Original Title: Gokudo Daisenso
Directed by Takashi Miike Produced by Yoshinori Chiba, Shin'ichiro Masuda, Shinjiro Nishimura, Misako Saka Action by Keiji Tsujii, Seigi Deguchi
Starring: Hayato Ichihara, Riko Narumi, Sho Aoyagi, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Ryushin Tei, Yayan Ruhian, Masanori Mimoto, Yoshiyuki Morishita, Yuki Sakurai, Denden, Lily Franky
Reviewing: Manga UK DVD Release
Genres: Action / Comedy / Gangster / Horror
Rating - 4 / 5
DVD Synopsis: From prolific and controversial director, Takashi Miike comes the action-packed horror showcasing all of his bizarre, yet fun signature style. Due to his sensitive skin, Kageyama is ridiculed by his fellow Yakuza clan members for being the only one who cannot be branded with their signature tattoo. When Kamiura, the fearsome Yakuza boss who also happens to be a bloodsucking vampire is brutally killed by a competing clan, he passes on his vampire powers to his loyal lieutenant. Now Kageyama is transformed into a bloodthirsty monster who will stop at nothing to avenge his former boss.
Views: The unstoppable Takashi Miike returns to the dark underworld of the Japanese gangsters, although this time with a horror twist. Feared Yakuza boss Kamiura is a legend to many around town, and is rumoured to be invincible after many years of surviving brutal attacks and attempts on his life. The truth though, is that Kamiura is a bloodsucking vampire. Among Kamiura's people is Kageyama, a minion who continuously fights to prove himself as his bosses most loyal man – although is picked on and hated by his gangster brothers for his inability to get tattooed due to his sensitive skin. After his boss is killed by a group of international assassins from a secret syndicate, Kageyama inherits the vampire powers of his boss and finds it hard to focus on his newfound abilities. But once aware of what he can do, he sets out to avenge the death of his boss and soon finds himself in many violent battles with the syndicate, leading to a brutal finale against their mysterious and unstoppable leader!
Much like many of Takashi Miike's movies, Yakuza Apocalypse is totally bonkers, but in a good way. While it contains equally as much madness like Ichi The Killer, City Of Lost Souls, Gozu, and the Dead Or Alive Trilogy, Yakuza Apocalypse proves to be a much tidier and better made film overall – with Miike having honed his skills in over 40 productions in the decade that followed such titles. It also confirms why the man is one of the greatest gonzo film-makers out there and while it's not to everyone's taste, there's certainly no denying that the film entertains on many levels – whether you get it or not. Yakuza Apocalypse is just dripping with the most surreal things as well as an eccentric bunch of characters such as vampire gangsters, a martial arts master in a frog costume (who then reveals himself to be something even more bizarre), a gun-toting priest that looks like he just stepped out of a William Shakespeare play, a woman that squirts liquid from her ears, a crazed kappa goblin (yokai), an axe wielding kid, and so much more including a giant frog that wants to destroy the world and a knitting circle that is used as a front for a blood farm. It all proves to be a highly unpredictable experience which, at the same time, is probably what hindered its box office takings...
While many reviewers and critics have tried looking too deep into what Yakuza Apocalypse all means, I say just sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride. It's a simple revenge tale set in a world of gangsters, bedazzled with a large helping of Miike madness that takes it all to another level. Scribed by writer Yoshitaka Yamaguchi, in what would be only his third script after Arcana and Samurai Cat (both of which he directed himself), Yoshi also worked with Miike as an assistant director on projects such as One Missed Call, Yatterman, Blade Of The Immortal, and his episode for the Masters Of Horror series, Imprint. Mind you, I thought it was odd that he didn't join Takashi once again as an assistant director here, leaving that up to no less than 4 other co-directors, one of which includes Kentaro Harada who worked alongside Miike on Lesson Of The Evil. While his screenplay is often funny and hits on the horror elements positively, it does have it flaws and isn't really as memorable as the visuals that bring it to life, which comes courtesy of cinematographer Hajime Kanada – a DOP who has also worked on titles such as the wonderful Gohatto, Free Kitchen, Demekin (for writer/director Yoshitaka Tamaguchi) and the documentaries, Sonny Chiba: A Life In Action. The fantastic action scenes, most of which are well-choreographed martial arts battles, are handled by long-time Takashi Miike cohort Kiji Tsujii who has been the fight and stunt co-ordinator on titles such as The Great Yokai War, 13 Assassins, Hara-Kiri, Lesson Of The Evil, and Blade of The Immortal – so action fans can be guaranteed to get their money's worth here.
