Sicario

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“Not sponsored by the Mexican Tourist Board.”

sicarioThis has no small element of local resonance, kicking off in the Phoenix suburb of Chandler (albeit filmed in New Mexico!), where an FBI raid on a house uncovers dozens of bodies in the wall and a booby-trapped basement, all the results of the Mexican cartels encroaching on the United States. In the aftermath, lead agent Kate Macer (Blunt) is invited to join a group working to take down the mobsters responsible, in particular cartel boss Fausto Alarcón. To that end, she joins a force that heads across the border to Juarez, and extradite one of his associates, and then begins a plan to prod the gang’s leader in America, Manuel Diaz, into returning to Mexico for a meeting with Alarcón. Heading the force are CIA “advisor” Matt Graver (Brolin) and the even more shady Alejandro Gillick (del Toro), who has extremely personal reasons for wanting Alarcón brought to justice. Neither have quite the same attention to… procedural detail, shall we say, as Macer, and she soon discovers her new partners will go to absolutely any ends to achieve their goals.

I’m just glad we saw this before going on holiday to Rocky Point, because between this and the documentary Cartel Land (as well as Backyard), we’ve crossed Mexico off our travel plans for the foreseeable future. Hell, Tucson is now looking a bit dubious. For it doesn’t exactly paint a glowing picture of American’s southern ally: even the cops are as likely to be gangsters as anything, and brutal violence is a casual part of everyday life. It’s a setting where, the film seems to be saying, you have to be every bit as brutal if you’re going to go against the cartels, and Macer’s high belief in “justice” is portrayed as idealistic and innocent to the point of naivety, when contrasted with the unflinching savagery of the opposition. Indeed, for much of the second half, she’s little more than a place-holder, present solely so the CIA and their assets can continue to operate with official sanction. The film becomes much more about Graver and Gillick, and the final mission sees the heroine taken out of action entirely, when her presence is no longer needed.

However, up until then, Villeneuve delivers tension by the truckload, during the opening raid, and in particular during the extradition raid to Mexico, when potential threats lurk absolutely everywhere. It had us growing very familiar with the edge of our seats for a lengthy period, and I’m feeling a bit more optimistic about the upcoming Blade Runner sequel, which Villeneuve is also directing. I’d rather have seen more of a character arc from Macer, perhaps buying further into participating in the grey-area methods of her associates, instead of becoming a bench player in what I was expecting to be her own story, and that’s why it falls short of getting unqualified approval here. However, as a grim action-thriller that pulls no punches in its depiction of the (probably unwinnable) drug war, it checks of all the necessary boxes and achieves its goals.

Dir: Denis Villeneuve
Star: Emily Blunt, Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin, Daniel Kaluuya

Lila & Eve

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“Loss + mother love = vengeance.”

lilaandeveDriven by a strong and intense performance from Davis, as Lila, a mother who has lost her son to a drive-by shooting in Atlanta, this offers a more thoughtful take on the “vigilante vengeance” genre. Feeling abandoned by the authorities, and not impressed with the forgiving approach of a support group, she finds companionship in another grieving parent there who feels the same way. Eve (Lopez) urges Lila to take action against those responsible, and together, they work their way up the chain of pushers and street-dealers, to find the man behind it all. However, their actions bring them unwanted attention, both from the detective investigating the resulting murders (Whigham) and the boss at the top of the ladder. It’s entirely possible that Lila’s thirst for revenge could cost her everything, not least her other son, Justin (Caldwell).

It’s a little hard to discuss this, since there’s one aspect which talking about would require a major spoiler, though it’s something I figured out early on: the clues are there, if you look for them. While important, it’s not something on which the film stands or falls, however, and I don’t think figuring it out early hurt my appreciation of this. I was a little concerned early that this was going to be sappy and sentimental, not least because of the presence of Lifetime Films as one of the producers. However, it isn’t that way at all: instead, this is a gritty and entirely credible look at deep personal tragedy, and the reaction to it, even if the final act topples over the edge into implausibility. Davis is key, and is particularly impressive: you can see the pain in her eyes, and how that motivates her to engage in violence which, in some ways, is arguably as senseless as the slaying of her son.

