IT CAME FROM ASIAN CINEMA: THE BRIDE WITH WHITE HAIR (1993)

MZNJ_ICFA

now playing

bars

THE BRIDE WITH WHITE HAIR (1993)

The Bride With White Hair is a martial arts, fantasy, romance and is a fairy tale-like story that finds handsome warrior Zhuo Yihang (Leslie Cheung from A Chinese Ghost Story) falling in love with beautiful witch Lian Nichang (Brigitte Lin from ZuWarriors from the Magic Mountain), who belongs to an evil cult Zhuo is tasked with destroying. As the two defy their orders and superiors, forces conspire against them, including He Lühua (Yammie Lam), a woman warrior with eyes for Zhuo Yihang and the vengeful, jealous conjoined twin cult leader, Ji Wushuang (Francis Ng and Elaine Lui).

Flick is one of the best examples of the Hong Kong cinema revival of the 80s and 90s and has all the action, fantasy, love and betrayal one could want. It is a sumptuous visual feast as directed by Ronny Yu (Bride of Chucky, Freddy vs Jason), from a script he wrote with Lam Kei-to, Elsa Tang and David Wu. You can see where Yu’s American horror flicks got their stunning cinematography, blood-spattered action and twisted sense of humor, as they are all present here. There are dazzling sword duels, dark magic, gallant heroes, vile villains and a seductive wolf witch to keep one entertained for it’s economical 92 minutes. There is an eroticism to many scenes that the Hong Kong cinema usually reserved for their more intense Category III films and there is quite a lot of blood spurting and severed heads, not to mention the disturbing portrayal of it’s conjoined twin villains. The costumes are lavish, as are the settings, the cinematography by Peter Pau and Lee Tak-shing is sumptuous and the score by Richard Yuen suits the dark fantasy atmosphere perfectly. Sure Zhuo Yihang and Lian Nichang’s love making scene seems to go on a bit too long and Zhuo Yihang’s belief that she may have betrayed him comes a bit too quickly, especially considering his vow to always trust her. Otherwise this is an enormously entertaining dark fairy tale, romance for grown-ups and one of the most renown classics of this era of Hong Kong cinema.

A great cast helps Yu tell his story well. Leslie Cheung’s handsome warrior Zhuo Yihang is a far cry from his timid tax collector from the Chinese Ghost Story movies, but no less a solid romantic lead/action hero. He’s charming, brazen, lethal and sexy, when he appropriately needs to be. Brigitte Lin is beautiful and intriguing as wolf witch Lian Nichang. She can be a fierce and deadly warrior, yet also very sexy and playful, depending on the scene and is very convincing as all of the above. She and Cheung have a great on-screen chemistry and generate some nice heat. When forces pit them against each other, they make good adversaries. Francis Ng and Elaine Lui are really creepy as the conjoined twin leaders of the cult. They exude power and malice, yet their constant bickering and antagonizing of one another really adds a twisted dimension to them. A disturbing duo. The rest of the supporting cast give solid performances, too!

Overall, this is a great film and the type of movie the Hong Kong cinema was so skilled at making during this era. The film looks fantastic, the action scenes are fast, furious and bloody and the romantic scenes generate some real heat. There is a bit of a twisted humor to it and some legitimately spooky scenes as well. Not quite perfect, but close to it and enormously entertaining. There was a lesser sequel released only months later directed by David Wu and a TV series in 2012. The Bride With White Hair is currently streaming free on Tubi!

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) swords

 

 

 

 

**************************************************

bars

IT CAME FROM ASIAN CINEMA: LEGEND OF THE FIST-THE RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN (2010)

MZNJ_ICFA

now playing

bars

LEGEND OF THE FIST: THE RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN (2010)

Over the last decade, legendary martial arts star Donnie Yen took over the Hong Kong action cinema, with Jackie Chan and Jet Li slowing down their film appearances, and he has certainly become one of their hardest working stars. Yen followed the acclaimed Ip Man series with this 2010 story featuring Chinese martial arts movie hero Chen Zhen, previously embodied by Li in Fist of Legend and before him, by the legendary Bruce Lee in Fists of Fury.

