Thursday, 3 July 2014

How Buffy Saved My Life

Welcome, Gentle Viewers.

Join me as I embark upon a very special journey, a journey through which I will document my very favourite moments and little observations from that most special show of all the shows, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
 
This is a somewhat highly personal journey that will mark the end of a very, very unhappy time for me of a decade and a half of abuse, sorrow and despair. Over the next few months I will be celebrating the little moments in each episode that made me unbelievably happy and forced me to persevere through all of that darkness. This seems, to me, a very fitting way to let that darkness go.
 
That's what it's all about, dudes; those little tiny trivial fleeting moments that make us forget and simply fly inside.
 
Buffy quite literally saved my life. Here are the reasons why.
 

Friday, 16 March 2012

Fatale Females or Victimised Vixens?: Watching the Women of Watchmen

This post is a small review of the women of Watchmen (2009) and will provide an interpretation of their presentation in the film!

The first images of women in Watchmen appear artificial and objectified by the Comedian; a TV advert that he sits and relaxes to, and a pin-up mock-up of Silk Spectre, suggesting that women exist solely for his pleasure. That during the fight between the Comedian and his assailant both items are destroyed (the first smashed and the second pierced with a knife and then shattered) hints at the destructive nature of the males in this domain towards women as will be a continued theme throughout the film in none other than...

Sally Jupiter AKA Silk Spectre (Carla Gugino)

Jupiter's appearances in the film's opening credits outline quite a lot of what will follow in the representation of women in Watchmen and present conflicted portrayals of both female roles and sexuality. For instance, Jupiter stands with a group of policemen for a photo shoot. She is both confident and exuberant in this world of men, groomed, beautiful and burlesque glamour. Our view of her body is partially blocked by a newspaper emblazoned 'Criminal World Goes Ga-Ga Over Silk Spectre', suggesting that her power as a crime fighting superhero is perhaps heightened and exploited by her sexual presence. This is emphasised by the men on screen, a couple of whom are quite blatantly checking out the goods (see below) before the camera pans back to reveal her scantily-clad thighs to us. As such both cops and audience view Spectre as a sexual object, although it is clear that she, literally bathing in the spotlight, is very comfortable with this and even revels in the attention.



Jupiter's appearance as Spectre recalls 1940/50s pin-up icons such as Rita Hayworth and Bettie Page and is a blend of Burlesque glamour and dominatrix power (see first pic below). Such a blend of femininity and aggression exudes sexual confidence and female power, yet reminds the viewer that during this era a woman's potential remained inextricably tied to her sexuality and how 'available' she appeared. This is heightened by an aged Jupiter proudly showing her daughter some explicit fan-fiction amidst the remnants of her faded past, as she clings to memories of a life long gone. With this is mind, that Jupiter's costumed appearance is coded as willing and available is a controversial inclusion that clouds her throughout the film and upholds several damaging images of women, as will be discussed further in a little while. It is also of note that Jupiter's pregnancy is coded as her exit point from her superhero days. If one observes the second picture below, this 'Last Supper' mock-up has Jupiter, heavily pregnant, as the focal point of the shot. This implies that her gender defines both her actions and her fate as pregnancy causes her to quit the workplace, highlighting the limits (or bounds) of the female body intrinsically maternal and hindering the progression of females. She is, however, still highly sexualised, suggesting the clash of progressive and traditional attitudes emphasised by the lesbian couple at the table.



The scene of the Comedian's attempted rape and it's aftermath present a more problematic approach to the portrayal of women in Watchmen. For one, it is presented as a memory desirable to Jupiter as she reminisces upon days gone by, a controversial inclusion for victims of rape. Secondly, it is highly sexualised in presentation. For example, we see her making eyes at the Comedian before closing the door to get changed, and as she does so, the viewer is invited into the room to witness her undress. The camera moves close, invading her physical space and forcing us to focus on her actions as she unties her belt, releases her halter, drops her skirt and unclasps her suspenders. More so, there is a lingering and gratuitous boob shot as she strips to her basque and wriggles out of her clothing! All this sounds awesome until she notices the Comedian watching, "You gotta have a reason for dressing in an outfit like this!" The ensuing smack down of Spectre by Comedian as he laughs remains closely shot and emphasises her pain and helplessness as he throws her around. Once subdued, Comedian touches Spectre gently as he prepares to rape her, intrinsically linking sex with violence. After the damsel in distress is rescued by Hooded Justice, the camera focuses on her bloodied face. Has she realised that girl power thing was all an illusion, and that she had bartered sex for power? Or did she want it to happen? That she goes back and has sex with him years later following the Comedian's savage attack "to let him finish what he started" upholds the long-standing myth that women like to be raped, which ultimately positions the portrayal of women in a very negative light in Watchmen (for more on this myth and its discussion see Williams' 1989 book Hard Core: Power, Pleasure and the "Frenzy of the Visible") and reinforces typical gender associations with them. Alas, Jupiter's daughter Laurie does not fare much better.


