October 23, 2005

THE WIG (2005) - R3 Special Edition DVD review

THE WIG (a.k.a. SCARY HAIR) - Korean Region 3 Special Edition DVD (released by BEAR dvd)

American action-horror films like FINAL DESTINATION that combine chills with gore, also have release mechanisms where humour can relieve the suspense and horror. Good Japanese and South Korean horrors rarely let you off the hook so easily... On top of that, THE WIG also gives you a raw taste of the emotional impact of, say, a nasty car crash.

THE WIG is a dark, gut-wrenching, deeply emotional chiller, that injects more than its fair share of shock moments and visceral horror. I was expecting the chills, based on the scary effects that Sadako's long black hair have in the RING movies. What I also got was an emotionally intense drama comparable to A TALE OF TWO SISTERS, yet much faster paced. There were also violent moments I'd expect in OLDBOY but not here. So basically my expectations were way off, THE WIG delivers the creepy chills, but much more.

The high quality of directing, cinematography and acting defy the basically silly premise of a haunted wig. I would even recommend that the title be renamed to give the film a better chance internationally. Imagine if RING had originally been called THE VIDEOTAPE, what chance would it have stood? So far the only alternate title to be used is SCARY HAIR, which makes this excellent film sound like a Troma flick. If you're not convinced, try out one of the online trailers (search Twitchfilm.net for details).

The Special Edition DVD from Korea is a region 3 NTSC on one disc, with the film's 1.85 aspect ratio anamorphically presented. The beautifully mixed audio is also included in an extremely effective DTS track, if you want to jump that little bit higher during the shock moments. The English subtitles are well-translated, though probably don't do justice to the subtleties of the script. Signs, headlines and other written text are translated too.

A generous amount of extras includes extensive behind-the-scenes footage of the film's many FX sequences and the actors enduring their most emotional scenes. THIS FOOTAGE CONTAINS MANY STORY SPOILERS so please don't watch it before seeing the film. There's also footage of the photo-shoot for the posters and publicity art. These beautiful photos are faithful to the gloomy and colourful look of the final film. Thankfully the action in the featurettes is self-explanatory because none of the extras are subtitled. There is also a 2002 short film from the director, also unsubtitled, and 2 trailers for THE WIG.


October 22, 2005

Not always DVDs

Of course, it's not always DVDs on this blog, despite the title...

Just had the privilege to see SYMPATHY FOR LADY VENGEANCE at the London Film Festival - all I can say is that there aren't too many movie trilogies out there where all three films are of such a high calibre (pun intended). I have no idea when a DVD boxset of this film, OLDBOY and SYMPATHY FOR MR VENGEANCE will come out, but I'll be getting one, for certain.

Saw this today and TIM BURTON'S CORPSE BRIDE, which I'm sorry to say didn't hold a candle to NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS.

Earlier in the week, saw 'electroclash' funsters LADYTRON live at Koko in Camden, North London. It seems that the excellent (am I overusing this word?) support band BATTANT is lucky enough to have an early Siouxsie Sioux reincarnation fronting them.

Finally, I got to see the British Film Institute release of the original Japanese version of the 1954 GODZILLA at the Curzon Cinema in Soho. The BFI are promising a DVD release in the UK, though I'm hoping that they have better materials at their disposal than the theatrical print that's on show. Soft, scratchy and dupey, it looks every inch a 1950's film, but I'm sure the Japanese DVD will have been restored within an inch of it's nitrate - I'd get that, but it has no english subtitles...
The re-emergence of Godzilla films in the early 1990's was the reason that I started to look east for other more interesting films. During the search for watchable videos, VCDs and laserdiscs, I discovered the joys of RINGU, ULTRAMAN TIGA and AKIRA as they first came out. But despite the fact I've seen every one of his films, this was my first ever experience of Godzilla on the big screen.
Below is the excellent poster art by Phil Ashcroft to publicise this well overdue event, which even managed to miss the big guy's 50th birthday. (Fortunately I was able to celebrate properly last year with a trip to Japan, but that's another posting...)


