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rochefort [Celluloid 10.03.13] China scifi horror action thriller adventure


My Fantastic Fest 2013 wrap-up begins here, with a handful of movies from our neighbors to the East.

Man of Tai Chi
dir. Keanu Reeves

In Keanu Reeves' directorial debut, Tiger Chen stars as Chen, an idealistic student of Tai Chi who needs some fast cash to save his mentor's monastery. Reeves himself plays Donaka Mark, a shady promoter of lethal underground martial arts tournaments, who persuades Chen to fight as his chosen champion in a series of matches designed to break Chen's spirit and turn him into a hardened killing machine. As the fights grow more and more deadly and unequally-matched, Chen begins to realize that Mark caters to an audience who want to see more than just traded blows.

In a more or less assured debut, Reeves puts his spin on a fairly commonplace martial arts formula, and the results are mixed. On the good side, Chen is a charismatic personality and a dynamite fighter, and it's nice to see Reeves going dark in a rare villain role; the best matches take place early on, in a stark, confined, chrome-and-mirrored room, and are a nice departure from the usual gladiatorial fare. But the story itself is so timeworn that we keep waiting for that fresh moment that never comes, and things wrap up pretty much like we expect them to. It's definitely fun to see Reeves vamp it up as the black-clad bad guy for a change, but he has a couple of hammier moments that come close to derailing the performance altogether, and by movie's end his turn as Mark hasn't made nearly the impression it should. Still worth it for the casual viewer, but more die-hard action fans may find it all a little too familiar.

Miss Zombie
dir. Sabu (aka Hiroyuki Tanaka)

So, let's say the zombie apocalypse occurs and humanity manages to survive and slowly rebuild; what would you do if one day you acquired a docile, subservient zombie who not only turns out to be good at chores but also particularly beautiful? When a wooden crate arrives at a prominent doctor's house carrying Sara (Ayaka Komatsu), the doc and his family slowly warms to her even as their human gardeners take a more prurient interest in the undead girl. Soon tragedy strikes, Sara's role shifting from servant to something much more complex, and her patron family unravels in one of the more unique horror dramas around.

This black-and-white and very low-key film plays not at all like an apocalyptic tale, but rather as a macabre and somber family drama with an extremely measured pace. Comparisons to "Deadgirl" are probably inevitable, but Sabu is playing in completely different territory here, and the end result feels more like a 60's French art film that just happens to feature the walking dead. It's not the kind of film that will appeal to the OCD crowd, but give this one a chance as an example of how modern horror can address themes of social classism and family just as provocatively as its more mature contemporaries.

Rigor Mortis
dir. Juno Mak

Retired actor Siu-Ho Chin (playing himself) moves into a tenement building full of mostly older residents, almost all of which harbor dark secrets, and when he tries to hang himself Chin draws out two of the building's many supernatural inhabitants. When a grieving widow on a nearby floor resurrects her dead husband, she inadvertently opens the floodgates to hell, and Chin reluctantly joins with his curmudgeonly neighbor to expel the invading demonic forces. Director Mak is an actor whose "Revenge: A Love Story" was well-received at last year's FF, and in his debut as a director pours on the atmosphere in this Honk Kong supernatural thriller.

"Rigor Mortis" is visually stunning stuff and is probably a great movie to watch with the sound off, but the narrative itself is sluggish and confusing, made worse by an ending that makes no sense at all. The art direction is the real draw, and the demons, vampires and ghosts that inhabit its decaying setting are all gorgeously realized. A final confrontation involving the four elements is particularly noteworthy, and features some genuinely fantastic images, but by the time its all over you'll wish the script had been as meticulously executed.

dir. Hitoshi Matsumoto

Katayama is a put-upon salaryman whose wife is in a coma and whose life is pretty much bereft of meaning or happiness. He attempts to put some spark in his life by hiring a sadistic escort who proceeds to beat the crap out of him in the middle of downtown, and this beating awakens in him a compulsive need to be smacked around by leather-clad hotties. He joins an exclusive underground S&M club that offers a unique service to its clientele: for one year, Katayama will be visited by multiple dominatrixes who will punch, kick and humiliate him wherever and whenever they choose, and Katayama will be unaware of each session until the moment it happens, no matter what the circumstance. After surprise sessions at a sushi bar, his place of work, and even his wife's hospital room, he changes his mind and decides he wants to cancel, but before he can do so an unfortunate accident has the bondage merchants out for his blood.

Director Matsumoto is the guy behind "Big Man Japan", and there's a lot of that film's funky and bizarre charm on display in "R100" (the title is a reference to the rating system in Japan; R100 basically means that nobody under 100 is ready to see the movie). The humor ranges from morbid to flat out ridiculous, and there's no denying that this is a one-of-a-kind, even from the debauched likes of Japan's kink factory. Scenes of borderline-brutal sadomasochism are followed by incredibly goofy bits featuring bodily fluids and one mistress with a particularly unique talent for eating, and the climax is manically over the top. Some movies you like because they're good, and some because they're just unashamedly weird; guess which kind this one is.

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Jeff (8 years ago) Reply

Geezus...saw the picture and thought it was The Shining twins all grown up. Scary thought, that!

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