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Film Festivals

Old School Kung Fu Fest 2016: Sammo Takes Manhattan


Now in it’s 6th installment, the Old School Kung Fu Fest presented by Subway Cinema, returns to New York on April 8 - 10th, 2016 at the Metrograph theater (7 Ludlow Street, NY, NY). This year’s festival focuses on films from the studio Golden Harvest, rivals of the seminal Shaw Brothers studio. The studio has nurtured the talents of Bruce Lee, John Woo, Michael Hui, Stanley Kwan, Jimmy Wang Yu, Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Angela Mao and has had a hand in producing classics like Enter the Dragon, Cannonball Run, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the non-Michael Bay one). Golden Harvest produced kung-fu films at their most manic and energetic, and this festival’s lineup reflects that:


  • Big Bullet
    1996, Dir. Benny Chan
    1996 was the end of one era of Hong Kong movies, and the beginning of another. The box office was in freefall, and people were trying new things because no one knew what worked. Benny Chan, previously known for his light comedies, wanted to try action and Big Bullet was his shot. Starring Lau Ching-wan (Full Alert) as a hard-nosed cop demoted to riding in a patrol van with a gang of misfits (including Jordan Chan, who’d score big playing a gangster in that year’s Young & Dangerous movies), his gang of losers runs afoul of a pair of baroque criminals played by Anthony Wong (The Untold Story) and Yu Rong-Guang (A Terra-Cotta Warrior) out to knock over Interpol Headquarters. Ridiculous? Sure, but it was a chance for Chan and action director Ma Yuk-Sing (The East is Red) to showcase their new brand of action that mixed high octane Hollywood boom-boom with Hong Kong’s complex action set pieces to deliver what feels like an 80s Hollywood action classic like Lethal Weapon with the “Mayhem” dial turned up to 11.


  • The Blade
    1997, Dir. Tsui Hark
    Missing out on seeing The Blade on the big screen would be like going to the carnival and not going on the gnarliest, biggest and wildest ride. A masterpiece by anyone’s standards, The Blade is Tsui Hark’s tribute to the martial arts films he grew up with. It’s a reimagining of director Chang Cheh’s landmark wuxia (swordplay) classic, The One-Armed Swordsman (1967), as a psychotronic phantasmagoria full of scars and tattoos, mutilation, amputation, sexual frustration, and sharp, heavy chunks of steel splitting muscle and breaking bones. Rapid cutting, berserker camera movement, frenetic choreography and compositions packed to bursting with rhythm, texture and detail, Tsui Hark’s revved-up ancient China roars away from the viewer like an out-of-control freight train, never saying what can be shown, never showing what can be said. Brains and eyeballs are battered and bruised and the audience has to run to keep up, but the experience of seeing one of the world’s best directors at the top of his game is indescribably ecstatic.


  • Enter the Dragon
    1973, Dir.  Robert Clouse
    The legendary martial arts film that cemented Bruce Lee as an international cinema icon, Robert Clouse’s Enter the Dragon is a punchdrunk ride through exploitation heaven that shaped the pattern for the thousands of martial arts movies that followed in its wake. Bruce plays a martial arts champ who goes undercover for British intelligence on the island of Mr. Han (longtime Hong Kong star Shih Kien) where he’ll fight in an underground tournament where the world’s best martial artists try to kill each other to earn a job with Mr. Han. Competing against him are American exploitation star John Saxon and blaxploitation hero Jim Kelly. Lee is especially hacked off that his sister (Hong Kong martial arts heroine Angela Mao) was recently beaten to death in the streets by Mr. Han’s bodyguard. Bruce Lee is a beautiful animal in this flick, burning like a supernova as he dishes out beatdowns and neck breakings like candy at a Shriner’s parade. This was his one shot to show the world why everyone should know his name, and he seizes it with both hands and takes a big, bloody bite out of it.