However, the other aspects are mostly solid as well. Lopez provides feisty back-up, egging Lila on whenever her drive falters, and even the cops are portrayed as credible characters, who behave intelligently, as far as their limitations allow them. This makes for a sharp contrast to some similar films I’ve seen, most recently Eye for an Eye, which were little more than a hymn to the joys of vigilante action. Here, you get the negative aspects as well, such as when the mother of one of Lila’s victims turns up to the support group, only to receive a rather mixed reaction. This moral muddying of the water shifts the tone into trickier waters, and as mentioned, I’m not sure Stone negotiates through these successfully to the end credits. However, Davis’s performance is damn near impeccable, and is mesmerizing throughout. If there were any fairness in Hollywood, this would be among the Oscar nominated performances for 2015; if I’m not holding my breath there, you still won’t see much better this year.

Dir: Charles Stone III
Star: Viola Davis, Jennifer Lopez, Ron Caldwell, Shea Whigham

The Invincible Eight

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“Clearly one-up on The Magnificent Seven.”

TheInvincibleEight+1971-85-bThis early Golden Harvest ensemble piece focuses on a plot for communal revenge against the evil General Hsiao (Han Ying Chieh), who was responsible for killing the fathers of the titular octet during his rise to power. However, he’s not all bad, as he raised a couple of his victims’ children as his own, who are now on his side, unaware of his involvement in their status as orphans. Three of the eight are women, a solidly respectable ratio given the 1971 provenance. They include both relative newcomer Mao as Kuei Chien Chin, who disguises herself as a man – as thoroughly unconvincingly as these things usually are in Hong Kong movies! – to infiltrate Hsiao’s camp, and the more established Miao as Chiang Yin, one of the previously mentioned surrogate offspring adopted by the general. The third is Lydia Shum, who is perhaps actually the most memorable, being loud, abrasive and larger than life in a very physical way.

While clearly not as gifted, she reminded me of Sammo Hung, which is interesting, since he was one of the action directors on this file; he and another well-known future face of Hong Kong cinema, Lam Ching-Ying of Mr. Vampire fame, are among the general’s nine whip-wielding bodyguards. This does at least allow for a touch of variety among the fights, since it makes a nice change to see whip vs. sword rather than an endless parade of sword vs. sword. However, it is still fairly limited in its own way, even if does force our heroes and heroines to come up with a special pair of double swords, which can be used to counter the menace. Hsiao is, as villains go, a bit less cartoonish than you’d expect, his killing having been for purely pragmatic reasons, and his desire to take care of some of the children indicates the acts were not entirely guilt-free. There’s a case his right-hand man, Wan Shun (Pai) is worse, though by the time the eight get past him and fight their way into his chambers, Hsiao is not exactly pleading for mercy.

It is a bit of a mixed bag, both in terms of action and in characters; this kind of thing has a tendency to feel over-stuffed, as if the makers are touting the quantity of characters more than their quality. This also has a negative impact on some of the fight sequences, particularly later on, when you have, literally, eight fights going on simultaneously, and as an early Golden Harvest film, they are still clearly finding their feet artistically. Lo Wei would go on to help more memorable movies such as The Big Boss and Fist of Fury, though how much of their success was down to him is, naturally, open to question. Certainly, they had something this film unquestionably lacks; a central star who can command the audience’s attention for the entire length, even if it’s passable enough, as a kung-fu version of Ocean’s 11.

