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Introduction

In his acceptance speech during the 2019 Golden Globes Awards, Bong Joon-ho said:

“Once you overcome the 1-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films,”

That line was a perfectly formed dagger that was slid between the ribs of certain moviegoers and critics. I was certain that someone would cop the title for exactly the purpose of this blog.

“I think we use just one language — the cinema.”

Now, I do have a bias. But it isn’t against foreign language films or world cinema. My bias is that I’m far more likely to watch genre films (action, horror, crime, thriller, etc). So that filter may influence my posts here. Right now I am watching a lot of Asian cinema (Hong Kong, Korean, Chinese) and recently started diving into Indian cinema. But I am an omnivore viewer and will try just about anything. 

Bottom line is that I love movies. This blog will be a humble attempt to elevate and celebrate some of the world of subtitled films. I will share reviews, poster art, links of interest to other sites, trailers, and whatever else is appropriate.

I hope you find something at this blog helpful. 

If you’d like to help out, get in touch. If you’d like to see something covered here, let me know.

Please note: This is a pro Wakaliwood site, any anti-Wakaliwood sentiments will not be accepted.

–Brian Lindenmuth

Yakuza Wolf – review

Yakuza Wolf poster

Yakuza Wolf stars Sony Chiba in his swaggering 70s menacing prime. There are a ton of spaghetti western flourishes scattered throughout. It’s basically a Yakuza flick as a Spaghetti Western. Yakuza Wolf is a great piece of 70s Japanese exploitation cinema and worth checking out.

positive/recommended

Source: Japanese Samurai DVD

In his book Gun and Sword: An Encyclopedia of Japanese Gangster Films 1955-1980, Chris D partly wrote:

“There is a completely gonzo yet effective melange of spaghetti western and surreal comic book imagery…One of Chiba’s most enjoyable films.”

One Cut of the Dead – review

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(This review originally appeared at SciFi & Scary)

Can a movie review consist simply of three words: Go see it.

Probably not.

Fine. You want more. But be aware that One Cut of the Dead is a tough movie to talk about. It’s actually a movie where it’s easier to talk about what it isn’t.

One Cut of the Dead is a horror movie that isn’t really a horror movie; it’s a zombie movie that isn’t really about zombies.

Sometimes reviewers don’t want to say too much about a story for plot reasons. Because there’s a thrill to be had in the ride of the moment. Reveals to be had and secrets to be told. That’s partly the case here.

What we can talk about is the structure. It’s a movie that very clearly has three parts. The first part is the one that is easiest to talk about. On the set of a low budget zombie movie, a zombie outbreak occurs. The entire first part is about thirty minutes long and is all filmed in a single take.

It is in the second and third parts where things change. Specifically how we view that first part. We are given more context about what we saw in the first part. Our information about the first part expands. This new information also changes how we view the first part. And the best part is that the first part is continually enriched.

Let’s talk broadly about some of the things One Cut of the Dead is. It is an ode to filmmaking, creatives, and the Herculean team effort and support system of friends and family that makes it all possible. Because despite the established presence of auteur theory that has cast a long shadow over filmmaking, making movies, especially low budget horror movies, has always been a team sport (just ask George Romero).

It’s also a puzzle. Everything that is happening does so for a reason. Things are being set-up to be paid off down the line. If it feels cheap and hokey, it is supposed to. If something feels off but you can’t quite put your finger on it, it is supposed to. The final moments are an act of triumph. You will have already recognized the shape of the puzzle and the present struggle to make the pieces fit. And when the final piece of the puzzle is locked into place, you too will shout POM!

Finally, after you’ve had a chance to see the movie, please take a look at Joe Bob Briggs’ inspirational take on the film. By the end you’ll be ready to go make a movie.

Kingdom – review

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Earlier this year, a friend posted a message to Facebook that he was so glad to see the second season of Kingdom drop and that he hoped more people would watch it. For me it served as a good reminder. I had heard of Kingdom but, as so often happens, got distracted by drinking from the fire hose of streaming choices and new releases. Don’t make the same mistake I did. If you haven’t heard of Kingdom hopefully this will serve as notice, if you have heard of it but haven’t made the time yet please do so. Kingdom is a great show that is worth your time.

Kingdom is a South Korean, historical, action-horror, zombie show (say what!). It’s set in the early 1600s. There is a strict social class system in place and there is constant intrigue as people scheme to improve their station in live and/or move closer to the center of power. Savvy characters need to be constantly aware they they are playing a game, one that can have devastating consequences. At the start of the show the King has fallen ill, those in power closest to him are closing ranks, and word spreads of a possible political conspiracy. Within this fraught environment, there come word that a plague has broken out in the southern province that may be bringing the dead back to life.

Here’s the thing about Kingdom, it rips by at blistering pace. It quickly build momentum and rarely lets off that pace. Even at such a fast pace, clarity is never forsaken. The characters are all clearly drawn and their action and motivations are always in sync. There is attention to period detail that greatly helps the viewer. For example, the different groups and social classes all have distinct styles of dress, specifically their hats, that always make it clear to the viewer what member of what group is doing what and who we need to be rooting for.

