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Monthly Archives: January 2013

Zatoichi & The Chest of Gold—It’s Gold Jerry (1964).

By 1964, the relatively modest Zatoichi series had become a cult sensation equal to the more austere chambara productions of the era from the likes of the “Emperor” Akira Kurosawa himself.  Zatoichi and the Chest of Gold (No. 6 of 27) was the series coming out party so to speak as it took the franchise to the next level with radically improved direction and photography.  Shintaro Katsu’s portrayal of Zatoichi, an already likeable character, really comes into his own with great professional swordsmanship precision, excitement and that venerated undercurrent of righteously fighting for the underdog.

The James Bond films must have copied the opening of this movie where our hero is surrounded in the inky darkness of the night as he fights off numerous swordsmen.  The viewer is treated to seeing some of Ichi’s best moves in the first few minutes of the film.  It is clear that the star is astonishing in his ability to dodge and weave through attackers while swinging and thrusting is blade with extreme precision all in wide and unedited shots. The sixth film in the series also brings increased talents behind the camera as the lens masters for Rashomon, Yojimbo and several other famous samurai movies take over the filming conveying a polished and creative look unlike we see in any of the previous pictures.

In the Chest of Gold, Ichi becomes more of the action hero that in earlier episodes.  At the end of the movie, Ichi’s wasted a caravan of guards, six of whom carry rifles and another force of soldiers he dispatched while carrying a small child on his back.  We are not totally left with this new blind superhero as he is up to many of his old tricks like splitting a coin in half in mid-air, jams on both flute and drums during a village celebration, and impishly shares a bath with a well-endowed female spy.

Zatoichi returns to a village to pay respects to a local he mistakenly killed some time ago.  The dead man’s sister trails him throughout the story, at first looking for a chance to get revenge.  She gets an opportunity when the villagers’ tax payment of 1000 ryo is stolen and she points out that Zatoichi was seen near the chest of money.  In truth he was sitting on it, but was unaware of what it was – being blind and all.  The villagers cry for blood and Ichi vows to get it back.  The trail leads to a Robin Hood-like criminal named Chuji Kunisada (Shogo Shimada) hiding out with his few starving followers on a nearby mountain.  Although Chuji has repeatedly aided the villagers, they suspect this “gangster” of stealing the taxes.  After a Mexican standoff between the men, Ichi deduces that the real criminal turns out to be Monji, the corrupt magistrate that demanded the tax payment from the villagers.  As Monji’s soldiers close in on Chuji’s shabby hideout, Ichi diverts the soldiers while fighting to protect a small boy in his care.  Ichi finally faces Monji and Jushiro (Tomisaburo Wakayama); the magistrate’s former hired samurai and a master of the bullwhip.

And the best is saved for last.  Having overcome all previous obstacles, Ichi takes on the film’s fiercest criminal fighter, Jushiro.  Sporting a facial scar and a bullwhip, he shows up early in the film as one of the hired men who steals the tax money.  He teases the viewer by nonchalantly dispatching his enemies with murderous precision, yet steering clear of Ichi.  As all great antagonists would do, Jushiro distances himself from the petty desires of his former master to focus on his need to see a great swordsman like Ichi cut down by his own hand.  Tomisaburo Wakayama, who plays Jushiro, is the real life brother of Shintaro Katsu, so the final duel is in one sense a family affair.  Tomisaburo had also played Ichi’s brother in Zatoichi 2, but any chambara fan knows him as Ogami Itto, the star of the Lone Wolf and Cub series we previously reviewed.  It’s no surprise that this fight is one of the best in the series.  Initially, Jushiro is on horseback and wielding his whip, leaving the blind swordsman at a serious disadvantage.  But that soon changes as our hero, though seriously wounded, lives to fight another day.

As mentioned before there is some continuity throughout all of the Zatoichi films such as Ichi’s ability to sniff out gambling cheaters, his amiable relationship with comically unattractive women, and his love for song, drinking and dance.  If you’re already familiar with the character, one of the most memorable scenes is when Shintaro dances as he approaches the villager’s celebration before taking up the drums himself. 

There is little left to say, except that Zatoichi and the Chest of Gold is really the springboard for what is the longest running and what is arguably the best film franchise to date.  I suggest that you watch some previous films first so you can fully appreciate the character and increased quality of this film.