Dir: Lo Wei
Star: Nora Miao, Tang Ching, Angela Mao, Pai Ying

Earthkiller

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“In space, no-one can hear you yawn.”

earthkillerIf one and a half stars is likely kind, I know how much work goes into micro-budget film-making, and this is clearly a labour of love. However, if ever there were evidence more than that is needed… this would be it. At some point in the future, an android, “Helen” (Kurtz), reboots to find herself on a space-station with no memory of why she is there. It turns out, she was part of a mission sent to the space-station, involving a massive weapon located there, capable of creating a black hole and destroying the Earth below. Some want to destroy the weapon; others want to set it off, in order to fulfill religious prophecy. Helen initially assists the former side, but as her memories return, it turns out that may not have been her originally programmed mission. As well as the fanatics, there are also nanobot-infected zombies [I think – my notes grew a bit vague on the details of some elements, as my interest waned!] who must be avoided or fought, for Helen to make her way through the station to the Doomsday device’s location.

Which would be okay, if the film-makers could deliver anything approaching the productions values necessary for this kind of epic science fiction. Instead, we get what feels like the same three sets, shot repeatedly from slightly different angles, in a touching and severely-flawed belief that no-one will notice; “zombie” make-up which looks like an Alice Cooper look-alike contest got left out in the rain; and perhaps one of the worst “acting” performances of the decade. Though, I have to say, this does not belong to Kurtz, who acquits herself adequately as a robot. She spends the first 20 minutes of the movie naked, for no reason ever satisfactorily explained, and I wondered is she was going to go all Lifeforce here. Kurtz is – how can I put this? – more reminiscent of Tilda Swinton than Mathilda Maym and it’s about the least erotic nudity you can imagine, but I kinda respect her and the director for that. Anyway: no, the acting Razzie for this one gives to whoever is playing her boss, who delivers his lines with considerably less enthusiasm than the zombies. It’s certainly memorable; unfortunately, for all the wrong reasons.

Throw in poorly conceived and badly-executed CGI blood (something I generally dislike and rarely used except out of laziness),  exposition that manages to be uninteresting during the minority of the time when it is intelligible, and digital effects that run the gamut from acceptable – the space-station exteriors aren’t bad – to 8-bit video game, and you have something which even the best will in the world can’t save. Sometimes, reining in enthusiasm is good; sometimes, realizing you aren’t yet ready for public consumption is better.

Dir: Andrew Bellware
Star: Robin Kurtz, Lisa Marie Fabrega, Stacey Raymond
a.k.a. Total Retribution

Haphead

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“Virtually worthless.haphead

A good idea goes entirely to waste in this woefully-executed cyberpunk webseries, with the episodes now combined back into something more or less feature-length. The heroine is Maisie (White), who gets an entry-level job working in an electronics factory belonging to the murky Asteri*k corporation. They’re making “haptic” cables which allow computers to interface directly with the brain; the potential in this idea is massive, but here, it’s explored only in a few scenes of Maisie playing a VR game in which she controls a rabbit with ninja skills. There’s some kind of rumblings that the skills learned stick in your brain, so as you become good at fighting in the virtual world, you become good in the real world. Except, this doesn’t go anywhere either – although this is probably wise, considering White’s fighting abilities, charitably described as wobbly. Instead, the film diverts in its second half into her investigation of the mysterious death of her father (Strauss), a security guard who took an unwanted promotion so she wouldn’t have to work in the factory, only to be killed by a “haphead”. Maisie investigates this, and soon discovers things are not quite what they seemed.

The problems here mostly stem from the script which comes up with any number of initially interesting concepts, including the positive and negative uses of technology, through corrupt practices of big business… and then discards them without doing anything significantly more than bringing them up (never mind even scratching the surface), instead scurrying on to the next one. The end result is less a frothy cybernetic souffle, and more a leaden lump of undercooked plot elements strapped together with old USB cables, like the parkour which shows up for no apparent reason, other than someone thought it would be cool. Or, equally likely, the film-makers’ mates wanted to be in the film.

You don’t even need big-budgets or incredible effects to do something like this justice. The makers could, and should, have learned a great deal from something like David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ, which covered a fair amount of the same ground, but did so with a script which truly explored the possibilities of virtual reality – and saved a lot of money, because the VR world was very, very similar to our own one. Of course, no doubt it helped to have Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jude Law, Willem Dafoe, etc. However, a low budget is no excuse for a bad script: indeed, the reverse is true, if your means are limited, you’d better be damn sure your script is engaging and well-written. Throwing a bunch of semi-“edgy” cyberpunk elements on top of a story painfully ill-suited to handle them, is not an acceptable substitute.