October 20, 2005

ULTRAMAN NEXUS (2004) - HK DVD review

(37 episodes)

ULTRAMAN NEXUS is a much more adult series than its predecessor, ULTRAMAN COSMOS. Admittedly it's still a guy in a rubber suit fighting monsters that are other guys in rubber suits but Tsuburaya Productions don't like to slack. I've remained a fan of the various Ultra-series ever since ULTRAMAN TIGA because of their constant inventiveness with the format.

ULTRAMAN NEXUS is set after the movie ULTRAMAN NEXT. It delivers the usual Ultra-fights, but defies the usual formulaic episode structure by using a complex story arc involving multiple Ultra-men both good and bad. The subplots range schizophrenically between sudden death and balloon animals, alien invasion and sappy romance. There's a new underwater base and far more physical action from the Earth Squadron than usual - like energy weapon fights with smaller monsters lurking in forests and factories. There are some great new CGI monsters thrown into the mix - the first monster to appear defies description! Less successful is the intercutting between CGI aircraft and slow-motion miniatures - they suddenly become extra fast and manoevrable. The same can be said of the infrequent fights using CGI Ultramen. But, all in all, a darker, unpredictable, action-packed series.

ULTRAMAN NEXUS was released in Hong Kong as 7 dvds. These were sold individually or as 2 fold-out boxsets (pictured). The same discs were used in both releases. I bought these Hong Kong versions because the Japanese releases had no english subtitles. These subs aren't the best translations in the world - you can follow the plot, but people's names aren't consistent and are occasionally translated. Attempts to translate pseudo-scientific jargon can only be understood using an excess of lateral thinking.

Also annoying is the presence of a clock top-left in picture throughout each episode. Looks like these were mastered off breakfast-time transmission tapes! (This also happened on the FIRESTORM anime release).

There are absolutely no extras and the chaptering is sparse. The picture is standard 1.33 aspect ratio, as originally broadcast. The cover art is excellent, showing off the designs of the various Ultra-suits, and the fold-out cases of the boxsets are well made and very displayable.

Lastly, I've never seen a series with as many different theme tunes!


October 17, 2005

Takashi Miike's ZEBRAMAN (2004) - review

(2004, Japan)

Well, given the choice, I'd rather watch a low, low budget Asian film over a Hollywood blockbuster. This film was just so much fun, beautifully acted, eccentrically mad plot, great visual gags, killer fight scenes... It's like an episode of ULTRAMAN or KAMEN RIDER, but aimed at an adult audience.

It's 2010. ZEBRAMAN is a seventies TV superhero idolised by a Yokohama school teacher. When strange men in masks start a series of local rapes and murders, who you gonna call..?

Director Takashi Miike is so versatile that his films can never be predictable, given the extremes he's gone to in the recent past. You're never sure how far he's going to go in terms of plot twists or sexual or violent extremes. He might even start telling the story with CGI, stick-figure animation or plasticine figures.

ZEBRAMAN is of course very restrained for Miike, that doesn't mean to say the film would be rated at less than an 'R' for violence and sexual content. On many occasions, it looks like it's going to get very dark, very quickly...

DVD UPDATE March 2008
Zebraman finally gets a release in the US on region 1 DVD from Tokyo Shock...

October 14, 2005

GIANT ROBO MIKAZUKI (2000) - best kaiju series ever!

(Japan, 2000, imdb: Tekk├┤ki Mikazuki)

If you like the look of the new Japanese short NEGADON, seek out the very similarly themed live-action mini-series GIANT ROBO MIKAZUKI. This came out in 2000 and I heard it was Japan's most expensive TV series!

Based on an old anime GIANT ROBO, this sublime six hour mixture of suit action and CGI, pits a mysterious giant robot against floating bell-shaped monsters, demons and watermelon lizards!. All mixed in with a powersuited action team (with pull-string activation), a cyber-defence HQ, crappy government giant robots (designed like 1950's clockwork robots) and more... all marvellous tongue-in-cheek fun. Mightily powerful fight scenes, fun characters, and a highly successful depiction of what havoc a giant robot might actually wreak by simply taking a walk!

Why this isn't out in the west is beyond me. Dare I say, it's more fun than many recent Godzilla films. There, I said it, I'm not proud of myself, but it's true.

