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Korô no chi
(2018)

Back to the V-Cinema style of yakuza movies in the mid-nineties
Korô no chi, internationally known as The Blood of Wolves, is a brutal gangster movie reminding of the Japanese V-Cinema era in the mid-nineties. This type of movie could have been made by prolific directors such as Mochizuki Rokuro, Miike Takashi or Kitano Takeshi.

The story revolves around brutal, non-conformist, lone wolf police officer Ogami Shogo and his conformist, intellectual and naive partner Hioka Shuichi. They investigate the disapperance of an accountant in the late eighties. It soon turns out that the accountant was involved in a yakuza clan and tried to steal money. Ogami Shogo uses violence, menaces and connections to investigate while his partner Hioka Shuichi is shocked by such procedures and rather tries to make sure his partner will get suspended. However, the unusual team soon needs to cooperate in order to prevent a war between two yakuza clans and find out what really happened to the mob accountant.

The greatest thing about the movie are the two conflicting lead characters and their fascinating relationship that evolves throughout the entertaining movie. The film convinces with grisly fights, dirty locations and cool one-liners. The plot comes around with a few surprises towards the end which explain how the different characters have become who they are.

If you like brutal yakuza flicks of the eighties and nineties, you will certainly appreciate this nostalgic but entertaining movie. The Blood of Wolves takes its inspiration from movies such as Another Lonely Hitman, Shinjuku Triad Society and Hana-Bi. Genre fans will certainly find this movie thoroughly entertaining.

Second Winter
(2016)

Portraying issues of young adults in South Korea
Second Winter is certainly a very unusual movie. This drama follows a few days in the life of a young couple living in a big city in South Korea. They are both twenty-nine years old and have been married for a little bit less than two years. Hyun-ho has recently quit his job and tries to become an actor. Jung-hee struggles to find a job because she is married and potential employers believe she might get pregnant soon. The couple lives in a small apartment with a broken boiler. They are ashamed of their financial problems that soon become a burden for their relationship. Hyun-ho doesn't tell his mother that he has quit his job and also hides the fact that he has resumed working after his attempts at becoming an actor failed from his wife.

The movie certainly exposes the struggles a lot of young people face in South Korea. Society expects them to succeed at having their own families, getting great jobs and living in shiny apartments. The couple in this film tries to turn things around but is out of luck. The struggles with their families, devastating unemployment and financial issues are heartbreaking. Second Winter makes viewers empathize with this young couple and its issues.

The film uses unusual recording techniques. The camera work is very static. For example, a camera is put across the couple's bed. For about two and a half minutes, the viewers observe how the lovers kiss each other. For the next two and a half minutes, they talk about their broken boiler. The film then transitions to the next scene and the same approach is repeated. There are no special effects and no soundtrack which gives this slice of life the vibe of a documentary.

Second Winter certainly has a few creative ideas but it's still hard to sit through. There is no particular story to speak of. The pace is very slow. The camera work is too static. The two lead actors don't have much chemistry. The movie doesn't have a real start or finish.

In the end, Second Winter is a drama about the struggles of young adults in contemporary South Korea. However, the movie only states the obvious facts people are already familiar with. It fails to leave a deeper impression and is at times simply stated boring. I don't regret spending a little bit more than one hour watching this movie but would neither recommend nor watch it again.

Flesh+Blood
(1985)

A realistic portrayal of a sinister past
Historical action thriller Flesh+Blood by renowned director Paul Verhoeven and acting legend Rutger Hauer was indexed for decades in Germany for its portrayal of violent fights and gang rape scenes. Germans rather prefer slow-paced thrillers in depressive settings. The movie got finally released six years ago and is now available in its original and intended form.

Flesh+Blood takes place in 1501 and follows charismatic mercenary Martin, played by a very cool Rutger Hauer. His ruthless gang gets betrayed by a nobleman who hired them to conquer a walled city. The gang gets its revenge by kidnapping the fiancee of the nobleman's intellectual son and takes refuge in a castle. The intellectual young man uses his inventions and hires his father's former commander to confront the gang of mercenaries and prostitutes.

Flesh+Blood is unlike most movies portraying the Middle Ages and Renaissance. There are no heroes to be seen in this movie. Everything looks decayed, dirty and muddy. The characters are superstitious, opportunistic and mean. An innocent nun gets critically injured and is then forced to work as a farmer. A young fiancee gets raped by a gang of thugs and falls for the leader. We meet a dying child suffering from the plague whose entire family gets murdered. We see a young girl who was raped by bandits at the age of twelve and got her tongue cut out. A sick dog gets shot and cut into pieces to be used to poison people. If you are looking for charming princes and innocent princesses, you've got it all wrong. There isn't anything romantic about this movie.

The story might be simplistic but the movie remains intense despite a long running time thanks to its shockingly realistic portrayal of the past, a selection of nasty characters and a mixture of violent action scenes and pornographic elements. Flesh and Blood is actually a euphemism for sex and violence. This type of movie certainly isn't for everyone and shouldn't be watched by children or even teenagers. A movie like this couldn't be made anymore nowadays due to its portrayal of sexual abuse. However, the movie is very unique, very realistic and very entertaining. Flesh+Blood has stood the test of time as its intended impact is as intense nowadays as it was three and a half decades ago upon its release. It remains one of both Rutger Hauer's and Paul Verhoeven's greatest movies and also features a memorable performance by a very young and very nude Jennifer Jason Leigh.

Split Second
(1992)

Sinister water world
The great Rutger Hauer is known by most people for his outstanding performance in the etremely overrated Blade Runner but there are numerous other and better movies he has played in. Those aren't sophisticated movies that would win Academy Awards but they were unpretentious and thoroughly entertaining films that should be prefered over artsy but boring flicks. Split Second is a perfect example for Rutger Hauer's entertaining charisma and even though its a so-called b-movie made on a shoestring budget, it convinces with tense action scenes, sinister atmosphere and interesting characters.