Laurie Jupiter AKA Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman)

Laurie often appears confident and able. She takes Dan (Nite Owl) out for dinner and is cool as a cucumber compared to his bumbling geekery. She looks good and she knows it! Whilst she clearly wishes to differentiate herself from her mother in an updated latex-dominatrix costume, Laurie enjoys the same things, namely fighting bad guys and having superhero-related sexual shenanigans. The sex scene between herself and Dr. Manhattan foregrounds her sexual enjoyment over his, supported in overtly sexual imagery as she grips the bedsheets and the camera pans out to show multiple blue hands there for her pleasure. However, this image is abruptly replaced with one of the disappointed and nagging woman, as she realises Manhattan is working at the same time and leaves him. Her following sex scene with Dan shows her taking control and seducing him, again only to be rebuffed by his impotence. As such, female desire and aggression is depicted as threatening and demasculating. It is only when Dan gets his confidence back whilst dressed as Nite Owl that the two have sex to the ironic strains of Leonard Cohen's 'Hallilujah' and are finally portrayed as equals, both in amounts of nudity and in portrayals of sexual pleasure.


Despite Laurie's very able fighting skills, presented during a street fight and a prison fight where she can clearly take care of herself, she is also often portrayed as being damsel-like and needing rescue. Such imagery supports the conflicted presentation of women in Watchmen as being both progressive and upholding more conventional images of women. For instance, Laurie lovingly fondles the buttons inside Archie the flying machine and is technologically capable. However, she sets fire to the tunnel and has to be rescued by Dan, who charges in with a fire extinguisher. Similarly, Laurie's daring feat in rescuing civilians from a burning building is undermined by Dan, who saves her from a fiery furnace by slamming the door closed just in time. She is also objectified, particularly in a scene when she re-emerges through fog as Silk Spectre II and Dan's jaw drops; the audience see his gaze as the camera tracks, slo-mo style, over Spectre II's latex-clad body, which is in conflict with her action-hero status and capabilities. As such, the portrayal of women in the film, at once progressive and regressive, is fragmented and incomplete, much like the female-characters' sense of identity in Watchmen.



Other Watchwomen that are both progressive yet victimised for this include Janey Slater (Laura Mennell), Manhattan's first girlfriend. Although she is portrayed as breaking the boundaries of what was previously regarded as permissible for women, buying men pints and becoming a notable scientist whilst still retaining her feminine identity, Manhattan dumps her unceremoniously for a younger model because she has become 'old', positioning women as commodities with sell-by-dates. More so, poor Janey is presented later in the film as a hideous and witch-like old lady that shocks the observers around her. Worse still, she is used as a tool by Ozymandias to ruin Manhattan. Janie's youthful beauty and grace is juxtaposed against her aged state and hatred for her former lover, presenting women in Watchmen that are haunted by their former selves and better lives.



Other prominent women in Watchmen appear during the opening credits; costumed vigilante Silhouette and her nurse girlfriend (Apollonia Vanova and Leah Gibson). They challenge conventional images and roles of men and women by replicating the famous 'V-J Day in Times square' sailor-nurse kiss amidst joyous young women (see below), providing an ironic reworking of an iconic moment in American history that openly challenges rigid gender roles and gender coding. The pair also make up the table in the 'Last Supper' scene, suggesting that their lesbian relationship is not regarded as problematic by the other Watchmen.


As such, these two can be regarded as positive representations of women in Watchmen. However, they are 'punished' for the sexual and gender transgressions. Coded as good (white, feminine, maternal) and bad (black, masculine, dominatrix) in life and death, the pair are used to link transgressive sex with death, as their murder shot pans out to reveal 'lesbian Whores' scrawled on the wall behind them in blood. The camera over them suggests that they are immortalised in death as they were in life, and are still subject to the overbearing gaze of men. Even in death, their bodies are sexualised as they lay side by side in underwear and blood (see below). Again, the women are depicted as commodities that are extinguished once they loose their usefulness to men.


