Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Kadin Hamlet (Female Hamlet)

                                                 Director: Metin Erksan
                           Starring: Fatma Girik, Sevda Ferdag, Reha Yurdakul

Director Metin Erksan was one of Turkey's most celebrated directors throughout the '50s and '60s. He is responsible for some of that country's great fantasy dramas including, 'Yilanlarin Ocu', 'Suzuz Yaz' and 'Kuyu' for which he was named 'Best Director' (sadly, none of which have I had the chance to get acquainted with... yet). Here in the States, he is for better or worse known for his entertainingly cheesey 'Exorcist' remake, 'Seytan'. In 1976, he embarked on possibly his most challenging film, a modern reinterpretation of Shakespeare's 'Hamlet'... with a woman as the title character. I've had this film in my collection for over two years, but have not bothered to watch it until now. Having been so unfamiliar with Erksan's work, I went into this film expecting some awkward, yet hopefully enjoyably silly pic. I couldn't have been more wrong...

Attempting to translate the work of Shakespeare to film and not have one's self come off as appearing foolish is daunting enough. To do what Erksan has done here would seem like nothing less than an attempt at late career suicide. Low on budget with the majority of the movie taking place outdoors (including a beach retreat scene with 70s disco music playing in the background!), 'Kadin Hamlet' had the makings of a disaster on an epic scale. Yet somehow Erksan turns what easily could have been a complete embarrassment into an abstract work of art. Nearly every scene rings true to the original literary's intention and much of the visual sensibility is striking. I became completely engrossed in the familiar drama, realizing I was watching a master filmmaker in full command of his surroundings.

Still as tightly done and visually stunning as it is, 'Kadin Hamlet' would not have worked without a strong actress in the lead. enter Fatma Girik, a prolific actress (later turned politician) whose performance as Hamlet would make or break the picture. She attacks the role, lending it both the necessary intensity and sense of grandeur that was so vital to it's success. It was a completely convincing performance even during the 'mock' insanity sequences and staged musical section (which serves as the film's centerpiece). Girik's mastery in front of the camera equaled Erksan's work behind it.

'Kandin Hamlet' may not be 100% successful (it's a filmed interpretation of Shakespeare afterall; how could it be?), but it does make for compellingly bizarre viewing. It also shows why Metin Erksan was such a highly praised and revered craftsman in his home country. If he was able to make this material work so well, one is left figuring that he was capable of just about anything.

                                                                   *** / ****

Monday, August 13, 2012

Close Escaoe

                                              Director: Chung Wing Chow
                        Starring: Max Mok, Aaron Kwok, Yukari Oshima, Dick Wei

Back in 1991-92, I was venturing into a Korean owned video store that among other things, was renting recent (at the time) Hong Kong movies (unfortunately with Korean subtitles that sometimes obscured the English ones). For a mere buck, I was able to keep the film for a week. Not a bad deal. So each week for a couple of years, I rented three movies per week and copied them onto a 6 hour blank vhs. A good way back then to increase my collection, especially since I was on a strict budget (and let's face it, I'm ALWAYS on a strict budget). At the time there were quite a few films I never heard of that I took a chance on because of a certain actor ot actors in them. This one, Close Escape I rented because it co-starred Yukari Oshima, probably the best fighting femme in '80s Hong Kong cinema. I figured, "what the heck. even if it turns out to be bad it still stars 'The Osh' and that's certaintly worth a buck...".

The plot; a man named Lam dying of cancer, needs to raise money so that his younger brother, Wai Leong can complete medical school. His way of raising said cash is to join a gang that is planning a diamond heist. During a dispute, Lam is killed but not before he successfully hides the stolen jewels. Wai happens on the scene and is promptly framed by the gang for the murder (yep, things are not going too well) and finds himself on the run. Realizing that he had been given counterfeit jewels, the enraged gang leader sends an assassin after Wai, who by this time has aligned with a police detective friend.Wai also runs into a female Japanese reporter named Miko whom after initially distrusting, eventually finds himself falling for.

Yep, the plot is a convoluted and only semi involving pot boiler. Aaron Kwok and Max Mok were the two main stars and they were (as usual) fine, but nothing special. I never found either actor to be particularly compelling and if I end up watching a movie featuring either, it's for reasons other than that they are in it. This film truly comes to life when Yukari Oshima enters the picture. 'The Osh' is always incredible, whether the film itself is or not. Her role as the reporter/plant/love interest here is one of her best. She gets to be tough and vulnerable and pulls both off with conviction.

'Close Escape is directed by Chung Wing Chow who does a decent job of keeping the proceedings moving along. What this film benefits from in a big way is the action choreography from none other than 'Venom Mob' alumni Kuo Chui (aka Phillip Kwok). Kuo was one of the Shaw Brothers' top fighter/stuntmen in the latter half of the '70s. His fight and stunt work behind the camera matches what he had previously done in front of it and then some! The action that takes place during the second half is absolutely terrific with the finale being one of the best I have ever seen, rivaling the best of Sammo Hung's and Yuen Kwai's output. Dick Wei appears in the film as a villainous henchman and he has never been tougher or more menacing. His climatic bout with Yukari is positively brutal, rivaling his work in 'Yes Madam' and hers in 'Angel' (yes, THAT good as the clip I added below will attest to).

Close Escape is one of those films where you will need to be patient with a fairly slow and workmanlike first half. If you do, then you will be well rewarded with some incredibly hard hitting action and a top notch 'Osh' perf.

                                                                 *** / ****

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


                                              Director: Hirokazu Takemoto
   Starring: Michie Azuma, Mimi Fukada, Bunjaku Han, Yuriko Hishimi, Yumiko Katayama

For anyone needing a reason to support the argument that Japan.of the 70s positively ruled the Television airwaves, they would need to look no further than this amazing,  boundary breaking program.

The story; Makoto Masako is an independently wealthy socialite and mystery novelist who decides to go into business for herself. The business of choice, assembling an all female detective agency. Recruiting beautiful, thrill seeking amateurs, Masako sends her 'Playgirls' into motion solving all sorts of crimes, be it insurance fraud, robbery, white slavery, organized crime etc. The bulk of each sixty minute episode features several of our fabulous femmes going undercover before gleefully unleashing their inner badassery on their hapless targets, be it with guns or feet 'n fists (usually both).

With tongue firmly in cheek, 'Playgirl' was a sensation in Japan as it combined action, intrigue and an eyebrow raising amount of nudity. This titillating (pun somewhat intended) combo ensured that high ratings would be the norm during it's five year run. That it was a consisitantly well made and executed program didn't hurt either. I personally had just caught up with it a couple of years ago and found that even without English subtitles (which WOULD be welcome, hint!) this show was something special. Seemingly influenced by 'The Avengers' and especially 'Honey West', the real surprise was this show's startling similarity to 'Charlie's Angels' which 'Playgirl' preceeded by several years!

Amongst the cast of beauties, the one that stood out for me was Yumiko Katayama. I grew up watching Ms. Katayama as Mitsuko Nishino (U5) on 'Giant Robo' (aka 'Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot'). I almost didn't recognize her in 'Playgirl', having such a sexed up role (and she is VERY sexy on the show). Following this, she would take on even more risque roles in films such as the first of the 'Female Prisoner Scorpion' series (where she has a lesbian encounter with star Meiko Kaji) as well as 'Delinquent Girl Boss, Worthless to Confess' and 'Criminal Woman, Killing Melody'. Have to wonder what Johnny and the rest of the Unicorn Organization would make of this...

                                                               *** / ****