This film adventure of the classic character is directed by Andrew Lau (Infernal Affairs) from a script by Cheung Chi-shing and Gordon Chan. Chen Zhen is portrayed here as a World War I hero who returns home to find Japan planning to invade mainland China. Zhen becomes a masked freedom fighter, during Japan’s occupation of Shanghai, to thwart their efforts. Of course, there is treachery, femme fatales and legions of enemies in his way. As usual with these films, there is plenty of action, heart stopping stunts and beautiful women, all highlighted by some sumptuous cinematography from director Andrew Lau and Ng Man-ching.

While Legend of the Fist does indeed resemble a mix of Li’s Fist of Legend and his superhero action epic Black Mask, it is also colorful and entertaining enough to let it slide, as we are treated to a martial arts period flick filled with intrigue, action, betrayal and heroism. It’s a film that evokes the Hong Kong glory days of the 90s, one that is hard not to like, despite it’s derivative storyline. Flick also stars Hong Kong cinema beauty Shu Qi as a Japanese spy and legendary Hong Kong actor Anthony Wong as a club owner. A top notch cast. Yen himself choreographed the fight scenes. Familiar but fun.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 (out of 4) swords
white-witch-rating

 

 

 

 

**************************************************

bars

IT CAME FROM ASIAN CINEMA: SWEET HOME (1989)

MZNJ_ICFA

now playing

bars

SWEET HOME (1989)

Hard to find haunted house flick has TV producer Kazuo Hoshino (Shingo Yamashiro) bringing a crew to the supposedly haunted Mamiya mansion that has been sealed for thirty years. It was the home of famed artist Ichirō Mamiya and Kazuo believes his final works rest inside. Along for the production are his daughter Emi (Nokko), reporter Asuka (Fukumi Kuroda), cinematographer Ryō Taguchi (Ichiro Furutachi) and Akiko Hayakawa (Nobuko Miyamoto) his producer whom he has feelings for. Once inside they find that all the rumors are horribly true as a terrible incident decades earlier has left a vengeful spirit lurking inside the mansion.

Film is written and directed very effectively by Kiyoshi Kurosawa. All the haunted house traditions are present with the mansion itself being a very spooky and deserted place. There is a tragic backstory to give our haunting it’s purpose and a group of individuals who refuse to believe the folklore of the house, until it’s too late. Stormy nights, grotesque phantoms and some gory deaths are presented in a very entertaining fashion with Kiyoshi Kurosawa giving us just enough time to get to know the characters before the spooks hit the fan. It even has an old gas station attendant, Yamamura (producer Jûzô Itami), to give the traditional warnings and exposition. It’s a lot of spooky and gruesome fun and the make-up effects are not only nostalgically practical, it was the 80s after all, but done by make-up effects legend Dick Smith. When we finally see Lady Mamiya’s spirit in full view, it doesn’t disappoint. There are some chills, thrills, some blood spilled and a very exciting and suspenseful climax, as our survivors face the angry spirit head-on. You even need to watch through the credits for something extra. It’s a very entertaining haunted house flick that can stand on it’s own up against flicks like Poltergeist which set a standard in the 80s. Atmospherically directed, the house setting itself is great and there is just enough humor to make it fun without offsetting the scares. Despite being a familiar tale, the movie has it’s own creepy identity and likable characters to fear for.

As those characters, we have a solid cast. Yamashiro is good as Hoshino. He’s a likable guy and avoids the arrogance most characters like this carry. His intentions are good. Popstar Nokko is endearing as Hoshino’s teen daughter Emi. She’s rebellious, though not annoying and serves as a damsel in distress in the final act. Nobuko Miyamoto is widower Hoshino’s producer. A pretty woman he has feelings for and a strong heroine when all Hell breaks loose. Ichiro Furutachi and Fukumi Kuroda are fine in their roles, though they serve more as body count. Rounding out is producer Jûzô Itami, who is good in the classic role as Yamamura. An efficient and likable cast.