Cast wise, everyone does well in their roles – albeit without delivering anything groundbreaking or outstanding in anyway. Hayato Ichihara takes the lead as Akira Kageyama, the gangster with a skin condition who gives a great performance and looks great in the action department when he goes up against some pretty tough opponents. Launching his career at the turn-of-the-century in Ju-On 2: The Curse (The Grudge 2) he has since gone on to star in some fantastic titles such as Rainbow Song, God's Puzzle, Samurai Sensei, and a host of television shows – as well as returning to work with Miike on the gorgeous, Blade Of The Immortal. One of his opponents is Indonesian action star Yayan Ruhian, reprising a character listed as Mad Dog much like that of his role in the box office smash, The Raid. This was a clever move by Miike in bringing in such an actor who had just came off the set of The Raid 2 and would also have a small role in Star Wars: Episode 7 – The Force Awakens, the same year as this. Of course, anyone who is a die-hard fan of the martial artist but had not yet experienced a Takashi Miike film as yet, would no doubt be tracking down Yakuza Apocalypse where they would get to see Yayan kick ass a number of times – and once while dressed in the geekiest of outfits with a backpack full of maps. It's yet another bizarre moment but allows the star to show some impressive moves against a number of people throughout the film's 2-hour running time. I would have to say that it would be between him and the Mad Frog, who steals the show each time they are on screen. This great character is played by Masanori Mimoto, a Japanese actor and choreographer who has worked with Donnie Yen on Enter The Fat Dragon as well as appearing in many fun titles like Silver Hawk with Michelle Yeoh, Death Note, Alien Vs Ninja, Re: Born, and God Of War with Vincent Zhao Wen Zhao. As I've mentioned in previous reviews, I did have the pleasure of screening his great action thriller, Hydra, at our festival in 2019 and I do think he is a name to keep an eye on in terms of action cinema. As Mad Frog, Mimoto kicks ass in a full frog costume (which much have been a killer to fight in) and just as much when out of it. The great Lily Franky also delivers a strong role as Kamiura, the vampire Yakuza boss, with Ryushin Tei as the killer priest, along with Makoto Sakaguchi, Riko Narumi, Sho Aoyagi, and many more!
While the first screening of Yakuza Apocalypse threw me a little with its mad concepts and surprises, I have to say that I definitely enjoyed it even more second time around (and so on). It proves to be a lot of fun, with a great balance of action, horror, comedy, and even drama, so is bound to please – or at the very least, tickle – even the most snobbiest of cinephiles who sit down to their first watch. As I mentioned before, it's a well-made production and out of the two films Miike made in 2015 (with the other being the lesser-known drama, The Lion Standing In The Wind) this has obviously proven to be the more popular one with his fans, leading on to his action-packed (and just as crazy) sci-fi flick, Terraformers, the following year. Mental fun, but definitely worth checking out...
Overall: Unpredictable, absurd, funny, action packed, and so much more, Yakuza Apocalypse is one wild ride that won't appeal to everyone, but is well worth a watch!
Original Title: Gokudo Heiki
Directed by Tak Sakaguchi, Yudai Yamaguchi Produced by Yoshinori Chiba, Toshiki Kimura Action by Kensuke Sonomura
Starring: Tak Sakaguchi, Akaji Maro, Shingo Tsurumi, Mei Kurokawa, Takashi Nishina, Jun Murakami, Arata Yamanaka, Akihiko Sai
Reviewing: Bounty Films (Eureka) UK Blu-ray Release
Genres: Action / Comedy / Gangster
Rating - 3 / 5
Blu-ray Synopsis: Working as a mercenary in South America, ex-yakuza Shozo Iwaki (Tak Sakaguchi) is informed of the death of his gang boss father, Kenzo. Returning home, Shoror discovers that his father's number-one man, Kurawaki, has double-crossed and assassinated Kenzo, leaving Shozo in charge of what little remains of the Iwaki Family, and a burning desire for vengeance. After a titanic battle, both Shozo and Kurawaki are left barely alive.
Despite his debilitating wounds, the nearly superhuman Shozo clings to life, only to be awoken in a mysterious medical facility with an M61 Vulcan cannon in place of his right arm, and a rocket launcher where his left leg used to be! Although confused by his new body and tormented by the pain it brings him, Shozo quickly learns to love his weaponised frame and makes himself ready for a rematch with Kurawaki, who also has some mechanical improvements of his own...
The team who brought you Versus have returned with another hard-edged battle royale featuring tough gangsters, deadly women and cybernetic penis implants. Co-directed by Yudai Yamaguchi and Tak Sakaguchi, who between them have created crazy, action-filled comedies like Battlefield Baseball, Meatball Machine, Mutant Girls Squad and Deadball, Takuza Weapon is a wild combination of hard-boiled action, manga-style comedy and splatterific special effects.
Views: Wacky, wild, and ultra-violent, Tak Sakaguchi's Yakuza Weapon is a non-stop roller-coaster ride of gangster politics and violence all wrapped up in a live-action manga, evident from it's more 'cartoon-like' moments – and not to mention the fact that it is an actual adaptation of the Gokudo Heiki manga by the late Ken Ishikawa. Sakaguchi stars as Shozo Iwaki, the outrageous and kick-ass son of Yakuza boss Kenzo. While fighting mercenaries in the jungles of South America, Shozo learns that his father has been assassinated back home and quickly returns to Japan to seek revenge. As he faces off against Kurawaki, the man responsible for killing his father, Shozo gets an arm and a leg blown off which leaves him critically wounded – although not before blowing Kurawaki's copter out of the sky with a rocket launcher. Thankfully, the Government have the advanced technology needed to rebuild Shozo, replacing his missing arm with a Gatling gun and his leg with a rocket launcher – fired via the kneecap. From here Shozo must take on opponent after opponent with his 2 friends, going up against samurai warriors, robot women with rocket launching vagina's, gangs of mind-controlled thugs, and Kurawaki who has made some of his own advancements after surviving the crash!