And so! It seems that amidst some progressive representations of women in Watchmen, such as strong females that kick some ass and are not afraid to make sexual advances or seek sexual fulfilment, they are also often punished for such behaviour, with no woman's actions in the film being free from consequences. Stagnant images of women's traditional roles and responsibilities permeate the film, presenting a portrayal of women that is wholly torn between classic and modern images. But that is not to say that my interpretation cannot be argued against! Watch the Watchmen and voice your opinion!
Thanks for reading :)

Monday, 5 March 2012

Twenty Favourite Classic Kung-Fu Films

Just twenty of my many favourite kung-fu movies here- no judging! In date order:

Seven Samurai (Akira Kurosawa, 1954)



About the film:
A veteran samurai comes to the aid of a town in need, gathering six other samurai to help train the villagers in defence against ruthless bandits, leading to a major showdown.

Kurosawa's masterpiece, with truly poetic cinematography and stunning camera work. A somewhat seemingly simple plot summary belies the depth and beauty of the three and a half hour long film, which boasts excellent character development and attention to detail that remains generally unsurpassed in modern cinema. The layered and complex portrayals of the villagers and samurai alike displays a feel of realism to all the characters, reflecting an exploration into human nature. The real star for me in this film is Takashi Shimura, whose delicate and captivating performance certainly showcases him as the guiding moral force in the story. Having spawned many imitators and establishing generic conventions, it is hard to imagine how the history of cinema would have unfolded without this film, nearly cancelled several times for soaring over its budget. If you watch no other Kurosawa film, make sure you watch this one!



Yojimbo (Akira Kurosawa, 1961)


About the film:
Encountering a town divided by rival gangs, a wandering samurai attempts to play them off against each other to free the townspeople from their grip.

In yet another now widely encountered premise, and similarly resonant with the Western and Gangster genres, the anti-hero in this film is positively compelling as he appears both appalled and amused by the actions of the peasants he seeks to free, yet remains a character open to interpretation. The simply amazing shots in this film, unusual, layered and rich, emphasise Kurosawa's ability to present film as if it were poetry come to life on the screen. A film that deserves multiple viewings, look out for the scene inside Seibei's brothel with the dancing ladies- stunning! Both of the films listed here by Kurosawa cannot simply be named as Kung Fu or samurai films, as they exude a rich and complex plateau of so many other aspects, such as character and comedy within exquisitely framed scenes that make his work so unique. Also see Rashomon (1950) and Ran (1985).


Come Drink With Me (King Hu, 1966)



About the film:
When her brother is captured by a gang hoping to exchange him for their own captured leader, Golden Swallow is tasked to arrange his rescue, assisted by a kung fu master disguised as a beggar.

This Shaw Brothers gem was hidden away for far too long, being screened at film festivals world wide almost 40 years after its initial release to much critical acclaim. Despite being on this list because it is simply a lot of fun to watch, the choreography and filming of the fight scenes, albeit considered rather slow and clumsy by today's standards, really raised the bar in terms of 'fight scene as art form', opening the door for much more advanced techniques to appear in later Shaw Brothers productions. The film's star Cheng Pei Pei is brilliant, possessing a certain charm and charisma that many female actors have since lacked, her background in dance and ballet making for a graceful flair in her fighting scenes. She provides a whole new kick-ass meaning to 'Girl Power'!


The Heroic Ones (Cheh Chang, 1970)



About the film:
Thirteen generals are sent by their Emperor father to overthrow his rebel rivals. However, trouble ensues when two of the generals betray the self-styled family, leading to a showdown of epic proportions.

Another classic Shaw Brothers production, often regarded as more of a swash-buckling film than a kung fu one, with several amazing fight sequences none-the-less. My favourite scene is the one where seven of the generals, upon infiltrating a rebel camp, have been abandoned by the others and have to fight hundreds and hundreds of rebels on their own! Another favourite aspect of this film is the brilliant actors- Chen Sing as the baddie and David Chiang as the youngest and most accomplished fighter both excel in their roles! The battle scenes are amazing for the time the film was made, and the body count rounds in at a fair estimate of approx. 250-300 rolling heads and flying limbs. A veritable feast for the eyes.


The Big Boss AKA Fists of Fury (Wei Lo, 1971)



About the film:
A young man moves from the city to work with his cousins at a factory after promising his elders that he will avoid fighting, yet when the workers start to disappear he becomes suspicious, leading to a showdown with the big boss.

 
Based on the real story of a man who fought back at powerful tyrants, Bruce Lee's popular film was the highest grossing film of all time in Hong Kong up to 1971. Heavily censored and cut in all releases around the world due to its excessive violence, Lee's action is actually very restrained and it is the only kung fu film he made in which he does not use his trademark nun chucks. His overwhelming screen presence dominates the action in scenes such as Ice-pick sequence and, of course, the final fight. Though often regarded by many as the weakest of Lee's martial arts films because of its slow pace and relative lack of action until the second half, that's what I like about it; it gives other actors' fight scenes the chance to stand out and allows Lee to show off some of the star quality he possessed that made this film his break-through film in America.
The moral of this story is: don't break Bruce Lee's necklace!



