Thursday, February 28, 2008

The 39 Steps review at Jet Set Cinema

I don't know why I'm writing about a film as well known and regarded as The 39 Steps, either. But rest assured that I will be back to mining obscurity with my next review. In the meantime, if you'd like to read my take on this Hitchcock classic, head on over to Teleport City's Jet Set Cinema.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Santo, Blue Demon, Monsters at Teleport City


As some of you may know, I began The Lucha Diaries as a chronicle of my struggle with an addiction to Mexican wrestling movies. Now that I've parlayed that into a high paying career as a film reviewer for Teleport City, it only seems appropriate that I should bring things full circle by giving an old favorite, Santo y Blue Demon contra los Monstruos, the epic review treatment it so deserves. See below for a taste of the awesomeness in store:

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Review of Raumpatrouille Orion at Jet Set Cinema



My review of Raumpatrouille Orion is now up at Teleport City's Jet Set Cinema. For the uninitiated, Raumpatrouille is a German science fiction series that debuted on German television within just two weeks of Star Trek's launch in America--and while there are some remarkable similarities between the two shows, they only serve to underscore some even more striking differences. If you're one of the many people who have been grooving to Peter Thomas' amazing astro-lounge soundtrack for this show, you might be interested to see that the series itself is every bit as thrilling as the music that accompanied it.

Listening to: Momokomotion "Punk in a Coma"

I've been really loving Punk in a Coma, the debut solo album from Momoko Ueda--aka Momokomotion--a former member of the Thai electro-punk band Futon (and also, according to her bio, a former student at San Francisco's Art Institute). It's a perfect piece of idiosyncratic modern pop, with just the right balance of squelchy synths, programmed beats and guitar crunch, not to mention, apropos of the Yoshitomo Nara designed booklet it comes packaged in, a bracing dose of kinder-punk attitude. There are a number of standout tracks among Ueda's self-penned originals and nothing that sucks--plus a Japanese language cover of Nirvana's "All Apologies". This is definitely worth picking up for anyone with a taste for fun, energetic and quirky pop with an international gloss.

Video: Momokomotion "Toy"

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Asia-Pol review at Teleport City



My review of Asia-Pol has just been posted over at Teleport City. This is a really interesting film: a 1967 co-production between Hong Kong's Shaw Brothers and Japan's Nikkatsu that pits The One Armed Swordsman's Jimmy Wang Yu against Joe Shishido, the chipmunk-cheeked star of Seijun Suzuki's Branded to Kill. If that's not enough to make you run out and buy it, you can at least head over to TC and read about what you're missing.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Operation Bangkok (Thailand, 1967)

Thai popular cinema of the 1960s is one of those things that I'm fascinated by that I'm hesitant to recommend without qualification. I expended a lot of words a couple months back discussing the Red Eagle films, and while those movies boast striking visuals and a look that is unique in world cinema, I'm not sure that many people would share my enthusiasm for them to the extent that it would be worth their sitting through them in all their lengthy, un-subtitled, weirdly post-dubbed and distressingly deteriorated current condition.

I'm also fascinated by the phenomenon and story of Mitr Chaibancha, the undisputed king of 1960s Thai cinema. So in demand was this actor that he starred in roughly one in three of the near one hundred movies made in Thailand each year during that decade. After Chaibancha was killed during the filming of Insee Thong, the final Red Eagle film, a shrine was erected at the spot that is still visited by worshipful fans to this day.

Chaibancha also did some cross-over work in Hong Kong cinema, and his popularity was such in his homeland that Hong Kong studios saw an incentive to try to tap into that market as well. Operation Bangkok is a 1967 Thai production that received backing from Hong Kong's then still-powerful Cathay Studios, and it pairs Chaibancha with Cathay star Regina Pai Ping as a couple of undercover operatives working as part of a joint Thai/Hong Kong operation to bring down an international drug ring.

Operation Bangkok's relatively lavish funding means that it is in many ways not typical of Thai movies of its period. The typical Thai film in 1967 would have been shot on 16mm color reversal film stock, a process that resulted in such extreme color saturation that even the most muted colors showed up on screen as day-glo. Films of that period were also most often shot without sound, with the voice-overs to be provided by live actors in the venues--often makeshift outdoor cinemas--where they were shown. (For a wonderfully evocative illustration of this practice see director Pen-Ek Ratanaruang's lovely 2001 film Monrak Transistor.) Modern DVD and VCD release of these films compensate for this last practice by providing bizarre, much later recorded audio tracks comprised of un-synched actors reading the movie's script (or making it up as they go along) over the movie's action, accompanied by only very minimal sound effects and a patchwork of anachronistic music.