  • The Man From Hong Kong (aka The Dragon Flies)
    1975, Dir. Brian Trenchard-Smith, Jimmy Wang Yu
    In the first Hong Kong-Australian co-production, Inspector Fang of the Hong Kong Special Branch (Jimmy Wang Yu, The One-Armed Swordsman, 1967), goes to Australia after dope smuggler Kim Po Hung (Sammo Hung), with the intent of taking down Sydney mob boss Wilton (George Lazenby, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, 1969). Long before Jackie Chan would apply a similar format to his international crossover action films, such as Rumble in the Bronx, Golden Harvest and Australian action maestro, Brian Trenchard-Smith, showed him how to do it. Featuring a car chase that would give the one in Bullitt (1968) a run for its money, stunts by Sammo Hung and his team, an explosive finale, and laced with an earworm theme song (“Sky High” by Jigsaw that you have definitely heard before) this is how you do it when you want to make a swank, international action movie that feels as macho as drinking a can of lager while hang gliding through an exploding fireball.


  • Pedicab Driver
    1989, Dir. Sammo Hung
    Long unseen and unavailable on home video, until Warner Archive finally brought it to DVD this year, Sammo Hung’s action masterpiece is here and it wants to kick you through a wall. Set in 1950’s Macau, this action-comedy-drama-romance burns up the screen with old school intensity, and is sprinkled with appearances by a galaxy of big-name Hong Kong stunt actors and filmmakers. Yuen Biao and Corey Yuen get into a “light saber” duel with fluorescent light tubes! Eric Tsang hides! Sammo takes on Lau Kar-leung, and you won’t want to miss two of the world’s greatest action directors duking it out. As Lau Kar-leung tells Sammo: “Fatty, you’re crafty!” Then watch Sammo unleash infinite pain on super-kicker Billy Chow (the Japanese baddie in Fist of Legend (1994). Audience-pleasing, heart-pumping, nitro-burning moviemaking in what is arguably one of the best martial arts movies of the 1980’s.


  • The Prodigal Son (aka Pull No Punches)
    1981, Dir. Sammo Hung
    This posh WingChun epic is a masterpiece of Sammo Hung’s early career, and the last period kung fu film that he directed at Golden Harvest. Spoiled brat, YuenBiao, comes up against a true martial arts master, Lam Ching-ying, and begs to become his student. Lam’s not having it, and a series of savage throat locks ensue. Yuen Biao does backflips off the sprocket holes and Sammo Hung punches holes in the screen, but it’s Lam Ching-ying, as an asthmatic Chinese Opera diva, whose blistering fu scorches the emulsion and burns up the film. Unequaled in cinema history, this movie serves it up hot and fast. Lam Ching-ying died sixteen years later at the age of 44 and this movie is a ferocious tribute to the man who was Bruce Lee’s stunt double, and an iconic martial arts star in his own right.


  • Rumble in The Bronx
    1995, Dir. Stanley Tong
    It’s the candy-colored, DayGlo movie that finally broke Jackie Chan big in America, Rumble in the Bronx is like the 90’s Saturday morning cartoon of your dreams. The second time Chan teamed up with director-stunt coordinator, Stanley Tong (the first was Police Story III: Supercop), it’s really “Rumble in Vancouver” with the freshly-scrubbed Canadian wonderland standing in for the “dangerous” Bronx, and that sets the tone for this lighthearted riff on the Jackie Chan formula. Here he plays a cop coming to Bron-Couver for his uncle’s wedding, but he randomly runs up against diamond thieves, and winds up having to protect a local supermarket. It’s as goofy as it sounds, full of rampaging hovercraft, goodnatured gang members, kids in wheelchairs wishing their legs were “normal,” and some of the goofiest dialogue to ever come out of Hong Kong. On the other hand, it features Hong Kong’s great diva, Anita Mui, as the supermarket owner, some gravity-defying fight scenes from Jackie, and it’s peppered with Stanley Tong’s jumps and stunts — including a leap onto a hovercraft that broke Jackie’s ankle (he finished the movie with his foot in a cast painted to look like his shoe). The gooniest, most 90’s movie that Chan ever made.


