Friday, October 15, 2010

Red Eagle

Red Eagle

Director: Wisit Sasanatieng
Year: 2010
Country: Thailand
Starring: Ananda Everingham

In another lifetime and in another galaxy not far from here I used to help program the New York Asian Film Festival and one of my annual duties was to check in with Five Star Production Company to see if the film Red Eagle would be ready for our festival. This went on for five years and every year the answer would come back “Not yet”. It was a long gestation, but the film finally hit the screens in Bangkok last week with a publicity bang. Red Eagle is a modern updating of a very beloved film character from a series of films in the 1960’s played by then action superstar Mitr Chaibancha. The films and Mitr gained even more legendary status when he died doing a stunt in what turned out to be the final film in the series in 1970.

That wasn’t the reason though that the NYAFF was so excited about the film since none of us had seen any of those old films. Our excitement stemmed from the fact that the director put in charge of the project was Wisit Sasanatieng, whose film debut Tears of the Black Tiger in 2000 was simply one of the most marvelously inventive and playful blasts of color and design ever put to canvass. His 2004 follow-up Citizen Dog was also awash in colors and eccentricities and this created a certain cult status around the director in the West. In 2006 his third film, The Unseeable, was released and it disappointed many fans in that he backed away from the eye-popping color palette of his two previous films to deliver an old fashioned atmospheric haunted house tale that was miles away from the current typical blood and entrails Thai horror film. What all three films had in common besides a clear love on Wisit’s part for old Thai films was box office failure. They all bombed. More Westerners have probably seen his films than Thai’s. This recently had Wisit saying that after those three films he had to have a commercial success or no one would invest in his films anymore. He went on to say that he would have loved to have made Red Eagle in the same style as the old series but that would never work for today’s audience. This film needed to make real money and not just be a film festival favorite. This background brings us to and explains to a large degree Red Eagle.

Though Red Eagle has a few splashes of style (with a Bond like opening sequence and credits) and a few drops of humor, it is overall a very standard conventional angst ridden super hero film along the lines of Batman or The Punisher. It is surprisingly violent with decapitated heads and arms flying around like awoken bats in a dark cave. The narrative is simplistic and the characterization is almost non-existent. Red Eagle is out for vengeance in an angry sullen morphine addicted manner, but very little of his past is shown and he never engenders any sympathy or understanding. He is a cipher behind his mask and his muted expressions. The other characters are all from the stock storage room – the young cute cop out to get him, the evil doers behind their masks, the girl who loves him for unknown reasons and a bunch of salacious corrupt politicians who litter the landscape.

What makes the film work though to a large degree is that Wisit fills the running time with one action sequence after another and they are fairly well done. In particular, when you consider that the budget though high for a Thai film is still miniscule compared to an action film made in Hollywood. Wisit had to make a decision I suppose at some point whether to use a high profile leading man or one of Thailand’s many action stars. He went with the former choice in Ananda Everingham, one of Thailand’s best known young actors – but one clearly not up to snuff in martial arts. Therefore the film is very closely and quickly edited and I would have to assume doubled. Even so, the action sequences are theatrical, imaginative, suspenseful and are like waiting for a bus – there is another one coming right around the corner. The standout sequence is when Red Eagle is pitted against a paid assassin, Black Devil, and their combat takes them across the rooftops of the city, crashing into and demolishing a department store and fighting on top of a falling elevator. It is a pretty terrific set piece. But when the action stops, the sludge begins of ill-fated romance, social issues, corrupt politics and silly cops.

What really came as a surprise was the ending – there isn’t one ala Ong Bak 2. Sitting there I was beginning to think that this was going to be a very long movie because there were loads of bad guys still to be killed, when suddenly the film announces that this concludes Part 1. I thought it was an in-joke regarding the serial nature of the old films – but nope it was really the end and the lights were coming on. I don’t know if Part II is already in the can (a quick glimpse of the next film – morbidly Red Eagle is on a ladder trying to board a helicopter – i.e. how Mitr died - was shown) or whether the success of this film will determine whether it is made. But Wisit has already made noises that Red Eagle will be his last film and one senses that he is very burned out. Maybe critical success came too early.

My rating for this film: 7.5

The Trailer: I didn't write much about the plot of the film, but you can get a sense of it from the trailer.