In conclusion, this flick desperately needs a blu-ray release! It was spooky, gory fun and had a likable group of characters ignoring the classic warnings to suffer the consequences. There were some great practical make-up FX from the late, great Dick Smith and a very creepy house where it’s paranormal action takes place. A very solid and old fashioned haunted house flick from Japan.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 (out of 4) spooks

 

 

 

 

**************************************************

 

 

bars

IT CAME FROM ASIAN CINEMA: MICHIO YAMAMOTO’S BLOODTHIRSTY TRILOGY

MZNJ_ICFA

now playing

bars

MICHIO YAMAMOTO’S BLOODTHIRSTY TRILOGY

Between 1970 and 1974 Toho Studios produced three vampire movies under the guidance of director Michio Yamamoto. The director had only one feature film under his belt before these flicks, a crime drama for Toho, and despite how well these turned out, he would come to direct only one other full length film. While certainly Japanese productions, this trio of vampire flicks display a lot of the traditions of the genre, with coffins, gothic houses, ghoulish villains, spooky and sexy vampire girls, along with beautiful damsels and brave heroes. They feature some familiar Toho faces and have become known as The Bloodthirsty Trilogy. These three vampire flicks from the legendary studio are certainly worth a look by any vampire or horror movie fan.

**************************************************

THE VAMPIRE DOLL (1970)

First of the trilogy finds Kazuhiko (Atsuo Nakamura) returning from business abroad to visit his fiancé Yuko (Yukiko Kobayashi from Destroy All Monsters). Her mother (Yoko Minazake) tells him Yuko died in an accident, but then why is he seeing her at night? When Kazuhiko disappears, his sister Keiko (Shogun Assassin’s Kayo Matsuo) and her fiancé (Akira Nakao) go to Yuko’s home village to investigate. What they find is something out of a nightmare…one they may not wake up from.

The Vampire Doll (Chi o suu ningyo) is a spooky flick as directed by Yamamoto from a script by Ei Ogawa and Hiroshi Nagano. It’s almost a gothic fairy tale as a young woman from tragic beginnings walks the earth in death, in search of blood. It’s got loads of atmosphere, a few surprises, follows the classic tropes well and has a charming cast. Yukiko Kobayashi makes for a sexy yet scary vampire and Kayo Matsuo, a classic damsel in distress. There is some blood, but the film is mostly atmosphere and Yamamoto proves he has an effective visual style for such a tale.

Rated 3 (out of 4) fangs!

Yukiko Kobayashi as the young woman turned monster, Yuko.

**************************************************

LAKE OF DRACULA (1971)

Second film (known as Noroi no yakata – Chi o suu me in Japan) finds pretty Akiko (Midori Fujita) still suffering from a childhood trauma that she experienced as a little girl in a spooky old house. The nightmare returns, when the fiendish man (Shin Kishida from 1974’s Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla) she saw back then, now stalks her lakeside village draining blood from his victims. Can her doctor boyfriend (Osahide Takahashi) save her and her sister (Sanae Emi) from this bloodthirsty fiend?

Yamamoto’s second foray into vampire folklore is again written by Ei Ogawa, this time along with Masaru Takesue. Once more he delivers a film that is is atmospheric and spooky. Shin Kishida makes for a creepy vampire and the flick is filled with gothic visuals such as the expected old houses, coffins and fanged fiends. Here the vampire is said to be a descendant of Dracula, as his father had Dracula family blood in him. As usual in these films, our bloodsucker has some sexy vampire girls to accompany him. Another solid and spooky entry in this series.

3 (out of 4) fangs!

Shin Kishida as Lake of Dracula’s unnamed vampire.

**************************************************

EVIL OF DRACULA (1974)

Final film in this trilogy shows Yamamoto is really sinking his teeth into vampire lore. It finds teacher Professor Shiraki (Toshio Kurosawa) journeying to his new job at an all girls school. Soon he finds trouble as someone, or something, is stalking the nubile young students and there have been disappearances. A disturbing first night at the recently widowed principal’s (Shin Kishida) house leads Shiraki to believe he’s involved. Shiraki’s beliefs may get him and pretty student Kumi (Mariko Mochizuki) killed, as the principal and his recently dead wife (Mika Katsuragi) may be something unearthly.