  • A Terra-Cotta Warrior
    1990, Dir. Ching Siu-Tung
    Drawing inspiration from Kurosawa to Spielberg, A Terra-Cotta Warrior is a feast for the senses, and one of the most exquisite period fantasy films to come out of Hong Kong in the 90s, with its unique blend of romance, swashbuckling action, and comedy, thanks in equal parts to the screenplay by Lillian Lee (Green Snake, 1993, Rouge, 1988), action direction by Ching Siu-Tung, and breathtaking cinematography by Peter Pau (The Bride with White Hair, 1993). A collaboration between producer Tsui Hark (The Blade) and director Ching Siu-Tung that was two-and-a-half years in the making, A Terra-Cotta Warrior follows one of the First Emperor of China’s soldiers (Zhang Yimou) as he is accidentally awakened in the 1930s by Zhu Lili (Gong Li) after being encased alive in clay in the Emperor’s tomb as a punishment. At the time it was made, director-actor Zhang Yimou and his leading lady, Gong Li, were China’s power couple, and they shine in this one-of-a-kind rarely screened movie.


To learn more, go to:

Old School Kung Fu Festival
April 8 - 10, 2016

7 Ludlow St.
New York, NY 10002

Restored Caligari, Music, & More at Kino!2016 Film Festival


Germany has made some of the most monumentally important contributions to cinema, and the Kino!2016 festival of German films looks back and looks to the future. Running April 7 - 14, 2016 at Cinema Village (22 E 12th St, New York, NY), Kino! 2016 will showcase twelve feature premieres plus the US premiere of the Short Export Made in Germany program. On Monday, April 11, there will be a special screening of a restored print of the silent classic The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, with live music accompaniment by DJ Raphaël Marionneau at Metrograph (7 Ludlow St, New York, NY).

Other films include:

  • B-Movie: Lust & Sound in West Berlin 1979 - 1989
    Dir. Jörg A. Hoppe, Klaus Maeck, Heiko Lange
    West Berlin was encircled by Communist East Germany and the city was in a state of emergency. But it was cheap to live and music producer Mark Reeder immediately felt a sense of belonging in the creative melting pot of West Berlin's post-punk underground music scene. Nostalgic yet inspirational, the documentary collages never-before-seen archival fragments and vividly brings back to life local icons of the time such as Gudrun Gut and Blixa Bargeld as well as many others who fleetingly came and went, from Tilda Swinton and Keith Haring to David Hasselhoff and New Order.


  • A Heavy Heart
    Dir. Thomas Stuber
    Herbert Stamm is a former professional German boxing champ with his glory days well in the past. Popular in the late 80s before the fall of the Berlin Wall, he continues to trade off his former fame as “The Pride of Leipzig” who almost made the Olympic team. Now, he struggles to make ends meet, working on weekends as a bouncer while he ekes out a living as a debt collector. Diagnosed with a fatal neurological disease, he has little time to right wrongs or to realize his remaining dreams but, above all, to reconnect with his estranged daughter, Sandra. Herbert’s abandonment of his family years before is still raw and she resists allowing him back into her life or introducing him to his young granddaughter. As his disorder begins to slowly ravage him, Herbert must not only confront a broken identity, aging and death, but also seek out the salvation to be found in second chances.


  • The Fassbinder Story (US premiere)
    Dir. Annekatrin Hendel
    When Rainer Werner Fassbinder was found dead at his home in Munich in 1982, he was only 36 years old. He had directed 44 films in 18 years. Even at the time of his death, he had been working on a new film. Fassbinder, who appeared as an actor in some of his own films, is arguably one of the most prolific figures in German film history. He is also indisputably one of its most controversial. When director Annekatrin Hendel embarked upon a documentary of this provocative yet charismatic giant of European cinema, the magnitude of the material produced by Fassbinder was both a blessing and a curse. Director Annekatrin Hendel will be speaking about the film as part of a panel at Deutsches Haus at NYU (42 Washington Mews, New York, NY).

There will also be a screening of the 1984 cult film Decoder at the Goethe-Institut (30 Irving Place, New York, NY) followed by a conversation with producer and screenwriter Klaus Maeck.


To learn more, go to:


April 7 - 14, 2016

Cinema Village
22 E 12th St.
New York, NY 10003

7 Ludlow St.
New York, NY 10002

30 Irving Pl.
New York, NY 10003

Deutsches Haus at NYU
42 Washington Mews
New York, NY 10003


New Directors/New Films 2016 Offers Surprises


Once again The Film Society of Lincoln Center and The Museum of Modern Art join forces to complete another lineup for the 45th annual New Directors/New Films Festival (ND/NF), running March 16 - 27, 2016.

