Wednesday, December 30, 2009

From The Archives of Rex Saigon: The Age of Video (1988)

Another journey back in time, to the halcyon days of 1988 with this 10th Anniversary of Home Video feature from the pages of the now-defunct home tech magazine VIDEO. What was hot, what was not, and what (they thought) was to come . . .

(turn pages included at the end)

Friday, November 27, 2009

I got your NINJA ASSASSIN right here.

Really, now, does this look like the kind of fellow who could turn your extremities into sashimi while carving a watermelon wedge out of your throat? I didn't think so. I mean, come on, he's making a little heart shape with his hands. Just for you. Awwwww.

Korean pop sensation—and sometime archenemy to Stephen Colbert—Rain is hawking some tasty little chocolate covered, orange-goo streaked goodies here called Fei Cakes, produced by the Fuma Group Food Company of China, which has in recent years invested heavily in the Industrial Bank, China Everbright Bank and Bank of Communications as part of their plan to become the "China Cake Kingdom." You will eat their cake some day. Oh yes, you will.

Fuma's marketing spiel for the cakes might sound a little . . . suggestive to western ears, and seems to be trying to encourage you to put something besides cake in your mouth:

Rain between your lips, rain in your mouth and in your heart
Fall in love with the Fei cake, with Rain and with the smelling of Rain!

Rain's Coming, indeed.

Now, if that doesn't make you want to run out and buy a box to munch on while Rain slices and dices his way through the ranks of his former ninja clan, I don't know what will.

Well, how about the image from the side of the box, then?

Nah, didn't work for me either. They had me at Sho Kosugi. But the Fei Cakes are mighty good.

As always, my eternal gratitude to Canada's most awesomest Asian mega-grocery chain, T&T, for stocking some of the coolest little nibblies this side of Hong Kong.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

INVITATION ONLY (Taiwan; 2009)

D: Kevin Ko Mang-Yung
W: Carolyn Lin Chia-hua, Sung In

Taiwan's first slasher movie brings little innovation to the global form, but replicates the cadence and ultra-gory mechanics of American and European forebears like HOSTEL, SAW, MARTYRS and their kin with such a ruthless efficiency that it's almost forgivable to overlook a comparative lack of indigenous flavor, as well as talking points that might seem profound to the average 18-year-old. Gorehounds will surely be satisfied, at least on the level of technical artistry: this is extremely gooey stuff, well-crafted and glazed in warm, golden-grimy hues by DP James Yuan, about five working class strangers lured—under false pretenses—to an executive networking party for "second generation people" at a secluded, abandoned factory warehouse. They're swiftly "exposed" as unwashed social climbers and subjected to prolonged, torturous executions in front of an appreciative audience of the privileged class, who are sickened by the envy of those beneath them, but not so much so that they can't watch the poor saps have their faces and throats carved open. In short order, the quintet is gruesomely reduced to the resilient "Final Boy" (Bryant Chang) and the resourceful "Final Girl" (Julianne), who navigate a punishing gauntlet of narrow escapes, invasive instruments, corpses and body parts (generally not their own) in order to turn tables and open doors to a sequel. Stunt casting of Japanese hardcore starlet Maria Ozawa will no doubt appeal to her onanistic fanbase, and she photographs beautifully in clothes or out of them, but her acting skills aren't likely to push her further into the mainstream as much as her willingness to disrobe as thoroughly as she does here. Make-up effects by Fei Wen-pin and Huang Ming-chu are every bit the equal of their western counterparts. Director Ko makes his feature-length debut here, after buzzing local film festivals and the internet in 2004 with his impressive horror short THE PRINT.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

HAEUNDAE (Korea; 2009)

D/W: Yun Je-gyun

Toronto was fortunate to have had this year's Korean Blockbuster® playing a screen at one of its biggest downtown multiplexes for a few weeks. It's a rarity to view any Korean cinema on the big screen in this town outside of the annual film festival, although TYPHOON did play one week on a screen near the north-end Koreatown a couple of years back.

Though it has much to recommend it, to more jaded eyes (and possibly damaged ears), HAEUNDAE isn't quite the "experience" it's been cracked up to be by various media (particularly the Korean media), despite a clearly and earnestly herculean effort on the part of everyone involved, as well as the suitably epic scope of the "super tsunami" (and the near Hollywood-grade special effects utilized to pull it off) when it finally lays waste to virtually all of Busan.

The only real problem with HAEUNDAE is balance (God knows the film's A-list budget is all up on the screen), which is tipped uncomfortably in favour of that very distinctly Korean brand of loud, slap-happily violent interpersonal relationship for virtually the entire first 70 minutes of the picture, weaving an assortment of romantic, bellicose misfits—a scheming tyrant (repped by vet Song Jae-ho, whose planned mega-mall will oust many local business people), a quartet of love-struck twenty-/thirty-somethings (fisherman Sol Kyung-gu and restaurant proprietess Ha Ji Won, united by her father's death in the 2004 Tsunami; and hunky, nice-guy lifeguard Lee Min-gi and perky college student Kang Ye-weon), cute moppets and even a salt-of-the-earth granny—into position for the rilly big shoo.