While I thoroughly enjoyed Versus when it first came out, I have to admit that I've never really been the biggest fan of Tak Sakaguchi. The success of Kitamura's zombie film set things in place for Tak's career to blossom with him going on to star in a host of films for the same director, as well as appearing in anything and everything from Japan that involved martial arts, gore, and comic book violence. From Azumi to Death Trance, Shinobi: Heart Under Blade to Tokyo Gore Police, and a host of his own projects as a director or choreographer with his co-director Yudai Yamaguchi such as Battlefield Baseball, Samurai Zombie, Mutant Girls Squad, Deadball, and this – Tak has showed no signs of slowing down over the last two decades. While I admit that he certainly has good screen presence and plenty of energy, I often find his choreography to be somewhat repetitive and don't particularly find him to be a great mover – often coming across like the love child of Tony Jaa and Don 'The Dragon' Wilson for the most part. In Yakuza Weapon, Tak gets to let loose as one of his wildest characters yet and has full control of things as the co-director and co-writer of the project along with his close friend and co-director, Yudai Yamaguchi, who also made his claim to fame with Versus as the writer and second unit director. After penning Ryuhei Kitamura's Alive (also starring Tak), Yudai made his feature debut as a director with the fun Battlefield Baseball, before directing the wacky Chromartie High The Movie, fun Meatball Machine, and a host of other titles including The Baby's Curse, a segment of The ABC's Of Death, High & Low: The Red Rain, and Deadball which was shot back-to-back with this and played like a sort of sequel/remake of Battlefield Baseball.
This is a film that mustn't be taken seriously, although (ironically) a few scenes slow things down by trying to do just that. Yakuza Weapon is all about the action and violence, with the gore-filled special effects handled by horror maestro Yoshihiro Nishimura – a man who has handled the effects work and make-up on many great films such as Meatball Machine and its sequel, Exte: Hair Extensions, Machine Girl, Tokyo Gore Police, Hard Revenge Milly, Robo-geisha, Attack On Titan 1 & 2, Dead Sushi, Zombie Ass: Toilet Of The Dead and so much more. On top of that, Nishimura has directed almost 30 films himself including titles like Tokyo Gore Police, Vampire Girl Vs Frankenstein Girl, Mutant Girls Squad, Helldriver, Meatball Machine Kodoku, Tokyo Dragon Chef, and then some. So if you have seen any of the aforementioned titles, you can only imagine the kind of gory FX work that goes on here. For many, Yakuza Weapon will be a case of 'having seen it all before' and especially if you follow the works of Tak Sakaguchi. That said, it does have plenty to enjoy, is packed with some cool fight scenes, and entertains to some degree – albeit while outstaying its welcome by a good 15 or 20 minutes in my opinion. Imagine Machine Girl meets Versus with a hefty dash of Takashi Miike style humour, and you're on the right track...
Overall: Crazy fun and packed with comic book violence, Yakuza Weapon runs a little too long for its own good but still entertains!
Blu-ray Extras: Deleted & Extended Scenes, Making of Documentary, Takuzo's Weapon – Short Film, Toki's Wedding Part One, The Tower of Kurawaki, Opening Day Stage Greeting, Dream Jumbo Talkshow with Manga Artist Go Nagai and Directors, Trailer, Isolated Music Track
YAMADA: WAY OF THE SAMURAI
Original Title: Samurai Ayothaya (aka) Yamada: Samurai Of Ayothaya
Directed by Nopporn Wartin Produced by Noppoarn Wartin Action by Yuttana Muenbaja, Thanawut Kasro, Ramai Moriphan Starring: Seigi Ozeki, Sorapong Chatree, Kanokkorn Jaicheun, Buakaw Por. Pramuk, Thanawut Kessaro, Mukuda Hann, Yonthida Nak-ong Reviewing: Cineasia UK DVD Release Genres: Historical / Martial Arts / Drama
Rating - 3.5 / 5
DVD Synopsis: Set in the ancient Kingdom of Ayothaya, this incredible true story brings to life the adventures of a young Japanese Samurai warrior, who gave up his homeland to protect the sovereignty of the Thai people. Betrayed and left for dead by treacherous Japanese forces, he finds a new family in a remote village and masters the devastating fighting art of Muay Boran (Thai Boxing). Fearless, he ascends to the royal bodyguard of King Naresuan The Great, but will soon face his greatest battle against the elite Japanese warriors he once regarded as brothers...
Views: Based on a true historic figure during the Ayothaya Era, Yamada: Way Of The Samurai tells the tale of Yamada Nagamasa, a Japanese warrior who was betrayed by his own people yet went on to gain considerable influence on Thailand. Set in the 17th century, Nagamasa has adopted Thailand as his new home, along with a host of Japanese and former samurai's who were then hired by the king of Ayothaya to protect him and the country from the invading Burmese and Spanish armies. As he learns the ways of the people, Yamada is trained in the art of Thai Boxing which he combines with the best of his own martial arts knowledge in a bid to protect his new friends and new home from the enemy. Later on, Nagamasa went on to become the Governor of the Nakon Si Thammarat province in Southern Thailand and was highly regarded among the people of Thailand as one of their own...
It's been some time since I last watched this film and although I remember enjoying it back then, I just never had the urge to go back to it too soon. But I'm sorry I didn't, as Yamada: Way Of The Samurai is a pretty good film and was as entertaining the second time around as much as it was the first. The films plays like Bang Rajan with shades of The Last Samurai, although with much less of a budget and probably not as dramatic. While it may be based on a true story, viewers will obviously have to take that declaration with a pinch of salt as I think a lot of creative license was put to good use here. I mean, Ip Man was hardly 100% true to the man's life story, but everyone loved it enough to encourage enough sequels and spin-off's over the years. This, on the other hand, seems to get a lot of hate in other reviews because it wasn't 'true' to the real history of Yamada Nagamasa. Regardless, the film was made in the name of entertainment and it doesn't fail when it comes to that! While it does have it's flaws (and a stone-faced leading man), Yamada: Way Of The Samurai wins over its audience with some gorgeous cinematography courtesy of Chuchart Nantitanyathada, a beautiful score, and some great fight scenes courtesy of Yuttana Muenbaja, Thanawut Kasro, Ramai Moriphan. With displays of some solid Thai Boxing, fast swordplay against gangs of ghost-faced ninja, and violent take-downs during one-on-one fight scenes as well as brutal battles, Yamada: Way Of The Samurai can be forgiven for being a little melodramatic at times for what it offers up. That said, my only complaint in the action department would be the cranking of certain 'impact' moves, which slightly take away from the genuine skills of the fighters involved!