Since 1972, the festival has been an annual New York City spring event for cinephiles sometimes offering exciting discoveries from around the world. Other times it has confounded film fans. Dedicated to offering new works by emerging talent, this year’s fest screens 27 features and 10 short films.

Babak Anvari’s debut Under the Shadow opens the festival with a story of a mother and daughter haunted by a sinister, largely unseen presence during the Iran-Iraq War. It supposedly has a mounting sense of dread until its ominous finish. A breakout hit at Sundance, Indiewire’s Eric Kohn called it, “the first great horror movie of the year.”

Well, I missed it but not the closing night selection — Kirsten Johnson’s Cameraperson, a chronicle of the cinematographer-turned-director’s life through her collaborations with documentarians such as Laura Poitras, Michael Moore, and others. A disjointed memoir, Johnson’s first solo directorial effort offered snippets of films I’d would have rather seen than this doc, but it did display some outtakes of worthy films and for that alone, viewing her compilation was worth it.

It was one of nine festival features and four shorts directed by women, several of those made for a time well spent.

Films seen in New Directors/New Films are usually more of mixed bag than most of the festival featured at either MoMA or The Film Society — maybe because of the programming cross-pollination. That notwithstanding, there’s usually enough discoveries to outweigh the films that confuse or dismay.

And I missed several of the bigger buzz films such as Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg’s Sundance Grand Jury Prizewinner Weiner as well as Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Happy Hour, for which the main cast shared Locarno’s Best Actress award. But others caught my attention.

Disregarding those films which seemed far less than the guide’s description suggested, I was taken with the following three women-centric films.

The Fits
Anna Rose Holmer
USA, 2015, 72m
Though this debut feature isn’t entirely successful, it presents enough mystery and intrigue to engage a viewer long enough to take them to its conclusion. Detailing a transition from girlhood to womanhood, Holmer depicts 11-year-old Toni’s journey of discovery (Royalty Hightower) as a young boxer drawn to dancers training at the same rec center in Cincinnati. She joins one of the troupes, The Lionesses, and becomes immersed in their world. The film successfully conveys her challenge to become part of the group and then a mysterious, convulsive condition begins to afflict her team. Set within the intimate confines of familiar settings — the public school, the gym and its grounds — The Fits tries to intertwine two confusing story lines as one to some curious effect. This Oscilloscope release is worth looking into even with its flaws.

Kill-me-pleaseKill Me Please Mate-me por favor
Anita Rocha da Silveira
Brazil/Argentina, 2015, 101m, Portuguese with English subtitles
Anita Rocha da Silveira’s starts out with a predictable coming-of-age story that becomes something else entirely. Again intriguing but not quite successful, the film’s passive/aggressive sexuality turns from teenage angst to becoming some kind of strange slasher flick. Set in Rio de Janeiro’s Barra da Tijuca —a new upper-middle-class neighborhood of thoroughfares, malls, and white condos — a clique of teen girls become captivated by a series of gruesome murders. Bia (Valentina Herszage) really becomes obsessed and mayhem ensues. Though there’s nods to many classic such as Brian De Palma’s Carrie, Jacques Tourneur’s Cat People, and David Lynch’s entire oeuvre, da Silveira’s isn’t quite yet up to these stars of the genre.

Mountain / Ha'har
Yaelle Kayam
Denmark/Israel, 2015, 83m, Hebrew with English subtitles
In this Israeli production, a Jewish Orthodox woman, Zvia, lives on the grounds of an ancient cemetery with her four children and her disaffected husband, a Yeshiva teacher who pays little attention to her. Kayam's debut transforms this portrait of an isolated woman into something far more insidious. On a late night walk through the tombstones, Zvia encounters a group of prostitutes and their handlers -- she becomes fascinated with them, turning into a voyeuristic bystander to their sexual activities, even bringing them home-cooked meals in order to connect with them. Actress Shani Klein’s performance addresses clichés with a finesse that’s hard to describe.

