Monday, November 24, 2008


In the wake of Bruce Lee's worldwide success came the x-rated violence of Sonny Chiba and more stateside exploitation of Asian action (e.g. Shogun Assassin). It seems there was only one low-brow attempt to cash-in on yakuza films (Schrader's The Yakuza don't count) : TATTOOED HIT MAN! That's Bunta Sugawara brandishing the smoking gun. The original film is the 1974 modern yakuza yarn Yamaguchi-gumi gaiden: Kyushu shinko-sakusen - a mouthfull of a title which as far as I can suss out is along the lines of 'Yamaguchi Gang tale: Invasion of Kyushu.' New Line dubbed it in English and re-named Bunta 'Bud.' It's available on VHS only but you can watch it widescreen on Netflix.The skinny from Patrick Macias is that New Line was actually trying to start a boom off of the Schrader penned film. Sydney Pollack is a respected director but his films were often wincingly trite and stylistically constipated. You'd hope a team of writers like Paul and Leonard Scrader (both deeply invested in yakuza-eiga) and Robert Towne would ensure a compelling film but my memory of it was ho-hum at best. Anyhow, New Line figured they'd go the easy route - what they sort of did with Sonny Chiba's Street Fighter - dub an existing movie in English. This time they got Jack Sholder (who would go on to direct The Hidden and Nightmare on Elm Street 2) to re-write and edit. Apparently they just ditched the whole last reel in which Kyushu is invade. What you do get is a transgressive caricature of a gangster potboiler. Those dubbed voices sound familiar. It's got to be same team that did Street Fighter. Does the guy doing Bunta actually talk like that or is he trying to sound Japanese? Or does he think this is a spaghetti western and he's playing a Mexican revolutionary? The original film itself was a cash-in on Fukasaku's 'true-document' masterpiece Battles Without Honor And Humanity, which is notorious for it's crude foul mouth characters. The dubbing is perfectly primed for the deuce with all the 'motherfuckers' and other insults worthy of a Dolemite game of the dozens. And the way this film looks now (slightly worn, replete with a few jumpy edits, etc.) is exactly what those guys tried to do with that grind house double movie. In essence it's an (unintentional) action comedy that features anarchic thugs, loose women, a VD gag (again, unintentional), misogyny, gunfights, moral bankruptcy, and barely a thread of plot. Nevertheless, most of the Netflix customers who commented gave it bad reviews...And following the previous video nostalgia post, this was released on VHS by Wizard Video.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


The stream of consciousness continues to flow. The previous post's reminiscence of film flotsam such as Firecracker brought back a flood of video rental memories. For instance, speaking of Firecracker, mention must be made of Raw Force, the zombie martial arts movie made in tandem with the former, also featuring the alluring Kesner in the cast alongside B-movie vet Cameron Mitchell (who might deserve his own post) and a bunch of kung fu no names. This one actually had TV commercials! This brings to mind a film that came out around the same time that never made it on video here and remains shrouded in obscurity, despite its incredible title: Karate Killers on Wheels. This was in New York area theaters circa 1980 or 82 and Joe Bob Briggs raved about it. Still, no one else seems to remember it and it doesn't seem easy to find. From what I've sussed out it's a violent biker~martial arts movie made in 1976 by none other than Shaw Brothers, also released as simply Killers on Wheels. The only sign of any video ever being available seems to be in German (sans subs). The Chinese title is "Wu Fa Wu Tian" which means something along the lines of "Totally Unlawful." Celestial Pictures, who now own the Shaw library, have it listed on their website. Wouldn't it be nice if some DVD distributor picks it up? Apparently it features actress Liu Hui Ru, who played 'Princess Dragon Mom' in the incredible Inframan. Back when Sneak Previews was still on channel 13 (public television) and Siskel and Ebert made snarky comments at each other, they did a great 'guilty pleasures' episode on which they featured Van Peebles seminal blaxploitation outcry Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song and the Shaw Brothers cash-in on Ultraman, featuring Bruce Lee imitator Bruce Li (Ho Chung Dao) as the titular Inframan. Anyway, the advent of home video in the 80's was the first death knell for grindhouse exploitation pictures. A ripe catalog of juicy taboo-defying genre films made there way into homes. I remember looking at an early video catalog that featured provocative titles such as The 7 Brothers Meet Dracula and The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism. The avatars of distribution included major and indie labels, both mirroring the sleazy marketing tactics of exploitation days of yore. Paragon Video remains endearingly carved in the memory for their copious and diverse low-budget fare, big boxes and close to 15 minutes of lurid trailers on every tape. Titles included the gloriously shameless One Armed Executioner, about an Interpol agent on a Death Wish styled mission of vengeance; Lucio Fulci's gratuitously gory The Gates of Hell; Weird run-of-the-mill b-movie fare like Hotwire, a southern fried potboiler about car thieves. Check out this incredible online gallery of vintage VHS box art.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