Operation Bangkok, on the other hand, appears to be shot on 35mm and has synchronous sound, so for once we get to hear the actual voice of, not just Chaibancha, but also his frequent female co-star Petchara Chaowarath. Though not quite as riotous in its color presentation as the aforementioned 16mm productions, the film still shows enough of the Thai preference for vivid color in its art direction and costume design to provide that visual pop that fans of this cinema expect. The added budget also serves to enhance the usual rough-and-tumble thrills you'd expect from a Thai action film of this time, giving us some well shot and executed car and speedboat chases in addition to the plentiful--and credibly harm-producing--physical brawls that break out at regular intervals. Regular Cathay director Tong Wong does a good job of keeping things moving at a fast clip, despite the fact that--at almost two hours (and perhaps more, given that parts are very likely missing from the currently available print)--the film feels a little over-long.

Though, like the other old Thai films I've seen, I found Operation Bangkok entertaining on a purely visual level, the fact that it features a large cast of characters, many of whom are operating under false identities, makes its plot difficult to negotiate without subtitles--something that might prove to be a deterrent factor for those non-Thai speakers considering giving it a chance. Another such factor might be that, like pretty much every surviving Thai film of its vintage, the available print of Operation Bangkok is absolutely ravaged--so much so that the experience of viewing it is like watching it through a thick curtain of scratches, tears and stains. In my review of Insee Thong I made the case that this condition contributed to the unique experience of watching these particular films, but I understand that this opinion might not be shared by everybody.

Still, one thing that I will without hesitation recommend Operation Bangkok for is its soundtrack. A lot of the movie's action takes place in various nightclub settings and, as a result, the film is peppered with performances by what look to be actual beat groups from the region (in addition to some enjoyable vocal numbers by Regina Pai Ping). Anyone who's purchased any of the compilations of Southeast Asian go-go music that have been made available over the last few years will find a lot to love here--as will anyone, like myself, who revels in go-go culture in all its international guises.

Like much of Mitr Chaibancha's output, Operation Bangkok is only available on VCD, and can be found from the always dependable eThaiCD. For me the best part about these Thai VCDs--aside from the fact that you can get them for just a few dollars shipped--are their packaging, which usually includes a brightly colored, relief-printed slip cover featuring the original hand-painted poster artwork for the film. If you've ever witnessed the glories of Thai film poster artwork, you know why that would be incredibly appealing. This guarantees that, even if you find the film contained therein disappointing, you're still left with a pleasing artifact--which makes taking a chance on this unique and, to me, irresistibly compelling avenue of world cinema not that much of a gamble at all.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Review of Some Girls Do at Jet Set Cinema

My first exclusive review for Teleport City's Jet Set Cinema covers the 1969 film Some Girls Do, the second of British producer Betty E. Box's passes at bringing the venerable adventure hero Bulldog Drummond into the swinging 60s. In the case of Some Girls Do this update is accomplished by the inclusion of Dalia Lavi as a stylishly under-dressed assassin, a super speedboat that runs on infrasonic waves, and a small army of slutty robot women. Check it out, won't you?

Kriminal (1966) and Il Marchio Di Kriminal (1968)



I recently got the chance to check out Pulp Video's PAL region DVD releases of Kriminal and Il Marchio Di Kriminal, the two live action films based on the Italian comic book character created by Roberto Raviola and Max Bunker. Keith over at Teleport City has done his usual thorough job of dissecting Kriminal, so I won't be giving either of these the full Lucha Diaries treatment. I'll just say that both films are worth a look, though English speakers might want to campaign for a subtitled release; these are really caper films in nature, and as such aren't action oriented to the extent that lack of fluency in Italian doesn't become an obstacle.