Evil of Dracula, or Chi o Sū Bara as it is known in Japan, is Yamamoto’s last vampire film for Toho and is again written by Ei Ogawa and Masaru Takesue. It’s fiend’s origin comes from a legend that a Westerner, who was shipwrecked in Japan centuries before, was cursed for denouncing his Christian faith and thus became a vampire. The flick is atmospheric, Kishida once again makes a creepy bloodsucker, though his vampire principal here is no relation to Lake of Dracula’s fiend, and Katsuragi is also effective as his vampire wife. There is nudity in this one, as our vampire prefers to bite his pretty victims on the breast and it might be the most gruesome with bloodletting and face stealing among the ghoulish activities. This was the last film in the trilogy, Toho seemingly quitting while they were ahead with three solid entries.

3 (out of 4) fangs!

Shin Kishida as the fiendish principal snacking on his students.

**************************************************

In conclusion, this is a spooky and atmospheric series. Three stand alone films that have no connection other than the subject matter and actor Shin Kishida playing the lead vampire role twice. They were moderately paced, but none of them overstayed their welcome, with the longest being only 85 minutes. Yamamoto proved he had an eye for gothic visuals and gave us plenty of fangs, blood, creepy old houses and a bevy of pretty vampire girls. Despite doing a good job with these three flicks, Evil of Dracula would be his last feature film before doing some television work and then fading from the business.

All three Bloodthirsty Trilogy flicks are now available on Amazon Streaming and in a blu-ray set from Arrow Video.

Japan’s Christopher Lee? Shin Kishida sans make-up.

photo: https://wikizilla.org/

**************************************************

 -MonsterZero NJ
Sources IMDB/Wikipedia

bars

CULT CLASSIC CUTIES: YÛKO MORIYAMA!

MZNJ_cult_classic_cuties

Cult Classic Cuties are characters from some of our favorite cult classics and midnight movies who captured our hearts and/or actresses who got our attention, but sadly never returned to these type of flicks. They’re femme fatales and final girls whose sexy stars shined only briefly, not quite achieving scream queen status. And this installment’s cutie is…

**************************************************

YÛKO MORIYAMA

photo by Kouki Nishida

This installment of Cult Classic Cuties, much like our focus on Daniela Doria, is going to profile an actress who starred in three genre films for the same director during the course of her short film career. Yûko Moriyama was a Japanese TV and movie actress who had a brief acting career from 1991 to 2000. She had Japanese anime girl looks and at only five foot four could convey a toughness and strength that made her believable as an action star. She worked for Keita Amemiya in three films ranging from 1991 to 1997, including his breakaway hit, Zeiram. In all three she played women warriors and that seemed to get her typecast as such for the rest of her short career. She made an impression, however, that has earned her Cult Classic Cutie status, despite acting for less than a decade.

(You can read my full reviews for her three collaborations with Keita Amemiya by clicking the highlighted titles below!)

**************************************************

bars

As sexy, alien bounty hunter Iria in Zeiram!…

Reprising her role as Iria with a slightly new look in Zeiram 2!…

As aliens Abira, Marien and Kuzto (in that order) in Moon Over Tao!…

**************************************************

photo by Kouki Nishida

Moriyama apparently retired from acting after 2000 with her final film being a Hong Kong flick set partially in Japan called Tokyo Raiders. The actress is still a cult favorite among fans for her portrayal of Iria and it’s disappointing that she left acting so soon and never reunited with Amemiya at least one more time to make the Zeiram flicks a trilogy.

**************************************************

Be sure to check out our Cult Classic Cuties (click right here for the link) section to see more crush worthy ladies from cult films and midnight movies!