Five Fingers of Death (Chang-hwa Jeong, 1972)


About the film:
A man is chosen to represent his school in a kung fu tournament against a rival school and in preparation for the fight, his teacher trains him in the deadly 'Iron Fist' technique, leading to deadly confrontations and revenge.

A Shaw Brothers classic and widely acknowledged as having kick-started (excuse the pun) America's craze with kung fu movies, this film showcases some awesome camera work and has some amazing scenes, such as the saloon confrontation and the roadside fight. The brilliantly awful dubbed version is a favourite of mine to watch with friends and beers, but if you can get hold of the subtitled version, it becomes a whole lot more serious. Often discussed in relation to Tarantino's Kill Bill films where it was pulped to death, the film is a classic and a must see for kung fu film fans. When the fighting starts, see those five fingers glow red!


Enter the Dragon (Robert Clouse, 1973)



About the film:
A martial arts expert, under the cover of a martial arts tournament, is tasked to find out what is really going on at the secluded home of their host- a man suspected of dealing Opium.

No list of kung fu movies would be quite complete without Enter the Dragon, now would it! Often regarded by fans at Lee at his finest, the film also showcases the talents of John Saxon and Jim Kelly (one of my favourites, I love him in Black Belt Jones and it is a shame he gets killed off so soon into this film!). This was one of the very first kung fu films that my dad let me watch when I was young, and I have loved it ever since! The scene in which Lee enters Han's Opium factory is one of the most tense and exciting fight scenes ever, as is the final showdown between Lee and Han- Lee really gets to show off his athletic and fighting abilities here, and, of course, his skill with nun chucks. I also adore the little appearances of Sammo Hung and Jackie Chan. Sadly, Lee died just three weeks before the film premiere.


Lady Snowblood: Blizzard from the Netherworld (Toshiya Fujita, 1973)


About the film:
A whole family is murdered apart from a young woman who is brutalised and raped. When she dies in childbirth, the baby girl is raised as a deadly assassin to one day seek revenge upon the criminals who killed her family.

Lady Snowblood splits, slices, dices and decapitates with precision in this brilliant kung fu flick. Similarly homaged or ripped (depending on you view) by Tarantino in Kill Bill, the films revenge-driven plot is tense and inspired, with some amazingly stylish camera work and a striking colour scheme. Some fantastic scenes such as the 'final death scene' (I can say no more!) and the bit when Lady Snowblood walks over the snow with her dress covered in blood. The acting is also great in this film, with Meiko Kaji in the lead as the revenge-driven yet majorly conflicted assassin. You'd be mad to miss it.



One Armed Boxer II: Master of the Flying Guillotine (Jimmy Wang Yu, 1976)



About the film:
The one-armed boxer returns to combat a blind but deadly old teacher who is seeking to avenge the death of his two disciples at the hand of the boxer by killing all of the one-armed men he encounters.

This sequel to Jimmy Wang Yu's One-Armed Boxer is one of my very favourites, boasting some exceptional scenes, such as the metal house fire fight and the kung fu tournament where the Master of the flying guillotine makes his first appearance. I genuinely feared this guy when I first saw the film! I also love the fact that you can tell Wang Yu's 'missing' arm is tucked inside his shirt, and that the decapitated victims clearly just have their shirts pulled up over their heads! Still, the fight scenes are great and others are given the chance to show off their kung fu skills, such as the Thai kick-boxer. The films outlandish scenes, such as the arm-extending Indian fakir, make me love it even more. Also, keep your eyes peeled for a drum-beating Sammo Hung glimpse during the tournament sequence! FYI, the key to defeating a blind flying guillotine-wielding old man? Birds. Lots of them!

Drunken Master (Woo-ping Yuen, 1978)


About the film:
A lazy young man is forced to accept his responsibilities when his father, in an attempt to teach his son a lesson, summons his notorious brother to train him in the Drunken Fist kung fu style and defeat an evil assassin know as Thunderleg.

 This is another of my very favourite and most watched films, boasting some amazing training and fight sequences! Siu Tien Yuen is brilliant as the wine-dependent teacher Sam Seed (66 years of age when he made the film!) and there are some great comedic scenes that really cement comedy and kung fu as part of Jackie Chan's distinctive style. Chan really gets to show off some of his physical capabilities in the film, such as during the water-barrel-cups and street-fight scenes. Every time I watch the film I cannot wait for the final fight sequence with Thunderleg, where Chan's speed and intensely awesome kung fu skills are really impressive. In the film that cemented his status as a star in the West, this is Chan at his best for me (okay, okay, he appears 'at his best' in a few films on this list- what can I say? I'm a fan!).


