Friday, March 26, 2010

Alfonso Cuarón's Y tu mamá también (2001)

Alfonso Cuarón's Y tu mamá también (2001) is a love letter to Mexico in a distinctive style. Young Tenoch (Diego Luna) is fucking his girlfriend, Ana (Ana López Mercado), on the eve of her trip to Europe with her girlfriend, Ceci (María Aura), whose boyfriend is Julio (Gael García Bernal), Tenoch's best friend. The two are spending a blissful evening together, and for Ceci and Julio, they have to wait until the morning of Ceci's departure to embrace (under the guise of Julio helping Ceci look for her passport while her parents bicker about her missing the flight). When Tenoch and Julio meet at the airport, they are both sad to see their girlfriends go yet are both kind of happy to be able to spend some time together. While Tenoch and Julio have a good time getting high, swimming, and goofing around, a whole cast of characters are introduced from Mexico's president to a construction worker whose corpse is blocking traffic. The most important character is a Spaniard, Luisa (Maribel Verdú), the wife of Jano (Juan Carlos Remolina), Tenoch's cousin, a writer of literature. Tenoch and Julio think that Luisa is incredibly beautiful (they are quite correct), so they chat her up at a wedding and ask her if she wants to accompany them to a beach called "Heaven's Mouth" (Tenoch and Julio don't even know if the beach exists). Luisa receives some bad news one day, and the following morning, she calls Tenoch and asks if her invitation is still open to go to the beach. Tenoch says yes, and he and Julio scramble around Mexico City, learning the location of the beach and gathering supplies before picking up Luisa. After Tenoch and Ana finish fucking and are tussling around playfully, before the audio drops out and a narrator in a quiet, unassuming style begins talking, the sounds of sirens are heard out of the window of Ana's bedroom. The construction worker whose corpse was blocking traffic had a specific reason for crossing the freeway that day, and the narrator tells why. This narrator also tells the audience why Tenoch is named Tenoch; who Tenoch's father is and what he does in the country; and who is Tenoch's mother and what she does every day. Julio's mother is never seen within Y tu mamá también, but the narrator tells the viewer who she is and what she does for a living. Julio's sister, nicknamed the "Beret" by Julio and Tenoch, is seen by the viewer but she doesn't speak. The narrator tells the viewer what she does and what her future holds. Some of the other folks on Julio, Tenoch, and Luisa's journey have stories as well, and sometimes the narrator will talk about their future. Luisa meets a ninety-five-year-old-woman in a town in front of a table of trinkets, photos, and flowers; and over the phone, Luisa tells Jano that amazingly this woman's memory has full recall and can remember all events since she was five. The old woman gives a memento to Luisa, and this memento has a specific past with an endearing story. Outside of the window of the vehicle on their journey to the beach, Julio, Tenoch, and Luisa see the country outside of Mexico City. The town where Tenoch's maid grew up is spied by Tenoch, and the narrator tells her story while Tenoch silently watches the town go by. He doesn't tell Julio or Luisa of the town. On the road, there are other people in a funeral procession, folks blocking traffic to solicit donations for the queen, and people on the side of the road stopped by the military or the local police. Luisa tells Julio and Tenoch one evening over tequila and beer and dancing that Mexico is a beautiful country.It is. However, Y tu mamá también is also a story about Julio, Tenoch, and Luisa. While the narrator tells the stories of people whose stories often go untold, the biggest mystery lies behind the Spaniard, Luisa. She is attracted to the two attractive young men: they are both so full of life and wrapped up in their own selves, almost blissfully ignorant of what goes on around them. Luisa knows also that Julio and Tenoch really want the opportunity to sleep with her and she's okay with that. Luisa has let go a lot a more than she lets on as to her life back in Mexico City, so what she experiences on this journey, she is open to all of it. Perhaps inadvertently, while Julio and Tenoch are looking for an opportunity to be physically intimate with Luisa, Luisa teaches the two about intimacy in all its forms. Cuarón saves his revelations towards those characters for the final minutes of his film. All three of the leading actors, Luna, Bernal, and especially Verdú as Tenoch, Julio, and Luisa, respectively, are pitch perfect: their performances are so open and vulnerable. Cuarón devotes his camera to them. His style for Y tu mamá también has now in 2010 become the dominant style in cinema: organic, hand-held, natural light, little traditional flare (like dramatic music). It is easy to forget how powerful this visual style is now, and Cuarón shows how powerful it is. Cuarón doesn't hide, with an overly-contrived artificial style, his themes. Cleverly, Cuarón plays with only his metaphoric focus: what's in the foreground and the background often will shift focus. That is to say, is Y tu mamá también his love letter to Mexico told by a narrator about the myriad different people who populate it; is it about three characters who grow together through a journey; or is it a seamless film, a tale told only in a whole? Regardless, Cuarón with Y tu mamá también made one of the best films of last decade. (Even more impressive, he made two of the best films of the decade in my opinion. Children of Men (2006) is another masterpiece.) A film which truly transcends its unassuming style.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Olatunde Osunsanmi's The Fourth Kind (2009)

Olatunde Osunsanmi's The Fourth Kind (2009) is an account of Dr. Abigail Tyler (Milla Jovovich), a therapist in Gnome, Alaska, who claims to have had personal alien encounters and also chronicles, through her therapy sessions with hypnosis, her patients' encounters with aliens. As to whether The Fourth Kind is a genuine story and its facts are true, I will not be addressing this issue as I deem it irrelevant and non-essential for purposes of this review. The film has a very interesting presentation and visual style; beyond that, The Fourth Kind falters.
Director Olatunde Osunsanmi mixes on-screen interview footage with a person named Dr. Abigail Tyler and himself, footage of video and audio alleged to have been recorded by this doctor and others, and filmed re-enactments of the proceedings with Jovovich as Tyler. Jovovich opens the film as herself (and introduces herself to the audience) and gives a warning that some of the scenes in the film "some may find 'disturbing.'" During the filmed reenactments (aka the plot) when an actor appears for the first time, his/her real name appears in text on screen accompanied by the character he/she is portraying. Within The Fourth Kind, during the reenactments with Jovovich and company, when audio or video footage is being displayed, often Osunsanmi will put a subtitle on the screen below reading "actual" audio or video from original events.