It seems like Italy produced about a million of these comic book movies with costumed protagonists during the sixties. And, from Superargo to Goldface, most of them are a recipe for disappointment. They always sound like loads of fun when described, but in reality often suffer from sloppy execution and weak budgets. Of course, they can't all be Danger: Diabolik. And while the Kriminal films don't quite approach the rarified air of Mario Bava's near-perfect cinematic comic book, they do exhibit a level of craft and sophistication beyond that of many of their peers--as well as a couple imaginative attempts to duplicate the graphic look of their source material.

Kriminal is a costumed master thief like Diabolik, though of a much more ruthless variety. He has no qualms about murdering people in cold blood if it will get him closer to whatever loot he's after at the moment, and he frequently does so--and by a variety of imaginative means--over the course of the two films. In short, he makes the idea of the anti-hero as defined by Hollywood look like a neurasthenic cub scout in comparison. Both films make wan attempts to suggest that Kriminal might face some kind of karmic retribution for his crimes, but in the end there's no mistaking that he's the guy we're meant to be rooting for. Andrea Bosic as Inspector Milton of Scotland Yard plays the foil, and the action of the films parallels his hunt for Kriminal with Kriminal's hunt for treasure. This is a classic amoral universe were dealing in here, and there doesn't appear to ever be any suggestion that Milton's motives or character exist on any higher plane than his prey's.

Dutch actor Glenn Saxson, who plays Kriminal, could be the guy for whom the term "movie star good looks" was invented. His chiseled, perfectly angled features and fixed edifice of blonde hair fit perfectly in the stylized world on screen, but he'd look like a bit of a freak if you actually saw him walking down the street. His arid prettiness and sharply tailored attire provide a nicely jarring contrast to the skeleton suit he wears during his prowling, and his mannerisms go a long way toward telegraphing a character who, despite whatever role he may be playing, is scheming for advantage at absolutely all times.

Kriminal was directed by Umberto Lenzi (who, fortunately for us, appears to have been actually interested in the project in this case), while Il Marchio Di Kriminal was directed by Fernando Cerchio. Despite the change in directors, both films have a markedly similar look, one that makes the most of the glamour and physical beauty of the international locations and actors on hand (which include, in addition to Glenn Saxson, the lovely Helga Line). One nice touch that Il Marchio Di Kriminal adds is a device by which a shot will momentarily morph into a comic book panel so that we can see what a character is thinking by way of a thought balloon. Given the source material, I actually would have liked to see more such touches in the films, since, though both of them are attractively rendered, they have a shortage of elements that really make them pop in both the visual and artistic sense.

All in all, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend the Kriminal films to those who enjoy stylish 1960s pop entertainment, though I have to admit that I actually expected them to be a bit trashier than they were, and actually found myself disappointed when they weren't. I think it may just be that I've been ruined by the Turkish Kilink films. Now those are some movies that really know how to take the concept of a ruthless master criminal in a skeleton suit and exploit it for all its lurid potential.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Lucha Diaries mentioned in Salon

News flash! Many fans of legitimate cinema either recoiled in horror or shook their heads in sadness today as Salon film critic Andrew O'Hehir (an old friend of mine.. older than me, even!) linked to my review of The Dark Heroine Muk Lan-fa in his column Beyond the Multiplex. While I'd like to think that this kind of exposure would increase the regular readership of The Lucha Diaries, I expect that it will more likely just increase the number of people on Earth who are shocked and dismayed at what people nowadays get up to on the internet in their free time.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Dance Dance (India, 1987)

Though I've been an avid consumer of Bollywood movies for the past several years, I have to admit to being a late bloomer when it comes to the films of 80s star Mithun Chakraborty. The praises of Disco Dancer and Commando have been ringing across the internet for quite some time now, but it's only been in the last few months that I've gotten around to watching them or anything else in Chakraborty's oeuvre. My most recent acquisition in my efforts to play catch-up was Dance Dance, which, like Disco Dancer and Commando, is a collaboration between Chakraborty and producer/director B. Subhash.

Though it doesn't quite provide the level of entertainment of Disco Dancer or Commando, Dance Dance is notable for how it pushes to the extreme all of those elements that set Mithun's films apart from the rest of the Bollywood pack. And if you know what I'm talking about, then you know that an appreciation of Dance Dance is one that has to be carefully cultivated, rather than come upon by way of the film possessing what any person of less, um, refined tastes would consider actual charms.

