Ching Siu-tung is known to most for his exquisite Chinese Ghost Story trilogy as well as a popular choreographer in numerous worldwide hits, but he had not had a hit as a director for many years. The Empress And The Warriors blends light-wuxia elements within a more authentic historical context and sees epic battle scenes and martial arts set pieces wrapped around a simple love triangle and the tale of a woman trying to restore peace between warring nations. There isn’t anything particularly original in the plot or the way it is told, but for both those new to this type of cinema and veterans there is plenty to enjoy.
Kelly Chan gives a great performance as the young ruler of one of China’s many kingdoms, forced into rulership after her father is killed and under the tender guidance of Donnie Yen as the fearsome General Murong. Chan isn’t the typical lilting beauty, and is willing to throw herself headlong into danger and warfare to protect her nation, and it is during one of these encounters that she is gravely injured and later ‘rescued’ by Leon Lai as Duan – a loner who leaves deep in a forest unwilling to get involved with the problems of mankind. As she heals her body, her mind wishes to return to fight for her kingdom, but her heart yearns for the peaceful life with Duan. Naturally war finds its way to her and more swordplay ensues.
As expected, we have artful, breathless action with superb choreography, but we also get a stellar cast, beautiful shots, and powerful soundtrack. As mentioned above, the plot isn’t too convoluted – a mixture of standard revenge and romance which should not alienate any newcomers, and the action is swift without being overblown – veterans will enjoy seeing Donnie Yen suiting up and recognise that it’s a return to form for the director. Not a masterpiece by any means, but still a strong action movie with plenty of heart.
Have you caught this ‘little known in the West’ movie? How do you think it holds up against other martial arts epics? Let us know in the comments!
Takashi Miike, currently the world’s best, most innovative and prominent director is not one for shying away from taboos or controversy. With the amount of films he makes you may expect them to be little more than B-movie trash. But he continues to defy conventions, pushing the benchmark higher. Audition, Happiness of Katakuris, Visitor Q all prove his endless abilities, and Ichi is no different.
Ichi is an awesome assassin. However, he has his own problems, haunted by a violent past which continually torments him. He does not want to kill, but it is all he can do. He tries to love, but it always seems to end in brutal, bloody death. When a Yakuza boss disappears with lots of money, his men search, creating havoc, killing many and unsettling other bosses. The sadistic and masochistic Kakihara leads them, looking for someone who can give him what he wants-extreme torture. He cuts off part of his tongue, and frequently chops at himself for amusement and to disgust others. Both characters are brilliant, and extremely well acted. They soon run into each other and Kakihara tries to make Ichi give him the pain he desires, while Ichi struggles to work out what is real and what has been fabricated to make him what he is. Many are killed in a very gory, though comic fashion and eventually the two fight on top of a building.
This is a breathtakingly violent film, sometimes hard to watch- particularly the rape scenes, and it is gritty enough that we twitch in our seats each time someone is hurt. However, it is also very funny, Miike transcending genres as always, and the plot is complex at times, though strangely basic in the end. Good acting, cool sets and costumes, excellent effects all make it good to watch, but if you do not like blood or having to work when watching a film, it may be best to avoid this one. Everyone else partake of its bloody goodness, as it is not entirely shocking, but will definitely stay with us.
This DVD (while not the fully uncut version) has plenty of good extra features which many recent foreign DVDs lack. There is a good commentary by critics (not Miike unfortunately), extra footage, and interviews with Miike and some of the cast. A must for fans of extreme cinema, a good introduction to Miike for anyone who is interested, and for anyone braving to see something a bit different-one to give a go.
As always, feel free to leave your comments- what did you make of the controversy surrounding the movie?
With Kingdom of Heaven Ridley Scott has made a sprawling epic with authentic sets and costumes, plenty of massive battles and action sequences, and a cutesy liberal story to suit our tempestuous contemporary times. Like the violence which is all around us today in reality the major fault with Kingdom of Heaven is that we have seen it all before. Over the top battle scenes are all fine and good but that is all there seems to be coming out of Hollywood at the moment. Here we feel little emotional contact with any of the central characters, we are introduced to far too many minor characters, and to top it off the action is not filmed or edited particularly well. To give it credit there are some good performances but no-one stands out, and it at least tries to be historically accurate. The anti-war messages are explosively clear and we get to see what devastation comes from petty religious difference. Scott must be commended on making a film that is not afraid to say it is personal faith that should be important, not the billions of different churches which lie on every street corner, and that to find peace and goodness in yourself should be respected. Then again, it is so typically liberal, yet offers no hope for the future. Nowadays terms of agreement over War are not so easily reached, and our leaders are far from heroic, just, or wise. In the end it all seems shallow and pointless and at times there is a sense of absurdity about it all: A supposedly great warrior and general falls for the simplest of traps by being drawn away from his water supply, Bloom’s wife is largely forgotten about, and several fights happen for apparently no reason.
