Raid: Redemption, The

Just how high is an action movie's bar set that when we see a guy take a shot to the face from a steel chair, it fails to impress us?

Dear lord, bless us this day when you sent forth a review copy of The Raid: Redemption, an Indonesian action flick by Welsh filmmaker Gareth Evans. I have often said that the measurable standard of how great an action movie (more specifically, a martial arts picture) is by how often the audience winces and goes, "Ouch!" As I sit here, hands flying across the keys of the keyboard, I'm still remembering some of the bone-crunching stunts of the film and the sounds of a group of hardened and jaded action fans all cringing with a mixture of empathetic pain and excitement.

With a plot taken straight from a video game, the story follows an elite group of police who, uh, raid an apartment building held under the iron fist of a crime lord, who rents out space to other crime lords. By "elite group of police" I of course mean "a bunch of cannon fodder that got their idea of urban assault tactics from playing Rainbow Six: Las Vegas" There is a nice nod by the screenwriter in a blink-and-you-miss-it throwaway dialogue exchange that explains away the utter lack of tactical planning on the police's part with a variation on the "I'm not even supposed to be here today" line from Clerks (1994).

Needless to say, the assault goes all kinds of FUBAR and eventually we're left with one badass rookie and a building full of gangsters with assault rifles, machetes, and flying fists of furious...err...fury. As the hero dispatches generic villain after generic villain, the video game analogy continues in our heads as we start mentally imagining his health and power meters, all leading to the epic boss battle at the end.

There isn't much characterization on display here. Hell, most of the characters are named along the lines of "Machete Gangster #6". But complaining about lack of character development in a movie this intense would be a cardinal sin. The action is the character development, and this movie essentially the action equivalent of a Shakespeare soliloquy. You've got refrigerator bombs, hatchet fights, machete-fu, gun-fu, knee-fu, multiple elbows to the face, and a guy still kicking tons of ass with a piece of a florescent light bulb sticking out of his neck (who at one point made a kick so fast that we would have to rewind the film and watch in slow motion just to see it happen). In case you're wondering, he's The Raid's take on Caliban from The Tempest. Hamlet is the one who stuck the bulb in there in the first place.

Being an Indonesian action picture, there is a healthy disregard for the well-being of the stunt people on display during the course of the story. During the afore-mentioned fight with the steel chair, there are also a few choice shots involving a file cabinet that couldn't have been done by any other method than recklessly hurling a guy at said file cabinet...then crushing him with it. However, our audience was quite impressed with sheer number of medical professionals and massage therapists listed in the closing credits.

In a way, The Raid is a lot like Christmas...if Christmas involved a bowie knife to the knee.

Last Airbender, The

People often compare terrible experiences to root canals, saying they’d favor time in the dentist’s chair over one thing or another.  I found it fortuitous, then, that I actually had a root canal scheduled the same day that friends and I intended to see The Last Airbender.  Having heard how terrible the film was supposed to be, I had to find out for myself if there was any truth to the saying.

The film, written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, is based off of the hit Nickelodeon animated series, Avatar: The Last Airbender.  The show was a brilliant mix of playfulness and serious drama.  It was too much to hope that Shyalaman had actually understood what made the show great in the first place, because it really felt like dentistry gone awry.

The movie begins with the first of far too many voice overs by Katara (Nicola Peltz), who explains that everything was peaceful and awesome back in the day (of course).  In this world there are people, called benders, who can control an element (Fire, Water, Air, or Earth) using Tai Chi and special effects.  Katara herself is a novice Waterbender. Only one could control all four and thus keep the world balanced: the Avatar.  One day, the Avatar disappeared and everything went to Hell in a hand basket.  Now, the world is being slowly taken over by the brutal fire nation and their infernal machines. This opening narration is akin to the dentist sitting you down in the chair and explaining what’s going to happen while the anxiety of impending discomfort sets in.

Katara and her hapless brother, Sokka (Jackson Rathbone), discover and free Aang (Noah Ringer), the titular hero, and his flying bison from an iceberg-an act that pushes the ramshackle plot into motion.  I’m not going to go into too much detail about the plot here.  It still hurts my brain trying to figure it out.  It involves a troubled father/son relationship for Prince Zuko (Dev Patel) and Fire Lord Ozai (Cliff Curtis ). Meanwhile, Zuko’s uncle, General Iroh (Shaun Toub), is trying to give lessons in tactical spiritualism while Commander Zhao (Aasif Mandvi) is being awesomely obnoxious. This of course, is the part of the visit where the dentist tries to distract you from the fact that you are actually paying him to inflict pain.