What's amazing about Dance Dance is how, like the product of some malevolent mirror Earth, it manages to take all of Bollywood's promises and turn them on their head: Where Bollywood promises dazzling spectacle, Dance Dance gives us community center rec room pageantry. Where Bollywood promises us toe-tapping, uplifting songs, Dance Dance gives us the musical atrocities of Bappi Lahiri. Where Bollywood promises lavish arrays of color, Dance Dance gives us scene after scene in which everything is red. Where Bollywood promises us resplendent costumes, Dance Dance gives us horrific assemblages of wife beaters, lycra and crepe paper.

Now, if I haven't already sold you on Dance Dance, consider that it also features one of Amrish Puri's most eccentric villain portrayals, exemplified by a scene in which he terrorizes Mithun's mom by chasing her around and blowing a trumpet at her.



So, in short: awesome movie. Seek it out and enjoy

Monday, February 11, 2008

Muk Lan-fa Memories



In response to my review of the Dark Heroine Muk Lan-fa movies, Cindy over at the Movie-Fan Princess Forums generously provided me with these cool scans of an original movie booklet for The Dark Heroine Shattered the Black Dragon Gang, the second film in the series. This booklet was available at Hong Kong theaters playing the film when it originally opened back in 1966.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Guest reviews at Teleport City and Jet Set Cinema

I've been invited to cross-post some of my reviews at Teleport City and its sister blog Jet Set Cinema. That's a real honor for me, because to my mind Teleport City is simply the best site dealing with international cult cinema on the web; it's consistently literate, funny and informative, with a refreshingly unapologetic attitude about skewing toward the darker regions of the cinematic spectrum. More importantly, Teleport shows a deep appreciation, as I do, for the work of Mogambo himself, Mr. Amrish Puri, which is why I've chosen to inaugurate the relationship by posting my review of Mr. India, one of that fine Bollywood actor's crowning achievements. Once you've checked that out, please head over to Jet Set Cinema for my take on the Shaw Brothers' 1968 proto girls-with-guns swank-fest Temptress of a Thousand Faces. I'm also planning on writing some exclusive content for both sites within the coming weeks, so keep your eyes open (as seen below).

Friday, February 8, 2008

Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye (Italy, 1973)

Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye is a movie that I would have watched sooner or later no matter what people said about it. And, from what I've heard, people don't have much to say about it that's very encouraging. However, I'm the type of person who always thinks, "How bad can it be?" And in this case I thought, "How bad can a sort-of-giallo co-starring Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg be?" I mean, if you're a fan, like I am, of 1960s French pop music, European genre cinema and unrepentantly seedy Frenchmen, you are basically doomed to see this movie whether you like it or not.

And the fact is that Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye isn't bad; It just isn't really good, either. Antonio Margheriti (here working under his Anthony Dawson pseudonym) is a director who, at his best, seems content with being just okay. He obviously knows how to set up a shot and light a set - and, in its best moments, Seven Deaths has the look of a lesser Mario Bava film, which isn't bad. But aside from looking handsome, the film is little more than a lazy composite of stock gothic horror elements--the aristocratic family with a blighted bloodline, the driven mad son kept locked from public view, the innocent young girl wandering wide-eyed through endless dark corridors in a foreboding mansion, etc--all of which are marched out at a fairly languorous pace.

That all might clue you in that Seven Deaths isn't really much of a giallo, either. That's fine, of course, unless you were expecting it to be one. Which you very well might, given that its title--which includes a numeral, an animal, a reference to death, and doesn't make one lick of sense--is about as giallo as Dario Argento slashing people's throats with a razor while wearing a Lucio Fulci mask in a stark white gallery filled with nothing but giant stainless steel sculptures of human hands (which reminds me, if you haven't experienced Braineater's genius Giallo Generator, you must do it right now).

In addition to that, in faithful Giallo fashion, the film's characters are uniformly unlikeable, and there is indeed a series of murders committed by a mysterious, gloved killer. Despite that, however, the aforementioned gothic trappings, the period setting (the 1920s, I'm guessing, based entirely on one hat that Jane Birkin wears) and relative lack of gore serve to undermine Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye having the feeling of a true giallo. That seems like quite a missed opportunity, seeing as how a figure like Gainsbourg would have so complimented--and been complimented by--the decadent, morally withered and cosmopolitan setting of the typical giallo.