New Directors/New Films 2016
March 16, 2016 – March 27, 2016

The Roy and Niuta Titus Theaters
The Museum of Modern Art
11 W 53rd St, New York, NY 10019

Walter Reade Theater
165 W 65th St.
New York, NY 10023


Japan Sings on Silver Screen at Japan Society

Memories of Matsuko

Sometimes bizarre, sometimes uplifting, sometimes heartbreaking, but always charming, the musicals of Japanese cinema are often overlooked, but have a style all their own. And now the Japan Society (333 E 47th St, New York, NY) will be doing its own retrospective on Japan’s musical history (in glorious 35mm) with Japan Sings! The Japanese Musical Film, running April 8 - 23. Featuring ten films, the festival focuses primarily on the teen idol films of the 1950s and 60’s, but also pre-war musical films, and some of the more offbeat musicals to emerge from the 2000s. And since most of the films being shown are not available on DVD in the US, you better catch this festival while you can.

Series curator,  Michael Raine (Assistant Professor of Film Studies at Western University, Canada) says"Seeing and hearing the tradition of musical films in Japanese cinema gives us a different view of Japanese popular culture that is smart as well as silly and sometimes devastating, too. In the 20th century, American culture became global culture: Japanese filmmakers faced up to that geopolitical fact with a mix of homage and parody that also sometimes offered audiences a way of understanding their place in the world."


succeedThe films being shown are:

  • You Can Succeed, Too
    (Introduction by Michael Raine, series curator. Followed by the opening night party)
    The closest Japanese cinema ever came to the full-blown Broadway style musical, with singing and dancing on the streets of Tokyo, music by avant-garde composer and jazzman Toshiro Mayuzumi, lyrics by renowned poet Shuntaro Tanikawa, and direction by one of Toho's most prominent "new wave" directors, Eizo Sugawa. Popular jazz drummer and actor Frankie Sakaistars in this comic version of the "industrial competition" genre: two tourism companies compete for foreign clients in the run up to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Highlighting the coming internationalization of Japan, the film dramatizes the felt tensions between tradition and modernity, the pressures of the "economic animal" lifestyle, and the energy of high economic growth. Not available on DVD.


  • So Young, So Bright
    Originally published in and sponsored by the "song and movie entertainment magazine" Heibon, this musical comedy starred three of the most popular young singers in 1950s Japan: Hibari Misora, Chiemi Eri, and Izumi Yukimura. The film makes light of sentimental Japanese melodramas as well as American musicals, featuring Hibari and Chiemi as unlikely high school friends who try to rescue apprentice geisha Izumi from the clutches of a predatory businessman. The most popular film with a modern setting made in 1955, the film’s American melodies with Japanese lyrics established the "three girl" film format as well as the "made-in-Japan teenage pops" that eventually became the J-Pop music we know today. Not available on DVD.


  • The Stormy Man
    Yujiro Ishihara, the biggest male film and singing star in postwar Japan, plays a rough drummer given his big break by female talent manager Mie Kitahara. A series of love triangles set within the Tokyo music scene plays out in moody Eastmancolor, but this film is less noir than male melodrama: the central problem is neither corruption nor romance but the lack of a mother's love. Yujiro is both lover and fighter, performing self-assertion and sexual prowess for male and female audiences in conformist Japan. Directed by Umetsugu Inoue, one of the major directors of postwar musicals, who even inserted song and dance performances into his action films. Not available on DVD.


  • Singing Lovebirds 
    A tie-up with the Teichiku record company starring jazz singers Dick Mine and Tomiko Hattori alongside singer-actress Haruyo Ichikawa and sword film superstar Chiezo Kataoka. This love quadrangle between a masterless samurai and three eligible suitors was marketed with the tagline "a rare operetta in which jazz bursts into the period film." As an operetta, characters speak in song (including Ichikawa's father, played by Takashi Shimura, the leader of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai), but the film is also musical in its utopian claim that the only authentic thing in the world is not traditional culture, or money, but love. Directed by Makino Masahiro, perhaps the most prolific director of musical films in Japan.  Not available on DVD.