I have a sneaking suspicion that there was supposed to be more plot in the movie.  At least Katara’s never-ending narration told us so.  (Remember kids, the key to making a story not suck is to show, don’t tell.)  There was a wee bit of a romance between Sokka and the white-haired Princess Yue (Seychelle Gabrielle) of the Northern Water Tribe. There was even a large, climactic battle with a lot of Tai Chi and special effects. The battle and the romance, like the rest of the movie and its attempts at preaching about responsibility and spiritualism, were lost to terrible dialogue, awful editing, horrible acting, and even worse attempts at storytelling.  It was like hiring Steve Martin to do your dental work, Shyalaman liked watching us suffer.

On the plus side, where everything else failed in the movie, the music by composer James Newton Howard, was fantastic and the special effects weren’t half-bad. Though to be honest, it’s not like great music is going to really distract you the fact that there’s a dude drilling into your skull.  It’ll make it more pleasant, but the whole thing still sucks.

So, was seeing The Last Airbender better than getting a root canal? Just barely.  It only won because I snuck in a vodka flask (my attempt at Novocain), there was no drilling involved (just spiky hats for getting through some ice...don’t ask), and I liked the music better than the Muzak in my dentist’s office.

Chocolate

Chocolate, the 2008 Thai action film brought to us by the directorial genius of Prachya Pinkaew, is a touching kung fu fairy tale about an autistic girl and her best friend trying to help her gravely ill mother. Pinkaew is more well-known to American audiences as the man who helmed Ong-Bak: the Thai Warrior and The Protector (a.k.a."Dude, Where’s My Elephant?") with the fantastic Tony Jaa . Like his previous films, it feels like there’s an underlying theme of mysticism woven into an intricate and bloody tapestry of glorious violence.

Through the magic of kung fu, the heroine in Chocolate conquers insurmountable odds and learns the true meaning of love and family...while kicking a whole lot of lotta ass. This is a Thai action film, after all. Here the main rules are they don't pull their punches, and if your cast escapes filming uninjured, you’ve done something wrong.

Once upon a time, Zin (Ammara Siripong) fell in love with Masashi (Hiroshi Abe). Star-crossed lovers, she was the girlfriend of Thai gangster,"No. 8" (Pongpat Wachirabunjong), and he was a Yakuza boss. The tense opening scene establishes the animosity between these two factions as both guns and lines are drawn. Once that’s out of the way, the audience gets to watch a steamy montage where Zin and Masashi fall deeper in lust/love with each other...you know, like you do when you’re badasses on opposing sides of a gang war.

Ultimately, this comes to a head during a Compton-style drive-by where Zin jumps out of the car to get between the bullets and her beloved. Not to be outdone in the drama department, No. 8 literally shoots himself in the foot as a statement to Zin that this romance BS with Masashi can’t continue. After a night of hot sex, Zin sends Masashi packing back to Japan for their own good.

More montages find Zin pregnant, and the little girl, Zen, is a “special child.” Trying to tell the father ends with a painful meeting with No. 8, so like any good mother would, she pulls up stakes and moves herself and her little girl next door to a Muay-Thai martial arts school where becomes enraptured by the movements of the students, and develops her superpower: perfect muscle memory.

Years later, Zen (Yanin Mitananda) and her best friend, Moom (Taphon Phopwandee), are earning money performing stupid human tricks to pay for Zin’s cancer treatments. They stumble across mom’s old gang debt book and decide to collect. Asses get thoroughly kicked in Zen’s path to collect, finally leading up to a battle with No. 8 and his transvestite hooker army.

Mitananda really shines as Zen, with all of her autistic quirks, bad-assery, and single-minded devotion to her mother. The rest of the cast is fantastic as well, including the scene-chewing performance Dechawut Chuntakaro, leader of No. 8’s transvestite hooker army. All in all, Chocolate is a delicious, heart-warming film with a fairy tale ending that’s just a little perkier than a Shakespearean tragedy, but totally appropriate and worth it.

Sars Wars: Bangkok Zombie Crisis

The title alone should clue you in. This movie knows exactly what it is, and has no shame about it.

It all starts with an outbreak of the Zombie plague in Africa, and cockroach from there makes its merry way to Thailand,  finally biting a Caucasian business man. We take a break from these shenanigans to look in on some totally different shenanigans involving kidnapping, where several thugs take a page out of the Warner Bros. cartoon playbook to nab some rich guy's daughter who, as it turns out, is quite the kicker of ass herself.