Five Deadly Venoms (Cheh Chang, 1978)


About this film:
On his death-bed, an aged master tasks his final student to find five former pupils he trained in special kung fu styles, worried that some of them may be using their skills for evil. The student sets out to find the Toad, Scorpion, Centipede, Snake and Lizard, but can he trust them?

This Shaw Brothers gem has a great plot which keeps the viewer guessing as to the intentions and true natures of each character, and is fraught with tension from start to finish. The film is beautifully composed and boasts some spectacular camera work, so keep an eye out for it amidst the flurry of cuts. The death scenes are incredibly gory and moving, and I had nightmares about the Iron Maiden death sequence for ages after I watched it in my early teens! The morals and themes in this film are very captivating and it makes for a genuinely entertaining watch. I also love how well the fight scenes are choreographed. A fantastic addition to any movie buff's collection!


Snake in the Eagle's Shadow (Woo-ping Yuen, 1978)


About the film:
The janitor of a kung fu school who is bullied by the teachers and students gets trained by an old man in the 'Snake's Fist' technique so that he can stick up for himself, before he must defend the old man against a deadly enemy.

 
This film teams up Jackie Chan and Siu Tien Yuen again to great effect! With more humorous training sequences and the added sentiment of being introduced to Chan's only friend, a cat, which leads him to fuse his own feline fighting style with the 'Snake's Fist' technique and best his unsuspecting opponent! Chan's aptitude for choreographing spectacular fight sequences makes up for the fairly standard plot, and the pet cat fighting with a snake is just fab! Many of the training montages in the film display Chan's acrobatic finesse, and just prove that you do not need CGI and SFX to present amazing stunts! Often regarded by fans as Chan's greatest achievement. I love the bit when the master helps Chan fend off attackers with a wooden pole!


The Fearless Hyena (Jackie Chan and Kenneth Tsang, 1979)



About the film:
A lazy young man defies his grandfather's wish to keep the family kung fu style a secret and becomes a kung fu teacher at a school, leading to the arrival of an old enemy who kills the grandfather. prompting the young man to seek revenge.

Chan's directorial debut is quite impressive, with the chop-stick duel between grandfather and grandson becoming one of the much loved scenes by fans. My personal favourite is the machete/spear fight- it is amazingly choreographed, the timing impeccable and suggests how far Chan could push himself to get some brilliant fighting footage- certainly an early indicator to the crazy extremes he would attempt in later endeavours! With again a fairly standard plot of family member is killed leading to revenge scenario, the fight sequences really stand out. Especially the one where Chan appears in drag. Yes, you read that right.


Flag of Iron (Cheh Chang, 1980)



About the film:
After the leader of the Iron Fist clan is murdered by an assassin during a fight with a rival clan, a brother of the Iron Fist takes the blame and leaves another in charge. However, the new leader spells trouble, leading the other to team up with the assassin (now seeking redemption) to combat the Ten Killers and defeat his evil brother.

Another Shaw Brothers classic, which features three of the five deadly venoms! The finale flag-spear-twirling fight is brilliant and really showcases the athletic abilities of the actors. I adore the red and black costumes and capes in this film though- they look like they were rented from Hammer studios but look really dramatic when being swirled in unison! Some of the fight scenes with the Ten Killers are gory, blood splattered and very well choreographed, such as the wooden pole jab-impale sequence. One of my favourites to play 'spot the sideburns' to (drink a shot for each spot!). Tequila, nach.


Kung Fu Kids Break Away (Kang Ping Yu, 1980)



About the film:
Three orphan kids team up to defeat the local villains, eventually helping a mysterious kung fu master to defeat an evil crime lord.

This film is awesome! It was really one of my favourites to watch when I was younger. The acrobatic skills displayed by the children are fantastic, look out for them in the scene when they entertain a crowd. There is also a great little parody sequence that uses a bit of Enter the Dragon music and a few Bruce Lee yowls as one of the kids squares off against a few baddies! It is a really funny film with some neat visual gags, but also includes a few scenes to really make you empathise with the children. Fans of the genre will love to add this film to their collection.


My Young Auntie (Chia-Liang Liu, 1981)



About the film:
The very young recent widow of a respected family elder moves to the city to claim her property, much to the chagrin of the other family members, and must defend herself from the corrupt brother of her deceased husband.

