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1-Ichi (DVD)

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Ichi the Killer has a prequel. A glimpse into the beginnings of one of the strangest, yet most compelling characters borne out of subversive or extreme cinema. The first Ichi was a testament to the beauty of the weird, an epithet to the outrageous. While an interpretation of a popular manga, Ichi the Killer was kissed with the creative cunning of a man all too well known to most genre fans, Takashi Miike. His gonzo style and flair for the freakish made the film an instant classic. It has a kinetic rhythm that is hard to defeat. The film made the most of wolf in sheepish clothing Ichi, keeping him mysterious and deadly, while at the same time odd. Ichi the Killer may not be a movie for everyone, but those who do enjoy it seem to enjoy it a lot. Which is why the prequel is such a monstrous and enigmatic problem.

Had Ichi the Killer never existed, had Miike become a preschool teacher, or had Hideo Yamamoto fallen into love with a daughter of an oil tycoon and written romance novels, maybe then 1-Ichi would not have to play up to the brotherly behemoth that is its predecessor. Maybe the film then would be a bit more . . . something. I cannot tell you why, but the film WANTS to be everything its follow-up is but at the same time tries so hard not to be. It differs in a lot of ways, but with the soul of the film being Ichi himself, it cannot break free of the original concept framework. It cannot break out and be its own beast. Each time we see the cherubic face of Nao Omori (back to play Ichi once more), we recall the frenzy that will ensue and somehow yearn for it.

This internal pleading is what compels you to watch 1-Ichi, but beware; you may be left holding your head, anxiously awaiting more only to not find it.

The movie is not bad at all. It is a serious character study and social examination of a world that parallels the brother-eat-brother world of the Yakuza (Japan’s native organized crime group) very well, a world of high school brimming with gangs, bullies, and girls. The film is riddled with complex yet simple characters who neither offend nor remain memorable for too long. Almost everyone in the cast is much older than what they are supposed to be according to the script, especially Nao Omori. His once smooth face is showing lines and wear. Whether this is a lack of makeup or the different style of film or light, it gives him an appearance that is much more advanced than the two years between the filming of this film and Miike’s Ichi

Aside from the age discrepancy, the film has its strength in its cast and their performances. It is comforting to the soul that Nao reprises the role. Recasting him would have been the death of the movie on conception. Sorry to do this, but he IS Ichi. No one else will ever hold that crown. Nao’s face and demeanor have been fused with the very image of a crying, rage ridden, repressed, ejaculating killer. He sniffles and weeps with conviction. Yet within we all know what lies asleep, and when it does show its ugly head, when the killer in Ichi is awakened, it does so with the same temper tantrum of uncontrolled unwillingness. Ichi just wants to be alone; he doesn’t want to kill. He is a gentle soul, a free spirit, a lover of subtle beauty. Ichi has a childlike quality that is irresistible, and this is his downfall.

The story in 1-Ichi revolves around Mr. Dai, a bully who prides himself on being the best fighter in school. Dai is played by an actor named Teah, a veteran of Miike’s impossible worlds in Dead or Alive 2. Dai is the type of character who could be just a one-dimensional creation – all fists and fury. But in a similar twist recalling the sheriff from Blazing Saddles, he has done it all, seen it all, and has grown bored with beating up and nearly killing the same kids over and over again. Dai is down and out, at least emotionally. His fists hit like bricks, but his face is flaccid. He has no love for this anymore. He is empty, until . . .

During a fight one day he spies Ichi watching him mash and mangle. Dai is intrigued by Ichi; he feels the innate power to Ichi and wants so desperately to unleash it. Dai senses the possibility that he is no longer #1 at the school. The alpha male has a challenger; yet, Ichi, for all Dai’s taunts, just will not provide the promised pummeling. Perhaps it’s because Ichi senses that Dai is a good kid, or perhaps it’s because Ichi is sexually attracted to Dai, but Dai just cannot hit the right buttons, the sick buttons to throw Ichi into that sexual transgressive state of uber-overdrive kicking and spewing semen – killing and coming – the Ichi we all know and love.