Said rich guy-in turn-hires the local warrior mercenary ninja, Master Thep (Suthep Po-ngam), to retrieve his daughter. He, being a master of management as well as the way of the ninja, delegates the task to our hero, Khun Krabii (Supakorn Kitsuwon). Khun, using the secret arts of ninja blacksmiths, hammers a wok into some armor and gets on with it.

Meanwhile, the Caucasian Zombie is spreading the plague.

Krabii goes to the local dance club...because, oh who the hell cares? Like every dance club in movies, it's way cooler than any dance club you can ever hope go to in real life.

Meanwhile, the Caucasian Zombie continues to spread the plague.

The movie goes on like this, with the characters cracking more jokes than the audience can. Then the outbreak hits the dance club and it gets exponential, following the accepted statistical paradigms of a zombie invasion. The Thai military shows up, isolates the outbreak to the condominium/dance club, and then promptly gets eaten faster than a Krispy Kreme doughnut at a Weight Watchers convention.

Master Thep hears of this nonsense and gets into his zombie fighting gear, which includes a battery-powered laser sword (no seriously, it's powered by D Batteries!), hauling master ninja ass to the scene.

What's completely great about this movie is that, despite the heavy doses of gore and violence, it has a very light tone.  It pokes fun at everyone and everything: Zombie movies, the Thai government, Gangsters, Kung-fu movies, Transsexuals (Hey, it's Thailand), and even those terrible Asian pop-songs they always seem to play at Pho restaurants.

This alone would make the movie worthy of a Cavalcade,  but the silly special effects and cartoonish characters send it right over the top into the rarified category of Wild Zero and Godzilla: Final Wars. Combine this with another Cavalcade favorite, Bio Zombie, and you recipe for a great Asian Zombie night.

Fist of the North Star

How is it possible to make a movie this bad?

It has a who's who of B-Movie actors, from Malcolm McDowell , to "Downtown" Julie Brown and the the kid who played Rufio in Hook (Dante Basco).

This film is disappointing in nearly every way a movie can be. First of all, it's so slowly paced that, even at just 90 minutes, it's too long.  Secondly, the casting is just terribleCostas Mandylor-who was at his best in Picket Fences -is the main villain, Lord ShinHe mugs and grimaces at the camera and delivers his line in a way that a nine year old might find scary. Also it doesn't help he's wearing a ridiculous wig that he can't stop playing with. 

But probably the most grievous of all the miscues in this movie, is the casting of a kick boxer as the man who supposed to be the Fist of the NorthstarGary Daniels plays Kenshirô, the titular Fist-and he's aggressively unappealing in the role. He wanders his way through a Dystopian Landscape TM that is caused by an unknown event at an unspecified time, as Malcolm McDowell vaguely puts it an opening monologue that says "bad things happened" as we scroll past a demolished city.

Not that we need motivation for violence in a movie, but if you're going to have a flashback explaining everything, you might want to give it to us while we still care. You see, apparently Shin betrayed Kenshirô and poked a punch of holes in chest, one by one, with his index finger-as the lady they'd been feuding over looked on. We get to see this in a flashback that looks like it was filmed on the set of a high school production of MacBeth, and it takes far too long to get to it.

Before that, Lord Shin's Goon Squad-consisting of Chris Penn and Clint Howard -hassle and capture a bunch of rebels, the aforementioned Downtown Julie Brown, and Melvin Van Peebles. Yes, that Melvin Van Peebles. The movie is cut up between the goon squad doing bad things, and then Lord Shin saying how it's all part of his master plan, wash, rinse repeat.

After a bunch of vaguely related scenes and some very boring fight sequences with gratuitous slow-mo, we at last get to the final battle between Shin and Ken. Personally, I rooted for Ken, because Lord Shin dresses like he was at a fashion show for Super villains ("This fall, all the most stylish dystopian dictators will be going with the lace-up leather tank top.")

Can you Cavalcade this movie? Sure, but we don't recommend it. It's too dull. But if you just really had to, this movie could go well with Street Fighter: The Movie, just in terms of sheer badness.

Master of the Flying Guillotine

As a society, we love competition.  Team sports like football dominate the airwaves during the fall and winter months, and even mundane exercises in statistical analysis such as the sport of baseball can even draw in a crowd. But more important than the spirit of competition, we as a society enjoy watching two powerhouses beat the living shit out of each other, mano-a-mano.  Even though we know the outcome is scripted, wrestling packs in the audience year after year precisely because it features the aforementioned shitkicking.