There was a 2 DVD Hong Kong boxset of MIKAZUKI (front cover pictured) with really, really bad english subtitles and botched letterboxing on the awesome, awesome first episode. But it's a lot of telly, a lot of fun, and the Hong Kong set is really cheap. The huge Japanese DVD boxset looks 100 times better, but there aren't any subtitles...

Even the soundtrack's good!

October 12, 2005

TALES OF TERROR 1 - Region 3 DVD review

TALES OF TERROR - Volume 1 - Hong Kong Region 3 DVD (Unicorn release)

First volume of episodes from the Japanese TV series TALES OF TERROR (2005).

Must have missed the small print when I bought this one. There are 8 episodes on this DVD, but the episodes are barely 5 minutes long each! That's under 40 minutes of tales of terror. There's also an interview with the director. For once, the interview is subtitled in english (extras on HK releases rarely are), but this doesn't really compensate for the scant running time.

If you like really short short stories (I mean the one or two page sort) this may be for you. Each little episode hits the ground running and often manages to generate chills in the short time available.

The cover describes the aspect ratio as 4:3, but the image is in fact 16:9 letterboxed within a 4:3 frame (otherwise known as non-anamorpihc widescreen). The subtitles are unfortunately positioned halfway over the lower letterboxing. They are well written and removable, and the optional DTS audio is creepily directional.

Looks like there are 3 more volumes to come...


October 05, 2005

HAUNTED SCHOOL (1995) – Region 3 HK DVD review

Region 3 HK DVD review (Universe Video)

First I saw HAUNTED SCHOOL 4 and had to see more of the series...

This is the first in a successful series of Japanese children's films, released presumably to tie in with the Japanese Oban festival season (a rough equivalent of Halloween). The titular school is full of demons and ghosts, some silly-looking, some seriously creepy. Japanese kids must be made of stern stuff judging by the almost RING-worthy opening scene.

Also the heavyweight make-up fx used later in the film rival (and rip) THE THING and THE FLY 2. I though I was watching a film from the eighties, but in fact it's a dated-looking 1995. Not many shocks, but very many original scenes for fans of the fantastic. The grinning demon, the giant legs and the upside-down room all make a unique impression.

This Hong Kong release is presented in a 1.85 letterbox (but not anamorphically). The (optional) English subtitles include a few typos, but are well translated. The pictures are a bit smeary but not bad. The worst defect of this DVD is the muddy sounding audio. The only extras are trailers for HAUNTED SCHOOL itself and the similarly interesting Japanese short story omnibus TALES OF THE UNUSUAL.

What I'd really like to get is an English-subbed DVD of HAUNTED SCHOOL 4 - an excellent, less childish take on the secrets of the school. The other 2 sequels are also unavailable (subtitled) on DVD at present.

October 01, 2005

ATOMIK CIRCUS (2004) – Region 4 THAI DVD review

ATOMIK CIRCUS (2004) aka ALIEN VS VANESSA PARADIS – Region 4 Thailand - DVD review - (J-BICS release)

A messy, mad movie - a sci-fi horror comedy musical... breaking its back to be original. (A french language film with english subtitles).

An unlucky stuntman (Jason Flemyng turns action hero) tries to rescue a wannabe rock star (Vanessa Paradis) from space aliens attacking a (very french) swampland shanty town.

The cinematography is fantastic (though the DVD gets a little murky in the darker details) with exciting angles and all the latest camera moves. Full of amazing, unique, chaotic fx shots as the aliens float around committing bloody mayhem.

Some of the humour has been lost in the translation (unless it's not funny in the first place) - but the english subs do a good job getting the wordplay across, though mostly they are timed before the lines are even spoken.

The film is presented in 2.35 anamorphic, though the letterbox seems tight on the composition - often cutting off the tops of heads... but I guess that's what this film is all about!

The french language 5.1 audio mix is fairly muddy (though Paradis' songs come through lod and clear) and there are very few directional fx.

There are no frills and no extras on the disk BUT this is the first release with english subtitles, so I'm very pleased to have had the chance to see it.