Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Hepcat in the Funky Hat with Sonny Chiba

Hepcat in the Funk Hat: The 2,000,000 Yen Arm
Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Year: 1961

There wouldn’t be any reason to really watch this enjoyable black and white pastry of a film that only has a running time of 52 minutes and likely was the second or third film in triple features other than the fact that it was at the genesis of two great careers that were to follow. Sonny Chiba aka Shin’ichi Chiba had recently graduated from university and in a talent search in 1960 Toei Studio  had signed him to a contract. What he had going for him at that point – as his endurable charisma was still a number of years away – was a great athleticism. In high school he had been a terrific gymnast and had possibly been slotted for an Olympic berth before a bad back forced him out. Then in university he began training in martial arts and so when Toei took him on he was put into films that very much displayed his physical skills – though again nothing like he showed later in the 1970’s when he really became a star with the many great action films that he oversaw. Here he is a mere contract player, lean and still learning his craft.

Directing the film was another person who was just beginning his career with a number of secondary studio films and it wasn’t really until 1967 when Kinji Fukasaku made the bizarre Black Lizard in which he was able to create his unique vision. Chiba appeared in Fukasaku’s first film in 1961, Wandering Detective, and they were to collaborate on a number of films over the next decade.

It would be nice to say that in watching this film there were hints of great promise for both men but though the film has a lot of verve and energy I can’t say I spotted it if it was there.  But what it is is a spiffy little film with big American convertibles, a jazz soundtrack, funky hats, kamikaze taxi drivers, baseball and constant movement. Nobody is still for more than a few moments and Chiba in particular makes every motion an athletic one even if it is merely him sitting down. You sort of want to give him a strong dose of Ritalin to calm him down. A top high school pitcher is being courted by a number of professional baseball teams but when he suddenly disappears from sight a female reporter (Hitomi Nakahara) starts snooping around as does Ichiro (Chiba) whose father is a detective and he wants to follow in the old man’s gumshoes and also romance the girl. It turns out that gangsters are involved and Chiba swings into action by knocking quite a few heads and rescuing the damsel. In truth, Chiba looks so much younger and slimmer than I am used to that I wasn’t sure if he was the pitcher or Ichiro until the action begins and then there isn’t much doubt.

Film with English sub-titles is available on the gray market.

My rating for this film: 6.5
The Trailer:

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

State of Emergency Declared in Bangkok

but who really noticed? I had planned on avoiding the protest sites after a few hand grenades caused some severe mayhem earlier in the week, but some shopping needs took me down to Pantip, Central and Siam Paragon which is where one of the larger protests has settled in. One thing that was noticeable is that there were not a lot of protestors around any longer and those that were still in residence looked to be taking it easy. But in Thai like fashion any empty space is reason to put down some goods to be sold. The area has basically become a wonderful walking street with items of all kinds being sold from food to sneakers to hats to Bangkok Shutdown souvenirs. Capitalism at its finest. The Bangkok Police Headquarters is situated right in the middle of this but there was not a cop to be seen. The Lido theaters are still in operation and I noticed that Chinese New Year is almost upon us. Happy New Year.

Some photos. I hope it all stays this peaceful.


Thursday, January 16, 2014

It's Dhoom Time!

And showing at my local theater here in Bangkok.

Dhoom 3
Director: Vijay Krishna Acharya
Year: 2013
Duration: 172 minutes


One could perhaps make an argument that the Dhoom series (Dhoom, 2004; Dhoom 2, 2006, Dhoom 3, 2013) has gingerly escorted Bollywood films into the 21st century with their high production values, big budgets, impressive action and stunt sequences, pounding dance numbers and an attitude that defies logic and gravity. It could be called catching up to Hollywood. Now whether one thinks that is necessarily a good thing or an evil thing is up to each individual, but there is no escaping the fact that Dhoom 3 is more frantic and fun than a basket full of kittens high on cocaine. Then go ahead and throw a plate of sardines into the mix and look at the result. That would be Dhoom 3.