Which brings me to another reason why, if you're someone like me, you shouldn't bother to watch Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye, even though you're totally going to anyway. Serge Gainsbourg really isn't in it very much. His police inspector character doesn't show up until well after the film's halfway mark, and when he does he's saddled with a ridiculous dubbed Scottish accent. (The film is set in Scotland, which makes it all the more jarring when the DVD's reinserted scenes, taken from an Italian language print, pop up). His relationship to the character his missus plays in the film is purely incidental, and so we don't get to see much going on between them.

Of course, that I had expected it to be different was no one's fault but my own, since, unlike the headlining Birkin, Gainsbourg is far from top billed. Though it's not like I expected the two of them to break into a version of "Je T'aime Moi Non Plus" complete with orgasmic moaning, either. I just thought that, since both halves of the famous couple were near the height of their celebrity at the time, the filmmakers might have tried to capitalize more on the fact that they were starring together. But instead it seems like Gainsbourg's role was intended as more of a cameo.

And it is an entertaining cameo. Even with the awful dubbing, Gainsbourg still manages to exude an air of casual debauchery that hangs around him like cheap cologne (along with the cloud of actual cheap cologne that I also imagine him to be wearing). Ambling onto a crime scene, rumpled and heavy-lidded, he comes off like a more dissolute version of Columbo.

As for Birkin, I have to say that I'm a lot more familiar with her work as a pop singer than as an actor. As such, I can only say that she doesn't hold a whole lot of interest here, and I'm guessing that's due more to the thinness of the stock gothic heroine character she's given to play than to her acting ability. She does do all the wide-eyed, lantern-bearing wandering through darkened corridors quite serviceably, though.

So suffice it to say that Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye does not rank up there with Histoire de Melody Nelson and Charlotte among Birkin and Gainsbourg's most successful collaborations. In the film's favor I can say that one of it's murder victims was a gorilla, which I thought was pretty innovative (the gorilla costume ranking between the one in King Kong vs. Godzilla and those of the kung fu fighting gorillas in Shaolin Invincibles in terms of quality). Also, the film is at least true to its title in providing a cat, though he's more of the well-fed, Garfield variety than the scary type of cat you might expect in this sort of film.

That's not a lot to recommend Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye, and if I were you I'd-- Well, if I were you I'd just watch it anyway, no matter how stridently people tried to dissuade me from it, because that's what I did. So just don't say I didn't warn you.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Dharam-Veer (India, 1977)

Once you're done with the knowledge-based cherry picking, there are a wide variety of factors that come into play in deciding which are the potential gems among the selection of five dollar Bollywood dvds at your local Indian grocer or favorite online vendor. Familiar names or faces in the cast or crew of a film are always helpful, but there are also certain thematic or conceptual lures that might serve to tip the scales. In the case of Dharam-Veer, for instance, it certainly didn't hurt that the cast included the stunning Zeenat Aman - and while its male lead, Dharmendra, isn't one of my favorite actors, I do harbor a lot of good will toward him thanks to his co-starring role - with Amitabh Bachchan - in the classic Sholay, as well as his appearance in other highly enjoyable films such as Ankhen and Alibaba aur 40 Chor. But what really closed the deal for me with Dharam-Veer was the fact that its action was described as taking place in a vaguely mediaeval "mythical kingdom". This aroused in me fevered hopes that Dharam-Veer would be some kind of mind boggling ahistorical period piece - something, in other words, along the lines of Mard, the 1985 classic whose depiction of hero Amitabh Bachchan's battle against the British Raj managed to include MTV-inspired eighties fashions, gladiator battles, and women in frilly Victorian garb strapped to the front of Sherman tanks...

Read the full review at The Lucha Diaries

The Dark Heroine Muk Lan-fa (Hong Kong, 1966)

In the mid sixties, Hong Kong's Cantonese language film industry, faced with the emerging dominance of the considerably more well-funded and increasingly action-oriented Mandarin language Shaw Brothers Studio - as well as changing audience tastes in a rapidly modernizing society - found itself in need of retooling its output. Melodramas, romances and period martial arts films featuring heroic female swordsmen had been staples of the industry, but it now appeared that films reflecting the cosmopolitan tastes and hyperbolic pace of a more technologically driven age were in order. Of course, nothing celebrated speed, style and technology like the James Bond films, so it only made sense for Cantonese filmmakers to adapt the conventions of those films to their audience and capabilities. Furthermore, since Cantonese cinema was at the time largely driven by female stars - and appealed to a largely female audience - it also made sense that these culturally specific reimaginings of the Bond film should feature young women as their protagonists. The resulting flood of films, made mostly between 1965 and 1968, has been retroactively dubbed the "Jane Bond" films by critic Sam Ho...