-MonsterZero NJ

bars

BARE BONES: 7 GUARDIANS OF THE TOMB (2018)

MZNJ_bareBones_Marquee

now playing

Humerus-Bone1

7 GUARDIANS OF THE TOMB (2018)

Chinese/Australian action adventure is also known as Guardians of the Tomb and Nest and is a dull movie that is basically Indiana Jones meets any random SYFY nature run amok flick. Story finds intrepid adventurer Luke (Wu Chun) disappearing while searching for an ancient elixir of eternal life in a giant underground tomb in China. His scheming employer Mason (Kelsey Grammer) convinces Luke’s sister Jia (Li Bingbing) to join the rescue team to be sent into the tomb to find him. What they do find is that the tomb is filled with a swarm of vicious and highly poisonous spiders and that Kelsey Grammer and producer/star Li Bingbing must have really needed rent money.

Inept adventure is directed by Kimble Rendall from a really bad script by he and Paul Staheli. The film seems made up as it goes along and just spins a web of clichés, almost as fast as our cheesy CGI spiders can kill supporting characters with their lethal venom. The spiders’ many abilities seem to be created simply to serve the purpose of a specific scene and director Rendall gets some really bad performances out of his cast, including Grammer and his leading lady, who have been far better in other projects. The FX are cheesy, the dialog awful, the sets are right out of any low budget Indiana Jones rip-off and even Kellan Lutz looks like he’d rather be someplace else. The idea of gorgeous Li Bingbing as an Asian Lara Croft is tantalizing and this flick ruins even that. A waste of time.

-MonsterZero NJ

Humerus-Bone1 

bars

IT CAME FROM ASIAN CINEMA: BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL (2017)

MZNJ_ICFA

now playing

bars

BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL (2017)

Samurai period piece tells the story of swordsman Manji (Takuya Kimura) who kills his corrupt master and bodyguards, only to realize too late that one of the bodyguards was the husband of his younger sister, Machi (Hana Sugisaki). This drives Machi crazy and puts a price upon Manji’s head. When confronted by a large group of men wanting to collect, Machi is killed and Manji escapes mortally wounded. An old witch (Yôko Yamamoto) gives him the power to heal his wounds and tells him he is now immortal. After 50 years of trying to overcome what he did to his sister, he meets a young girl, Rin (also Hana Sugisaki) who seeks revenge on a sinister swordsman (Sôta Fukushi) and his men for the murder of her parents. Can Manji finally achieve his desire for redemption if he helps Rin on her quest for revenge?

Samurai epic is directed legendary Japanese director Takashi Miike from a script by Tetsuya Oishi based on Hiroaki Samura’s manga. It is a blood-soaked story of redemption and revenge told in the style of classic samurai cinema, but with a generous dose of modern day cinema violence. There are some intense and bloody sword duels with a host of colorful characters and various weapons, as Manji and Rin draw closer to Anotsu Kagehisa (Fukushi) and his thugs. Along the way they meet many foes and a few allies and it’s well over two hours and hundreds of bodies later that we finally get the confrontation that we have been waiting for. Miike gives the story some nice emotional depth, as Mani seeks to finally end his tormented life and Rin seeks to avenge the death of her parents. If anything holds this epic back a bit, it is that it is slow paced and a bit overlong. The combination of the more moderate pace, like the samurai flicks it evokes had, and the extremely long running time, make this more of a slow boil with occasional explosions of gruesome action. By the time the last act bloodbath is reached, we’re ready for this to conclude. It’s never boring, but might have been a bit more effective at a somewhat tighter run time. Another issue is that with our anti-hero being immortal, even when he is greatly outnumbered, it’s hard to fear for his safety when we know he will eventually heal and even lost limbs will re-attach. It neuters some of the suspense. Technically the film looks sumptuous with cinematography from Nobuyasu Kita and has an atmospheric score by Koji Endo.

The cast are very good. Actor/singer Takuya Kimura was solid as the tortured swordsman Manji. He is a whirlwind of fury in the action scenes and has the chops to give strength to the dramatic scenes as well. Though  immortal, Kimura let’s us know Manji’s wounds hurt and we feel the characters pain. Sugisaki is good in the role of Rin. She’s immersed in grief and a desire for revenge, but is a tough girl and the actress has us endeared to her in her quest. Sôta Fukushi gives us a lethal villain with his master swordsman Anotsu Kagehisa, who has the skill and ferocity to kill hundreds as he carves his way to dominance for himself and his clan, the Ittō-ryū. The supporting cast are also top-notch with characters ranging from the traditional to the more colorful and eccentric.

