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Il conquistatore d'Oriente

Turbans, Blue-Eyes & Clichés!
Another of those historical "epics" abusing the white-people-in-turbans approach. When it comes to Italian sword & sandal dramas, I prefer the more fantasy-themed ones with two-fisted muscle-men and the occasional monster. Unfortunately, THE CONQUEROR OF THE ORIENT replaces the more imaginative elements with enough clichés to make every plot-twist visible a mile away. Not only has the story been told many times before and since, but it's usually more entertaining in other variations of these often repeated themes (i.e. palace intrigue & conspiracies, avenging the death of one's father). It's dialog-heavy and most of its action scenes are pretty bad: Flimsy swords and dreadfully bad swordplay. I don't know if these weak (and few) duels were exciting back in 1960, because I'm seeing them through 21st century eyes. In short, the movie doesn't stand the test of the times and even in its English dubbed form, THE CONQUEROR OF THE ORIENT just isn't interesting.

Even so, I enjoyed it more than Ridley Scott's GLADIATOR (2000). But then, I enjoyed getting a route canal more than I enjoyed GLADIATOR. To be fair, THE CONQUEROR OF THE ORIENT has its good points: The costumes aren't bad, the sets (curtains help cover the walls' lack of props) are okay, and them harem girls put Barbara Eden "Jeanie" to shame. Though not cheap by Italian 1960s standards, its resourceful budget cuts add unintended humor: A night-time cityscape is an obvious matte that looks like a cartoon. In one scene, the obligatory tyrant (Paul Muller) looks out the window of his lavish palace, to see revolting peasants carrying torches. It's so obvious that these 'torches' are lit matches that it's actually quite cute!

When I watched this average tale of tunic-attired hero Nadir (Rik Battaglia), I had to tolerate a badly restored VHS tape with abrupt cuts (severing many sentences mid-word), scratches, and the "Something Weird Video" logo throughout. Anyway: I don't think there was any finger-printing or DNA testing back in the old primitive Middle East, so when an exiled prince(Battaglia) wants to prove he's the rightful heir to the throne, they have tests. One test is simply to hit a board using his sword! Oncethis feat is accomplished, our hero leads the rebellion to rescue Princess Fatima (Irene Tunc) and her cleavage. The reluctant bride was held captive by evil ruler Dakar (Paul Muller), until the palace is attacked by heroic Rik Battaglia. The final (and only) fight between Muller & Battaglia is decent, or at least better than the other action scenes in this slow-paced drama. In one decent stunt, the good guy swings on a vale and kicks Muller's stunt-double. Naturally, Rik Battaglia wins and gets the girl (and the country).

Syupeo Hong Gil-dong

Cheap fantasy...almost entertaining!
Korean fantasy which reminded me of Chinese stuff Wu Cheng En's Journey to the West novel, but with the occasional usage of a gyonsi (Chinese vampire). But "Hong Gil Tong" (AKA Hong Kil Tong) is a famous Korean folk hero from long ago, there are a lot of different movies, cartoons & TV shows about him—unfortunately, very few are available outside Korea. I doubt any were ever given English translation of any kind, which is unfortunate because they're not much worse than HK's kung fu comedies of the late 1970s.

This is only one of the SUPER HONG KIL TONG films; there are at least three films in this series. The FX in this movie are dirt cheap (i.e. rubber animal masks on stuntmen are supposed to depict forrest demons!), the comedy is infantile, and the script is down right boring. But its crudeness adds unintended chuckles, and the grand finale has some nice tae kwon do action; the fights nearly save this dumb farce.

Magic Kombat

unwatchable spoof of videogames
It took over a month to watch this talky, stupid, boring, cheap comedy from the Philippines. I could only stomach this cinematic ineptitude for 15 minutes at a time! Needless to say, I was disappointed, because I'm always curious to see a sci-fi movie from a country not known for science fiction. Of course, I'm also not a fan of videogames (I've never played MORTAL COMBAT), so if there are in-jokes, I'm not getting them. Language is also a factor, because MAGIC COMBAT was never intended for those of us who are Tagalog-impaired.

Infantile slapstick and childish sound FX 'highlight' this pathetically cheap farce about college or high school students Mario & Luigi. These annoying geeks go through a number of dumb comedic bits before something magical brings video game characters to life. Its action scenes are limited and won't impress fans of even the worst martial arts films! If you want to see an obscure movie's take on video games, seek out the Korean oddity STREET LAWLESS instead, and let MAGIC COMBAT rot into obscurity.

Shao Lin xiong di

Night of the Leaping GORPS?!
I watched an old Korean VHS release from 1980, titled LEGEND OF LIVING GORPS. They mean "corpse", of course. But the original title, THE SHAOLIN BROTHERS (1977) is equally inaccurate; the movie lacks any "Shaolin brothers" and the "living corpses" turn out to be hoaxes-- people disguised as vampires.