I made a stray comment to my wife that I think is worth sharing. Kingdom has some broad stroke similarities to Game of Thrones (zombies, political intrigue, strong female characters, power struggles, historical time periods) but never resorts to rape as a plot point or means of “character development”. The female characters are powerful, are placed in dangerous situations, fight bravely, are smart and the writers never saw a need to have any of them assaulted. Defeated in some cases yes, but not assaulted.

Kingdom also has political undertones that parallel events happening in the world today. Specifically with regards to how those in power are willing to keep that power at any cost once they have it and how those machinations are often on the backs and at the expense of the regular citizens.

Kingdom is a great show to binge, there’s only 12 episodes. It will appeal to fans of fantasy, horror, Korean TV/film, and action/adventure stories. It remains to be seen whether there will be a season 3. It should be noted that all of the major plot lines are wrapped up by the second season but it does end on a cliffhanger that introduces new information and new characters and hints at what a future direction for the show could be.

Highly recommended

Maqbool #MovieReview

Maqbool poster

Maqbool is one of those movies that has an instantly hooking plot blurb. Many will hear it, decide they don’t to hear anything further, and go watch the movie.

Here it is: Maqbool is a retelling of MacBeth set in the Mumbai criminal underworld.

For those who just ran to Just Watch to see where it is streaming, come back when you are done and tell me what you think!

This is such a great movie. The gangster story filtered through the prism framework of MacBeth works so well here. The weird sisters as a pair of corrupt cops are brilliant and threaten to steal the movie at every turn.

As the titular character Irrfan Khan turns in one of his greatest performances. His smoldering intensity really shines in the back half of the story where he believes he is going mad because of what he has done as the grief and guilt catch up with him and his lover.

positive/highly recommended

Maqbool is streaming on Prime

Ozhivudivasathe Kali – #MovieReview

Ozhivudivasathe Kali

This is a dark film that sneaks up on you. I’m so glad that I started exploring more Indian cinema, it’s been a very fruitful journey so far. So many gems and interesting movies that don’t really get talked about as much as thry should.

Ozhivudivasathe Kali is filled with long take static shots. Initially, there are a lot of nature shots. I think we are supposed to read into them that nature is a wild place where anything can happen. Certain cliched phrases come to mind during some of the shots like “still waters run deep” or “what’s lurking below the surface”.

For whole sections of the film you could be forgiven for thinking you were watching a nature series. But there is a quietly growing sense of urgency, that not everything is as it seems and that something isn’t right. The weather almost acts as a Greek chorus throughout the film. Calm water lulling you in, then a storm is approaching, the storm is here, the storm passes leaving a path of destruction.

Nature is only a part of it though. On election day, a small group of men gather at a secluded location for a weekend of fun and games, of bullshitting and relaxing. As the movie progresses, layers are peeled back and tensions begin to rise. Conflicts and alliances that are an extension of society come to the surface. This all culminates in an act of violence.

The entire third act is done in a single shot. Sometimes the camera roams the setting like a ghost bearing witness to the escalating tensions.

The comparative conclusion I’ve come to, which won’t mean much to many, is that Ozhivudivasathe Kali is like a distant, Malayalam cousin to Charles Willeford’s The Shark Infested Custard.

Give this a chance and you’ll be rewarded with a rich, dark story.

positive/highly recommended

I watched Ozhivudivasathe Kali on Youtube

Anantaram/Monologue #MovieReview

I recently watched Monologue and Black Bear in pretty close proximity to each other and there are some similarities in them that would make for a good double feature.

Monologue is an experimental film from 1987. Our unreliable narrator/protagonist tells us about his life and how he grows up. At first the story is presented one way, with events playing out favorably for him. Part way through the movie we get another version of these same events where things play out far differently. By the end of the movie, these versions are blending together so the viewer isn’t sure which of the two sets of events, if any of them, are real.

Anantaram, also known as Monologue, is a haunting exploration of memory that leaves you replaying the fine details of the story. Trying to assemble the bits and pieces to see if they fit together and how they fit together.

This is a great movie and well worth tracking down.

positive/highly recommended

I watched Anantaram on Youtube.

The Burial of Kojo – review

The Burial of Kojo is a 2018 film from Ghana in Twi and English.

A gorgeous looking movie where every scene is framed in an unexpected manner that enhances the beauty. It’s just wonderful to look at. The story is a whisper that skips along only touching the lush visuals as and when necessary. There are hints of magic and myth at play which become clear in the final moments as the hidden framework of the movie reveals itself.

Positive/highly recommended

Streaming on Netflix

Drifting Avenger (1968) – review

Here’s a western that NEVER comes up in conversations, The Drifting Avenger.