Miike is a versatile director that has made over 100 films ranging from horror, to crime thrillers, to period pieces such as this and his great 13 Assassins. This film shows his skill at both bone crushing action and dramatic intensity and that he has a love for the traditional, as well as, the ability to be innovative and original. If anything holds this particular flick back a bit, it’s that it’s moderate pace and extremely long running time sometimes work against a story that is driven by numerous action set-pieces. Still very recommended for fans of these movies and certainly for those who appreciate Miike’s films.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 swords

 

 

 

 

 

bars

IT CAME FROM ASIAN CINEMA: THE VILLAINESS (2017)

MZNJ_ICFA

now playing

bars

THE VILLAINESS (2017)

Korean action flick follows the bloody path of vengeance cut by Sook-hee (Kim Ok-bin) a woman raised to be an assassin since she was a child. As a little girl she watched her father (Park Chul-min), brutally murdered before her eyes. A mysterious man, Lee Joong-sang (Shin Ha-kyun) trains her and eventually marries her, but upon his death, her road to revenge catches the attention of an intelligence agency that wants use of her skills. They want her services for ten years and then Sook-hee will be free. Soon she has a new face, new identity and even a child (Kim Yeon-woo) and new husband (Sung Joon). But when a familiar face resurfaces and she finds herself betrayed by those she trusted, Sook-hee finds herself questioning everything she knew and held dear…and back on a collision course with bloody retribution.

Flick is directed with gusto by Jung Byung-gil from a script by he and brother Jung Byeong-sik and while it is a little plot heavy, it is also loaded with some very intense and gruesome action. The film opens with a bonkers and extremely violent POV scene of Sook-hee shooting and slicing her way through the entire contingency of a large meth lab and this sets the tone for some of the John Woo on crack action scenes that the film is peppered with. There is also a lot of melodrama in between, such as Sook-hee bearing the child of her first husband while at the intelligence agency and dealing with the advances of the handsome Jung Hyun-soo (Sung Joon), who the audience knows from the start is an agency operative sent to keep an eye on her. Don’t worry, the soap opera level dramatics are handled well and just when it teeters on the edge of losing our interest, there is betrayal, murder and the shocking arrival of someone from Sook-hee’s past and soon the blood and bullets are flying again. The climactic fight with an axe wielding Sook-hee on a moving bus is worth watching this for alone. The action scenes are frantic and some of the dizzying camerawork can start to get a bit trying, but there is some real intensity and energy to them and it’s interesting to see where the legendary John Woo’s influence is taken by today’s filmmakers.

The cast are all really good, especially leading lady Kim Ok-bin. She has a screen presence, not only as a beautiful woman, but she is strong in the dramatic scenes and is quite riveting in the action. She has us feeling the pain of her loss and betrayals and we are rooting for her as she cuts and blasts her way through endless amounts of thugs. Shin Ha-kyun is also charismatic as Lee Joong-sang, the man who takes young Sook-hee (Min Ye-ji) and trains her, then marries her once she has grown into a beautiful and deadly woman. Their are some twists involving his character that the actor portrays very well. Sung Joon is also very likable as Jung Hyun-soo. Despite the audience knowing from the beginning that he is an operative, the actor makes us believe he truly cares for Sook-hee and her little girl. Rounding out is Kim Seo-hyung as Sook-hee’s agency boss Chief Kwon, a ruthless woman well rendered by the actress.