The film was written, produced, and directed by Nopporn Watin in what would be his third (and so far) last feature film to date. Watin's feature debut was with Dangerous Years, a well received teen-gang drama that was soon followed up by Ang Yee: Luuk Chaai Phan Mangkwan – a Triad drama that featured Jimmy Lin, a Taiwanese actor who appeared in films such as Butterfly & Sword with Michelle Yeoh, Flying Daggers and Boys Are Easy with Jacky Cheung, Shaolin Popeye, and the unfortunate Ultracop 2000 with Yukari Oshima. It would be another decade though before Watin returned with Yamada: Way Of The Samurai, and it's a shame we haven't seen anything else from him since. While the film also stars renowned Muay Thai boxers Buakaw Banchamek, Saenchai Kingstar, Yodsanklai Fairtex, and Anuwat Kaewsamrit, the leading man is played by Seigi Ozeki; a Japanese model who moved to Thailand in 2003 to pursue his acting career. His first role would be in The Odd Couple (Khuu Raet) with Yamada: Way Of The Samurai coming only a few years later, and probably proving to be a much more challenging role than his first. He doesn't really offer up much emotion in his role as Yamada Nagamasa, but Seigi certainly has the moves when it comes to the fight scenes and looks great in action. He is joined by popular Thai actor Sorapong Chatree, a popular face who has appeared in over 80 films to date including the likes of the embarrassing 18 Golden Destroyers, Beautiful Boxer, Ong Bak 2 & 3, and BKO: Bangkok Knockout as well as many others.
Overall: While it has its flaws, Yamada: Way Of The Samurai still proves to be a beautifully shot and entertaining martial arts tale!
DVD Extras: Audio Commentary by Bey Logan, Masters Of The Ring Feature, Deleted Scenes, Trailers
Original Title: Les Fils Du Vent
(aka) Sons Of The Wind: Bangkok Ninjas; The Great Challenge; Yamakacu 2
Directed by Julien Seri Produced by Yves Marmion Action by Xin Xin Xiong, Seng Kawee
Starring: Williams Belle, Chau Belle Dinh, Malik Diouf, Yann Hnautra, Guylain N'Guba-Boyeke, Charles Perriere, Elodie Yung, Burt Kwouk, Charles Jarman, Srichana Kumsang
Reviewing: Deltamac HK DVD Release
Genres: Action / Adventure / Crime
Rating - 3.3 / 5
DVD Synopsis: A group of highly accomplished and fearless athletes whose break-neck skills include leaping from rooftops and scaling vertiginous facades, goes to Bangkok to set up a gym and explore the local cityscape. But once there, they encounter a gang of Thai athletes who, betraying their own heritage, have pledged allegiance to the Japanese Yakuza aiming to destroy the local Triad and gain control of the city. The French sportsmen soon become unwittingly entangled in an escalating turf war they cannot fully grasp. In the midst of this turmoil, as each one faces his own past and fears, will the spiritually forces of loyalty, love and sportsmanship be enough to preserve them from the ultimate clash?
Views: It has been some time since I last watched Les Fils Du Vent – a film recommended to me by my own stunt team of young Parkour enthusiasts while shooting our first film. I remember being pleasantly surprised by it and while I haven't had the pleasure of watching the first Yamakasi film, didn't feel that I had missed anything going into this. To a lot of people, the plot here seems to be a bit over the place as a bunch of French Parkour specialists who meet in London, head to Thailand to set up a gym for street kids and soon find themselves drawn into a war between the Japanese Yakuza and Chinese Triads. After an exciting run-in with a local gang, the team disband with some members heading-off on their own journey to find themselves and avoid any more trouble. Of course, it doesn't take long for them all to reform as a team when the war between the Yakuza and Triad gangs gets out-of-hand that sees one of their own, badly injured!
To be honest, Les Fils Du Vent is really all about the action and Parkour skills of it's stars, both of which do not let the viewers down. From the rooftop game in London where teams of free-runners chase a ball, to the scaffold fight in Bangkok – that should excite those who enjoyed similar fight scenes in Shang Chi: Legend Of The Ten Rings (thanks to the late Brad Allen) and Blonde Fury/Lady Reporter/Above The Law 2 – the action here in Yamakasi 2: The Great Challenge is a lot of fun. Unfortunately, it also marred by some heavily edited and fast cut decisions which often takes away from the true talents of the team and the choreography of Xin Xin Xiong (Hung Yan Yan) and Seng Kawee. The wonderful Xin Xin Xiong is no stranger to fans of Hong Kong cinema and is most widely known for his role as Clubfoot (or Ghost Foot Seven) in Tsui Hark's Once Upon A Time In China series. Xiong first came onto the scene as Jet Li's stunt-double in Shaolin Temple 3: Martial Arts Of Shaolin before making small appearances in the likes of Aces Go Places 5: The Terracotta Hit, God Of Gamblers, and City Cops/Beyond The Law with Cynthia Rothrock a few years later. Since then he has starred in over 50 films, directed 2, and worked as the stunt co-ordinator or choreographer on titles such as Tiger On The Beat 2, Black Mask, Double Team, The Black Sheep Affair, Seven Swords, and Hollywood movies such as Simon Sez, The Musketeer, Half Past Dead, and Feardotcom (oddly). Thai born actor and stunt co-ordinator Seng Kawee started his film career appearing in Hong Kong titles such as Heavenly Spell, Curse Of The Zombie, and the fun Thunder Run alongside Ray Lui and Alex Fong. And while his acting career may not have brought forth any ground-breaking titles, Seng turned his hand to stunt work leading to jobs on films such as Street Fighter, Black Mask 2: City Of Masks, Ong Bak, Born To Fight, Warrior King/The Protector, Shanghai, The Expendables 2, Triple Threat, Extraction, and Kate, as well as many other Hollywood titles. Between them both, Xiong and Seng manage to bring some exciting action pieces and fight scenes to Les Fils Du Vent with some impressive, and painful looking, stunt work also.
