Saturday, December 20, 2014

Podcast on Fire's Taiwan Noir Episode 16: Night Orchid and The Greatest Plot

On this latest episode of Taiwan Noir, Kenny B and I have a relaxed back and forth about two more colorful Taiwanese wuxia films: Night Orchid, a Ku Long adaptation with a screenplay by Ku Long himself, and The Greatest Plot, a quasi-historical intrigue starring Yueh Hua and lo Lieh. You can download or stream the episode here.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Fantasy of Deer Warrior (Taiwan, 1961)

While googling The Fantasy of Deer Warrior to see if I could find any information to augment that found on its very limited Hong Kong Movie Database page, I came across, right near the top of the results, the post that my friend and podcast co-host Tars Tarkas wrote about it back in November of 2008. This was at a time when the film was still tantalizingly M.I.A. and consists merely of its poster and a couple paragraphs concerning what little was known about its contents. It was enough, however, to put me--along with, I imagine, many others—on a long and fruitless hunt for it. This was far from the first time that Tars had done a thing like this, and I couldn’t help imagining him cackling as he once again gleefully scattered the seeds of nerd obsession across the internet.

Of course, like so many of these cinematic chimeras lately, The Fantasy of Deer Warrior ultimately mocked all of our efforts by eventually turning up for free on the internet. Here is my report:

Where some films have a host of international locations and a lavish effects budget, The Fantasy of Deer Warrior has a forest and some animal costumes that look as if they were fashioned from footy pajamas. You might think that the novelty of that would wear thin rather quickly, but there are a couple of things about Deer Warrior that enable it to maintain our interest. For one, unlike Syd & Marty Krofft (or Roberto Rodriguez, for that matter), director Cheung Ying does not conceal his actor’s faces under all-enveloping, football mascot type heads, but instead leaves them exposed, peeking out from under cowl-like headwear that resembles those animal hoodies all the hipsters were wearing a couple years ago. This allows us to enjoy the contrast between the earnest expressions they wear as they gamely grind through the high melodrama of Deer Warrior’s plot and their adorable, flippity-floppity ears.

The visibility of the actors’ faces is also of interest because some of those faces are familiar ones, in particular that of the Deer Warrior himself, Ling Yun, who went on to star in a lot of Shaw Brothers movies, including the previously reviewed King Drummer, as well as a number of Chor Yuen films. I also should add that, while Deer Warrior is reportedly a children’s film, it, like a host of other Asian children’s films, sports a number of elements that would prompt senate hearings if they appeared in a Western children’s film of its era. These include a hero who kills a captive enemy in cold blood, a character named Erotic Fox (Lam Lam) whose animal costume is considerably more abbreviated than the rest and whom performs a hoochie koochie dance to the Champs’ “Tequila” at one point (she is also referred to in one exchange as having a “dirty smell”), and, if the English subtitles on the version I watched are to be believed, some instances of salty dialogue.

As the movie begins, fauna fatale Erotic Fox is maliciously stoking the already seething rivalry between prize bucks Warrior Deer and Sika Deer, who are both in love with the virtuous Miss Deer (Hsu Yu). While the two are brawling, word arrives from home that Warrior Deer’s family has been brutally attacked by a band of wolves lead by Evil Wolf (Li Min-Lang). Warrior makes his way back just in time for his father to die in his arms, at which point he swears blood revenge upon the wolf clan. And if you have just noted that this plot is identical to that of countless martial arts films, congratulations. Please keep in mind, however, that all of these people are wearing animal costumes.

From this point on, Deer Warrior proceeds in a manner right in line with its stock revenge plot, albeit with a couple of interesting digressions. Time is taken out, for example, to re-enact a couple of Aesop’s fables, in particular “The Tortoise and the Hare” and “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”. There are also a couple of songs. Other musical interludes make use of enough needle-dropped western schmaltz for an entire Lawrence Welk episode (the idyll that the wolves shatter, for instance, consists of a bunch of kids in bunny and lamb costumes frolicking about to a syrupy instrumental rendition of “Jingle Bells).