This stalemate between Dai’s wants for Ichi and Ichi’s impotence is shattered when Onizame, a new kid, comes to school. Very well trained in Hapkido, Onizame is a force to be reckoned with. He is base and degenerate, not following any rules or codes of honor like the valiant Dai. In a school where there is no authority at all (and I mean this; there are NO teachers or adults portrayed in the film), Onizame is allowed to rule supreme. He takes what he wants and is happy to do so. Kôji Chihara chillingly plays Onizame. He has a smug wit about him; he delivers the crunching attacks on the school with zeal and flair. Onizame senses the power in Ichi. Unwittingly he is the only one present when it is finally unleashed, and he wants Ichi to fight him as well. This creates the perfect love triangle, well kinda.

The film is directed by Masato Tanno. Tanno used to be Miike’s assistant director on such films as the first Ichi and several Dead or Alive films. Tanno’s approach to the film is far more restrained than Miike’s. The sets are clean and spare. The characters are subdued. The fights are filmed with bone crunching effect, especially some of the Hapkido twisting moves done by Onizame. Where Miike kept the violence to gore and cuts, Tanno keeps it in your face and packs it in your ears with an unflinching lingering on the destruction to the internal skeletal structure. Grimace inducing grindhouse cinema at its ghastly best.

Unearthed has packaged the film with a sparse set of features. There is a wonderful interview with Tanno and Miike sitting down to discuss the film and what its merits are. Miike is one twitchy fucker. You can see his mind just not wanting to sit still; no wonder the guy makes about 20 films a year. Tanno looks happy to be there but nervous. He even comes out and tells you he’s nervous, not because of being with Miike again, but because usually their conversations devolve into 4th grade potty humor, and he was apprehensive of that occurring again for the disc!

Is 1-Ichi a good film? Yes. Is it the same kind of extreme film that warrants attention by exploitation lovers? Yes. Completeists? Yes. What it lacks is all due to comparisons to Miike’s original. Lovers of the wacky world wrought in the first will be woeful. This is not Ichi II. Nor is it a redux.. The movie works in its own right, cascading to a climax that is the ultimate build-up. We leave this movie wanting to see the next. We want to know more about this man, this demon-filled boy who seems to have something buried within him. As soon as 1-Ichi is over, one finds himself reaching for the sequel. And when that sequel is Ichi the Killer, that may not be a bad thing at all!

1-Ichi (2003)
(Unearthed Films)
Directed by Masato Tanno
Starring Nao Omori, Teah, Kôji Chihara, Eiki Kitamura, Yuki Oikawa

Special Features
Japanese language with removable English subtitles
Takashi Miike and Masato Tanno one-on-one interview
Trailers

3 ½ out of 5

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The Housemaid Review – Love Makes the Ghost Grow Stronger

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Starring Nhung Kate, Jean-Michel Richaud, Kim Xuan

Written and directed by Derek Nguyen


Vietnamese horror films are something of a rarity due largely to pressure from the country’s law enforcement agencies that have warned filmmakers to steer clear of the genre in recent years. The country’s exposure to the industry is limited, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a handful of filmmakers out there that are passionate and determined to get their art out into the world. IFC Midnight has stepped up to the plate to shepherd writer/director Derek Nguyen’s period ghost thriller The Housemaid in hopes of getting it in front of American horror fans.

Aside from a few moments that delve into soap opera territory, Nguyen’s film is full of well-crafted scares and some surprisingly memorable scenes that sneak up at just the right times. For history buffs there’s also a lot of material to sink your teeth into dealing with French Colonial rule and mistreatment of the Vietnamese during the 1950’s. Abuse that, if you’re not careful, could lead to a vengeful spirit seeking atonement.

Desperate and exhausted after walking for miles, an orphaned woman named Linh (Kate) seeks refuge and employment as a housemaid at a large rubber plantation in 1953 French Indochina. Once hired, she learns of the dark history surrounding the property and how her mere presence has awakened an accursed spirit that wanders the surrounding woods and dark corners of the estate. Injured in battle, French officer Sebastien Laurent (Richaud) returns to preside over the manor and, unexpectedly, begins a dangerous love affair with Linh that stirs up an even darker evil.

Told in flashbacks, the abuse of workers reveals a long history of mistreatment that enshrouds the surrounding land in darkness and despair, providing ripe ground for a sinister spirit that continues to grow stronger. Once it’s revealed that the ghost has a long history with Laurent before her death, the reasons she begins to kill become more and more obvious as the death toll piles up. Using the real life history of indentured servants during Colonial rule, The Housemaid becomes more than just a self-contained ghost story, adding a good deal of depth to a story that could have just centered around a love triangle among Laurent, Linh, and the specter of Laurent’s dead wife.

