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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

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.

#Alive – review

I watched #Alive with my wife and it made me think of Train to Busan, another South Korean zombie flick we enjoyed watching together. It’s not so much that these films are comparable, they just seem like opposite in some ways. Train to Busan was filled with propulsive action hurtling forward at an unimaginable pace. #Alive focuses on our main character and we only get to witness the events as they unfold around him.

The main character is very likable. He reminded me of my son just a little bit, a good kid very invested in his games that he doesn’t always pay attention to what’s happening around him. When he realizes what has happened to his family, the loss is profound. He realizes just how much he misses them and, maybe, how much he took their presence for granted.

When you are in your apartment and news of the zombie apocalypse breaks, what do you do? Freak out, barricade the door, try to reach out to people, freak out, eat, freak out some more, curl up in a ball on the floor and wish you were dead. Yup, all of that is here, the un-fun parts of the zombie apocalypse.

When he is at his lowest, things change, and the movie does as well. Back on firmer zombie footing, #Alive becomes a more action packed story about survival.

#Alive is both familiar and different at the same time. It utilizes a close perspective and a limited setting really. As chaos and the unknown swirl outside of the confines of an apartment and our protag tries to figure out just what in the hell is happening, it was hard not to think of early COVID lockdowns. Really effective and fun zombie movie.

Currently streaming on Netflix

The Wishing Stairs – quick take

Let me say up front that this is an unfair assessment and that I plan on revisiting the movie. This shouldn’t be taken as a review, just as an acknowledgement that I watched it 🙂

Two things affected my viewing of The Wishing Stairs, one of them might be fair but the other certainly isn’t.

The first is that I was distracted for the first half or so of the movie. With my attention divided, I had a hard time getting into the movie until the crazy shit that the story was being built to popped off. Crazy shit is always an attention grabber. Like I said, that’s on me.

The second thing that affected my viewing was that I recently re-watched House. It was hard not to see some similarities between the two (some superficial, some deeper) and so it was hard for me to assess Wishing Stairs on its own.

I loved the idea of the stairs themselves. Whenever the girls would count up the stairs it was highly effective and suspenseful. The various wishes of the girls were clearly laid out and very relatable. Their motivations were always present and gave a clear through line for the movie.

There’s a lot to like here and I’ll definitely watch it again.

Peninsula – review

Wife and I decided to “digitally purchase” Peninsula since we both were really looking forward to watching it and didn’t want to wait for it to hit Shudder.

Peninsula is…not Train to Busan. But I think we all knew that going in (or we should anyway). It’s hard not to compare the two since they take place in the same world.

Peninsula was fun but definitely had some flaws. For a zombie movie there’s a surprising number of car chase scenes. To my eye the car scenes often had wonky cgi. The lighting was a little off, they seemed a little too animated, the physics was slightly off, etc.

There’s also some really nice set pieces. Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, Escape From NY, and Walking Dead are in the DNA mix somewhere. You can really feel this in the scenes in the camp. The battle arena sequences were fun and I wouldn’t have minded seeing more of them.

I really loved the heist set-up of the film and would have loved if more time was spent with it. It’s ultimately discarded for the most part but the idea itself was both simple and great that it is easy to imagine an entire movie that follows just that premise.

Peninsula starts off as one type of story before becoming another and yet again another. A more focused throughline would have helped it.

I really liked that the world of Train to Busan was expanded. I think there’s potential for some other fun stories to be told in it. Even though this one was more of a mixed bag for me, I want to see more stories in this world.

I would say 3/5 or a C grade. I also feel comfortable recommending it but I also feel comfortable wait until it hits Shudder.

Up top I mentioned my wife. It’s worth noting she liked it a lot more than I did and told me my grade was wrong. She was fully invested in the story, loved the characters, and was engaged the whole time. She also was wondering if the slightly cartoon look of the car scenes was a design choice meant to emulate video games. I don’t know but it’s a stray thought that I share. You can find her review here.

Favorite One Inch Tall Movies of 2020

Earlier in 2020, I decided to switch gears and start this movie site. I’ve loved world cinema and foreign language films for a long time so I finally decided to start writing about them. Here’s a selection of my favorite One Inch Tall Movies that I watched in 2020.

Favorite Superhero Movie: Gundala

Favorite 2020 Crime film: Beasts Clawing at Straws: It’s a slick looking and well executed mix of Tarantino, Coen Brothers, and Guy Ritchie

Greatest Discovery of 2020 is the Malayam director Lijo Jose Pellissery and his last four movies: Jallikattu, Ee Ma Yau, Angamalay Diaries, and Double Barrel.