The story takes place in the near future as global warming has caused terrible floodings in the city of London. Isn't it ironic that even a cheap b-movie would accurately foresee our current issues with climate change that some aged conservatives still refuse to accept? In this dystopian setting, Rutger Hauer plays Harley Stone, a rough cop who constantly argues with his colleagues, disrespects his superior and got suspended a long time ago. He has become such a bitter man since his former partner got killed by a sadistic serial killer who never got caught. Five years after those grisly events, Harley Stone is still determined to find the murderer and he gets his badge back when he nearly captures the killer in a shady bar. He is however forced to collaborate with intellectual detective Dick Durkin played by Alastair Duncan. The movie also features a young Kim Cattrall who plays Michelle McLaine, the widow of the deceased officer and love interest of Harley Stone. The trio tries to find the serial killer's hideout but quickly realizes that they aren't the hunters but the hunted. Note that the movie also starrs musician Ian Dury in a secondary role, known for hits such as "Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick".

The most memorable element about the movie are the settings. The decaying city of London is flooded and most scenes take place during heavy rainfall and at night. The lead character's apartment is the dirtiest I have ever seen and underlines his negative state of mind. Even crows are living in his flat. The investigations take place in the tunnels of the sewer system that is overcrowded with rats. The smooth camera work and sinister soundtrack amplify the movie's gripping atmosphere cleverly. The characters are truly intriguing as the lead character isn't only trying to solve an old case but to find peace of mind. His intellectual partner becomes more and more like him while the lead character's mental condition slowly improves. The woman who completes the trio also has to deal with guilt and wants to find the murderer to finally leave the past behind. With a concise running time of ninety minutes, Split Second never ever gets boring and entertains from start to finish with the explosive conclusion being a highlight.

The plot might not be surprising and some special effects look older than the movie actually is but Split Second oozes with atmosphere, convinces with fascinating characters and is entertaining from start to finish. This movie has aged surprisingly well and even has an important ecological message. Our world needs more unpretentious actors like Rutger Hauer and climate activists like Greta Thunberg.

Ryu san
(2017)

Nomen est omen
Let's address the elephant in the room right away. Mr. Long is much too long for its own good, exaggeratedly plodding and frankly tedious throughout about two thirds of its running time. And yet, the opening twenty minutes and closing twenty minutes, the excellent actresses and actors and the unusual genre mixture make this movie still watchable. Sabu's greatest movie so far was intellectual horror movie Miss Zombie which was equally artistic, emotional and quiet as Mr. Long but the main difference was that Miss Zombie is only eighty-five minutes long while Mr. Long has a whopping running time of one hundred twenty-nine minutes. Less would have been so much more and if Mr. Long had been forty-five minutes shorter than it turns out to be, it would have deserved at least two extra points in the final rating.

Let's introduce the interesting plot. Our silent titular anti-hero is a professional Taiwanese hitman who is particularly handy with knives. He stabs six thugs in the first five minutes alone. He is then sent on a mission abroad in Japan which goes terribly wrong. He has to go into hiding and ends up in a filthy and poor neighbourhood. What started as an action-thriller now turns into an intellectual drama. The protagonist is nursed back to health by a young boy whose mother is a drug addict. The hitman feels obliged to help the boy but soon starts to befriend him and ultimately becomes his father figure. He cooks for him, helps his drug addict mother to come clean and even gives him baseball lessons. The neighbourhood also starts to accept, befriend and support the quiet stranger as people discover the hitman's talent as a cook. They help him start his own business with a food stand and the quiet anti-hero accepts in order to amass enough money to return to Taiwan before the thug he tried to kill might come back for revenge. The movie works like a circle in that regard as the final twenty minutes are as intense as the opening twenty minutes.

The greatest element about the movie are the stunning characters and the brilliant actresses and actors who play them. Chang Chen barely speaks in the movie and looks cool, indifferent and tough but he occasionally shows his affection for others in heart-warming ways. Yao Yi Ti plays a drug-addicted hooker who manages to turn her life around in an impressive way. Her character is emotionally fragile, meandering between timid joy and profound despair. One can't help but root for the unlucky outsider. The greatest performance however comes from child actor Bai Run-yin who is the element that links the other two protagonists. He plays a quiet child desiring to help his sick mother and the mysterious stranger in a selfless way. There are few films that include such a good-hearted, likable and pure character.

There are numerous little details that rate this movie up. The two main action scenes are quite iconic and make think of South Korean masterpiece Oldboy with the difference that a knife takes the place of a hammer. The camera work is calm and precise which is a rare treat in contemporary cinema. The locations are authentic and diverisfied. The soundtrack blends in perfectly and accentuates the emotivity of the different scenes. The movie avoids using flashy special effects which gives the movie a particularly realistic touch not a far cry from a documentary.

In the end, Mr. Long includes enough positive elements with outstanding actresses and actors portraying fascinating characters in a genre-bending plot to be watched at least once. The overlong story, slow pace and at times pointless slice of life elements prevent a good idea from coming to full fruition. Fans of action films should rather stay away as Mr. Long is rather a profound drama with some sudden brutal outbursts.

Jai mat ze moon
(2018)

Entertaining investigative thriller by the numbers
Jai mat ze moon, internationally known as The Leakers, is an entertaining mixture of a family drama and an investigative thriller. When a dangerous virus is released and threatens the entire population of South-East Asia, a pharmaceutical tycoon quickly develops a vaccine and even donates parts of it to the population. A mysterious group of hackers known as The Leakers however kidnaps the tycoon's son and menaces to expose the truth about the tycoon's sinsiter intentions and shady past if the hefty ransom isn't paid. Two completely different cops from two different countries start Investigating and soon uncover a gigantic conspiracy with numerous twists and turns.

To be honest, the main idea of this movie is predictable and copies numerous similar movies made in Hollywood decades ago. The acting performances aren't too memorable either and it's hard to empathize with the characters. However, the film convinces with solid pace, diversified locations and some creative plot twists towards the end. The creative mixture of dynamic action scenes, sinister crime scenes and tense family drama is intertwined with some mildly humorous and romantic elements as in so many Asian films which makes The Leakers an interesting experience for the whole family.