With stock music from PLANET OF THE APES, Ching Dynasty oppression, bad subtitles and plenty of swordplay, it's a typically unremarkable kung fu film. But a subplot deals with gyonsies (Hunan's legendary hopping cadavers). So its is ahead of its time— the whole gyonsi genre didn't kick in until the 1980s. The opening subtitles explain how a Taoist wizard is hired as "corpse driver", and despite cut-off cropping on the sides, I was able to read "died in a strange land", "herding corpses", "corpse would have to be returned" and that the movie is "based on legends, true events and real people". These subtitles were what introduced me to the whole Chinese vampire genre many years ago, and explained more than otherwise superior gyonsi movies (i.e. the MR. VAMPIRE movies) ever did.

The script is about jewel smugglers and revolutionaries going undercover as gyonsies, to sneak passed evil imperial guards lead by Carter Wang. It's based on the same legend that formed the script for another Chinese mystery movie, VOYAGE OF THE DEAD (1954), believed to be a lost film. Though THE SHAOLIN BROTHERS is intriguing historically, it's only a so-so movie. Much of it deals with rebels trying to defeat villainous Carter Wang and his "soul breaking needles". At the end, a hero sacrifices himself in order to hold the bad guy underwater—and they both drown. Though just another kung fu movie, it's an interesting precursor to the Chinese horror fantasies about to grace the 1980s.

You huan dao shi

Infantile, but Entertaining
Back in the 1980s, the illiterate Chinese title was typed "Hello! Dracular" on the VHS box, and it's been known as HELLO! DRACULAR ever since; except by the Japanese, who cut the movie up into half hour segments to form the TV mini-series YUGEN DOUSHI 2.

Just how many of these childish Taiwanese fantasies were made in the 1980s?! Oh well, at least it's flamboyant, action packed, outlandish, way too exotic for most non-Chinese, and it's basically a wild & crazy thriller. With all these elements in play, you would think I would give this colorful martial arts/horror fantasy higher praise.

But its childishness gets really annoying at times. My god, these antics irritate me! Basically it's the same kung fu kids as in HAI TZU WONG (a Chinese movie so obscure it lacks an English title!), since this five-or-so (?) movie series seems related; the similarities are striking, but continuity between them is terrible. In this one, the kids are again dealing with robed, hopping vampires and that lovable tyke dubbed "Baby Kyonshi" by the Japanese. Plenty of special effects and kung fu, but most interesting of all are some Americans (speaking English) who want to take the gyonsi vampire, which they pronounce "jiang-shi", back to America. How this Catholic priest learned kung fu a hundred years ago is never explained, but over-all, it's dumb yet fun entertainment.

Fight! Dragon

Japan's TV show becomes a Hong Kong movie!
HK 'villain' actor Yasuaki Kurata finally got respect in his own country and stars in this excellent, 26-episode Japanese TV show: TATAKAE! DRAGON ("Fight! Dragon")! A decade before Junya Takagi's KUNG FU CHAN (another Japanese kung fu TV series of half-hour episodes) came this exciting program. It helped the prolific martial artist's career and made a TV star of him in Japan.

With episodes being very simple and 30 minutes long, it seems the show is for children. It reads like a 'traditional' Japanese superhero program (minus the sci-fi elements & FX), right down to the little kids and a bumbling wannabe hero. Our heroic protagonist (Yasuaki Kurata himself) takes on several henchmen throughout each thrilling episode, before squaring off against a main, episodic guest villain to kill at the grand finale of each chapter. I recognized the music as being by the one and only Shunsuke Kikuchi and the theme song is sung by Masato Shimon! Anybody who's ever seen a Japanese superhero program that matters has heard his voice. I won't name all the Japanese sci-fi programs he's nearly burst is lungs for, but international audiences might remember him for singing the Jet Jaguar song at the end of GODZILLA VS. MEGALON (Toho; 1973). So: With the music and plot structure, TATAKAE! DRAGON must seem pretty typical of Japanese '70s kiddy TV. But without the fantasy & monster elements, it concentrates exclusively on martial arts. So TATAKAE! DRAGON seems violent for kiddy fare, even by Japan's 1970s standards! With no inanimate robots or mythical creatures, it's obvious that real humans are killing real humans in every episode! Knives are thrown, bones are broken. So if ever there was a TV program that made you want to say "They just don't make 'em like that anymore!", it's this obscure, nearly forgotten classic, TATAKAE! DRAGON!

Even by '70s kung fu standards, TATAKAE! DRAGON is cheap. It's no worse than the Hong Kongese Bruce Li movies coming out at the time, but sometimes it's evident and the writing suffered. For example, in episode #3, our investigative Dragon (Yasuaki Kurata) is in HK watching a Peking opera performance. The idea being that one of the on-stage acrobats is that episode's main villain Red Scorpion, in disguise. We only see the guy's face in tight insert—- it appears the performance wasn't intentionally part of the series. Then when the typically impressive show ends and the actor is proud and takes a bow, there's no audience applause! It's silence, probably because not enough budget was put into the sound. Also, limited planning went into the action scenes, resulting in confusing and moments where it's hard to tell what just happened.

