Saturday, January 16, 2010

Bushido: The Cruel Code of the Samurai

Back in August '09, I posted my review of Tadashi Imai's Cruel Tales of Bushido. Now I've gotten hold of an advance copy of AnimEigo's DVD release (out February 9th) re-dubbed Bushido: The Cruel Code of the Samurai. As with all AnimEigo releases, the disk is packed with historical and cultural information in the form of supplemental notes and essays, as well as explanatory supertitles above particularly idiomatic/referential subtitles. In short, the package is a Japanese history nerd's dream. And speaking of Japanese history nerds, my boy Randy Schadel from the Samurai Archives provides one of his typically voluminous pieces on the disk, a definite value-add.

Even if you're not all that interested in Japanese history, you'll still find this film an unforgettable experience and a unique look into a centuries-old martial culture. Plus it's a great showcase for the talents of the great Kinnosuke Nakamura, here portraying seven different roles to devastating effect. Needless to say I'm overjoyed to see this true classic of Japanese cinema receiving the long-overdue DVD release it deserves.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Beast Stalker

This top-notch, edge-of-your-seat Hong Kong crime thriller from 2008 packs more than a couple of emotional gut-punches. For the record, these come primarily from fucked-up things happening to little kids. While I'm not a big fan of the killing, kidnapping and general endangerment of children in film, here it's done -- dare I say tastefully? Certainly effectively, adding an extra layer of involvement for the audience beyond the standard police procedural and action elements.

The story pivots on a singular, multi-vehicle traffic collision from which the various characters emerge, their faces scarred, their lives entangled, forever changed. Except one, a little girl, her tiny body pierced by the bullets of a well-meaning cop in pursuit of a crime boss (the chase leading up to the crash). Sadly, wee Yee won't be growing up any time soon. Of course the cop, Sergeant Tong (Nicholas Tse, above right), will never get over it, so when the dead girl's sister is kidnapped, he's doubly motivated to save the little tyke and make some kind of amends to the mother (Zhang Jing Chu) and the universe at large. He's in for a rough ride, though; the kidnapper, Hung (an electrifying Nick Cheung, above left), is an elite ex-assassin, lightening fast and smart as a whip. He'll give Sergeant Tong a run for his money ...

The Beast Stalker director Dante Lam employs hand-helds and steady cams to create a kinetic, P.O.V. style that drops you right into the breathless action. Nice to see Hong Kong cinema getting back to gritty after the string of super-slick, Hollywood-style outings that characterized the post-handover era. The film won several awards in 2009 including the Hong Kong Film Critics Society Award for Best Actor for Nick Cheung. More good news: Beast Stalker 2 (working title) just finished shooting in Hong Kong last week, so keep an eye out for that one (will premier over there this Summer). The follow-up film isn't a sequel -- the two male leads swap roles (Tse is the criminal, Cheung the cop) -- a far more intriguing proposition.

If you're in Europe or Japan, you'll be able to rent/purchase The Beast Stalker tout de suite -- it was released on region-2 DVD by Cine-Asia on January 4th. If you're in the US, you're in good shape -- it's been out on disk since May, 2009. As for the inevitable Hollywood remake, well, let's just hope they don't wreck it ...

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Kurosawa Centenial

If you're in the NYC area, why not celebrate Akira Kurosawa's 100th birthday with a film? From January 6th through February 5th, the Film Forum is showing 28 of the master's films including my personal favorite, High and Low (above, playing January 22nd). I also recommend the seldom-seen The Idiot (1951) playing January 17th and Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail (1945) on the 19th.

Sure, Criterion has released lots of these pictures on DVD, but I don't have to tell you how much difference the big screen still makes, especially in regards to the compositional skills of an artist like Kurosawa. Maybe when our LCDs get to be 300 inches, we can all stay home, but for now, get thee to the Forum!