In the end, The Leakers doesn't reinvent the investigative thriller genre and lacks tension at times but it's diversified, fast-paced and entertaining until the very end. If you like disaster films, investigative thrillers or action-comedy movies when two completely different cops need to cooperate to solve a crime, you can give The Leakers a try. However, the movie didn't leave a deeper impression and I wouldn't purchase or watch it again.

Beomjoidosi
(2017)

Gritty gangster gem
Beomjoidosi, internationally known as The Outlaws, is a dynamic, gritty and tense action thriller partially based upon real events that occured a decade before its release. The movie follows a turf war between two Chinese-Korean gangs and a mysterious and pitiless newcomer from China that takes place in a district of South Korea's capital Seoul. A tough, resilient and fearless police officer puts together a reliable team to end the brutal turf war and avoid collateral damage as politicians and press put more and more pressure on the police.

The movie convinces with captivating characters such as rough police officer Ma Seok-do who is played by one of Korea's greatest contemporary actors Ma Dong-seok who also performed in sports comedy drama Champions, political drama The Mayor and iconic action horror movie Train to Busan. The conflict between the three gangs is easy to follow despite the numerous characters involved which underlines the fluid storytelling and concise plot. The locations are authentic and show the dangerous, dark and ugly sides of an otherwise beautiful city. The numerous action scenes consisting of chases, hand-to-hand combats and shootings add great pace to the film. The captivating plot grabs the viewers right from the start and never slows down until the very end which makes for one of the most entertaining gangster movies in recent memory.

To keep it short, The Outlaws is one of the greatest gangster movies of the new millennium and convinces with gritty action scenes, intriguing characters, authentic locations and detailed plot. Any genre fan should watch this movie that deserves more international acclaim. Note that even though the movie has a proper conclusion, a sequel is underway and due to be released next year as we speak.

Hitsuji no ki
(2017)

Smooth mixture of drama and thriller elements
Based upon a manga, Hitsuji no ki, which translates to Sheep Tree and is internationally known under the poetic title The Scythian Lamb, is a slow-paced and brilliantly acted mixture of a drama and a thriller. The movie deals with philosophical topics such as prejudice, redemption and trust. Different facets of Japanese folklore are also being explored.

Naive but good-hearted city employee Tsukisue Hajime receives the order to assist six completely unrelated strangers who relocate to the decaying port city of Uoboka to start new careers. He bonds with some of these individuals but soon learns that they are all convicted murderers. After an Initial shock, he feels more determined than ever to assist them but when his personal life and professional career intertwine, a series of increasingly dangerous events is going to disturb the calm region.

The movie has a slow pace that takes its time to introduce the sympathetic lead character, his charming love interest, his self-confident boss and the six intriguing strangers. The movie loses some pace after the background of these strangers is revealed and makes think of a slice of life approach as the viewers follow the lead character's everyday life intertwined with anecdotes involving the six strangers. The movie gets more interesting in its second half as a complicated love triangle starts to take shape. The city employee's childhood friend starts dating one of the convicted murderers and the city employee reveals his real identity to win her back. The dramatic events soon take a sinister turn during a festival involving local folklore. This mixture of a smooth drama evolving into a passionate love triangle which ultimately becomes a grisly thriller with supernatural hints is certainly very unique but might be confusing, especially to Western audiences.

The acting performances are versatile and most importantly believable. The characters are attaching and the viewers will care about their fates. The settings in the remote city are intriguing. The folk festival introduces an intriguing cultural component. The plot has a few interesting twists and turns despite ist slow pace and remains unpredictable until the very end.

On the other side, the movie's rising action, taking place in the the second half of its first hour of running time, is too slow for ist own good. The movie loses momentum and focus and viewers might wonder what is going to happen next. A faster and more concise execution would have made the movie even more interesting.

In the end, The Scythian Lamb is an intriguing movie that finds the right balance between drama and thriller elements and convinces with intriguing characters. Fans of Japanese cinema and the manga this movie is based upon should certainly watch this overlooked gem. Personally, I would watch the film again and recommend it to my friends.

Racheengel - Ein eiskalter Plan
(2010)

Predictable family drama in snowy landscapes
Each time I give a German crime film a chance I end up regretting it because almost all of them are dull, predictable and slow-paced. Racheengel - Ein eiskalter Plan is no exception and the actual story unfolds so slowly that it's particularly hard to sit through the first thirty minutes of the movie.

The film then turns into a stereotypical family drama as the bad little sister comes haunting a cop who is investigating a murder case in a stylish hotel. The evil sister causes heated discussions between the cop and her husband, turns her daughter against her and easily seduces her colleague. Unexpectedly, the bad girl is also involved in the murder case. The moralizing lesson is to trust the ones you love and who are close to you and to fear the unknown. And to ignore contemporary German thrillers.

Acting performances are stiff, cinematography is dull and the plot is unclever. The only redeeming values are the wonderful winter landscapes and Katharina Wackernagel's stylish looks. Those aren't things that should even be mentioned when reviewing a so-called thriller that turns out being a snoozer.

If you like depressive family dramas, you can give this piece of bordeom a try but anyone else should skip this exchangeable dragging pseudo-thriller.

Through Black Spruce
(2018)

A gritty tale based upon cold realism
Through Black Spruce is a sinister drama shot in northern Ontario in and around Moosonee and in and around Canada's biggest city Toronto. The movie presents two story lines that are closely connected. After a young Cree model disappeared with her criminal lover in Toronto, gang members who want money from them put pressure on her resilient uncle in remote but beautiful Moosonee as they believe he might know more about their mysterious disappearance. Meanwhile, the model's twin sister travels to Toronto to find out what really happened and soon realizes that the vanished couple had a volatile relationship and got into trouble with criminals.

