Tuesday, February 11, 2020

So... looking for more good Korean movies?

Sunday’s Oscar upset was not only an overdue recognition of Bong Joon Ho, who has been making superlative films ever since 2003’s Memories of Murder¸ but also of the South Korean movie industry as a whole, which has long been one of world cinema’s most reliable producers of compelling commercial cinema.

For those of you now on the hunt for other quality Korean films or recent vintage, I can of course offer the same list of relatively recent hits that any Asian cinema fan will give you: JSA; The Good, The Bad, and The Weird; Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance; Snowpiercer; Old Boy; A Bittersweet Life; The Handmaiden; I Saw the Devil; Siri, etc. But I can also offer you a sampling of classic Korean films that are marked by the same combination of casual violence, personal drama and mordant humor that would seem to be a kind of stylistic trademark of Korean cinema as a whole.

The Housemaid (Dir: Kim Ki-Young, 1960). Kim Ki-Young’s insane tale of a model nuclear family exploded by the intrusion of an unhinged young woman into their carefully managed domestic sphere. An oft-referenced classic of Korean cinema.

A Devilish Homicide, aka A Bloodthirsty Killer (Dir: Lee Yong-Min, 1965). A chilling noir nightmare that slides between family horror and crime drama.

Devil! Take the Train to Hell! (Dir: No-shik Park, 1977) A stylish, Japanese-set revenge drama from actor/director No-shik Park. Here Park plays a blind musician who roams the back streets of Tokyo in the wee hours, using his preternatural martial arts abilities to exact revenge against the four former Japanese soldiers who robbed him of his sight and murdered his wife. Bo-Yeong Ahn makes a colorful sidekick as a similarly empowered village girl out for revenge against the same men.

Iodo, aka Io Island (Dir: Kim Ki-Young, 1977) Housemaid director Kim Ki-Young once again explores the realms of the sexes as alien spheres, this time by placing a beleaguered male protagonist within an isolated community of women. It’s a story that owes a seeming debt to Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man, though it’s injected with enough of Kim’s own labyrinthine weirdness to make it indelibly his own.

A Woman Chases the Butterfly of Death (Dir:Kim Ki-Young, 1978) Kim Ki-Young returns with this surreal rumination on death, possession and butterfly collecting.

The Hand of Fate (Dir: Han Hyeong-Mo, 1954) An interesting hybrid; part tragic romance, part political allegory, part spy thriller and part anti-communist propaganda. Made at a time when Korean cinema, along with Korean society as a whole, was struggling back toward recovery after the Korean War. It was, while not a commercial success, a technical step forward in terms of its crisp editing and challenging bifurcated structure. Not to mention that it featured Korea’s first onscreen kiss.

We cult cinema fanatics are nothing if not covetous, so I have to admit that, as one of many scribes who have been championing Korean popular cinema for years now, I have to admit to feeling a bit bereft now that Sunday’s Oscars has let the cat out of the bag. Sadly, Korean cinema is no longer the treasured little secret of myself and a few other like-minded film geeks—and that’s as it should be. Any commercial cinema as artful, technically accomplished, and bearing such a unique perspective as this deserves to be seen by as many people as possible.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

It's the FRIDAY'S BEST POP SONG EVER Podcast #27: "Lonely Boy"

Sorry to be late posting this month's Friday's Best Pop Song Ever podcast. My time machine got stuck in 1976 and I had to fight off an army of Civil War reenactors in order to make my way home. My subject this time is multi-talented Linda Ronstadt sideman Andrew Gold's hit from that year "Lonely Boy."


Saturday, December 28, 2019

Get in the holiday spirit with Podcast On Fire

Kenny B has just posted his annual Christmas episode over at Podcast on Fire. This one features Ken, me, and fellow co-hosts Paul Quinn and Tom K-W cutting up and waxing eloquent about all things Asian cinema, including Bong Joon Ho's Parasite and the upcoming Blu-ray release of Kim Ki-Young's masterpiece of insanity Woman Chasing a Killer Butterfly. Pour yourself a cup of  day-old eggnog and give it a listen, won't you?

Friday's best pop song ever

Friday, December 27, 2019

It's the FRIDAY'S BEST POP SONG EVER Podcast #26: "My World Fell Down"

Hey, do you remember "A Little Bit O' Soul"? "Beach Baby"? "Can't You Hear My Heartbeat?" Well, those songs were all written by the same man. So was "My World Fell Down", which, unless you're an obsessive pop music podcaster like yours truly, you might never have heard of. Well now you'll hear all about it in this latest episode of the Friday's Best Pop Song Ever podcast.


Friday, November 29, 2019

This is why you have ears

If you have a long drive planned for this holiday weekend, 4DK is here to help that time fly by.

First of all is the latest episode of the FRIDAY'S BEST POP SONG EVER PODCAST, which has just been posted on Stitcher.

The subject of this episode is the criminally underappreciated girl group, Reparata and the Delrons, whose nautically themed hit "Captain of Your Ship" will be the subject of my penetrating appraisal.

Next up is this past Wednesday's POP OFFENSIVE, which has just been made available for streaming from KGPC's Pop Offensive Archives.

This month's theme is Northern Soul, so, for the safety of yourself and other motorists, you might want to pull over at a rest stop when the urge to get your swerve on becomes too great.

Enjoy yourselves, people!

