Thursday, December 19, 2013

Techno Warriors

Director: Phillip Ko Fei
Starring: Darren Shahlavi, Kwang-su Lee, Monsour Del Rosario, Tamara Guo, Winston Ellis

I nearly didn't bother with this movie. About a year ago, I tracked down a 1999 sci fi/action film called Digital Warriors (aka Lethal Combat) soley because it featured Yukari Oshima (in case I haven't made it abundantly clear in this blog, absolutely anything that features The Osh is a must-see). Well that film turned out to be a turgid little mess as are most films directed by Phillip Ko. The best scenes (other than Yukari's) I later found, were actually lifted from an earlier film called Techno Warriors. Since that film was also directed by Ko and doesn't feature Yukari, I initially had zero interest in seeing it. Still, that swiped footage WAS entertaining and when a trailer finally popped up on Youtube, I decided to ignore my gut and check it out. As it turned out, that was a good move as Techno Warriors surprisingly wound up providing me with big time low budget fun. 

An inversion of Tron by way (visually) of those wonderfully cheesey low budget Italian Mad Max ripoffs of the previous decade, our story tells of a group of outlaw techno warriors (with names like Black Ninja and Dinosaur) fighting in the video game realm. They are anti technology (for whatever reason) and are hunted by high tech police. The techno warriors' goal ultimately is to kidnap a nerdy video game player and take him to their realm. Since he is able to consistently defeat them in the gaming world, they want to probe the secret of his gaming skills to control the gaming network... or something close to that.

The plot is about as irrelevant as it gets. Shot in the Phillipines, the purpose of this fun flick is to show off as many battles in as many exotic locales as could be found and to that end, it works quite wonderously. This film is exactly what the disappointing Mortal Kombat series should have been. In fact, it may be the best realized video game film ever made. The low budget (which includes minimalistic costumes and cheap laser effects) actually adds a level of wide eyed innocent charm that more expensive CGI enhanced epics can't begin to grasp. The group of fighter/acters (led by the talented Darren Shahlavi, going against type as the main hero) give it their all without a hint of self concious parody. They treat the material seriously and the film benefits greatly from it.

By far the best thing Ko has ever done as a director, Techno Warriors is pure untaxing entertainment and a joy to watch.

Rating: 8/10


Monday, December 9, 2013

Okinawa Yakuza War

Director: Sadao Nakajima
Starring: Hiroki Matsukada, Shizumi Shindo, Sonny Chiba, Tsunehiko Watase, Isao Odo

What's this? A 70s ultraviolent Japanese Yakuza pic that opens with an over the top Sonny Chiba karate smackdown? Cinema nirvana achieved? Well not quite, but damn close...

The premise; a grand yet unstable alliance is formed by various feuding Okinawa gangs in order to fend off a new and aggressive Mainland mob that is encroaching on their collective territories. This fragile allegiance finds itself shaken by volatile (to put it mildly) right hand man (Chiba) who along with having an apparent death wish, deeply resents the new civil ("cowardly") ways of his associates and seeks (with fist and foot) to destabilize all involved.

Into this volcanic situation, director Sadao Nakajima crafts a visceral and emotional roller coaster ride of comic book-like carnage. On display, we have a particularly agonizing castration scene (like there's any other kind), a rival gangster getting run over and backed over... and back and forth and back again... and forth again, blood squibs galore, double and triple crosses that cause one to rethink whom they should be rooting for (if anyone) and a terrific and emotionally satisfying speedboat shootout finale. At the center of it all is Chiba who despite not being the main character, steals every frame he's in while giving what may be the most animalistic perf of his career. Picture the Terry Surugi character if he were to willingly dive into the abyss and you have a fair idea of what to expect here. Always intimidating and willing to get into anyone and everyone's face (including doing karate forms in a nightclub in front of rivals, just DARING them to do something about it), he achieves a certain nobility despite his inherent despicableness. It is to Chiba's and Nakajima's credit that one feels just a slight bit of sympathy when this character is ultimately betrayed and ambushed. It is almost akin to watching King Kong get shot off the Empire State Building.

Okinawa Yakuza War is an eye-opener that will appeal to Chiba fans, Yakuza fans and general 70s style Japanese action enthusiasts alike.

Rating: 8/10