Based upon an award-winning novel, the most fascinating thing about Through Black Spruce is that the story is particularly realistic and honest. Many First Nations women get involved into drug trafficking and prostitution and end up getting caught in a vicious circle of addiction, isolation and violence. This movie shows one such case and portrays the desperate situation with bleak atmosphere, slow precision and cold realism. The locations meandering between the small town of Moosonee which only connects to the rest of the province via the railway and the gigantic city of Toronto where people with numerous backgrounds meet are facsinating to watch. The acting performances by lead actor Brandon Oakes and lead actress Tanaya Beatty are excellent as they rely more on body language and facial expressions than lengthy dialogues and extravagant clothing or make-up. The award-winning soundtrack underlines the movie's sinister atmosphere perfectly.

The movie might have got several negative reviews because of its slow pace but this approach actually adds to the increasingly frightening atmosphere. Some reviewers criticized the story in general and the film's ending in particular but both focus on realism rather than satisfaction and blend in very well with the rest of the movie. There are some gloomy action scenes here and there to spice things up but they are fittingly integrated. If you are expecting a fast-paced movie with a twisted plot and vivid special effects, then this movie simply isn't for you. The unique style of this crime drama however makes it a memorable experience and should particularly please those interested in First Nations cultures.

Double Team
(1997)

A wild but brainless ride
Double Team is a movie that has as many flaws as strengths.

To start on a positive note, this explosive action movie is entertaining, fast-paced and relentless from start to finish. The chases, fights and special effects are executed with care by experienced director Tsui Hark. The characters are equally colourful and especially an expressive Dennis Rodman is quite controversial and will either be adored or hated by viewers. The locations are also flamboyant and lead us from France over Belgium to Italy and from secret islands to famous sights. The movie includes numerous nods to popular series and films, for example the hidden island which was clearly inspired by television series The Prisoner.

The movie though also has numerous flaws. The story is very flat and one sometimes wonders why the numerous characters are fighting one another at all. Despite some big names on screen, the acting performances lack depth, precision and talent as Mickey Rourke fails to play a captivating villain and lead actor Jean-Claude van Damme doesn't seem to have any emotional facial expressions. The movie also has so many goofs that it's almost ridiculous. There are especially numerous continuity errors. Dennis Rodman's hair style seems to change in every single scene.

In the end, Double Team is a dynamic, entertaining and unpretentious action movie that looks still decent more than two decades after its release. Its acting performances, numerous goofs and shallow plot prevent it from being recommendable to anyone but genre fans looking for a wild but brainless ride.

Cube
(1997)

Claustrophobic cult film from Canada
Cube is a mysterious science-fiction horror movie made with a meager budget of three hundred fifty thousand dollars that would turn out grossing nine million dollars and lead to two less interesting sequels. The claustrophobic movie revolves around six completely different strangers who wake up in a gigantic cube without knowing how or why they got there. Since they have no access to food or water or any way to communicate with the outside world, they need to find their way through the numerous chambers of the gigantic cube in order to find a way out. The different chambers are however rigged with deadly traps and tension, stress and fear soon arise between the six strangers.

There are numerous elements that made this low-budget movie a beloved cult film. First of all, the mysterious setting and its origins are truly intriguing. It's unclear who created the gigantic cube and to what purpose which invites viewers to look for clues and come to their own conclusions. Secondly, the story is filled with twists and turns and it remains unpredictable who is going to survive and how until the very last Scene that also leaves room for interpretation. Thirdly, the traps in the cube are deadly, diversified and unpredictable but the greatest dangers are the individuals themselves. This leads to the fourth and strongest element which are the seven characters introduced in the movie. We only briefly meet a nameless old man but the clever prison escapist, the paranoid free clinic doctor, the mathematics student with a difficult past, the socially awkward office worker, the seemingly autistic young man who has trouble communicating but incredible mathematical skills and the divorced police officer with anger management issues are the six characters bound by fate. The relationships between the different characters are fascinating to watch and evolve until the very end.

In the end, Cube works very well despite a low budget thanks to a creative story with numerous stunning ideas and intriguing characters. The sequels don't reproduce this level of quality because the stories are more predictable and the characters more exchangeable. Even though this movie mixes thriller, mystery and horror elements, it can also been as a stunningly realistic social science study.

Geukhanjikeob
(2019)

Dynamic ride with attaching characters
Extreme Job is an entertaining action-comedy movie that has received massive critical acclaim in its home country and certainly deserves international recognition as well. The movie focuses on a team of detectives who have been running out of luck recently and who are trying to redeem themselves by arresting the members of an infamous drug ring. In order to do so, they pose as owners and employees of a run-down chicken restaurant located right across the street of the drug gang's hideout. Things get complicated when internal pressure on them increases on a daily base, when they unexpectedly get involved into drug trafficking themselves and when their revamped restaurant rises to fame and keeps them busy.

This movie convinces on numerous levels. First of all, the quirky story comes around with all kinds of surprises without losing focus and telling the viewers how events unfold naturally. Secondly, the characters are quite different, sympathetic and unique which makes the viewers care about their fates, reputations and ties. Thirdly, the movie convinces with lots of situation comedy which is balanced with some grittier action scenes in form of martial arts combats, car chases and shootings. Imagine a more profound and refreshingly revamped take on Hong Kong action cinema of the late eighties and early nineties and you know what to expect.

In the end, Extreme Job is one of the best movies of its kind in recent memory. The acting performances are great, the action scenes are gripping, the characters are intriguing, the story is dynamic and quirky and some tension is added to balance the more vivid elements quite efficiently. If you like this movie, you should check out similar South Korean action-comedy films such as the slightly superior Quick or the surrealistic Save the Green Planet!.

Midsommar
(2019)

The Village meets Mandy in broad daylight
Midsommar is a movie that unfolds long after you have actually watched it. Its rich cinematography might grip right from the start but the numerous allegories will make you think days after you have experienced this film.

