Sunday, November 29, 2009

Another Two Top Films of the Decade Listing

It is that time of year I guess and Wise Kwai makes mention of two Top Films List of this decade that have come out. One by Time Out New York and one by TIFF Cinematheque. Now recall that of the films from the 1930's I had seen 37 out of 40 films listed. So how did I fare for this decade? Let's just say this proves what I already knew - I am so not with it. Of the 50 films lasted by TONY I have seen 13 of them:

Femme Fatale
Gosford Park
In the Mood for Love
Mulholland Drive
40-Year-Old Virgin
Royal Tenenbaums
Miami Vice
4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days
Before Sunset
Old Boy
Inglorious Basterds

and of those I really disliked Miami Vice and Inglorious Basterds. And 40-Year-Old Virgin? Funny as hell but still.

Now the TIFF list is about as pretentious as reading Proust while walking in the rain. Of their 50 or so films, I have seen only 8. The people who picked these films must really be fun to have a beer with.

Still Life
In the Mood for Love
4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days
Mulholland Drive
I Don't Want to Sleep Alone
Millennium Mambo
Royal Tenenbaums

I guess I am surprised not to see any Johnny To on this. I thought he had become a critic's darling in the West. Obviously, everyone would have a zillion differences with either of these lists but for me any list that doesn't include The Taste of Tea is moot and null.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Final Five Tracks of the Original Ashes of Time Soundtrack

Happy Thanksgiving to all those who celebrate it. Mainly in the United States I guess. I hope many of you filled up on turkey and pecan pie as I did today. Most Thanksgiving's fly by and I never really reflect on what I have to be thankful for, but these past few months have been very difficult ones. But things are looking up and so for that I am very thankful. Amen.

Here are the final five tracks from the original Ashes of Time.

POST EDITED ON 01/10/2010 - deleting these five since I already have them on another earlier post.

I have been watching a lot of old movies on Turner Classics lately and so read with interest this fellow's choice for the top 40 films from the 1930's - clearly with films in English being a criteria. Out of the 40 films I have actually seen 37 of them which is kind of scary on one hand but then I have probably lived longer than most of you and was actually around when New York City and Washington DC had repertory movie theaters that showed old movies and when there were tv channels other TCM that showed lots of old films in the afternoon. Here is the link to the article.

I can't really disagree with most of these with special high fives going out to My Man Godfrey, Swing Time, Ninotchka, The Lady Vanishes, Stage Coach, Captain Blood, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Duck Soup, The Thin Man and Modern Times. The three I have never seen are Blue Angel (started it but could not finish it), Dodsworth and I am a Fugative from a Chain Gang.

Here are a few others I'd put on that list if it were bigger. Instead of You Can't Take it with You which is cute but too eccentric I'd rather add another Capra film, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. The fellow has The Four Feathers on his list but for stiff upper lip British imperialistic heroism I prefer Gunga Din ("You are a Better Man than I Gunga Din") or Beau Geste (though Gary Cooper wasn't exactly British). 42nd Street is the first great Busby Berkeley choreographed film but Footlight Parade, Dames and Gold Diggers of 1933 are better. Public Enemy is his gangster flick pick but the 30's had a ton of great ones and he easily could have substituted it with Little Caesar or Scarface or The Roaring Twenties. Instead of George Cukor's Little Women I'd chose his Dinner at Eight or The Women which was pretty damn revolutionary for its time. Duck Soup by the Marx Brothers is of course one of the greatest cerebral films of all time but A Night at the Opera isn't far behind. The stateroom scene alone should put it in the top 40. Take out Of Mice and Men or Stage Door (and maybe even All Quiet on the Western Front which I realize is a great anti-war film but kind of dull).