But despite its budgetary flaws, I still think it's a superb program. Kurata is a great performer and I sometimes rooted for his evil characters in HK movies because he usually out-shined the good guys. TATAKAE! DRAGON is his show, and he goes all out: Not only are there entertaining karate fights in every episode, but he did a lot of his own stunts: Sliding down stairs (ouch!) while grappling a villain, scaling many walls using no wires or mattresses in case he falls, narrowly missing getting run over by a jeep, and clinging to the roof of a speeding car (a good ten years before Jackie Chan did these things). The choreography is definitely Japanese. Though the first couple episodes take place in HK and utilize familiar Chinese actors (i.e. Yang 'Bolo' Sze & Bruce Liang), the style of action does not look like the work of HK choreographers. The battles aren't that long, and tend to minimize the endless exchange of HK arm-blocks. Fortunately, the photography evades the sloppy, hand-held work that plagued so many Japanese karate movies of the time, and TATAKAE! DRAGON's karate spats thrilled me far more than those in Chiba's gritty STREETFIGHTER stuff.

From what I've seen, I found the series to be consistently entertaining even in Japanese—-it helps to have a script so simple it's virtually non-existent. All you need to know is that Yasuaki Kurata is a good guy, and members of Shadow (a gang of extortionists who hire colorful assassins) are anything but! That's pretty much it, though there is the typical "avenging-my-teacher's-death" premise, & there are always formulaic clichés like damsels-in-distress, who are often tied up as a hostage (if only to instigate the climactic rescue mission & battle).

This exciting show deals with Dragon (Yasuaki Kurata). He helps run an orphanage, but is also a righteous martial artist, so he spends more time battling the evil 'Shadow' gang than counseling kids. The course of the show has him traveling all over Asia (from HK, to Macau, back to HK, to Japan, to the Phillipines, etc.) to battle the extortionists of Shadow: Villains with names like Red Scorpion, Blue Cat and Red-Faced Tiger.

There are occasional familiar faces who play the villains: Yang Sze is in the first couple episodes, and a later episode features a villainous Tetsu Sumi (the karate expert in Gordon Liu's CHALLENGE OF THE NINJA). It all depends on the country the episode was filmed (on-location) in. This also applies to the occasional guest heroes: When Kurata is in HK, he teams up with Interpole agent Bruce Liang, but when he's in Japan, he gets help from fellow martial artist Tetsyua Ushio (best known as the heroic samurai who changed into KAIKETSU LION MARU and FUUN LION MARU).

Five episodes were spliced together to form the badly dubbed kung fu movie, THE FIGHTING DRAGON (Ocean Shores; 1980). If nothing else, this English version is entertaining. I gotta' give the Filipino (?) dubbers credit for renaming the villains 'Black Panther'. After all, the bad guys wear panther emblems, so it makes more sense than 'Shadow' (their original name).

Power King

Korean-American splice job: OUTLAW POWER
Korean audiences know this superhero movie as POWER KING (Zero Nine Entertainment; 1995), but international audiences are more familiar with it under the title OUTLAW POWER (Master Film International; 1996). In the unfortunate tradition of POWER RANGERS and other Saban hybrid superheroes of the 1990s comes this equally unfortunate rip-off: OUTLAW POWER, ARMICRON, ARMICRON IN OUTLAW POWER or whatever you choose to call it. In this case, it's the FX battles of Korea's POWER KING which get gutted, butchered and randomly spliced with American actors for the non-FX scenes. I've seen both the untranslated Korean print (POWER KING) and it's more 'user friendly' OUTLAW POWER. Surprisingly, I preferred the Korean version, even though I didn't understand the dialog. The original POWER KING came off as an action-packed, entertaining sci-fi adventure, while it's Americanisation (OUTLAW POWER) is awkward and dumb.

OUTLAW POWER full of bad acting, embarrassing comedy, cheap sets, and is padded out with long stretches of stock-footage (ranging from volcanoes, to disaster films to seemingly endless scenes of army jets). Director/producer/actor Hyung-rae Shim's bumbling "Young Gu" character (an idiot he's played in countless films) is replaced by American actor Michael Bunata, who's of the typical "put-glasses-on-him and-now-he's-a-college-nerd" school of unconvincing casting. OUTLAW POWER has a few nice spinning-back kicks & explosions, but it seems needlessly padded out with American soldiers; characters which slow down the pace.

One of the things I liked about cybernetic space hero Power King was his unexpected brutality: Not only would he sneak up and snap a guy's neck, but when a rude motorist yelled at Power King, he gave him a bloody nose! His watered-down alter-ego, Amicron isn't as gutsy; though he does fight a couple G.I.s who got in his way.

Both versions have basically the same story: Earth is invaded by an alien ('Lucas' in Korean, 'Ankar' in America) who looks like Nosferatu. His helpers look like Darth Vader-- but the STAR WARS imitations don't end there (there's an exciting chase through a forest not unlike stuff in RETURN OF THE JEDI). Fortunately, two alien princesses (Kim Young Eon & Kim Suek Hyun in Korea, but replaced by Jodee Anderson & Helen Miya for English audiences) have come to Earth to befriend the most unlikely hero: Hyung-rae Shim or Michael Bunata, depending on which version. Either way, you get plenty of stupidity before the buffoon gets turned into heroic Power King/Armicron. In the Korean movie, Hyung-rae Shim clowns around for the first 20 minutes, and in the Americanisation, we have to stomach all these teenagers who keep high fiving each other. Either way, you get to see some decent superhero action and martial arts. There are three Klingon-like warriors who jump up and cling to trees (in one scene, the suspension wires are visible).