Of little interest to any one else, but I was passing a sidewalk pirated dvd sale the other day and came across a few dvds of interest. First, it is always nice to see Hsu Chi anywhere - was so surprised and delighted when I realized she was in I Love New York a few weeks back - and it was a kick seeing a mention on the Ping Pong box - a fabulous Jpaanese film - of NYAFF!

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Green Snake Soundtrack

Seeing a Tsui Hark film reminded me that I was still sitting unceremoniously on the soundtrack to Green Snake. It is a great film and has a great soundtrack. This isn't all of it but it is most of it.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Back like a Bad Baht

Geez, has it really been that long since I last did a post for this Blog? How time flies when you are in a coma. Well, not a coma exactly but a period of such infinite lassitude that I may as well have been. I have been woken from my crusty-eyed slumber by the news of two Hong Kong films suddenly washing ashore here in Bangkok. It is almost like being in Hong Kong. But better. After cruising the Internet like a sneaky Peeping Tom, I got the impression that one of these films was being treated like raw sewage that had seeped out of a septic tank while the other was being judged with somewhat mixed reactions. Perhaps because it has just been so long since I last saw a Hong Kong film, I may be too easy on both of these – one of them clearly is as shallow as a quickly dug grave in the dead of night but it is somewhat saved by fine production values, an almost coherent story, a few solid action sequences and an actress who I have been infatuated with for over a decade. The other film may have a suspect political message that echoes the one in Hero, but it is otherwise a fine piece of work and worthy of giving the director a Comeback of the Year Award.

And as exciting as these films are, Reign of Assassins is coming soon – that is the John Woo/Michelle Yeoh wuxia. Once upon a time from the 1960’s through the 1980’s Hong Kong films were shown all over Asia on a regular basis, but with the decline of Hong Kong films and the muscle of Hollywood marketing those days are long gone. So it is a real thrill to see three of them coming to town in such a short space – and also a pleasure to see Michelle starring again in a big Hong Kong film. Besides this good news, the Thai film Red Eagle opened this week in theaters. Red Eagle is directed by the same fellow who made the greatest Thai film of all time, Tears of the Black Tiger, and has been on the radar of film fans for years now. It is a super hero film based on a character from Thai movies made decades ago.

So what is going on in Bangkok, you are probably not wondering – well basically rain for over four months now. But on the bright side, the Red Shirts are basically gone though they remind us of their presence from time to time by setting off bombs around the city – they blew up an apartment building the other day. On the other hand, Central World Mall which they partly burnt down in May has amazingly opened its doors to business.

I came across this fun exhibit that is at the Emporium Mall on the top floor – a very cool display of spirits all exhibited in these dark small rooms with creepy music invading your mind.

Someone put together this mural of depictions of Thai ghosts.

A mother with her beautiful baby.

And an image that should be familiar to all Hong Kong movie fans.

I went by Paragon Mall today and came across this long line that literally went out the mall and far down the street.  Were people lining up for Red Eagle?

Not quite – but instead the opening of this - which makes me wonder how many years it will take for Thai’s to become as fat as Americans.

I was very excited to discover that Maggie Q is starring in an American TV show called Nikita and with the magic of the Internet I was able to watch the first episode. It should be called Nikita: Just when you thought there would be no more remakes of La Femme Nikita. Nikita is out to bring down the organization that made her a killer. Not great but as long as Maggie Q wears a bikini every episode, I am in.

Oh, that’s right, the movies. I knew there was a reason for this post.

The Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen
Director: Andrew Lau
Year: 2010
Starring: Donnie Yen, Donnie Yen, Donnie Yen and some other people.

The Legend of the Fist begins with a slick conceit that it is never able to shed in a film that glistens much more than it glowers. The character of Chen Zhen who was portrayed by Bruce Lee in Fist of Fury and Jet Li in Fist of Legend was if you recall killed in both by the Japanese – but this film posits that Chen Zhen did not die but is alive, well and killing Germans in Europe during WWI. Wow. Who would have thought? Chen has joined some other 140,000 Chinese to assist the Allies in the trenches by carrying supplies and the wounded, an historical aspect of the war that is in fact based on reality. In the opening prologue to the film, Chen and his fellow Chinese are pinned down by a nest of machine guns and in easily the best scene of the film Chen parkours himself up buildings and one step ahead of the trailing bullets to wipe the Germans out. This sets you up badly for a much stodgier film to follow.