I may have missed them but there are a few actors I didn't see represented so for me if you are talking the 30's you need something from Ronald Coleman - either A Tale of Two Cities or The Prisoner of Zenda or Lost Horizons - all great. And no Bette Davis? How about either Dark Victory or Jezabel. And Robert Donat - he didn't make a lot of films but still I'd squeeze in either The 39 Steps or Goodbye Mr. Chips or The Count of Monte Cristo to the list. Three other films I really like are the adventure fantasy film She, Lubitch's Trouble in Paradise and Henry Fonda as Young Mr. Lincoln. And Bob Hope really got started with The Cat and the Canary in 1939. Finally, these are not great films I guess but they represent for me two of my favorite film series - Tarzan and his Mate and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. I am sure there are tons of other films from the 1930's that I should include but can't think of. I hope this fellow follows this up with the top 40 films of the 1940's - for me the best decade of movie making in Hollywood.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Pinky Cheung - Photos and Film Review

Here is a little Pinky for your viewing pleasure. In a comment Steve asked (tongue in cheek I presume) for a critical reappraisal of Pinky Cheung’s career! I only wish I could but I don’t have much to say about Pinky other than I enjoy watching her on the screen for her teasing sexuality, her mischievous attitude, her “anything goes” eyes and the fact that she looks especially good covered in blood. She had the misfortune of getting into the movie business in the year of the Handover, 1997, when many film people were scattering to the four winds and the film industry went into the doldrums that it has never really come out of. There was a large decline in the number of films produced and a big drop off in budgets. So in her fifty odd movies, the vast majority of them have been in fairly forgettable low budget horror/crime/exploitation films in which Pinky was often the best thing going for it. She has yet to make it to the next level of stardom, remaining mired in these “B” films but she has still managed to garner some discerning fans like myself! Here is a Pinky fun fact – her character’s name in seven of her films has been Pinky. Lazy scriptwriters or learning disability, I wonder? For me these are her Must See performances for those who want to join the Cult of Pinky:

Raped by an Angel III – Pinky does a strip tease that will fog your screen and also gets drenched in blood. Not at the same time, regrettably.

Horoscope II – Pinky has an evil sorceress move in next door ladling out curses on Pinky and her husband leading to scene in which a baby is yanked out of Pinky’s stomach.

The Dark Rose – bad movie, great Pinkie as she is kidnapped, tied up, thrown into a suitcase, attacked by snakes and then to top if off she has her period. Now that’s a lousy day.

Raped by an Angel 5 – another bad film but Pinky joins a vigilante group of raped women looking for vengeance but still has time for a deep tongue bashing with another woman. Her first on screen kiss with a female but not her last.

Erotic Nightmare – Pinky is the battered tortured wife of a psycho dream weaver but gets her just revenge in the end.

Devil Touch – reviewed below.

Here and here are some Pinky pictures

Devil Touch
Director: Billy Tang

Billy Tang of Red to Kill and Run and Kill fame had lowered the queasy factor considerably by 2002 due to changing audience taste, but he still throws in a few enjoyably gruesome moments in this corporate thriller. One would think that with Hong Kong having become a city of skyscrapers and multinational corporations, that there would be more films dealing with corporate shenanigans but off the top of my head none come to mind. Not that this is a subtle discerning exploration of corporate greed and deal making, but one would not expect that from Tang as he fills the screen with backstabbing, blackmail, ambition, seduction and murder.

A large corporation is in the process of secret and delicate merger negotiations and all the contenders for the top job are trying to outmaneuver one another and if that doesn’t work, then sabotage is the order of the day. Mr. Cheuk (Michael Tiu Dai-yue) appears to be the leading candidate for the CEO job until his ex-secretary Amy (Iris Chai) attacks him in his office with a knife and accuses him of previously raping her. The owner of the company (Henry Fong) brings in Joe (Alex Fong) to shift through the evidence and decide what the truth is. Cheuk claims it was mutual seduction, Amy claims it was a brutal rape – in the end Amy is bought off with a corporate check and Cheuk sent off on suspension. Was he set up or not?

But there are twists within turns as nothing is quite as it seems and no one is to be trusted, especially Jacqueline (Pinky Cheung), an ambitious woman who is determined to break the glass ceiling even if she has to do it with a ball peen hammer, a vegetable slicer or a chainsaw. This is a woman you literally do not want to turn your back on – ever. Pinky brings this film to life whenever she shows up and thankfully she dominates the second half and wrests the film from a bunch of anemic male performances. Pinky is in true psycho mode here and we are blessed not only with a modest lesbian sex scene but also getting to see Pinky in red – blood red that is on a few occasions. It is far from a good film, but whenever Pinky is in it, it is more than watchable.