Bi hu

Steals from the Foriegners and Gives to the Poor
Sometimes them Shaw Brothers are better at making large sets than kung fu movies, as THE LIZARD reminded me—more than once. If you think seeing a fat lady go cross-eyed is state-of-the-art comedy (even for 1972), or if you haven't seen enough crooked casinos get exposed, then THE LIZARD is your cup of tea.

Granted, THE LIZARD is offbeat and the inventiveness of our heroes has its moments. But the title hero is Yue Hua, and the main villain is Lo Lieh. So you can imagine how bad the martial arts are! The hidden trampolines, reverse-film jumps, occasional bloodshed and martial arts direction by Yuen Cheung Yan and Yuen Wo Ping at least make the battles entertaining. On the whole, THE LIZARD is slow-paced and pointless enough that it won't make converts out of non-fans. But if you're a die-hard kung fu completist who can't get enough of the classy Shaw Brothers chop-sockeys of the 1970s and want to see a movie which avoids much of the genres' more typical clichés, then maybe you can buy this DVD from me before I list it on Ebay. Actually, nevermind; I just now sold it for a buck.

SPOILER WARNING: I don't actually know what a spoiler is, so there's the risk that I might give something away in this synopsis: The setting appears to be 1930s Shanghai, and Yuen Wah plays a 'Chinese Robinhood' called The Lizard, who steals from the rich (which includes rich foreigners like the Caucasian couple having sex at the beginning) and gives to the poor. This black-hooded vigilante rigs up explosions to cover his tracks while being pursued by corrupt cop Lo Lieh, who would rather run fixed casinos and sell women into prostitution. Fortunately, Yueh Hua and girlfriend Connie Chan (her last film before retirement) take on and defeat Lo Lieh and his helpers, despite the latters' use of knives and guns.

Yang gui

Not great, but interesting & Scary
Grim, bleak sometimes sleazy horror movie from HK. This script is interesting and the music is eerie. There's a slow pace and the emphasis is more on mood and strange Chinese cultures than special effects or action. So I was bored more than once. GHOST NURSING didn't particularly impress me, but die-hard horror fans might like it, so I can recommend it to them. If there's a cleaner print, and preferably a dubbed one, I would like this creepy tale more.

The story is about this innocent girl called Jackie, who committed atrocities in a previous life, and so her current life is full of tragedy (payback!). She consults a wizard to cure her. The cure involves a petrified fetus from long ago, and by taking care of it (via daily rituals) for about a year I guess, the problems in her life will end. Then one day, some nosy friends uncover this little 'guardian devil' and tamper with it. One of the friends is killed by this evil statue, and the other (Norman Chu) gets possessed by it. Norman Chu kills Jackie's friend and turns on Jackie herself. So she requests the assistance of that same wizard. There's some sort of magical chase in a forest, but then the wizard subdues the zombie guy, and like many older Chinese flicks, there's an abrupt ending.

Lao jia lao nu lao shang lao

Bruce Li as a chauffeur, and NO Kato mask!
For pure entertainment, this HK movie entertains, and that's the bottom line. I admit to enjoying cheap kung fu movies of the late 1970s, and most of the time, I'm not too ashamed of this. There are long gaps between the kung fu skirmishes, but because protagonist Bruc Li endures injustice and an occasional beating, it's hard not to cheer him on when he finally lashes out with his trademark tae kwon do kicks. This was the middle of his career, so he's beyond his Bruce Lee phase and allowed to flex his own muscle.

Li is a chauffeur, whose employer turns got framed for drugs & executed (via Malaysian firing squad). It's a suspenseful mystery, as Li gets accused of being involved with the drugs (which he's oblivious of), and how the dealer's deceitful, gold-digging widow fights to change her husband's last Will & Testament. The wife is pretty unlikeable (so we shed no tears when she commits hari-kiri near the climax), but is played by the beautiful Dana Tsen (INFRAMAN, IMAGE OF BRUCE LEE), here credited as "Danna". While she fools around and even goes topless briefly, Li rescues his kidnapped girlfriend (Michelle; no last name in credits) takes care of the dead man's son, and also wastes mobsters sent by the evil Mr. King (Yasuaki Kurata), somehow involved in the whole conspiracy. The bad English version might dissuade some people from watching this fairly decent movie. Though it's well written with interesting characters, it features the same familiar voices which have been in countless inferior films-- so there are those who might not give EDGE OF FURY A CHANCE. Also, the lack of a few full names ("Danna", "Michelle") in the credits makes it seem amateurish. Complete with the standard bell-bottoms, this average kung fu movie is amusing.

