Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Bloody Mafia (aka Red Mafia)

Director: Ca Sa Fa (Casanova Wong)
Starring: Ca Sa Fa
Ca Sa Fa (birth name, Kim Yong-Ho but better known around these parts as Casanova Wong as I'll be referring to him from this point on) has always been one of my favorite screen kickers. Many consider him second only to Hwang Jang Lee and I'd certaintly concur with that. There are times where I think he's even Hwang's equal. The Korean super kicker (and ex Marine) was featured in many a Hong Kong martial arts pic of the late 70s and early 80s where his amazing skills were put to good use (see The Master Strikes elsewhere in this blog). I was aware that he worked onscreen in his native South Korea as well, but was completely unaware of this nasty little number, Bloody Mafia until recently. It was to be his last screen appearance (to the best of my knowledge) and on top of that, he sat in the director's chair for this one as well.

Normally here is where I'd give you a brief rundown of the plot. Unfortunately, this is one of those films that came sans any kind of english friendly translation; no subs, no dub, nothin'; just raw Korean and unfortunately I don't speak the language. Your fearful er, fearless author here was going to press on regardless as it seemed a straightforward enough story UNTIL I came across an actual plot description from the website "Rare Kung Fu Movies" which I'll share here assuming (hoping) they don't mind;

"Kang-ho is a man who believes loyalty is the highest human virtue. He befriends Geo-ryong who takes him into the mob led by Chung Dong-nam. Kang-ho becomes an underworld celebrity when he infiltrates and destroys a powerful international drug cartel. Geo-ryong falls for Kang-ho's younger sister Hye-rim. Meanwhile, Kang-ho and Geo-ryong try to mentor Oh-bong who tries to leave the organization but the organization attacks him before they can take him under their wings. He narrowly escapes death and is moved by their friendship. When the two friends realize that Dong-nam has been using his men for his own gain, they are angered beyond words and decide to attack him on Geo-ryong and Hye-rim's engagement day. But tragedy befalls them when Geo-ryong is killed. The sight of Geo-ryong's body devastates everyone at the party. During the final confrontation between Kang-ho and Dong-nam, Oh-bong sacrifices his life to save Kang-ho. Kang-ho deals the final deadly blow to Dong-nam for Oh-bong and Geo-ryong."

Drawing inspiration from several gangster genres (the horse's head gag from The Godfather is recreated here using a pig's head... with intestines added for good measure), Wong's direction is ambitious. Perhaps too ambitious for the film's obvious miniscule budget.This tends to give off a level of cheesiness that seems to be at odds with the dead serious and sometimes melodramatic tone of the film. Adding to this are several long soft core sex scenes. I get it, it comes with the territory. But it felt like there was at least one too many and they each went on for several minutes. Even Wong himself has a randy sex scene with a nightclub singer and soon to be girlfriend... and eventual ex-girlfriend. True, he finally lives up to his Casanova moniker, but this isn't exactly the kind of "action" I want to see our director/star involved in. I want to see Casanova Wong, the boot master, not the booty master. Fortunately, there's plenty of the more traditional action as well as there are a half a dozen or so fights scenes (possibly more, I lost count) on display and they are nothing less than spectacular! These are probably the best fight scenes I have ever seen in a Korean production and that alone makes this film a must-see. Wong may be a bit older, but he shows no signs of aging as he and his co-stars (including one who fights with crutches!) all show amazing form and lightning fast speed combined with choreography that matches the best of that in Hong Kong movies of this vintage. Only some choppy editing takes away from it just a tad. There's also a fair amount of gore on display, particularly the gruesome moment where Wong chomps part of a rival's nose off!

I need to mention one particular moment that may have been the single cheesiest thing I have ever seen in a movie (let that set in for a second); Wong's introduction to his would be squeeze takes place in (appropriately) a nightclub. In the background, you can hear Whitney Houston's I Will Always Love You playing and I at first assumed it was being used for mood music. But nooo, as the camera drew closer it became obvious that the nightclub singer herself was supposed to be singing this to Wong! Never mind that the song sounds like it's coming from another room rather than from her vocal chords and never mind that it was obvious she didn't know the english lyrics (I have no idea what she was actually singing)... The final effect was truly an out of body experience that nearly had me on the floor laughing. My goodness...