After the war (and after China has been screwed once more by the West in the Versailles Peace Treaty), Chen returns to Shanghai to find out that the Japanese have infiltrated all aspects of the city and are clearly intent on military conquest. He is part of an underground resistance and as his cover he mysteriously manages to become a partner in a nightclub with Anthony Wong - and a homage is quickly paid to the nightclub’s namesake, Casablanca, in a song salute. No Ingrid Bergman here though – just a slinky chanteuse named Kitty (Hsu Chi) who ingratiates herself with every man who crosses her scent. Soon the Japanese put together a death list of hundreds of Chinese and Chen takes to a masked disguise like a super hero to fight them. Not all that successfully as history bares witness to.

The production values of the film are top notch as tends to be Lau’s trademark - though for the most part Shanghai is kept to a street outside the nightclub – and the film’s narrative covers a painful and interesting aspect of history – even if greatly fabricated here. One senses that Lau wanted to tell a bigger story – one that encompassed more of the resistance to China but a narrative thread that concerned rival Chinese armies in the north is quickly aborted (and poor Shawn Yue given short shrift) in order it seems to make it an all Donnie show.

Where the film falters most lies basically in the performance of Donnie Yen who plays Chen like a mixture of the ghost of Bruce Lee, a 1930’s smiling matinee idol and a heroic Batman looking down on Gotham. It is a 90 minute exercise in preening. This of course isn’t unusual in Donnie Yen films but one might expect a director as heavy hitting as Andrew Lau to be able to reign him in a bit. Where Lau may have exercised his control unfortunately is in the action – which after the first sequence is generally nothing to shake in your pants about. There are a number of short quick jolts in which Chen demolishes his opponents but it isn’t until the final confrontation – that again goes back to the dojo thus mimicking the two previous films - that the audience gets a lengthy brawl. But one somehow lacking in tension or the wow factor.

But the major gripe aimed at this film by critics and fans is the negative depiction of the Japanese and the Westerners. And there can not be any doubt that the Japanese are all portrayed as nasty monsters and the British as racist idiots. In truth, this on its own terms didn’t really bother me all that much. I mean my guess is that most British officials in Shanghai at this time were racist and treated the Chinese quite badly – and the Japanese may not have all been evil but they were well on their way to murdering over ten million Chinese, 300,000 in Nanking alone. So no crocodile tears from me for the way these characters were portrayed in the film. What is a little more nefarious and worrisome though is the nationalistic anger at foreigners that seeps through the film at the present time when China is on the rise and pushing its weight around the globe – with Japan being a recent victim of their threats. Whether this is a co-incidence or another example of Hong Kong filmmakers placating and playing up to the Mainland is hard to say – but if so, one can begin to say goodbye to the independence of filmmaking in Hong Kong.

My rating for this film: 5.5

Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame
Director: Tsui Hark
Year: 2010
Starring: Andy Lau, Tony Leung Ka-fai, Carina Lau, Li Bing Bing

Let’s just come out and say it – this is the best Tsui Hark film since The Blade in 1995. The seeming decline in Hark’s work over the past fifteen years has been the subject of many a fan and critics sad soliloquies. How could the director/producer who brought us Peking Opera Blues, Shanghai Blues, Chinese Ghost Story, Green Snake and Once Upon a Time in China suddenly be unable to grab us with his films anymore. Where did the magic go? Every new film brought out mass prayers that maybe this film would be the one to get him back on the right track. But films like Tristar, The Legend of Zu, Black Mask II and Seven Swords instead brought a tear to our eyes. Time and Tide has its fans but to me it was a cold convoluted film with a few superlative set pieces. It isn’t really surprising - he had a great run for fifteen years and how many artists last that long at the top of their game. Genius burns out faster than mediocrity.

Still his films were the reason that so many of us initially found our way into Hong Kong films and so we hoped. What made his films so wonderful is hard to pinpoint because they were all so different in most ways, but the one element that underlie all his classics was a heartfelt sentimentality that never felt cynical – whether it was the friendship of three women fighting for Chinese freedom or two strangers pining for one another over the years or a bookish scholar who finds the courage to follow his love straight into the bowels of hell to save her. It was this untarnished sentimentality that seemed to disappear from his films – whether it was a reflection of the hardening of this world or perhaps a hardening within himself, who can say – but without it his films seemed cold and distant - clinical exercises in filmmaking but without the passion.

