Friday, February 19, 2010
a.k.a. Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, My Lady Vengeance, Shed Tears for Lady Vengeance, Kind-Hearted Ms. Geum-Ja
Directed by Chan-wook Park
cast: Yeong-ae Lee, Min-sik Choi, Tony Barry, Anne Cordiner, Su-hee Go, Hye-jeong Kang, Bu-seon Kim, Byeong-ok Kim, Shi-hoo
2005 - South Korea
The third film in his Vengeance Trilogy (SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE, OLD BOY), Chan-wook Park's LADY VENGEANCE spins the tale of a young kidnapper’s assistant, Geum-ja Lee (Yeong-ae Lee), seeking revenge on her partner and child killer Mr. Baek (Min-sik Choi) who forced Geum-ja Lee to take the wrap for the death of hostage Park Won-mo by abducting Geum-ja Lee's daughter. The Kidnapping of a kidnapper, so to speak. Geum-ja Lee's beauty and the horrific nature of the crime cause her to become the latest media sensation, which she uses to her advantage by manipulating fellow inmates to help her hatch an elaborate revenge plot. Geum-ja Lee is a chameleon who can lovingly care for an elderly North Korean inmate to gain plans for an exotic gun and also become a smiling nursemaid as she slowly poisons the prison queen bee.
Upon her release, she reunites with her daughter and has a brief relationship with a co-worker, regaining a sense of family. Due to her past sins, Geum-ja Lee feels she is unworthy of such happiness. Her redemption can only be in the form of retribution for the families who lost their children by the hands of Mr. Baek. LADY VEGEANCE doesn't strive for the simple KILL BILL route, instead veering into one of the most imaginative revenge scenarios ever filmed.
LADY VENGEANCE does have its problems. Like SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE, Chan-wook Parks seems overly pleased with his imagery and non-linear story telling. There are too many scenes that fail to advance the proceedings, goofy dream sequences, and post production trickery that pop you out of any sustained tonal flow. It doesn't go LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD on us, but the film would have been greatly improved by a more linear cut and 20 minute shave. Hell, it could use a rinse and repeat. Although LADY VENGEANCE constantly hits you in the face with symbolism pies, it does contain the cruel and violent shocks that South Korean Cinema is becoming notorious for; and the last half hour is a humdinger on the level of OLD BOY. Worthy of the time you will have to invest is the performance of Yeong-ae Lee who portrays Geum-ja Lee as a multi-layered and flawed individual light years from the stock characters that inhabit American, Hong Kong and Japanese revenge thrillers. This winner of a gazillion international film festival awards can be had on a Region 1 DVD by Tartan. The disc features a 40 minute interview with the director, 10 minute behind the scenes featurette and three audio commentary tracks. You can also rent or stream the film through Netflix.
Thursday, February 18, 2010
Directed by Bruno Mattei (as Vincent Dawn)
written by Antonio Tentori
Cast: Dyane Craystan, Jim Gaines, Odette Khan, Mike Monty, Amelie Pontailler, Yvette Yzon
2006 - Italy
Bruno, Bruno, Bruno. A year before his death, 74 year old director Bruno Mattei returned to the W.I.P. genre for this shot on video craptasterpiece. Made in the Philippines with a cast resembling the islands’ best pimps and hos, one has to imagine the script was written on a cocktail napkin the night before principal videography began. The plot, if any, goes something like this: Three women are sent bysteamboat to an undisclosed jungle prison called "The Home of Lost Souls". Here they experience the usual beatings, whippings, cat fights and humiliations. The butch warden has a deal on the side with a local pimp who forces them to dance in bikinis at a nightclub and sexually service the patrons. Tired of cages, rape, torture and rats, the girls kill the resident snitch and escape into the jungle. The pimp learns of the bust outbeforehand and arranges the ol' MOST DANGEROUS GAME bit for some of his clients. Complete with cannibal tribe guides, they stalk the inmates and butcher them in what feels to be Bruno's attempt to top Umberto Lenzi's MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY.