Meanwhile, as the wolves pitilessly massacre all of the defenseless bunnies, lambs and baby goats in the forest, Miss Deer, who has been sidelined by her paramour’s revenge binge, becomes the subject of Evil Wolf’s unwanted attentions, with all of the kidnapping attempts and narrowly avoided rapes that that entails. Amid this, we are propelled through The Fantasy of Deer Warrior by our ever greater curiosity as to what bizarre representation of animal kind will be rolled out next. The population of this forest is indeed a very diverse and counterintuitively harmonious one, with apes living peacefully with and cozying up to goats, rabbits and a host of other critters. It is with great relish that we wait to see which of this menagerie will be revealed next.

My favorite of these, I think, are the birds that are used as messengers by the various animals, relaying their love notes, ransom demands, hate mail and other missives from one end of the forest to the other. These are, for the most part, portrayed by children in bird costumes who fly by means of some pretty squirrely process shots that represent Warrior Deer’s sole stab at special effects. Evil Wolf is also a treat, resembling, as he does so closely, the wolf from the Mexican Caperucita Roja movies.

I don’t know why exactly, but, for some reason, I expected The Fantasy of Deer Warrior to be more operatic in nature—perhaps to be something in the vein of a Chinese Peter and the Wolf. But, no, it really is just a bunch of actors in animal costumes variously tussling around in the forest until the 90 minute mark comes around. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, mind you. I have indeed watched many films that consisted of much the same elements, though without the benefit of animal costumes. One is tempted to wonder just how much many plodding martial arts programmers could be improved upon if this gimmick were employed—if they featured, say, Carter Wong dressed as a cow, Lo Lieh dressed as a giraffe, or Bolo Yeung dressed as a buffalo? Sadly, such things are to remain, like the Deer Warrior, consigned to the realm of fantasy.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

San Francisco gets Wenged!

If you live in the Bay Area and don't wake tomorrow to find that you have been washed out to sea by the coming superstorm, you might want to head down to San Francisco's Roxie Theater. Taking place there will be the Bay Area premier of friend-of-4DK Andrew Leavold's highly recommended documentary The Search for Weng Weng, which is screening as the opener to the Facine/21: 21st Annual Filipino International Cine Festival. The film screens at 7pm. Andrew will be there and so, nature allowing, will I. Should you swim, paddle, wade, or snorkel, it would behoove you to be there also.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Enough to give you paws.

Ugh. Sorry about that. What is it about cats in particular that inspires godawful punning on the part of those who you'd think would know better? Is it a contact catnip high? Purrrr-haps. God!

Anyway, tonight the 4DK Monthly Movie Shout Down crew tweeted along to Felidae, a German animated feature that introduces quite a few new practices to the roster of cartoon cat behaviors--though nothing that will be surprising to anyone who has ever played host to one of these fly eating, proudly butthole displaying, hate-fucking creatures.

Here. Read the transript and see what I mean. 

The 4DK Monthly Movie Shout Down: Felidae on Storify
And now, as has become tradition, here is a trailer for next month's feature, Kiss Kiss, Kill Kill. That's right, people: Kommissar X is coming to the Show Down!

Tonight! Cat around with the 4DK Monthly Movie Shout Down as we curl up to FELIDAE!

Oh, Don't get me started about cats. So adorable! Especially when they're single-handedly trying to solve a string of brutal ritualized serial killings... of cats! That happens, right?

At least it does in Felidae, an animated feature from Germany, and it's pretty great--so much so that I almost regret offering it up to the pitiless gaze of the Shout Down crew. Almost. Oh well, they can't all be risible stinkers.

To join along with us, just log into Twitter at 6pm Pacific time tonight--that's Tuesday, December 9th--and, using the hashtag #4DKMSD, comment along with us as you watch the film via the handy YouTube link below:

Hope to hear from you tonight. In closing, instead of using a pun involving the word "purr", let's not and say we did, alright?

Sunday, December 7, 2014

This Tuesday! The 4DK Monthly Movie Shout Down pussy-foots around FELIDAE

I'll be honest. While Felidae is certainly an oddity--it's a bleak and violent film noir with a cast of animated cats, after all--it nonetheless has many things to recommend it. In further honesty, I will say that I find movie tweet-alongs where everyone just "oohs" and "aahs" over how clever the movie is boring. That is why, if I fall silent at times during Tuesday's proceedings, it is most likely because I am just sitting back and enjoying the show--something that you, also, are welcome to do.

