Archive for March, 2011

Ichi The Killer

Posted in Asian Cinema, extreme cinema, horror with tags , , , , , , , on Wednesday, 30 March, 2011 by Ed

Ichi The Killer deals predominantly with the theme of sadism, but in a fun way! This classic from Takashi Miike is extremely violent, but on the whole it is akin to reading a graphic novel more than watching extreme cinema, perhaps telling of its origins in Manga.

Produced around the beginning of the boom period for Asian Cinema (especially, at the time, for Japanese Cinema) the basis of the plot can be condensed down to the following: one gang of Yakuza has their boss kidnapped and will stop at nothing to get him back. Of course being Japanese the film has subplots, bizarre character arcs and a small measure of surrealism thrown into the mix.

At the forefront of the story is Kakihara, leading the charge to find his estranged boss. He does so with an enthusiasm fuelled by his hyper-defined sense of sadism – he has turned the enjoyment of other peoples suffering into an art form. The calm relish with which he absorbs as pleasure the pain he inflicts verges on an addiction.

Kakihara is not without his honour, and is not afraid to embrace the masochism antithesis of his love of sadism. Having tortured the wrong individual for information (a prolonged scene which involves giant fishing hooks and ladles of boiling oil) he volunteers to permanently remove his own ability to indulge his love of sweet food – and does so, graphically – with a sword.

Eventually the titular Ichi enters the fray – murdering the Yakuza as he goes along. He is a repressed, unassuming character which conceals his psychotic mind, martial arts prowess and customised shoes with blades in them! The film twists and coils around bizarre and horrendous scenes towards the final showdown between the sadistic Kakihara and Ichi The Killer!

There can be no doubt that the violence in Ichi The Killer is for the most part cartoonish, albeit graphic and horrific. However Miike does not let the viewer off that easily. There are scenes of disturbing brutality which brings the shock aspect of the film into sharp focus. Even from the very beginning a woman being beaten and abused forces the viewer to question why some portrayals of violence will illicit disgusted laughter – and others a cold, shocked silence.

Perhaps this is commentary on modern society, and if it is specifically on Japanese society it will be difficult for the Western audience to fully comprehend – certainly there were parts of the film that seemed to contain aspects that were elusive. However, it was clear that the influence of sex and violence on society were strong messages – especially the sadism of Kakihara speaking of the enjoyment of violence. Also interesting is the character of Karen – not only given a Western name but also random parts of her dialogue were in English, clearly speaking of the influence (Miike does not suggest for good or for bad) of Western culture and it’s infiltration of Japanese society.

When compared to Takashi Miike’s other offerings, Ichi The Killer is the most enjoyable and satisfying. It contains elements of the bizarre seen in Visitor Q and the sadism in the pay-off in Audition – but blended in a more standard narrative format which is well paced and entertaining. Ichi The Killer is a modern classic, not just of Asian Cinema, but a true cinematic great which will continue to be referenced for its originality and accomplishment for decades to come.

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A Note About Censored Films and Spoilers.

Posted in extreme cinema, horror with tags , , , , , on Wednesday, 30 March, 2011 by Ed

It is the view of Transgressive Cinema that films should be viewed in the manner in which the director intended, fully uncut for an adult audience. For this reason all the reviews and articles here relate to the uncut versions in every instance, unless otherwise stated. This is not always easy, and it often means importing discs from abroad – but it is hoped that the readership appreciates the commentary from the uncut source material rather than what is left after the censors have taken their scissors to a movie.

The issue of “Spoilers” is a contentious one. Transgressive Cinema will not become littered with spoiler warnings. Care is always taken to avoid potentially divulging too much information for readers who have yet to view the film being discussed. The policy used is based on a number of factors (which are individually evaluated for each film), such as the age of the movie and the information already available on promotional material and DVD blurbs. The ending or plot twists will never be divulged. Hopefully this common sense approach is proving acceptable, but please do leave comments on this subject if you have a view on it.

It is the intention of Transgressive Cinema to inform and aid the cinematic experience, not to spoil it – so it is important to get the balance right.

August Underground

Posted in extreme cinema with tags , , , , on Sunday, 6 March, 2011 by Ed

August Underground is a vile piece of film-making with very few redeeming features. It has virtually no plot and is simply a montage of disgusting, violent, depraved and sexually explicit murders.

The film is in the “found footage” style, and as such has the feel of a home movie in the way it is shot. The viewer is exposed to the rampage of two young serial killers as they rape and murder for the sheer enjoyment of it. That is as far as this film goes with storyline, and the killers laughing at their victims as they degrade and brutalise them makes it all the more uncomfortable.

Watching August Underground leaves one feeling sick to the stomach, it is harrowing beyond belief and herein lies why this film is to be intensely disliked but also, perversely, why it demands some degree of praise.

There is nothing to recommend August Underground for as a viewing experience unless it is simply used as yardstick for personal endurance. It is curiosity that will cause most people to seek out this tawdry film, and all but the most hardened extreme cinema fans are at risk of becoming the proverbial cat.

However, there are two areas where the film should be commended. The first is the physical special effects. For the budget this must have been shot on, the gore is extremely realistic – shockingly so. It is a master class of old school latex work – it’s hard not to admire it even whilst it is having you reach for the “off” button. No doubt the handheld camera style aided what the effects team could get away with, but despite that it is still very impressive.

Secondly, for all the criticism that can be easily levelled at August Underground, it should be acknowledged that this film shows murderers and serial killers as despicable, hideous and totally offensive characters. From the first few minutes, there is real hatred generated for the perpetrators of the crimes we witness. These are not suave and cool individuals looking for “a nice Chianti” – but vile pieces of human waste that need locking up. Whatever objections are thrown at August Underground, most of them valid, it cannot be accused of glamourising violence.

There are two sequels to August Underground (Mordum and Penance) neither of which seem like compelling viewing after seeing this movie. The graphic portrayal of extreme events and situations can be thrilling when wrapped around the bones of a plot and developed characters, neither of which August Underground has. For this reason it left this reviewer cold and not wanting to repeat the experience, despite a begrudging respect for its guerrilla film-making and boundary pushing. If, however, you wish to test your mettle against some truly vicious and depraved images – you should probably experience this film for yourself.

Vinyan

Posted in horror with tags , , , , , on Saturday, 5 March, 2011 by Ed

This review is to serve as a warning to the horror fan. Sadly, however, not the kind of warning that might accompany the discussion of movies such as A Serbian Film. Vinyan promotes itself heavily as a horror film. Cover images and posters feature demonic looking children surrounded by skulls on spikes, and bodies hanging out of trees. The blurb tells us that “when someone dies a horrible death, their spirit becomes confused and angry, it becomes ‘Vinyan’”. Whilst the wonderful thing about the genre is its breadth, Vinyan barely qualifies – despite masquerading as horror. It does warrant discussion though, hence its inclusion on Transgressive Cinema – if only for the aforementioned cautionary note.

Vinyan opens to a beautifully shot sequence of underwater bubbles in slow motion, which eventually fuse with dark human hair. It then immerses us in the vibrant seediness of Thai nightlife. The characters of Jeanne (Emmanuelle Beart) and Paul (Rufus Sewell) are capably developed as they struggle to cope with the loss of their son who is missing, presumed dead, in the Asian tsunami disaster. When Jeanne thinks she recognises the missing boy in video footage shot recently in Burma, the couple undertake to illegally enter Burmese territory with the help of Triad gangsters to search for their son in the marshes and jungles of that inhospitable landscape.  

With such an exciting premise in a terrifying and evocative setting, it is such a shame that this film largely fails. Just before the hour mark, the film tangibly starts ebbing away and the suspension of disbelief that had initially been built went shortly after. That willingness to want to take this journey with the characters on an adventure which surely must be full of horrors was absent as the realisation set in that very little of interest was going to happen.

Some ambiguity in a film, especially a horror film, is a good thing. It is deeply effective to allow the mind to fill in the blanks and to provoke human nature into wondering “why?” However Vinyan has too much ambiguity and it is not delivered with the necessary writing skill to be effective. There are too few nuances and pointers to justify the lack of conclusion, which ultimately makes wondering about the films motive pointless. Being too vague about what is happening takes the viewer out of the film, and prevents immersion and belief in its fiction.

There is a fine moment of horror in the conclusion – the gang of children seen throughout the film (who may or may not be of supernatural origin) mob a character who is then impaled on spikes and disembowelled! This alone is not sufficient to recommend watching the film, which ultimately failed to deliver on its initial potential, despite its talented cast and stunning cinematography.