This is an extremely intriguing way to make a film. Unfortunately, the story and the characters do not match The Fourth Kind's execution. Mixing alleged true footage with contrived and composed filmed proceedings, often simultaneously, takes the concept of film "blurring reality" to a literal level. Osunsanmi's most clever use comes with the split-screen: for example, one side of the screen will show Jovovich during a therapy session while on the other side of the screen will be the alleged footage shot by Tyler of a patient during a hypnosis session. Osunsanmi will match the audio between the original speaker and his actor while the visual depictions vary. Juxtaposing the two is trippy (and potentially creepy). In another scene, when Dr. Tyler has to make a late-night visit to a patient's house (after being summoned there by the police in a hostage situation), Osunsanmi fills the screen with four angles, mixing the contrived filmed reenacted footage with footage from original events (captured from within police vehicles). It's disorienting to watch the contrived footage, with its film lights and dramatic music, for example, alongside the the poor quality video footage from original events. Visually, it's a slick style, but since both types of footage often match (as if the viewer is judging how faithful the reenacted filmed footage is to the "actual" footage), there is little for the viewer beyond its visual appeal. Some variance would have been welcomed. (Marc Webb's (500) Days of Summer (2009) uses split-screen to excellent effect in his film where in a scene the lead character, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, attends a party. One side of the screen shows the series of events that Levitt's character wishes to have happen and the other side portrays the events which actually happen in the course of the story. Having those two scenes clash gave a much greater depth to the film, the characters, and the drama.)
To his credit, Osunsanmi's use of audio in The Fourth Kind is pretty spooky, especially during the actual footage and hearing the disembodied voices (presumably from aliens). Often though, when a supposed alien encounter is occurring on screen and shown by "actual" footage, the video distorts (with the overwhelming majority of the video not discernible). The audio also distorts. However, the overwhelming majority of it is discernible (and usually "translated" and subtitled on screen). Whatever is the cause for the interference with the video and audio, the viewer can speculate. The effect of the distorted video really gips the viewer, though. The reenacted, filmed proceedings are not any different from any other mediocre scare flick (jump scares with quick character action and accompanying piercing audio cue).

Substantively, The Fourth Kind does not hold up beyond its visuals, because the film is plot-driven by a character with little dramatic interest. Tyler is a truly sad character: as the film opens, the viewer learns within the last two months, her husband died. Her very young daughter has become permanently disabled also. Tyler is receiving her own treatment from Dr. Abel Campos (Elias Koteas) to cope with her emotional problems. Only a truly cold-hearted person could not feel for her character. Dr. Tyler persists, however, with her own patient sessions and continues to uncover the possibility that Gnome may be a hot bed for alien activity. Why? Tyler tells Campos, who suggests that she take a "sabbatical," that she must continue--to complete the work her husband had started before he had died (and presumably to keep her mind preoccupied). However, this motivation feels hollow for the viewer, and Jovovich might as well have told Koteas's Campos: "I have to continue work so an investigation and a plot plays out for a movie." One of the unfortunate things about Tyler is that she is almost all alone in her beliefs and her plight. When Osunsanmi attempts to show the effect that this solitude and its emotion has upon Jovovich's character, there are some tender scenes, with Jovovich crying alone or with Tyler and her daughter. Often, though, her strong feelings are not felt by the viewer. The absence of an intimate relationship (not just with Jovovich's character but really with any characters) hurts the drama within The Fourth Kind. Perhaps intentionally, the viewer is always outside and looking in.
Milla Jovovich is a gorgeous woman and an actor whom I've always admired (and also her music). She has given excellent performances in underrated films, like The Messenger (1999) and The Claim (2000); given excellent performances in guilty pleasures, like Resident Evil (2002) and Ultraviolet (2006; I will never forget the scenes of her subduing her foes by pulling out their hair extensions); and given very good performances in mediocre to awful films, like A Perfect Getaway (2009). In other words, I could pretty much watch her in anything. The Fourth Kind is unlikely, however, to get a revisit from me in the future, despite the fact that her performance is well above average. Olatunde Osunnsanmi deserves credit for his creative rendition of his story, and I hope for his next feature that his creativity carries over. Hampered by a weak script, The Fourth Kind falls into the forgettable zone.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Koji Wakamatsu's Yuke yuke nidome no shojo (1969)

With sunglasses on at night with a Blues Brothers movie poster behind him, sitting at a bar, smoking some cigarettes and maybe having a drink or two, Koji Wakamatsu speaks coolly about his career. Having been kicked out of his old apartment for painting the walls (to make a movie within), Wakamatsu moved to another. This apartment building had a roof where Wakamatsu liked to go to either relax or exercise. He was hit one day with the idea of making a film with the roof as its location. At the time, he was reading a poem by a poet who was a friend of his screenwriter and friend, Masao Adachi. Wakamatsu asked Adachi to write a script based on the poem and the location. "All made up," laughs Wakamatsu. "Another four-day film." The film is Yuke yuke nidome no shojo (Go, Go Second Time Virgin) (1969). A lyrical film and quite poetic and also extremely angry. Two-fisted, hands held high to the sky, middle fingers straight up angry.
Plot synopsis #1 (bare-bones, no spoilers, primarily as a warning for prospective viewers as the film is quite intense):

A group of young men are carrying a screaming young woman up the stairs of an apartment building while a meek and timid young man follows behind. On the rooftop, the group, save the meek and timid young man, rape the young woman. This is late afternoon. During the trauma, the young woman passes out. She awakens in the morning on the roof top and her attackers are gone save the young and timid one. The two begin talking. The group awakens, having also slept on the roof top, and before exiting, one of the group rapes the young woman again. She openly confesses her to desire to, right now, want to die. She doesn't want to kill herself, however (as she reveals her very personal reason later on). She wants someone to kill her, and the young meek timid man says that he thinks he can do that for her.