Dhoom 3 has a fairly nifty plot with an after Intermission twist (that won’t be revealed in this review), some good acting by everyone, a few rollicking musical numbers and for Bollywood a very different location (Chicago), but the life blood of the film is the exceptional technical skills shown in the action/stunt scenes and the seamless editing that takes place in the second half (that involves the twist so again I can’t say anymore).  There are four lengthy and complicated action sequences, three of which must have brought much of Chicago to a standstill. Two of them are back to back to start the film off with a bang that echoes throughout the movie like a starting gun.  I read some reviews and reader comments that sort of trashed the film for its absurdities which it no doubt has like a case of the chicken pox, but who would go into a Dhoom film and expect anything else. This isn’t Mother India. Or even Dil Chatha Hai. This is Dhoom 3 and it embraces its over the top insanity and irrationality like a proud mother hen ready to peck out your eyes.

As in the first two Dhoom films, this one pits two cops, Jai Dixit (Abhishek Bachchan) and his comic relief partner, Ali (Uday Chopra) against a master thief. In the first film they chased after John Abraham and in the second they battled wits against Hrithik Roshan. Those are two pretty big names in the business but in this one it goes for even more juice by having the master criminal played by super star Aamir Khan all buffed up and buffed out like a Stone Age idol on Easter Island. It might seem an odd choice by Aamir who relishes making thought provoking commercial films in which he has total control for showing up in such a ludicrous pulp film – it would almost be the equivalent of having Meryl Streep jumping head first into the Fast and Furious franchise – but by the end you can see what attracted him to the role as it is an enormously physically demanding one and in that mysterious second half he gets to show some perverse acting chops. And of course he got to go to Chicago and maybe catch a Cub's game.

Aamir’s character Sahir is out to destroy a bank in revenge for it having destroyed his father (Jackie Shroff) many years previously. As usual bankers are portrayed as greedy, heartless and basically bastards on every level (as an ex-banker of many years I would only under severe torture admit that this is generally true). And Sahir is out to bring The Western Bank of Chicago to its knees by robbing it of all its money. The fact that banks actually have insurance and a very small portion of its assets are held in cash is kind of scrubbed over. Interestingly (or not) the film skips over the robberies themselves and focuses on the escapes which turn into city wide chases on motorcycles, boats, helicopters and lots of crashed police cars. The Chicago police find it necessary to bring in two Mumbai cops, Jai and Ali, to sort this all out and to catch the crook. It turns into a bit of a cat and mouse game in which in all truth the mouse is much cleverer and more interesting than the cat. Throw into this all ready fun mix an Indian Circus de Soleil that I would pay to see and I hate circuses and the astonishingly lovely Katrina Kaif, who wows in her few scenes and especially in a dance number that must have tested her physical ability to the max (ok, so maybe she was doubled for some of that. I don’t know). The film is great fun but again for the hard of reading, this is not Mother India, it is Dhoom 3 so tread carefully.

My rating: 8.0

Musical Numbers:

Here is Katrina’s Flashdance inspired number as she auditions for a job in the circus. She got the job. Aamir just sits there in his creepy head gear watching with an expression on his face as to say "this is fine but when do I get my lap dance".

And here is the number that runs over the closing credits interspersed with some scenes from the film. It is mainly another excuse to watch Katrina dance.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Bangkok Shutdown has Begun!

Protests are going on all around the city today by basically locking up many of the key intersections and bringing Bangkok to a halt. By what I witnessed today it is working pretty well. I walked up to the Asoke intersection that is about a 15 minute walk away from where I live and then later I went to Central which is about 20 minutes away in the opposite direction. Thousands upon thousands of people, but at least so far it is a very festive atmosphere. A giant street party where people are singing, blowing whistles, clapping, eating, sleeping, smiling, holding up signs and just basically having fun. This could go on for weeks or perhaps only days so it will be interesting to see how long the good mood lasts. Apparently in some of the other protest locations there was some violence and shooting incidents. Here are a bunch of photos I took that should be of interest to absolutely no one but me!