A further Shaw Brothers film that ranks high amongst my much-loved childhood films due to the randomly insane comedy and visual gags! Clearly an ironic critique of old and new China, the young woman struggles to fit in with her new surroundings and the expectations of her by others. From this, the scene of the fancy dress ball is very funny and the fight sequence is very entertaining. An unusual aspect of this film that I also adored when I was young is the films inclusion of songs, as the young auntie is randomly serenaded several times by a love-struck teenage band. The kung fu scenes are excellent, executed by actress Kara Hui with balletic grace.


The Prodigal Son (Sammo Hung Kam-Bo, 1981)


About the film:
A spoiled and rich young man thinks, thanks to his father who bribes all combat opponents to fail, that he is the best kung fu fighter ever. When the truth is revealed, he asks a kung fu Master to teach him real martial arts.

Often regarded by fans as Sammo Hung at his best as director, this fast-paced film has it all- action, slapstick comedy, tense and vicious fights, and a man in drag. There are some great uses of slow-mo camera shots, and the often brutal fight scenes contrast nicely with the portrayal of daft humour. Whilst not as humorous as some of Jackie Chan's films, the plot is original and very well developed as a revenge story with large amounts of extra added oomph. The martial arts scenes are a cut above, with some brilliant tight sequences worked out, and the capabilities of actor Biao Yuen as the prodigal son in question stand out above other actor/martial artists of the time. If you enjoy Hung's other films, this one is sure to please- it's a lot of fun!


The Shaolin Temple (Hsin-yan Chang, 1982)


About the film:
A young slave forced to work for the new Emperor, a treacherous general who betrayed his predecessor, escapes his captors and trains with the monks of a shaolin temple that he may one day seek revenge and claim his rightful place as Emperor of the kingdom.

Filmed on location at a shaolin temple, this film is actor Jet Li's first, containing various elements that would become recurrent in Li's future work, such as little dialogue and lots of fighting! Rumours of multiple cast changes and serious injuries during filming surround this film, causing it to take two years to complete. It's fair to say that the shaolin monks kick ass, and the fight scenes are fast paced and very well coordinated, with an impressive display of weapon usage such as staffs, broadswords and spears. The fight scenes between Li and the evil Emperor really stand out and showcase Li's brilliant physical abilities effectively. The plot is often criticised for being weak, but the action sequences really make up for this aspect.


Police Story (Jackie Chan, 1985)



About the film:
An energetic and ambitious cop, Kevin, takes down a drug lord, who seeks revenge by framing him for the murder of a dirty cop. Kevin is forced to go on the run to prove his innocence and protect the girl he loves.

The first film in Jackie Chan's trilogy about Hong Kong policeman Kevin, whose endeavours to rumble bad guys often gets himself and the department into trouble. Chan received several major injuries whilst filming stunt scenes, the outtakes of which feature alongside the credits, becoming a mainstay in his following features. Marking one of Chan's best directorial/acting efforts, the film was amongst my favourite as a kid- I thought he was so cool, I wanted to BE him! (And I'm a girl!) The action scenes are really something else, particularly the glass-smashing finale. Though often criticised for his look-at-me-I-can-do-this-isms, Chan ranks amongst my favourite films ever for this effort. Also starring the brilliant Maggie Cheung, who would go on to Wong Kar Wai fabulousness, the comedy scenes between the two are both funny and endearing. A must see! Follow it with Police Story 2 (1988).


The Bride With White Hair (Ronny Yu, 1993)



About the film:
A wild young girl saves the heir to a powerful clan from death and they fall in love. Years later, their paths cross again when she works for an evil cult, enemies of the clan. When jealous cult members conspire, the lovers turn on each other, prompting a fight of revenge.

Brigitte Lin excels in this spectacular film, which exudes a surreal and ethereal atmosphere throughout, caused by night shoots. As such, the cinematography is beautiful with some stand out scenes, such as the waterfall sequence. Also the villains, mutated twins, are creepy; the whole ambiance reminds me somewhat of A Chinese Ghost Story (1987). Although often criticised for the films lack of action, the sword-play and fight scenes are very interesting and unusually framed, with the final fight sequence standing out as frenetic and exciting! Lin captivates with her unique look, befitting for such an odd fantasy film. Enjoy it for what it is- an off-beat fantasy film, but avoid the less-than tasteful sequel!

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Ten Favourite Gore/Exploitation/Bad Taste Movies

Here are ten of Film Bambina's favourites for now, in order of release!

Blood Feast (Herschell Gordon Lewis, 1963, US)



About the film:
In attempting to resurrect an Egyptian Goddess, creepy caterer Faud Ramses (Mal Arnold) tortures and maims female victims and harvests various body parts from them, whilst avoiding the bumbling Detective Thornton (William Kerwin) on his trail, out running them all even with a bad limp!

