Tuesday, 17 February 2015


Time, once again, to look back at some of the films that have helped shape my love of Asian cinema. In tiny, easy to digest, nugget-like form. These reviews were written years ago when Tom from MySpace was still a part of everybody's lives. In The Final Chapter we discover that you should always bet on - Shu Qi in - black, Maggie Q is doing alright for herself and Bang Rajan isn't a porn film about a girl called... let's do this, shall we. 

A Man Called Hero ****

Based on the same popular comic books and starring essentially the same cast, A Man Called Hero is a follow up to the hugely inventive The Stormriders. Not a sequel as such - the main actors play different characters this time around - but Hero certainly shares many similarities with its sibling. Special effects once again take presidency over traditional martial arts action, but the pretty young cast kick, punch and fly their way through two hours of congested, not to mention breathtaking, movie-making about one man's quest for vengeance. 

There's a lot of good stuff here. Some of the action is incredibly inventive, not least a finale set upon the Statue of Liberty - a wonderfully overblown showpiece that symbolises the originality of Hong Kong cinema. Such a shame then that some of the western acting is weak and the effects, while ambitious, don't match up to those of American counterparts today. But really that's just nit picking. A Man Called Hero is a delight from start to finish; magical, exhilarating and action-packed. I didn't even need to mention the presence of Shu Qi.

Naked Weapon ***

How to make a cult movie classic in three easy steps. 

1/ Girls. Anya and Maggie Q take the lead and the camera clearly loves them. Spending most of the film in glorious slow-mo, the girl’s kick, punch and blast their way through ninety minutes of blistering action. 

2/ A small wardrobe. Clearly director Tony Ching Siu Tung knows which buttons to press as the girls find their costume designers have packed up and gone on holiday. 

3/ More girls. The plot tells the tale of attractive young girls kidnapped and trained to become beautiful and seductive assassins. Well of course they do... 

Naked Weapon isn't exactly high art. Some of the dubbing is atrocious, Daniel Wu's performance calls for a box of matches and Maggie Q is about as convincing as Diane Kruger on a bad day (how things have changed), but that's hardly the point now is it. The action is first rate, the girls look stunning and it's hard not to love a movie with a mission statement so simple; girls, guns and action. A firm favourite after a few beers, Naked Weapon is an alluring distraction from start to finish.

Ju-on 2 ****

Arguably a better film than its predecessor, Ju-on 2 follows Harase Kyoko, a movie actress who is asked to appear on a TV show covering the events of the original movie. This time around Shimizu puts a lot more focus on structure and story-telling. Our lead actress certainly sees more running time than the unfortunate victims of the original curse. The plot developments are more linear too, allowing for a less perplexing viewing experience. 

Though the scares are less frequent, when they do come they are crafted with such style it's hard not to be impressed by the nerve-shredding tension. And it's worth taking time out to bask in the bigger picture too, because there's a really good chance your mind wasn't playing tricks on you. Ju-on 2 certainly demands a keen eye and repeat viewing. Then there's the final act. A masterful feast of sound and vision and a wonderful epilogue of sorts, proving once again that this curse will never be stopped.

Bang Rajan **

Bang Rajan hits all the right notes with ruthless efficiency, even if history books might tell a different story to the one depicted on screen. However, it fails as a satisfying night in because the characters are underwritten and as a result, the film lacks any kind of heart, warmth or passion. Unless we're talking about the action sequences, which are directed with passion throughout. 

Based on a true story, Bang Rajan is a scriptwriters dream. Heroic underdogs battle to save their homeland from a vicious, all conquering God. Shame then that we never truly get to know the characters that we're supposed to be rooting for, a shame that for two hours we sit in admiration of the gritty realism and the mighty explosions yet don't give the movie a second thought after the final credits roll. Bang Rajan isn't a bad movie, it's just a shame that the storytelling doesn't live up to the one that is being told.

Memories Of Murder *****

Based on the first serial killings in Korea, Memories Of Murder is a perfect blend of gritty realism, dark humour and top-notch performances, resulting in a fresh and rewarding movie experience. The three detectives we're asked to follow on this dark journey are so believable they could easily be real detectives doing a spot of acting on the side. You truly believe that the Korean task force are not prepared for a murder spree of this magnitude, and some of their methods of detection are embarrassing to say the least, which is where much of the humour stems from. 

Two of our three leads will stop at nothing in order to crack the case, while the other - a more experienced detective from Seoul - contrasts beautifully, even if the end results are as equally ineffective. There's no overblown theatrics here. Similar in tone to Nowhere To Hide, it's the attention to realism that will have you hooked from the outset. Right up until the low-key, bleak and rather touching finale. Memories Of Murder is a film worthy of your attention. I loved it despite being sick in bed at the time. You will too - food poisoning optional. 

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