Dir: Tate Young
Star: Elysia White, David Strauss, Joanne Jansen, Kwame Kyei-Boateng

Willow, by Wayland Drew

Literary rating: starstarstarstarstar
Kick-butt quotient: action2action2actionhalf

willowTheoretically, this book by Canadian author Wayland Drew is the novelization of the 1988 movie Willow. However, it’s not based directly on the movie itself, but on Bob Dolman’s screenplay (which was itself developed from a guiding storyline written by George Lucas). Much of this screenplay was omitted –and some of it apparently changed, usually to condense and simplify the dialogue and action– in filming the actual movie, and one of the stars (Val Kilmer) ad-libbed most of his dialogue. So the movie actually differs significantly from the book; the latter is much richer in world-building and character development and has a number of significant events that aren’t in the former, and that help to explain some character’s attitudes and choices that are only weakly explained in the film. This means that the relationship of the two is more like that of a movie adapted from a book than that of a typical novelization. It also means it’s harder to identify Drew’s individual modifications and contributions than it would be with most novelizations.

Regardless of the prehistory of the book’s text, though, the finished novel is a fine work of epic fantasy, with well-developed characters, a stirring plot that doesn’t have logical holes, and vivid prose. In general conception, it owes something to Tolkien’s monumental Lord of the Rings series –but few works of post-Tolkien epic fantasy do not, and it has its own distinct premise, plot, characteristics and flavor; any literary influence is simply that, not slavish dependence. Like Sauron, Bavmorda is a power-freak magic-wielder hungry for world domination; but where Sauron is an impersonal, off-stage evil force, Bavmorda is a fully human character we see up close and personal, in all her ugly glory. Drew’s short-statured Nelwyn race has some general similarities to hobbits, and perhaps more to dwarves; but in the final analysis, they’re neither, a race and culture all their own. (And the basic structure of a quest narrative in fantasy goes back long before Tolkien, as do other archetypes that appear here.) But like the LOTR saga, it has a very clear conflict of good and evil, and a recurring theme of the necessity and important consequences of the moral choices we’re called to make and the responsibilities we’re called to shoulder, whether we see ourselves as well-qualified heroic types or not.

Lucas’ influence is evident in a few places, where the Mystery of magic is presented in terms vaguely reminiscent of the Force in his Star Wars saga (the kind of thing Francis Schaeffer referred to as “contentless mysticism”), but this is a minor note that has no real significance for the storyline. A more prominent (and more positive) theme is the strong affection for the natural world that’s evident, with the idea that good people care about the latter, while evil results in defilement and destruction of nature. (This is brought out much more in the book than in the movie.) The book is also grittier and more violent than the movie in places, but it has no bad language (Madmartigan’s h-words in the film resulted from Kilmer’s ad-libbing) and no real sexual content, beyond the implication of womanizing by Madmartigan with an innkeeper’s wife at one point. (That aspect of his character isn’t glorified, and is explained as a reaction to an earlier event in his past.)

The action-heroine aspect of the book is embodied in the character of Sorsha (played in the movie by Joanne Whalley), the most important female character in the tale. She’s Bavmorda’s daughter, raised not to question her mother –but there’s another side to her heritage, too. Her moral journey, and the choice before her, will be one of those most central to the book. She’s also definitely raised as a warrior, really comfortable only in battle, in the camp or on the march, or in the hunt for dangerous game, thoroughly accustomed to handling weapons (she sleeps with a dagger under her pillow), and as tough as nails; we hardly ever see her out of her armor. For fans of the action-female motif, the one complaint here is that she doesn’t have much in the way of actual fighting scenes –just a couple in the entire book, although she acquits herself bravely and capably in both of them. It’s arguably a pity that the plot here didn’t allow more scope for the display of her butt-kicking abilities.