Overall, this is an entertaining flick with some dazzling and fast paced action. Sure, some of the frantic camerawork can come close to giving you a headache, but there is plenty of flying bullets, blades and blood to satisfy action fans. There is also a lot of plot and melodrama, but director Jung Byung-gil handles it well and our leading lady keeps our attention when she is not running through her enemies like a lawn mower. One of the best action flicks to come out of Asian cinema in a while and a sign that the Korean cinema is still very much a strong player on the film making scene.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 bullets

 

 

 

bars

IT CAME FROM ASIAN CINEMA: THE COLLABORATIONS OF KEITA AMEMIYA AND YÛKO MORIYAMA

MZNJ_ICFA

now playing

bars

THE COLLABORATIONS OF KEITA AMEMIYA AND YÛKO MORIYAMA

Keita Amemiya is an artist and designer who got a start writing and directing for TV before breaking into feature filmmaking in 1988 with Murai Ninja, a film that was a mash-up of ancient Japan sword epic and Star Wars-esque sci-fi flick. The film showed evidence of a director still in need of some experience at the helm, but it also had a unique look and design that displayed some interesting potential. Amemiya lived up to that potential in 1991 with the now cult classic Alien, The ThingTerminator, hybrid Zeiram and hasn’t stopped working since.

Yûko Moriyama was a Japanese TV and movie actress who had a brief acting career from 1991 to 2000. She was very pretty and only five foot four, but could convey a toughness and strength that made her believable as an action star. She worked for Keita Amemiya in three films ranging from 1991 to 1997, including his breakaway hit, Zeiram. In all three she played women warriors and that seemed to get her typecast as such for the rest of her short career. She made an impression, however, that has earned her cult status despite acting for less than a decade.

Zeiram had a beautiful bounty hunter from space coming to earth to hunt a biological weapon which could absorb the genetic material of victims and use it to it’s advantage. That beautiful bounty hunter was named Iria and played by the adorable yet tough yuko, who was twenty-three at the time and it was her first feature film. The flick became an instant fan favorite with it’s live action anime style and the incredible creatures, costumes and gadgets from the mind of Amemiya. It also made an instant cult star out of Moriyama, whose Iria had the beauty of a Japanese anime girl and the kick-ass combat skills of Natasha Romanov. The FX were quite good for a low budget flick, ranging from animation to prosthetics to old fashioned stop-motion. There was plenty of action and the film is now considered a cult classic of Japanese fantasy/sci-fi cinema.

Three years later Amemiya brought his genetic horror back and his leading lady with him, as Iria returned to Earth to battle another Zeiram creature, this time infused into a combat robot. Her A.I. partner Bob was back, too, as well as, her bungling earth sidekicks Teppei (Kunihiro Ida) and Kamiya (Yukijiro Hotaru). Zeiram 2 wisely kept it fresh by having a different look and abilities for it’s title creature and for Iria as well. The sequel once again featured the stunning and unique design work of it’s visionary director and the traditional genre mixing action. Moriyama was sexy and cool as Iria and while the film didn’t quite live up to it’s predecessor, it is still an action-packed, fun flick with the trademark look of an Amemiya film and with bounty hunter Iria being kick-ass as ever. Unfortunatley for fans, it would be another three years before director and actress would team again…

The artistic director and his leading lady worked together one last time, but sadly not a third go around for his heroine from space, Iria and her arch enemy. Moon Over Tao took place in feudal Japan with an object falling to earth that contains a hideous and almost indestructible creature that would kill anything it crosses paths with if unleashed. The ever-pretty Moriyama plays not one, but three alien women, Abira, Marien and Kuzto, who all have come to Earth to reclaim the object for their own personal reasons. The actress doesn’t disappoint, being beautiful and badass as usual. Amemiya would provide yet another entertaining genre mash-up with three times the Moriyama. The flick is a gory good time and once again has some very unique design work, but still doesn’t quite equal the fun and action of his 1991 cult classic. 

Keita Amemiya continues to write, direct and design for films, TV and video games to this day. Moriyama apparently retired from acting after 2000 with her final film being a Hong Kong flick set partially in Japan called Tokyo Raiders. The actress is still a cult favorite among fans for her portrayal of Iria and it’s disappointing that she left acting so soon and never reunited with Amemiya at least one more time to make the Zeiram flicks a trilogy. Their collaborations are available on DVD and for those looking for more, there was a Zeiram animated prequel series that brought the titular creature and a younger Iria back, though Amemiya and Moriyama were not involved.