I can’t say that Detective Dee entirely reclaims that sentimentality – I don’t even know if it would work for today’s audiences – but one does sense that Tsui has reclaimed his passion for filmmaking. This film is a craftsman at work creating a tense, fast moving narrative that never flags for a moment and constantly surprises with inventive scenes and characters. It is a fun wild ride like his films used to be. Perhaps darker, perhaps more serious but a carnival ride nevertheless. Tsui immediately throws his audience into the spectacle of the Tang Dynasty in 690 right after Empress Wu (Carina Lau) has deposed yet another son and claimed the throne for herself. A woman taking the throne doesn’t sit well with many in the palace as well as in the military and it seems only a matter of time before they strike at her. A giant Buddha is being built (with Tony Leung Ka-fai being the main architect) right outside the palace and when two of the planners apparently catch fire from their insides, the Empress calls for the return of Detective Dee (Andy Lau), who she had imprisoned years ago for being a traitor, to solve the mystery.

Don’t think of Detective Dee (a.k.a. Judge Dee) as he is generally presented in films or history (he really did live during this period) or even in the mystery novels of Robert Van Gulik as a scholar who works his way cerebrally though investigations. Tsui makes him an action hero as well – much perhaps not coincidentally in the same vein as Sherlock Holmes was portrayed by Robert Downey. This is a good thing as assassins are constantly trying to kill him and his agility saves him on numerous occasions. He is given two assistants to work with – The Empress’s able right hand woman (Li Bing Bing) and a cruel albino who seemingly takes pleasure in taking lives – but are they really trying to help or hinder Dee’s investigation. Who can be trusted? No one, is the answer.

Full of a myriad of slick action scenes, the standout is a lengthy set piece that occurs in claustrophobic caverns beneath the earth with killers popping out of everything and everywhere. It is exhilarating and fluid – like the old Tsui Hark could do with his hands tied behind his back. The performances are all topnotch – Andy Lau showing a vulnerability behind his nobility, Carina displays just a pinch of humanity within her cruel iron hand, Li Bing Bing is graceful, beautiful and ultimately touching, Tony bounces beautifully between humility and anger and it was just nice seeing small parts for two actors from back in the 1980’s – Teddy Robin Kwan and Richard Ng. Great sets, costumes, pacing and characters - it is almost like being back in the 1980's.

What seemed an unnecessary add-on though, was a last minute political message that echoes the one in Hero and caused so much controversy then – one that is imparted by Detective Dee to the Empress – yes you are cruel, yes you have killed many people who opposed you – but you are a strong ruler and keeping the country together is what counts - so keep on ruling. It felt like a commercial for the Communist government in China and seemed so out of place – so did Tsui have to throw it in there one might wonder to appease the Mainland?

My rating for this film: 8.0

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Ong Bak 3

Yesterday I finally made it to Ong Bak 3. I had been on my way to see it a while back when the troubles began and the Sky Train was shut down. It is barely showing anywhere now so I was glad to catch it in time. Bangkok seems to getting back to normal at least for now. I walked down to the area where the Red Shirts had encamped a few days after they were driven out and it was as if they had never been there. Everything was cleaned up and all the stores had re-opened with busy shoppers inside. There still remained two very visible scars though – the burning down of a big section of Central Mall and for some inexplicable reason, the burning of the Siam Movie Theater – one of the few remaining small independent theaters in Bangkok that played a nice eclectic group of foreign movies. A real shame. Wise Kwai pays tribute to this theater here.

Ong Bak 3
Directors: Tony Jaa, Panna Rittikrai
Year: 2010

One might conjecture that the narrative arc of Ong Bak 2 and Ong Bak 3 was a reflection of the troubles that director and star Tony Jaa had going on in his personal life during the making of these two films. During the production of Ong Bak 2 there were numerous on and off set problems with Jaa disappearing at one point and rumors of a possible nervous breakdown. This created major dissonance between Jaa and the Sahamongkol production house that has been behind all of Jaa’s films. But things were patched up and Jaa along with his mentor Panna made Ong Bak 3 (a direct sequel to the second film but no relation to the first in terms of story). Ong Bak 2 is full of angst and pain and the sequel begins in the same manner – but by the ending Jaa’s character has come to terms with who he is and is at peace. Regrettable this resolution does not make for a particularly compelling film and Ong Bak 3 is a disappointing simplistic jumble of mysticism, brutality, action, Buddhism, revenge and redemption.