Plot synopsis #2:

Unhappy with they way that the world has treated them, a dissociated young man and a dissociated young woman attempt to connect. "For me," says Wakamatsu. "a woman is a being who understands me and accepts me totally without me needing to explain myself. In my films one always finds a yearning for a woman of infinite grace and kindness." Perhaps this sentiment from Wakamatsu works both ways within Yuke yuke nidome no shojo: the young man is willing to listen to her as she bares all emotionally. The young woman doesn't probe the young man with questions nor does she seem judgmental. She is, however, willing to stay by his side long enough for him to reveal what's inside him.
Finally, perhaps Wakamatsu best describes Yuke yuke nidome no shojo with these opening images:
The adults in Yuke yuke nidome no shojo appear in extremes from clueless to cruel. A woman hangs her washing on the roof top the morning after the young woman's rape, smiling at the sunshine and the beautiful weather, unaware of last night's events and unobservant as to its aftermath. The building's superintendent who locks the roof top at night barely steps over the threshold of the door to investigate; despite having a flashlight in hand, he might as well be blind instead of uncaring and careless in his job. The young woman was a victim of rape once before the incident on the rooftop; and when she is being raped on-screen by the young group of thugs, her mind collapses and she falls into a dream: two adults run her down at sea side and rape her on the beach. The young man had a particularly violent incident happen to him in an apartment the day before, an incident that he shares with the young woman (in some attempt at gaining her understanding). The couple in Yuke yuke nidome no shojo lack innocence only because of the tragedies that have befallen them but not purity. In reality, these young adults are really children and clueless as well. However, Wakamatsu paints his couple as still having an innate desire to make a human connection despite everything and every one around them attempting to pull them apart. Yuke yuke appears so unreal that its reality is polarized. Wakamatsu's unique style benefits thematically as his social criticism never comes off as didactic. Visually, Yuke yuke is stunning. The black and white film gives the volatile events on screen a cooler background. The music is folksy (Wakamatsu admits the music and the songs in the film were written by him, his screenwriter, and his A.D.), and it, like the shooting style, attempt to lull the viewer. The lyrics are poetry with phrases like, "the nitro of love," lacking a true sense of irony which emphasizes its openness and honesty. A color sequence is saved for an intense scene of violence. The violence of the film is harsh, but I don't think Wakamatsu would have it any other way. The objective facts about Yuke yuke nidome no shojo are from Wakamatsu's interview included as a supplement on Image Entertainment's DVD of Go, Go Second Time Virgin. The quote from Wakamatsu within the paragraph entitled "Plot synopsis #2" is from Eros in Hell: Sex, Blood and Madness in Japanese Cinema by Jack Hunter, 1998, Creation Cinema Collection, Volume Nine, Creation Books, London and Berkeley, CA.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Jess Franco's Sinner (1972)

"'If there is any message in my films,' says Franco, 'it's about the distance between people,' and Sinner is a field trip into seventies' alienation." (from Immoral Tales: European Sex and Horror Movies 1956-1984 by Cathal Tohill and Pete Tombs, St. Martin's Griffin Press, New York, 1995.)I've encountered quite a diversity of opinions in my research on Jess Franco's Sinner (1972). The authors of Obsession: The Films of Jess Franco write:

Drug movies were popular in America in the early 70s, but this attempt to adapt to the trend didn't hit its target and is no more than a tedious sexploiter. While The Trip and such like are still fun to watch for their hordes of hippies in bell-bottom pants their "hallucination" scenes, "Diary of a nymphomaniac" only had a few hippies dancing in a nightclub and a drug delirium scene in which Kali Hansa endlessly rolls on the floor to a stoned score. The real purpose of the film was a sort of disguised pleading for sexual liberation (totally out of date by today's standards)...It is hard to guess whether he [Franco?] really cared about his subject when one analyses the sterotyped situations and the obsessive voyeuristic angle of the camera. It is also worth remembering that this was made in 1972, one of Franco's most prolific years, in which he made at least nine films.

The authors of Immoral Tales write:

Sinner is one of those strange creations you can only find in the bargain basement of cinema. In lesser hands it would have no discernible style, no garish intonations to take it outside the usual cheap sex film limitations. If the film works, it's because it straddles a stack of opposites. On the one hand it's phony and kitsch. On the other it's heartfelt and serious. Like many of Franco's best films it oscillates, refusing to be tied down to categories, forming a riddle that attracts some and repulses others.
Despite its extremely low budget, Sinner is one of Franco's most even productions; it doesn't plunge from the heights of heady fantasy to the depths of sloppily lensed realism.

Finally, the authors of Bizarre Sinema: Jess Franco El Sexo del Horror write:

Without being discouraged by his new flop [Los ojos del Dr. Orloff (1972)], Franco went back to work with [Robert] de Nesle: after having confirmed Prous and Hansa and "dusting off" Libert and Vernon, he shot two French produced back-to-back movies in Alicante, Le journal intime d'une nymphomane (1972) and Les ebranlees (1972). Two examples of the purest soft-core genre, their final outcome is, curiously, antithetical. The first one is a big detective-erotic melodrama, whose complex and very interesting plot--inspired by the narrative structure of Citizen Kane (1940) by Welles and to the The Killers (1945) by Sidomak, incorporating (yet again!) several sadeian overtones--also features Montserrat Prous' best interpretation (sometimes sensual, sometimes sweet, yet always effective) and a memorable ostentation of scabrous sex on the part of Kali Hansa, confirming her bent for lesbianism, already hinted at in her roles for Manacoa...

While all three pieces of criticism have merit, I find the criticism by the Immoral Tales authors the most persuasive. Perhaps Franco's statement quoted above says more than all (it's context completely unknown to me). Sinner is both totally unreal and real.
Linda (Montserrat Prous) comes from the country to the big city where at a carnival, with her suitcase in hand, she meets an older gentleman who rapes her on the ferris wheel. Linda gets a job with a laundry delivery service and while making her rounds she spies one of her customers, the Countess Anna De Monterey (Anne Libert) having sex with a suitor. The Countess is either curious or taken with young Linda and houses her, eventually having a romantic relationship with her. Eventually, Linda opens up socially and begins a relationship with a man and also with nightclub dancer, Maria (Kali Hansa). Her relationship with Maria causes a rift with her and the Countess, and Linda leaves the Countess's villa. With Maria, Linda gets a fast-track course on both sex and drugs. Linda is eventually arrested and released. A doctor (Howard Vernon) doesn't think Linda is a drug addict and can recover, so he houses her in order to give her treatment. Like all of Linda's relationships within Sinner, it ends badly. The opening sequence of the film is Linda's last day.