This movie is quite an experience indeed. It makes me think of a mixture of The Village and Mandy. It makes me think of the former because this movie is falsely advertised as a horror movie and could rather be described as a tense drama. Both films take place in secluded areas involving traditional societies and their rituals. Both movies have a slow pace and are controversially received. It makes me think of the latter because the visual aspects are quite vivid. Especially the use of colours has psychedelic elements that make viewers think of uneasy drug trips. Both movies slowly intensify and end rather grislily.

The story is quickly told. Three anthropologist students are invited by their Swedish classmate to assist Midsommar festivities in his secluded hometown but what starts as a fascinating trip soon becomes a horrifying experience.

The characters in the film are quite intriguing. Lead actress Florence Pugh plays an insecure young woman suffering from panic attacks who has to cope with the grisly fact that her bipolar sister killed their parents before committing suicide. Her boyfriend played by Jack Reynor has a hard time dealing with his girlfriend's negative moods but doesn't want to let her down and actually invites her to the trip to Sweden to help her change her mind. Another loud-mouthed student played by Will Poulter resents her coming with them and feels that she has a negative impact on her boyfriend and is spoiling everyone's anticipation. The third student played by William Jackson Harper keeps a lower profile and is the more intellectual type who gets into a heated conflict with the young woman's boyfriend because he wants to steal the idea for his thesis. Finally, there is the Swedish student played by Vilhelm Blomgren who seems to be very calm, compassionate and friendly but actually has a love interest in the young woman and feels that her boyfriend doesn't treat her correctly. All those underlying conflicts surface as the characters face extreme situations in Sweden.

Revealing you anything more about the movie would spoil its mezmerizing enjoyment. There are a few negative elements to point out however. The movie has a very slow pace and slightly overstays its welcome which might be frustrating for less patient viewers. The plot is relatively simple and predictable even though many critics try to interpret too much into the movie to forcedly fill the void. Let's mention that the movie features some gore and nudity and shouldn't be watched by anyone who isn't eighteen years old.

In the end, Midsommar is a unique experience that deserves to be watched on multiple occasions and discussed with friends in order to be fully appreciated. The unique atmosphere, intriguing characters and stylish cinematography make up for some lengths and an at times simplistic plot. As someone else has pointed out, this movie might give a blow to the Swedish tourism industry as grisly horrors unfold in bright daylight which is once again quite unique for such a grisly drama.

Crawl
(2019)

Be quick or be dead
Alexandre Aja's Crawl certainly is no spectacular movie but it's entertaining and gets to the point.

At the very beginning, I wasn't too sure about that. The viewers get introduced to a young competitive swimmer who has a slightly strained relationship with her sister. She also has taken some distance from her father after her parents' divorce. We are also introduced to a police officer who seems to know her sister and her rather well. None of these plot elements are significantly going to be picked up again and only serve to quickly introduce the charactets and the plot in less than ten minutes.

What follows is a fight for survival as the competitive swimmer tries to save her father from the basement of their family home as a hurricane intensifies and alligators roam the area.

The special effects are surprisingly solid, the pace keeps going until the very last minute and the action scenes are rather realistic. Classifying this movie as a horror film would be inappropriate since there are only very few scary scenes. This is a fast-paces survival action flick.

The movie also made me think about the Sunshine State and why anyone would live there. Florida is regularly hit by natural catastrophes, dangerous animals roam the state, there are numerous serial killer cases, there are thousands of noisy tourists around all year long and the state voted for Donald Trump during the last Presidential election.

To keep it short, Crawl is an entertaining survival action film that grips you while it lasts but ultimately fails to leave a deeper impression. It's a good movie to watch at the cinema on a lazy night.

Zhan lang
(2015)

Explosive propaganda with sympathetic characters
It's a mystery to me why Wolf Warrior became one of the most successful cinematic franchises in the People's Republic of China.

The acting performances are cringe-worthy at times and especially lead actor Wu Jing has stiff body language yet overacts whenever he expresses himself verbally which makes for an unbalanced contrast. The special effects look as if they had been made by a company specialized on video games in the mid-nineties and the movie constantly exposes these flaws. The two worst offenders are the bullet fired in slow-motion in the beginning of the movie that had me laughing out loud and the pack of wolves that doesn't even look remotely close to real wolves. The story is also forgettable and unimaginative. The locations are equally bland and mostly limited to some exchangeable fields and forests. The movie also includes an unhealthy dose of Chinese propaganda but that often comes along with military action films.

Still, after a weak start, the movie still manages to end up being solid. The action scenes are intense and will keep the audience on the edge of its seat towards the end. The lead character who can be described as a resilient non-conformist with a soft core is easy to empathize with and his tough but tender female sidekick is also sympathetic. The film doesn't overstay its welcone with a concise length around ninety minutes which can be considered a strength these days.

In the end, fans of military action movies can give this solid average film a try and will get exactly what they can expect. The movie is comparable to franchises like Rambo and might sit well with a larger audience. In the end, the movie however fails to be innovative enough to stand out. Before revisting this film, I would rathet watch some old Chuck Norris movies again. These film have more charm and less fake animations.

Spinning Man
(2018)

Stimulating your brain but not much else
Spinning Man is a quite unconventional psychological and philosophical thriller which has its positive and negative sides. The story revolves around a young cheerleader who has gone missing. Witnesses have reported seeing a car next to her work place just before she disappeared. The car is believed to belong to a popular professor. When police routinely wants to search his car, he reacts defensively which makes him suspicious. Soon enough, work colleagues, superiors, police officers and even his wife, children and ultimately himself start believing that the professor might somehow be involved in the disappearance.

On the positive side, this movie has a psychological touch that will make more intellectual audiences think. Is truth a fact based upon proof or rather a personal interpretation of events believed to be fully accurate? Is memory something reliable or something which can easily be corrupted? Is the perception of others going to determine who you really are or is it rather based upon your own actions, convictions and thoughts? These are the kinds of questions the movie asks and the beautiful thing about it is that two different viewers might come to two completely different conclusions.