 
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Posted by on January 31, 2013 in Movie Reviews

 

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That is right our co-founder DT has re-surfaced and has agreed to review two movies for us!

DT has come in from the cold and has agreed to review two films IP man 1 and IP man 2 (in no particular order) within the next couple of weeks so stay tuned and we can all see what we’ve been missing all this time.

 
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Posted by on January 30, 2013 in Movie Reviews

 

The Second Half of The City Hunter.

The first half of the City Hunter series really explores the differences in perceptions of revenge.  The father wants the 5 officials assassinated outright whereas the City Hunter wants them to suffer a fate worse than death by publically exposing their corruption, humiliation and eventual imprisonment.

Episodes 10-20 are essentially a race between the City Hunter and his father to find the identity of the responsible officials and how to deal with them; that is, outright murder as the father wants versus the public humiliation and the subsequent fall from grace leading to a “fate worse than death” as advocated by the son.

There are many sub-plots involving the City Hunter’s love with Kim Na Na, a member of the Korean Secret Service that the father is trying to end (even going so far as to try to kill her) because he believes that it will distract the City Hunter from his mission of revenge.

Also, a young aggressive prosecutor is hot on the trail of the City Hunter and his father, knowing who they are but unable to prove it.  To further his problems, the City Hunter is becoming a Robin Hood type hero of the Korean people bringing the corrupt to justice literally gift wrapping them for the authorities.

The City Hunters methods are meticulous and obviously the result of a highly trained Special Forces soldier.  He always has an alibi at a hotel near any missions he must accomplish and has all angles covered from prepared incriminating materials and multiple escape routes.

Here the City Hunter discovers massive embezzlement by the secretary of education who has been hoarding money meant to be distributed to the students to make tuition more affordable.  Well the City Hunter wants it back so he can return it to the students, but so does his father for other reasons.  The Clip is a fine example of the competition between the two to take revenge.

In this next clip the City Hunter publicly exposes the corrupt official while his son is accepting an award for his efforts.  Talk about a fall from grace, the timing could not have been better.  Humiliating both father and son alike for their reprehensible conduct.

One of the remaining officials has become a captain of industry and operates a chemical plant that is slowly killing its workers while denying any responsibility.  Well the City Hunter is determined to prove that the chemical cornerstone of this corporate empire operates in violation of law and thus give the employees the evidence they need to pursue their claims for the resulting life threatening side effects.  While the City Hunter’s father is using the money as bait for the financially troubled corporation so he can later hang them out to dry.

The father even goes so far as to let the President know that he can get to him.  At a lunch for Korea’s industrial leaders, Steve Lee calmly eats his lunch while the President (who is one of the responsible officials) gets shot with a paint bullet.  Showing just how serious Steve Lee is intent on revenge.

The race between the father son team and their resulting styles continues for the remainder of the episodes.  However, I will not spoil it the ending for you.  This is a must see and even appears on the Net Flix instant watch so it is not a difficult series to watch.

We here at JPFmovies assert that the City Hunter it is a fine example of how Asian programing has clearly surpassed the sludge churned out by our domestic entertainment industry.  How the Asians got there I am not sure, but I have acquired several resources on the subject and will keep you updated as my research continues.

There is no excuse not to watch the City Hunter, you have easy access to the series via Net Flix complete with subtitles and I hope it will confirm my theories about where entertainment is going versus where it has been.

 
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Posted by on January 23, 2013 in Movie Reviews

 

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South Korea’s Dramas Have Come a Long Way and May Very Well Lead the Pack in Quality and Originality. Apropos The City Hunter (2012) Part 1.

