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Misleading Film Adveristing

October 13, 2013

I don’t know about any of you but I’m pretty much done with film trailers. I’ve always tried to avoid posting any new trailers on this blog as I feel they give me a false perception of what a film will even be like these days. On the other hand, I cannot just put on my nostalgia glasses and pretend everything was hunky dory two or three decades ago. For example, let’s take a look at international advertising with the 1973 Blaxploitaiton film Savage!.

”Savage” was directed by Phillipino director Cirio H. Santiago who is surprisingly still kicking out action films to this day. Santiago is probably better known for producing some women-in-prison films in the early 70s and directing several blaxploiation films and what I call the “girl-army” films of the 1970s. ”Savage!” is marketed as a blaxploitation film but doesn’t really dwell on following any rules of that genre too long. (It’s more about the main character joining a team of female vigalantes to overthrow a government). Italian advertisers must have felt the same way as me, as they decided to turn this:

Savage blaxploitation 1973 poster

to this:

I can understand Italian distributors thinking that a white lead would sell better, but I don’t understand in actually trying to fool the audience into thinking the lead isn’t black! If they go see it, wouldn’t they think they’ve stepped into the wrong cinema?

The Italian poster goes into further exploitation territory as well. Note the officer’s flame thrower on the American version has turned into a shotgun, and his victims have been added to the slaughter on the second advertisement. The race-hopping lead has also moved from a gun smoking to full blown guns blaring. Even the director’s changes aliases between posters: from Cirio Santiago to the nationality-confused name of Cirius Xantiac!

I have yet to see the film and don’t know if I ever will. It has very small release on DVD and was released on VHS under various titles (which also features images of actors not in the film). Among the few reviews I’ve found online, none have spoken to positively about it, generally referring to it as a weak film even among blaxploitation aficionados.

So who’s to blame for the race-change? The artist who designed the American poster was John Solie who did several other films posters (including the Shaft series) while the only unique credit I can find that isn’t an alias on the Italian poster is Remo Angioli as a presenter. Sadly, Angioli’s filmography is even more obscure than the film itself as the only other film credit I can find for him is being the producer of the Italian horror film ”Nude for Satan”. So who’s the real culprit in this ad? Has anyone else seen this happen in other posters of the era? Little help anyone?

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Righting Wrongs Review

September 21, 2013

When people think of Corey Yuen, their thoughts turn to two things: Jet Li’s partner in crime and the person in question when text is tattooed across a DVD cover shouting, “From the Director of The Transporter.“ For me, Yuen is probably just as important as Tsui Hark for getting Hong Kong films up to American production standards. Where Tsui Hark was importing Hollywood visual effects artists for Xu Warriors From the Magic Mountain or producing films for up and coming directors, I feel Corey Yuen always had an international audience in mind and was doing it in his own way.

Need proof? Corey Yuen was the first New Wave Hong Kong directors to make an American production via the (Fist of B-list favourite) No Retreat, No Surrender, a film that just missed being a big hit by premiering at 11th place in the American box office when released. But hey! It still beat John Woo to the punch for directing in the United States. Corey Yuen’s second film as director was the multi-titled Yes, Madam!, which was the debut film of white American Cynthia Rothrock. Rothrock’s role was probably producer Sammo Hung’s idea, but they still had the lone white American who could showcase her martial arts chops well enough for her stand out as being a token white girl in these types of films. People still talk about Rothrock today, right?

In the same year as No Retreat, Corey Yuen starting working on what would be one of his most memorable Hong Kong Films: Righting Wrongs. For this film, my theory is that Yuen was reaching out to an American audience. Yuen not only got Rothrock front and center again, but there’s also Canadian kick boxer Peter “Sugarfoot” Cunningham who Yuen worked with on No Retreat as well as stunt actress Karen Sheperd who Rothrock gets in a fancy foot chase with. Of course, the film’s real star is Yuen Biao, but even with him as the star, the film still has more ties to American productions. Biao has even stated that Righting Wrongs’ production was planned early on, allowing for less of the “make-it-up-as-we-go” spirit of other Hong Kong action films of the era. It’s far less scattered than Yes, Madam! and this planning is evident.