My rating for this film: 6.0

Not Exactly Asian but sort of Asian Related Watching.

A little bit ago Glenn over on his Blog, A Pessimist is Never Disappointed, made a post regarding Tsai Chin, who played Fu Manchu’s daughter in some six films during the 1960’s in which Fu Manchu was essayed by of course another Caucasian, Christopher Lee. It put me in the mood though to revisit some Fu Manchu movies and I found one in my budget public domain section in the hallway. When I was a kid I vaguely recollect reading some of the Fu Manchu books by Sax Rohmer and of course not knowing any better I became terrified of the Yellow Peril! Though Sax (who apparently really did hate the Chinese) wrote this series of novels beginning in 1912 and didn’t stop until his death in 1959, the threat of the Yellow Peril took on a new urgency in the 1950’s and 1960’s with the Communist China/McCarthy scare that ensued thus creating a perfect environment for a new spate of movies about Fu Manchu. The first Fu Manchu films were silent ones produced in the 1920’s and others followed though his Golden Age in film was definitely the Christopher Lee ones – though quite honestly they are not very good. What I found on my DVD shelf was The Adventures of Fu Manchu and it turned out to be four episodes from a 1956 TV series! They are pretty tatty but still for 1956, they are surprisingly exotic, violent and seductive. Most of the episodes take place in Hong Kong though stock footage is clearly being used for exterior scenes. In each episode Fu Manchu (played by Glen Gordon) with his dwarf assistant and his Egyptian concubine Karamaneh plot to take over the world only to be thwarted by Sir Dennis Nayland Smith and Dr. Petrie. Each episode ends with Fu knocking over a black piece on a chess board signifying defeat yet one more time.

The kookiest show was when Fu Manchu teams up with a still alive Adolph Hitler. Who could possibly stop such a dynamic devious duo? Well, as it turns out about 4 guys with revolvers. The best thing about the series for me though was the discovery of another beautiful B actress, Laurette Luez, who plays Karamaneh like exotic catnip to snare white guys. She is a total hottie and doing a bit of research on her I discovered she had a few interesting moments in her life – good friend to Marilyn Monroe while she was still Norma Jean and helped her choose her new name and a litany of broken romances and marriages. Her biggest film was as an Indian woman in Kim where she is romanced by an aging Errol Flynn. She died in 1999.

I have not really been following Korean films for a while and so just saw the sad news that Jang Jin-young died of cancer in September at the age of 37. She broke the mold of most of the cutie pie Korean actresses with all the plastic surgery; remaining attractive but not beautiful, tough but vulnerable in her roles, she always felt real. I was surprised by how many of her films I have seen – The Foul King, Sorum, Over the Rainbow, The Scent of Love, Singles, Between Love and Hate and Blue Swallow. Very sad. RIP.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Some More Hong Kong Film Posters

Here are 10 more posters from that HK Film Archive calendar. They are from 1966-1967.

And in the theme of that period, here are two songs from Connie Chan. I picked up a CD of her songs from films but most of them are of the Chinese Opera variety which I really can't listen to for long before I reach for the aspirin. These two are more contemporary to the time. No idea what the song titles are or from which film they came. I hope these work as I am away from home and doing this on perhaps the slowest dial-up connection in the world and there is no way for me to test to see if they play correctly.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Ashes of Time - Some Selections from the Original Soundtrack

Duriandave (from the wonderful Soft Film: Vintage Chinese Cinema Blog) has been kind enough to point me in the right direction regarding putting up listenable embedded music. Very cool. Very easy. Thanks very much.

I thought for the first time I would choose the first five pieces from one of my very favorite films, Ashes of Time. I understand that the new version has new music. Call me crazy but I loved the music from the original, it's melancholy languor fits so beautifully. It was composed by Frankie Chan, who many of us were introduced to as an actor in a number of action films; so it was amazing to later discover that he has a huge number of credits for film scores. Wong Kar-wai also used him in Chungking Express and Fallen Angels.

For almost any other soundtrack I will have no idea what the song titles are, but the Ashes of Time soundtrack has them in English. I have the first five selections here. The rest to follow soon.