THE JAIL: WOMEN'S HELL is packed with both naked and ripped flesh, but also contains some of the worst acting and head banging dialogue I have ever experienced. Seriously, this makes MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE seem like Masterpiece Theater. Screenwriter Antonio Tentori (A CAT IN THE BRAIN) must be a 12 year old from Compton because he uses the word "Bitches" more than the entire N.W.A. discography. Then there’s the score. That goddamned score. It's a 90 second rip of the Empire's theme from STAR WARS on a loop through the whole film regardless of the scene! . Drunk college kids could probably invent a drinking game with this gorefest, but I'm convinced this flick will cause cancer quicker than the gruel at Georgia Southern University’s Landrum Hall. Originally screened at the Marché du Film in Cannes, THE JAIL: A WOMEN'S HELL was never picked up for distribution and is only available on a Czech bootleg DVD. If you would like to buy the rights to this film for any territory on the planet, you can contact FilmExport Group s.r.l. You could change the dialogue, add a plot, put your band on the soundtrack or make an obscure reference to your alma mater. Anything would be an improvement. It pains me to give a film in which a woman's breast is hacked off and the fatty tissue within sucked out by a sicko such a low rating but It's one big aural mental retardation. No wonder Bruno died of a brain tumor. I feel one coming on!
Le prigioniere dell'isola del diavolo
a.k.a. Przesluchanie , Island of Imprisoned Women, Women Prisoner's of Devil's Island
directed by Domenico Paolella
written by Ernesto Gastaldi and Domenico Paolella
cast: Guy Madison, Michele Mercier, Paul Muller,Marisa Belli
1962 - Italy | France86 minutes
written by Ernesto Gastaldi and Domenico Paolella
cast: Guy Madison, Michele Mercier, Paul Muller,Marisa Belli
1962 - Italy | France86 minutes
Should one rip apart the historical inaccuracies within this Italian swashbuckler involving female felons sent to French Giana to become crocodile food? Hell no! Not when the production throws in pirates, revolutionaries, double-crosses, cannons and tons of sweaty heaving bosoms!
Yes, it's the seedy cover of a Men's pulp magazine come to life in glorious widescreen color. Aristocrat Martine Foucher (Michele Mercier) and a whole bunch of other hotties are transported across the blarney sea where the chained lassies must mine swamp gold and bend to the sexual whims of their captors just to achieve a moments rest. With the arrival of dreamy Commander Henri Vallière (Guy Madison), looks like change is in the sultry air; but are things truly what they seem?
Veteran Peplum Writer/ Director Domenico Paolella (HERCULES AGAINST THE BARBARIANS, DANGER! DEATH RAY!) knows how to shoot an epic and keeps the action moving - only slowing down to linger on some curves. Predating the book, but obviously inspired by the tall tales of PAPILLON authored by Henri Charrière, WOMEN OF DEVIL'S ISLAND should be sought out by all land lubbers of cleavage classics. The version available by Mill Creek Entertainment's “50 Drive-in Movie Classics”box set is a nasty chewed up full screen sepia tone print of the US release which cuts out an interracial romance. Luckily, the film is also available uncut on DVD in a beautiful widescreen Italian& French language DVD with only Spanish subtitles under the title ATRAPADAS EN LA ISLA DEL DIABLO. You might not understand the plot but Italian and French sounds sexier than English anyway. I synced the English audio with the International print. I'm a nerd.
Saturday, February 13, 2010
Directed by Joe Ma
Cast: Miki Mizuno, Dylan Kuo, Emme Wong
2008 - Japan
I'm a huge fan of the original Female Prisoner #701 series. Such a nerd for it that, in 2001, I tracked down a print of the second film in the series JOSHUU SASORI: DAI-41 ZAKKYO-BO (FEMALE CONVICT PRISONER 701: JAILHOUSE 41) and had it shown at Atlanta's Starlight Six Drive-in, causing misery to many inebriated subtitle-phobic rednecks. It would be unfair to judge this shot on video (J-Vid) re-imagining by the same criteria as the 38 year old original. Other than using the Meiko Kaji theme song Urami Bushi, there are not many similarities anyway.
In this version, housewife Sasori (Miki Mizuno) becomes the victim of some psychotic thugs hired by a wealthy bioengineer to assassinate her father in-law. These thrill kill super villains like to get their kicks as well, so they force her to kill noodle-happy dad and the sister in-law while her cop husband (Dylan Kuo) watches. By some inexplicable comic logic, she never explains who forced her to do it and the husband never saw the four fashion foes standing in their house!