Righting Wrongs also is a big change from Yuen’s previous Hong Kong production Yes, Madam!, as it’s nearly free of the “wacky” Hong Kong comedy that takes up a lot of Yes, Madam!’s running time. Even the film’s villain, played by Melvin Wong, acts without the usual scenery- chewing habits of other pulpy baddies, thus marking his character more realistic and memorable. In comparison to Yuen’s previous films and other Hong Kong films of the era, the story is played far more straight, which I believe was done as Yuen had a foreign audience in mind. Clearly, Corey Yuen was Hong Kong’s flag-waving all American patriot.

corey-yuen-american-patriot
Corey Yuen: All-American

That’s probably an overstatement, but the American influences are hard to miss and it’s still one of his better films Yuen has directed in America or Hong Kong. Righting Wrongs succeeds due to its successful action scenes, which are a huge step-up from what appears in No Retreat, No Surrender and Yes, Madam! in their intensity and creativity. I was entertained enough to forgive the occasional rusty editing. Take this car park battle with Yuen Biao. The audience I watched it with got some giggles when the car impossibly gets some air time when it leaps out one of the car park windows, but after witnessing the mayhem, the car could have sprouted wings and flew off and I wouldn’t have so much as batted an eye.

Another freeze-frame worthy scene involves some very obvious stunt doubling for the major cast members in the action scenes. It becomes especially amusing during the scenes where Rothrock is doubled by a Hong Kong male stuntman. Take a look:

cynthia-rothrock-stunt-double-above-the-law
I like how he shaved his legs. That’s stuntman commitment.

Other separations from the norm include a rare woman vs. woman fight scene. Yuen films the women respectfully and not merely for titillation as it’s free from faux-orgasmed “oohs” and “ahs” of films like Charlie’s Angels. Then again, who knows if that was even running through Yuen’s mind? He did direct So Close over a decade later which has a somewhat famous fluffy bathroom scene, so it’s hard to view Yuen as any sort of filmmaker with a female-empowerment message to get across. [Note: Sorry for linking to a video titled “Hot Asian Chick bathtub fight (catfight)”, but everyone needs at least one sketchy thing in their browser history.]

So what’s holding this film back from being known as well as something like The Legend of Fong Sai Yuk? It’s had a weird life on home video with multiple titles and the current Hong Kong Blu-ray’s subtitles are a complete mess, making it’s plot frustrating to follow. The film’s plot isn’t helped by a side-story involving Wu Ma which doesn’t effect the main plot significantly or compliment the action scenes in any way. Worst of all, like Yes, Madam! previously, it has a needless bummer of an ending involving the death of pretty much every likable character in the film. Who screwed that up? Barry Wong is credited as the screenwriter for both of these two Corey Yuen films, so is he the culprit? Or did someone’s contract demand “no sequel” and decided everyone should die? Who knows!

I doubt there will ever be any serious critical analysis of Righting Wrongs released written, nor will it receive a 30th Anniversary re-release anytime soon, so my questions will probably remain unanswered. However, it’s a film that is very easy to recommend to fans of Rothrock, Corey Yuen, and of course, Yuen Biao. I’d recommend the Dragon Dynasty DVD (where it’s titled Above the Law) over the Hong Kong blu-ray due it’s better subtitles and bonus features. It’s a solid action film – just fast-forward as soon as you see Wu Ma – and you’re set!

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(Wo)men in Black Leather Suits

September 17, 2012

Your favourite Canadian action director is talkin’ shit again. Before making three more Smurf films, he’s speaking out on how he feels about films. In an interview with The Guardian, he spat out a bit on modern female action heroes.

James Cameron Superhero film

Strong words, but fairly apt. Let’s take a look at some films released in the past few years. Even without the plot, they all shop at the same leather shop.

Women action films

Granted, they all generally fit the style appropriate for their stories and films, but it is all a bit samey and are a fairly unrecognized cliche. Not sure if it makes them men, but I’ve seen as far as memorable characters go, I can’t even remember the character’s names. Is Mr.Cameron guilty of his own statements though? Ripley (Aliens) and Sarah Connor (Terminator 2) have all the fierceness of any macho post-Rambo characters, but they do avoid being strictly damsels in distress or eye candy with notable personality traits. One that stands out for me, is their own maternal instincts such as Sarah Conner desiring to save humanity and her son from Judgement Day or Ripley protecting Newt. Obviously, Titanic doesn’t follow into my argument as easily, but Cameron’s pretty bang on about the leather-clothed ladies. Forgive me if I don’t want to see Resident Aeon Evil Underworld Flux again in the near future!

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Steele Justice Review

July 29, 2012

Steele Justice is 1980s cheese-action gone sour. Here we have a film having trouble deciding whether it wants to delve into every 80s cliche (by doing this, it cribs far too much from other good to average 80s action films) and unintentional humor (which sadly, only comes in brief spurts). The film stars Martin Kove as John Steele who we meet in Vietnam in the 1970s. How tough is Steele? Well he’s got a great set of neck ware with his plastic snake necklace.

Coral Snake Steele Justice
Sneak in your pets by disguising them as your regular army gear.

I promise the next clip isn’t from Hot Shots, as this is Steele Justice seals the deal with the incredibly silly rat with grenade attached to it. And we’re only 5 minutes into the film.