On the negative side, the movie is certainly slow-paced and repetitive at times. There are no particularly intense scenes or memorable moments. The film kicks off slowly, plods along and ends vaguely as well. The mood is slightly sinister but not enough to make it really gripping. There isn't any tension, humour or action at all. It's a movie that makes you think and that might actually work better in form of the novel it is based upon. It made me think of the South Korean movie Burning but that one had more detail and precision to it. If you like this film, make sure to check the other movie out as well.

In the end, I would recommend this movie to people who are looking for an experimental psychological thriller. It's not an entertaining film to watch with the whole family or a flick to switch your brain off to and get entertained by but the kind of movie to sit down to, watch attentively and think about for a while to come to your own conclusion. It's a challenging movie and it's great to see that such a movie doesn't take its viewers for clueless customers but the film is nevertheless hard to sit through for the most cooperative cinephile.

Onna hissatsu godan ken
(1976)

Entertaining action thriller unrelated to the franchise
Sister Street Fighter: Fifth Level Fist is only an entry in the critically acclaimed franchise about empathic, resilient and tough martial artist Li Koryu on paper. This movie doesn't involve the same characters at all. There are however three similarities between this film and the three previous movies. They are all produced by Toei Company, they all feature Etsuko Shihomi as lead actress and they are all about a female martial artist who faces off against a sinister criminal organization.

In this case, the protagonist is actually named Nakagawa Kiku. Her parents desperately try to marry her to a socially awkward banker and then to a misogynist police officer who claims that women certainly desire cooking meals for their husbands and raising children because all women are the same. The protagonist couldn't care less however and prefers training at her karate dojo where she is however stalked by a clumsy undercover police officer. It only makes sense that she enjoys spending time with her best friend who she considers being her sister and her half-brother. The siblings share the same Japanese mother from Okinawa but the sister's mother was a white American soldier while the brother's father was a coloured American soldier. They got racially intimated as children and moved away but dream of returning home and opening a restaurant to prove by their actions that they are good people. Their ambitious dreams are shattered when the brother is hired as a hitman by an organization that smuggles cocaine hidden in Buddha statues to assassinate an international narcotics investigator. The brother manages to kill the investigator but is surprised in the act by the protagonist and other witnesses and has to go into hiding. Since he has now become a liability, the organization that hired him decides and manages to get rid of him. His sister is heartbroken and her best friend decides to help her have her revenge while the misogynist police officer and the clumsily stalking officer also get involved.

If compared to the Sister Street Fighter films, this movie features less fight scenes and rather focuses on its numerous characters and their ties. The film also follows the police investigation that takes place in art shops, during parties and in a Korean bar. The movie actually shows a lot of cultural diversity and criticizes racism towards multiethnical children, features several dialogues in English with Japanese subtitles and shows Korean dance and music performances. The misogynist police officer sticks out like a sore thumb. The movie also has a few mildly humorous scenes involving the clumsy officer and the protagonist's father who is afraid of his wife and helps the protagonist get out of embarrassing situations from time to time.

The movie certainly has its merits since its characters are intriguing and locations diversified. However, most people would never have watched the film if its misguiding title weren't associated to the internationally successful Sister Street Fighter series. While being decent, the movie certainly lacks the drive of that franchise and the protagonist pales in comparison to the charismatic Li Koryu.

After all, it certainly isn't essential to watch Sister Street Fighter: Fifth Level Fist. If you have watched the original three Sister Street Fighter movies, you don't need to watch this one. However, the movie is entertaining enough thanks to its investigative plot and fascinating characters. The final fifteen minutes or so feature some decent fight scenes but the rest of the film is certainly lacking in that department. This movie is a solid action-thriller of the seventies but can't be considered a great martial arts movie. I would recommend this film to fans of Japanese cinema and culture and those who can't get enough of Etsuko Shihomi who finds yet again the perfect balance between empathy and brutality.

Kaette kita onna hissatsu ken
(1975)

The perfect balance between brutality and empathy concludes the franchise on a solid note
Return of the Sister Street Fighter is the third and last official entry in the franchise around empathic, resilient and tough martial artist Li Koryu. The story isn't a far call from the first two entries. A friend and police officer approaches Li Koryu in Hong Kong since his sister disappeared when investigating a shady company that smuggles gold by using chemicals. The man gets assassinated and Li Koryu needs to take care of his niece. They travel to Yokohama in hope to find the young girl's mother alive. The protagonist brings the charming young girl to her aunt but she has become a drug addict who quickly betrays them. Li Koryu has to confront a charismatic boss in a wheelchair with an artificial hand who organizes brutal death games between exotic martial artists to find a team of four fighters willing to stop the nosy protagonist from uncovering the company's dark secrets and setting the kidnapped woman free.

The movie has the same elements that made the two previous entries so entertaining. The quirky characters are quite diversified as we meet a sinister villain with a dark secret that could have come from the James Bond franchise and a martial artist who looks like a shady cowboy on one side but also a tormented drug addict forced to betray her own sister and a charming, dynamic and joyous young girl who must witness her family's slow demise on the other side. The locations are once again very interesting and especially the dramatic scenes close to an abandoned mine are quite fascinating and flirt with the western genre. The camera work is precise this time around and the vibrant soundtrack blends in very well.

The main reason why this movie isn't as great as its two predecessors is the fact that the fight scenes are quite brief this time around. Especially the two final duels only last about thirty seconds each when there would have been room for some more climatic duels. The film is also about ten minutes shorter than the other two films and seems to be slightly rushed as if it had been produced on a shoestring budget. The film would have been much better with a more generous budget, extended fight scenes and an additional length between ten to fifteen minutes.

Nevertheless, Return of the Sister Street Fighter is brutal, dynamic, entertaining, quirky and sinister all at once as it will entertain you from start to finish. It isn't the perfect conclusion to a great franchise but a very solid one. Fans of contemporary martial arts movies or action thrillers of the seventies will certainly get their money's worth. The perfect balance between empathic scenes and brutal sequences is the movie's greatest strength and one would have liked to see more movies in this sympathetic franchise and this comment comes from someone who usually dislikes endless sequels, prequels and franchises these days.