In a fantasy genre that’s overrun by bloated series, this one also has the advantage of being a stand-alone book with a contained storyline and a clear-cut resolution. Lucas actually intended to make sequels to the film, but never did; instead, he wrote a series of follow-up books, the Chronicles of the Shadow War. But these are set after the events here, and aren’t directly related to them, or at least that’s my impression –I’ve never read them. (That’s why Goodreads labeled the book “Chronicles of the Shadow War 0,” rather than giving it a number as an actual part of the sequence.) So this would be a great choice for fantasy readers who don’t want to commit to a multi-volume series! But it’s a solid, rewarding read for any epic fantasy fan.

Author: Wayland Drew
Publisher: Ballantine Books, available through Amazon, currently only as a printed book.

A version of this review previously appeared on Goodreads.

The Keeping Room

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“Clearly nothing civil about this war.”

keepingroom1 keepingroom2 keepingroom3

The second half of 2015 seems to have seen a flood of “revisionist” – whatever that term means – Westerns. We’ve already had the likes of Bone Tomahawk and The Revenant, with The Hateful 8 due out imminently. This is another along similar lines, though also has a debt to Cold Mountain, sharing a theme of Civil War women forced into surviving on their own, with the menfolk off fighting each other. In this case, it’s two siblings, Augusta (Marling) and Louise (Steinfeld), along with their black maid (Otaru), who are barely scraping a living out of the land. When Louise is bitten by a racoon, her sister rides into town to seek medicine, but encounters Moses (Worthington) and his colleagues, the advance guard of the approaching Union army. He takes a shine to her, but she rebuffs his advances at the point of her rifle; that only spurs the men on, so they follow her back to the house and lay siege to the three inhabitants, driven by an apparent combination of lust, and a desire to take revenge for their humiliation.

This opens with a quote from Civil War General, William Sherman: “War is cruelty. There is no use trying to reform it. The crueler it is, the sooner it will be over,” and that’s an appropriate quote, since the moral here appears to be that there are times when barbarism needs to be met with equal or greater force. Augusta, in particular, is a great exponent of this, pragmatic and down to earth. When Louise tries to deflect a chore by whining, “She’s the nigger, she should do it,” her sister chides her in response, “Like I told you, Louise: We all niggers now.” However, even Augusta falls prey to the convenient flaw most commonly seen in the “final girl” of slasher films: failing to finish off your opponent when you have them at your mercy, in this case wandering off and leaving Otis after knocking him out. It has to be said, I was close to yelling “Shoot him in the head! IN THE HEAD!” at the screen there.

Barber also has a flawed concept of pace, the film grinding to a halt just when it should be escalating relentlessly, in order for the maid to deliver a lengthy monologue about an incident that happened when she was 10. While not irrelevant, it really needed to be somewhere else in the film, as it derails all the tension built up to that point. It’s a shame, as there has been a strong sense of looming and ever-encroaching violence, right from the opening scene, depicting an encounter between a slave and a stagecoach. While infuriatingly flawed in a number of ways, not least Barber’s over-obvious direction, Marling’s performance in particular does make it worth watching, and the story reveals a side of the war not previously brought to the screen, to my knowledge.

Dir: Daniel Barber
Star: Brit Marling, Hailee Steinfeld, Muna Otaru, Sam Worthington

Journal of a Contract Killer

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“The hits just keep on coming…”

journalStephanie (Powell) had been an assassin for the Italian Mafia, but had abandoned that life and settled down in London with her daughter. Years later, she is shocked to see her former lover, Alessandro (Canuso) show up at her job, and even more so when she gets an order she can’t refuse from her old employer, Franco (Gambino) – to kill Alessandro. Despite some qualms, not least how the family will react to her taking out one of their own, Stephanie carrier out the mission. But soon after, she finds herself being watched by the enigmatic Sam (Leese), who says he is there to protect her. Is that really the case, or does he have an entirely different purpose?

