

Multiple titles notwithstanding, Yes Madam is a real treat. It was one of my first experiences with the modern Hong Kong action films of the '80s (and my first that didn't star Jackie Chan) and I was properly blown away by it.

The film pairs Michelle Yeoh (then named Michelle Khan) and Cynthia Rothrock as mismatched police women who attempt to bring down a crime lord (played by long time vet, James Tien) only to have their paths cross with a trio of bumbling, yet clever thieves (John Shum, Mang Hoi and Tsui Hark).

It at times resembles that of Sammo Hung's Lucky Stars series, but it melds it's goofy comedy into the dead serious action in a much more satisfying brew. This of course, causes the film to be more than a little schizophrenic. But as uneven as it is, it really hits the ground running and proceeds at such a breakneck pace that it's almost impossible not to get caught up in it's wild shenanigans.

Director and choreographer Corey Yuen (who would eventually helm films like The Transporter) was one of the unsung heroes of the 80s modern action movement. As a choreographer, he is almost without peer as this and his followup effort, Righting Wrongs (which pairs Rothrock with Yuen Biao) so vividly point out. Here, the action is nothing short of incredible. The finale in particular ranks as one of the ten best in any Hong Kong movie of this vintage (meaning it ranks as one of the ten best from any movie ever).

As for our two leading ladies, this was Michelle Yeoh's first starring vehicle (she previously had a small non-action role as a demure school teacher in the film Owl vs. Dumbo) and for a relative rookie, she makes the most of it, displaying a ferociousness that she has not matched since. Ladylike one moment, she can go all out Dirty Harry the next (as demonstrated in the film's opening scene, complete with a "do you feel lucky?" riff). The film really takes off however, with the arrival of Rothrock as a super tough and quite ornary detective from America (Scotland Yard in the original, alternate English dub). A real life Black Belt in several varying martial arts forms, Rothrock puts her talents to terrific use here (though both ladies understandably were doubled for the really dangerous stunts of which there are plenty).

Special mention should go to Dick Wei (aka Ti Wei). One of Hong Kong's consistently best bad guys from this period, Wei can be seen in everything from 5 Deadly Venoms (where he played the dying master in the pre credits sequence) to Project A (where he had arguably his most memorable role as the Pirate leader). Playing the gangster's right hand man, he gets to battle both Yeoh and Rothrock in the finale and nearly wins. In real life, Wei was apparently as rough and tough as his characters and did not pull his screen punches. The story goes that at one point, he kicked Rothrock so hard in the head that she bled out of her ear! Not nice...

While hardly high art, Yes Madam gives as much high caliber bang for your buck as any you are likely to see. A personal favorite.

                                                               ***1/2 / ****

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Living Skeleton

Director: Hiroshi Matsuno
Starring: Kikko Matsuoka, Yasunori Irikawa, Masumi Okada

Until fairly recently, this film existed as something of a legend in my eyes. Way back in the early 1970s at the tender age of 5 or 6, I picked up my first ever monster movie book. It was titled A Pictorial History of Horror Movies and became a huge reference book for me growing up. It detailed mostly classic horror and sci fi (very Universal heavy) from the silents up until the 1950s. Anything made in the 60s got little more than a passing nod. Even still, there were several photos from seemingly obscure movies that went otherwise unmentioned anywhere else in the book. One of these photos showed a maniacal skeleton menacing a terrified Japanese woman. It was identified as a film called The Living Skeleton and was released in 1968. That was it, no other mention of it otherwise. For decades, that one picture was my only reference. It wasn't until a few years ago that I became aware of the availability of this film. Once I finally saw it, I made a discovery; that picture is a publicity photo. Despite the title, there is no actual living, moving skeleton in the movie. My thirty five year plus perception of what this film is was based on false hype. This isn't some silly, freaky Kaiju at all. What it is, is a decidedly creepy and occasionally hair raising ghost story.