POST EDITED 01/15/2010 - Here are all 15 tracks in the Ashes of Time original soundtrack

HK Posters Continued

Way back at the beginning of this year I began scanning and posting some of the HK movie posters from the calendar that the HK Archives has published. Then I went on my merry travels for six months and could not finish. Yesterday, I remembered all this when I was looking for something else and came across the calendar and decided to get some more of the posters up. I love old movie posters I have to admit; all the detail, the style, the stars, the passion, the epic feel - modern movie posters have none of that as far as I can see. So here are ten more with others to come. These take the posters up to 1965. And the calendar up to March. Thanks as usual to the HKMDB for helping me identify the actors on the posters.


A few housekeeping notes. I finally had to give in and added that word recognition thing in the comments section - not that I get many legitimate ones but I was getting loads of spam; in particular from a Japanese web site in which the only word that I could read was "SEX". Don't the Japanese have their own word for this? What was weird is that most of them were directed into the Snow Girl post of a ways back and it got me wondering if Snow Girl is a term for some sexually deviant act that the Japanese have invented. It sounds like fun whatever it may be. Sex with a snowwoman? Using an icicle for immoral purposes? At any rate I got tired of deleting them everyday.

I don't know if anyone can help me with this technical Blog question. For no reason at all other than I want to plug a book, here is the long lead in. Two months back I borrowed the book, The Beatles Second Album (wonderful) by Dave Marsh from a friend and it led me into exploring a lot of the older music that influenced the Beatles and I actually created a neat playlist on my mp3 player of all the songs the Beatles covered and the originals - such as Anna and Soldier of Love by Arthur Alexander and it got me totally into him or Larry Williams who did Slow Down, Bad Boy, Dizzy Miss Lizzy and Bony Moronie (which Lennon did solo on his Rock 'N' Roll album). From there I read a book on Chess Records and began downloading music from their astonishing roster of stars in the 1950's/60's - Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, Little Walter, Etta James, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and many others. This interest led me to a couple very cool blogs where they put up songs that people can listen to but can not download. I want to do the same for some of the Asian movie soundtracks that I have that are really hard for many people to get. But I have not been able to figure out how. I am sure it is easy but just yesterday I finally figured out how you embed a link to YouTube! The two sites that have mp3 files embedded are here:

Funky 16 Corners

Dark End of the Street

If anyone has a clue how to do this, let me know. Thanks.

The soundtracks I have are:

Phantom Lover with Leslie
Tempting Heart
Everlasting Regret
Hold Me Tight
The Longest Summer
Viva Erotica
Shanghai Grand with Andy Lau
The Soong Sisters
Swordsman II
The Wedding Days with Anita Yuen and Charlie Yeung
Flowers of Shanghai
Red Rose White Rose
He's a Woman, She's a Man
Who's the Woman, Who's the Man
Wu Yen
Chinese Odyssey 2002
Tai Chi Master
Once Upon a Time in China
Let's Rock - The Wynners
The Dream of the Red Chamber
Green Snake
Ashes of Time
Chungking Express
Fallen Angels
In the Mood
Best of Wong Kar Wai
A bunch of Movie Theme cds
Sally Yeh's Movie Thems cd
Anita Mui's Movie Theme cd
Connie Chan Movie Theme cd
Songs by the Happy Troupe Girls - Fennie, Charlene and May Lo
Three Shaw Brothers cds of songs
Grace Chang songs from her films
Lots of old Shanghai songbirds

Friday, November 06, 2009

Zombie Kampung Pisang and Other Stuff

There hasn’t been very much going on for me Asian film wise this past week or so. I took a break from obscure Hong Kong films to watch an obscure Malaysian film. By that I should add that I mean obscure outside of Malaysia; in Malaysia it was apparently a box office hit in 2007 and actually got an invite to the Udine Festival. The title is Zombi Kampung Pisang or Zombie of Banana Village and is a rather fun frantic low brow Zombie comedy. Think Bob Hope movie without Bob, Bing or Dorothy Lamour and it will give you an idea of the constant antics and silliness that abounds within. It is fun up to a point but felt more like an overlong sketch without any characterization but lots of running around by everyone. There are also some clear social and political pokes in the eye but I think most of it went under my radar. The story takes place in a small isolated village where cell phone reception is nil and any outside help is even niler.