Nationalistic Koreans (of which there are many) would argue that these hyperbolic dynamics between family, friends and colleagues are indicative of passion for melodrama and their "earthiness" as a culture, but when it's pitched as loudly, as gracelessly, and as unceasingly (not to mention as drunkenly) as it is here, it's could leave the uninitiated with a splitting headache. It's disconcerting to see such chronic familial dysfunction in almost every film from a culture that prides itself on its outwardly strong family values. Koreans, however, may need a tissue or two by the last reel, since this is exactly the kind of melodramatic rollercoaster they've been conditioned to expect from virtually any film in any genre.

Science? Forget it. Veteran thesp Park Joon-hoong is on hand as a marine geologist (with his own dysfunctional family problems!) whose thoroughly researched predictions of impending doom are, in typical disaster-movie fashion, scoffed at by those around him, particularly his aggressively stupid boss, who's played as such a dim bulb you can't help but wonder how he achieved such high office (this idiot even requires Park to illustrate the super-tsunami principle in the office fish tank!). When he's not dealing with the return of his estranged wife (Eom Jeong-hwa) and the daughter he never knew she bore him, Park's stares ominously at computer screens, pours over ominous maps, receives ominous readouts from colleagues, and generally gets brushed off by the brass.

Fine enough, but the audience is given little sense of what's so ominous "out there" about until well over an hour into the picture. We're given brief shots of an underwater landscape near a Japanese island, the imminent collapse of which, Park suspects, will touch off the killer wave. But these shots show little activity beyond a slightly increasing rumble or shifting of sand. If you're going to follow the American disaster movie model—and import American special effects masters to punch up the realism—you've GOT to have a tease of what's to come to keep people baited; perhaps a sequence showing the destruction of a small portion of the island that doesn't quite register back on the mainland. In HAEUNDAE, the filmmakers seem to think the posters and trailers were all the tease they needed to get patriotic Koreans out to support this year's mega-budget blockbuster: "Face it, folks: you know what's coming; so sit back and watch this hearty stew of soap opera characters drink, scream, cry, fall in love and slap each other for a while!" We do get a few Michael Bay style high- and low-angle slow camera dollies around groups of people in multiple locations transfixing their gazes on television news broadcasts. Surely there must be better ways to film these kinds of gatherings?

Then the wave hits (prefaced by a minor earthquake, no less). And it's hum-dinger! A good 50 meters of briny CGI doom wipes out much of the popular tourist beach of the title, topples the hotels and skyscrapers lining it into each other, props a gargantuan container ship up against the Gwangan Bridge (it's cargo providing a ludicrously exciting falling obstacle course for one hapless schmoe trying to get off the bridge), and washes all of the characters in one direction or another, during which they crank their emotions to eleven, if they hadn't already done so.

And then it hits again, and we accept this because it's what we paid to see, but it stretches logic in ways the Americans stopped doing a couple of decades ago, to say the least (repeat "events" make sense in something like DANTE'S PEAK; they don't really make sense here, but it's still a lot of fun to see). Then, as the waters recede, and two of our beleaguered principals stand on top of a decimated skyscraper with other survivors as the last rescue helicopters roar away with seniors and children in baskets, the camera pans out to the sea and—blammo—another, hundred-metre wall of water comes barreling ashore. At this point, logic has headed for the mountains, and not just to stay dry. But just when we've prepared for this last dose of spectacle, just before it smooches land, the film fades to black, then picks up the story a few days later so the writers can really go for the emotional jugular with scenes of mourning and redemption. Jip!

Despite criticism, this is still very much a film worth seeing. Heck, my own standards were modest enough to pay $13 (+ subway fare) to see it on the big screen at Yonge-Dundas, despite my skepticism that a Korean movie this big would require Korean emotions every bit as outsized! The spectacle is definitely there, although many of the disaster sequences were "shot" from a considerable distance away. Ostensibly this is to give a sense of their scope, but it also suggests that the budget, as big as it was by Korean standards, only allowed for so much personal interraction between the cast and the rushing water, thus we get three main set pieces once the disaster hits: Park Joong-hoon rescuing his daughter from her room on the upper floor of a fast-draining hotel; Song Jae-ho, Sol Kyung-gu and Ha Ji Won joining hundreds in fleeing a massive wave as it barrels down a CG-extended street scape, and clinging to telephone poles where they can indulge some more melodrama; and the secondary character mentioned above trying to get off the bridge impacted by the upright freighter ship. That's more than enough to expect from any country's first disaster movie, but a monied Hollywood take on the tale would allow for several additional (possibly fleeting) sequences involving tertiary and bit players facing the disaster on a more intimate level.

