Monday, 10 April 2017

Brotherhood Of Blades

Cast: Chen Chang, Shih-Chieh Chin, and Dong-xue Li

Director: Yang Lu

117 minutes (15) 2014
Widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Second Sight blu-ray region B

Rating: 8/10
Review by Donald Morefield

Brotherhood Of Blades (aka: Xiu chun dao, 2014) upholds the familiar wuxia traditions while adding Hollywood style polish that Chinese movies have strived for since millennial productions, at least. During the fall of the Ming dynasty, imperial assassin Shen (Chen Chang) arrests a clique of eunuchs, but one wizened reclusive target is allowed to escape unscathed, spared the kung fury of Shen and his gang. The mercifully freed suspect was once a godfather of the secret police and he looks a bit like Gollum, so he always appears guilty and untrustworthy even if he’s actually falling victim to political prejudice. A loose-limbed plot spins off from this act of mercy, but this movie’s basically historical scenario is salted with quasi-dystopian themes.  


The royal court is greedy and corrupt, such that only bribes change anything. Options for survival here seem limited to subterfuge and betrayal. Honour and integrity are seen as a flaw of individualism, and dramatised as wholly unaffordable weaknesses in dealings with authority. Characters wrestle with the burdens of conscience whilst striving for matchless excellence and unattainable heroism. Qualifying for promotion is a formality when secrets are kept, and after debts are accepted. Righting wrongs, such as buying the freedom of a young courtesan or protecting a doctor’s daughter, are just fantasies of a lonely dreamer of peace. Villains are cowardly back-stabbers and brutal show-offs. Superhuman action is a given for this genre and there’s plenty of splattery combat in self-defence and vengeful battles of wits and weapons.



The HD transfer for BOB on blu-ray looks superb, and this edition gets the very best from its production values, historical set designs, and cinematic lighting. Fans of this genre are in for a treat!

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Tomboy

Cast: Michelle Rodriguez, Sigourney Weaver, Tony Shalhoub, Caitlin Gerard, and Anthony LaPaglia

Director: Walter Hill

96 minutes (15) 2016
Widescreen ratio 16:9
Label DVD Region 2

Rating: 7/10
Review by Jeff Young

Walter's Hill’s usual urbanite western styling is re-purposed in more ways than one for this potentially controversial movie, which supposes an illegal sex-change operation that makes this a sci-fi thriller like an action-packed variation of The Skin I Live In. It delivers a nightmare castration for hit-man Frank Kitchen. Michelle Rodriguez’s dual role as Frank and (although a distaff name remains unsaid on screen) 'Frankie' makes Tomboy (aka: The Assignment) a quite grimly violent psychological thriller. This plays merry hell with gender stereotyping themes, and it wreaks havoc upon male fears of emasculation, while delivering a perversely inclined drama of feminine, but not fem-Nazi, empowerment.    


Sigourney Weaver plays the genius doctor, depicted as a self-proclaimed medical artist in a straitjacket who is formally interviewed, at length but in an episodic format, by a prison shrink (Tony Shalhoub, best known for TV series Monk). These scenes crackle with twisty tensions of esoteric criminality and misapplied authority that are disturbingly mirrored in the explicitly personal and social predicaments faced by Frank’s makeover into ‘Tomboy’. Although it is basically just a weird kind of rape-and-revenge movie, there’s plenty of fine detail in the plot’s novelty, and its ramifications for the mad surgeon and her traumatised yet sympathetic victim.    


With its low-budget moods and unsubtle ironies, Tomboy certainly is one of those cheap, but decidedly cult-worthy B-movies, like Hill’s own Johnny Handsome (1989), that re-mix juicy clich├ęs with brisk skill and furious enthusiasm for off-beat and sensational material. Fans of Rodriguez should enjoy the picture’s archly satirical aspects as this celebrates the star’s typical screen persona (see Resident Evil, S.W.A.T., Avatar, Machete, etc.), while it also provides her engagingly flawed ‘heroine’ with an expression of troubled vulnerability. Meanwhile, Weaver turns in her best performance in years. She’s not just aloof but unyielding in an acetic characterisation that’s unnervingly convincing, in spite of its obviously comic-book inspired core of super-villainy that sits above humanity while being cursed with the same condition as the rest of the mortal world.