Bitchslap trailer

The nice people over at Bitch Slap were kind enough to send us a copy of the new trailer for their film, which explains a bit more about the plot, and has whetted my appetite to see this one even more. The release date for this one is now looking to be at some point next year, though there is as yet no exact date. Which is probably the only thing about the film that is not firm. :-) Enjoy!

Princess Aurora

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“Hell hath no fury like a woman… Well, let’s just leave it at that, shall we?”

After inflicting Forbidden Warrior on Chris, my stock with her had slumped like Morgan Stanley. Fortunately, this Korean serial-killer flick provided a good measure of redemption. It stars in a department store, where Sun-Jung (Uhm) sees a mother abusing her young daughter, before leaving her and going into a stall. Sun-Jung shepherds the girl outside, breaks into the stall and stabs the mother repeatedly. The case is investigated by Detective Oh (Mun), who spots his ex-wife in the store security video. When bodies keep turning up, though killed in different ways, the police link the cases due to the cartoon stickers found on each scene. Oh gradually comes to suspect his wife is taking revenge on those holds she responsible – directly, or otherwise – for the death of their child, killed in a brutal kidnapping previously. Is that really the case, and if so, does he have the moral fortitude to turn in a woman he still loves as a murderer?

At first it seems that Sun-Jung is simply a psychopath, albeit one who only takes out those who (more or less) deserve it, such as the mistress she sees being unsufferably rude to a food-delivery woman. However, the truth that emerges makes her different from just being Hannibal Lecteress (which makes sense, since female psychopaths are different from their male counterparts), and director Bang brings her own female sensibility to the portrayal. There’s no doubt where the focus of the film or its sympathies lie. However, not until the final reel, after you think everything is over, is everything unfolded: it makes perfect sense, and is as chilling a denouement as you can possibly hope to imagine, with Sun-Jung not the deranged killer she appears to be.

It’s Uhm’s movie as much as Bang’s, with her performance entirely convincing: she doesn’t look like a dedicated, cruel and ruthless killer, which is exactly the best way to be [and reminds me, I’m heading off to watch Dexter in a few minutes]. Her character is absolutely sure that she is doing the right thing, leaving the audience in an interesting predicament: do they go along with this moral certainty, and effectively become an accomplice to her crimes? Usually, in the female vigilante genre, there is some scope for distancing oneself, since the victim is usually the vigilante herself. Here, the perceived moral is more altruistic, and that makes things muddier. I’d love to say more, but can’t, without serious spoilerage, but there hasn’t been a more poignant story of love for a lost child in some time. It seems no-one does revenge quite like the Koreans.

Dir: Bang Eun-jin
Star: Uhm Jung-hwa, Mun Sung-kyun

Forbidden Warrior

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“Eminently forgettable. And I’ve now watched it twice, just to prove that.”

Though I couldn’t put my finger on why, large chunks of this seemed very familiar when I was watching it last night. Maybe it was just the story, cut from a template [mystical book, blah, chosen one, blah-blah, key to all power, etc.] we’ve seen a million times before. But then, when I Googled the film’s title, I realised why: at #6 was my review on our other, non-GWG site, from back in October 2005 when this came out on DVD [which I’ve just seen contains basically the same ‘blah’ line as above. Hey, if I had to watch this twice, you can read it twice. It’s the least you can do]. It made little impact on me then, and it hasn’t improved with time. The main problem is its absolute failure to stand on its own: the movie ends just as the heroine heads off towards the evil emperor who holds said mystical book, which only she can read. The aim was, apparently, to make a trilogy, but three years later, we’re still waiting for any word of the sequel. The moral is, if you’re going to make a series, either get your cash lined up in advance (as in Lord of the Rings), or make your first film capable of working by itself (see The Matrix) – otherwise, you’ll be left with something that looks utterly unfinished.

That aside, this is also not exactly enthralling. While the fight sequences are not bad, they are nowhere near frequent enough, and the first hour in particular is turgidly-paced. Seki (Matiko) is sent into exile for her own protection, as the only person standing between the emperor and world domination. There, her blind sifu (Amendola) teaches her magic and self-defense, while the emperor eventually sends out his sons to look for her – albeit after first waiting a couple of decades for her to grow up. It’s nice to see a good number of Asian-American actors getting decent roles, even if there there is a random mix of ethnicity that detracts from any real sense of time or place. It seems to be trying for some kind of Princess Bride-like vibe, yet the clunky set-up approach taken here would likely tax the patience of even a moderately-impatient eight-year old. Maybe they should have started in the middle, like Star Wars: the second episode has to be better than the first, largely because it can’t be much worse.

Dir: Jimmy Nickerson
Star: Marie Matiko, Sung Yang, Karl Yune, Tony Amendola

Chocolate

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“I tried to come up with some cute pun on “chocolate bar” but couldn’t quite work one out.”

We couldn’t wait for this one to get an official American release, so off to Ebay we went for a copy of uncertain origin. This was something of a double-edged sword. It means we get to tell you that this is, hands down, the action heroine film of the year, with fights the like of which I haven’t seen since Yuen Wo Ping was working with Cynthia Khan in Hong Kong. However, it also means that we had to suffer the worst set of English subtitles I think we have ever seen, which appear to have been pushed enthusiastically through Babelfish several times, with feeling; this culminated in a line which will live forever in my memory. It is, and I quote the subtitle in its entirety, “Wang monkeys.” You’ll thus forgive me if the subtleties of the plot were perhaps lost on us, though by most accounts, this likely improved our enjoyment of the endeavour overall.

Zen (Vismistananda) is the autistic daughter of a Japanese gangster and a Thai woman (Siripong), who betrayed her local partner, a rival boss (Wachirabunjong), to be with her lover. When her mother gets cancer, it’s up to Zen and a chubby friend (Phobwandee) to collect on debts owed. Fortunately, Zen has a sponge-like ability to learn martial arts, be it from Tony Jaa movies on TV, or the school next door, and proves herself adept at “encouraging,” shall we say, repayments from those who are reluctant to pony up. The bad news is, this attracts the attention of her mother’s former employer, who has not forgotten the past and is unwilling to let matters lie. Which, inevitably, leads to a showdown where Zen takes on an apparently infinite line of henchmen – it’s somewhat reminiscent of Kill Bill, Volume 1, in the same way an earlier ice-house battle reminded me of The Big Boss, However, the final fight, on a series of balconies, is bone-shatteringly unique.

If Vismistananda isn’t yet quite up to the level of Jaa – there’s nothing quite like the five-minute, single shot fight scene in The Protector – she is amazingly lithe and powerful, quite belying her waif-like physique. There is some use of undercranking and wire-work that occasionally distracts from her natural talent, as much as it enhances it, and I have to wonder if the ‘autism’ plot-device was a cunning plot to cover for lack of actual actimg talent, though this angle is not played anywhere near as exploitatively as it could be. Still, if the dramatic aspects are somewhat perfunctory and uninteresting, the fight scenes more than make up for these shortcomings, and the result is quite the kick-ass action flick.