This is gore par excellence as Lewis, honoured with the title of 'Godfather of Gore', metes out spills, thrills, and copious body parts in the original 'Video Nastie'. The film was effectively marketed with publicity stunts such as vomit bags for those attending the theatres, and critical reception varied from adoration to sheer repulsion with the film even receiving an injunction in Florida, further aiding its promotion and 'must see' factor! In several unconvincing special effects and gore-filled scenes, limbs are sawn-off in bathtubs and tongues ripped from mouths, showcasing some of the most original gore set-pieces committed to film. Viewers widely love or loathe it, praising its genius or hating its poor production feel. The film's brilliantly bad acting, amateurish production and shoe-string budget prove that you don't need Hollywood to produce a highly-profitable work of alternative cinema art.

Two Thousand Maniacs! (Herschell Gordon Lewis, 1964, US)



About the film:
A group of unsuspecting teens become victims of payback, each dispatched in a unique and horrifying manner in a town where its inhabitants seek to exact a bloody revenge for a Civil War massacre that killed them all a hundred years before.

More sheer gore-filled gruesomeness that has spawned countless imitations and a remake in 2005, Lewis is widely regarded as a terrible director and a brilliant money-maker, and this film exemplifies that talent. Providing unrivalled and inventive scenes of carnage that may appear very tame to modern audiences, the film was considered as overtly violent and depraved at the time of release following the recent relaxing of the Hay's Production Code. The Yankee victims and Southern stereotypes may cause offence but are intended wholly as tongue-in-cheek and with a brilliant sense of humour. Take for example the gleeful dismemberment of a shocked woman by the townsfolk, or their anticipation and cheers as they try to topple the boulder and squish the bewildered victim below. Pure cinematic indulgence in the worst kind of way.

Spider Baby (1968, Jack Hill, US)



About the film:
Devoted Butler/Chauffeur Bruno (Lon Chaney Jr.) tries to protect three deranged youths afflicted by a mental disorder and the rest of their family (kept in the basement) from the greedy, estate-grabbing designs of their relatives who come to visit, before mayhem and murder ensue.

The release of this film was plagued by several title changes, affecting its revenue badly, and was not released in the UK until 33 years after its initial debut. An early directorial effort from Jack Hill, who would go on to direct Coffy (1973) and Foxy Brown (1974), female revenge and murder are central in this shocksploitation/gore classic. With cannibalism, rape, mutilation and spider-style penetration, this film polarised public opinion with its blurring of sex and death. Proof that a shoe-string budget and shooting time of 9 days can bring the best out of a director, in arguably Hill's most beguiling and beloved cult favourite.

Pink Flamingos (1972, John Waters, US)




About the film:
Divine looks after her family, including a son with a chicken-sex fetish and her obese postman-mad mother, whilst defending her title as the 'Filthiest Person Alive'. Challenged for the title by a couple who run a baby factory for lesbians, Divine declares war in order to maintain her notoriety.

Director John Waters is at his finest here, showcasing his penchant for brilliant bad-taste cinema. Divine rules the screen in a larger than life performance, wearing the family meat between her legs and squatting to pee on a public grass verge to the tune of 'The Girl Can't Help It', before receiving a turd in the mail with horror and disgust. Crammed full of singing arseholes, artificial insemination, chicks with dicks, toe-sucking, mother-son blow jobs and cannibalistic birthday celebrations, titles of the King of Trash and Master of the Obscene would not be misplaced. Indeed, the shit-eating-grin end sequence leaves any imitators far, far behind- John Waters: Filthiest Director Alive.


I Spit on Your Grave (1978, Meir Zarchi, US)



About the film:
 A woman (Camille Keaton) seeking the solace and peace of a rural vacation to write her book seeks bloody and murderous revenge after being brutally and repeatedly gang-raped and left for dead.


In a film that often splits feminists due to its controversial portrayal of women and sparked a backlash against films that depicted violent sex towards females, its protagonist's revenge is certainly portrayed as justified. Following the longest rape scene ever committed to film, graphic and bloody retribution exudes as the heroine mutilates and murders her attackers in every man's worst nightmare. This alone suggests the conflicted critical reception of the film, which follows the general trend of vigilante/revenge movies in the 1970s. It also leaves one further speculation unsolved about the rear on the DVD cover- does it belong to Demi Moore?!

Zombi 2 (1979, Lucio Fulci, Italy)



About the film:
A reporter and the daughter of a missing scientist travel to a remote island, to discover that its inhabitants have become flesh-eating, unstoppable zombies. Teaming up with several other islanders, they try to fend off the zombie attack with disastrous results.