Mouse Grenade
Grenade on a rat!! It’s officially that kind of a film

I’m not even going to bother including the scenes that follow up involving Kove having a gun that shoots knives because this movie just starts out with actions that would make Italian rip-off cinema blush. I’m also not including it as the movie suddenly changes tone completely and drops any goofy weaponry when the film announces that it’s about 15 years later. Steele find his partner killed by Vietnamese gangsters who have also offed his partner’s family. The last family member remaining is Cami played by Jan Gan Boyd. Boyd is manicly miscast looking to be just as about as old as her mother. The film takes influence here from quality adult films and just give her pigtails. Instant teenager, right?

I’ll admit I’m being a bit harsh on the small stuff but this is all that remains firmly in memory after watching Steele Justice. Outside a few goofball choice it just turns into a poor man’s mish-mash of Rambo, Commando, and the Missing in Action films. It lacks the strange logic of Andy Sidaris films or Ninja III and instead focuses on being a far too familiar action film. Ronny Cox even plays a police sgt that’s basically the same role he had in the Beverly Hills Cop films. In my mind, it makes both these films take place in the same universe. Steele Justice for me is unofficially a spin-off of Beverly Hills Cop.

It’s not an 80s action film until you have your training montage with anthemetic rock blasting, and of course Steele Justice has one. The film does take some bizarre turns in musical cameos however. If you are into country-rock, there are some scenes of Chris Hillman (formerly of The Byrds and the Flying Burrito Band) performing with his 80s group The Desert Rose Band and a scene involving Astrid Plane, the original lead singer of synthpop group Animotion performing some delightfully poor choreography. Check out the backup dancers.

Astrid Plane Funny 80s Dance

Does poor dance choreography lead to poor action scenes? In this case yes, the fights are sparse and many involve either Kove either knocking out people with a single punch or running away from battle. Only in the final showdown scene is there any element of interesting cinematography and atmosphere to give the still poorly choreographed swordplay any grit it needs to deserve your attention.

Steele Justice is not available on DVD and I manged to see it theatrically at a midnight show at the Mayfair Theater. Their was even a pre-recorded video involving Martin Kove introducing the film. Kove didn’t get into too many details about the film outside that he was excited to not play a bad guy in his role and that the film was a fun movie to make. It’s not quite as fun as Kove may hope as in between a bad film’s overtly goofy moments we have a film that’s too afraid to keep up with these more bizarre risks and just hops into the realm of safe clean action film making that I can only recommend to people who have worn out their Missing in Action tapes and need to pick up a quick bargain tape off e-bay.

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Mayfair Theater’s Poster Sale

June 28, 2012

Mayfair Ottawa Poster Sale
Easily the worst photograph taken by a human being, but if you use your imagination this is a jpeg of a poster sale.

Finally done my film exams for the summer so I can remember I have this One More Bullet crap to work on. A few days weeks back the Mayfair Theater had a poster sale to help pay for a digital projector by the end of the year. My mind was swimming to find out what treasures may be lurking in their for-sale stash.

I’m sure it wouldn’t be a surprise to tell you it wasn’t the best of hauls, but I managed to find some quirky items. All posters were films shown at the Mayfair since it’s re-opening in 2008 and the theater had quite a slew of strange and weird films shown since but sadly few of the films shown were related to their midnight line-ups. Among the oddities I’ve found though were posters for A Serbian Film, Tokyo Gore Police, Bellflower, and the most confusing of all was a Korean poster for X2. Why we have a Korean poster for an X-Men film when they have not even presented an X-Men film is beyond me.

As for the poster I bought, It’s for a film that I probably have no interest in seeing again, but I believe I need some colour on my wall.

RoboGeisha Poster

Hey! Don’t judge! The poster for RoboGeisha is actually pretty attractive in a “toss in assorted unrelated Japanese imagery” kind of way. This purchase ultimately states that I do not follow A Hero Never Dies‘ ideal of that you should get a poster for the film itself, not for how it looks. I’m more on the side that a poster is generally going to be viewed for what it looks like rather than what it represents. I’m more interested in having eye-candy opposed to something that doesn’t really promote a film you appreciate in the best light. This RoboGeisha poster also seems a bit unique as I haven’t found a place to buy the same version as this one online. I’ve seen a similar one with Japanese text replacing the American one, but no duplicate.

My last thought on this poster sale is that I think it was illegal? Film posters are promotional items and to my knowledge can not be re-sold for profit like this. I know the ByTowne Cinema in Ottawa sells several posters but all the proceeds go to charity. But is it still charity if it’s to help the theater purchase the projector? Can anyone who’s got more poster or film law knowledge give me a head’s up?

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