The “Rangoon Incident” a Little History

On October 9, 1983, then South Korean President Chun Doo-hwan was on an official visit to Rangoon, the capital of Burma.  During the visit he planned to lay a wreath at the Martyrs’ Mausoleum to commemorate Aung San, who founded the independent Burma and was assassinated in 1947.  While the president’s staff and advance team began assembling at the mausoleum, one of three concealed bombs in the roof exploded.  The immense blast ripped through the crowd below, killing 21 people and seriously wounding 46 others.  The explosion killed three senior South Korean politicians: foreign minister Lee Beom-seok; economic planning minister and deputy prime minister, Suh Suk Joon; and minister for commerce and industry, Kim Dong Whie.  Fourteen Korean presidential advisers, journalists, and security officials were killed; 4 Burmese nationals, including 3 journalists, were also among the dead.  President Chun was saved only because his car had been delayed in traffic and was only minutes from arriving at the memorial.  The bomb was reportedly detonated early because the presidential bugle which signaled Chun’s arrival mistakenly rang out a few minutes ahead of schedule.

A North Korean army major and two captains were suspected and caught.  They revealed that they had slipped off a ship docked in Yangon port, and had received the explosives in a North Korean diplomatic pouch.  Two of the three attackers attempted to commit suicide by blowing themselves up with a hand grenade that same day, but survived and were arrested.  The third suspect, a major from North Korean Army, went missing, but was hunted down by the Burmese Army.  The major confessed his mission and links to North Korea to avoid the death sentence receiving life imprisonment.  His colleague was executed by hanging.  North Korea denied any links to the incident and even today in the face of massive evidence continues to deny any involvement in the atrocity.

As a result of the bombing, Burma suspended diplomatic relations with North Korea.  Chinese officials refused to meet or even talk with North Korean officials for months.  South Korea, under pressure from the United States, did not retaliate with anything other than heated rhetoric.

Why is this important?  Because that is the scary, but true, backdrop for The City Hunter series.

The 20 episode series begins at the Rangoon bombing and fictionalizes a South Korean military retaliation hatched by five South Korean official’s code-named “Operation Cleansweep.”  The objective was to enter North Korea and kill several top members of the North’s high military command.  Two Presidential Security Service bodyguards and best friends Lee Jin-pyo (Kim Sang-joong) and Park Moo-yul (Park Sang-min) who were at the bombing, organize a 21-man team for the mission.  While the team effectively eliminates its targets in Pyongyang, the five officials abandon the plan in midstream to avoid an international crisis if the mission is discovered.  They fear that the United States will remove nuclear protection if the mission is made public as Seoul officially declared that it will not retaliate.

Though their mission is a total success, as the troops are escaping by swimming from Nampo to a Navy submarine, snipers from the friendly vessel open fire on their own soldiers.  Park, who is already injured, takes several bullets to save Lee.  Lee, the sole survivor, swims back to shore and returns to South Korea, where he finds out that the assault team’s service and personal records have been erased.

Obsessed with avenging his fallen comrades, Lee Jin-pyo kidnaps Moo-yul’s infant son.  He runs to the Golden Triangle (an area in Southeast Asia second only to Afghanistan in opium production) to raise the child as a trained killer and instrument of his revenge.

Fast forward a number of years later, Yoon-sung, after successfully finishing his college years and attaining a doctorate from MIT, returns to South Korea to implement the plans for revenge against the five officials who murdered the soldiers.  He finds a job at the South Korea’s Blue House as an IT expert.  Obviously making him privy to vast amounts of intelligence and information that could be valuable in discovering and punishing the five officials behind the aborted mission.

The 20 episode series walks us through the trials and tribulations of finding and taking revenge on the responsible officials.

Let’s talk a little bit about why I think South Korea’s (and in general Asian) TV dramas have surpassed the shows pumped out for the U.S. market.

Anyone who knows us here at JPFmovies knows that we quit watching all American live-regular programing (including cable) years ago and went to an all movie all the time format for entertainment-this includes selected U.S. TV series that we do like, but have a policy of only watching via DVD or electronically.  Why?  The reason is very simple.  Several years ago we were watching regularly scheduled programming and realized that the shows were actually making us feel stupider.  Cliché plots, programs that have dragged on way past their useful lives and commercials finally pushed us over the edge, something had to be done.  The switch was made and thus began the search for viable alternatives.

Already conditioned to subtitles, the JPFmovie personnel was forced to migrate to series and films produced in Asia.  Unlike their American counterparts, the Asian’s limit the number of episodes is limited and pre-determined-typically in the range of 4, 10 or 20 shows.  That is it.  The show ends, the viewer gets closure and the series does not suffer a slow painful death.  So you know going in what to expect, the show is not dependent on ratings.  Also, Asian shows are often a melding of history and fiction i.e. The City Hunter, starts off with a real event and moves forward from there.  It is a refreshing change from either America’s cops and robbers or your “fish out of water” stories.  For JPFmovie personnel at least our loyalty has changed.  Ask yourself this, when was the last time an American series went out on top?