As usual, we'll be starting at 6pm PT this Tuesday Night, December 9th, using the hashtag #4DKMSD. Here's hoping you all join me.

And now the trailer:

If you want to read more of my thoughts on Felidae, check out my review at Teleport City.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Funky Bollywood now available for pre-order

I am very pleased--hella pleased, to be exact--to announce the official release date for my book Funky Bollywood, which will be available in stores and online on Monday, March 16th. If that seems like too long to wait, please be advised that, if you are reading this (which you are), you can pre-order the book directly from the FAB Press website and receive a specially signed and numbered copy of Funky Bollywood that will be shipped to you as soon as it rolls off the presses. This means that you will not only be the first person on your block (cell or otherwise) to own a copy of Funky Bollywood, but that you will also be one of the only people on Earth to own an autographed--or, as I like to say, Todd-ographed--copy. FAB is taking orders now, so why not order your copy today? In the meantime, I will keep you posted on any launch events--be they signings, readings, burnings, or reenactments--via this blog and the official Funky Bollywood Facebook page.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Friday's best pop song ever

An offense in any language.

Last night's Pop Offensive may have been the most eclectic yet, featuring everything from Cantonese cowboy songs to reggae to metalized German beer hall chants. Along the way, we shared some of my musical souvenirs from Japan and settled some unfinished business. If you'd like to hear for yourself, you can now stream or download the episode--as well as all of those previous to it--from 9th Floor Radio's Pop Offensive Archives. You can also check out the playlist for the episode, which has just been posted on our Facebook page.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Go East, Old Nerd

I thought I would post a few more shots from my Japan trip just to show that it was about more than battling robots and AV starlets in metallic underwear--although there was that. As you might expect, in addition to visiting picturesque shrines and drinking Japanese whisky in cramped attic bars, I took the time to make as many of the nerdy pilgrimages that would be expected of a geek like myself as was humanly possible. To wit:

Sadly, Toho Studios, located in Tokyo's Chiyoda District, does not offer a tour--which, though disappointing, is not all that surprising, given the studio's long-held reputation for guardedness. Nonetheless, a visit to their gates offers enough spectacle to be worth the trip. For starters, there is the approximately 7' foot statue of the Big G that greets visitors, and which adults and children alike are welcome to paw and clamor upon to their hearts' content.

After that, there are the towering murals that grace the studio's walls, one commemorating Kurosawa's The Seven Sumurai and the other, completed in May of this year, of Godzilla himself.

Also from outside, one can glimpse a massive Mothra mural that overlooks the employee parking lot. We asked if we could be allowed inside to photograph it, but were told that we would have to do so from outside the parking gate. Whatevs, Toho!

In stark contrast, Toei Studios, in Kyoto, offers itself to guests in the form of an entire theme park. Admittedly, many of its attractions are pretty cheesy, but it nonetheless features a lot of displays of vintage posters, props, and costumes--giving no short shrift to the studio's many Tokusastsu and animated productions.

And then there is the park's Animation Museum, which features enormous statues of  Grandizer and Mazinger. How cool is that?

Mandarake is a chain of super stores dedicated to vintage Japanese toys, particularly of the variety related to kaiju and tokusatsu heroes, as well as  manga and anime. The Shibuya branch was sizeable, to be sure, but the largest has to be the one at the Broadway mall in Nakano, which appears to have metastasized to take over the majority of the multi-storied shopping center's storefronts. As someone who used to collect and deal in these types of toys, it was interesting for me to explore the store's many display cases, which were crammed to bursting with myriad Bullmark vinyl figures, Popy "Chogokin" die-casts and other assorted delights. It left me wondering, though, how the store was able to command such high prices for these items, as the conspicuous display of over-abundance seemed to contradict the aura of scarcity that the collectibles market so depends on.

All in all, Japan lived up to it's reputation as a nerd's paradise. To be honest, I think I saw more  kitschy sci-fi toys and memorabilia than my admittedly voracious appetite for same could comfortably tolerate. Fortunately, we were not so consumed that we couldn't take time out to sample the local delicacies: