A.C. Film Club #30 – Sword of Vengeance

We are joined by Author / Podcaster (The Bonus Material Podcast) aswell as three-time International Horror Guild Award Nominee Thom Carnell to discuss the first film in the long running Lone Wolf and Cub series as Ogami Ittō, a disgraced executioner turned wandering assassin for hire and his young son Daigoro journey through the land they call hell.

A key inspiration for Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill aswell as John Carpenter’s Big Trouble In Little China we look at the series aswell as the pop samurai genre. Thom also reveals his writing process, aswell as highlighting some of his favourite Asian cinema titles in an episode which is heavy on recommendations, so make sure you keep a pad handy!

Check out Thom’s writing / books at – http://www.thomcarnell.com/

Further Viewing

The Samurai Trilogy
Sleepy Eyes of Death Saga
Hanzo the Razor trilogy
Ninja Scroll
Ninja Resurrection}
Lady Snowblood
13 Assassins

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A.C. Film Club #28 – Thirst

On this episode we look at Park Chan-Wook’s unique take on the vampire mythos with Thirst as a priest finds himself inheriting vampirism from a blood transfusion

Plus: Old school anime collecting, Detective Pikachu, Neon Genesis Evangelion and the changing face of fandom plus much more

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That Moment In

A.C. Film Club #27 – The Bride With White Hair

Elwood and Stephen check out Ronny Yu’s Wuxia take on “Romeo and Juliet” in The Bride With White Hair as Brigitte Lin and Leslie Cheung star as swordsman and star crossed lovers from rival clans who are threaten to be torn apart by the war waging between thier respective clans.

Elwood also provides the further watching ideas for Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Stephen has another tale from the Dark Side of Asian Cinema, plus we reveal what we’ve been watching including Snowpiercer and The Wandering Earth!!

Movie Vault: Wheels On Meals

Director: Sammo Kam-Bo Hung
Screenplay: Edward Tang, Gwing-Gai Lee
Starring: Jackie Chan, Biao Yuen, Sammo Kam-Bo Hung, Benny Urquidez, José Sancho, Keith Vitali
Country: Hong Kong
Running Time: 107 min
Year: 1984
BBFC Certificate: 15

Wheels on Meals saw the three action mega-star ‘brothers’ Jackie Chan, Yuen Biao and Sammo Hung pair up for the third time after the success of Winners and Sinners and Project A the previous year. Elder brother Hung took his seat on the director’s chair and the shoot took place in Barcelona to give the film a fresh look and avoid the difficulties of being on location in Hong Kong. It’s a beloved title to many fans of Chan, but personally I’ve not held it in quite as high regard as titles like Project A, Drunken Master and Police Story. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen it though, so I was willing to give it a second chance when I was offered a screener to review the film.

Wheels on Meals sees Chan and Biao play Thomas and David (respectively), friends living and working together in Barcelona, running a mobile fast-food van. Meanwhile, Moby (Hung), a loose associate of theirs, swindles himself a lucrative private detective job meant for his boss. He’s paid large sums of money to try and find a woman called Gloria (Susana Sentís) and her daughter Sylvia (Lola Forner). It soon turns out that Gloria is in a mental institution with David’s father (Paul Chang Chung) and the pair are madly in love with one another. Sylvia however, is earning a living pretending to be a prostitute and thieving from her potential clients. When Thomas and David discover this, they try to her help her, for the sake of her mother as well as due to the fact she’s incredibly attractive and they’re two single young men. As some mysterious bad guys appear trying to capture Sylvia and Gloria, the plot thickens and our heroic trio find themselves in over their heads. Nevertheless, they do their best to save the day.

The film gets off to a good start with a fun initial 15 min containing some cool stunt gags (some involving skateboarding & a couple of daring and acrobatic window jumps) and then a great biker gang fight sequence. However, the film stumbles for quite a while after this with a lengthy period containing little action, too much non-physical comedy that doesn’t translate well, and some clumsily constructed episodic storytelling. So it drags its feet for a while, although there are still some enjoyable scenes dotted around.

However, after just under and hour, a decent street fight and ensuing car chase kicks off the last 45 mins, when the film really kicks into gear. Incidentally, this is also when the story starts to take shape and make sense, with all parties finally becoming fully involved with each other. This final portion of the film is excellent and I could see what all the fuss was about.

All primary leads get to show their skills in the castle-set finale in particular, as they each take separate routes in their attempts to save the damsels in distress. Hung gets to show off his comedic talents, as well as some impressive but still amusing weapon combat. Biao performs some mind-blowing acrobatic tricks as he leaps around the set to avoid the real-life karate champion Keith Vitali. Chan gets to shine the brightest though, as he takes part in what is often considered the greatest on-screen fight of his career, if not anyone’s, when he goes head-to-head with Benny ‘The Jet’ Urquidez. It’s a truly astonishing fight that feels more intense and realistic than many of Chan’s more prop-heavy set-pieces. Between this scene and his incredible fight with John Cusack in Grosse Pointe Blank, Urquidez was a prime component in a couple of the best unarmed face-offs in both Hong Kong and US cinema. So it’s a shame he didn’t quite become the household name many other less skilled action stars did.