This tradition carries over in films as well. Long after both the Aliens and Predator franchises fizzled out, they were resurrected to great financial success in the terrible Alien Vs. Predator franchise. The same goes for Freddy Vs. Jason. But this tradition goes way back (and had better results) in Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman and, more directly related to this review, Master of the Flying Guillotine.

A follow-up to both The Flying Guillotine and The One-Armed Boxer, this film brings two of the more successful kung-fu franchises of the 70’s together in an all-out cross-studio battle royale. Imagine if it was Aliens Vs. Terminator, and you get the idea.

The plot is simple enough: While fighting for freedom in his last appearance, The One-Armed Boxer killed two Imperial assassins that happened to be students of the fore-mentioned Master of the Flying thingamagiggie, who by-the-way, happens to be a blind badass of beastly brutality. Yes friends, this classic martial arts film’s best fighters are both handicapped!

To derail for a moment: this does lead one to consider how much cooler the Special Olympics would be if they had weapons.

Anyhow, seeing as how the Assassin is blind, and has no idea what the One-Armed Boxer looks like, he spends much the rest of the film randomly killing every one armed man he comes across (and at least one chicken). The best part is that every time he throws his whirling dervish of death, it makes a sound like a bullet ricocheting off a rock.

Meanwhile, the O.A. Boxer gets invited to a Tournament to show off his…uh…one-armed boxing. Seriously, his fighting style is predicated on being of one arm, yet all of his students have two. Does his graduation ceremony involve an axe?

Declining to fight in the tournament, O.A.B. instead chooses to take his students along on a field trip to see some cool shitkicking. At the tourney we get to see some cool monkey fighting, some tonfas, a guy with killer hair, and the guy who would later inspire Capcom to create Dhalsim in Street Fighter II.  All of this before the Master-of-the-Swastika-Wearing-Flying-Guillotine shows up and starts killing everything that makes too much noise when it moves, forcing the O.A.B. into a confrontation that is both spectacular and wall-crawly (did I mention he is the kung-fu Spider-Man?).

Hands-down, this is one of the greatest of the early martial arts movies, and is a must for any Cavalcade event featuring flying fists of fury.

Tokyo Gore Police

One of the great things about running the Cavalcade is that whenever we're asked to speak about our desire to bring back the Drive-In Grindhouse movie experience, people can't help but to excitedly blurt out their own personal favorite B-movie experiences, often leading to us discovering new gems.

On one such occasion, we were introduced to the amazing Kung Fu Cult Cinema website, a fantastic resource for all things Asian Cinema. An attendee of one of our Events was so excited about a little film she found through their site, she couldn't stop talking about it. It led to us bringing it into our homes and being completely blown away by its sheer....Awesomeness.

And what, pray-tell, was that fine cinematic gem that sent our minds reeling into the outer reaches of the spiral arm of the western consciousness?

Two words: Machine Girl (2007)

This movie has it all. Ninjas. Yakuza. Flying Guillotine. Chaingun Arms. A Drill Bra. Death by Tempura.

It. Was. Amazing.

But while we were still reeling, the DVD followed through with the promise of more to come in the form of a trailer for Tokyo Gore Police , a film that promises to outdo Machine Girl on every level. We're here to tell you: If there isn't a ton of gore and  some police against the backdrop of Tokyo, we're going to have some problems.

When a crazed scientist called Key Man develops a virus that causes humans to mutate, samurai sword-wielding cop Ruka is called in to annihilate the unnatural creatures. Can Ruka wipe out the mutations and stop Key Man before the virus takes over humanity? Little does Ruka know, though, that the slaying of her father years before means she shares a hidden bond with her nemesis. Yoshihiro Nishimura's fast-paced gorefest stars Eihi ShiinaItsuji Itao and Shôko Nakahara.

Look. We know we promise that we "look for the worst Netflix has to offer" each week. But frankly, the last few films have seriously impacted that crucial sector of our brains we like to call  our  "will to live". Give us this one week to actually enjoy a flick, huh? Please?

Please refresh this page to see the latest live-blog post after 2pm the day of the event.