Bloom is Balian the blacksmith, a recent widower after his wife killed herself, having lost their child. Out of nowhere comes Sir Godfrey, played by Neeson who claims to be Balian’s father and wants him to come along to Jerusalem. He hopes to be forgiven for his past sins. On the Godfrey tells Balian of the prospects of the Holy City, but is wounded and eventually dies. After a ship wreck and encounter with a Muslimwhere Balian proves himself to be honourable, he reaches Jerusalem. There is an uneasy alliance between The Christian King Baldwin (Norton doing a strange Brando impersonation) and the Muslim ruler Saladin (Massoud). Baldwin is a leper and will soon die, leaving his brother-in-law, the sadistic Guy who prays for war without reason. The two rulers have kept peace for a long time, but war seems inevitable. Guy is married to Baldwin’s sister Sibylla and will therefor gain power. Baldwin sees the righteousness in Balian and offers him to become King, but Balian refuses knowing he would be the cause of Guy’s death, even though they hate each other and Balian has already killed many. The King dies, and war begins. Balian travels to his new stronghold with his knights to prepare for defence, showing he is not a ruler but a normal, working man who seems to have picked up some excellent sword-fighting skills and battle tactics knowledge. He makes all the men of the city knights as this will inspire them to fight with more conviction, and after a series of battles he surrenders Jerusalem to the Muslims. It is not the city that matters, but the people who live in it, and it was neither side who started the age old war. To this day it continues.
The film looks beautiful, and Scott knows how to handle an epic. However, there is nothing surprising here and even though I don’t feel originality is a necessary part of the criteria of movies, there seems to be little point in watching another city come under siege from another mass of soldiers with another barrage of arrows and flaming balls. We could accept it in LOTR because nothing like it had been seen before, and they were filmed with a much greater degree of intensity, skill, and detail than in this. Definitely worth seeing but it’s about time we brought our movies back down to earth for a while, or at least create some characters who can grab our emotions if you’re going to have them parading about heroically.
The extras here are excellent, and probably deserve an extra star. There is around 40 minutes added to the film and the usual mix of documentaries and commentaries. An epic release for an epic film, and even with some of its shortcomings as a film, if you missed it at the cinema this is definately one to pick up. If you’re already a fan, then look no further than this set.
Feel free to leave your comments on the movie- did you think it was one of the better recent epics?
Before Arnie became The Terminator he was Conan the Barbarian in this visually stunning fantasy film based on the books of Robert E. Howard. An endlessly influential film, withe recent films such as the Matrix and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy taking elements from it, a film with much greater depth than most give it credit for, clever, emotive, with a smart script, one of the best soundtracks of all time, strong performances and great action. Conan the Barbarian is an underrated classic, but one which all Arnie fans love, one which deserves to be recognised for what it is rather than criticising it as brainless violence.
John Milius, director of Big Wednesday, writer of the Apocalypse Now screenplay and famous sections of Jaws and Dirty Harry decided to turn Howard’s classic stories into a big screen adventure. With a script by himself and Oliver Stone, they found Schwarzenegger, convinced actors such as Max Von Sydow and James Earl Jones to join the cast, and made the definitive fantasy film. Along with Basil Poledouris making the score, and a host of talented set designers and effects guys, Conan the Barbarian should not be taken lightly.
Conan tells the story of a man whose entire village was slaughtered when he was a child, and taken into slavery until he became an adult. During the period of slavery he pushes a giant wheel until he has grown, become strong, and everyone else has died. He is then taken and trained as a fighter and killer in small arenas, soon becoming the famous and bloodthirsty warrior in the land, forgetting his past, and becoming an emotionless machine. However, when he is released his past soon comes back to him and he seeks vengeance for the man who killed his family-Thulsa Doom. On his travels he rescues Subotai, played by surfer Gerry Lopez, a thief and they become friends. Soon they encounter Valeria, a beautiful young warrior thief who is infiltrating an evil tower owned by Doom. They go in, butcher the bad guys, steal a diamond, and Conan and Valeria fall in love. Her attitude towards life overpowers him, and the three go around the land stealing. However, the draw of the past is too much and they search for Doom who is taking over the land with his hypnotic powers, believing flesh to be stronger than steal. He is a powerful wizard and sacrifices many innocent young people who succumb to his ways, much like a modern religious cult. Doom and Conan meet again, and Doom is too strong, teaching Conan about his power, much like Conan’s father spoke of the riddle of steel. Conan is left for dead, but his friends find him, and with the help of a magician restore him in a very touching and powerful scene. Renewed, Conan once more seeks Doom, but this time it is not him who is killed, enraging him further.