Ong Bak 2 ends jarringly with Tien (Jaa) being captured by the killers of his father and imprisoned primed for torture. This film takes the story up right from that point with Tien being literally broken with bone crushing techniques. Tien is saved at the last moment – the sword getting ready to descend with a horse rapidly approaching cheap scenario – by an order of the King and turned over to a monk for repair. Tien’s tormentor, the ever smirking Prince (Saranyu Wongkrajang) soon gets his just desserts at the hands of the even more evil Bhuti Sangkha (played by the terrific Dan Chupong – Dynamite Warrior, Born to Fight) who impressively appeared near the end of Ong Bak 2 as the Crow like fighter. Tien is made whole again – not only externally but more importantly internally – and he begins to accept the teachings of Buddha. But Bhuti makes one mistake – he messes with Tien’s female childhood friend – and now Tien has to face an entire army of killers.

None of this is particularly interesting – a martial arts revenge/redemption story that has been enumerated hundreds of times all over the world but it is made even less compelling by stereotype sketch characters – the good monk, the loving innocent girl, the evil menace, a stiff lipped hero. But come on – let's face it, no one watches a Tony Jaa film in expectations of narrative complexity – we come to see asses kicked in multiple ways and here is where the film truly is a let down. If memory serves me correctly, there are five action set pieces – one with Jaa taking on his tormentors, one with Bhuti killing all of the Prince’s men, Jaa in another small combat number against some of Bhuti’s men, the large set piece against the army and the finale one-on-one against Bhuti – and none of them really excite. Perhaps I have seen Jaa and his bag of martial arts tricks once too often but nothing here felt original. In Ong Bak 2, Jaa displayed a number of martial arts styles that were astonishing – but all the choreography in this film is basically one guy charging Jaa and getting crushed – after the first 20-30 victims it all gets a bit repetitive. Even the final showdown was less than inspiring because by then Tien was almost Buddha like and nothing could beat him. Jaa seems a lot more interested in sending a message than in generating excitement. My advice to Jaa would be to bring his films back into contemporary times and to find his sense of humor again.

My rating of this film: 6.0

Other than this, the only other films I have seen of late are the Matt Helm series from the 1960’s starring Dean Martin. The Matt Helm series of books written by Donald Hamilton was America’s answer to James Bond, but minus much of the Bond razzmatazz and save the world scenarios. Based on my reading of three of the books that the films are based on, the plots are very basic and to the point and the 150 pages or so are easily read in a day or two. In the books, Helm is an assassin for the US government. He gets an assignment to kill and amid various complications he completes his job. In their day the Helm books were quite popular and not surprisingly four of books were brought to the screen all starring Dean Martin.

A worse selection for this character is hard to imagine. In the books, Helm is a tough terse cynical operator – but Martin plays him basically like Dean Martin on a golf outing at the Playboy Mansion. He is a lady killer and no woman can resist his slight charms. In those rare moments when he is not ogling or seducing women, he tries to stop the villains but his assignment is almost an inconvenience. The films only have a passing resemblance to the book plots as well – for example in The Wrecking Crew (1969) in the book Helm is sent to Sweden to kill the communist head of a secret cell, while the film has something to do with a gold robbery and lots of gadgets. In fact, the films are little but gadgets, bushels of women and Martin smirking. They are plain awful and one can’t feel a bit disheartened that the Matt Helm character was given such short shrift – someone needs to bring the real Matt Helm to the screen.

From a strictly cheesy pop 60’s perspective, the one plus for today’s viewers are Martin’s female co-stars – some of the more popular babes of that era – Elke Sommer, Sharon Tate, Nancy Kwan, Tina Louise, Senta Berger, Ann Margaret, Camilla Sparv, Stella Stevens and Daliah Lavi.