Did I mention that the plentiful fights are spectacular?

Rating: 5/10

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Lethal Hunter (aka American Hunter)

Director: Arizal
Starring: Chris Mtichum, Bill Wallace, Ida Iasha, Mike Abbott

When it comes to heaping helpings of mindless action fun, few director's aim to please like Indonesia's own Arizal. One of that country's most noted and productive filmmakers, Arizal (gotta love that single name moniker) directed over fifty films and countless t.v. episodes dating back to 1974. Among his most noted pictures here in the West are the wonderfully goofy and full throttled cheese fest, The Stabilizer (which incredibly recieved an official U.S. dvd release via Troma) and the gory, freaky action/horror pic, Special Silencers (starring Barry Prima). Seeking more international appeal, the director was able to lure B-action film fave Chris (second son of Bob) Mitchum. The pairing seemed to have brought out the best in both. They first merged their talents in the 1986 nasty, downbeat, yet outrageously over the top revenge epic, Final Score. Two years later, they re-teamed for Lethal Hunter (re-titled American Hunter outside of Asia). This time, Arizal mostly ditched the dark atmosophere for a more devil may care approach and added heaping helpings of martial arts mayhem.

Mitchum plays Jake Carver; lethal hunter of badguys... and all 'round cool-cat. Jake finds himself at odds with a nasty gang who are trying to get their hands on a microfilm which contains sensitive information that can wreak havoc on Wall Street and could concievably bring a total collapse to the western world.

The basic plot setup serves as an excuse for what is really just one long chase and fight sequence. The film hits the ground running a mere two minutes in as a flabby local crashes his motorcycle through an office (guns a blazing) in order to steal the all-important microfilm. From there, the chase is on. There is scarcely a moment that goes by when there isn't some form of exciting and/or humorous mayhem occuring on screen. Awkward, yet energetic bouts that often give way to some painful looking stunts (the influence of 80s style of Hong Kong action on full display) as well as some really dangerous car stunts and even an unbelieveable mid film helecopter chase and bout (though admittedly, this sequence was a bit more exciting in concept than in execution). Arizal for the most part paces the proceedings well, never allowing it to become tedious and dull. Just when you think the chases may start to become repetitive, a major martial art bought or two is inserted.

As for Chris Mitchum; like his older brother Jim, Chris acclimated himself well to the B-movie action scene of the late 70s and 80s. He's not the iconic actor that dear old dad was, but he really gave it his all in each of his many films and this must have sat well with Arizal as he had young Mitch perform several of his own dangerous stunts like hanging on to the top of a speeding car and shattering through a window bare chested. The exception being when it came to the stunts he simply couldn't physically do (no more hilarious an example than in his first scene where his double had to do a back flip to avoid a bullet). He obviously is not an accomplished martial arts fighter (on screen, anyway), but the various local extras certaintly did their best to make him look convincing. For a ringer, Arizal brought in mega-kicker, Bill "Superfoot" Wallace. A dependable bad guy (one exaggerated sneer from him is all it takes), Wallace was given a lot of respect here by not only out dueling Carver's sifu, but for the most part, Carver as well (their penulimate bout on a train serves as a highlight). Mike Abbott (star of many Joseph Lai/Godfrey Ho films of this period) is effective as the beefy muscle headed co-conspirator. Peter O'Brien is known for playing the lead in Arizal's The Stabilizer as well as Rambu (yes, as in Rambo) in the infamous, The Intruder. Here he is playing of all things, a whimpy bad guy whom Carver eliminates early on. Ida Iasha plays Carver's love interest (she's the one whom the bad guys are after for the all important micro film) and proves to be a good sport as she is kidnapped not once, not twice, but thrice by the baddies! Repeatedly roughed up (including a torture by shaving cream sequence that was alo used in the Hong Kong hit, Tiger on Beat released the same year) and under almost constant threat of violence of some sort, she is perhaps the ultimate damsel in distress character. It reads horribly, but like the rest of the film, is so over the top that it becomes more comical than anything else.

If you're a fan of cheesy over the top 80s style action, then Lethal Hunter is all you could ask for and then some. Highly recommended!

Rating: 8/10

A special thanks to Jack J. and his wonderful blog, Backyard Asia for uploading this trailer: