Today: June 22, 2024

Lovely Jon’s Celluloid Obscura

Welcome to a further instalment of Celluloid Osbscura, the movie column dedicated to the more unusual, esoteric Blu Ray and DVD releases. This month, I’ll be placing my magnifying glass under a multitude of interesting, multi-genre releases for the more adventurous cine-philes out there. So, without further severance let’s get to it….

Bamboo Gods And Iron Men (Shout Factory DVD – US), is a strange, beguiling Filipino/blaxploitation martial arts pile up which makes no sense whatsoever but, with the aid of alcohol and a group of doozy friends, provides the requisite cheap trashy thrills on a Saturday night. Whilst vacationing in Manilla, champion boxer Black Cal Jefferson (James Inglehart from Savage!) purchases a bronze Buddha for his wife, unbeknown to him that “a secret force capable of destroying the world” has been smuggled in to the statute.  Of course there is a bold super villain after the booty and his moronic henchmen on hand as convenient punch bags. Somewhere along the line, the editor forgot to dub in all the voices while pushing the super-bass heavy funk score to the forefront (hey that ‘aint such a bad idea)…

More kung fu shapes materialise in the form of The Shanghai 13 (Terracotta Distribution DVD – UK) for a more classical, traditional Hong Kong production that played those legendary midnight shows back in the day. Helmed by seminal Shaw Brothers auteur and John Woo mentor Chang Cheh, this is something of a lost holy grail for martial arts fans, featuring a stellar cast of old school stars in their prime. Check out Chiang ‘Five Venoms’ Sheng who demonstrates some incredible leg work.

More Asian madness manifests in the incredible Yakuza-themed Branded To Kill (Arrow Blu Ray – UK). When your lead character becomes turned on by steamed rice, this is a movie that can only come from Japan. Directed with counter cultural verve by the great Seijun Suzuki with a liberal dose of cynically black agit-prop flair, Branded To Kill takes the perennial hitman with hang ups motif and turns the genre on its head. Art house darling Suzuki was a true renegade who was famously kicked out of Nikkatsu studios for creating psychedelic Yakuza musical Tokyo Drifter instead of more traditional ‘hard edged’ fare. The HD print from Arrow (ported over the from the previous Criterion edition) is nothing short of exquisite, perfectly showcasing Kazue Nagatsuka’s cinematography to hypnotising effect.

When it comes to gangsters, there is no more an iconic institution than America where film noir continues to dictate and inform all these decades later. 1974’s The Nickel Ride (Shout Factory DVD – US) sneaked out in to the digital wilds four years ago with little fuss or manifesto. Jason Miller (Father Karras from The Exorcist) plays it low slung and cool as Cooper, ‘the keyman’ for the mob’s secret stolen goods warehouse in downtown LA. Events turn sour when our laconic anchorman is unable to move on the goods whilst Bo Hopkins’ young upstart arrives on the scene to take his mantle. The Nickel Ride receives short thrift from critics but in my book. This is a crime sleeper classic par excellence and requires your immediate consideration.

More tough guy pulp emanates from France, this time with the great Alain Delon as a reckless mad dog gunman with a death wish in Le Gang (Studio Canal Blu Ray – France). Based on the true story of the notorious post WW2 ‘front wheel drive’ firm who endeavoured to rob several banks in a day, director Jacques Deray keeps the narrative urgent and tense whilst ensuring there is enough action and car chases to please the cool one’s ardent fan base. Check the memorable scene where an in custody Delon, replete with fuzzy afro-style wig, commandeers a police station via machine gun as he is tired of waiting to be booked for a minor misdemeanor.

Now it’s over to the kick ass ladies. American Martial arts champ Cynthia Rothrock made waves with her appearances in seminal 80’s Hong Kong Femme Fatale classic Yes Madam (alongside Michelle Yeoh) and the popular US video rental favourite China O’ Brien. Cindy’s long career has taken many paths but none so demented as Undefeatable (AVV DVD – Germany) where Rothrock is out to avenge the murder of her sister by unscrupulous drug dealers. The ads scream ‘an unbeatable champion driven by insanity!’ which gives you an idea of how low end Asian trash cinema buffs covet this misfire. Directed with relentless energy by Godfrey Ho – something a legend in cult movie circles due to his cut and paste LSD horror action atrocity Scorpion Thunderbolt – Undefeatable is what midnight home viewing was created for. The impressive hard box DVD is limited to 44 copies and includes the alternative Hong Kong cut entitled Bloody Mary Killer. I dare the BFI to screen this wonderful mess to highbrow hipsters as an example of ‘iconic’ guerilla filmmaking.

Until the next time…

Lovely Jon

DJ and video archivist Lovely Jon is part of the groundbreaking and influential film/DJ collaboration “Jigoku” and has cemented his reputation as one of the foremost collectors of rare 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s underground film and film soundtracks.

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