The same thing seems to have happened to the one incarnation of the Modesty Blaise books. The books are great fun – pulp fiction somewhere between the Doc Savage books and the Bond series – tough hitting, gritty but a bit preposterous. But the film Modesty Blaise made in 1966 is so full of pop pretentions that it is painful to endure it. Modesty too needs a high budget reworking on the big screen.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Bangkok Adrenaline

As armored vehicles break through the barricades, black smoke billows in the not too distant future and helicopters patrol overhead, a mournful feeling has dropped down upon the city. Things may be coming to a head here. It is all very sad that it has come to this and one has to wonder if this will turn out only to be the beginning of something much worse to come. Over the past few decades so many countries have been torn apart by civil war, but generally these conflicts have been caused by ethnic or religious differences – in Thailand it is a more old fashioned cause – a class divide between the elite and the poor. The disparity of wealth here is enormous. By setting up their headquarters in the center of the glitzy malls, the Red Shirts seemed to be making a point – we may not have the money to shop here but we can take it by force if we have to.

Anyway, in an attempt to get back to the focus of this Blog, here is a quick review of an interesting if not particularly well-made hybrid Thai film called Bangkok Adrenaline.

Bangkok Adrenaline
Director: Raimund Huber
Year: 2009
Duration: 85 minutes

Produced and written by a group of Farangs (i.e. Westerners), the film hops on the Parkour/action film bandwagon with some fine action set pieces that zip around Bangkok with a sense of fun and flair. Unfortunately, the script is a mess and the story is at times nearly incoherent. When the film isn’t flying, it is dead in its tracks with not nearly enough action to make up for its failings. First time director, Huber, shows his inexperience with numerous pointless scenes, extraneous shots that come to nothing and a pace that falls into lulls that seem to have no purpose other than adding to the running time. It also perhaps makes the mistake of adopting a lot of broad slapstick Thai like humor that didn’t feel even mildly funny to me.

Now to be fair, the DVD that I watched had the four foreigners badly dubbed into Thai and the subtitles may have made the film more confusing than it really is. According to Wise Kwai, the original soundtrack was in English but when it was released into Thai theaters only a Thai dubbed version was shown. A DVD in the UK has the original soundtrack, but the one I ended up with was purchased in Chinatown in NY and may be of questionable legitimacy.

As best as I could understand, four foreigners (Daniel O’Neill, Conan Stevens, Raimund Huber and Gwlon Jacob Miles) live in Bangkok and are doing their best to make ends meet by either theft, go-go dancing or fighting. But it’s not enough and one night they end up in a gambling den where they make the mistake of winning too often. The Thai boss doesn’t take kindly to this and threatens their lives unless they help him with a job – kidnap the lovely daughter (Praya Suandokmal) of a wealthy crooked businessman. They successfully do this but collecting the money is a different matter as the father has an unending number of martial arts minions to send after the quartet.

The revelation of the film is actor Daniel O’Neill, who has been doing stunt work for nearly a decade appearing in films such as Gen X Cops 2, Naked Weapon, Twins Effect, Tom Yum Goong and The Bodyguard 2 – but here he is front and center of the action set pieces with a dazzling array of Parkour and martial arts skills. In particular there are two lengthy chases through the streets, alleyways and roof tops of Bangkok that seem to be highly influenced by the Tony Jaa chase in the first Ong Bak. O’Neill’s moves are equal to Jaa’s though he doesn’t show nearly the power that Jaa has. It is impossible to evaluate his acting skills in this dubbed version but he clearly has the looks to become a leading action actor.

My rating for this film: 5.0

PS – it sounds like it may be over for now in Bangkok. The Red Shirt leaders appear to be calling a halt to their protest. Where it goes from now will be seen, but at least this may be thankfully coming to end without a last horrendous spasm of violence.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Bangkok is heating up

And that's not the temperature. A few days back it looked like an agreement was about to be reached between the Government and the Red Shirts, but all hell has broken loose with the shooting of a top Red leader. From a friend's rooftop, we could see and hear from Lumpini Park all the smoke, blasts and gunfire going on. Earlier, I was on my way to see Ong Bak 3 when I realized that the Skytrain had been shut down and the streets barricaded. Soldiers are all over Farangland, well equipped but how well trained is to be seen. It was a bit worrysome seeing one solider leave his automatic weapon leaning against a wall and going off to buy some food at a street stall! Nice souvenir that would have been! If my air-conditioning was working better, I'd just stay home and order in - but I need to get out. Went to McD's for an ice cream cone and Farangland looked more like Zombieland - not a lot of people around. The oddest thing though that I saw today was a line of about 25 colleged aged farang females walking in single file with two chaperones looking after them. A class trip to Bangkok in the middle of a possible civil war? What genius thought that one up?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Sam Hui Movie Theme Songs

