Friday, November 30, 2007

SEOUL (2000; Korea)

Choi Min Soo, Tomoyo Nagase

SEOUL (2000)

D: Masahiko Nagasawa

Japanese cop Tomoyo Nagase, on vacation in Seoul is held over for questioning after he foils an armored car robbery. Meanwhile, Dawn of Nation, a terrorist organization, plots to disrupt the upcoming Asian summit, kidnapping Japan's Foreign Minister to back up their demands. Tomoyo inserts himself into the investigation of hard-nosed Korean cop Choi Min-soo, an unwavering protocol-follower who teaches him the finer points of Korean etiquette along the way, most often at the receiving end of a punch in the face. Choi himself is saddled with obstructive KCIA guys who regularly overrule his authority. Meanwhile, Tomoyo, against the wishes of his handlers, begins to suspect a link between the terrorists, the robbers and the monolithic Korea Japan Union Bank that could spell a deadly threat to Pan-Asian relationships. Slick, solid thriller with crackling action sequences, and a worthy cousin to the seminal 1999 actioner SHIRI, though one rooted less in Tom Clancy-ish techno-fantasy than that film. Writer Yasuo Hasegawa lightly acknowledges Japan's shameful presence in Korea's history, largely through the character of a wizened Korean noodle-stand proprietor whose Japanese fluency surprises Tomoyo, but then in the film's climactic turning point, in which Tomoyo rescues hostages on a city bus in defiance of Choi's orders (and is ultimately joined by Choi in his efforts), this act of Japanese redemption on behalf of Korean innocents seems tantamount to the Japanese (historical revisionists with the best of them) telling the stuffy, face-saving South Koreans to remove the stick from up their collective ass and get over themselves. A minor quibble, considering the film's general intelligence and quality in the face of so many cop thriller genre clichés. Trimming a few of the film's multiple denouements might have helped, though.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


At last! Long overdue confirmation that the people most qualified to investigate leg-tugging ghost children in haunted lakes and sobbing spectres in derelict housing estates are three beautiful women in short-shorts, tank tops and swimsuits! In the first episode of LEGEND ABOUT HUNTING GHOST: SPIRIT IN NIGHT (2002) After introducing hostess/models Eileen Chin, Ann Lau and Hui Wai-san in office Q&A sessions and then letting them introduce themselves wearing swimsuits by a stream, producer/host/flim-flam man Tin Tam takes them for an investigative swim in a resort lake supposedly haunted by the ghosts of drowned children, where a headless plastic doll conveniently placed in the water freaks them out in broad daylight.

Next up, they attempt to peel apples in front of a mirror in order to see the faces of their future husbands, but in each case they appear to be stuck with Tim Tam when he moves into the shot to tell them they’ve broken the peels. Finally, a visit to a condemned high-rise apartment building in Kuala Lumpur for a session of “plate spirit” (essentially a Quija game involving an overturned up on a sheet of Chinese characters) allows Tam to play the ace up his sleeve, video glitches subtly present throughout the videogramme suddenly pay off when a sobbing spirit—conveniently located in the room adjacent to the one where they decide to play the game—pounds on the connecting door and, wouldn’t ya know, blacks out the camera! In the right frame of mind, this is cheap fun, and one indeed wonders how Tam keeps a straight face in view of the flagrant con-artistry he and his crew are perpetrating, much of it unwittingly confirmed by a mystic “master” that Tam interviews at the end of the film. Reality-program production techniques are hindered by excessive waving of off-camera flashlights at the actresses for effect.

After the obligatory preface in which new hostesses Yu Lam-lam, Cheng Yan-yi and Lee Hak-lei postulate the existence of ghosts while modelling swimwear by the pool, LEGEND ABOUT HUNTING GHOST 2: HORROR NIGHT next entry in the earnest Malaysian “reality” series proceeds to offer scant evidence of the supernatural and plentiful implications of wishful thinking and off-camera crew tampering, as Tin Tam—who now actually seems to believe in the antediluvian myths he’s shoveling—drags his gullible cuties around to remote and/or witching hour spook sites (like a haunted lake, where they get to wear swimsuits again) in the wee hours of the morning when they’re way beyond tired, then yells something like “What was that?!?” at a bubble in the lake or a squeak in an old house, then presents the resulting stampede from the scene as evidence of the paranormal. Priceless!

Hostess Lee’s conviction that her cellphone was stolen by the graveyard ghost—all too readily encouraged by Tin Tam, who seems to know right where they’ll find it—and hostess Cheng’s “possession” by the estate ghost illustrate how easily reason can be ditched in favour of delirious group-think that favours urban legends for which there is clearly no evidence. But Tim Tam will have none of that . . .

Sporting a sleazy new porn-producer hairstyle and hopping into the director’s seat, Tam opens LEGEND ABOUT HUNTING GHOST 3: SPIRIT by reading viewer mail complaining that the show has yet to find an actual ghost and that the female hostesses are needlessly dressed in skimpy attire. His response? Smaller bathing suits and shorter shorts!