Pi li long quan

The Title says it all.......
A stupid title for an equally stupid film. Filmed in Korea, this modern crime drama is complex & confusing. It's another of Bruce Le's movies for the company P.T. Insantra. Le plays a HK Interpol agent, but doesn't have that big a role until near the end when he battles Chiang Tao again. Christina Cheung steals the film (and she can keep it) as a pretty female detective—by that I mean she's both "pretty" and "female", not just "pretty female". Anyway, she fights well in this typically 1970s kung fu movie. However, this is a stupid, pointless film. The credits read: "Super Starring: Bruce Le. Written by Zackey Chan". There's some actor called "Mulo Chiba". Characters are dubbed with names such like "Nifty", "Chunky", "Tiger", "Baldy", and "Flasher".

Anyway, it's the tale of a vengeful Interpol agent Tiger (Bruce Le) who's brother was killed, and how he eventually teams up lady cop sergeant Li (Christina Cheung). To the accompaniment of catchy disco tunes, they're thwarting the actions of Chiang Tao (AKA Kong To) and other antique smugglers— by that I mean they smuggle antiques; I'm not saying they're frightfully old.

Qi lin zhang

Directed by Bruce Lee??? Not quite!
Unicorn Chan, a childhood friend of Bruce Lee, completed this movie in 1973, right before Lee's death. To make our heroic, scrawny runt Unicorn Chan (FIST OF FURY, RETURN OF THE DRAGON, THE BLOOD HERO, BRUCE LEE: THE MAN THE MYTH) seem like a good fighter, he had his superstar pal Bruce Lee help choreograph the fights. As the story goes, Unicorn released the movie briefly under the title "Bruce Lee and I", to capitalize on his soon to be ex-friend's fame. I read somewhere that Lee felt betrayed, and never spoke to Unicorn again, for the rest of his life—which, admittedly, was only a few months. Other stories go so far as to say that Bruce Lee has a "walk on cameo", or that Lee appears in the outtakes. I watched this average chop sockey movie closely, and couldn't see any obvious Bruce Lee shots other than a still shot at the beginning.

I did, however, spot a young Jackie Chan in a microscopic cameo as a background henchman (blink and you'll miss him), at least I think so. Regardless, as an early 1970s kung fu romp, it's okay. There are cool fights, but most of the better ones don't involve Unicorn Chan. There's some other hero, and a heroine who do their share of kicking, so the battles are fast-paced and enjoyable. Otherwise, it's so ultra-average and predictable, I'm at a loss for words.

There's an interesting role reversal in the cast: Yasuaki Kurata plays the Chinese translator, and it's Wei Ping Ao who who plays an actual Japanese this time (with a Hitler mustache, no less), not the interpretor. It's another "good Chinese vs. bad Japanese movie", but also has some subplot about Buddhist acupuncture.

Hei se zou lang

Bruce Le's temporary comeback
Bruce Le's 1990 comeback (before his return to obscurity, I guess?) is a typical modern HK actioner, derivative of the stuff John Woo & Jackie Chan were doing at the time. Plenty of chases, captures, escapes, re-captures, re-escapes, gunplay and martial arts (i.e. a duel in the ring). Released to video in 1991, it's another of Bruce Le's attempts at making an 'international blockbuster', in fact it's the most expensive movie of his career--but I preferred him as a Lee imitator in the 1970s, because he was funnier. But the production company was impressed by his 1980s 'epics' (i.e. FUTURE HUNTERS and REVENGE OF THE KICKFIGHTER), and invested the money hands-down, to make BLACK SPOT. Throw in plenty of Thai & Burmese extras, crew members from THE LAST EMPEROR, the cooperation of the Thai army (for usage of their tanks & soldiers), supporting roles by blond actresses Rossieo Badin & Fanny Hill, and you get a pretty typical action-war film along the lines of EASTERN CONDORS and BULLET IN THE HEAD.

Bruce Le still fights well, but looks so different (aging) that I almost didn't recognize him. BLACK SPOT was three years in the making, and Le broke a leg doing a stunt for the movie. Ever the trouper, he directed the remainder of the movie while in crutches.

Le plays a kung fu instructor at a health spa full of hot chicks (blond super-model types), but unfortunately, he must leave this dream job when mobsters (i.e. Wong Tao & Lo Lieh) pressure him into smuggling drugs at some Golden Triangle. Plenty of explosions and bad acting before Bruce Le himself gets shot dead by one of his own comrades who's gone trigger happy. BLACK SPOT was filmed in HK, Taiwan, Red China, Thailand and even France (where it was also a box office hit). I just thought it was okay.

Gojira: Fainaru uôzu

Great, but Overkill
My favorite Godzilla movie since TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA (Toho; 1975)! Since 2000, I felt the series was a string of indistinguishable films. I was also never impressed by the 'heisei' or post-GODZILLA 1985 series. So for better or worse, GODZILLA: FINAL WARS stands out. It tends to emulate the more over-the-top Godzilla movies of the 1970s, which I certainly don't mind. Instead of following the exact same pattern as all of GODZILLA 2000's (Toho; 2000) predecessors, GODZILLA: FINAL WARS takes a more creative approach and swipes ideas from THE MATRIX (Silver Pictures; 1999), all them X-Men comic books, and spatterings of typical Japanese TV hero stuff. While all these mixed genres may not play off each other perfectly and we have a mess of a film at times, at least we've finally got a Godzilla movie that actually stands out from the rest (I think the only other stand out film is 1971's GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER).