The opening scene is especially memorable. A group of pirates massacres a ship full of people in a callous heist. It is a surprisingly gruesome sequence for it's time as you genuinely feel for these poor souls (both men and women) as they are being mercilessly gunned down. Fast forward to where the pirates have split up and are enjoying the spoils of their cruel conquest with the scarred and bald leader (played by actor Atsushi Murakami of Latitude Zero and T.V.'s Ambassador Magma) disguising himself as a Priest, no less. However, visions of those whom they murdered seem to be dogging them. Are they being haunted by ghosts or are they merely imagining it?

The director is Hiroshi Matsuno and I've not found another film to his credit. It is very eerily filmed, so I would think he had directed more than this one effort. More telling perhaps is that this tale was penned by none other than Kyuzo Kobayashi of Goke - Bodysnatcher From Hell and Genocide - War of the Insects fame and this film definitely bears the mark of this unique writer.

Others have pointed out this ghost ship story's similarities to John Carpenter's The Fog. While it is possible that Carpenter saw this until recently obscure Japanese movie, I tend to think that it's just a coincidence. It would make for a pretty nifty double bill, however.

Shot in claustrophobic black and white and with a pervasive gloom and doom atmosphere as thick as the fog bound ghost ship itself, The Living Skeleton shapes up as stirring "tell me a scary story" fun that is worth seeking out.

                                                             *** / ****

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Big Showdown (aka Kung Fu Massacre)

Director: Wang Tim Lam
Starring Charles Heung, Jin Fu Wan

A particularly fast and furious basher from 1974. Right from the get go as the opening credits roll and we see star Charles Heung doing various forms intercut with co star Jin Fu Wan overseeing his students as they beak boards, etc, this film let's us know in no uncertain term that it means business.

Returning home from being abroad, Tang Kin Ko (Heung) discovers his family dead and sister missing. He is to secretly meet with his Uncle Cheung, who will explain to him what is going on. However, he is then killed and Tang falsely accused of the murder by police (nice detective work, boys). Forced to go on the run, Tang stumbles into the mansion of a rich gangster named Towan (I think). Towan sees Tang's skills first hand and decides that he would be of use to him. He allows him to join his gang with the promise of helping to find the cause of his family's murder and sister's long disappearance (in fact as will be revealed and to no one's surprise, Towan is actually the cause of Tang's problems). Eventually, Tang runs afoul of a mysterious stranger (Jin Fu Wan) who is after Towan himself for stealing both his money and wife (yeah this Towan guy, he's just not a nice guy). After initially feuding with each other (and after more subplots including Tang's capture by the police, being sprung by the stranger and the surprise discovery of his sister), our two heroes team up and after special training, attack Towan and his gang.

Despite some overly simplistic direction from Wang Tim Lam, The Big Showdown still emerges as one of the better bashers I've seen and this is due in no small part to the fantastic choreography from the up and coming Yuen Wo Ping. As the most prominent member of the famed Yuen Clan, he has gone on to direct and choreograph evrerything from the Jackie Chan's twin breakthrough efforts, Snake in the Eagle's Shadow and Drunken Master to classics like Dance of the Drunken Mantis and Legend of a Fighter to wacky kung fu comedies like Taoism Drunkard before coming to Hollywood to choreograph the Matrix trilogy. Here, he proves that in addition to doing complex "Shapes" type action, he can direct some fast paced, down and dirty Basher action as well as anybody. Heung is very good here as he has been in most films I've seen him in (the previously reviewed Goose Boxer, appearing as the bodyguard in God Gamblers, etc.). I admit I'm less familiar with costar Jin Fu Wan. He appears to have made precious few movie appearances and I'm guessing may be an actual martial arts instructor (if the opening credits are any indication). He's not much of an actor (little in the way of facial expression), but he does have a certain charisma and if anything, may be an even better screen fighter tha Heung (it is he who has to teach Heung advanced fighting tricks before the finale). Jin's kicks are fast and powerful, rivaling those of Hwang In Sik and other noted Korean kickers of the period.

Also of note is the soundtrack which makes good use of Ennio Morricone's score from The Big Gundown, notably the famed "Hunt in the Cane Field" sequence.

Overall despite the going through the motions feel of the plot, the outstanding and abundant fights (which continue to build properly right up to the finale) and the presence of the two leads elevate The Big Showdown to high level, high energy fighting fun.

                                                              *** / ****