Although it may not have received the same international attention as District B13, it's fair to say that director Julien Seri did a fair job for his second feature film (with the first being Yamakasi). Yes, it may slip up with some dated directional choices and a weak screenplay here-and-there, but Yamakasi 2: The Great Challenge still proves to entertain. It's a shame that it took itself a little too seriously at times, but it clearly got Seri noticed with the man going onto direct a number of other independent films as well as television shows such as Chronicles Of The Sun and Munch. While Laurent Piemontesi takes control of the team (sometimes), the majority of the focus is more-often-than-not on everyone else. Chau Belle Dinh does a fine job as Kien, the gang leader with a chip on his shoulder and brother to Tsu – the feisty femme fatale played by the gorgeous Elodie Yung who has probably scored the biggest career of them all since she went on to star in Hollywood blockbusters such as The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Gods Of Egypt, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, The Hitman's Bodyguard, and the Marvel Netflix show Daredevil as Elektra. The rest of the Yamakasi team impress (obviously) with Charles Perriere playing the love interest of Tsu, Malik Diouf channelling his inner 'Ong Bak' and the handsome Williams Belle focusing on a more spiritual journey. It was great to see the late Burt Kwouk show up – even if he didn't have too much to do except assert his authority as a Triad leader, and the rest of the cast are fleshed out with a mix of British and French free-runners as well as a mix of Asian extras and stuntmen...
All-in-all, I wouldn't say Yamakasi 2: The Great Challenge is the greatest film in the world, but it does entertain in terms of an independent action film with some great moments and genuine skill that deserves to be seen, playing like a blend of District B13 with Tony Jaa's Warrior King – albeit without the wow factor of either. That said, it's definitely still worth a watch and great to see what was the starting block for the very talented Elodie Yung!
Overall: With some great action sequences, parkour, and stunts, Yamakasi 2: The Great Challenge makes for a fun watch regardless of its flaws!
DVD Extras: Director Interviews, B-roll, Trailers, Photo Gallery
YAO'S YOUNG WARRIORS
Original Title: Yue Jia Xiao Jang
Directed by Wang Zhi Yu Produced by Zhang Tian He Action by Wang Jin Bao
Starring: Xun Feng, Zhang Xi Ling, Zhang An Chi, Wei Wei, Huang Jun, Chen Wei, Sun Hua Man, Zhang Yue Ning, Wong Chan Tin
Reviewing: Vengeance Video UK DVD Release
Genres: Traditional Kung Fu / Historical / Drama
Rating - 3.3 / 5
DVD Synopsis: The Yao family are China's foremost fighting family. Their territory has come under threat from Mongol invaders who have enlisted the help of four Eagle Claw masters to help them. Now the Yao's must use their famous Yang Spear formation to win the deadly battle. Without doubt one of the best Wu Shu movies ever to come out of the mainland. A movie made by Wu Shu champions.
Views: Set during the last days of the Sung dynasty, this early 80's mainland production highlights some entertaining moments, a cast of hundreds, and plenty of fantastic kung-fu battles. As the Chin forces overrun the land killing innocent people and taking down anyone who gets in their way, they soon find themselves up against the Yao family who have been the only ones able to hold-out. In a bid to bring down the esteemed general Yao and teach him a lesson, the Chin army kidnap the mother of the Yao family – an act that forces the general's five sons into action, who use their famed martial arts skills to devastating effect!
Starring 8 of China's top Wushu champions, Yao's Young Warriors is a colourful and fun showcase for the martial arts talent involved. Made by the Hua Wen Film Company, who were behind the similarly styled South Shaolin Master and Arhats In Fury, this historical piece was the (supposed) directorial debut of Wang Zhi Yu with his only other film being that of The Man And The Monkey just a few years later, also for Hua Wen. While it doesn't contain a plot that requires a lot of thinking and easily gets muddled with what little there is, Yao's Young Warriors plays like a lesser version of the popular Shaw Brothers classic 14 Amazons and 8 Diagram Pole Fighter, or even Saving General Yang to some degree. The fight choreography is handled by first time martial arts director Wang Jin Bao, who doesn't do a bad job at all in bringing some exciting fight action to the show. There are, at times, moments of overly staged choreography and showmanship, but it certainly doesn't distract from the genuine martial artistry on offer – unlike the often cheap looking and busy costumes that highlight some very odd and useless headgear. From impressive one-on-one fights to large scale battles, including a great finale that definitely saves the best for last.
