Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Live Hard

                                             Director: Yeun Cheung Yan
Starring: Simon Yam, Hwang Jang Lee, Lau Ching Wan, Kim Maree Penn, Elaine Liu, Eddie Ko

Despite the title, this ultra rarity is not a tongue in cheek spoof of 'Die Hard'. Rather, it is a fairly solid entry from the waning years of Hong Kong's modern day action cycle.

Hong Kong cop, Hui (Simon Yam) is investigating a band of terrorists who killed the son of a high ranking official, but finds his progress constantly impeded by his superior. Meanwhile, a top undercover unit is maneuvering to quickly find out exactly who the next target is before it's too late. Hui manages to capture the perceived ringleader named Ironman (Eddie Ko), but he is promptly released and Hui finds himself suspended (Ironman as it turns out, was a member of the special unit working undercover). Undaunted, he carries on his investigation, befriending an American reporter (Kim Maree Penn) for info, not realizing she is in fact the head of the terrorist organization...

The story is pretty generic and the script is a purely going by the numbers affair with little character development and somewhat of a laxed buildup to the action scenes. What makes 'Live Hard such a treat is the high quality of the action itself and it's large cast of notable actors and fighters. In an early role, Simon Yam already has charisma to spare, even if his role is so underdeveloped. As the head of the undercover unit, Hwang Jang Lee (in one of his last roles) gets to show off his supreme kicks in several fight scenes, showing no signs of aging. This is a good role for the Korean superkicker, one that should make his fans mucho happy. Genre fave Elaine Liu plays a member of Hwang's squad and unfortunately does not have a whole lot to do until the finale. I for one would have liked to have seen her role expanded a bit. Making her debut, Austrailain Karate expert Kim Marie Penn definately leaves an impression. Her acting was nothing to write home about, but she really lets it rip when the fists and feet start flying. Her final reel smackdown vs Hwang is a real eye opener. In fact the entire special unit vs terrorists finale is filled to the brim with some outstanding fights and stuntwork. US Karate champion Farley Ruth Kordica is memorable for her considerable skills and freakishly scary looks. The only other role she appeared in was 'The Witness' (aka In the Line of Duty 4) where she gets an intense one on one with Cynthia Khan. Ever reliable Mark Houghton  has a brief early appearance in the dubbed export version only as a target of the terrorists.

While it is lacking in character buildup (it plays almost as if it's first reel is missing), 'Live Hard' with it's hard hitting action and rewindable finale makes for good fun for the 80's action enthusiast.

                                                                         Rating: 6/10

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

El Ultimo Kamikaze

                                                   Director: Paul Naschy
                                Starring: Paul Naschy, Iran Eory, Manuel Tejada

Been meaning to review a Paul Naschy film for some time. Ever since I caught 'Frankenstein's Bloody Terror' (aka Mark of the Wolfman) on T.V. as a youngin', I always had a curiosity about Mr. Naschy. His werewolf portrayal was and is in my opinion, the most brutal and most frightening lycanthrope ever commited to film. For the longest time, it was the only one of his films I ever caught. Not until the late '80s did I begin to hunt down his other horror films on old beat up vhs bootlegs. But despite my efforts this one, 'El Ultimo Kamikaze' remained aloof. So rare was this one back then that I couldn't even find a plot description. Judging by the title, I had assumed it was a WW2 action flick. When I finally got my hands on a semi-decent (and sadly untranslated) print, I discovered that it was nothing of the kind...

Striking me as a sort of low rent Jean Pierre Melville homage, 'El Ultimo Kamikaze' features a pair pf rival hitmen on a collision course. One of them (Naschy) is haunted by memories of his father, an SS enforcer.