Maylam directed one of our favourite B-movies of all time, the post-apocalyptic monster flick, Split Second, starring Rutger Hauer. This isn’t anywhere near as good, though still made for an okay ninety minutes of entertainment. I think the main issue is Powell: not so much for her performance as such, more the stylistic choice made for it. I think the director and actress were going for a “dead inside” vibe, portraying Stephanie as someone who has had all emotion wrung out of them, through years of dealing death on a professional basis. It’s difficult to pull that kind of thing off while still retaining any sense of a likable character; Jean Reno in Leon is an example of it done well, but the results here come across much more as a flat monotone. There’s only one scene where Powell gets to let rip with unrestrained emotion, and it’s undeniably the film’s most effective sequence; you wish there had been more of this.

The story-line is well constructed, however, and it doesn’t pull its punches; there isn’t what you’d call a happy ending for anyone involved. Probably another misstep to claim the movie is inspired by true events, for that’s a label abused so badly for over four decades [at least since the days of Texas Chainsaw which, while inspired by real-life killer Ed Gein, utterly does not fulfill its poster claim: “what happened is true”], everyone I know immediately rolls their eyes and refuses to believe a word of it, whether actually the case or not.  In its favour, the film does remain restrained in terms of her abilities, with no sense of Stephanie being turned into some kind of superheroine. Instead, everything she does is plausible, though I’d like to have seen them devote more time to her shift from “hooker for the mob” to “hit-woman for the mob,” which seems sudden and jarring, involving little more than a random assassination of an innocent bystander. However, this restraint does perhaps lead to a lack of memorable moments; there’s not a surfeit of action either, despite what the trailer below wants you to think. Just go in expecting something low key, and you’ll be okay.

Dir: Tony Maylam
Star: Justine Powell, Adam Leese, Jake Canuso, Marco Gambino

Operation Chaos, by Poul Anderson

Literary rating: starstarstarstarstar
Kick-butt quotient: action2action2actionhalf

operationchaosPoul Anderson (d. 2001) was one of the leading lights of speculative fiction in the latter half of the 20th century. He’s perhaps best known for his science fiction; but this excellent novel is a sample of his fantasy.

We’re in an alternate mid-20th-century U.S. here, in a world where magic, though dormant since the Bronze Age, somehow reasserted itself around the turn of the 20th century, and became the major force (rather than technology –although here technology adapts to and works with it) that revolutionized modern society, industry and daily life. (For instance, rather than using cars, people travel by broomstick or magic carpet.) The magical system is normally incantational, manipulating impersonal and morally neutral paranatural forces in the world (but the villains may also invoke demonic powers). It’s also a world where science has demonstrated and accepted the reality of Deity, the afterlife, atonement, moral law, and the angelic and the demonic, without establishing (or denying) the truth of any particular theistic creed. That represents our hero/heroine’s take on the spiritual (and apparently Anderson’s as well) –and it’s a theme taken seriously here.

Steve and Ginny, the aforementioned H/h, are, respectively, a werewolf (Anderson’s werewolves, like Anthony Boucher’s, are simply people who can shapeshift into wolves –that doesn’t make them vicious or madly homicidal) and a white witch. When we first meet them, they’re Army officers serving in World War II –but in this reality, the Allies’ main adversary is a restored, brutal Islamic Caliphate (considered heretical by some other Muslims) that’s out to conquer the world and impose its version of theocracy. (This book was published in 1971; it’s interesting to see how subsequent history has developed in the Middle East, with ISIS, etc.) And of course this is a war in which magic is the principal weapon employed by both sides. At the book’s outset, our co-protagonists are tasked with a probably suicidal mission that’s vital to the war effort, and from there the action and the jeopardies continue thick and fast. But their real battle is much bigger than the war, and the real Adversary isn’t the Caliphate. Who is he? Well… he’s our Adversary, too.