One of the leads is played by Xun Feng, a Chinese actor who had made an impression in the famed Shaolin Temple movie that came out just a year before and launched Jet Li into the limelight. Xun is joined by Wushu brothers Zhang Xi Ling and Zhang An Chi, as well as a ton of first time actors who don't do a dreadful job overall – and a couple of whom also helped with the choreography. The film is neatly shot though and I must give kudos to this cheap DVD release from Vengeance Video who have delivered a pretty decent print with no less than 3 language options – English, Cantonese, and it's native Mandarin with optional English subtitles. Yao's Young Warriors may have its flaws, but as a film from a team of first-time stars and film-makers I think they've done a pretty damn good job...
Overall: An exciting Wushu piece, Yao's Young Warriors isn't perfect but it will keep kung-fu fans entertained and is worth the watch at least once!
DVD Extras: Trailers, Photo Gallery
Original Title: Yattaman
Directed by Takashi Miike Produced by Naoki Sato, Takahiro Sato Action by Ryohei Kondo
Starring: Sho Sakurai, Saki Fukuda, Kyoko Fukada, Kendo Koboyashi, Katsuhisa Namase, Koichi Yamadera, Sadao Abe, Shinichi Ippongi
Reviewing: Eureka UK DVD Release
Genres: Comic Book / Action / Comedy
Rating - 3.3 / 5
DVD Synopsis: Classic seventies anime series Yatterman flies to the silver screen in a brilliant crime-fighting explosion of candy-coloured camp, over-the-top adventure, and pure popcorn entertainment. Directed by legendary cult director Takashi Miike (13 Assassins, Ichi The Killer, Audition) and featuring a brand new plot and re-imagined characters, this live-action debut of Yatterman will re-define the robot action adventure genre. Gan, the only son of a toy shop owner, and his girlfriend Ai are just normal teens who like to tinker away with robotic inventions – that is, when they're not keeping the world safe from evil! Together with their giant robot dog Yatterwoof, and their small incompetent robot Toybotty, Gan and Ai transform into crime-fighting duo Yatterman to fight for world peace. Waging battle against perennial nemesis, the Doronbo Gang (formed by sexy villainess Doronjo and her lackeys Boyacky and Tonzra), the trio will stop at nothing to recover the powerful wish granting Skull Stone, but they'll have to get past Yatterman first!
Views: Well-loved director Takashi Miike delivers a live-action adaptation of the popular 70's children's anime, Yattaman, that plays like a blend of Power Rangers and Looney Tunes – with a large dash of hit UK children's series Lazy Town thrown in for good measure! That said, there is a little maturity among the subtext and characters in between the madness, a little romance and emotion, and plenty of crazy cartoon action. It tales the tale of Gan, a toy shop owner and his assistant Ai, who moonlight as Yatterman – a heroic duo who continuously fight against the leather-clad Doronjo and her subordinates with the help of giant (cartoon-like) mecha's and wild gadgets. In their latest battle, Yatterman must stop Doronjo and her team from acquiring the pieces of a mystical skull in order to save the world...
While there's a small twist here-and-there, that's pretty much it. Yatterman was clearly made with a lot of passion by Miike, and will most likely appeal more to the older generation who grew up with the anime series in the 1970's as opposed to the random Western viewer looking for another sick and twisted gorefest from the man. In fact, it's safe to say that this is definitely a kids movie made for adults and not just a kids movie with adult humour. Much like The Great Yokai War and a few of his other family-based titles, Miike offers up some darkness throughout although without ever losing track of the tongue-in-cheek insanity going on. It certainly has a few flaws, albeit minor, and could have done with a good 20 minutes shaved off – but I have to admit that I did love the work put into the sets and FX for the most part, which really brought the cartoon aspect of it all to life. From riding around on a giant robot dog to the design of the city, and the fun OTT action scenes – there's plenty to enjoy visually, although definitely not on a Hollywood level. There's also a brief teaser of what's to come in a second chapter (as a post credit scene), but as of yet I have yet to see or know of any sequel that has come out.
Although there have been a few different series of Yatterman over the decades, from the original 1977 version through to Yatterman Night in 2015, this re-imagining has been the only live-action feature to date. It has always amazed me how a director such as Takashi Miike can jump from extreme-violent gangster-thrillers, to family orientated movies with musical numbers and such broad humour without any problems. The main duo of Gan and Ai come across like Pokemon's very own Team Rocket, except on the side of good. Gan is played by Sho Sakurai, a television star and actor who has appeared in titles such as Kisarazu Cat's Eye, Yellow Tears, The Quiz Show, and The After Dinner Mysteries. He is joined by Saki Fukuda, another television actress from shows like Raifu, Ghost Friends, Meido Deka, and more. And the beautiful Kyoko Fukada stars as Doronjo, the villain of the piece who gets her own musical number and a lot of laughs alongside her two lackeys. I first saw Kyoko in the fun Kamikaze Girls in 2004 although she has also starred in a host of television series as well as Takeshi Kitano's wonderful film, Dolls, which came out just a couple of years prior. Anime voice actor Kendo Kobayashi and popular television star Katsuhisa Namase, who also starred in films such as the 20th Century Boys Trilogy, Grave Of The Fireflies, the aforementioned Kamikaze Girls, and Miike's very own Zebraman 2: Attack On Zebra City – join the main cast as Doronjo's sidekicks, with each of the cast members clearly letting their hair down and having a lot of fun with what's going on. So should you!
Overall: Absolute madness guaranteed, Yatterman is one hell of a crazy ride but a lot of fun if you just switch your brain off!