However, its over-the-top approach was headache-inducing: The fast pace is overkill (in sharp contrast to every movie in the series starting with GODZILLA 1985), and reminded me of crazy Hong Kong fantasies of the 1980s or 1990s, specifically Tsui Hark farces like ZU: WARRIORS OF THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN (Golden Harvest; 1983). It got frustrating trying to keep up, amid all the quick edits and flashy gimmicks which hide a fairly simple story we've seen before (space invaders attack Earth and control giant monsters). Yet despite all this, I still like the movie a lot, and consider it an improvement over everything to come out of the series in the 1980s and 1990s.

The human characters at least offer old timers like Kumi Mizuno and Akira Takarada some interesting roles, and I didn't recognize Akira Takarada right away. The younger actors are interesting too-- better than the generic, boring soldiers of the last few movies, at any rate. The main villain, in his typical post-MATRIX black cape, has this eerie make-up, but is so emotional and bumbling that he's more clown-like than scary.

Many Godzilla fans dislike the movie, but with me, you're seeing it from the point-of-view of a fan of superheroes & martial arts. So I think this puts me in a position to evaluate & appreciate the over-all movie on another level. When the heroes and villains clash, it's fairly exciting action, but being a post-THE MATRIX movie, everything is over-enhanced with CGI junk. Their plight is diminished because we know there's really no thrilling stunt work. I met action choreographer & stuntman Tsutomu Kitagawa last year, and we did some comical martial arts moves for video cameras. His karate skills are first rate, having studied at Sonny Chiba's Japan Action Club and made his debut in superhero programs such as the classic AKUMAIZER 3 (Toei; 1974) series. Unfortunately, his work is diminished because of the CGI 'enhancements' which give all the choreography & stunts an artificial feel. What's the point of a high-speed motorcycle chase that isn't real? It's like a radio ventriloquist; simply defeating the purpose. While it might not impress the average dai-kaiju fan, there are fans of superheroes & martial arts who will find fun in GFW. Though the typical Godzilla fans might hate GFW, the typical Kamen Rider fans will like it.

There's an impressive list of nostalgic names on hand: Not just Godzilla and Ghidrah, but Rodan, Mothra, Atragon, King Seesar, Minya, Manda, Angilas, Hedorah, Gino, Spiga, Gimantis, and Ebirah all make appearances. This tops the masterpiece DESTROY ALL MONSTERS (Toho; 1968) in that respect (sheer quantity). It's always exciting to see old favorites return. Angilas looked pretty damn slick, but I didn't like the designs of the two new (and over-used!) Gigans, felt Gimantis & Rodan relied too much on CGI artificiality, I never liked the "Godzilla with ears" look, and thought the meager cameos by Gino & Hedorah were way too brief and abrupt; amounting to little more than in-jokes than actual monster battles. Sad to say, for the first time ever, I thought Minya had one of the better designs and was the most interesting monster! So I guess I didn't like the way all the monsters looked, but just seeing them all in one film made it amusing.

All in all, it strikes me as a great film and if it wasn't the "final" (?) film in the series, I would consider it a step in the right direction. -Damon

Land of the Dead

Escape from Stripes
I'm of the "NOTLD (1968) was great and DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978)was a masterpiece" mindset. To me, it was downhill after DAWN OF THE DEAD, but recent films have made me appreciate DAY OF THE DEAD.

Since both DAWN and DAY, there have been remakes, ripoffs and imitations from America, Italy and other countries. Some zombies can run & jump, while others can talk about 'brains', etc. Not only did LAND OF THE DEAD lack the suspense, atmosphere and eerie (almost disturbing) atmosphere of NOTLD and DAWN, but it looked to me more like one of the countless imitation films which have come out in recent years.

LAND was worthwhile, in a typical horror movie sort of way-- with all the same predictability (characters, plot twists, clichés) that countless other horror movies have. But somehow, I didn't find the same enthralling atmosphere I would expect from a Romero zombie film. Too much time was spent on the theft of some military vehicle. All the main zombie scenes took place at night, which also made the movie seem run-of-the-mill. I hate to say it, but even the blasphemous remake of DAWN OF THE DEAD entertained me more, as did the much hated Italian movie, NIGHT OF THE ZOMBIES. For my book, the only great zombie movie to come out in recent years was SHAUN OF THE DEAD.

The script of LAND OF THE DEAD seemed too much like ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and even the Billy Murray comedy STRIPES.

Zombie '90: Extreme Pestilence

Impossible to sit through
Beyond dirt cheap, this shot-on-video exercise in ineptitude was difficult to get through. It's got the typical gore that you'd expect in a zombie movie, but none of the required atmosphere to make it worth while.

What's strange is that this is an amateur German video, and the version I saw is English-dubbed! The dubbers seem to be American fans (penpals of the Germans?!) who can't decide whether they want to play it straight or turn it into a comedy. One character (a white German, of course) is dubbed by a black guy apparently, who speaks with thick ebonics! 'Kno wahm sayin', Comrad?