Read the full review at The Lucha Diaries

Guest Reviews at Movie-fan Princess

The powers that be over at Movie-fan Princess, a site dedicated to star of 1960s Cantonese language cinema Connie Chan, have honored me by asking me to contribute some guest reviews. So far I've written two, for the films Girl in Red and She Is Our Senior, both contemporary action thrillers--with an unmistakable James Bond influence--made in 1967. Both are fun, scrappy little B movies with a lot more energy and style than you might expect given their obviously modest means--plus, in the case of Girl in Red, some pretty slamming fight choreography thanks to the masters Lau Kar-leung and Tong Kai. You can check the reviews out here:

http://moviefanprincess.com/girlinred.html

http://moviefanprincess.com/senior.html

Qurbani (India, 1980)

Watching Feroz Khan and Vinod Khanna in Qurbani, you might conclude that their characters are simply too confident in their rugged masculinity to have any qualms about being overtly demonstrative in their affections for one another. However, if you consider that it's the knee-weakeningly gorgeous Zeenat Aman, the alleged love interest of both men, who's being wholly ignored while they engage in all their tender hugging, shoulder rubbing and cheek tugging, you might be lead to another conclusion altogether. Of course, men in Bollywood movies are famously free in their capacity for brotherly PDA. That the tendency seems to stand out in especially stark relief in this case is most likely due to the musky, grease-stained backdrop of balls-out, testosterone-bleeding action mayhem that Qurbani provides for it to play out against. In other words, Qurbani is one of those action movies that just goes that extra distance to confirm what a lot of us already thought these movies were all about in the first place...

Read the full review at The Lucha Diaries

Kaala Sona (India, 1975)

Kaala Sona is another example of the Basmati Western, that Bollywood take on the Western that seems to draw more on the European model than the American for its inspiration. Of course, the Amitabh Bachchan classic Sholay, released at roughly the same time, is considered the gold standard of that genre, and Kaala Sona follows along much the same pattern. Like Sholay, for instance, it's a Western in feel rather than period, setting its action in the present day while taking advantage of some of the still relatively untamed regions lying within India's borders. Such an approach allows both films to highlight a favorite Bollywood theme: the urbanized ne'er-do-well who, in being called upon to defend a rural community from a destructive outside force, has his soul awakened to the simple and essential virtues embodied by that community. (In more recent films, that urbanized ne'er-do-well tends to be, more specifically, a Westernized product of the Diaspora, but same idea.)...

Read the full review at The Lucha Diaries

Be-Sharam (India, 1978)

If you wanted to, it seems like you could draw up a sort of family tree of the films Indian superstar Amitabh Bachchan made during his late seventies to mid eighties prime, tracing each of those movies' origins along three very distinct lines, each leading back to a particular career-defining blockbuster that provided the template for much of what was to come. Of course, while Bachchan would star in films that were virtual remakes of Deewaar, Sholay and Don over the course of his career, the lines leading back to those three classics would not always be perfectly straight. For one would also have to consider films like 1978's Be-Sharam, which draw upon elements of all three...

Read the full review at The Lucha Diaries

Do Ankhen Barah Haath (India, 1957)

V. Shantaram is one of the most highly regarded directors in the history of Indian cinema. He was not only a master craftsman and technological innovator, but also an artist of conscience who dedicated himself to using the filmic arts as a means to further social causes. Today there is a prestigious film award that bears his name, as well as a commemorative stamp issued in honor of the centenary of his birth. Given this, for me to name as his crowning achievement his discovery of an actress whom I personally consider to be, well, a bit on the dishy side, seems like sacrilege. (Keep in mind, also, that this is his widow that I'm talking about.) Still, to my heart I must be true - grateful all the while that there's no literal concept of hell in the Hindu religion...