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Django The Bastard (Italy, 1969)

If you prefer your Italian Westerns dark, as I tend to, the waning years of the sixties is your vintage of choice. It was during that period—roughly all of 1969 through the first half of 1970—that some of the cornerstone films of the gothic western genre were released, among them Antonio Margheritti’s And God Said to Cain, Robert Hossein’s Cemetery without Crosses, and the bastard that I’ll be discussing today, Django The Bastard.

Django The Bastard is one of the only, and perhaps the only, of the Django films that could be considered a direct sequel to Sergio Corbucci’s 1966 original. That’s because, rather than simply slapping the name Django on its protagonist for marketing purposes, it honors Corbucci’s conception of Django by presenting him as a blunt archetype; a specter of vengeance who strikes terror into the hearts of evildoers by merging in and out of the shadows, much like the American pulp anti-hero The Shadow. Of course, here, rather than showing up in town with a coffin dragging behind his horse, he shows up bearing a grave marker on which the name of his intended victim is written. In both cases, he’s a pretty morbid dude, is what I’m saying.

As directed by Sergio Garrone and portrayed by co-writer/star Anthony Steffen (aka Antonio De Teffè), the film’s incarnation of Django could rightly be called two dimensional, but can’t be faulted for lacking flesh and blood. That’s because, by the end of the film, the filmmakers are pretty clearly suggesting that this Django is not flesh and blood at all, but rather a straight up ghost. As such, the traditional way for a villain to greet him is by first shouting “but you’re dead!” before trying and failing to kill him. This interpretation is leant weight by the surfeit of spooky atmosphere that Garrone and cinematographer Gino Santini bring to the task of telling the story.

At the picture's opening, Django arrives in whatever godforsaken burgh this movie takes place in (when not specified, I tend to think of all Spaghetti Westerns as taking place in a fabled every-land much like the Shaw Brothers’ oft-visited Martial World) carrying a cross-shaped grave marker bearing the name Sam Hawkins. Hawkins (Victoriana Gazzara) is one of several turncoat confederate officers who betrayed Djangos army unit and left him for dead. (There is a surreal flashback to this event that lends Django the Bastard a similarity to another supernaturally tinged western, Giulio Questi’s Django Kill!] Now it’s some fifteen years later and Django is looking to track down those officers and subject them to some variably poetic and uniformly violent justice. Fortunately for him, all of them seem to have settled in the same town. Hawkins, in particular, appears to have done very well for himself in the years since screwing over Django and his comrades, and now rules over the town like some kind of personal fiefdom.

At Hawkins' side is his son Jack, an overgrown cretin played by Luciano Rossi, whose bleached mop of hair signals that his part might otherwise have been played by Klaus Kinski. Hawkins has paid Alida (Rada Rassimov) a money-obsessed bar girl to marry Jack and give him grandchildren. The fact that Alida, a cold hearted gold digger if there ever was one, is the movie’s primary female character means that there is little potential for Django to make love connection while on the vengeance trail.

Not that Alida doesn’t try. Indeed, it is Django’s exchanges with her that provide some of the script’s most pithy lines, such as when Alida offers to split Hawkins’ fortune with him. “I’m not interested in money,” Django says grimly. “You can’t buy much with hate,” Alida replies.

On a similar note, Alida tells Django at a later point that, with Hawkins’ money, they will be “rich forever.” “We won’t live forever,” says Django flatly.

And so Django goes about surreptitiously strangling, shooting, garroting and otherwise dispatching his betrayers, along with many of their minions. It gets to the point that the respective gangs have been driven into such a paranoid panic that they begin to war with each other. It is against this chaotic backdrop that Django and Jack hunt each other down, each hoping to kill the other before being killed themselves. Their final confrontation is, of course, violent and, for that added dash of sacrilegious frisson, staged in a darkened church.

I have seen Django The Bastard referred as a “horror Western” and I suppose that works, though I think the film’s reliance on fast-paced action plants it more squarely in the Western genre. Also to be considered is the fact that the film ultimately leaves open the question of whether or not Django really is a supernatural being. In this way, the filmmakers get to capitalize on the story’s spooky elements without sacrificing the credulity of audience members who came to the film expecting a straightforward Western. I don’t think those filmmakers had the ambition—or the stones—to do otherwise. If the film was an equal combination of the genres, it would wreak havoc with audience expectations. The horror aspect of the story would push us to see Django as some kind of monster, and empathize with his victim's suffering, while the Western would encourage us to identify with him as a hero, and revel in the suffering he inflicts upon his victims, who are, after all, the bad guys.

Because that’s the way Westerns work: the lone stranger who arrives in the strange town at the beginning of the picture is usually the one whose viewpoint we take, as his situation mirrors ours as we cautiously trek, guns drawn, into the strange new narrative that awaits us. While Django The Bastard is not the strangest Spaghetti Western that I’ve seen, its genre blending does sets it aside from the more prosaic films of its ilk enough to make it well worth seeing.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Podcast on FIre's Taiwan Noir #30: Book of Heroes and A Heroic FIght

It seems like it's been literal ages since my old pal Kenny B and I had one of our cozy fireside chats about violent and weird Taiwanese movies. Until now, that is, because yesterday we posted a new episode. The subject his time is a pair of comedies: Book of Heroes, which comes across as a Taiwanese take on It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, and Heroic Fight, a delightful show biz comedy starring the ever winsome Lam "Peach Kid" Siu Law. As usual, it's the epitomy of nerd-dom, as it features two grown men having a long-winded conversation about topics that they seem well aware that no one else is likely to care about. In a sad way, it's kind of heroic. Have at it here.