The third instalment of our weekly DVD review supplement is a truly global one. Filled with eastern promise, three of the four DVDs featured this week are products of China and Japan. The fourth film comes from Spain, and is the first of our two foreign horror films, one truly terrifying and one gruesome yet comic. But it’s not all gore. Read on to find out…
[REC] & [REC]2 (2007/2009)
If you are looking for shocks, squirms and Spaniards then these two films are just for you. Shot from the perspective of a documentary film crew [REC] follows the events of one night in an apartment block, to which firemen are called (with the film crew in tail to capture the nights’ events) to deal with a woman trapped in her room. What begins as a routine call out very quickly descends into sheer terror as a horrific, zombifying plague spreads through the building from which, due to it being quarantined, there is no escape. [REC]2 overlaps with the events of the 1st film and is shot from the perspective of both a SWAT team helmet-cam and a hand-held camera belonging to a group of intrepid (token fodder for the living dead) teenagers.
As an exercise in the modern tradition of shaky-camera-found-footage-horror films, [REC] is undoubtedly a superior exponent, with the tension and shocks building and building, á la Paranormal Activity, up to a truly pants wettingly scary finale. In comparison [REC]2 is far from groundbreaking but is a slightly more diverse and interesting film, it also makes effective use of an improved budget to deliver some impressive set pieces. The films’ zombies are what help set them apart from similar genre works; the blood thirsty ‘people’ are infected by a seemingly satanic plague rather than the standard George Romero style I-want-to-eat-some-brains-disease most movie zombies appear to be afflicted with these days. More 28 Days Later than Dawn Of The Dead, they run freakishly quickly (but most importantly, unpredictably) towards the camera and certainly don’t relent after only one bullet. Watch them back to back for just over 2 ½ hours of Spanish zombie goodness.
Ichi the Killer (2003)
Based on the ultra-violent manga of the same name, Ichi the Killer is a weird and demented ride into the depths of human insanity. Directed by the always controversial Takeshi Miike, the film deals with extreme taboos of violence, rape, sadomasochism and torture. The plot follows Kakihara and his yakuza clan as they search for their traitorous boss, Anjo. However, a psychopath named Ichi introduces his own sense of justice through the mutilated corpses of Kakihara’s men. This ultimately leads to an unforgettable showdown between the two characters.
There is no doubt that Ichi the Killer is one of the most violent films in cinema history. Yet its exaggerated nature, though initially shocking, generates a dark, twisted humour. Though it is hard to ignore the overall brutality of Miike’s creation, the acting is outstanding. Tadanobu Asano’s performance as the sadomasochistic Kakihara is simply jaw-dropping. His hauntingly calm demeanour, insane sense of pleasure, horrifying grin and colourful dress sense has a ‘Joker-esque’ feel to him. Even after cutting his own tongue out, the sense of enjoyment and glee in his eyes is frightening.
Ichi the Killer is a film that you’ll either love or hate. The controversial and shocking themes will certainly deter many, but its over-the-top nature makes it hilarious and fantastic. Takeshi Miike has delivered a film that, on the surface succeeds to create controversy, but is an electrifying, gruesome and well-acted piece of modern Japanese cinema.
Infernal Affairs (2002)
No doubt many who read this will be familiar with Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-winning, double-crossing masterpiece, The Departed. However, it is likely that far fewer of you will have heard of Infernal Affairs, a slick Hong Kong thriller made four years prior.
It may come as some surprise then, that The Departed is a direct remake of Infernal Affairs. Scorsese prefers to consider it an “adaptation”, and there is some truth in this, especially as the screenwriter, William Monahan, never actually watched the original while adapting. But the reality is, The Departed is as much of a remake as any other. This means that all the terrific source material that Scorsese’s picture is based on is present in Infernal Affairs. This includes the outstanding and nail-biting plot, the strong characters, and the most prominent, memorable scenes.
Stylistically the two films are quite different, with Infernal Affairs’ slick visuals, swooping camera shots, and gun-ho action being more reminiscent of the Hong Kong cinema it is a product of. In this sense, Infernal Affairs is a triumph, managing to find a key balance between style and substance. Andy Lau and Tony Wai are superb in the lead roles, and the cinematography is a joy to behold throughout.
Perhaps the only aspect The Departed can hold over Infernal Affairs is its top-billed cast, but I feel the latter must be given some credit for being the original text. Is Infernal Affairs the better film? Perhaps. Either way it’s extremely close. My advice, watch them both, but watch the Asian incarnation first.
In The Mood For Love (2001)
Wong Kar-Wai’s In The Mood For Love is not exactly the provocative film that the title may suggest. It is instead the perfectly measured, quietly affecting and totally compelling story of Chow and Li-zhen, two new neighbours in Hong Kong who become friends in the absence of their respective spouses. As their relationship develops, during a perfectly constructed scene in a restaurant they make a startling discovery, which although briefly seems liberating, in fact impacts upon their lives irrevocably. In addition to what at first may seem like only a slight plot, for an hour and a half you get to marvel at a gloriously rich colour palette of reds, golds and kingfisher blues, noir-ish shots that linger long enough to allow you into the characters’ thoughts, and exceptional acting from the two leads. Maggie Cheung as Li-zhen in particular can communicate more in one expression than most actors could in a lengthy monologue.
But don’t think the film is nothing but meaningful looks and minimalist dialogue – what makes it so perfectly balanced is the surrounding of the central pair with elements that ground their relationship firmly in the reality that they know they cannot ignore. The supporting characters are delightful, from a group of chattering mah-jong playing neighbours to a persistent friend of Chow’s who hysterically pesters him for money, there is much lightness to be found throughout. You can guarantee that, even after one watch, the several scenes that feature the line “It’s only a rehearsal” will stay with you long after the credits roll. And never has a trip down the road to get noodles, set to Shigeru Umebayashi’s bewitching score, seemed more sexually charged.