While the English-language title is more sensational, perhaps the French title, Le journal intime d'une nymphomane is slightly more appropriate, as it hints towards both the film's narrative structure and perhaps a deeper psychology working within the film. I have little to no formal training in sociology and psychology and the like, so I will not be speculating as to the film's genuineness towards its depiction of Linda's life. However, a meticulous detail is given to Linda's relationships within Sinner, and they are focal. The narrative structure is a mystery through the eyes of Rosa Ortiz (Jacqueline Laurent) and revealing who she is would be a serious spoiler. However, the story moves backwards through Rosa's discovery through her meeting with the police, with the Countess, and eventually with Maria who holds Linda's diary where her secrets are held.
Despite any psychological underpinnings and attempts at social realism, Franco creates images, and Sinner is Franco mixing the subjective and the objective shot: what is real and not real flickers with the frame, so whatever is shown is totally unreliable from a narrative standpoint in terms of visual storytelling. For example, the visual rendition of Linda's trip to the carnival, where she meets the older gentleman who rapes her, is far from sensitive. Prous's Linda is dressed like a literal doll at a child's tea party with pigtails and a short dress with frills and bobby socks (intimating that wherever she came from into the city was off of the pages of a fairy tale book rather than an actual place). The creepy older gentleman buys her pink cotton candy, and Linda, childlike, takes in the carnival atmosphere. Perhaps this is Franco rendering Linda's point-of-view, childlike and innocent for the viewer. The sequence is shot like a dream with wide angles and swooping zooms and disorienting editing.

The opening sequence of Sinner is perhaps the most "objective" since its quintessential Franco: a nightclub scene with a sex floor show with every one's eyes (including the viewer) glued to the action. Linda's first appearance is here (as is also Maria's) and when the viewer first sees her, she looks as sophisticated as her surroundings. What she begins to do and how she operates are revealed in this opening sequence as extremely meticulous and thought out--a plan perfectly executed.
Then the viewer gets to meet the storytellers within Sinner: Libert's Countess, Hansa's Maria, and even Linda, herself, through her diary. It is really only after a second viewing of Sinner do their motives become more obvious (as each is revealed to be extremely self-absorbed); and what each tells to Rosa reflects more about them than anyone. So what about poor Linda? I think that's Franco's point (emphasizing more so his quote at the beginning of this entry). There are scenes which feel very real, especially Linda's scenes with Maria. Then there are other scenes which feel too tabloid and sensational to be taken seriously. That's just Franco I suppose being playful (and sometimes playfully profound) with the sensitive and the sensational, creating another Franco experience.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

José Bénazéraf's La nuit la plus longue (1965)

José Bénazéraf's La nuit la plus longue (1965) is about antagonism in all its forms, from gentle and passive to confrontational and violent. From its simple theme to its simple premise, a kidnapping by a group of four of a young woman, the daughter of a wealthy man, held for ransom to its simple setting, a secluded house out in the country, with its events playing out over the course of one evening (and hence the title). With simplicity and singularity taking care of most of his film, Bénazéraf can play with his characters, his images, and the emotions.
"Une bande de petits truands y sequestre la nana dans une maison isolee, esperant la rancon prevue pour le lendemain matin, L'angoisse de l'attente de l'aube, l'insondable profondeur de la nuit, son silence, exasperent la tension grandissante, trouvant ici encore son aboutissement dans un denouement dramatique. Jose Benazeraf y est lui-meme spectateur d'une tres excitante danse sapho-masochiste de deux creatures denudees, l'une feminine et se caressant elle-meme, l'autre hermaphrodite, la dominant, jouant avec elle, et la soumettant a son fouet." (from Anthologie Permanente de l'Erotisme au Cinema José Bénazéraf by Paul Herve Mathis and Anna Angel, ed. Eric Losfeld, Le Terrain Vague, Paris, France, 1973)
As soon as the group's victim, Virginie (Virginie Solenn), arrives at the house, she lashes out upon one, Carl (Yves Duffaut), by raking her nails down his cheeks. He hits her and knocks her out, and Pierre (Alain Tissier) takes her upstairs to the bedroom. Pierre descends the stairs, looking tired or either bored, sits at the table and Carl has a bit of fun by pointing a pistol at his face. Pierre turns to the sound of music and watches the boss's mistress (Annie Josse) dancing in the corner, seemingly uncaring and unaware as to what is going on around her. La nuit la plus longue benefits from its simplicity. Bénazéraf plays with tension as a jazz musician would with tempo. The look on Tissier's Pierre's face when he sees the cute young woman dancing alone reads that it's going to be a truly long night. His character is focal, and any emotion within him is the catalyst for the film's action. Bénazéraf doesn't reserve mixing emotions solely with Pierre, however. In one of the film's most provocative scenes (and there are quite a few of them), François (Willy Braque), the group's boss, arrives, notices that Virginie is captive, and seems content that she's a quiet and docile hostage. A can of beer won't pass the time for François, so he pulls his knife from his pocket and in teasing tosses it inches from Pierre's face. Pierre doesn't react, because he's either indifferent or scheming or suppressing his anger. (Bénazéraf lets the viewer pick any of those three choices as any is possible). François pulls another knife from his pocket and approaches his mistress, and as she stands still and calm, he begins to cut the buttons away from the back of her blouse, eventually disrobing her in front of all. The use of the weapon and the stillness of his mistress are an uncomfortable blend of fear and eroticism, as if the scene could take a turn into violence. Likewise, this performance could just be this couple's kink: a little show for everyone, just to turn the two on.Bénazéraf's piece de resistance comes from his love of the image and sensuality and rebellion. "For Bénazéraf eroticism is revolutionary. 'In bourgeois society eroticism is a form of anarchy.'" (from Immoral Tales: European Sex and Horror Movies 1956-1984 by Cathal Tohill and Pete Tombs, St. Martin's Griffin Press, New York, 1995.) Bénazéraf and the viewer get treated to a performance while the on-screen viewers relax: a willing performance in front of a willing audience from a wilful film maker. A play on masculine/feminine and dominant/submissive, two females dance, one with whip in hand, donning tight blue jeans and a button-down shirt, while the other, barely clothed in sheer fabric pieces and a thong. As the two disrobe each other while they dance, their performance is playful, unreal violence, role-playing, and titillation. The sequence brilliantly lacks almost all narrative weight, thinly segued into the film, and exists only to be provocative. The sequence also houses La nuit's best use of audio as the music from the dancing sequence overlaps with love scenes between Tissier and Solenn: rhythmic beats, wilful silence, and some jazz riffs from Chet Baker.
Perhaps the sexiest thing about La nuit la plus longue, beyond its playfulness, provocative nature, and jazzy structure, is its genuineness. Few film makers are real rebels like Bénazéraf.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Dan O'Bannon's The Resurrected (1992)

"'I say to you againe, doe not call upp Any that you can not put downe; by the Which I meane, Any that can in Turne call up somewhat against you, whereby your Powerfullest Devices may not be of use. Ask of the Lesser, lest the greater shall not wish to Answer, and shall commande more than you.'"