Lucha a muerte

Mucha boring
Talky, and all in Spanish because subtitles would cost more than the film's whole budget. It's easy to see why Mexican wrestling movies aren't popular any more, they haven't made a good one since the 1970s. LUCHA A MUERTE is slow-paced and absolutely dull. There are a few decent battles in the wrestling ring, and a few women who look great in spandex. But otherwise, the movie is absolutely uninteresting.

The few out-of-the-ring fights are filmed horribly, at a distance. Mascara Sagrada does a couple decent karate kicks when he finally takes on some criminals, but all the action scenes are obviously rushed. LUCHA A MUERTE might be worthwhile if somebody trimmed it down to 30 minutes or less and added subtitles, but taken as a feature-length adventure movie, it misses the mark. LUCHA A MUERTE is worthwhile only for the most die-hard fans of this type of film, or the long, drawn-out wrestling wring action, which does have some impressive moves.

I fantastici 3 $upermen

Classic Action Comedy!
I love 1960s-style martial arts action, and the only thing THE THREE FANTASTIC SUPERMEN lacks is the obligatory "hi-yah!" This amusing comedy combines elements of BATMAN, THE GREEN HORNET, Mexican wrestling movies and spy-capers. Much of the humor might have been funny back in Europe in the 1960s, but it came off as stupid or just plain odd when I watched the movie in America during the 1990s. Maybe they didn't have a budget to really develop the slapstick and satire into something honestly funny, or maybe the English dubbed version simply lost something in the translation.

Nick Jordan is particularly annoying as the mute superhero, a role given to Salvadore Borgese in follow-ups (ironically, Borgese only cameos at the beginning of THE THREE FANTASTIC SUPERMEN, as a bazooka-toting henchman). Jordan's superb acrobatic flips and mini-trampoline stunts really highlight the karate fights and help to elevate them above other martial arts of the period (i.e. THE AVENGERS & WILD WILD WEST). I dare say that as far as 1960s martial arts go, THE THREE FANTASTIC SUPERMEN's spats are second only to THE GREEN HORNET!

I won't go too much into the script; you'll just have to find this rare gem and see it yourself. For now, let's just say that FBI agents get their hands on these bullet-proof 'Superman' (why Marvel never sue'd them is beyond me!) outfits which turn common jewel thieves into acrobatic heroes! Some times our zany heroes are evading cops, some times they're thwarting a mad scientist and his 'human duplicating' machine, and sometimes they're just being silly. They're never boring though (that doesn't happen until the movie's many sequels came along)!

3 Supermen a Tokio

early Japanese superheroes? Not quite!
Another addition to Italy's (and Turkey's, and Germany's, since the films were all co-productions shot in numerous countries) long-running martial arts superhero series. Being shot partially in Japan, I had higher expectations for this rare movie. But assuming there's such a thing as an English-dubbed version to be called THREE SUPERMEN IN TOKYO, I got stuck sitting through some foreign-language print I couldn't understand, so the dialogue and jokes went right passed me. I could tell, however that only portions were shot in Japan, because some of the time we get white actors (ala' Mr. Moto) carrying samurai swords despite the modern setting, and trying unsuccessfully to look Japanese.

Unless you're fluent in whatever language your pirated bootleg (to the best of my knowledge, there are no legitimate releases of the film)is in, THREE SUPERMEN IN TOKYO isn't worth the effort of tracking down. But if like me you're a completest & fan of the whole series and can't get enough comedy and acrobatic karate spatterings, then go for it. This humorous adventure is pretty amusing, especially at the end when some mad scientist's machine reduces the size of our three superheroes so that they're played by kids! It's worth a chuckle, but not as fun as the original THREE FANTASTIC SUPERMEN or THREE SUPERMEN IN THE JUNGLE.

I Drink Your Blood

Slow start, but Exciting Climax
Pretty damn gory for 1970, and I can see why it got an X-Rating for violence alone (there are a couple nude shots in the flick though). What's strange is that much of the gore (i.e. blood splattering and limbs chopped off) ended up in the preview as well, so should the preview be rated X as well?! Regardless, I wasn't impressed by the first part of the movie, about the crazy hippies coming to town to terrorize people (reminding me of anything from VILLAGE OF THE GIANTS to Dennis Weaver's TERROR ON THE BEACH) because I've seen this sort of thing before. It seemed so routine that I didn't think I would get through it. Fortunately, there's a major plot twist once a witty little kid gets revenge against the LSD-addicted freaks who've invaded his nearly empty town. The remainder of I DRINK YOUR BLOOD is a pretty suspenseful adventure, as the now rabid hippies go on a gruesome, psychotic rampage and infect a group of construction workers in the process! It's similar to a zombie movie, in fact the trailer even calls this rabies/LSD mutants 'zombies'! Entertaining, that's for sure.

Vampires vs. Zombies

Deceitful Garbage
The video box claims this independent movie to be based on "Carmella", which is pretty strange for a modern movie about some girls on some road trip. The 'zombies' and 'vampires' never really battle it out in this hasty rip-off (just look at the rental box) which capitalizes on FREDDY VS. JASON, in fact, neither the zombies nor vampires are well defined. Instead, what we get in this cheap, boring, incredibly bad movie is lesbians making out.

