Twins Effect

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“Vampires using mobile phones, with TV screens in their coffins? What is the world coming to…”

For something crafted largely as a vehicle for its two female, pop-singing stars (the titular Twins), this is much better than you’d expect – compare, say, any Mary-Kate and Ashley film. Sure, it’s dumb. Sure, it’s loaded with cheesy romance and totally unnecessary celebrity cameos. But it also has more fun with the vampire genre than any movie since the original Buffy, and the action, directed by the hugely under-rated Donnie Yen, is far superior.

Vampire-hunter Reeve (Cheng) loses his partner (an impressive Josie Ho) to a newly-arrived evil Euro-vampire after a brutal battle in a railway station. Her replacement is Gypsy (Chung), who has idolized Reeve for years. But meanwhile sister Helen (Choi) meets and falls in love with Kazaf (Chen – yep, all four leads’ names begin with Ch. You can add a Jackie Chan cameo too), a good vampire who won’t suck blood from unwilling victims. The evil vamp need Kazaf’s essence in order to walk in daylight, and it’s up to…oh, everyone else, to stop him.

The action movies in fits and starts; a great opening battle, an amusing Gypsy/Helen spat over a teddy-bear early on, which shows where this movie’s tongue is; and an extended final duel with the pair as our last hope, and which gained the film our seal of approval. It’s clear neither girl is an experienced martial artist, but 95% of the time, you can easily overlook this; the ever-wonderful Anthony Wong, as Kazaf’s butler Prada, helps keep the film grounded and outweighs the fact that Helen is an immensely irritating character. To quote Lars Von Trier, “Take the good, with the evil”, and here the balance is firmly for the former.

Dir: Dante Lam
Star: Ekin Cheng, Charlene Choi, Gillian Chung, Edison Chen
a.k.a. The Vampire Effect

China O’Brien

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“Bad, but in a good way. Mindless, harmless fun.”

There’s something charmingly naive about this film. It inhabits, and expects us to believe in, a world where a villain can blow up the sheriff and his deputy with car-bombs, yet federal authorities take no interest. Nor do they apparently care when an election rally is machine-gunned. Mind you, in this same world, a new sheriff is elected five working days after the incumbent dies, but that’s still enough time for a massive parade down main street to be organised by a candidate.

In this kind of milieu, Cynthia Rothrock’s acting fits right in, as China, the daughter of a sheriff who returns to her home town after shooting a kid, only to find home has been taken over by Summers (Kerby) and his mob of gangsters. When they kill her father, she runs for the position, which needless to say does not sit well with Summers. Luckily she has ex-Special Forces dude Matt (Norton, making no attempt to hide his Aussie accent) and crippled Indian Dakota (Cooke) on her side, and the touching loyalty of local high-school kids, willing to follow her into gunfire.

This is, as we say in Britain, bollocks. However, it is at least entertaining bollocks, which is more than can be said for most of Rothrock’s American movies. She, Norton and Cooke all know how to fight, and director Clouse puts these talents to frequent use against a broad variety of Jerry Springer candidates. Despite reusing some shots, particularly at the finale, Clouse falls some way short of replicating his Enter the Dragon work. This is mostly because Rothrock lacks Bruce Lee’s charisma; remarkably, in Lainie Watts (as barfly Patty), they found an actress who makes Cynthia look Oscar-calibre. For a Friday night, this does the job, providing equal portions of genuine entertainment and opportunities for sarcasm.

Dir: Robert Clouse
Star: Cynthia Rothrock, Richard Norton, Steven Kerby, Keith Cooke

Armitage III: Poly Matrix

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“Why’d they create me?” Seems a valid question to this viewer…

As a rule, we don’t watch dubbed anime, finding it a painful experience; unfortunately, this version, which compacts four OAVs into a feature, is only available in English. However, it’s not too awful, helped considerably by Sutherland’s comfortingly flat tones – in the seven years since this was originally released, his career has been revived, courtesy of 24 [co-star Berkeley, meanwhile, is still struggling to overcome her starring debut in Showgirls]. What does seem to have hurt, is the editing down, which leaves the storyline struggling for cohesion.

Chicago cop Syllabus (Sutherland) arrives on Mars and is immediately thrown into the investigation of a series of “murders”. Quotes used advisedly – what’s being systematically killed are “Thirds”, robots that are almost indistinguishable from humans. He’s paired with local officer Naomi Armitage (Berkeley), who has an aggressive approach and is a Third herself; the two have to solve the case while coming to terms with their own prejudices (Syllabus) or self-esteem, heritage and sense of being (Armitage).

In other words, the usual robot angst found in anime, such as Ghost in the Shell and Battle Angel. And this is really the problem, with little here we haven’t seen, and animation that is nothing special. There’s some imagination in the setting, and interesting hints at political conspiracy, but the detail has apparently been discarded in the race to get everything over in 90 minutes. The full-length, original language version is almost certainly a better place to start.

Dir: Takuya Sato
Star (voice): Kiefer Sutherland, Elizabeth Berkeley, Dan Woren, Wanda Nowicki