Following the stream of consciousness from the previous post about Kiss of Death, the mention of Swedish sexpot Christina Lindberg brings us to Sex and Fury, a pinky violence co-opt of the popular Red Peony female gambler series. Sex and Fury (the original title is something like 'Story of delinquent elder sister Ocho') features voluptuous (and shameless) Reiko Ike as the sexy Ocho who is an expert card sharp, pickpocket and kicks ass at nude swordfighting. Speaking of fighting in the nude, does anyone remember Cirio H. Santiago's Firecracker (aka Naked Fist) starring Jillian Kesner? It features a memorable scene in which Kesner's character, a martial arts expert searching for her sister, is assaulted and ends up defending herself while each item of clothing is cut off her body, one by one. Apparently Santiago (a journeyman director of Filipino exploitation cinema who just passed away September 26th) knew this was a good idea when he tried it the first time in TNT Jackson, featuring Jeannie Bell, one of the first African American playmates of the month. Actually, I think Firecracker is a remake of Jackson. ANYWAY, Lindberg appears in SEX & FURY as a foreign gambler put in more than one compromising position during the course of the film's lurid action/comedy/sex combo. S & F is a low-brow good time helmed by legendary Japanese exploitation auteur Norifumi Suzuki. I thought it was a funny coincidence that there's a character with the same name in Japan's domestic blockbuster of a few years back, (the insufferably saccharine) Always: Sunset on Third. To its merit Always does feature a nice recreation of postwar Tokyo, an interesting inversion: artificial design of a setting associated with neo-realism. Nostalgic indeed. Anyway, enough with the digressions. In the 'Japanese Cult, Pulp and Exploitation Cinema' class I've been co-teaching we just screened School of the Holy Beast, a rousing nunsploitation film by Mr. Suzuki. Here's some of the info I provided the students:

School of the Holy Beast (Seiju Gakuen) (1974) director Norifumi Suzuki was a screenwriter first who worked on yakuza, chanbara, karate, exploitation, sexploitation and such genre films. Suzuki wrote some of the Red Peony scripts and directed the second installment, Gambler's Obligation. His niece is none other than Oryu herself Junko Fuji. Suzuki directed his fare share of pinky violence ( a lot of sukeban) films and Sonny Chiba movies. He also directed the popular Truck Yaro (Truck Rascals) series about renegade truck drivers, featuring yakuza eiga stalwart Bunta Sugawara. Suzuki's serial killer film Star of David: Beauty Hunting is even more infamous (and shocking) than his foray into nunsploitation. Suzuki also claims credit for introducing the term 'porno' to Japan (an alternative to the common expression 'pinku').

Holy Beast featured the debut of lovely lead Yumi Takigawa. Takigawa was scouted off the streets of the Shinjuku district of Tokyo. She went on to appear in other genre films such as Graveyard of Honor (yakuza film by Kinji Fukasaku), Bullet Train (Sonny Chiba has to rescue a hijacked bullet train from bomber Ken Takakura), and Karate Bear Fighter. Takigawa also had the honor of reviving the role of scorpion in 1976's New Female Prisoner Scorpion: #701 after Meiko Kaji departed the series. She went on to a successful TV career and forged an image antithetical to that of a pinky violence starlet, enhancing the cult value of Holy Beast (because of her rare risqué performance).