God, it's hot in Bangkok. Walking outside is like shoving your face into a microwave on the defrost setting. Daily living seems to consist primarily of getting from one air conditioned setting to another. It is so hot even some Thai's are visibly sweating. Adding to this is that the air con in my apartment is as lukecool as relations between Sandra Bullock and her husband. So with even less energy than usual, I haven't tended to this Blog garden and may not do so until it cools down to around 35 celsius (95 farenheit) or my air con is fixed. But it's easy to put up a little music, so here is Sam Hui singing 12 of his movie theme songs.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Welcome to Thailand

I arrived in Bangkok almost a week ago to the news that a few hand grenades had been tossed into the Sky Train here killing one person and injuring over seventy. Other acts of random violence between the Red Shirts and the authorities crawl across the TV news every day but being here it all feels a bit surreal really. A fifteen minute walk away from my apartment that overlooks the city from the 30th floor, the Red Shirts have set up camp amidst the luxury malls and the five star hotels, but here in Farangland life goes on as always; bars full of jovial drinkers, restaurants offering spicy curries, bar girls offering something quite different and stalls selling cheap trinkets to red faced tourists from all over the world. Yesterday, after finally getting over jet lag and my back from hell, I wandered down to Siam Square where I had heard the Red Shirts were dug in behind barracades of tires, barbed wire and sharpened bamboo sticks. I found that but overall it was very anti-climatic. I was anticipating masses of raised fists facing a wall of implacable soliders with guns in hand - but it felt more like a lazy Sunday afternoon picnic. People snoozing under the shade of cover from the sweltering heat and food vendors everywhere trying to make a baht. I think these food vendors have made out best in all of this. No cops, no soldiers and not really a lot of Red Shirts. Whether this whole thing will blow away or turn into The Year of Living Dangerously will be interesting to witness. I was here for the last coup when I chased after tanks going down the street, the airport shutdown and so why not now.

In celebration of being back, here are four songs from a Thai group called Carabao, who for decades have sung about the dispossessed and disenfranchised here.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Last Four Tracks from Disc 1 of HK Film Songs

Here are the final four tracks of the CD of Hong Kong movie themes. I wish I was better at telling you which films they come from. I have known a few and though many of the songs are very familiar, I just can't say for sure what film they were from. I won't be getting Disc 2 up for a while I expect, as I am headed off to Bangkok in a few days for a period of indeterminate time. That is of course assuming that the city is still standing. It seems to have cooled down a bit this week but things could get messy. If so, my plan is to spend a lot of time by the pool and eat a lot of green curry chicken shipped in by a restaurant down the street.

If you want to listen to all sixteen tracks at one time - go here.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Next Four Tracks

 Here the next four tracks in the HK film compilation CD that I have. Sorry for being such a slackard of late.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Sampling of Hong Kong Film Songs

I am in the midst of one of my lazy periods. They come and go. But to give this Blog a small pulse, here are four selections from a two disc CD of Hong Kong theme songs. These four are pretty familiar but I would likely mistake which films they are from, so I will leave that to those who know best.

Monday, March 22, 2010


Thank God the Health Care Bill has passed. Now maybe all the Tea Party nutters out there can go back to doing what they do best. Sleeping with their siblings and masturbating with their guns. And now that it will pass into law, we can finally tell them that Yes, this is in fact a Government takeover of the health care system in the USA - soon to be called the USSA. By the end of the week plane loads of Chinese and Cubans will be arriving to take over our medical care services. And Yes, it is also true as your hero Glenn Beck said that Obama is setting up Gulags out west in which to place all the anti-government protestors. But in this case, the purpose will actually be to teach you to read and write beyond your current third grade level. And to think for yourself. I know it will be difficult but someday you will be thankful when you can finally get that job you have dreamed about bagging goods at your local Walmart.