#Alive

#Alive is both familiar and different at the same time. It utilizes a close perspective and a limited setting really. As chaos and the unknown swirl outside of the confines of an apartment and our protag tries to figure out just what in the hell is happening, it was hard not to think of early COVID lockdowns. Really effective and fun movie.

Asuran

Asuran is an Indian actioner about the divisions of class and the ways that the more powerful harm those with less power. The first half of Asuran are damn near perfect. A Father and son are on the run out in the wild. Why? What happened? Who is after them? What really struck me about Asuran, especially the first half, is how it actually takes an old story type from a different genre and shows the universality of the human experience when it comes to class struggles. It’s very reminiscent of some western genre stories where the homesteaders are trying to carve out a life from the land but have to do battle with the large cattle baron outfits. But that’s a stray thought really. Asuran is a tense movie with some great action sequences and a really good lead performance by Dhanush.

A Sun

I feel that I, along with many others, owe Variety Chief Film Critic Peter Debruge a huge thanks. When he named A Sun as Variety’s film of the year he shined a huge light on a a capitol G Great film that was hiding in plain site on Netflix. Epic in scope and intimate in detail. In almost any given scene there is so much action, character work, and motivations at work through glances, mood and subtle gestures.

Bulbbul

Bulbbul is a colorful and stylish and sometimes brutal look at the practice of child brides. It’s drenched in mythology and history and builds to an explosive third act.

The Call

The Call is twisty, turny, and may not fully make sense but a pair of great performances ground the movie and the whole thing is a blast to watch.

Drug War

Drug War has an inferred premise that falls outside of the movie itself. Is it possible to make an old-school Hong Kong heroic bloodshed movie, set in mainland China, in a post handover Hong Kong, where China has greater and stricter censorship control over content?

Johnnie To aims to find out and he gives us a mother fuck of a movie as a result.

Freedom at Midnight

Freedom at Midnight is a stylish and adrenaline soaked prison escape flick. You know the steps to this dance so it’s about executing it as best you can and Freedom exceeds all the requirements. It sets the scene, introduces the characters, and sets them loose doing their thing. And you’ll be cheering them on the entire time.

The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil

Like a greatest hits album of South Korean crime thrillers. You’ll recognize bits and pieces from other movies but who gives a shit and crank it up.

Impetigore

Characters going to a backwoods town, are met by people who don’t want much to do with outsiders, and secrets get uncovered. Sounds familiar right? You’ve never seen it done like this. Impetigore has been submitted for Oscar consideration and it’s really good.

Ishq

Ishq is an affecting psychological thriller that tackles the complicated issue of moral policing. It a dark movie that starts off sweet before going to some very dark places. In service of it’s thematic explorations it will take the viewer to some uncomfortable places. This is a pretty fucking dark movie and I’ve thought about it long after watching.

The Night Comes For Us

The Night Comes For Us takes the old Hong Kong heroic bloodshed story, strips away the loyalty, camaraderie, and platonic love and makes the whole thing meaner, more realistic, and into noir (oh no!) territory. All of which advances the heroic bloodshed genre on a new direction.

Old Stone

Old Stone isn’t as stylish as Diao Yinan’s work (Wild Goose Lake and Black Coal, Thin Ice) but the inevitability of its doomed march to an ending you know is coming is really effective in the way that the best classic noirs can deliver.

Parasite

Finally caught Parasite when it hit Hulu and, yeah, it really is that good. I truly admired the framing, the shot composition, and the clockwork precision of the plot. I love seeing Bong Joon-ho get this level of attention and acclaim.

Robbery

Nothing is as it seems and Robbery takes a sharp right turn every few minutes and has multiple tonal shifts. Things might go from raunchy comedy to grand guignol, from sentimental to farcical, a moment of sudden violence may lead to laughter. More than once I though, what the fuck is happening.

Super Deluxe

Super Deluxe is a whole lot of movie. Gorgeously shot, wonderfully acted. There’s a lot to love, some things to make you scratch your head, and some things to give pause. This is a film of moments and there are a lot of wonderful moments.

Vada Chennai

A group of men gather around the table, pulling up chairs and lighting cigarettes. They are covered in blood. They’re talking fast, making plans. The camera stays with them and starts to swirl around the table as their talk continues. What have they done? Within the scope of the ever expanding story a hero will rise and a Lady MacBeth figure will emerge from the wings of the stage.