Read the full review at The Lucha Diaries

Asia-pol (Hong Kong/Japan, 1967)

It was not an unusual practice for Hong Kong's powerhouse Shaw Brothers studio to participate in international co-productions during its heyday, and the result of that practice was often some fairly unique screen pairings. For instance, there was British horror icon Peter Cushing teaming up with kung fu badass David Chiang in The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires and the Sentimental Swordsman himself, Ti Lung, trading lines with American TV movie staple and Night of the Lepus star Stuart Whitman in Shatter. But the 1967 spy thriller Asia-pol stands out in particular for being a potential wet dream for fans of 1960s Asian action cinema. This participation between Shaw and Japan's Nikkatsu - the studio that trademarked its own distinctive brand of hardboiled action cinema during the late fifties and sixties - boasts two stars who have, respectively, come to represent more than any others the identity of each of those studios at that moment in their histories...

Read the full review at The Lucha Diaries

Ogon Batto (Japan, 1966)

Ogon Batto (Golden Bat) is in many ways typical of the type of films Sonny Chiba appeared in before he became an international action star with the Street Fighter movies. Under a long term contract with Toei Studios, he racked up an impressive slate of low budget B movies during the sixties, a good number of kiddie-themed science fiction films among them. His turn as Iron Sharp in Uchu Kaisokusen (aka Invasion of the Neptune Men), as well as his starring roles in the Toei TV series Nanairo Kamen and Ala-no Shishai, also made him a veteran of the costumed hero Tokusatsu genre of which Ogon Batto is squarely a part, though in Ogon he was, for once, spared having to be the guy in the silly super hero costume (an honor that went to actor Hirohisa Nakata). This might have provided a nice break for Chiba - as well as an opportunity to enjoy a bit of shadenfreude at Nakata's expense - but it also results in a rare instance in which the charismatic and energetic Chiba is rendered relatively low-key by all that is going on around him. For, while Ogon Batto may have little in terms of art that distinguishes it from other such films in Chiba's early filmography, it does have a certain energy to its presentation that clearly sets it apart...

Read the full review at The Lucha Diaries

Mr. India (India, 1987)

There is a particular style of courtship presented in Bollywood movies that can be a bit of a tough go-around for Western viewers trying to dabble in that cinema. This courtship begins, predictably, with boy meeting girl. But while boy is immediately smitten by girl, girl loathes boy - because she is either A) a stuck-up rich girl who cannot see beyond boy's modest circumstances, or B) a virtuous village girl who cannot see past boy's frivolous and free-spending ways. In either case, boy does not give up, and instead strives to make himself a near constant presence in girl's life, popping up with a new, even more spirited attempt to ingratiate himself whenever she least expects it. Finally, by dint of boy's persistence and omnipresence, girl's resistance is worn down and she has no choice but to look past her prejudices and see the kind, tender and - above all - mother worshipping heart that beats within boy. Love blossoms...

Read the full review at The Lucha Diaries

Insee Thong (Thailand, 1970)

When watching one of the Insee Daeng movies - or any other existing example of popular Thai cinema from the 1960s - its possible to see a separate story being told in the countless pops, skips and scratches that riddle the severely weathered and damaged available prints, much as you might see a story in the lines etched in an aged human face. And that story, depending on how you look at it, can be either a sad one or a happy one. On the one hand, those wounds and blemishes speak of a unique part of world popular cinema that is on the verge of being lost to history - the ragged condition of each surviving film testifying to the many, many more that have ceased to exist entirely. On the other, as with a child's threadbare teddy bear, that conspicuous wear and tear serves as evidence of just how much these movies have been loved and enjoyed by their intended audience, thread over and over again through projectors - be they in urban cinemas or makeshift outdoor screenings in small villages - until there was little left of them to thread; in short, loved by their audience to the extent that today they have been virtually devoured...

Read the full review at The Lucha Diaries

The Black Rose (Hong Kong, 1965)

The director Chor Yuen is probably today best known for the sumptuous fantasy wuxia films he crafted while under contract to Hong Kong's Shaw Brothers studio during the seventies and early eighties. Indeed, titles like Killer Clans, The Magic Blade and Clans of Intrigue, marked as they are by Chor's unique ability to meld gauzy, haunted romanticism and state-of-the-art martial arts action within an immediately recognizable and alluringly narcotic visual style, present themselves as signature works, the result of a perfect marriage of director and genre. This makes it all the more surprising that these films were, to some extent, a lucrative tangent occurring well into a long directorial career stretching back to the late fifties - one encompassing equally prolific and accomplished work in the areas of social realism and romantic drama.