Naschy uses this premise as a means to stage as many 'hits' as possible. All obviously carefully planeed, yet somewhat hampered by poor editing and lack of buildup. Still, it is worth checking out for the many oddball disguises that our writer/director/star dons. These include what can be described as a homeless version of Gandalf from Lord of the Rings (and the sight of him speeding away on a motorcycle, still in this getup is one you will not soon forget), a plummer (his victim is appropriately sitting on the toilet at the moment of his demise) and most memorably (though not in a good way) as a woman (making the likes of Dame Edna look attractive by comparison). All of these are shot without even the slightest hint of tongue in cheek parody. Of course, he also dons the titled Japanese warrior outfit for his climatic showdown but due to the lack of an English translation, I'm not exactly sure why.

Though it should have been livelier and more exciting than it was, 'El Ultimo Kamikaze' is worth seeing as a Naschy oddity. As one of two Japanese co-productions (the other being the admittedly far superior 'Beast and the Magic Sword' which posits Naschy's werewolf in feudal Japan - now why the hell didn't I review that film?!), it's worth catching for fans of this unique character who are in the mood for something a little different.

... and those disguises...

                                                                     Rating: 5/10

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Za Karate 2 (The Karate 2)

                                                  Director: Yukio Noda
                   Starring: Tadashi Yamashita, Shingo Yamashiro, Yoko Horikashi

Way back in the '80s, I had first seen 'The Karate' under it's ridiculous U.S. retitling, 'Bronson Lee, Champion'. Little did I realize at the time that it was merely the first of an increasingly bizarre trilogy of straight faced action satires, the kind that only Japan could have produced.

In the trilogy, star Tadashi Yamashita plays a fighter named... Tadashi Yamashita (He is never referred to as Bronson Lee at any point in the dubbed version, but nevermind). In the first entry, he loses his sight through the treachery of his rivals, yet still enters a high stakes tournament in order to help his ailing grandmother.

For the sequel, director Yukio Noda amps up both the action and ridiculousness considerably. The film opens with Yamashita being challenged by the 'Guillotine Brothers' of New Guinea. He defeats the pair only to be forbidden from fighting by his karate instructor (Masafumi Suzuki, best known for his appearances in Sonny Chiba's 'Streetfighter' films). Regardless, once word of the Guillotine Brothers' defeat spreads, fighters from all over the world are dispatched to kill Yamashita as well as steal the prized 'Orikirimaru Sword'.

With the unwanted melodrama of the first film out of the way, Yukio Noda runs wild here, using up much of the film's running time on Yamashita's increasingly bizarre array of opponents/assassins. They are Korean Hap Ki Do master Kim Jin Pai (also going under his real name as well as martial arts style; and star of Hong Kong films like 'The Madarin (Godfathers of Hong Kong) and 'Valley of the Double Dragon' (Kung Fu of Tai Kwan Do), reviewed elsewhere in this blog), West Germany's 'Blue Geller' (who supports what may be the worst hairdo in the history of cinema), Sweden's 'Dr. One', U.S.A.'s completely crazed (naturally) 'Killer Samson' (who's uniquely designed Sai helps Yamashita I.D. the main villain) and the most dreaded of all, Dracula Jack (Bolo Yang Sze in a particularly imposing cameo).Yamashita himself is in top form (squeaky faux Bruce Lee wails and all) and the nearly constant duels between he and his goon squad of nemesis' build properly and impressively, leading to a dual climax (first an Enter the Dragon style free for all, followed by one last smackdown on a sandy beach) that's as good as any you'll see in the genre.

It isn't all fun and fury, however. The film does settle down in it's middle section as Yamashita befriends a bullied child and teaches him some basic karate moves. Luckily, these scenes don't last very long and are not as sappy as they may have been. Then there's Yamashita's goofy sidekick. His typical antics are of the 'look how great I am, oof I hurt myself' variety. Not as embarrassingly bad as some similar characters I've endured in like films from Hong Kong and Italy and I at least found him to be mildly amusing in spots, but really could have done without this guy, altogether.

These minor complaints aside, 'The Karate 2' adds up to mucho high octane fun for the undemanding, thrill seeking Karate film fan (and really, is there any other kind?).

                                                                   Rating: 6/10