Like their predecessors, hostesses Christine, Cat and Chan Yi-yi (the only one with prior film experience, having appeared briefly in the 2000 Sammi Cheng vehicle SUMMER HOLIDAY) are introduced in their swimwear, then taken on Tam’s patented tour of the not-so-supernatural. Stop-offs this time include a delapitated colonial mansion—conveniently littered with “evidence” like joss sticks, yellow-paper talismen, ancestor tablets, and rotting papier-maché figures—where a couple of girls (but not the cameraman, of course) spot a figure at a window; a murky pond where the girls conduct an investigation by floating around on an inflatable alligator;

and finally back to the office where a “phone call to hell” pretty much flatlines, though Tam’s paranormal “expert” claims there’s plenty of evidence that they’re “getting close” to the spirit world. But just how close? Perhaps we'll find the answer in . . .

LEGEND ABOUT HUNTING GHOST 4: THE SPIRIT ON EARTH. The fourth installment in this Malaysian pseudo-reality series is just barely the most effective, though its predecessors score higher on the sex appeal scale. Tim Tam’s “adventure team” in this one is comprised of a more intriguing mix of faces (who understandably take billing by first name only), including a lovely Indian girl, Karen, who speaks fluent Cantonese and wears the most revealing swimsuit. On the whole, though, the outfits are on the conservative side for this outing (perhaps Tam got his wrist slapped for Chan Yi-yi’s skimpy bikini in Part 3?). Tam pushes Karen, Elvi and Shirley harder than he did the ladies in previous episodes, probably because he’s yet to prove anything outside of the attractiveness of young models in swimsuits. At a “mining pool,” he responds to their unwillingness to swim out near a yawning vertical mine shaft surrounded by twisted rebar—even after his bribes and threats—with a real gem: “Girls nowadays are harder to force.” The derelict building in this one is an old hospital, and as usual, they find nothing in it of a supernatural nature, but the place is genuinely creepy and the girls show more genuine fear than any of their predecessors. In fact, it’s a little uncomfortable to see them put through such an emotional wringer in pursuit of something that anyone with common sense knows does not exist, but it’s effective because of it. A shuffle here; a creaky water pipe there; a flashlight shining on a rafter: these are Tam’s evidence of the paranormal. Well, those and a few “invisible” crew members who can make noises or break things while “everyone” is seemingly in the same room.

Fifth and (to date) final entry in this ridiculous series—LEGEND ABOUT HUNTING GHOST 5: CATCH THE OIL GHOST—ditches the formula of the previous four. No more swimsuits, no more short-shorts, no more adventure teams. Instead, a single hostess (who opens the show wearing a lovely sheer black shirt) interviews a woman, seated behind obscured glass, who relates the story of her husband being possessed by a trio of “Blackmen,” oily, boxer-short-clad child-spirit-demon-thingies that disguise themselves as his mahjong buddies, and who are known to break into houses to steal things and rape women (funny how such distasteful, male-dominated activities in near-third-world shitholes are also conveniently attributable to ghosts). This tale is re-enacted with cut-rate actors (one of whom, Eileen Chin, was actually a hostess in the first episode). In the “reality” portion of the show, the hostess ventures out to the boonies, where the men in a remote village—most of whom look unemployed, drunk and all too willing to cater to the producer’s wishful thinking—gather at night to hunt a “Blackman” who has, according to the flimsiest yokel evidence, been giving them troubles with break-ins and raping (always blame the ghost. Yeah, that’s the ticket!). They arm themselves with with cell phones, guns and machetes and, in more evidence of Tim Tam’s out-dated flim-flammery, very nearly catch the little beasty before it disappears into the forest. Oddly, the deliberately gauzy glimpse of the thing reveals it to be nearly identical to the version shown in the dramatization! Coincidence! You decide.

Monday, November 26, 2007

GYPSY ANGELS (1980/1994)

GYPSY ANGELS (1980/1994; United States)
D: Alan Smithee

Diggin' into the vault for this one. Ahhh, the memories. Brother, you just ain't seen bad acting until you've seen a pre-Wheel of Fortune Vanna White, playing the leather jumpsuit-clad squeeze toy of a macho barnstorming pilot (executive producer Gene Bicknell, who looks a lot like John Sayles but acts like Merle Haggard) defiantly proclaim: 'Well let me tell you one thing mister, I am one fine stripper. Real kinky, you know what I mean? Yeah, you betcha!' If the bellbottoms, aforementioned jumpsuits and Lyle Waggoner on display here are any indication, this is a movie the top-billed Vanna (at least Gene correctly surmised nobody would pay to see him) would likely have preferred to keep buried in the past, since most of it was shot in 1980 before she realized she was better suited to decorating game show sets. Not only can she not act, but she appears to be on the verge of puking during her big love scene with Gene (in which she innocently begs 'Love me. me.') To her credit, Vanna does reveal one of her vowels during that same romp in the hay. Otherwise, toss this one a Golden Turkey Award.