HAEUNDAE is, regardless of its inevitable (though comparably minor) flaws to jaded western eyes, the most convincing disaster film to ever come out of Asia, and the very Korean-ness I'm bemoaning is what makes it stand out from other attempts in other countries. The Japanese did a pretty slick job with JAPAN SINKS in 2006, but the Korean film easily supplants it on many technical levels, and part of that is because it isn't afraid to dumb things down a bit for the domestic audience in order to give them a fun time at the movies. But there's a line drawn, more than half way through, where the dysfunctional-family drama-comedy suddenly becomes an epic scale disaster movie, whereas there needed to be a more seamless integration of the two halves.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


D: J. Lee Thompson
W: John Saxton

There's a reason Anchor Bay's new release of HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME has turned up for as little as five dollars in certain big box retailers in the U.S.: it's an awful movie.

The infamous tagline "Six of the most bizarre murders you will ever see!" is of course part and parcel of the old-school hucksterism used to peddle these "event-related" slasher movies back in the 70's and 80's, but here it's more of a blatant case of false advertising than was usually the case back in those days. Sure, in concept, some of the murders are a little off-the-wall (kebab-skewer through the mouth; weights across the nuts 'n neck, motorcycle spokes to the face, etc.), but they all happen so quickly there's little time to find them anything but frustrating (and upon rewinding, you discover how little you actually see). This movie more likely earned its R-rating for its now-quaint profanity than it's gore (of which there is little) or it's nudity (of which there is none).

By 1980, when this was shot, veteran director J Lee Thompson still had some craft left in him, if barely, but he was clearly painting by numbers on this outing, and sloppily so, as in two key scenes involving cars. Early on (and early enough to be an omen) one character's snazzy Trans Am jumps a rising river bridge, firmly planting (and utterly destroying) it's nose end on the other side, but a moment later, the car's in pristine condition. A little later, the car occupied by our possibly deranged heroine (Melissa Sue Anderson) and her crazy mother becomes lodged between the rising panels of the same bridge, eventually falling into the water below on it's roof, a plunge captured from three different camera angles, all of which are shown in sequence. Then, a fourth shot of the plunge completes the sequence, only this time, the car lands on it's wheels! How stupid did the filmmakers think audiences were in those days, anyways?

And poor Glenn Ford. He took a lot of flack at the time for appearing as Dr. Faraday in this, and his name value is really all he brings to it (as well as the opportunity for the filmmakers to insert another blatantly obvious red herring ("I'll never let anyone hurt you" he reassures Anderson in a disquietingly creepy fashion). One surmises that he took the role because it brought him back to Quebec, the land of his birth. He certainly wouldn't be the first actor to wrangle a free vacation out of a film role (Paging Michael Caine!).

The whole picture is sloppily made and poorly thought out. The red herring count is high, but it's also egregiously stupid, with virtually every character required to do bizarre things or exhibit strange behviour that no human being would ever do or exhibit (especially among a group of friends) in order to supposedly keep us guessing. It's insulting, as is the "rip off that rubber mask" finale straight out of the old Scooby Doo mysteries.

This would be a one star review were it not for the fact that Anchor Bay offers a very nice transfer on this edition, with the original music restored, thus the second star. The film itself barely merits one star. The only extra on the disc is the trailer.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Friday, September 18, 2009

From The Archives of Rex Saigon: RPM Weekly cover story - THE BLACK HOLE (1979)

Digging real deep today for a musty old copy of RPM Weekly Magazine (Vol. 32, No. 12, Dec. 15, 1979), a trade-only rag for the Canadian radio and recording industries that followed the trends, interviewed the movers and shakers, posted weekly charts in the top music categories, handed out the RPM Gold Leaf Awards (which evolved into Canada's prestigious Juno Awards) and, once in a while, pimped a movie they believed was destined to be the Next Big Thing, in this case Walt Disney Pictures' THE BLACK HOLE (a guilty pleasure of Rex's from way back), which opened worldwide just six days after the publication of the magazine, then promptly became one of those movies that contributed to the studio's lean years in the early 80's. Sure, it's basically a puff piece, written mostly from the press kit, just as such "features" are today, but it provides a sizeable preamble chronicling the history of the studio, and an interview with then VP and GM of Walt Disney Music of Canada Jim Rayburn, who was convinced the various record products would take off concurrently with the success of the film.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

From The Archives of Rex Saigon: Lost In Video Limbo (1990)

From the 1990 "Tape & Disc Annual" edition of Video Review's Movie Guide comes Bruce Eder's special report about popular movies that were still unavailable on VHS or laserdisc. DVD has become home to most of the titles Eder investigates, but there may yet be holdouts. Read on:

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Took a few photographs at this year's Toronto International Film Fest, mostly of directors at the Q&As, but I'm no stargazer, so for the most part these were snapped from right where I sat, in one or two attempts, in darkened theaters. What you see is what you get. Or what I got. Or something.