Arnold’s performance here is one of his best, the kind of role he should be given and proving that he is the best at what he does. Sydow is good in a smaller part, Jones is awesome-just watch his eyes. Mako is very good as the Wizard, Gerry Lopez is superb, and Sandahl Bergman is excellent in a performance which should have sent her on to greatness. The score is easily among the best ever, perfectly complementing every scene, heightening the emotional impact whether it be a battle scene or funeral. The action is also very impressive, before masses of CG beasties, with heads sailing off and swords clashing. It is also one of the most beautifully shot films of the decade, the camera panning over wide areas much like Kurosawa in movement, a technique used again by Peter Jackson. The script is full of quotable dialogue, mixing serious ones with typical Arnie one-liners, Nietchze is referenced and other philosophical issues are discussed with an odd amount of skill for an action movie. Rather than discussion, a few one-liners are given, but they are to good effect. Certain scenes are highly emotional, and they are dealt with skilfully, and Conan is a tragic figure rather than a murderer. No-one can ever get close to him again, anyone who does dies. It is not only a great action and fantasy film, but a great love story. Worthy of Oscar nominations, but of course this type of film is always regarded as pointless. Even if you are not an Arnie film, if you are not someone with a closed mind who has made a decision as to whether you will like a film or not before you see it, then you should see the many merits here. One of the best films of the early 80’s, though unfortunately it is mostly discarded.
Try to get a 2 disc special eidition of the movie- although no matter which you choose the classification boards have done it again, cutting parts of the film which may destory our souls if we were to view them (again), but there are lots of worthwhile extra features to make this version the one to buy over others. Deleted scenes, handy commentaries, interesting documentaries. A must-have.
As always, feel free to comment on my review and the movie. Is the movie unfairly lost in the archives? Does Arnie look his toughest here? How strong an adaptation did you find the film?
I had no idea what was going on here. The Director, Mike Takeshi (An American of Japanese descent) is obviously a man filled with hate and dirty thoughts. Most of his films are filled with the most disgusting scenes this side of witnessing an insane man jogging at dusk near a duck pond with a couple of chocolate fingers protruding from his ears and his slippers made from potato skins. Itchy was filmed not with a traditional camera, but one made from blood. The story if you can even call it a story involves a cry baby who likes to dress up in kinky leathers. He goes around killing people with his shoes he covers their mouths and nostrils with them until the smell overwhelms them) and crying while he does it. I think there was a ghost inside him which was controlling his body, and all the real person could do was cry while the ghost killed everyone. Meanwhile another mental in a different part of the city is looking for someone equally psychotic to fight. He likes causing and feeling pain- we see several gruesome acts he partakes in including giving birth to a cow, cutting holes in his face so he can smoke out of them, attaching a man named Frank to a pile of fishhooks and pulling his flesh off, and juggling the sawn off legs of various prostitutes. Later he goes as far as tucking his trousers into his socks and pretending to be Woody Allen in need of a toilet. This is most disturbing. Eventaully the twain shall meet and have a fight to the death for no reason on the top of a roller-coaster while men with rocket launchers in their coats watch on.
I don’t know what Mike was trying to say with this display of butchery and vulgarity. Perhaps that because we live in such a violent society we should all grab a lump of flaming coal and begin stoning everyone we see in the greengrocers. I usually like his films, but I hated this one and so far I haven’t liked any of his others. I love violence in my films, people being blown up and shot etc, but this goes too far. I don’t know anyone who wants to see an 8 minute scene of someone having their eyelids pulled open by a clothes peg and their eyes ‘soothed’ with a cheese grater. Nor do I wish to be part of the not tasteful flashbacks of crying boy’s youth where his PE teacher made him eat fireworks before the fuse finished burning and they went off in his mouth. Such things are the product of a truly sick mind; the mind of a man who has no place in this world or the next. It is the sight of a mind collapsing; a mistake. Worse than realising that you have run out of nappies after a night of curry and Guiness followed by a vicious mid morning stomach spillage.
Best Scene: The 2 guys fighting on the roller-coaster at the end, the camera swings to a wide view where they fight while jumping over the roller-coaster carts and avoiding rockets being fired at them. This was clearly inspired by Super Smack Brothers on the Nintendy.
As a fan of the more extreme side of cinema, I ask you to join me, as I explore the history of Cinema's most extreme movies with all the sex, violence and symbolism intact. I'm here to reflect on the extreme movies that have come and gone to see what they mean, see what makes them so extreme, and of course, see if they're any good.