Vada Chennai was a very satisfying crime epic.

The Wild Goose Lake

In the best noir tradition The Wild Goose Lake is a twisty and turny affair and a gorgeous looking film. The Chinese are making some damned fine noirs these days.

The Witch: Subversion

Another one that I’d been looking forward to seeing for a long time and finally got around to it. After an action packed opening that asks many questions, we pivot to a more intimate story of a girl living on a farm with her family. When she goes on a nationally televised singing competition, her secrets will get exposed and suddenly everyone is after her. The amount of world expansion that happens from start to finish is amazing. This is an amazing film that everyone should see. The sequel will be starting to film soon and this is a rich sandbox to be played in.

Discovery of the year: The Master of Chaos Lijo Jose Pellisery (Jallikattu/Ee. Ma. Yau./Angamaly Diaries/Double Barrel)

If I could remember where I first heard about Jallikattu, I would give a shout-out to that person or site. I can’t remember if I saw something on social media or read a review somewhere. Wherever it was, it talked about this insane Indian action movie about an escaped bull. This is exactly the kind of logline that works on a person like me. I immediately looked up the movie and saw that it was streaming on Prime. I watched it that evening and was blown away.

Since I had Pandemic lockdown time, I found as many Lijo Jose Pellisery movies as I could find and watched them. There are three other movies of his that are available: Ee. Ma. Yau. (Prime), Angamaly Diaries (Netflix), and Double Barrel (Prime).

I came away from this binge convinced that Lijo Jose Pellisery is the one of the greatest directors that the rest of the world hasn’t caught on to yet and that his last three movies may just be masterpieces.

Double Barrel is a colorful, heavily stylized and way the hell over the top crime romp that reminds me in some ways of Smokin’ Aces. It’s not without its problems but it’s a total blast, very fun, and totally worth watching.

After Double Barrel comes Angamaly Diaries. It’s about a young man who starts a kind of gang and the various enterprises they try to get into and the conflicts they get into. If the premise doesn’t grab you by the collar, I get it. Like so many things, it’s all in the execution. Trust me.

There is a propulsive energy at play here. The bulk of the movie plays out using staccato edits and quick cuts. The jittery energy isn’t a gimmick though and serves the story. The coup de grâce (first time I’ve ever used that word I think) comes in the final 10-15 minutes. Once the chosen film language is established in the viewers mind, it radically changes. Those final minutes are a stunning long take that brings together different plot threads and characters and unfolds during a town festival before ending in a stunning act that happens off screen that literally made me gasp.

There’s a moment in the middle of Angamalay Diaries where a foot chase takes place after a bombing. I like to imagine that the seeds of Jallikatu, Pellissery’s most recent movie, were planted in these moments.

Ee. Ma Yau. is a beautiful film about a son that promises his father the best funeral when he dies. When his father unexpectedly dies, he has to try and make good on the promise. You can’t even imagine the ways that this request fulfillment will go wrong. I’d have to think ling and hard to think of another film that captures so many beautiful shot in the rain and/or the dark. The whole thing is just beautiful. Did I mention hoe funny it is also?

The entirety of Jallikatu is basically a extended foot chase. I wrote about Jallikatu here and, again, as I said up top, I was completely blown away by it.

Lijo Jose Pellissery has been called The Master of Chaos. The editing, the constant use of movement, the shot composition and framing, the sound design. Every technique is masterfully used in service of characters and story and the love of the medium itself. It’s a fitting moniker.

2020 ended with Jallikatu being selected as the official Oscar submission from India. It raises the profile even more for the film ad the director. I haven’t seen all of the submissions from around the world (I have seen four of them though) but I hope that Jallikatu makes the cut.

It’s also worth noting that Pellissery’s latest movie, Churuli, was bumped due to the Pandemic. There were rumors that it would drop on a streaming service somewhere but, so far, they have proven to be unfounded. The trailer is atmospheric and eerie as hell and I can’t wait to see it.

I hope more people check out Pellissery’s films so I have someone to talk about them with!

Favorite Superhero Movie of 2020: Gundala – review

My favorite superhero movie that I watched in 2020 was Gundala, directed by Joko Anwar. I really liked Joko Anwar’s Impetigore also and have his movie Satan’s Slaves is on my watchlist.

Gundala is the start of an ambitious project for the Indonesian film industry, the start of the BumiLangit Cinematic Universe. Indonesia has a rich comics industry. The Gundala character was introduced in 1969.