Another 'Video Nastie' that cashed in on the barf-bag promotional trend, this film heaves with explicit violence and gore, featuring the most bizarre zombie/shark fight ever committed to celluloid. Cashing in on the success of previous Zombie films, the opening and closing scenes were added before release, providing a universal and all-consuming feel to the zombie antics. The films excessive gore (eye-ball impaling, throat eating), copious nudity, crime-worthy plot and over-the-top acting places it firmly in the ranks of the most gore-iffic features ever made. Must be seen to be believed!

Cannibal Holocaust (1980, Ruggero Deodato, Italy)



About the film:
Footage filmed by a group of youths making a documentary in the Amazon rainforest about local cannibalistic tribes is uncovered, leading to shocking discoveries about the fate of the group.

Arguably the most controversial film on this list, scenes of brutal and explicit mutilation, torture and murder were considered so realistic that director Deodato was charged with murder in Italy until the actors were produced alive and well. Uneasy scenes of animal slaughter have also prompted much criticism over the years, and the film is the most banned in the world. Boasting amazing visual-tricks and special effects work, key sociological questions are raised by this film, centring on the intrinsic barbarity in human nature. A master-piece of its time and unrivaled since.


Eaten Alive! (1980, Umberto Lenzi, Italy)



About the film:
A woman searching for her missing sister stumbles across a religious cult commune and a cannibal tribe intent on capturing and killing her.

Ok, it's really bad and even more corny, with highly questionable special effects, but it's a gem for gore and bad taste fans. Featuring soft-porn-cannibal-group-sex, arm lopping, disembowelment, genital mutilation and a snake-blood covered dildo, this film is both a shameless pilferage of the work of others and a nod to the Jim Jones Guyana mass-suicide event. Whilst not at the top of the list of Italy's best horror exports, it is a must for cannibal horror die-hards.

The Evil Dead (1981, Sam Raimi, US)



About the film:
During a cabin break in the woods, five friends unwittingly unleash demons intent upon possessing and killing the group, prompting a night fight for survival as the friends are picked off one by one.

Sam Raimi at his finest in a film that scared the bejeesus out of me when I was young! Creepy shrieks, unstoppable mutilated bodies and an uncomfortable branch-rape scene in the forest haunt my dreams forever. Made on a tiny budget and technologically accomplished, the film featured unknown actors such as Bruce Campbell, who went on to aquire cult status. A film that exudes obvious adoration for the horror genre and has influenced many, it is unsurpassable as a cult favourite, leeching blood and rotting flesh right down to the end. Haven't seen it yet? "Join us!"

The Toxic Avenger (1984, Michael Herz and Lloyd Kaufman, US)



About the film:
Following relentless bullying by a gang of sadistic youths that like to run down children, a pool attendant is involved in a toxic waste accident that sees him mutate into a crime-stopping killing machine as he takes down his attackers and cleans up the city!

I love Troma films. Well, most of them. And I always wanted to be a 'Troma Girl of the Month' until I realised it involved copious amounts of personal nudity. A perfect example of Independent and Alternative American cinema and a crash-course in how to make and market a successful movie, The Toxic Avenger is a goregasboard of blood, guts, viscera and pus that make the viewer revel in Toxie's exploits (avoid the UK release, go for the Director's Cut Troma release). With terrific over-the-top acting, riotous death scenes and sexual exploitation, this film is as enjoyable goresploitation fodder as you could hope to see, right down to its catchy opening theme tune. Most revered and gore-filled scenes include the bullies reversing over a child they have just mown down, the 'criminal sundae', and of course, Marvin's graphic Toxie transformation. *contented sigh*. And I wouldn't have it any other way.


...more to follow!

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Doris Wishman: Love or Loathe?

Today I analysed several Doris Wishman films in relation to women on cinema and female directors. Wishman's objectification of the female form is very interesting, and can be seen in films such as Deadly Weapons and Double Agent 73 (both 1974), Bad Girls Go To Hell (1965) and Another Day, Another Man (1966). Often regarded as the 'Queen of Exploitation' and a cause of contention amongst film critics and feminists alike, Wishman's portrayal of both women and sex is often regarded as having smashed the boundaries of the norm and as undermining male-dominated representations of the female body. Not sure? Have a look for youself...
...the first is from Deadly Weapons, and the second is from Bad Girls Go To Hell.

Often regarded as an inept filmmaker by some and a genius by others, Wishman's filming style, with erratic camera angles, rough editing and post-production sound sometimes creates a rather surreal atmosphere that leaves you simultaneously intrigued and repulsed. A favourite lecturer of mine once described Wishman's work as 'like your child's first school painting- it's totally crap but you still put it on the fridge.'
What do you think?