Above, Soi Cheang discusses his brilliant new Hong Kong thriller ACCIDENT. He spoke in Cantonese but rarely needed the questions translated, and yakked with a few locals in the lobby for several minutes afterward. ACCIDENT is produced by Johnnie To, and it's actually superior to VENGEANCE, To's own entry in the festival. Cheang is flanked by an unidentified translator.

John Hillcoat (second from left) fields questions about his bleak end-of-the-world drama THE ROAD, possibly nervous that Bob Weinstein was sitting in the audience shooting uncomfortable stares at him. To the right of him are Kodi Smit-McPhee and Viggo Mortensen (turns out he's quite the long-winded one). Robert Duvall appeared at the outset, but couldn't stick around.

Michael Moore sits with Fest programmer Thom Powers (I think!) for a very engaging Q&A session for his new documentary CAPITALISM: A LOVE STORY at the prestigious Elgin Theatre. Also in attendance were Moore's father, several striking miner's from Northern Ontario, and a coterie of hired "protesters" who marched down Yonge Street decrying the evils of Wall Street. Moore's new doc digs up the deep-seated and tangled roots of the current economic crisis in America (and by extension the world), with his typically leftist sense of humour. The film also showcases recently-unearthed footage of Roosevelt giving a speech that, had he lived to implement the plans he puts forth in it, might have altered the course of American history away from the current disaster.

Johnnie To joins fest programmer Colin Geddes and a translator on stage at the Ryerson to perform a little autopsy on VENGEANCE, his slick thriller starring French pop king Johnny Halliday, who also appeared at the beginning of the film, but couldn't stick around. An expectedly sumptuous visual experience even if it isn't top-tier To, with lots of little touches (beyond the casting of Hallyday) that will remind you of French cinema of the 60s and 70s, as well as an epic gun battle on a field full of cubes of discarded newspaper and cardboard that serves as To's homage to Akira Kurosawa.

Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza take the stage with Colin Geddes after scaring the shit out of the Midnight Madness with their pumped-up sequel [REC]2. They don't build up to the good stuff in this. They don't have to because the first film was the backstory. This starts with the good stuff and never slows down.

Hot Chicks In Black & White Flicks

I'm surprised someone didn't think of this sooner. Frankly, I wish I'd thought of this sooner. There's five of these on YouTube so far, posted just this month by SecretSauceTV.




Tuesday, September 15, 2009

From The Archives of Rex Saigon: Buy Now Play Later - Warner Laserdisc (1990)

Found this in an old Video Review Magazine from 1990, back when you could build a library of your favourite movies on disc from only $24.98. SUPERMAN IV? Sign me up!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

TIFF 2009: NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968); George Romero at Yonge-Dundas Square

To Toronto's famed Yonge-Dundas Square, where director George A. Romero, in town to pimp the latest entry in his deathless zombie franchise, SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD (of course I've got tickets!), expresses his somewhat puzzled gratitude to the throngs of walking dead Canadians (is there any other kind?) who got all dolled up in their nearly departed finery and participated in this afternoon's Zombie Walk, subtitled the "Special Director's Cut Edition" because it shuffled its rotten feet for a good three hours from Alexandra Park to the square. The Master was pleased, if a little incredulous at the whole affair.

Romero was joined by TIFF Midnight Madness honcho Colin Geddes, who further invited a sincere if somewhat clueless city councilor up on the YD Stage to present the director with a "very special award" that recognized both his contribution to the horror pantheon as well as his relatively new status as an authentic Canadian citizen. The trophy, natch, was a model of the CN Tower clutched by a severed hand.

The evidence (click each photo for a larger, downloadable version):

It stands to reason than an evening such as this wouldn't be complete without a free public screening of the movie that started it all . . .

That image on the bottom makes it look like they were presenting some worn-out old public domain VHS tape, but rest assured the film was spun from the excellent Elite DVD. Rex never said he was a night photographer, just an espionage master.

The official Toronto Zombie Walk will be held October 24th.


D: Bert L. Dragin
W: Bert L. Dragin, Robert McConnell

Found this advertisement for the video release of the direct-to-video horror flick TWICE DEAD while skimming a small stash of bound-for-the-recycling bin home entertainment magazines for the various technology articles I've been posting in the past few days. I haven't seen this little B horror, actually, nor am I likely to, but I thought the packaging looked appropriately garish enough to share.