Onna hissatsu ken: Kiki ippatsu
(1974)

Funky adventure with sinister antagonists
Sister Street Fighter: Hanging by a Thread is the second film in the martial arts franchise about the empathic, resilient and tough lead character Li Koryu. This time around, the movie doesn't feature actresses or actors from the Street Fighter franchise that helped kickstart this spinoff series that would turn out being as great or even slightly better than the original series. This entry is the franchise's emancipation and easily proves that versatile actress Etsuko Shihomi can stand her ground all alone.

The story isn't a far call from the first entry but neither this franchise nor Sonny Chiba's Street Fighter films stood for particularly creative plots. Li Koryu is asked to find a former classmate who got kidnapped and is forced to be the mistress of the boss of diamond smugglers who surgically implant the precious stones into the buttocks of Chinese prostitutes. To make matters worse, Li Koryu's own sister is linked to the criminals and forced to betray her sister. Li Koryu however gets assisted by a mysterious stranger who is initially hired as a hitman tasked to kill her but has his own hidden agenda.

The film is on par with its solid predecessor. The story is entertaining, fast-paced and quirky. The fight scenes involve more hand-held camera sections which adds a new touch to the series. The characters are eccentric, memorable and unique. The locations are fascinating as fight scenes take place on a rolling train, in an abandoned stadium and even on logs on the water. It's the most brutal movie in the franchise that involves some graphic scenes that conveniently spice things up from time to time. The funky soundtrack underlines the film's dynamic touch at the pulse of the wild seventies.

This movie is entertaining from start to finish and will appeal to anyone who likes contemporary martial arts films or quirky action thrillers from the seventies. The movie has aged rather well thanks to its charismatic protagonist and modern camera techniques. It's one of the few examples when the sequel is as great as its predecessor.

Onna hissatsu ken
(1974)

Tough lady dueling eccentric assassins in exotic locations
Hong Kong martial arts movies were incredibly popular all around the world in the mid-seventies to a point that millions of fans enrolled in martial arts schools to learn kung fu. Japanese Toei Company jumped on the bandwagon in order to promote Japanese karate skills and created the commercially successful Street Fighter franchise consisting of three surprisingly brutal movies featuring cold-blooded Sonny Chiba. In response to these brutal and pitiless films, the company also brought the Sister Street Fighter series to life. Lead actress Sue Shiomi had a short role in the first Street Fighter film and Sonny Chiba now has a minor role in the first film of the new franchise. This movie as well as its two sequels are less brutal and more warm-hearted. That doesn't mean that there aren't some graphic torture scenes and incredible fights however. The Sister Street Fighter series are actually much more balanced than the Street Fighter series and even though both are great, I tend to prefer Sue Shiomi's empathic performances over Sonny Chiba's rude character.

In many films back then and still today, female lead actresses are supposed to look beautiful and weak but you will get the exact opposite here which is quite refreshing. Lead character Li Koryu, known as Tina Long in international versions, is shown as tough heroine with an empathic side that never tries to seduce or dress well. Ironically, this natural and self-confident approach is exactly what makes her so sympathetic and even attractive. Even by contemporary standards, her character feels fresh and is intriguing enough to make audiences care about her fate. After three successful movies, fans were craving for more to a point that Fifth Level Fist, a movie completely unrelated to the series but featuring Sue Shiomi in a similar role, became an unofficial sequel and is now often seen as fourth entry in the franchise. This proves that this franchise might have been even more popular than the original Street Fighter series.

The story is entertaining, fast-paced but nevertheless by the numbers. Li Koryu is asked to find her brother who disappeared when investigating a shady company that imports heroin hidden in wigs. The locations of the movie are quite intriguing and vary from sinister dungeons over traditional martial arts schools to shady pubs. The characters are also interesting and feature a series of martial arts hitmen with unique skills who all face off Li Koryu. Several actors from the Street Fighter series are featured in this film such as Sonny Chiba who plays a mysterious stranger who helps out the heroine but has his own motives, Milton Ishibashi who was involved as resilient villain in two Street Fighter films and plays the main hitman asked to kill the heroine and Asao Uchida who was also present in two Street Fighter films and has a quite similar role here as wise leader of a martial arts school with an intact moral compass that offers the heroine shelter.

If you like the Street Fighter series, you will adore this movie as much as the original franchise. Martial arts fan will certainly appreciate the numerous fights showcasing different weapons, techniques and locations. The movie also flirts with spy films from the sixties and seventies and you will get an eccentric antagonist living in a gigantic mansion who assembles unique assassins around him. This movie really represents the dynamic spirit of the cinematic seventies but has aged quite well thanks to its fresh heroine. The new BluRay boxed set including all four films of the franchise by Arrow Films is highly recommended.

Gyakushû! Satsujin ken
(1974)

It's better to burn out than fade away
The Street Fighter's Last Revenge is the third and last installment in the series around vicious hitman and karate fighter Tsurugi Takuma. This movie is also the best in the series and one would have liked to see more films in the franchise. This last film combines the strengths of the great first movie such as diversified settings, vicious fight scenes and interesting characters and adds an interesting plot with numerous twists and turns until the very end. In order to fully appreciate this film, you should watch the Japanese version because the American version has cut some fight scenes and changed parts of the plot for no reason whatsoever.

The story revolves around a Yakuza clan associated with a ruthless company that blackmails and bribes politicians. Tsurugi Takuma steals an important tape that proves this scheme and blackmails the Yakuza clan himself. The main character needs to fight an overtly motivated Taiwanese fighter who quickly changes sides to support him, a determined prosecutor who initially wants to expose the criminals but then decides to betray them and get rich and a seductive woman associated to the Yakuza who tries to murder the main character and the prosecutor on numerous occasions.

The fight scenes are even more interesting than in the previous installments because Tsurugi Takuma faces an opponent who is even stronger than him and needs to learn about his background and fight techniques to clear his mind and win the deadly final duel. The characters are even more interesting than in the two predecessors and especially the diversified prosecutor and the deadly femme fatale are particularly intriguing and make the viewers care about their fates. The settings are diversified as the fights take place on a fairground, in a crematorium and at a marina on a particularly rainy night. The story offers numerous at times surprising twists and turns that keep viewers on the edge of their seats until the very end.