 In celebration of this moment in time when Congress did the right thing for a change, I give you a touch of cheesecake.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Crawling Out of the Attic Space - Another Bollywood Horror

The other night I had dinner with a neighbor and she asked me whether I missed being a part of the New York Asian Film Festival. Not really I answered, only that I no longer had the opportunity to watch obvious classics like this film I came across on YouTube.

And that video led me to this bizarre Raquel Welch video.

Ok – time for another Bollywood horror film review. I can only put it off for so long with pointless videos of girls with large chests.

Jadu Tona (Black Magic)
Director: Ravikant Nagaich
Year: 1977
Duration: 124 minutes
Music: Hemant Bhonsle

I never ever got around to seeing The Exorcist because when it came out there were all these stories about people in the audience having seizures and epileptic attacks – nothing I wanted to chance. But thankfully now that I have seen Jadu Tona I feel that I never have to see The Exorcist. Jadu Tona has a possessed young girl who throws up on the camera lens and rolls her eyes a lot and I bet Linda Blair didn’t even dance on the ceiling as this one does. So what could The Exorcist have that this film doesn’t? Though I doubt if any audience member in India had a seizure while watching this - unless it was caused by laughter and that wasn’t from the comic relief believe me (though the film has plenty of that for anyone who cherishes that art form - think mental institution=crazy people=comic relief). O.K. so this film wasn’t exactly a scare fest. In fact, the scariest thing about it was a roomful of children and dolls celebrating a birthday in a musical number but that is a personal bogeyman of mine.

The film actually has a terrific cast with the chiseled chinned Feroz Khan looking manly, Reena Roy as the love interest, Prem Chopra who was one of the great sneering villains of Bollywood playing a concerned father for a change, Ashok Kumar, a true legend in the 1940’s and 50’s doing his duty as an Inspector, Aruna Irani who has been popping up in a lot of films I have seen lately doing a basic walk through, Jeevan who is another perennial villain actually being a villain and of course what would any film be without the hilarious antics of Jagdeep. And let us not forget Baby Pinky who portrays the possessed girl as if her allowance was cut off and she throws multiple fits. Two of the playback singers are Asha Bhosle and her daughter Varsha Bhosle (who has since become a right wing nutty Hindi columnist and suicide attempter). So this film is by no means a “B” film, it just feels that way.

Aamir (Prem Chopra) is bringing his two daughters Varsha (Reena) and Harshu (Baby Pinky) to visit his parents in a small rural village where superstitions still run deep. A poor man stops their car on the road and tells them that before entering the village they must pray at the base of the Banyan Tree or bad luck will follow them. Being modern city dwellers, the family of course poo-poo’s this and continues on their merry way to the village where the radio is playing the theme song to Hawaii 5-0. Harshu, who is shaped like an over stuffed vegetable dumpling, goes off to explore while her big sister reads Harold Robbins, a sign I have noticed in Bollywood films of crass modernity. Harshu goes into the fields and performs a musical number for which the Song Gods of India quickly punish her for the crime of subjecting an audience to this sight. Such things should not be allowed in any film industry.

She then wanders into an old ruined house where a ghost tricks her into allowing her to be possessed by him as he has some unfinished business on his mind – revenge. Harshu begins having these little jerking eye-rolling fits but while the villagers want to bring in a priest (Premnath) to chase the evil away, the family just puts it down to silly behavior. Back in the big city of Bombay, they take her to a psychiatrist Dr Arya (Feroz) who diagnoses her as having a multiple paranoid personality and scoffs at the crazy idea that Harshu could be possessed. But not surprisingly he pays many house calls on Harshu and then spends his time with Varsha as he unleashes his masculine and hairy chest on her. He continues to scoff even after Harshu walks on the ceiling, likely kills a man by strangling him and attacks Arya when he takes her up in his little plane – always a wise thing to do with either a possessed person or one who has a multiple paranoid personality! Enter Inspector Jolly Goodman (Ashok) with his irritating habit of initializing everything – i.e. good morning=GM, I need to take a leak=INTTAL – who instantly knows this little vegetable dumpling is behind murder!

This film gets so close to that elevated status of “so bad, it’s good” but sadly just misses the mark even with a rather fun whacked out last 20-minutes of murder, walking on the ceiling, scorpions and exorcism or as Inspector Jolly Goodman would put it “20-miniutes of MWOTCSAE”.

My rating for this film: 3.5