  • Twilight Saloon
    Tomu Uchida's second comeback film, after staying in China since World War II. Isamu Kosugi plays an alcoholic painter who quit painting when he realized his wartime work was propaganda. He bears witness to intersecting narratives that all take place on a single set, a cheap saloon featuring records and live performance. Gliding long takes and long shots, layered in depth, create a visual cross-section of postwar Japanese society in which classical opera, military marches, folk, and pop songs articulate the political, social, and sexual tensions between groups as well as reveal the interiority of each character. An all-star allegory of postwar Japan as seen by a war returnee. Not available on DVD.

  • Oh, Bomb!
    Toho new wave director Kihachi Okamoto tests the limits of the musical comedy in this experimental "rhythm film" that incorporates Japanese forms of musical performance such asnaniwabushi and Buddhist chant, as well as direct references to West Side Story. The zany revenge plot follows the great Japanese character actor Yunosuke Ito as an old-school yakuza replaced by his former underling. There's also a chauffeur with dreams of the big time and a sidekick who just loves dynamite, but what ties everything together is a musicality that extends to the editing rhythm of the film itself. Oh, Bomb! Was given a roadshow presentation in 1964, in a double bill with Hiroshi Teshigahara’s Woman in the Dunes. Not available on DVD.

  • Irresponsible Era of Japan
    The Crazy Cats comic jazz band and their featured singer Hitoshi Ueki did not invent the local genre of the "salaryman" comedy but they were its ubiquitous face in the 1960s. Some of the first big stars of the new medium of television, they brought standing-room-only audiences to a cinema in decline. This film established Ueki's comic persona as a salaryman who would goof off at work and yet somehow always come out ahead, every so often bursting into one of his well-known Japanese folk-inflected songs while dancing something like the twist. The first in a series of "Irresponsible" films whose comic songs formed the soundtrack of Japan's high economic growth. Not available on DVD.


  • A Treatise on Japanese Bawdy Songs (aka Sing a Song of Sex)
    Nagisa Oshima uses pop singer Ichiro Araki to depict the "obscenity" of underclass desire. Four male and three female students from a provincial city accompany their teacher to Tokyo to take university entrance exams. The teacher dies and one of the boys may be the culprit. But the film is less a narrative than a collage of scenes about power imbalance: between city and country, young and old, rich and poor, Japan and Korea. Taking a hint from Twilight Saloon, Oshima uses song to mark out different social positions, from wartime naval trainees and university radicals to ethnic minorities and resentful adolescents. The question is who gets to sing, and what.


  • The Happiness of the Katakuris
    Based on a non-musical Korean film— The Quiet Family by another genre-mixing filmmaker, Jae Woon KimTakashi Miike uses the increasing absurdity of this comedy-horror-musical to explore the state of the Japanese family after the collapse of the economic boom that underpinned the popular song film. The film's claymation opening sequence and bleak narrative of a downsized salaryman opening a B&B in the country presents contemporary life as a hopeless cycle of exploitation, but the performance of the film's lo-fi musical numbers by a cast that includes Kenji Sawada, star of several "group sounds" musical films in the 1960s, highlights a nostalgia for intimacy and optimism. The New York Times wrote, “Mr. Miike is celebrated for his ‘anything goes’ style of filmmaking, and certainly anything and everything goes here,” and the A. V. Club called it, “A joyously demented musical-comedy built on a macabre foundation, like The Sound of Music with a kickline of corpses.” Rated R.


  • Memories of Matsuko
    Another darkly hilarious film about family—the desire for recognition and the pain of its refusal. Cute digital effects and gaudy musical numbers belie a story of abuse that has much in common with Kenji Mizoguchi's Life of Oharu. Matsuko (Miki Nakatani of the Ring franchise) is found beaten to death in poor suburb of Tokyo. Alienated from her family, her life is dismissed as meaningless until her loser nephew, tasked with cleaning up her apartment, starts to piece it together. The musical interludes transform everyday exploitation into an ironic utopia that only accentuates the overwhelming emotional suffering of the rest of the film. Time Out London called it, “Astounding: yes, it’s vibrantly, often toe-curlingly, bright. But it’s also stunningly inventive, crammed with ideas and emotional truth, high on the possibilities of cinema."


For more information, go to

Japan  Sings! The Japanese Musical Film
April 8 - 23, 2016

The Japan Society
333 E 47th St.
New York, NY 10017


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