The above quote is from H.P. Lovecraft's "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward," one of the longer and best pieces of literature from one of the twentieth century's most creative fiction writers. Lovecraft's protagonists are scholars. Dialogue is sparse within his prose. Description is heavy. Mystery is high: what exists behind closed doors often stays there: muffled noises, fleeting glances, and horrors too unspeakable to describe are what the reader encounters. A brilliant prose stylist combined with an extremely fertile and creative imagination, Lovecraft demanded of his readers the latter. Likewise, his readers have demanded a lot from film makers when adapting his works, and Dan O'Bannon's The Resurrected (1992) is held in high esteem by Lovecraft fans.
Charles Dexter Ward (Chris Sarandon) has moved out of the house and away from his lovely wife, Claire (Jane Sibbett). Claire has sought the services of private investigator, John March (John Terry), because at Ward's current dwelling, a secluded farmhouse in the New England countryside, there was a police raid. The police discovered among Ward's possessions several long boxes, specifically delivered and signed for by Ward, containing human remains. Claire reveals, however, that Ward's strange behavior began with a genealogical discovery with the papers of a predecessor, Ward's five-times grandfather, Eliza Ward, and his notorious contemporary, Joseph Curwen. These papers began an obsession for Ward and began his withdrawal from his wife and his duties of everyday life. When he begins curious experiments at his homestead, a neighbor calls the police when odd noises at all hours of the night are heard from the Ward property. Ward flees to the country to continue whatever he has began and leaves his wife and the rest of his life behind.
Despite having only directed two features in his career, Return of the Living Dead (1985) being his other credit, Dan O'Bannon is quite legendary in cult filmdom. Return of the Living Dead is much loved by horror fans, but his screenplay for Ridley Scott's Alien (1979) is perhaps his most notable work. Alien is an excellent script: a haunted house story set in outer space aboard a space vessel where a lurking alien is hunting its crew. From the set up, an investigation of a derelict spacecraft on an uninhabited planet, to its main story to its finale, Alien showed a command of mystery, atmosphere, and perfectly-timed, over-the-top set pieces that had its viewers' hearts beating fast and their stomachs churning during its run time.

Unfortunately for The Resurrected, O'Bannon didn't pen the script. For the first half of the film, for the viewer unfamiliar with the source material, it is likely that the mystery behind Charles Dexter Ward will be too distant to be engaging. Lovecraft kept his readers at bay, and O'Bannon attempts to keep his viewers at a distance as well (for the revelations in the final act). Lovecraft masterfully dropped clues for his readers, however (the above quote is an important one within his story. The quote appears in a written letter and is itself extremely cryptic but is connected with the other clues in the story.). When O'Bannon makes a plot revelation for his viewer, it feels manufactured. For example, after March and Claire make an impromptu visit at Ward's farmhouse to confront him, it goes poorly as Ward takes the upper hand and dismisses the two. In the car on the way back to the city, March makes an observation to Claire about Ward's behavior and recalls an extremely esoteric story to back it up. While Lovecraft might wink his eye at the esoteric nature of March's observation, it seems too convenient that March would know this bit of information, as his character is set up as a slick and successful private eye who knows the tricks of the trade as to how to gather information. Information analysis, however, especially at the level which March is detailing, is just not a credible trait of his character.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment within The Resurrected is the little screen time which is devoted to Chris Sarandon. Sarandon is a phenomenal actor from his early standout performance in Sidney Lumet's Dog Day Afternoon (1975) to his iconic role in Tom Holland's Fright Night (1985) to his brilliant comedic turn in The Princess Bride (1987). Extremely handsome and charismatic, Sarandon is reminiscent of Vincent Price, who played a character named Charles Dexter Ward in The Haunted Palace (1963) incidentally, who brought an air of elegance and added a depth to any role he played. Sarandon is nearly perfect in his role as Ward in The Resurrected: from wide-eyed and curious to aloof to sinister, Sarandon could have carried this film alone had his character been central; as it stands however, he almost steals the film.

The screenplay for The Resurrected is by Brent V. Friedman and his script moves Lovecraft's story set at the beginning of the twentieth century (with a history detailed going back hundreds of years) to modern day. Changing the setting of the story isn't a fatal flaw; rather it is the choice to make an investigative mystery by a private eye the thrust of the story. Stuart Gordon's previous Lovecraft adaptations, most notably Re-Animator (1985) and From Beyond (1986), were phenomenally popular with genre fans; and Gordon's take on Lovecraft, adding camp humor, over-the-top gore, and some perversity and kink, became signature Gordon and less reverent towards the source material. Friedman's script, and O'Bannon's direction, bring a focused serious tone to The Resurrected with the end result being a serious yet very conservative film. While Sarandon's performance and certain set-pieces, such as the descent into Ward's catacombs, are faithful and effective Lovecraft flourishes, the film's pacing and structure are just perfunctory. Although O'Bannon's film keeps a heavy dose of FX and gore like Gordon's previous works, The Resurrected lacks Gordon's creativity and his willingness to take a risk.
My inherent bias towards the source material and serious love and admiration for H.P. Lovecraft's fiction has undoubtedly clouded a viewing experience which could be enjoyable for many. To be fair, The Resurrected is a low-budget horror film which boasts a terrific performance by Sarandon and has some creepy set-pieces. Some may find the mystery behind the enigmatic Ward engrossing rather than tedious. Nonetheless, The Resurrected stands as an imperfect Lovecraft adaptation which occasionally hints at the brilliance of Lovecraft's imagination.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Jess Franco's Sola Ante el Terror (1983)

Jess Franco's Sola Ante el Terror (Alone Against the Terror) (1983) seemingly follows his La mansion de los muertos vivientes (1982) chronologically, and with that fact in mind, what appears in Sola is familar in Franco's filmography yet unique with its uniqueness polarized. Here's a plot synopsis (and its criticism) taken from Obsession: The Films of Jess Franco:

"Melissa, a young paralytic whose father was murdered in strange circumstances, lives a secluded life. One day she senses a strange call, like a revelation from the beyond, in which her father urges her to take revenge on his murderers. At the same time, she is given almost supernatural strength, and is able to get up and walk while in a trance...

