Sunday 14 January 2024

More On Movies...The Return II

The Tale Of Two Sisters (2003)
A grim folkloric tale from South Korea. I can't believe this is twenty one years old. That means Oldboy and Memories Of A Murder must be as well. 2003 was a hell of a year for the resurgence of South Korean cinema. South Korea's all new, exotic yet often familiar and spectacularly audacious film-making had been creating film festival hubbub and underground interest for five or six years. Then in 2003, the last great film movement in history was hitting an early peak and unexpected mainstream crossover.  

Twenty one years later I wonder if perhaps The Tale Of Two Sisters would have benefitted by just telling the story straight instead of in the trendy convoluted flashback flashbetween flashsideways style. The intention is supposed to add mystery and add flash but makes you realise they're just trying too hard while also unnecessarily obfuscating some of the finer points of the tale. Still this is quite THE piece of work with stellar performances and impeccable flashy film-making. Nitpicking at one of the few great films made this millennium is a pretty fucking futile endeavour though innit. 

A cautionary tale of a family torn apart with horrific consequences as a result morally repugnant shenanigans. Transgress and be damned in unexpected ways.

The Tale Of Two Sisters was Kim jee-woon's first big film to make a splash on western audiences. He would go on to direct a handful of flix including two other bona fide brilliant films, the action packed neo-noir A Bittersweet Life (2005) and one of the most demented of all Korean revenge movies I Saw The Devil (2010). However The Tale Of Two Sisters is still the most beloved of all his pictures.

Shack Out On 101 (1955)
Good fun el cheapo OTT noir with added espionage, cold war paranoia, disillusioned returned soldiers and romance. While there are comic tones here, there's also a great dark seaside atmosphere captured in beautiful black and white by cinematographer Floyd Crosby of High Noon (1952) fame. 

A spunky waitress Kotty (Terry Moore) works in a shabby beachside diner where she constantly fights off lecherous blokes but little does she know soon she will be embroiled in a fight for her country. In a bid to extend the lean script stars Lee Marvin and Frank Lovejoy were encouraged to do some improv (pre-Cassavetes) and they succeed, particularly in the weight lifting scene where they critique each others physiques which will have you laughing out loud.   

Shack Out On 101 is exactly what watching these old movies is all about for me as there's nothing I love more than discovering irresistible one off artefacts like this.

He Ran All The Way (1951)
Nick Robey (John Garfield) is doomed from the start in this ultimate loser from wrong side of the tracks drama. A payroll robbery goes awry when Nick Robey kills a cop. He makes an acquaintance of Peg Dobbs (Shelly Winters) at a nearby swimming pool in the midst of fleeing the crime scene. Soon enough he takes her and her working class family hostage. The doom, apprehension, paranoia and psychological mind fuckery are masterfully rendered on celluloid here. 

Iconic final scene. 

Shockproof (1950)
Terrific atypical noir where a parole officer takes off with his parolee who just so happens to be a foxy dame. 

The Leopard Man (1943)
First time watch for me and I gotta say it was disappointing particularly after recently re-watching Jaques Tourneur masterpieces I Walked With A Zombie and The Cat People. It seemed to have all the right elements but they just didn't coalesce like they did in those aforementioned classics. Which means something was askew. It meandered too much and perhaps the story wasn't quite up to scratch. Cinematographer Robert De Grasse did all that he could with his beautifully framed scenes and crafty intricate use of shadows and light to make an incredibly distinct uber creepy atmosphere where perilousness lurks at every turn so it's not his fault. He was best on ground or what septic tanks might call MVP. I might reserve conclusive judgement until I've watched it several more times. 

The Web (1947)
Gangsters, molls, lawyers, cops, ex-cons, patsys, bodyguards, guns, embezzlement, seduction and murder all have their part to play in this web of intrigue. The Web's a nifty little crime-thriller that wouldn't be out of place if it started turning up in best 50 or 100 noir lists. Stars Ella Raines, Eddy Obrien, Billy Bendix and Vinny Price.