DVD Extras: Behind The Scenes Featurettes, Trailers, Cast & Crew Interviews, Cannes Film Festival Promo, Stills Gallery
YOKAI MONSTERS 1:
Original Title: Yokai Hyaku Monogatari (aka) 100 Monsters; The Hundred Ghost Stories
Directed by Kimiyoshi Yasuda Produced by Yamato Yatsuhiro Starring: Shinobu Araki, Saburo Date, Jun Fujimaki, Ryutaro Gomi, Jun Hamamura, Tatsuo Hanabu, Shozo Hayashiya, Takashi Kanda, Ikuko Mori, Shosaku Sugiyama Reviewing: Arrow Video UK Blu-ray Release Genres: Yokai / Fantasy / Horror
Rating - 3.5 / 5
Blu-ray Synopsis: From the makers of Daimajin comes a trilogy of terror ripped from the pages of Japanese folklore, with ghosts and monsters from ancient myths and legends brought to life through stunning special effects. In the first film in the trilogy, 100 Monsters, a greedy slumlord's attempts to forcefully evict his tenants invite the wrath of the titular spirits when a cleansing ritual is botched, with terrifying results. (79 Mins)
Views: The first of three movies in the Yokai Monsters Trilogy tells the tale of a rich landowner who threatens to tear down a popular local shrine, as well as peoples homes, in order to build a new brothel. While he avoids the angry locals, he moves forward with a traditional ceremony during which those in attendance share stories of yokai, each telling chilling tales of their encounters with long-necked women, hopping umbrella's with long tongues, and more. But these tales soon manage to conjure up an evil spirit who scares many of the landlord's men to death, or drives them insane. As hard as he tries, the landlord uses the purification ceremony to ward off the spirits!
While it didn't ever amaze me, 100 Monsters still proved to be an entertaining and very well-made film. I must admit that, given the year it was made, it was also quite an achievement in the tokusatsu genre for all involved, offering up some impressive and inventive SFX for its time. While quite dark in tone, 100 Monsters offers up more of a traditional-style story with less focus on the titular monsters than I had hoped for. The film was directed by Kimiyoshi Yasuda, a popular name at the Daiei Film Studios who was also behind a number of the fantastic Zatoichi movies, as well as the first Daimajin film and many more. Yasuda would return to co-direct the third film, Along With Ghosts, the following year with Yoshiyuki Kuroda who directed part 2. The highly impressive FX work was handled by the great Keizo Murase who worked his magic on many of the classic Godzilla movies, Mothra, Gamera, Daimajin, Ultraman, and Shaw Brothers classics, The Snake Prince and Mighty Peking Man – as well as Chow Yun Fat's Seventh Curse and City War. One thing that really stood out to me with 100 Monsters (and its sequels) was the gorgeous cinematography on offer. This was down to Yasukazu Takemura, a cinematographer who began shooting film in the early 1930s, going on to capture almost 60 films with 100 Monsters being his last.
It would be fair to say that 100 Monsters plays more like a classic Samurai drama than a horror, with the addition of ghosts and monsters to add that touch of fantasy to it all. But I still enjoyed it for the most part and enjoyed the break from that fast-paced, finely tuned, polished productions of today. I especially enjoyed the use of animation and many other imaginative sequences that injected a bit of life into the film when most needed – mixing said animation with puppets, costumes, practical effects, and more. Released on Blu-ray by Arrow Video as part of their Yokai Monsters box-set, 100 Monsters has never looked better and is probably the best of the trilogy for many reasons...
Overall: Beautifully shot and very creative, Yokai Monsters: 100 Monsters makes for a fun watch and is a great piece of classic Japanese cinema!
Blu-ray Extras: Hiding In Plain Sight: Yokai Documentary (41 Mins), Interviews with Matt Alt, Zack Davisson, Kim Newman, Lynda E. Rucker, and Hiroko Yoda. Trailers, Photo Gallery
Watch my unboxing video of this Arrow Video release HERE
YOKAI MONSTERS 2:
Original Title: Yokai Daisenso (aka) Spook Warfare; The Great Yokai War; Ghosts On Parade
Directed by Yoshiyuki Kuroda Produced by Yamato Yashiro Starring: Yoshihiko Aoyama, Hideki Hanamura, Takashi Kanda, Chikara Hashimoto, Hiromi Inoue, Mari Kanda, Akane Kawasaki, Ikuko Mori, Gen Kimura, Keiko Yukitomo Reviewing: Arrow Video UK Blu-ray Release Genres: Yokai / Fantasy / Horror
Rating - 3.3 / 5
Blu-ray Synopsis: From the makers of Daimajin comes a trilogy of terror ripped from the pages of Japanese folklore, with ghosts and monsters from ancient myths and legends brought to life through stunning special effects. The second film, Spook Warfare, tells the tale of an evil Babylonian vampire inadvertently awoken by treasure hunters, and a brave samurai that teams with the yokai to defeat the bloodthirsty demon. (79 Mins)
Views: The second film of the Yokai Monsters Trilogy is more popularly known as The Great Yokai War – the inspiration behind Takashi Miike's reboot over 30 years later – and tells the story about an evil Babylonian vampire that arrives in Japan to cause havoc. But once found-out by a nosy water spirit, the blood sucker finds himself up against a lone samurai and an army of yokai who will do everything in their power to get rid of him!
