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Taiwan Noir: Little Hero and The Ghostly Face

Neither my or Kenny B’s affections for Polly Shang Kwan can be overstated. And, as if in perversely obstinate demonstration of that fact, we have turned the latest episode of the Taiwan Noir podcast into a filibuster length, intercontinental mash note to the loveable Taiwanese star. Among the discussed films is The Ghostly Face, a Taiwanese/Indonesian co-production that is one of Polly’s best and most unusual films. And speaking of unusual, what discussion of PSK would be complete without touching upon the awesome Little Hero? Which means that you once again get to hear me gleefully recount that scene where she battles the giant rubber octopi.

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The Hell

The Hell begins humbly enough, with a heavenly being (the subtitles just refer to her as “the Bodhisattva”) descending from the sky on a rainbow to speak with one of the guardians of Hades. Having helped him to “win (his) reputation in the world”, the Bodhissatva wants him to return the favor, and help the wandering young Yan Shyh-shean (Sek Fung, of 13 Worms and The Zodiac Fighters) on his noble quest through the underworld. Shyh-shean isn’t strictly on the hunt for Hell, even if the fates have already decided that he should find it.

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Red Detachment of Women

While presenting challenges of its own, Red Detachment of Womenmay have the power to redeem ballet in the eyes of those of us who have suffered through one too many performances of The Nutcracker. Instead of dancing tea leaves and sugarplum fairies, imagine pitched battles featuring severe, uniformed female dancers, all giving literal meaning to the term “bullet ballet”, with pliés that end in bayonettings and pirouettes that wind up to the hurling of grenades. All that alongside enough fruity, highly stylized scenes of terpsichorean hand-to-hand combat to make Chang Cheh wish he was born a woman.

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On the Trail of the Golem

Visitors to Prague can today trace the history of Rabbi Loew through the still existent monuments, sites, and buildings associated with him. The Old New Synagogue, where Rabbi Loew presided, still stands. Loew’s grave is in Prague’s Old Jewish Cemetery. And a statue of the legendary rabbi — a naked woman draped around his leg, because why not — stands watch outside of the Prague City Hall, along with one of Prague’s other great legends, the Iron Knight.

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El Vampiro Negro

“Tonight you are the luckiest audience in the world,” enthused Film Noir Foundation president Eddie Muller. “Because you get to see this film.” The film, 1953’s El Vampiro Negro, is an Argentinian remake of Fritz Lang’s M. And after that screening, a featured presentation in San Francisco’s venerable Noir City festival, I have to say that Muller was right. I feel very lucky indeed.

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