Speaking of stars, the main trio are highly enjoyable to watch as always, delivering the film’s broad comedy most effectively (other than some of the aforementioned scenes relying on dialogue/delivery which don’t translate well to English speakers like myself). Small roles are played better than usual too for a Hong Kong action production, with some decent American, Chinese and international character actors playing brief but memorable parts. For instance you’ve got Herb Edelman playing Hung’s boss and Richard Ng playing a wacky patient from the mental institution (the film’s treatment of mental illness probably wouldn’t pass muster these days though).

The film looks better than a lot of similar HK films too. It’s very colourful and makes great use of locations and Barcelona’s unique architecture, particularly Gaudi’s wonderful work. There’s plenty of camera movement too, giving subtle energy to the less exciting sequences.

So, although the first hour is pretty weak, with some brief fun sequences and stunts nestling among some clunky storytelling and hit and miss humour, the final 45 minutes make up for it. In this sizeable segment, there are several superb fights, a few cool stunts and a charming cast to bring the film back in favour. As such, it’s still not my favourite Jackie Chan film, as I prefer his more consistently entertaining work, but when Wheels on Meals works it’s mightily impressive so I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to fans of Hong Kong action cinema.

Wheels on Meals is out on 18th March on Blu-Ray in the UK, released by Eureka as part of their Eureka Classics series. The transfers look fantastic – colourful, clean, detailed and sharp yet natural looking. You get a wealth of audio options, which cover all the bases. I decided to opt for the new custom audio option with the funky international soundtrack but original Cantonese dialogue.

You get plenty of special features too:

– Limited edition slipcase [4000 copies ONLY]
– Stunning 1080p presentation from a brand new 2K restoration
– Optional English subtitles
– Original Cantonese audio track, available in both original mono (LPCM) and newly restored DTS-HD MA 5.1
– Optional English audio from the film’s international release, featuring an alternate (and much funkier) soundtrack, available in both original mono and 5.1
– Alternate English dub track from the film’s 2006 DVD release (available in 5.1 only)
– New and Exclusive audio option – a custom audio option featuring the original Cantonese dialogue track, but mixed with the alternate soundtrack from the international release
– On Giant’s Shoulders – An archival interview with Sammo Hung [7 mins]
– An additional archival interview with Sammo Hung [10 mins] | Born to Fight An archival interview with Yuen Biao [15 mins]
– Jet Fighter – An archival interview with kickboxing champion and martial-artist Benny The Jet Urquidez [28 mins]
– King of the Ring – An archival interview with martial-artist Keith Vitali [33 mins]
– The Inside Track – An archival interview with director and action choreographer Stanley Tong [34 mins]
– Spartan X – Alternate Credits The original Japanese version of Wheels on Meals featured these alternate blooper reel credits which would later become a traditional feature of films starring Jackie Chan (can be viewed isolated or as part of the main feature)
– Additional Outtake footage [4 mins]
– Original Theatrical Trailer
– International Release Trailer
– Original Japanese Spartan X trailer
– PLUS: A Limited Edition Collector s Booklet featuring a new essay by James Oliver [4000 copies ONLY]

Like the other recent Eureka Hong Kong action releases, almost everything is ported over from the old Hong Kong Legends DVDs (bar the Bey Logan commentary and Brett Ratner interview for obvious reasons), but there’s a lot here and everything is great, so I can’t complain. It’s a shame new commentary contributors weren’t brought in like they were for the Once Upon a Time in China trilogy set, but you can’t have everything. So much is covered in the various interviews here you don’t really need much else. Stanley Tong’s inclusion here is odd as he wasn’t involved in Meals on Wheels, but he talks of his working relationship with Jackie Chan and is a pleasure to hear from anyway. Like most of the contributors, he comes off as a nice, honest guy who works hard to do what he does. Benny ‘The Jet’ shows his ego a little, but this is to be expected from such a successful fighter and he’s still full of praise for his co-stars/director and has some interesting stories to tell about his career.

Rating: 3.5 / 5


Check out more of David’s reviews at Blueprint: Review

A.C. Film Club #26 – The Eye

Elwood and Stephen look at the Pang Brothers Horror “The Eye” in which a blind woman finds that her newly returned sight also enables her to see the dead.

Stephen has another tale from the dark side of asian cinema, plus what we’ve been watching and a rather spontanious discussion about “Carrie” plus more!!