Well that ends the complaining for now; stay tuned for The City Hunter Part 2 and more on Asia vs. American TV.

 
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Posted by on January 18, 2013 in Movie Reviews

 

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Until Now I’ve Never Heard of a Film Having a “Mild” Cult Following: My Blue Heaven (1990).

I am going to go out on a limb here and say that I am one of the “mild” cult followers of this movie.  I remember watching this film’s review by the famed duo Siskel & Ebert who gave it a big old thumbs down let’s take a look:

I knew when I saw their review my only option was to see the film.  Generally whatever that dynamic duo gave a thumbs up too, the odds were better than 50/50 that I would go the other way.  Well, My Blue Heaven is an acquired taste.  For me and my band of merry men the more we watched it the more we appreciated it.  We often found ourselves quoting the movie in any number of social situations.  The film had a strong writer, Nora Ephron (who died in 2012 at the age of 71) the author of When Harry Met Sally and Julie & Julia and starred Steve Martin, Rick Moranis, and Joan Cusack.  All three are virtually legends in the comedy genre (whether you like them or not, one must concede their standing).

So what is it about this film that made arguably the two most famous film critics give it a thumbs down?  Well one said was merely an extension of Martin’s SNL wild and crazy guy routine.  Another reason was that Joan Cusack “wasn’t as funny as some of her other characters.”  Nonsense I say.  All three of the stars each have some great lines, but only if you don’t take the film (or yourself) too seriously.  Not only that, but we are treated to Fats Domino singing the theme song throughout the film.

One fact that those fools Siskel and Ebert left out is that the film was noted for its relationship to the movie Goodfellas, which was released one month after My Blue Heaven.  Both movies are based upon the life of the criminal Henry Hill, although the character is renamed to “Vincent ‘Vinnie’ Antonelli” in My Blue Heaven.  While Goodfellas was based upon the book Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi, the screenplay for My Blue Heaven was written by Pileggi’s wife, Nora Ephron, and much of the research for both works was done in the same sessions with Hill.

The film’s story line is relatively simple:  Vincent “Vinnie” Antonelli (Steve Martin) is a former mobster recently inducted into the Witness Protection Program with his wife, Linda.  The two are under the watchful eye of Barney Coopersmith (Rick Moranis).  Vinnie and Barney soon find common ground when both of their wives leave them due to their lifestyles.  When he succeeds in getting Vinnie to a suburb in California and a private house, Barney has one more problem: he must make sure the jovial and sometimes rascally Vinnie adheres to proper protocol until he testifies against other more powerful mobsters

Moranis gets Martin out of one jam after another with Cusack, so to repay him, Martin fixes Moranis up with her, perhaps the only person in California more uptight than he is.  Meanwhile, not unexpectedly, Martin has a profound influence on Moranis’ way of life, helping him loosen up and enjoy.  There are flaws here, scenes that don’t quite click and a temporary sluggishness that sets in somewhere in the final third.  But on the whole Ephron and director Herbert Ross (“Footloose”) keep things going with clever, inventive bits of business and a telltale romance between Moranis and Cusack.  For those into one-liner’s this is a movie that is perfect for you as there is a line from My Blue Heaven that can be used in a plethora of situations.

The film took in $23 million at the box office but was received coolly by most critics, with the New York Times calling it “a truly funny concept and a disappointment on the screen.”  However, years of repeats on cable television have, according to one critic “earned the film a mild cult following.”  What probably pissed off Siskel and Ebert is the fact Warner Bros. purposely kept critics around the country from seeing it before it opened.  That usually means the movie is a dog and the studio wants to avoid reviews for the all-important opening weekend.

The bottom line is that “My Blue Heaven” is a much needed farce with three of the best comic actors — Steve Martin, Joan Cusack and Rick Moranis — in good form.  Watch is a couple of times before you pass judgment on this film.

 
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Posted by on January 7, 2013 in Movie Reviews

 

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