Steve serves as our narrator; Anderson uses the conceit that he’s in a trance state, communicating across the ether between alternate realities to share the benefit of his experiences with any receptive inhabitants, who share a common cosmic struggle and destiny. IMO, that device works well. The author’s prose style is conversational, but erudite, with a rich substratum of dry, dead-pan humor in the way things are phrased and the matter-of-fact acceptance of how magic permeates daily life. But this is also a serious book, with lethal violence and life-and-death (or worse) danger, defining moral choices, real psychological depth in places, and underlying spiritual and social messages that are as serious as a heart attack. Anderson’s solid knowledge of worldwide mythology and occult lore enriches the tale, as does his accurate understanding of Gnosticism and its significance. Steve and Ginny are characters readers can readily like, admire and root for. Bad language here is limited to an occasional h- or d-word, and there’s no inappropriate sexual content.

Ginny is a strong, capable woman with a cool head in a crisis, iron nerves and will, quick reflexes and an ability to handle physical challenges thrown at her by demons and elementals. She acquits herself well in combat situations; though she’s mostly up against non-human foes. During the war, though, she proved herself a lethal fighter against enemy soldiers as well (although we don’t actually get to see her most deadly exploit directly –Steve just finds the bodies after the fact!).

All in all, I found this a great read, from a master writer at the top of his game. My wife greatly liked the book, too, as well as another of the author’s novels we’ve read together years ago, The High Crusade. The main female character there, Lady Catherine, isn’t really an action heroine as such for most of the book –but when the chips are down, she can come through, and that book can also appeal to fans of strong heroines.

Author: Poul Anderson
Publisher: Baen Books, available through Amazon, both for Kindle and as a printed book.

A version of this review previously appeared on Goodreads.

Temptress of a Thousand Faces

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“Face-off?”

temptressThis loopy slice of sixties Shaw Brothers nonsense is best described as a bizarre combination of martial arts, 007 and Danger: Diabolik. The titular supervillainess has Hong Kong at her mercy, robbing at will due to her extraordinary disguise capabilities. The police, in particular detective Ji Ying (Chin-Fei), are aggravated, and matters are not helped by the local media sensationalizing things, realizing news about the Temptress sells a lot of newspapers. They are led by Molly (Ting Hung), who goes as far as fabricating stories entirely, which brings down on her the wrath of Ji Ying. The Temptress is similarly upset by Ji Ying’s public pronouncements condemning her as a threat to society and kidnaps the policewoman, bringing her to a secret lair purely to explain how the Temptress is doing to destroy Ji Ying’s life. This she proceeds to do, by carrying out subsequent robberies while wearing Ji Ying’s face, causing her to be arrested for those crimes. The cop escapes custody, and it seems the only way to prove her innocence is to capture the real Temptress.

There are so many aspects here that are utterly ludicrous; my favourite was like the Temptress’s lair, which is exactly what I would build, if ever I become an evil overlord. It’s all dry ice, pillars and needlessly complex torture devices, though does at least have a pool, in which the Temptress occasionally lounges, being soaped down by pastie-wearing minions. I also enjoyed the way said henchmen, on the numerous occasions when they are sent to capture Ji Ying, will inevitably first try to defeat her in hand-to-hand combat, and only after failing, then resort to pulling out their guns. To offer an honest assessment, the Temptress needs to have spent more money on her recruitment policy and rather less on the facilities. And I haven’t even got to the glorious fight between Ji Ying and “Ji Ying”, when the cop bursts in on the Temptress, wearing her face and snogging her boyfriend. Coincidentally, they’re both wearing the same outfits, and the poor man has no clue which one is the real deal, adding to the scene’s utterly surreal quality.

But, it should be stressed, these hardly detract from the entertainment value to be had here, even if many of them were apparently intended to be taken far more seriously at the time (which would be 1969) than they deserve. The heroine and villainness make for a fine pair, and given the era, it’s especially refreshing that just about all the men involved are incompetent and/or background figures. Accept that you will probably be laughing at the film as much as with it, and you’ll find an enjoyable 76 minutes of nonsense to be had here. [Tip of the hat to Dieter for pointing me in the direction of this one!]

Dir: Chang-hwa Jeong
Star: Tina Chin-Fei, Liang Chen, Pat Ting Hung