This Wednesday, July 2nd, at 7 pm PT, Jeff Heyman and I will be returning to the studios of Oakland's 9th Floor Radio to flood the netwaves with retro pop, dance and movie music from around the world. Yes, it's Pop Offensive, the essential soundtrack to the 4DK lifestyle, and it is not to be missed! Though, of course, if you do miss it, the episode will be available indefinitely for streaming from the show archives, where you can now check out episodes one and two.
Want to heckle us while we're on air? Simply give me a shout on Twitter, using the hashtag #PopOffensive. Maybe we'll dedicate a Thai surf instrumental to your mom!
If I made a Wuxia film, this would be the plot: A much coveted weapon of great supernatural power -- a magic sword, let’s say -- is stolen from a righteous sifu by an evil king and his grotesque minions. The old master is killed in the course of the theft and, in order to retrieve the sword and deal out vengeance, the surviving members of his clan, skilled martial artists all, must brave the evil king’s labyrinthine, booby trap filled fortress. One of them is a cute girl.
What’s that? Yes… yes, you’re right. This also describes the plot of roughly 80% of all existing wuxia films. Now let me tell you why: If, like director/writer Ting Shan-Hsi’s The Ghost Hill, you have an abundance of style, a charismatic cast, and nonstop violent action, that’s all the plot you need.
In the case of The Ghost Hill, the coveted super weapon is something called the Purple Light Sword and, until certain sticky fingers see otherwise, it is in the custody of a blind kung fu master named Yen (Chan Bo Leung). The culprits are a band of murderous weirdies (bearing awkwardly translated handles like “Cow Head”) commanded by one King Gold (Sit Hon), whose royal badness extends to him taking baths in boiling oil and eliminating unmotivated underlings with a spear launching metal prosthetic.
King Gold spirits the Sword away to his digs on the faraway Gold Mountain, requiring that Master Yen’s surviving family members make a long trek across much picturesque-yet-inhospitable terrain in order to retrieve it. Along the way, they pick up allies, such as blade-for-hire Shadow Tsai (A Touch of Zen’s Tien Peng), and a mangy bunch called the Beggars Gang. All the while, they fend off attacks from the King’s forces, including his also evil daughter, Princess Gia (Hon Seung Kam).
This motley lot eventually succeeds in capturing Yen’s adult son and daughter and imprisoning them in the King’s lair. Thus does our heroes’ mission of vengeance become also one of rescue, requiring them to withstand the many Dante’s Inferno-like travails of the King’s “Hell Castle”. This, as one might expect, does not prove easy, involving lots of acrobatic sword fighting, vigorous one-against-all hand to hand combat, and every manner of exotic weapon the Martial World has to offer. Fortunately, just as all seems lost, Yen’s daughter, Swallow, a formidable swordswoman, is freed to play a decisive role in the final confrontation.
Swallow is played by 4DK favorite Polly Shang Kwan. Kwan, still a contract player with Union Pictures, had become a literal overnight sensation with her debut in King Hu’s Dragon Gate Inn just a few years earlier, and still had the star power to carry an obvious prestige production like The Ghost Hill on her diminutive, but no doubt powerful, shoulders. Mind you, in keeping with the persona she established with that earlier film, this is a much steelier version of Polly than the one we would see emerge a couple years later, clowning around in goofball oddities like Little Hero and Zodiac Fighters. As likeable as she is in those roles, there’s something to be said for seeing her in a part that relies more on her considerable skill, athleticism and grace as a fighter. In keeping with that, Polly is never pitted against just one opponent when she can instead face off against several, or even a dozen. The result is that her fight scenes here make up most of the high points in a film that in no way lacks for well-staged and breathtakingly paced brawls.
The Ghost Hill offsets its gritty physical action with a woozy dose of dreamy, haunted atmosphere. This and its employment of fog enshrouded, hyper-real sets give it a striking resemblance to the many adaptation of Ku Long’s Wuxia novels that director Chor Yuen would film for Shaw Brothers over the course of the 70s. It also shares with Chor a pronounced debt to Sergio Leone, especially in the restless, sweeping camera work of cinematographer Chiu Yao Hu. However, Chiu also marks a departure from Chor in that, where Chor would increasingly rely on indoor sets for his exterior shots, Chiu uses the widescreen frame to capture yawning natural vistas, often dwarfing the film’s protagonists as they proceed toward their destiny across the wastelands.
Complimenting this epic air are those fanciful touches and tricks of art that we’ve come to depend upon from old Taiwanese fantasy wuxia movies. The first level of King Gold’s devilish lair is a psychedelic netherworld of brightly colored giant fauna that has all the gaudy artificiality of a roadside dinosaur park, within which the King sits upon his equally verdant throne like a malevolent bloom. Beyond that, there is the Palace of Ice, with its frozen sentries and prison cells carved from snow. And then there is the spiked chamber to end all spiked chambers, in which one imagines even the men’s room offers no relief from stabby appurtenances.
