Thursday, 16 February 2012

Guesty's Cult/Arthouse Movie Club

Well here we all are together again and may I say it's mighty good to see you lovely folks back here. Firstly can I just say a massive thank you to y'all for taking time out to read this the second instalment of Guesty's Cult/Arthouse Movie Club. This week I thought we might discuss a much maligned sub-genre of Eastern cinema 'vengeance' .

In the immortal words of Paul Atreides  'I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain'

Now the overriding theme of the Dune trilogy is 'beware of heroes' well this couldn't be more true than the anti-heroes portrayed in Eastern cinema.

But where do we begin? well the first film that comes to mind is the 1972 Japanese cult classic Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion the first instalment in the Female Prisoner series, a film based on a Manga by Tōru Shinohara. The basic premise of this film is: after being set up and deceived by Sugimi, a crooked detective that she had whole-heartedly fallen in love with, Matsushima Nami's desire for revenge knows no bounds. Her failed attempt at stabbing Sugimi on the steps of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Headquarters results in her doing hard time in a female prison run by sadistic and horny male guards. To Sugimi's surprise, Matsushima refuses to testify against him and his connections to the Yakuza, and now the sheer fact that she knows such secrets makes her a liability. So Sugimi and the Japanese mafia orchestrate a plan whereby Matsushima will succumb to an "accidental" death in prison. They enlist the help of Kagiri, another female inmate with ties to both Sugimi and the mafia, thus their formidable plan is quickly set in motion. Little do they realise, however, how hotly Matsushima's desire for revenge burns within her.

Seen as one of the main influences for QT & Uma Thurman when they were co-writing Kill Bill, you can certainly see the similarities. As a film both the camerawork and use of music is handled with a sense of real artistry. For example, flashback sequences are realised by shifting coloured spotlights on a live action stage, and the finale is filmed entirely by handheld camera, with impressive effect.

Now you could say that very few people had ever heard of Shogun Assassin (1980) prior to Kill Bill Vol. 2, but both films have with the help of QT experienced a resurgence in recent years being introduced to a whole new type of audience. In 'Shogun Assassin' Tomisaburo Wakayama plays Ogami Itto, aka "Lone Wolf", a samurai who refuses to serve the evil Shogun. After the murder of his wife he hits the road with his young son, who he pushes along in a souped up baby cart. Lone Wolf has one thing on his mind - vengeance. Along the way many assassins and Ninja try to stop him, but he is a relentless one man killing machine. His journey finally leads him to a confrontation with the three Masters Of Death, who are escorting the Shogun's brother. Lone Wolf is possible one of the coolest action heroes in movie history, and the baby cart is a touch of genius, especially as his infant son narrates the story. The frequent fight sequences are exciting and incredibly brutal, and to be honest I believe there isn't a dull moment in the whole movie. For me it stands alongside great movies like 'For A Few Dollars More', Memento', 'Mad Max' & 'Once Upon a Time in The West' some of the most entertaining action movies of all time.

To be honest though 'Shogun Assassin' is not the most coherent film that has ever been released and this is mainly due to it being made up from re-edited footage from two of the early 1970s movies Lone Wolf and Cub - Sword of Vengeance (1972) & Lone Wolf And Cub: Babycart At The River Styx (1972) and then dubbed into English. The main personnel behind bringing this idea to life were Robert Houston, one of the stars of Wes Craven's horror classic 'The Hills Have Eyes', and David Weisman.

In reality this film really shouldn't have worked, but somehow it does. Initially released by the cult movie legend Roger_Corman on New World picture it was subsequently banned in 1983 for it's extreme violence and has only recently been re-released under the VIPCO vaults of horror collection. It's still seen today one of the greatest action movies ever made, and a source of inspiration for both John Carpenter and QT.

Now if all this talk of vengeance has wet your appetite for cool sweet revenge then I would highly recommend you check out another great movie Lady Snowblood I think this film speaks for itself.

Vengeance movies are also an integral part of Korean cinema, with two of the best films in recent years being Sympathy For Lady Vengeance (2002) & Oldboy (2003) the later receiving 81% on Rotten Tomatoes. In the case of Oldboy, it was good enough to win the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes. The film itself has a strong visual style and an almost surreal noir touch, whilst unravelling the various mysteries and hidden subplots the viewer is subjected to relentless rounds of gut-wrenching violence, however you won't really mind sitting through any of this because it genuinely has a purpose and is all part of the main character's relentless quest, as he tries to quench his unabating thirst for revenge.

In Zatoichi (2003) we see a continuation of this traditional vengeance theme, we follow the main character a blind samurai by the name of Zatoichi who comes to the defence of a group of townspeople caught up in a local gang war and being forced to pay protection money. As well as this Zatoichi befriends a local farmer, her nephew and also a pair of geisha who are seeking revenge for the murder of their parents. Both the townspeople and the geisha have revenge on their minds and in the form of the blind samurai they have their hero.

Of course on countless occasions these types of film have missed the mark completely take for example this monstrosity. Hollywood remakes of Eastern films have also nearly always fallen incredibly short of the mark, take Oldboy again as an example an American remake is planned, which will be directed by Spike Lee now what this will turn out to be like will be any ones guess but it certainly won't be as thought provoking or ground breaking as the original Korean masterpiece.

In summary these films try to represent the overriding sense of "injustice" experienced by the main protagonists and in some way try to explain the nature of the individual and what has brought them to the point at which they seek reciprocal justice. As we watch the transition of the characters throughout these films although hard to feel empathy we do understand the moral dilemma they find themselves in, whether or not it is right to balance out the original act or injustice through retribution, and in the majority of cases physical retribution, literally taking an 'eye for an eye' we cannot be certain. What we can be certain of however is that like they say in Revenge of the Nerds 'revenge is a dish best served cold!!' or perhaps it was possibly in the 1841 French novel Mathilde by Marie Joseph Eugène Sue: la vengeance se mange très-bien froide I forget but generally the point stands.

'Til next time 'vengeance is mine!!'


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