A remake of Los Ojos Siniestros del Dr. Orloff, minus the acting skill of the original model which was already tedious."
Within Sola Ante el Terror, there are two scenes involving (what us yanks call) a baby's stroller. Melissa (Lina Romay), the "young paralytic," is sitting within and being pushed, once in a day scene and once at night. At first glance, it appears that an adult woman is being pushed in a baby's stroller; however, upon closer inspection, could it be a newer prototype and substitute for a wheelchair? A wheelchair, it can be fairly assumed, is the expected and traditional vehicle for a paralytic (at least in cinema). With closer inspection, the idea that the contraption is anything other than a baby's stroller disappears: its handles arch forward, unlike a wheelchair's handles which point backwards to facilitate pushing. The forward arching handles do not facilitate pushing; rather, the handles facilitate easier lifting of the forward wheels to climb obstacles such as stairs. Pushing is not a burden with a baby's stroller, since presumably, an infant is present within; and an adult (or even small child) could maneuver the stroller without the impediment of heavy weight. During the night scene, the one maneuvering Romay's Melissa has trouble guiding the stroller, obviously because of her passenger. This is not to say that Romay is heavy, but a grown adult is not the suitable passenger for a baby's stroller.If you are still reading, then what is the point of the previous paragraph? One, I'm just effing around, and two, the image of an adult Lina Romay in a baby's stroller is perhaps the most unique scene within Sola Ante el Terror. Why? Coming from Jess Franco whose entire filmography is filled with often poetic, jarring, and haunting imagery, the image of Lina Romay in a baby's stroller is unique, because Sola Ante el Terror is completely placid. Juan Soler's photography sees in Alicante a quiet community of high-rise condos which overlook the most beautiful vistas. Within the modern condos, Melissa's quarters (along with her two guardians, Marta (Mabel Escano) and Flora (Carmen Carrion)) are furnished at the height of style of the day. The young rock band, whose singer Melissa becomes infatuated with, looks a garage band also of its day and could grace any vinyl album cover in the local record store. The opening of Sola sees young Melissa (Flavia Hervas) coming out of her condo to encounter the voice of her father (Robert Foster) who has been fatally injured. Most interestingly, as young Melissa descends the steps and slight hill to encounter her father below, the camera performs a smooth and very clean tracking shot. In fact, Soler's camera performs more than one perfectly-executed clean tracking shot. The use of zoom is judicious and when used, it is fairly slow to make its use innocuous and seamless. So when the viewer sees Romay in a baby's stroller, it really stands out amongst the scenery. Sola Ante el Terror also boasts a complete and total absence of nudity.The familiarity of Sola Ante el Terror (within Franco's filmography and employing the auteur theory) lies within Soler's photography, especially the capturing of its location's atmosphere in Alicante. From Melissa's condo, the most breathtaking view comes from her window. A lonely and secluded rock sits slightly off the coast and its cliffs under where the water hits the rocky beach. The communication between grown Melissa and her father is effectively minimal: only the fatal wound of Foster's head is seen in close-up with its dripping red blood to focus upon his mouth and his slow words while his teeth are covered also in blood. The scenes with Melissa and her "doctor," Dr. Orgaf (Ricardo Palacios) have some disorienting compositions. In at least one, the sinister doctor appears a giant and Romay appears as small as a child. The music by Daniel J. White seems a hybrid from the scores of The Exorcist (1973) and the opening sequence of Argento's Profondo rosso (1975). The authors of Obsession write, "Advertising material credits Katja Bjenert [sic], Ann Stern, and Karen Field, but they don't appear in the film." Within Obsession, there is a photo of the Spanish poster corroborating this statement below its writing. Presumably, Bienert would have played the role of Melissa, as she was not yet twenty at the time of Sola's production. Romay was nearly thirty when she performs her role. It would have been a completely different film with a different actress. As the film stands, Romay is, as usually always, quite good. Watching her in childish scenes strains credulity, yet in certain scenes, like when she sits alone on her balcony and watching the young band perform, there is a resonance to her loneliness and sadness. The fact, perhaps, that now she is older (yet still quite young) and has missed the opportunity for teenage love or fun comes through. Also, as she is older, when she is able to walk to exact her father's revenge, it appears liberating for her character and Romay brings a subtle flair to the murder scenes. Obscure. Another Franco experiment. All objective facts are taken from essential tome, Obsession: The Films of Jess Franco.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

José Bénazéraf's L'enfer sur la plage (1965)

"L'enfer sur la plage se situe dans un cadre de roman d'aventures, trafic d'armes et services secrets. Une jeune nymphomane en bikini blanc sera le catalyseur inconscient des evenements sanglants a prevoir." (from Anthologie Permanente de l'Erotisme au Cinema José Bénazéraf by Paul Herve Mathis and Anna Angel, ed. Eric Losfeld, Le Terrain Vague, Paris, France, 1973)
"For...L'enfer sur la plage (Hell on the Beach; 1965), Benazeraf returned to the B-thriller style of L'eternite...Both films were successful, and both featured the expected Benazeraf mix of action, pretty girls and bare flesh that had already become his trade mark. But another, slightly more worrying, trait was also in evidence. As Cahiers du cinema noted, it was impossible to make any sense of the stories. Daylight shots appeared in the middle of sequences filmed at night; the dialogue often seemed unrelated to the action; establishing shots were done away with; long scenes filmed in single take replaced any conventional montage. The wilfulness that had always been present now took centre stage. But still there was a power and presence there and a determination to film, come what may. Even without a story, without dialogue and with no idea of where he was going Benazeraf loaded his camera and began to shoot. 'With all the stubborness and dignity of an angler in the middle of the desert.'
At the end of L'enfer sur la plage, Benazeraf gives his own view: 'Don't be deceived by appearances. Nothing happened by accident. Everything has been worked out, planned, premeditated...,' he says, as the camera moves through a darkened apartment." (from Immoral Tales: European Sex and Horror Movies 1956-1984 by Cathal Tohill and Pete Tombs, St. Martin's Griffin Press, New York, 1995)
Bazookas. Bikinis. The beach. Beautiful women. A score by Louiguy and legendary Chet Baker. Not only is a coherent narrative not necessary, any structure interferes with the laissez-faire, "come what may" attitude that José Bénazéraf's L'enfer sur la plage (1965) exudes. In her convertible, eating a flavored iced treat, "une jeune nymphomane en bikini blanc," driving along the seaside to the beach, comes to a quiet spot where three men are armed with bazookas. Their target is a small boat in the middle of a lagoon upon which lays a man and a woman napping and sunbathing. The cumbersome weapons are a lot more fun to play with than to manage; and the trio of men misses their target. Another group intercepts the trio and kills them, and the young blonde, having finished her iced treat and seen all the action, steals the binoculars out of one of the dead men's hands.
The MI5 makes an appearance, yet amongst all their intelligence-gathering computer technology, making typing noise and buzzing and whirring, Bénazéraf prefers the slow quiet shot of a female agent descending the stairs and walking in between the machines to gather a bit of paper. More specifically, it is the agent’s legs which capture Bénazéraf's eye on the stairwell, and as his camera stays static, the actress’s beautiful face comes into focus with a mischievous smile upon her face. Frogmen board the boat for a fight, while the well-dressed dinner guests watch emotionless as the deckhands dispatch the would-be assassins. A long shot of a female walking the shoreline of a beach at night follows, strolling to the soft tunes of the piano score. A phone call in the city and then back to the beach where two lovers descend the rocks to embrace at the bottom. Such a beautiful careless attitude carries L'enfer sur la plage. Bénazéraf loves to show ladies dancing, often slowly and seductively. These aren’t voyeuristic sequences: it’s open: the dancers are willing performers for willing viewers. The young blonde in the bikini eventually boards the boat where the dinner guests staved off two attacks; yet she’s the most successful in infiltrating those aboard. She dances at the side of the dinner table for the host, while the other two lovers take sanctuary at the shore. Atop the deck, the young blonde puts her hooks firmly into the host while casually rocking in a hammock. Chet Baker’s trumpet accompanies her swings. Some more espionage, back-stabbing, and a shoot out end the film. This is sex and violence, French-cinema-sixties style. God bless Bénazéraf."They called you the Antonioni of Pigalle," remarks an interviewer in Immoral Tales, to which Bénazéraf responds, "That's right."