The idea of a cinematic universe is a relatively new one. There aren’t that many models choose from and those that have launched have had varying levels of success. The BumiLangit Cinematic Universe will be attempting the MCU model, and Gundala is the first installment.

Does it sound like I know something about these characters? I don’t really, but this information is out there. It’s worth mentioning because the world of the BumiLangit Cinematic Universe, via its first installment Gundala, is very accessible to outsiders.

Gundala is a martial arts, superhero, action movie that shows us the origin story of the character, the development of the character, and one of his first challenges. In the third act, events and characters will be introduced that are clearly laying the groundwork for future installment.

Gundala is entertaining as hell and looks gorgeous. Because they didn’t the budget for extensive CGI, director Joke Anwar utilizes a ton of location shots. The fight and action choreography is top shelf.

Right now Gundala is available to stream on Hoopla and Hi-Ya, available on VOD, and physical media. Check it out when you have a chance.

“There are seven films being prepared which exist in the Swordmen and Patriot eras. They are Sri Asih, Godam and Tira, The Blind from the Phantom Cave, Patriot Taruna, Mandala, Gundala The Son of Lightning, and Patriot. In these films, other characters will appear as well. We have thoughtfully made the story and the development of each character from the first film to the end. Later it will be developed further by each director and writer for each film. So all the characterization and stories will be preserved. “

“We want to make the Bumilangit Cinematic Universe a showcase for Indonesia’s best talents. So, besides being a perfect fit for the character, they must also have many excellent skills,” — Joko Anwar

How Many One Inch Tall Movies I watched and From Which Countries – 2020 Summary

In 2020 I started keeping track of how many One Inch Tall Movies I watched and also started this slow blog. I hope to increase the amount of posts here in 2021. I wanted to take stock of what I watched before I post my favorites later in the month.

In 2020 I watched 71 One Inch Tall Movies from 15 different countries. Here’s a summary breakdown by country:

  • South Korea: 22
  • Indian: 13
  • Japan: 11
  • Taiwan: 5
  • Indonesia: 4
  • China: 3
  • Hong Kong: 3
  • Uganda: 2
  • Spain: 1
  • Malaysia: 1
  • Vietnam: 1
  • Philippines: 1
  • France: 1
  • Thailand: 1
  • Guatemala: 1

And the full list:

South Korea

  • 0.0MHz
  • A Tale of Two Sisters
  • #Alive
  • Beasts Clawing at Straws
  • The Beast
  • Barking Dogs Never Bite
  • The Chaser
  • The Call
  • The Divine Fury
  • The Five
  • The Flu
  • Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum
  • The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil
  • The Host
  • I Saw the Devil
  • Metamorphosis
  • Monstrum
  • Okja
  • Possessed
  • Peninsula
  • The Wailing
  • Wishing Stairs

India

  • Angamaly Diaries (Malayalam)
  • Asuran (Tamil)
  • Bulbbul (Hindi)
  • Double Barrel (Malayalam)
  • Ee.Ma.Yau (Malayalam)
  • Freedom at Midnight (Malayalam)
  • Ishq (Malayalam)
  • Jallikattu (Malayalam)
  • Psycho (Tamil)
  • Pudhupettai (Tamil)
  • Super Deluxe (Tamil)
  • Tumbbad (Hindi)
  • Vada Chennai (Tamil)

Japan

  • Electric Dragon 80.000 V
  • Female Prisoner Scorpion: Beast Stable
  • Female Prisoner Scorpion: Jailhouse 41
  • Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion
  • Female Prisoner Scorpion: 701’s Grudge Song
  • House
  • Matango
  • Meatball Machine
  • One Cut of the Dead
  • Princess Mononoke
  • Spirited Away
  • Yakuza Apocalypse

Taiwan

  • The Challenge Of The Lady Ninja
  • The Lady Avenger
  • Never Too Late To Repent
  • On The Society File Of Shanghai
  • Woman Revenger

Indonesia

  • Gundala
  • Impetigore
  • The Night Comes for Us
  • The Queen of Black Magic

China

  • Old Stone
  • The Wild Goose Lake
  • The Wandering Earth

Hong Kong

  • Drug War
  • Robbery
  • The Seventh Curse

Uganda

  • Bad Black
  • Attack on Nyege Nyege Island

Spain

  • The Platform

Malaysia

  • Wira

Vietnam

  • Furie

Philippines

  • Ruined Heart: Another Love Story Between a Criminal & a Whore

France

  • Let the Corpses Tan

Thailand

  • Tears of the Black Tiger

Guatemala

  • La llorona