While it may be much bigger in production value, and offers up a lot more monster fun than it's other two chapters, I actually found myself getting a little distracted when watching Spook Warfare for the first time. That said, there was still plenty of moments to enjoy such as the stunning desert opening that reveals two treasure hunters waking the Babylonian vampire. It's a highly impressive set-piece and looked even more stunning in this 4K restoration, released on Blu-ray by Arrow Video as part of their Yokai Monsters box-set. It was great to see many of the yokai return from 100 Monsters, but I just felt that Spook Warfare lacked a bit of energy for the most part - offering a different style of horror in comparison to its other films with a bit more gore than before. This time, the film was directed by Yoshiyuki Kuroda in what would only be his second feature, which is possibly why I found it to be a bit less impressive to some degree. Regardless, Kuroda went on to co-direct part 3 with Kimiyoshi Yasuda and helmed popular television shows such as Mirrorman, Zatoichi Monogatari, Monkey, Shadow Warriors, and a chapter of the Lone Wolf & Cub film series with White Heaven In Hell. Tetsuro Yoshida returns as the writer of the screenplay, penning all three movies in fact as well as the Daimajin Trilogy, a couple of Zatoichi features, and more.
The gorgeous visuals were captured by Hiroshi Imai, a cinematographer who made his debut in the early 1950s. Imai would go onto shoot almost 60 features including titles such as The Young Lord, Enchanted Princess, Satan's Sword, Shinobi No Mono 3: Resurrection, Zatoichi & The Doomed Man, The Invisible Swordsman, and the third chapter of this yokai trilogy. It was also interesting to see that FX wizard Toru Suzuki assisted with the SFX work, going on to work on many classics such as movies with Godzilla, Gamera, and Mothra, as well as the Journey To The West television show, and the underrated sci-fi flick, The Returner, starring Takeshi Kaneshiro. While the more modern adaptation from Takashi Miike proves to be a much more entertaining ride, Spook Warfare still makes for a fun watch – offering up more innovative and impressive filming techniques that helped give the classics of Japanese cinema the longevity they still have today...
Overall: With plenty going-on and lots of yokai to enjoy, Yokai Monsters 2: Spook Warfare is a fun classic of Japanese cinema, albeit with a few flaws throughout!
Blu-ray Extras: 4K Restoration, Trailers, Photo Gallery
Watch my unboxing video of this Arrow Video release HERE
YOKAI MONSTERS 3:
ALONG WITH GHOSTS
Original Title: Tokaido Obake Dochu (aka) Along With Ghosts; Along With Ghosts On Tokkaido Road
Directed by Kimiyoshi Yasuda, Yoshiyuki Kuroda Produced by Masaichi Nagata Action by Eiichi Kusumoto Starring: Kojiro Hongo, Saburo Date, Pepe Hozumi, Masami Burukido, Yoshindo Yamaji, Bokuzen Hidari, Shinjiro Akatsuki, Ryutaro Gomi, Rokko Toura, Mutsuhiro Toura Reviewing: Arrow Video UK Blu-ray Release Genres: Yokai / Fantasy / Horror
Rating - 3.5 / 5
Blu-ray Synopsis: From the makers of Daimajin comes a trilogy of terror ripped from the pages of Japanese folklore, with ghosts and monsters from ancient myths and legends brought to life through stunning special effects. In the final film, Along With Ghosts (released only 12 months after 100 Monsters), the yokai are roused to defend a little girl on the run from deadly yakuza. (78 Mins)
Views: The final chapter of the Yokai Monsters Trilogy is a different kettle of fish altogether when compared to its previous entries. Much like 100 Monsters, the oddly named Along With Ghosts is predominantly a samurai drama, this time telling the story of a young girl who is on the run from a number of yakuza members with an incriminating document. Although saved by a friendly swordsman, the girl finds extra help from the yokai after the blood of her grandfather is spilled on sacred ground, rousing the vengeful spirits from their sleep!
Although presented as the final chapter of the Yokai Monsters Trilogy, with the directors of both previous films joining forces, Along With Ghosts saves the majority of its ghostly happenings until the last ten minutes – albeit for a few groans and moans throughout that provide an eerie atmosphere at times. But for what it lacks in scares and fantasy, the film makes-up for with plenty of sword-fighting action which keeps things interesting. Cinematographer Hiroshi Imai returns to provide more stunning visuals, backed by a wonderful score by composer Chumei Watanabe, with the cast doing a great job in their performances as always. While the collection of movies each carry their own story, they are clearly connected by the theme of yokai – this time weaving the legend of these fantastical beings within a neatly made period drama. Along With Ghosts keeps its audience watching with its offer of great production design, moments of comedy, and spooky atmosphere – especially in its closing ten minutes that sees a host of floating severed heads attack the villains in the forest.
While still far from perfect, Along With Ghosts has enough going-on to entertain and makes for a decent closure to a classic trilogy. Sure it may be missing the yokai favourites from the first two films, but it still works and is worth checking out if you've already made it through 100 Monsters and Spook Warfare. I was lucky enough to snatch up a copy of the gorgeous Yokai Monsters box-set from Arrow Video – a stunning collection of all 3 movies on Blu-ray, as well as including Takashi Miike's highly-entertaining reboot of sorts, The Great Yokai War. The set also contains a wonderful collection of postcards and a pretty thick book that displays the original cinema poster artwork, a collection of wonderfully illustrated yokai, and a ton of text describing the type of yokai you might just happen to meet if you ever go to Japan. It's all wrapped up in a beautiful display box that just won me over instantly, and while all three movies probably weren't quite as exiting for me as this Blu-ray release was respectively, they still proved to be quite entertaining and very impressive for their time – and I certainly can't take that away from them. The Yokai Monsters Trilogy may seem dated to today's audience, but they still offered up as much innovation and entertainment than what the west had to offer around the same period. Any true fan of cinema will be able to see that...
Overall: Although it plays like a samurai movie with a hint of the supernatural, Yokai Monsters 3: Along With Ghosts entertains and looks fantastic!
Blu-ray Extras: Trailers, Photo Gallery
Watch my unboxing video of this Arrow Video release HERE