A couple young village slackers are being lectured to by a religious elder when in mid sentence the old fellow keels over and dies. Not long afterwards the same thing occurs with another elder. Their bodies are laid out but mysteriously disappear and the village goes into frantic mode – among them a couple good looking girls, the slackers wannabe musicians (played I think by some pop stars), a hard of hearing gentleman and a clearly gay fellow where the old term limp wrist is very literal and who runs in circles when he is scared. It is that kind of movie. Sure enough the old men become Zombies as do many of the other village people and the ones who are still alive board themselves up in a small meeting hall and try to fend them off. The Zombies are decked out in badly painted white faces and one fellow screams out Alice Cooper when he first spots one. The Zombies form a union of fellowship and promise not to smoke because it is bad for the health but that eating human brains is not. There is a DVD out there but as far as I can tell it has no English subtitles; I was able to watch a screener.

Non-Asian Films:

I have found myself watching a lot of older American films recently – a slew of the old Saint films from the 1930’s starring George Sanders or Hugh Sinclair as Simon Templar. These were great old B films that fall very much into a predictable pattern but are still lots of fun. TCM was showing a load of them last year and I recorded the films then and finally saw about 7 of them. Now, I wish they would show some from The Falcon series that starred Sander’s brother Tom Conway (and on occasion Sanders as well). Even as a good guy Sanders was so irredeemably wonderfully smirky and suave. He committed suicide I think because he was just bored. Of course Roger Moore will always be The Saint for me. Val Kilmer will always be an ink blotch stain as The Saint.

Then today I tried to revisit my two favorite Hitchcock films – The Lady Vanishes (1938) and The 39 Steps (1935) and rented them from one of the few remaining local video stores in the neighborhood (they are going down like bowling pins around here). I was hoping they would have the Criterion version of The Lady Vanishes but no such luck – instead they only had these old public domain copies. The 39 Steps worked fine and I still found both co-stars Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll incredibly charming and the ending “What are the 39 Steps?” terrific. Sadly though, The Lady Vanishes died in my DVD player. I had particularly wanted to see that one because I came across the book it was based on and began reading it and am loving it. I found it of all places behind my parents CD collection where they were using all these old Penguin mystery novels that they purchased decades ago as a backstop for the CDs! I was looking to download some of my father’s jazz and classical CDs and found all these wonderful old dusty books instead. I tore through a load of the Gideon Fell novels by John Dickson Carr who specialized in the impossible murder – i.e. behind locked doors – and then realized that The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White was the basis for The Lady Vanishes (the film The Spiral Staircase in 1945 was also based on one of her novels). Hitchcock made some interesting changes – primarily making the “heroine” much more likable – in the book she is a really snide rather insufferable young woman who thinks everyone else in the world is a fool. Of course saying that these are my two favorite Hitchcock films may sound like a lunatic to most people, but these two pre-Hollywood films are the two that I always revisit time after time – a perfect blend of suspense, comedy, romance and class.

Now that could not be said for a remake of The Lady Vanishes that I came across while looking for the original at the Brooklyn Library. This version was made in 1979 by Hammer Studios and stars Elliot Gould, Cybill Shepherd, Angela Lansbury and Herbert Lom. That’s a pretty good cast for a film that I bet not many people knew existed – but for good reason. Talk about taking a classic movie and making all the wrong choices from Elliot basically doing his usual deadpan shtick to Cybill screeching from beginning to end and the very inept Nazis. Most of the plot points stay the same but it is simply awful. The only good thing to perhaps come out of it is that the producers of the TV series Moonlighting saw it and were wowed by Cybill and her braless dress and thought she would be perfect for her role in that! Just a by the way since this Blog has a literary hint to it - The 39 Steps was also based on a novel of the same title by John Buchan and his chracter Richard Hannay was in a series of five adventures by Buchan that are quite out of date now but still fun to read

Sorry for having nothing much to say about Asian film this go-around but hopefully I can get back to the pictures and a film or two very soon – have Pinky and Aaron on deck.