I know very little about director Ting Shan-Hsi, other than that he was one of those hard working and prolific directors of popular Taiwanese movies whose filmography by necessity includes silly sounding and amusingly translated titles like The Talenty Girl. An obituary for him over at Kung Fu Cinema -- he died in 1999 at the age of 74 – states that he is best known for the patriotic war films The Everlasting Glory and The Battle for the Republic of China, and that he directed at least 69 features over the course of almost 30 years. All I know is that, with The Ghost Hill, he demonstrates how a well-made martial arts programmer can be endowed with a kind of lurid pop poetry, thrilling in both its lyricism and trashy vitality. Sometimes, sifting through the dross of Asian action cinema as I do, I lose sight of that. Needless to say, I’m always grateful for the reminder.
Let's be honest: The Devil Returns and Kill for Love are shitty movies. Nonetheless, Kenny B. and myself had a lot of fun talking about them. So much fun, in fact, that I think you will actually enjoy listening to this latest episode of Taiwan Noir, what with all of our audible nose holding and carrying on and such. Also, it's pretty short.
Sold? You can either stream the episode or get details on how to download it here. Enjoy!
It's safe to say that last night's 4DK Monthly Movie Shout Down of The Stabilizer was a barrel of fun. A big industrial barrel of fun filled with toxic chemicals and usually on fire. A big, mulleted man-shake of the hand to all who participated. A link to the Storified transcript of the proceedings is below.
Shout Downers, has there ever been a greater night than tonight? It is the night that will see an end to our days of longing. A night when we will see a man who looks like a more muscled version of Brian May from Queen riding a motorcycle up some stairs. We will also see him react to having a shipping container filled with narcotics bounced off his noggin with the look of a stunned water buffalo. Yes, it's The Stabilizer, a movie made by Indonesians to spirit money away from near sighted Sylvester Stallone fans -- and the esteemed subject of this month's Monthly Movie Shout Down!
Simply join us on Twitter tonight -- that's Tuesday, June 10th -- at 6:00 pm PDT and, using the hashtag #4DKMSD, join in the conversation as we take measure of this stunning action oddity. A link to the complete feature is below. Please note that there is an ad at the beginning; you'll want to run through that prior to "go" time in the interest of us all staying synched up and stabilized.
Also do take note that this is the first Shout Down to come with a trigger warning. The Stabilizer, being the loutish 80s action movie that it is, does feature some scenes of rape and violence against women. Consider this your neighborly warning.
I may be on the cusp of becoming a published author, but that doesn't mean I've gotten too big for the Monthly Movie Shout Down -- especially when the fate of the free world is at stake! Because when that happens, there's only one man who can even the odds: THE STABILIZER!
Yes, it's Indonesia's answer to Cobra, 1986's The Stabilizer, with its jaw dropping combo kick of nonstop, hair raising stunts, sublimely risible dialog, and carbonized acting. For a taste of what we have in store, check out this only mildly tampered-with trailer:
Come next Tuesday, June 10th, at 6pm PDT, all you need do is log into Twitter, start up the movie via the YouTube link provided on this blog, and, using the hashtag #4DKMSD, tweet along with us as we, aghast, lay into this uproarious turkey with all our earthly might, in the process correcting the balance between right-mindedness and stupidity in the world. More details can be found at the official Shout Down site.
Now, in the interest of keeping the Monthly Movie Shout Down a woman-friendly zone, I must point out that The Stabilizer does contain some incidents of rapey-ness and violence against women. I, personally, feel that these incidents are leavened somewhat by all of the ridiculousness and incompetence that surrounds -- and, indeed, engulfs -- them, but I also realize that that judgment is up to the individual viewer. You have been warned.
Check out my Teleport City review of The Stabilizer here.
Hey, do you remember books? They're those things you read that you have to pay for and which take up physical space in your domicile that could otherwise be used to display your Danzig nodder doll or super deformed Boba Fett plushy. Bloggers write them because, despite the much wider audience that can be reached online, we feel that it is only by having something in print that we can have true legitimacy. Others of us are just old and have an irrational attachment to the things.
In any case, what you see above is my dear and talented friend Andrew Nahem's cover design for my upcoming book Funky Bollywood, which I have been toiling over in secret for many a moon. It's a guide to Indian action movies of the 1970s, which, alongside the stunt films of the 60s, comprise my favorite avenue of Bollywood cinema. All of our good friends -- Amitabh, Feroz, Dharmendra, Jyothi, Shetty, Pran, Zeenat, Hema -- are there, represented in detailed reviews and synopses of 70 films, capsule bios, special sections on spy and western films, and a handy visual guide to common tropes.
Now, if you are one of those hardened souls who looks sideways at Bollywood, I humbly ask that you find it within you to give Funky Bollywood a chance. I am confident that, in addition to appealing to my Bollywood-loving readers who've enjoyed my writings on the topic in the past, it will also provide a welcoming entryway into Indian cinema for cult and genre film enthusiasts of a more general nature. Not to mention that I have worked very hard to make it a fun and lively read.
Funky Bollywood is now in the process of being made print ready, with my conservative estimate of its release date being sometime in September. At that time, you will be able to purchase it via this blog, as well as from a number of other places online. Those of you who live in the Bay Area, or who plan to be here around that time, might also look out for any launch events we cook up. Until then, I'd just appreciate you spreading the word.