The Drifting Avenger is a Japanese western from 1968 starring Ken Takakura that was filmed in Australia but set in the American West. Japanese films, specifically samurai films, have had a ongoing creative dialog with westerns for going on 70 years thanks to Akira Kurosawa’s stated influence by John Ford. Make no mistake, this isn’t a samurai film with influences from the western genre. This is a straight of traditional western.

Ken Takakura is probably best known to audiences in the west from Black Rain and Yakuza. His Japanese work is probably not as well known. Here, he is a compelling lead. The rest of the cast, unfortunately, isn’t always up to the same level. One character has one of the worst glued on beards in movie history 🙂

Apparently Japanese audiences at that time were big spaghetti western fans, hence Toei entering into a joint financial production to make a western with one of Japan’s top actors. Drifting Avenger is far less stylish than other Toei films of the era, choosing to play the genre straight.

A true outlier in the western genre and in the discussion of diversity in the west(ern). You can see where different types of movies could be spun out from it.

The mash-up of styles and looks isn’t going to work for everyone, but it rises above novelty status and is worth a look.

Like many other Japanese titles, Drifting Avenger is not available in the west, except via grey market DVD. I’m writing about it now because someone recently uploaded it to Youtube. If you like westerns and/or are curious about this movie, check it out.

A contemporaneous newspaper quote from an Australian press conference announcing the movie:

The Western would be traditional, he said, with barroom brawls, river crossings, cattle stampedes, gun fights. Takakura-san would wear chaps, a gun belt, six-shooter, and ten-gallon hat. Thinking of the tradition of American Westerns (heroes wear white hats, villains black), I asked Takakura what color his hat would be.

“Brow-NISH,” he said, so at least one new Western tradition will be set.

One Inch Tall Interview with Heath Lowrance

Heath Lowrance has written in multiple genres: westerns, noir, crime fiction, horror. Some of his work will be republished in 2021.

What was your first One Inch Tall movie?

I don’t really remember, but it was probably one of Akira Kurosawa’s samurai movies, Seven Samurai I think, which I’m sure I enjoyed although I didn’t think to pursue more films like it until many years later, working in a video store.

What was the last One Inch Tall movie you watched?

Tokyo Drifter, by Seijun Suzuki. It was fun, but so visually rich that I kept getting distracted by the beautiful color palette and forgetting to read the subtitles.

Shooting from the hip, name a favorite One Inch Tall movie?

Probably something from Fellini, maybe 8 1/2 or La Dolce Vita.

Speed round, let’s hit some genres:

Favorite One Inch Tall crime flick?

This is kind of a toss-up between three: I really like Pepe le Moko because I’m a big fan of Jean Gabin and he’s super charming in that one. Rififi is up there too, because it’s just a great story and Jules Dassin’s direction is flawless. And Kurosawa’s High and Low has some brilliant acting and a really suspenseful story.

Favorite One Inch Tall horror flick?

Oh man, that’s my favorite genre so it’s hard to pick just one. I guess the expected answers might be something like Let the Right One In, or something like Ju-on or Ringu, so to avoid being obvious I am going to say either the Korean movie I Saw the Devil or the Austrian film Funny Games. The first one is super gory and dark, and the other is just brutal and disturbing.

Favorite One Inch Tall thriller flick?

I don’t know if it’s my favorite, but the first one that comes to mind because I just saw it recently would be Le Samourai. Alan Delon is super cool in it, and it’s got great atmosphere.

Favorite One Inch Tall epic?

That would have to be something Japanese, like Seven Samurai or The Hidden Fortress. Kurosawa was pretty great at filming epics and exciting battle sequences.

Favorite fight/action scene in a One Inch Tall movie?

The hallway fight scene in Oldboy, by Park Cham-Wook. Anyone who says any different is just wrong. That long, continuous take from the side, the camera following as our man makes his torturous way down the hall. It was like a side-scrolling video game and by the end of it, man, you really felt his exhaustion. So damn good.

What is the most beautiful One Inch Tall movie?

You ever see The Fall, by Tarsem Singh? It’s staggeringly gorgeous to look at, so colorful and fantastical, and the visual story-telling is so good you barely even have to look at the subtitles to understand what’s going on. It’s also just goddamn heart-breaking. I actually cried at the end, but I’m kind of a pushover anyway.

Any advice for someone stepping over the one inch tall barrier for the first time, or who might be hesitant, and what’s a good starter One Inch Tall movie?

Probably something really accessible, like a Hong Kong action movie or something. John Woo’s Hardboiled is probably a good choice, or maybe even an old Bruce Lee. Those movies are fun and stylish and highly visual, and could maybe help someone get over any trepidations about diving deeper into foreign language film.

I think what a lot of people misunderstand is that foreign language doesn’t mean concerns that are foreign to them, or feelings that are foreign to them, or humor that is foreign to them. Just because it’s in a different language doesn’t mean you won’t find something in it to relate to, to empathize with. It’s just that foreign films, by the best film-makers anyway, can offer a new way of seeing familiar themes.