  • We’re starting up Tokyo Gore Police
  • The movie is startign with a light jazzy score and kids in the park…And dad’s a super hero!
  • and HIS HEAD EXPLODED!
  • This is more like it! Dark! Broody! BLOODY!
  • Why are there mattresses on the top of the cars?
  • Eeeew, eyeball sushi!
  • Sooo this is going ot be a live-action anime. Only…weirder.
  • With a heroine having issues with an exacto knife..and her wrist. Hey look, LEATHERFACE!
  • Seriously, how can you NOT notice the chainsaw-weilding maniac walking up behind you?
  • He just grew a new organic CHAINSAW arm that he can throw with a retractable chain! I WANT ONE!
  • Oh wait. Hot school girl rocket jumping with a bazooka. I’m in love!
  • Um. Dude. Don’t try to eat the chainsaw. Bad for your teeth.
  • SWORD DUEL…WITH CHAINSAWS! Is it wrong that I’m aroused by this?
  • All that before the title sequence! I need a cigarette.
  • They just executed a criminal for a commercial. That’s marketing we can believe in!
  • What’s up with all these people with saws for hands? The coroner has a bone saw for a right arm!
  • A key-shaped tumor is a trademark of a mutant? Huh?
  • The cops are in full cyber-samurai armor. And the car-tops are temple roofs?
  • Ominous chorus, flickering lights…Somebody gonna bleeed soon. OUT COMES THE SWORD!
  • The gimp..is..an..amputee? Being walked like a pet dog by a demon cyber-samurai? AWESOME.
  • Aaaaand it’s her boss wishing her a happy birthday. This is one F’d-up police department!
  • Ok. The police captain is one freaky dude.
  • Ok..Thaaaat’s a dildo.
  • aaaaand that’s a creepy dude in a diaper.
  • Seriously. What is up with the Japanese and doing weird things to schoolgirls?
  • *gasp* it’s the key-shaped tumor! This can’t be good!
  • Aaaand there goes the madam. I do believe she is being drained of blood into baby bottles..
  • DUDE! INTESTINES IN A COMMERCIAL! WHAT. THE. HELL??
  • A new packing method of stuffing whole prostitutes into a tiny box for convenience!
  • And now the hero is dressed as a prostitute. OF COURSE she is. Oh, and let us not forget the umbrella sword.
  • And now for a commercial for fashionable wrist cutting toys? WOW.
  • Dude is eating Cicadas covered in maggots. Grossest thing. EVER.
  • Ok. One woman you do NOT want to fondle in the train is the one who will cut your arms off!
  • Um. Why are you going to sit there and watch him mutate? STAB HIM SOME MORE!
  • he PULLED THE TOP OF HIS HEAD OFF AND HAS EYE CANNONS???
  • Hard to use facial recognition when you only have the top half of a FACE.
  • A Wii mote with a knife where you can actually disembowel people by remote control? That’s a product I WANT!
  • The commercials in this movie make those in Robocop look like freakin’ Sesame Street.
  • um. the stripper has an eyball in her mouth, and a penis for a nose. not the sexiest thing I’ve ever seen.
  • Golden Showers…FROM A CHAIR. WHAT?
  • No. I mean THE CHAIR is peeing on people!
  • When the genetically modified prostitute with weird skin grafts straps you down, this is not good.
  • aaaaand she bit it off. TOLD you, dude. Told you.
  • We have decided we need vodka.
  • Her entire lower half is now an aligator jaw! You don’t WANT to know where the throat is!
  • Honestly. I don’t know that I can say anything more about this movie. I just watched a mutant vagina EAT a man.
  • 4-foot-long PENIS CANNON!
  • And now we pause for exposition. Complete with illustrations in crayon!
  • The only thing weirder than the movie is its explanation.
  • For Supercops, these guys really let people walk up behind them and shoot them in the head WAY too easily.
  • “Thanks a lot for telling me…you insane bastard”-Best line in the movie.
  • The movie has now become amputee porn.
  • Acid-shooting-Nipple-cannons? REALLY?
  • We have decided we need more booze.

20 Minutes later…

  • We now have strawberry thingamajiggies with vodka and SoCo.
  • 22 minutes of solid ultra-violence left….
  • There are a pile of body parts, and one of the cops is licking a severed foot.
  • Fist gatling gun? I want to MEET the guy who came up with this!
  • Flying middle fingers of DOOOM!
  • And now we have an epic battle with a 0-limbed amputee that replaced everything with swords!
  • The bad guy is flying on Blood-jet propelled leg stumps!
  • Amputee now has MACHINE GUN LIMBS! I LOVE THIS MOVIE!!!
  • And that’s the end. OH, MY FUCKING GOD, was this movie awesome!
  • Last sbot of the movie: “MORE GORE COMING SOON!” With that, we close out Tokyo Gore Police. Thanks all!