Monday, March 8, 2010

Richard Hilliard's Violent Midnight (1963)

Richard Hilliard's Violent Midnight (1963) is a suspenseful exploitation film whose beauty lies in its execution: the film only remembers to be a thriller when it has to be, despite producer Del Tenney wishing that Violent Midnight had more suspenseful scenes. The film's original title, Psychomania, is evocative of its chief commercial inspiration, but thankfully, the film's theme is overshadowed by its lackadaisical style and perhaps inadvertent meandering and poetic pacing (making its other alternative title, Black Autumn, eerily appropriate. "Black Autumn" is also a folkish song sang by one of the film's female college students with extremely bizarre lyrics with its actress delivering an aloof rendition). Violent Midnight is also highly sensual and risque and the scenes of sexuality within the film were demanded from its distributors. A juvenile delinquent film and a pre-cursor giallo, drive-in entertainment, arthouse style.
Elliot (Lee Phillips) is a Korean War veteran and an artist. His current model, Dolores (Kaye Elhardt), has a strong attraction to him, but Elliot doesn't feel the same way. Leather-jacket clad Charlie Perone (James Farentino) used to date Delores and when he sees Elliot and Delores together at the local dive bar, he picks a fight with the aloof painter. Elliot gives him a beating and probably would have killed him if the fight wasn't broken up by the bartenders. Back at Dolores's pad, Elliot learns that she's pregnant and claims that the child is Elliot's. He splits. Dolores is murdered by a figure with black gloves in black boots. Elliot's half-sister, Lynn (Margot Harman), arrives after quite a few years away from her brother (the father the two shared biologically died years before in a mysterious hunting accident) to attend the local women's college. Elliot takes Lynn to the college and while there, he captures the eye of sultry vixen, Alice St. Clare (Lorraine Rogers); but his artist's eye and heart is captured by sweet-natured Carol Bishop (Jean Hale). Cool. Lieutenant Palmer (Dick Van Patten) meets Elliot outside the college to interrogate him about Dolores' murder. Not cool.After Dolores's opening murder, perhaps it was more me, the viewer, than Hilliard or Tenney who forgot that Violent Midnight is a murder mystery, only because the film's allure is watching this disparate group of people in a small Connecticut town interact and hang out. (Although Richard Hilliard is the credited director, Tenney reveals during the audio commentary on the DVD that Violent Midnight was the first film that he produced and directed. Hilliard is the credited director, according to Tenney, because Tenney "didn't want to take all of the credit.") Too much eye candy is on display and scenery-chewing becomes the norm, despite Dick Van Patten's character popping in on every one to remind them that a murder has occurred. Elliot lives in his artist's retreat, a castle (a studio in Connecticut, according to Tenney). The local dive bar looks like a garage turned juke-joint while the tenement houses where Charlie Perrone lives (along with his sometimes gal, Silvia (Sylvia Miles in a scene-stealing performance)) are the stereotypical homes from "the other side of the tracks." Finally, there's the women's liberal arts college where everything just seems rosy despite one of the professors being a fairly overt peeping tom.In all of these fantastic locations, the characters of Violent Midnight sashay around the scenery. Elliot is a square only because his character has to stay flat in order to provide some mystery around the murders. Farentino's Perrone is a cross between James Dean and Marlon Brando from Rebel Without a Cause to The Wild One to A Streetcar Named Desire, all filtered down to cool motorcycle riding, languid posing, and handsome-man mugging. Charlie's a chump, though. The ladies of Violent Midnight are the real attraction: from Miles's wonderful tough-girl character to Harman's Lynn (Tenney's wife who also contributed to the story). Her first meeting with Elliot at the train station is memorable, as it looks like little sis has gotta thing for older brother. Hale's Carol and especially Rogers's Alice are the highlights. I've always loved the bad girls in film and Rogers fits the role to a tee. She drinks and smokes, wears the most provocative bathing suit, fancies a shag in the laundry room or by a moonlit lake, and generally exudes sexuality in every scene. Truly sex on wheels. Pretty Carol, as portrayed by Hale, is Donna Reed in high-water pants, smart, sassy, and sweet. Dick Van Patten is a "just the facts, ma'am" and he is terrific.The plot of Violent Midnight just really gets in the way, but I love murder mysteries so when the film wants to play detective, I'm game. Despite the fact that there are no real clues and it's kind of obvious who's a red herring and who's a genuine suspect, watching Van Patten interact with all of the characters was fun enough. The giallo-esque black gloves and atmospheric killings remind all of us how influential Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) truly was. Sexuality and psychology became the background for killings, and Violent Midnight is in this vein. Van Patten tells Silvia and Charlie at one point, "Hey lady, you've been holed up in here for nineteen hours. Even turtles got to come up for air." Sums up Violent Midnight, perfectly.All objective facts about the production are from Del Tenney's audio commentary included on the Dark Sky Films's DVD.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Herman Yau's Taxi Hunter (1993)