The Unsuspected (1947)
All the unbelievably meticulous set design, lavish costumery, brilliantly detailed lighting and sophisticated art of camerawork where each scene is framed like an art masterpiece (a highpoint in noir cinematography to be sure) can't quite save this bloated tale. It all just gets too highfalutin becoming tedious. Where say the highly stylised and conceptual vision of Nightmare Alley from the same year is pulled off with supreme conviction, creating an elevated pop culture artefact, the same can't be said for this similarly ambitious project. The lesson here is sometimes less is more and good scripts are important. However many noir fanatics will defend this flick and claim it as the most under-appreciated in the noir catalogue.

Police Story (1985)
Holy shite this classic Jackie Chan action-comedy has some of the most miraculous feats in action cinema history. Iconic scenes include a car chase down a hill that destroys an entire shanty town in the process, Jackie hanging on to a speeding double decker bus with just an umbrella, the wholesale destruction of a department store and more. So much broken glass. Breaking glass was a big deal in 80s Hong Kong action cinema and we are presented with virtuoso smash-age of glass in Police Story. Phew that's just the action side of things... 

The Fourth Victim (1971)
Bizzaro murder mystery starring Carrol Baker with great psychedelic baroque lounge score from the maestro Piero Umiliani. I guess it has just enough elements to qualify as a Spanish giallo: It's set in London, Carrol Baker, a body count, a gay priest, a bumbling detective, meaningful paintings, an amateur sleuth, many a red herring, inheritances, mansions with spiral staircases, an insane asylum, a cemetery and more. Although it lacks the stylish explicit sex and violence delirium of the greatest gialli, it's still a curiosity well worth a look. For of murder mystery, gialli and Baker fans. Look out for dubbed Spanish detective's interesting accent that's sometimes Welsh sometimes Scottish sometimes English and sometimes some kind of gumbo European god knows what.

Snake In The Eagles Shadow (1978)
Ace old school chop-socky from Yuen Woo-ping starring Jackie Chan and Pai Chang Tien. No guns or swords here just superior bare handed kung-fu fighting with an ace story too. Classic tropes of kung fu master and student training montage and battles with rival kung fu schools are somehow mysteriously fresh to this day despite probably being cliches by 1978. 

Martial Arts action comedy doesn't get better than this.

Yes Madam! (1985)
More golden Hong Kong action straight from the vhs shelves. Stars our Miss Moomba 1984 Michelle Yeoh as the spunky copper Inspector Ng who is joined by Scotland Yard's inspector Carrie Morris (Cynthia Rothrock) to fight Triad gangsters, corrupt businessmen and petty thieves.

It's ladies night and two stars are born right here in the same film. Yes Madam! is Michelle Yeoh's first ever starring lead role and to top it off she did most of her own stunts. The producers loved Cynthia Rothrock so much they scrapped the male lead role and rewrote the script with Rothrock now as the the co-star  along with Yeoh.

This is where western action tropes meet far eastern action tropes to make a primo pop culture moment. Includes spectacular death defying stunts with some prime glass shattering. 

I saw Yes Madam! described as ridiculous in an attempt at a negative put down. What this reviewer left out was that it is GLORIOUSLY ridiculous. This is (over the) top echelon absurd action fun. The older I get the more meaningful a a movie like this becomes. I often think "Why was I being such a tool all into serious cinema wankery in my teens and 20s when there was so much more fun to be had watching something like this?" 

I think that maybe I think all the modern era set 80s Hong Kong action movies mentioned in this post are some of the greatest films ever made.    