The Street Fighter's Last Revenge is among the very best contemporary martial arts films ever made and a very positive surprise after the lackluster second installment in the series. This movie deserves more attention and recognition. Even if you haven't watched the first two films in the series, you should watch this one if you are a genre fan. It's regrettable that the series didn't continue but one has to admit that it ended on a very high note.

Satsujin ken 2
(1974)

Rehashed scenes and annoying sidekicks
Return of the Street Fighter is the sequel to brutal, dynamic and entertaining The Street Fighter which was only released two and a half months earlier. This film features some vicious fight scenes like the predecessor but disappoints in all other regards. The movie seems to have been rushed in order to take advantage of the predecessor's surprising success.

Some of the brutal fight scenes look so ridiculous that they are unintentionally humorous. One example is when Tsurugi Takuma beats up a Yakuza so hard on the top of a snow-covered mountain that his eyes pop out. The story is even shallower than the plot of the first movie and basically revolves around a Yakuza clan that blackmails people to finance a new martial arts school that serves as hideout for an international organized crime organization. To make matters worse, one of Tsurugi Takuma's opponents from the first movie who was believed to be dead makes a random appearance in this film to get revenge. This film also features two extended flashbacks from the first film that overstay their welcome and only attempt to make the film longer than it is. The main character has a new sidekick in this film named Pin Boke whom he picked up from the streets for vague reasons and who is constantly annoying the main character and talking nonsense.

The elements that makes this weak sequel acceptable are its relentless pace, brutal fight scenes and gloomy atmosphere. Those who really liked the first movie can give this sequel a try and should definitely check out the third and last installment in the series entitled The Street Fighter's Last Revenge which is the best of the three movies in my opinion.

Gekitotsu! Satsujin ken
(1974)

One of the most brutal martial arts films ever made
The Street Fighter is a Japanese martial arts film that stands out with its rough fights and graphic brutality. Main character Tsurugi Takuma is a tough guy with quite a temper who is able to rip out his opponent's eyes, testicles and vocal chords. The film also features a few interesting side characters with Tsurugi Takuma's clumsy but resilient partner Zhang Rakuda, charming and determined heiress Sarai Chuayut-Hammett and condemned murderer Shikenbaru Tateki who desperately desires to kill the protagonist.

The story of the movie is vivid but shallow. Tsurugi Takumi is asked to kidnap the daughter of a recently assassinated oil tycoon but refuses when he realizes that the gangsters involved are Yakuza since he wants to remain an independent hitman. The Yakuza don't accept his decision and try to assassinate him since he knows too much about them. Along with his easily scared but remarkably loyal partner Zhang Rakuda, the protagonist now attempts to save the heiress and fight the Japanese Yakuza and their Hong Kong allies.

The film has numerous memorable scenes that have stood the test of time. The first one is already the gloomy opening sequence in a prison when Tsurugi Takuma disguises as a monk in order to free a convicted murder with a clever scheme. The dynamic fight scene between the main character and two siblings in his apartment is also intense. The adventurous plan to free the kidnapped heiress is also quite gripping. The most emotional scene follows a short time after when Zhang Rakuda desperately tries to prove his loyalty to his partner. The highlight however are the last fifteen minutes of the film when Tsurugi Takumi faces off dozens of Yakuza on a ship at night.

There are only two minor flaws for me. First of all, the main character is somewhat unbalanced. He is introduced as pitiless, relentless and selfish character who acts a little bit like an evil version of Bruce Lee. Later on however, the same character deeply cares about his partner, risks his life to save a heiress he barely knows on multiple occasions and is shown to have a troubled past through a flashback. These two sides of the character clash on several occasions and make him look somewhat bipolar. Tsurugi Takumi is as cold as ice in one moment and almost heartbroken in the next sequence. One more thing that bothered me was the ending of the film. Even though the final fifteen minutes are the highlight of the film, it somewhat ends on a cliffhanger with several questions left unanswered. The second and third feature in the series wouldn't resolve these questions either. One gets the impression that the production was running on a low budget and that the final five minutes that should have been there are missing. This movie doesn't have a proper conclusion which is slightly frustrating.

Still, The Street Fighter is a dynamic, entertaining and vicious martial arts film that still entertains almost five decades later. Watch the original Japanese version with subtitles in order to avoid conservative censorship and ridiculous translations in the English version.

Ansisung
(2018)

Epic battle scenes and intriguing characters
The Great Battle, originally titled Ansi Fortress, is a South Korean historical war epic about the Siege of Ansi in the seventh century as Chinese Emperor Taizong attacked the Korean kingdom of Goguryeo. Despite embellishing a few historical details such as the eye injury to Emperor Taizong, the most important aspects of the film are historically accurate. The numerous Chinese viewers who rated this movie down due to misplaced patriotic pride should be ignored.

The movie convinces on numerous levels. The four prolonged battle scenes are creative, dynamic and intense. In between these battles, the viewers are introduced to numerous interesting characters such as powerful military dictator Yeon Gaesomun, dissident commander Yang Manchun and young soldier Sa-mul who was asked by Yeon Gaesomun to assassinate traitor Yang Manchun. The movie also deals with emotional topics such as friendship, love and loyalty which adds more depth to the characters without distracting from the dramatic military circumstances. This dynamic mixture makes the film easy to digest despite its long running time. The special effects are fluidly employed and make the film quite dynamic. The camera work is mostly calm if compared to numerous contemporary military films with shaky camera passages.

The Great Battle is entertaining from start to finish and convinces with four intense battles and numerous intriguing characters. The only things that could be improved are the facts that the character portraits could be even more detailed and that the characters shouldn't look as sharp and beautiful as they do while living in a rural community under siege for three months. In the end, anyone who likes historical war epics should give this movie a try as it's one of the best of its kind in recent memory.

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