Kin (Anthony Wong), despite his nerdish attire, which includes glasses and short-sleeves and a tie, is a highly-resourceful and successful insurance salesman. The very definition of mild-mannered, he's also very kind; and his wife (Perrie Lai) is expecting their first child. Kin's future bodes well. Chung (Rongguang Yu) is a stellar, superhero cop, very good-looking and also resourceful. Chung is very much happy for his friend Kin and his wife. On the way home from the office after learning that he is due for a promotion, Kin gets into a minor car accident with a taxi cab. Obviously a scheme, the taxi driver calls two of his friends and forces Kin to pay up a sum of money immediately to settle the claim. With his car damaged, Kin and his wife become dependent on the taxis in and around Hong Kong, and taxi drivers are not nice folks: they demand higher fares for particular destinations, refuse to go to particular destinations completely, and are generally distasteful and grumpy people. One evening during a rainstorm, Kin's wife begins to bleed and immediately grasps her abdomen. Kin summons a cab via phone, and his good fortune runs cold: the initial cab driver sneaks another fare for a higher sum and leaves Kin and his wife stranded...A second cab comes along and refuses to take Kin's wife to the hospital, because "she'll bleed all over the taxi." Adding fatal injury to insult, the cab driver in a mad dash to leave, accidentally drags Kin's wife several feet, killing her and her unborn child. Wong's Kin begins to see the world a little differently after that evening, and within his sights, he takes on the city's taxi drivers in Herman Yau's Taxi Hunter (1993). Chung's assigned to the case and is determined to find who's targeting the taxi drivers. From the opening frame, it is quite obvious that Taxi Hunter is a playful take on Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver (1976) and much purer in its exploitation elements. Like Taxi Driver, Taxi Hunter is buttressed by a stellar performance by its leading man, Anthony Wong, whose character takes a very sharp turn into psychosis and doesn't look back. Wong's Kin is initially a sympathetic character but when he becomes the taxi hunter, Kin's intense and brutal. "What is your main reason for taking a certain role?" asks an interviewer (from Cine East by Miles Wood, FAB Press, 1998). Anthony Wong responds, "Money. Most are just for money." The interviewer follows up this question with another to Wong: "Are there any you've done for other less mercenary reasons?" Wong responds, "Some. Taxi Hunter. I think that's an interesting film. It's by the same director as The Untold Story, Herman Yau. We changed the script, and worked on the dialogue every night to make it more interesting." Herman Yau has this to say about his leading man (from an interview with Yau included in Asian Cult Cinema, No. 35, Vital Books, 2002): "Anthony Wong is a good friend of mine. We've been friends for nearly 18 years. He acted in my film when I was a film student. I think he is a very talented actor, and maybe the best contemporary actor of our time. He's very creative and has his own characteristics."
Wong gives a fantastic performance, and he and Yau really take the time during the exposition of Taxi Hunter to make his character, Kin, innocuous, sympathetic, and timid. In fact, Wong's character and how he performs his job (cutting breaks on premium payments to customers, for example) make him the very personification of not tough. The stereotypical nerdish outfit, glasses and short-sleeves and tie, only reinforces this notion, as he looks like someone who could be pushed around at will. It's a clever set-up for Wong's transformation, and in a pivotal scene, Wong's Kin is sitting alone on some outside steps, eating lunch from a styrofoam container. He looks sad and dejected as his wife has just died. Kin watches as a woman is being berated by a taxi driver. Kin doesn't drop his lunch or even finish chewing the mouthful that he has but confidently strides across moving traffic and slaps the taxi driver forcefully across the face. As the title suggests, the taxi drivers become Kin's prey. Kin's "hunting" scenes are brilliant sequences of exploitation: Yau and Wong craft one that's particularly impulsive and kinetic; another which is quite humorous and a play on a famous scene in Taxi Driver; and one that is ice cold and brutal.
As Wong noted from the excerpt from his interview above, he found Kin's character interesting. The interviewer from Asian Cult Cinema remarks to Yau during his interview corroborating Wong's statement and asks Yau: "What motivated you to make that film [Taxi Hunter]?" Yau responds, "It is not based on a true story, but, besides the killing revenge of Anthony, characters and some of the incidents are based on real persons that I know and incidents that I have experienced. You know why I made up my mind to have a driving license? It was because I didn't want to get into a taxi anymore. I've had very bad experiences taking taxis and the bad experiences were put into the movie." No doubt that Yau wasn't alone in bad experiences with taxi drivers, and Taxi Hunter appears to take a perverse thrill in enacting its revenge upon those characters with a sympathetic public. In one scene, Wong pulls off a brutal murder in front of a very elderly would-be taxi passenger. Her reaction to Wong's murder and the statement that she gives to the police are reflections of the public sympathy that Yau is attempting to elicit.
As Wong's character, Kin, makes a fascinating character study, Yau remembers that Taxi Hunter is also an entertaining exploitation film. Yu's Chung is the vehicle for the dramatic action as he and his partner, a bumbling homeboy, Gao (Ng Man Tat), begin investigating the taxi driver killings. Yau even drops a would-be romance between Gao's daugter, Mak (Athena Chu), and Yu. Not only do these scenes drive the dramatic action with the investigation but they also serve as a foil to Wong's intense performance: Yu is the good-looking, righteous cop; Gao provides the slapstick humor; and Mak is the sassy, sweet, and beautiful lady who rounds out and spices up the cast. I have never found fault in Yau's direction of action sequences or how his films appear visually: Taxi Hunter is another example of his creative talent in both of these facets. As the film has a hodgepodge of motifs, focused primarily upon Wong's intense character, Yau changes his visual style to match each: the night scenes with Wong are very dark and brooding, while, for example, the scenes with Yu's Chung are shot primarily in the day (Chung's signature white t-shirt and Adonis-like physique not only counterbalance Wong's appearance but make him much more an "angelic" hero.)The recent DVD release by Discotek Media of Taxi Hunter looks terrific in anamorphic widescreen. The only fault of the release is the lack of supplements (which I always love, like interviews and commentaries). A collection of cool trailers is included along with English subtitles for the feature (and chapter stops). All quotes from Wong and Yau are from their interviews, respectively, from their sources as quoted from within.