*Don't get me wrong I was hardly into serious tosser things all the time. It's just the fact that I was into wanky seriousness at all that disturbs me. None of it was integral to me in the end like say Albert Camus' books were. Fun is very important for the human soul way more than any kind of "Oh yes but I like intellectual high brow stuff because it makes me so much better, more smug and smarter than you" or "Oh action comedy that's just cheap junk food entertainment. I like a film to give my brain some nourishment" The funny thing is the most nourishing thing I can think of (in regard to art) is enjoying yourself. The giddy fun to be had watching these pictures is a gift. Quite often they would spend over five or six months making these things, putting their bodies in harms way, all just so we could have a good time. So I think we need to cherish the effort and lengths these legends went to.

**Don't get me wrong I think Ingmar Bergman and Peter Greenaway are a lotta fun... what I'm trying to say is I hate snobbery directed towards films such as Corey Yuen's Yes Madam! or Righting Wrongs because they are just as worthy as whatever boring middlebrow nonsense is currently occupying the Sight And Sound top 100.

Dragons Forever (1988) 
Legendary Hong Kong trio Biao Yuen, Sammo Hung and Jackie Chan star in this primo 80s action-comedy, plenty of 80s kung fu, comedy, absurdity and romance too. The ladies are Deannie Yip, Pauline Yeaung and Crystal Kwok and among the many villains are Wah Yuen and Temple of Doom's Roy Chiao.

A bunch of baddies running a chemical plant are polluting a fish farm which is upsetting some very foxy ladies: Let the shenanigans begin. 


The Victim aka Lighning Kung-Fu (1980)
Insane Sammo Hung classic. One man's virtuous cheek turning is pushed to the absolute limits. Will he finally succumb to his violent vengeful urges or remain a craven pussy? While this is supreme Sammo Hung comedy kung-fu fighting entertainment, it is also philosophically fascinating.  

Fatty (Sammo Hung) shows up and pesters Chun-yau (Bryan Leung) to teach him his superior brand of kung-fu. An adopted orphan Chun-yau is now an adult kung-fu master but he and his wife are on the run from his resentful and rape-y step brother Cho-wing so he can't be bothered with Fatty's requests. Quite an intricate and convoluted but not hard to follow story unfolds from there which will have you on the edge of your seat right up until the very last second.

Invincible Armour (1977)
Kung-fu cult classic.

Am I really going to convince somebody to watch this? If you're into 70s kung-fu you've seen it. If you're a neophyte to 70s kung-fu you will soon see it. Otherwise you probably don't care and never will.

Invincible Armour is about murder, corruption and ultimately a battle between the iron armour and iron finger kung-fu techniques. Set in the historical era with mucho white hair, moustache, beard and ultimate eyebrow action. Often surprising and innovative.

Interesting that 80s Hong Kong superstars Yuen Biao and Corey Yuen appear here in early roles as assassins.  

Stagecoach (1939)
I just randomly pressed play on this on Prime late one night because it was too hot and I couldn't sleep. So I wasn't expecting much but ended up loving every single thing about it. For a start the film belongs to the ultimate drunk film character Doc Boone depicted by Thomas Mitchell in a virtuoso performance. 

Then out of nowhere a young and handsome John Wayne shows up. Yes I said young and handsome. Contrary to popular belief Wayne wasn't always an old fat cunt. I mean Stagecoach is twenty years prior to Rio Bravo. 

A motley crew assemble to take part in a treacherous stagecoach journey bound for New Mexico. More misfits climb aboard along the way. There will be babies, battles with Apache (In an incredible feat of action cinema), spectacular south-west scenery, romance, death, revenge and freedom.

It's all about the ensemble cast who all get a bit of a go at the limelight. Actually the focus of the film continuously switches. It's more like a bunch of vignettes patched together for ultimate crowd pleasing entertainment. 

*That's a great idea for a post: The best acted drunks in cinema and tv ever. It's a tough call but off the top of my head for best drunk ever would be the very very very drunk guy from The Fast Show played by comic genius Paul Whitehouse, Robin Weigert's phenomenal portrayal of Calamity Jane in Deadwood (TV series) or Doc Boone here. Obviously I've missed a whole lot of people maybe I'll come back to this...