When I read it was based on "Carmella", I envisioned a unique story about Haitian zombies somehow sent to the castles of old Europe. Needless to say, I was tricked into renting this lame drama, and those who made it obviously don't care about being honest-- so long as we don't discover the truth until after we've paid to rent this piece of junk.

Napoleon Dynamite

Cute, not Hilarious
Pretty tame humor, but I admit that I laughed out-loud more than once. The plot reminded me of REVENGE OF THE NERDS and John Waters' HAIRSPRAY. There are some scenes which are more strange than funny (i.e. protagonist ties his doll to a string and lets it dangle from a bus-window and that's the whole gag; it's like a joke with no punchline).

The DVD shows scenes they shouldn't have cut from the movie because they either explained important points or were pretty funny.

It's recommendable to all family members, and has more wit than any average 'teen high school' comedy.

C'era una volta il West

Over Rated
I was looking forward to the same atmosphere as those in Leone's 'Dollars' trilogy, and considering how much praise ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST has gotten, no wonder I was disappointed. The echoing harmonica really got on my nerves after a while, and the whole approach struck me as long, boring and with pointless characters. To me, Charles Bronson lacks the charisma of Clint Eastwood's character in the 'Dollars' trilogy, and Henry Fonda is nowhere near as intimidating as Lee Van Cleef was.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST's characters are uninteresting and their plights are pointless.... to me. I tried sitting through the movie twice and both times I fell asleep. However, I've watched the Dollars trilogy (FIST FULL OF DOLLARS, FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE, and THE GOOD THE BAD & THE UGLY) several times and enjoyed every second of it. Catchier music, more colorful characters.

The Astro-Zombies

More like Frankenstein Robots in Skull Masks, Actually...
Unfortunately, I saw the cut, U.S. video release called SPACE ZOMBIES, which completely eliminates the footage of some nude dancer in a club (all we see is the audience's response!), as well as whatever gore-- there is a scene or two of a knife coming down toward a female victim, but we don't see any bloodshed. It's just abrupt, obvious editing which jars the continuity. I don't think it matters though, because this low-budget drama from the 1960s is so boring that I found myself scanning through much of it.

Despite the title, this crap has very little to do with outerspace, and although the word "zombie" is uttered, these helmetted villains (looking like a cross between Rocketman and a Mexican wrestler) are more like robots, if robots were created in a Frankenstein-ish laboratory.

There are pretty girls present, and I like the look of the skull helmets on the marauding killers. But otherwise, SPACE ZOMBIES is just too uninteresting to sit through. It's really very talky, with boring policemen one minute, and then John Carradine rambles on forever to his laboratory assistant. The only reason I watched SPACE/ASTRO ZOMBIES was to see the beautiful Tura Satana, who was so hot in FASTER PUSSYCAT KILL KILL. But her acting in SPACE ZOMBIES is absolutely terrible. Her death scene is unbelievably bad, as are all the action scenes (shoot-outs, a fist-fight or two) in SPACE ZOMBIES.

For unintended humor, it may suffice. But the story and dialogue struck me as having potential, so I don't think the over-all approach has enough accidental laughs to make SPACE ZOMBIES a major laugh riot. I also don't understand the toy robots at the beginning and ending credits, nore do I understand why some scenes are so dark I couldn't tell what was happening. I've seen worse, but SPACE ZOMBIES is pretty much junk.

Ultimo mondo cannibale

Ingredients for Gore FX: Fake Human Blood, Authentic Animal Blood & Guts
It was a relief to see the director come on at the beginning of the JUNGLE HOLOCAUST tape. He speaks in Italian with English subtitles, claiming that it was the producer, not himself, who insisted on including the animal mutilations. So from the start, I had more respect for the guy than when I watched the follow-up, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST. So now I think I only want to punch him in the face, instead of kill him, which was how I felt when I saw CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST. His opening disclaimer, however, didn't make me enjoy the scene of the natives brutally slaughtering a crocodile.

JUNGLE HOLOCAUST strikes me as being a terrible movie. It's not "terrible" as in badly made, but ethically, it's terrible. But I was intrigued by start to finish, as I watched this "guilty-as-sin pleasure". I suppose when we see hunters killing animals, it's really just a glimpse of what goes on every day in the jungle, and always has. I reluctantly admit that I'm no vegetarian, so I suppose I should learn to accept any movie which puts the truth (the world is a cruel place) before our very eyes.

For entertainment value, I guess JUNGLE HOLOCAUST succeeds. It's a jungle adventure, but certainly changed the face of the jungle movie genre. Tarzan this is not! It's a story of unfortunate civilized men trapped in a forest, pursued by flesh-eating savages. The depiction of natives as cannibals might offend some, as will the rape scene: Our "hero" rapes a native woman whom he'd kept as a hostage and to help him escape from this dangerous jungle. Worse yet, his raping her makes her submissive and from then on, she worships him-- that is, until the cannibals kill her, tear her apart piece by piece and intake some calories. Naturally, the scenes of human deaths are faked, and very gory. If nothing else, you'll never forget this movie.

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