Further Viewing

In Love With The Dead
In The Realm of the Senses
Ju-On: White Ghost
Ju-On: Black Ghost

Movie Vault: Top Knot Detective

Director: Aaron McCann, Dominic Pearce
Screenplay: Aaron McCann, Dominic Pearce
Starring: Toshi Okuzaki, Masa Yamaguchi, Mayu Iwasaki
Country: Australia, Japan
Running Time: 89 min
Year: 2017
BBFC Certificate: 15

Ronin Suiri Tantai (renamed Top Knot Detective in Australia) was a Japanese samurai TV series that initially found great success in its home country, before getting axed after only 2 seasons (one of which was a cross-over with another popular series, Timestryker). The wild off-screen antics of its egotistical writer/director/editor/star Takashi Takamoto were much to blame for its downfall, on top of his rivalry with co-star Haruto Koike and the series’ production company, the Japanese conglomerate Sutaffu, particularly its CEO, Moritaro (Haruto’s father). The series, which was a wild amalgamation of different Japanese genre tropes and more than a little rough around the edges, later found a cult audience in Australia after it was picked up by cable TV a decade after its Japanese transmission. This left a legion of fans wondering what really happened to this terrible, but deliriously entertaining show?

Only it didn’t, because none of this is true. Top Knot Detective, the film I’m reviewing here, is actually a mockumentary about the fictional titular TV series. Writer-directors Aaron McCann and Dominic Pearce have actors (including some real-life critics and presenters) profess their love of the series and fill us in on the surprising story behind its cancellation. These soundbites are interspersed among clips of the show and other bits of ‘archive footage’ that have been lovingly put together by McCann and Pearce. They originally planned to make a web series with the concept, even creating and posting the first episode, but they eventually decided to turn it into a feature film instead.

I opened my review in this fashion because when the film played at festivals and such around the world, supposedly a number of people believed it was a real documentary and that the Top Knot Detective series actually existed. At first glance of the bonkers clips made of it, this might seem hard to believe. However, when you think about some of the wacky and over the top madness produced in Japan over the years, it’s perhaps not too much of a stretch to believe that something like Top Knot was a real show. More important to the suspension of disbelief though is how the directors present the film.

Mockumentaries are not a new phenomenon, but I find few, as good as they might be as a film or as entertainment, actually feel like a real documentary. Too often they turn to the lazy ‘found footage’ style where it plays out like a fiction film, just with shaky camerawork. In Top Knot Detective however, the style, presentation and structure all match that of existing documentaries about old TV series and similar. McCann and Pearce have painstakingly created a wealth of behind the scenes stills, press conferences, talk-shows and other extra material to breathe life into their fictional creation and allow for the typically loaded, fast-paced style of TV documentaries popular today. The film’s story is not told through ‘period’ footage either, conveniently capturing important plot-points, but through talking heads interviews, as in a real documentary.

Effective presentation is not Top Knot Detective’s only selling point though. The film is also hugely entertaining. Key to this are the clips of the TV show, which hilariously send up/pay homage to a vast array of Japanese genre movies. Fans of such will have a lot of fun spotting the references. The action stands up pretty well on its own merits too. Purposefully ropey elements of the production are evident for comedy value, but the sword fights are actually well choreographed and brilliantly over the top (particularly in their use of blatantly fake blood and gore), with some imaginatively bonkers twists.

It could easily have been a one-joke film though and, after half an hour or so, I began to wonder how the initial enjoyment of seeing this silly spoof show would be sustained for an hour and a half. Thankfully, McCann and Pearce realised this would be a problem, so they effectively flesh out the behind the scenes story of the fictional show, taking it down some surprisingly dark turns as it goes on. There are some surprisingly moving moments too, such as when Sutaffu force Takashi’s (Toshi Okuzaki) J-Pop star girlfriend Mia (Mayu Iwasaki) to leave the show and end her music career (J-Pop stars at the time were often contractually obliged to stay single – and this was true, the film based this on a real-life incident).

So, overall it’s a rare mockumentary that effectively sticks to the format for its benefit, delivering a surprisingly engaging and emotionally satisfying story alongside the lovably ridiculous homages and spoofs. A lot of thought and energy has gone into the production too, as well as great passion for the films/series being sent up. Anyone who’s into Japanese genre movies will love it. I know I did.

Top Knot Detective is out now, released by Third Window Films on dual format (all-region) Blu-Ray & DVD. I watched the Blu-Ray version and the picture and audio quality are both solid.

There are a few special features included:
– Audio Commentary
– Original 9min Pilot Episode
– Trailer
– Stunt Team Pre-Vis Fights
– Making Of
– Slipcase

The commentary is excellent. Like all good commentaries for low budget productions, it’s packed with fun stories of how things were cobbled together as well as how much blood, sweat and tears went into making the film. It makes for a fun and inspiring listen. The ‘making of’ is decent too, although some of the voiceover is taken directly from the commentary, so there’s some cross-over of information. It’s great to actually see behind the scenes though, so is a welcome addition. The pilot is nice to see included too, as are the surprisingly impressive pre-vis fights.


Check out more of David’s reviews at Blueprint: Review


A.C. Film Club Top 50 – Part 1

The first of two very special bonus episodes counting down our top 50 Asian cinema as Elwood kicks things off by revealing the titles which made his half of the list But will Gojira claim the top spot? What is the benchmark for Anime?? and which director will dominate the list?

All these questions and more will be revealed.