(You can read my full reviews for their three collaborations by clicking the highlighted titles, or on the movie posters above -MZNJ)

**************************************************

 -MonsterZero NJ

bars

IT CAME FROM ASIAN CINEMA: THE WHITE HAIRED WITCH OF LUNAR KINGDOM (2014)

MZNJ_ICFA

now playing

white-haired-witch

bars

THE WHITE HAIRED WITCH OF LUNAR KINGDOM (2014)

Chinese fantasy romance has a bit of a complicated story as it presents it’s tale of Lian Nishang (Bingbing Fan) who is a witch, known to the people in her surrounding kingdom as Jade Rakshasa, a Robin Hood like outlaw who protects the poor. She lives in a mountaintop fortress called Fort Luna and has shunned love until she meets handsome Zhou Yihang (Huang Xiaoming). Yihang is a Wudang priest who has recently become his sect’s leader and is treating the royal prince for an illness. When the prince is poisoned by an ambitious advisor, Yihang is blamed. When Nishang is defending some of her people, she is also framed for the murder of the local governor, who is Yihang’s grandfather…see, told you it would get complicated. Thrown together by fate, the priest and witch fall in love. But their romance is doomed to be a tragic one as murder, betrayal, treachery, witchcraft and an invading army stand in the way of true love.

The Chinese cinema has been churning movies out like this for decades, yet they still have yet to recapture the charm of the great Hong Kong revival of the 80s and early 90s. This flick is based on  Liang Yusheng’s Baifa Monü Zhuan, a novel which also served as the basis for the 1993 Hong Kong cinema classic The Bride With White Hair. This adaptation is directed by Jacob Cheung and credited to five writers, not that it’s a surprise considering how overloaded the story is. But Cheung still makes this a fairly entertaining flick with plenty of martial arts action and actually giving the romance between Yihang and Nishang some dramatic weight. The story may be overcomplicated, which is not rare with these types of films, but it still works to a good degree and Cheung and his army of writers do blend the melodrama, action and fantasy elements well enough that it doesn’t sink under the weight of all the plot details. Like most of these types of films, the action is staged well and the costumes and sets are quite extravagant. There are also some bloody moments as well and Ardy Lam does photograph the proceedings and settings quite sumptuously. Modern Hong Kong films have a tendency to overdo it with the CGI, but here it is used effectively and without relying too much on it as to make it overpowering. Hong Kong legend Tsui Hark serves as a consultant, which may be how the film does manage to juggle all it’s elements so well, as that was Hark’s forte as a filmmaker. Despite an overloaded story, White Haired Witch is still a fun movie, that may not be as charming as something like the classic, and far simpler, A Chinese Ghost Story, but certainly does still entertain.

The cast are all good and our leads, in particular help make this work. Bingbing Fan, who is known to American audiences for her appearance as Blink in X-Men: Days Of Future Past, is beautiful and enchanting as Lian Nishang. She is graceful in her action scenes and can project both a strength and a sensitivity whether she is defending her people or romancing Huang Xiaoming’s Wudan priest. As Zhuo Yihang, Huang Xiaoming is handsome, brave, noble and romantic. He makes a suitable suitor for Nishang and a suitable hero for our story. During a brief plot point of having to appear like he is betraying Nishing, the actor portrays well the pain in his eyes as he does so. The two actors have good chemistry together and it makes the romantic scenes warm and endearing and their relationship seems believable even with all the fantasy elements.

Overall, the film overcomes a very overcomplicated plot to still entertain. It has some beautiful fantasy imagery, some fun action sequences and a good cast to make the characters likable…or not, if in reference to our villains. Film would have benefited from a more streamlined storyline that could allow the centerpiece romance to have a bit more focus. It also could have left out some of the politics and a few extra and unnecessary characters, such as a solider and his little girl who don’t seem to serve a purpose. If you like the Hong Kong cinema or simply Asian martial arts period pieces, this is still worth your time and is never boring, though could have been something more special if not so cluttered.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 swords
white-witch-rating

 

 

 

 

bars