Rob Zombie’s remake of one of the all time classics of horror cinema was always going to have an uphill struggle with fans, and though it performed surprisingly well at the box office, it was largely drubbed and mocked by genre critics. However, for those willing to overlook the fact that “Halloween” didn’t exactly need revisiting in the first place, the film itself stands as a refreshingly adult and grimy slice of modern horror. Certainly the franchise mythology gives Zombie ample opportunity to explore his favourite theme of the serial killer as anti-hero protagonist, and he keeps things lively with plenty of gore and sleaze. Whilst purists may well baulk at the very idea of the film, and whilst it does not come close to equalling the original, it shows him to have matured considerably as a director and never feels like anything less than a loving tribute from a committed fan.
Wilson Yip’s follow up to his excellent “S.P.L.” doesn’t quite manage to reach the same giddy heights as its predecessor, though is easily the best Hong Kong action film of the year, far superior to Benny Chan’s rather flabby “Invisible Target”. Here, Donnie Yen re-teams with Yip for more fast paced martial arts cop action, showing off his incredible skills in what basically amounts to a series of awesome fight scenes loosely strung together by a pleasantly formulaic plot. Expertly directed and choreographed for maximum impact, “Flash Point” delivers the goods from start to finish and is another reminder to Hollywood of how action cinema should be handled.
Whilst 2006 had “Feast”, 2007 gave long suffering fans another piece of old school, tits n’ gore horror in the form of Adam Green’s “Hatchet”. A genuine 1980s throwback to the good old days of Jason Voorhees and other backwoods slashers, the film is a wonderfully unpretentious piece of mayhem which score big for simply sticking to what works, as a motley bunch of swamp tourists are picked off and dismembered one by one by a deformed hulking maniac. There really is nothing clever on show here, just solid, unpretentious bloody entertainment which should go down a treat for anyone who wishes they still made films like “Madman” or “The Burning”.
TAZZA: THE HIGH ROLLERS
Choi Dong Hoon’s comic book based tale of Korean flower card gamblers may not sound like the most exciting of prospects, to Western viewers at least, though the film is easily one of the year’s most gripping and was deservedly a massive hit at the domestic box office. Slickly directed and featuring a great ensemble cast, “Tazza” is fast paced and exciting throughout, with plenty of sex and violence to add a gritty, visceral air, and harks back to the Chow Yun Fat classic “God of Gamblers” and the glory days of the gambling genre.
Much, much maligned in part due to an apparently incomprehensible early print screened at Cannes, Richard Kelly’s follow up to his cult favourite “Donnie Darko” eventually re-emerged in edited and tightened form to general bewilderment and indifference. However, for those willing to keep an open mind, the film is essentially an abstract and more sprawling continuation of the themes explored in his debut which offers an amusing and engrossing sci-fi satire on American culture and politics. Though undeniably pretentious and wilfully confusing in places, “Southland Tales” is a brave, fascinating piece of film making which defies convention and which will hopefully find its audience over the coming years.
Fans of Hong Kong category III rejoiced as the legendary Herman Yau, responsible for such classics of the form as “The Untold Story” and “Ebola Syndrome” returned with black magic thriller “Gong Tau”. Taking its cue from wonderfully sleazy and demented Shaw Brothers productions such as “Black Magic”, “Bewitched”, “The Boxer’s Omen” and others, the film packs in plenty of bizarre and bloody sorcery with scant consideration for the constraints of good taste. Darkly imaginative and extremely visceral, “Gong Tau” offers top entertainment for the strong of stomach and proves that not all Asian horror has to revolve around long haired ghosts who wimp out by scaring their victims to death.
THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD
“Chopper” director Andrew Dominik delivers the best Western in years, facing off stiff competition from James Mangold’s excellent “3:10 to Yuma” retread. A throwback to the likes of Robert Altman’s “McCabe & Mrs. Miller”, the film is a mature, surprisingly tense affair, an astute and painfully human character study of an awkward outsider. Although Brad Pitt’s name loomed large, Casey Affleck gives the performance of his life as the titular coward, and it has to be hope that come awards season he will be given his due.
“Getting Home”, from Mainland Chinese director Zhang Yang, previously responsible for the delightful “Shower”, is a low key, though emotionally rich tale of a man who attempts to return his friend’s body to his hometown by transporting it on a long, difficult journey. Funny and touching, the film is an expertly crafted slice of life drama which charms from the first frame and which is an excellent antidote for anyone tired of grandiose epic Chinese productions such as “The Banquet” and “Curse of the Golden Flower”. Zhang Yang again proves himself to be one of the most consistently interesting Chinese film makers, and one of the few truly dedicated to telling stories of the common people.
“Exodus” is the latest offering from Edmond Pang Ho Cheung, who has been slowly gathering recognition as one of the most talented contemporary Hong Kong directors through the likes of “Isabella”, “AV” and “Men Suddenly in Black”. Here, he provides a slightly different take on the war between the sexes, with a bizarre conspiracy tale revolving around a man who thinks he may have stumbled onto a plot involving a gang of women who have decided to shake of the chains of male oppression through murder. Featuring a great performance from the ever reliable Simon Yam, the film is an abstract, challenging affair which sees the director refusing to follow the easy road or to provide any obvious answers. For viewers willing to put in a little effort, it works marvellously not only as a devious mystery, but as an off-kilter slice of biting social commentary.
Not only the best Korean film of the year, but perhaps the best from anywhere is Lee Chang Dong’s masterful “Secret Sunshine”. Building on the international success of his “Green Fish”, “Peppermint Candy” and “Oasis”, the film proved equally popular on the festival circuit, with Jeon Do Yeon (who previously wowed critics with her work in “You are my Sunshine” and the controversial films “The Untold Scandal” and “Happy End”), winning the Best Actress award at Cannes, where the film itself was nominated for the Golden Palm. Unsurprisingly, the film has since been chosen as the country’s entry for the 2008 Academy Awards. All such accolades aside, “Secret Sunshine” is an emotionally devastating and powerful look at loss, grief and how people try to get on with their lives, at the same time providing a fascinating examination of religion in modern Korea. Starkly honest and pulling no punches, the film is both moving and intellectually stimulating, and is quite possibly Lee’s best work to date, a fact which itself speaks volumes for its quality.