Sassori is sent to prison where the inmates fight in caged death matches for booze and give the fat warden (Lam Suet) sucky sucky. When her husband tries to kill her on visiting day, she looses all hope. After several humiliations, Sassori visually learns kung fu from watching fights and murders the Queen Bee's sister. This brings down the wrath of all the inmates whom she fights to the death. Then the warden has Sassori thrown into some outdoor suspended bondage where she expires until she is finally saved by a martial arts guru called the Corpse Collector (Simon Yam) who turns her into a sword wielding killing machine with a 10 second training montage. Seeking vengeance, she reunites with her husband who turned into an alcoholic musician with an erased memory and has become an attraction for a local bar. Many sword fights follow.
I have a sneaking suspicion that the end of this film was shot first then the production ran out of money. Other than the lighting, the first hour of Sasori looks like a 50 buck budget and contains so many annoying fading, zooming and dissolving jump cuts punctuated by loud sound effects it almost induces seizures. The prison sequence is so no-frills that the number designating Sassori as the infamous prisoner 701 appears to be written in Sharpie on a “Hello my name is” sticker! The last 30 minutes resembles a completely different film with a 500K budget and better crew. There are even plot revelations in the end that were never set up in the beginning, so they don’t make any sense. What the hell?!
Wacky plot and jaw-dropping logic aside, the biggest problem with Sasori is the lead Miki Mizuno. She has good choreography and wire skills but she isn't the least bit attractive. Her face is very skeletal and her frame doesn't fill the sexy costumes. Not even wig changes create an illusion of beauty. There are some nice looking women in this movie who run the gamut from butchy hot to lipstick femme fatale and each displays more on screen charisma and acting chops than Mizuno who apparently is a TV star in Japan.
Let's be honest, with J-VID, it all comes down to the sex and violence quota. Sadly, Sassori misses the mark. There is only one wet t-shirt scene in the skin category and the gore is all over the map. Occasionally it enters MACHINE GIRL territory but the majority of kills are pathetic and never graphic. Director Joe Ma relies more on showing a bloody prop than performing an actual effect. There is one cheap but very creative scene involving a vodka bottle but it can't save the overall experience. This is for die hard J-Vid fans only. Meiko Kaji fans should avoid at all cost. SASORI is currently only available with English subtitles, so bad they should be called “Ingrish” subs, on a PAL format region 2 DVD from the UK. There is an unsubbed Thai and Japanese release with the same running time.
Friday, February 12, 2010
Written & Directed by Tom Cowan
Cast: June Pritchard, Martin Phelan, Nell Campbell
1977 - Austrailia
Here's a piece of chocolate thunder from down under! This is the tale of nine unattractive female convicts who are constantly raped by even less desirable drunk soldiers and horny aristocrats in an unnamed Australian colony during the late 1700's. When noblewoman June (Elizabeth Harrington) pulls coitus interruptus with a musket on a young inmates attacker, the prisoners break loose and flee into the outback. After many hardships on their walkabout from hell, they are befriended by an aboriginal girl who teaches them how to forage and create their own Wicca utopia free from ugly men folk.
Not knowing the full story behind the soldier’s death, Capt. McEwan (Martin Phelan) believes June to have been kidnapped by the women. He sets out to find ol' koala face and low and behold is quite shocked to find his beloved playing naked native with a group of crazy whores and lesbians. With his mind seriously frazzle rocked, he grabs some soldiers and a cannon to blow this heathen settlement to kingdom come.
What opens as an artsy fartsy period piece quickly sharks into full blown exploitation with tons of screaming bush beaver (Mappa Tassie or Map of Tasmania in Australian) running around killing' folks and acting like werewolf women. Apparently, this 16mm mess was mostly improvisational and the actresses rebelled on set over the films ending. It's an ugly and rarely interesting feminist "epic fail" that was successful at the box office due to the controversial lesbian themes, full frontal nudity and 13 year old nude actress Rozanna Lilley. Yeah, all the wrong reasons.