Monday, November 03, 2008


At the beginning of the millennium Celestial Pictures acquired the Shaw Brothers film library, or at least a good chunk of it, including lots of classic kung fu, wu xia, and other cool genre stuff. There has since been revival series and foreign region DVD releases as well as Shaw Brothers documentaries on cable TV. In the past few years various titles have been licensed to Dragon Dynasty, Image Entertainment and Media Blasters, allowing a slew of Shaw Brothers titles to pepper the DVD shelves. Image recently released Kiss of Death, a tawdry exploitation film, offering a curious counter to all the standard martial arts fare. Granted this one has martial arts too, but that's not really the focal point of this gruesome venture.

SPOILERS AHEAD - though in this kind of film you pretty much know what's going to happen before it starts...

Kiss of Death is a rape-revenge movie. Ling is a young, attractive and pure factory worker. On her way home from work she is brutally violated by 5 slothering low-life criminals. She makes her way home to the silhouettes of her guardians (not sure if they're her actual parents or aunt and uncle). We only see their shadow through a paper screen as they admonish her for coming home late and say she should work as a bar girl to make more money. Poor traumatized and stigmatized Ling has no one to turn to. The original Chinese title is Du Nu, or "Poison Woman" and it's a double entendre. Soon Ling discovers she's contracted Vietnam Rose, a notorious strain of syphilis (apparently it's also the name of a Phillipino soap opera). For the rest of the movie she suffers occasional attacks of the disease, feeling pain down there and treating it by popping some mysterious pills. It's very random and nonsensical, only adding to the gleefully sleazy exploitative thrills. Without giving the whole thing away (wait, what's there to give away?) Ling ends up working as a bar hostess (just as her uncaring caregivers suggested) in order to seek out her attackers and extract revenge. The gimp but badass bar owner, played by Kung Fu movie stalwart Lo Lieh, becomes her martial arts mentor. The training scenes are pretty entertaining because at first he shows little of that "I don't hit women" attitude, simply knocking her down until she's fierce enough to counter his attacks. Kiss of Death glides along by the numbers at a typically fervent but deliberate Shaw pace. The melodramatic tones are amped-up : lurid colors shrouded in shadows, super-groovy canned music, and last but not least overwrought emotions Chinese style. The villains, plucked from central casting (meaning Hong Kong alleyways), are hopelessly sleazy and evil, chewing up the scenery. There's a great psychedelic club scene where the baddies drug a couple of young co-eds and frame them into being sex workers, while our heroine infiltrates the party on her mission of vengeance. Completely ridiculous and devoid of any metaphorical value, Kiss of Death simultaneously delivers on its promise of (unintentional) high camp and disturbing gritty action. Kiss is not as imaginative as some of those pinky violence films, but in some ways it's actually better than the legendary They Call Her One Eye because that Swedish exploiter is a little too far fetched. It doesn't make sense that the titular One-Eye, played by lovely Lolita Christina Lindberg, is supposed to be an enslaved prostitute, yet is allowed free time (and salary) to go out and hire men to train her in guns and martial arts to wreak vengeance. It dilutes the tension big time. The fascinating thing about They Call Her One Eye though, is that the director, like H.G. Lewis and Dave Friedman did with the gore film, deliberately set out to cash in on a low-budget, taboo-breaking twisted twist on a fairy-tale. And it worked. Seen in its original 42nd street grindhouse context, the impact must've been ten fold more shocking and entertaining. As for Kiss of Death, its tawdriness is di riguer for Hong Kong cinema, particularly at that time. Now I have to get my hands on a DVD of Sexy Killer, the sleazy Hong Kong remake of the Jack Hill helmed Pam Grier vehicle, Coffy. Chen Ping, star of both Kiss of Death and Sexy Killer, boasts a filmography chock full of genre and exploitation titles, from the kung fu spaghetti western The Stranger and the Gunfighter (starring Lee Van Cleef and Lo Lieh) to The Mighty Peking Man.