Righting Wrongs aka Above The Law (1986)
More OTT 80s Hong Kong action straight from the vhs shelves. Inspector Cindy (Cynthia Rothrock) is put on prosecuting lawyer gone vigilante (Yuen Biao) case. Eventually though they both end up fighting the real criminals, the corrupt and gangster Hong Kong police force and judiciary. I dunno how many wrongs are righted but a whole lotta entertaining wrong happens. No safe spaces here, children will be killed (not in real life in the movie) in the name of entertainment. 

Look out for terrific champagne comedy turn of father & son cop duo Bad Egg (Director Corey Yuen) and Uncle Tsai (Wu Ma). They steal the show for a moment. I wish they'd made an entire spin off franchise with this hilarious duo.

This movie really could have been called Everybody Dies, although if you got that blu-ray 18 months back you can now choose a different ending where at least one if not two of your main protagonists live! I can't bring myself to watch those versions as it would ruin one of the most nihilistic Hong Kong's action comedies of all time. 

Late Night Movie Of The Week.

Singapore (1947)
Spectacular noir black and white cinematography with all the right moody lighting and supreme shadows. More than anything this movie is a vibe of unsettling exotic humid ambience where everything could go troppo at any given moment. So it's a shame the story can't match this wonderfully realised setting. It can never live up to the actors of the main protagonists recent previous noir highpoints ie. Ava Gardener in The Killers or Fred McMurray in Double indemnity. Casablanca is a touchstone which the entire movie seems to be trying to emulate innit. Still it's not terrible, well worth a look to soak in the meticulously created atmosphere and the charismatic charms of the cast. 

Pearl smuggler (Fred McMurray) heads back to Singapore after the war to pick up his jewellery stash only to find his fiancee (Ava Gardener) isn't even dead she just has a bad case of amnesia. Events unfold from there. 

The Lady Gambles (1949)
Starring Barbara Stanwyck: The odds are stacked in your favour!

Does it even matter about the plot?...You're watching this for Barbara Stanwyck and all that entails. The mastery in which she inhabits a character and the way she intricately projects those characteristics onto the screen. It just so happens this one is quite complex despite the simplicity of the message here that "gambling is bad bad bad!" 

Joan (Barbara Stanwyck) goes on a downward spiral, an upward spiral, rinse and repeat until a brutal beating in a back alley one dark night and that ain't no spoiler that's the end that they showed at the start (like many a noir classic). This roller coaster of the trials and tribulations of a gambler is never less than a riveting portrait of such a lifestyle. We get the yin and yang of dark glamour depicted in casinos, race tracks, The Hoover Dam, backroom gambling dens, rolling dice, Mexico, Las Vegas, swanky hotel rooms, seedy poker games, back alleys etc. Not strictly noir, is anything?, The Lady Gambles is more like a melodramatic women's message flick with noir aspects. Stanwyck's performance is prime Stanwyck. Hey the rest of the cast can't help but be elevated too. She must have had an inspirational affect on her fellow actors.


  1. Great that you are doing movies again. Ah, very few things bring joy to the soul like those last Yes, Madam! 15 minutes.

    1. Thanks anonymous. I'm touched by your appreciation. It's good to know I'm not just blogging into the void. The landscape of the blogosphere has changed so much that it's almost an entirely useless endeavour. Google searches rarely show blogs in the first few pages anymore so we're pretty much doomed to very small numbers of visitors. It's like the overlords don't want the scruffy ratbags getting any traction with the populace any more. The wild west days of the interweb are a distant memory. It's now just another place for them to control, censor and subjugate the people.

      Luckily blogging has another purpose for me and that is to keep my mind ticking over and not becoming overgrown with weeds while I'm out of action from normal life as I battle with chronic illness. So I keep doing it despite the the diminished exposure.

      Anyway yeah the action showcase of the finale in "Yes Madam!" is something else innit!

  2. Also, thanks for the ‘noirs’ tips.