Movies Till Dawn: Violent

Legendary Weapons of China” (1982, 88 Films) One of the more eclectic entries in the Shaw Brothers Studios catalog, this action-comedy from director Lau Kar-Lung (“Drunken Master II“) has exceptional fighting sequences – many anchored around the 18 titular weapons, each of which gets its own signature scene – but also thoughtful subtext on the perils of slavish adherence to ideologies. Lau also stars as a clan chief who dissolves his school in the wake of the Boxer Rebellion, having seen how kung fu failed to stand up against Western firearms. Assassins – including Gordon Liu (“Kill Bill”) and the extraordinary Kara Hui – are dispatched, but come to discover that Lau is not only formidable, but also that his pacifist approach might have a point. The martial arts displays are both thrilling and offbeat, mixing elaborate choreography, unique weapons and dashes of fantasy and broad comedy, the latter of which is best encompassed by Alexander Fu Sheng’s con man character, who gets a show-stopping fight against four parasol-wielding thugs. 88 Films’ Special Edition Blu-ray, which features both English- and Chinese-language (with subs) audio tracks, bundles interviews with Liu and producer Titus Ho, a making-of featurette, and three informative commentaries by several Asian action experts and actor/director Michael Worth.

Cop au vin” (1985, Arrow Video) With their home under siege by a trio of grasping businessmen, an eccentric mother-son duo – postman Lucas Belvaux and scheming, wheelchair-bound Stephane Audran – retaliate through various dirty tricks. A pair of murders brings the two groups to the attention of detective Jean Poiret, who also plays outside the rules to extract the truth. The modest plot of this French small-town thriller is secondary to director Claude Chabrol, who uses the premise as a framework for exploring grey areas in moral territory, and how they’re allowed to flourish under the genteel façade of a sleepy hamlet and its bourgeoisie overseers. Chabrol and Poiret reunited for a second feature anchored by his cop (1986’s “Inspector Lavardin”) and a 1988 TV series. Both “Cop au vin” and “Lavardin” are included in Arrow’s “Lies and Deceit” set, which bundles them with three other Chabrol thrillers and commentary by critic Ben Sachs and interviews with Chabrol, his cast, and observations with historian Ian Christie.

Raiders of Atlantis” (1983, Severin Films) A pair of American mercenaries (Tony King and the eternally aggrieved Christopher Connelly) are caught up in the wave of lunacy that spreads across the Caribbean (played by the Philippines) after the sinking of a Russian sub causes the re-emergence of Atlantis (!), which in turn drives the local population into a frenzy of “Mad Max”-style costumed anarchy. Endearingly berserk collision of action movie tropes and carbons, filtered through the uniquely gonzo perspective of the Italian genre/exploitation film industry; what director Ruggero Deodato lacks in budget, he more than compensates for in lunatic screen spectacle, including some alarming stunt work and an aesthetic palette for the risen Atlantis that fuses Egyptian iconography, crystal skulls (long before Indiana Jones found one), and lasers – lots of lasers – all set to a Eurodisco score. Severin’s Blu-ray offers English- and Italian-language audio along with commentary by King and anecdote-heavy interviews with Deodato and cinematographer Roberto D’Ettore Piazzoli.

Sailor Suit and Machine Gun” (1981, Arrow Video) Japanese pop star Hiroko Yakushimaru wields the titular outfit and gun with considerable gravity in this curious adaptation of the popular manga title by Jiro Akagawa. Ostensibly a spoof of yakuza film conventions – Yakushimari is a teenager who assumes command of her late father’s clan of inept mobsters – “Sailor Suit” unfolds as a bona fide action thriller with both visual bite and artistry thanks to director Shinji Somai, whose mix of careful frame compositions and freewheeling setpieces, as well as the script’s amusing inversions of yakuza character tropes (becoming a yakuza doesn’t dampen Yakushimaru’s spirit in the least) establish “Sailor Suit” as a blood relative of Jonathan Demme and Jim Jarmusch’s comic efforts. Arrow’s Blu-ray includes two versions of the film (theatrical and longer reissue), a making-of doc, and promo items; the accompanying booklet includes an interview between Yakushimaru (who scored a hit with the title theme and filmmaker Kiyoshi Kurosawa (“Wife of a Spy”), who served as the film’s assistant director.

Prince of the City” (1981, Warner Archives Collection) Conscience turns NYPD cop Treat Williams – a member of a special narcotics unit that fattens its members’ bank accounts by skimming off the profits of the drugs they confiscate – to collaborate with the feds against crooked cops and mobsters, but soon finds that his fellow squad members are the real target. No-nonsense police drama-thriller by Sidney Lumet is a counterweight for his “Serpico” by presenting the police and legal system as a morass designed to punish anyone on either side of the moral fence (and often brutally) who works against it; Williams (still underrated after thirty years) leads a cast that exudes realism over star power, including Jerry Orbach, Bob Balaban, Lindsay Crouse, James Tolkan, and briefly, Cynthia Nixon and Lance Henriksen. Warner’s Blu-ray looks terrific and includes a well-made featurette that includes interviews with Lumet, Williams, writer Jay Presson Allen, and Robert Leuci, the real-life cop on which the film is based.

About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and Merry Jane, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for from 1998 to 2014. He has also interviewed countless entertainment figures, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury, and George Newall, who created both "Schoolhouse Rock" and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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