The film is only available in Australia from Beyond Home Entertainment on a special two disc DVD edition which includes a 20 page booklet, commentary, interviews, two featurettes, stills, four short films by director Tom Cowan and a trailer. The Australian Film Board seems to believe this weekend workshop is an important piece of cinema. This makes me believe, if someone filmed 90 minutes of dingo poo, they wouldgive them a screening at the Sydney Opera House. The director would go on to be a cameraman for one episode of the reality TV show SURVIVOR: AUSTRALIA. I repeat, one episode. Poorly lit, badly edited, no script, ambiguous ending, child porn and enough nasty wombats to give ya the liquid laugh. Skip it. If you want some good Aussie entertainment, seek out the Brian Trechard-Smith films STUNT ROCK, DEATH CHEATERS and THE MAN FROM HONG KONG.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
BIG BUST OUT: The Green-Eyed Blonde (1957) Full Review
Here's a misleading title produced by Doris Day's sketchy third husband, Martin Melcher, for the popular JD market. It does contain a curvaceous teen named Greeneyes, a.k.a. Phyllis (Susan Oliver), but this sordid tale is really about ticked off little Betsy (Linda Plowman), the new fish at The Martha Washington School for Girls. After a kooky credit sequence and theme song resembling a 50's sitcom, we learn that Betsy is being incarcerated for giving birth and not revealing who knocked her up!
Everyone but the audience is clueless to the fact that the father of her child is the boyfriend of Betsy's alcoholic mother. When these sauced guardians show up on visiting day to inform Betsy they are taking the unwanted runt to an orphanage, suicidal inmate Cuckoo (Norma Jean Nilsson) snatches the baby from a wooden crate in the backseat of their car. It takes half a day and a few bars later before they realize the little bastard is gone. After a few seconds of drunken thought, they return to the reformatory to inform Betsy they found a good home for her baby.
The inmates hide the toddler and form stronger bonds from the new responsibilities of motherhood and Betsy finally warms up to her kid, but the staff eventually becomes suspicious when the girls constantly break into loud group singing to cover the babies crying and Renie (Beverly Long) is busted burying soiled diapers made from the disappearing linen. The baby is found in the possession of Greeneye and taken to an orphanage resulting in a massive and quite impressive reform school riot.
THE GREEN-EYED BLONDE tries to cram as many moral arguments into the running time as possible. Most of its ideas center on the answer to juvenile delinquency and reformation being the need for a loving family environment. Surprisingly, for the time, this isn't a segregated facility and African American Inmate Trixie (Tommie Moore) is the only character who is reformed when her father returns from overseas and gives her the love that her busy working Aunts can't deliver. THE GREEN-EYED BLONDE puts forth some fairly progressive racial attitudes for a film that dishes up such heavy spoonfuls of traditional male ideas of a woman’s role in society. When the inmates name the child Buddy because a baby is a girl's best friend, you really get a good serving of the backward ideas on display.
Oscar winner Dalton Trumbo's (ROMAN HOLIDAY, JOHNNY GOT HIS GUN) script even tosses in some Christian pro-life messages in the form of a new, caring head matron who grew up in an orphanage and turned out just fine; the importance of having an infant around at Christmas like baby Jesus, and an outlandish moment when Cuckoo, to the horror of the sane inmates, kills a kitten because she felt it was better off dead since nobody wanted it. These are all with varying degrees of subtly and for the most part enhance the exploitation experience and stifle the intended message.
So what about Greeneyes? Well, her story feels like an added wrap around to cash in on the success of UNTAMED YOUTH with Mamie Van Doren from the same year. Susan Oliver does appear throughout the film, but often the camera will cut within a scene to her on a different set. After being the one caught with the baby and given a longer sentence, she breaks out and reunites with her paroled boyfriend. We later hear on a radio that the two died in a police shoot out. Yeah, it's a half-assed attempt at the virtues of virginity negated by the fact that they were running away to get married anyway?!? Isn't this thing about the power of love and family? I guess family does win out since Betsy never fingers the rapist and her mother doesn't do a stint for child abandonment. Maybe the message is really, “Don’t be a snitch!” There is plenty of jailhouse code on display for one to make the case. Anyway, everything abruptly ends leaving many plots unresolved. If you don't take this garbage seriously, it's a quick watch full of chuckles, head scratchers and the occasional jaw dropper. Did I mention the riot? I must admit, I did enjoy watching a gaggle of gals do demo on a staircase, trash some windows and fling themselves at barb wire fences. It was more lively than most of these reform school yawns.
For you Trekies out there, Susan Oliver went on to play Nina in the two part STAR TREK Menagerie episodes. Producer Martin Melcher would go on to squander Doris Day's money in bad investments, turn down the offer for old Doris to play Mrs. Robinson in THE GRADUATE (without her knowledge) and die right after signing his wife to a CBS TV series (without her consent). Obviously, Melcher liked to live up to the high moral codes of the pictures he produced.