Still, a look at one standout example of the director's early ventures into action cinema, 1965's The Black Rose, reveals an imprint that is just as clearly recognizable in his later, beloved work for the Shaws...

Read the full review at The Lucha Diaries

Raumpatrouille Orion - Rucksturz ins Kino (Germany 1966/2003)

To the very limited extent that the German science fiction series Raumpatrouille Orion (Full English title: Space Patrol - The Fantastic Adventures of the Starship Orion) is known in my own United States, it tends to be the victim of a certain unfair association. On those pitifully rare occasions when it's mentioned, it's seldom without being compared unfavorably to Star Trek - and sometimes even referred to as "The German Star Trek", usually in the dismissive tone reserved for inferior foreign copies of iconic American brands. That Raumpatrouille is an imitation of Star Trek is unlikely, given that the series made its debut on German television within just two weeks of Trek's initial bow in America (and quite a few years before Captain Kirk and company would make it to the German airwaves). And while the series does share some striking similarities with Trek, those ultimately just serve to highlight some even more striking differences...

Hausu (Japan, 1977)

My favorite line ever from an online review of a cult movie is as follows: "Slaughtered Vomit Dolls is not for everyone." Not only is it admirable for being refreshingly direct, but also for how it so clearly provides the guidance that we consumers depend on from such reviews. It's the type of informed counsel that makes you truly grateful that the internet exists, especially if you're one of those people who might otherwise have considered purchasing Slaughtered Vomit Dolls as a Mothers Day gift.

In the spirit of those words, I would like to begin this review by stating that Hausu, the 1977 debut feature from Japanese director Nobuhiko Obayashi, is not for everyone. However, if you are one of those people whom Hausu is for, I think that you will find it not just fascinating, but addictive. I myself have now seen it five times, and it's a testament to it's uniqueness that each time I watch it I find myself surprised anew at just how strange it is. It's as if it contains too much that's beyond the normal frame of reference for the brain to adequately retain it all. It is without question one of the most unique horror films that I have ever seen...

Felidae (Germany, 1994)

The German made animated feature Felidae has, at least at first glance, the slick commercial look of the type of Hollywood productions we're used to seeing from the likes of Disney and Don Bluth. If you're anything like me, that might prove to be a bit of a stumbling block, because, being that I'm no big fan of mainstream animation, that's not the type of cinematic experience I tend to seek out. And indeed, during its first few minutes I had some serious doubts about whether I was going to enjoy Felidae. Then came the moment when the film's protagonist, a feline detective by the name of Francis, stumbles across his first horribly mutilated kitty corpse, and I quickly realized that there were quite a few shades of difference between Felidae and Fievel Goes West...

Read the full review at The Lucha Diaries

Temptress of a Thousand Faces (Hong Kong, 1968)

Thanks to the release over the past few years of a large portion of the Shaw Brothers catalog on DVD, it should no longer be a secret to anyone who cares that the venerable Hong Kong studio was responsible for far more than the martial arts movies that got imported to the U.S. or horror movies in which people vomit up snakes. Among the more delightful discoveries to come out of this digital mother lode is the handful of James Bond inspired flicks churned out by the studio during the late sixties. Of course, since most of these movies don't actually feature any spies or espionage (the exception being the Angel With the Iron Fists series, which features Lilly Ho as a lady super spy ranked Agent 009) that influence is expressed mainly in terms of attitude and design. Films like The Golden Buddha and Summons to Death, for instance, share more in terms of narrative with romantic Hitchcock thrillers like North by Northwest or To Catch a Thief, yet still manage to include space age hidden compounds, knife's edge haberdashery, consumer objects with lethal hidden functions and, most importantly, a world well stocked with beautiful young women to serve as a sexual supermarket for the films' well-heeled and limitlessly mobile male protagonists.

Out of all these films, the 1968 actioner Temptress of a Thousand Faces comes the closest to being an exercise in pure style. Loaded with kink and anarchy - and set to a furious pace that both obliterates and makes redundant the need for coherence - it's a perfect example of the type of cinema experience that leaves you no choice but to simply let it wash over you...