Powered by desire to avenge tortured workers of the past and the anger fueled by seeing her husband in the embrace of a peasant girl, the apparition is frightening and eerily beautiful as she stalks her victims. One scene in particular showing her wielding an axe is the most indelible image to take away from the film, and other moments like it are what make The Housemaid a standout. The twisted sense of romance found in a suffering spirit scorned in death is the heart of the story even if the romance between the two living lovers winds up having more screen time.

The melodrama and underwhelming love scenes between Linh and Laurent are the least effective part of The Housemaid, revealing some of Nguyen’s limitations in providing dialogue and character moments that make us connect with these two characters as much as we do when the ghost is lurking around the frame. What does help to save the story is a well kept secret revealing a connection with the housemaid and the apparition.

Honestly, if this was an American genre film, the limitations seen in The Housemaid might cause more criticism, but seeing an emerging artist and his team out of Vietnam turn out a solid product like this leads me to highlight the good and champion the effort in hopes of encouraging more filmmakers to carry the flag. Ironically, the film is set for a U.S. remake in the near future.

The Housemaid hits select theaters, VOD, and digital platforms TODAY, February 16th.

  • Film
3.0

Summary

Using the real life history of indentured servants during Colonial rule, The Housemaid becomes more than just a self-contained ghost story, adding a good deal of depth to a story that could have just centered around a love triangle.

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Scorched Earth Review – Gina Carano Making Motherf**kers Pay In The Apocalypse

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Starring Gina Carano, John Hannah, Ryan Robbins

Written by Bobby Mort and Kevin Leeson

Directed by Peter Howitt


Let me preface this review by stating right off the bat that I’m a huge Gina Carano fan, and will pretty much accept her in any role that she’s put in (are you going to tell her no), regardless of the structure and plausibility behind it, and while that might make me a tad-bit biased in my opinions, just accept it as that and nothing more. Now that I’ve professed my cinematic devotion to the woman, let’s dive headlong into her latest film, Scorched Earth.

Directed by Peter Howitt, the backdrop is an apocalyptic world brought on by the imminent disaster known as global warming, and the air has become toxic to intake, generally leaving inhabitants yacking up blood and other viscous liquids after a prolonged exposure, unless you’re one of the privileged that possesses a filter lined with powdered silver. Filters of water and the precious metal are in high demand, and only true offenders in this world still drive automobiles, effectively speeding up the destruction of what’s left of the planet. Carano plays Atticus Gage, a seriously stoic and tough-as-nails bounty hunter who is responsible for taking these “criminals” down, and her travels lead her to a compound jam-packed with bounties that will have her collecting riches until the end of time…but aren’t we at the end of time already? Anyway, Gage’s main opponent here is a man by the name of Thomas Jackson (Robbins) – acting as the leader of sorts to these futuristic baddies, the situation of Gage just stepping in and taking him out becomes a bit complicated when…oh, I’m not going to pork this one up for you all – you’ve got to invest the time into it just as I did, and trust me when I tell you that the film is pretty entertaining to peep.

While Carano’s acting still needs some refining, let there be no ever-loving mistake that this woman knows how to beat the shit out of people, and for all intents and purposes this will be the thing that carries her through many a picture. There are much larger roles in the future for Gina, and she’ll more than likely take over as a very big player in the industry – hey, I’m a gambling man, and I’ve done pretty well with my powers of prognostication. With that being said, the thing that does hold this picture back is the plot itself- it’s a bit stale and not overly showy, and when I look for a villain to oppose the hero, I’m wanting someone with at least a shred of a magnetic iota, and I just couldn’t latch onto anything with Robbins’ performance – his character desperately needed an injection of “bad-assness” and it hurt in that particular instance.

In the end of it all, I’d recommend Scorched Earth to fans of directionless, slam-bang wasteland pics with a touch of unrestrained violence…plus, Gina Carano is in it, so you can’t go wrong. If you’re not a fan of any of the above, feel free to skate on along to another piece of barren territory.

  • Scorched Earth
3.0

Summary

Looking to get your butt kicked in the apocalypse with extreme prejudice? Drive on up, and allow me to introduce you to someone who’ll be more than happy to oblige.

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The Good Friend Book Review – A Slasher Story for the Facebook Generation

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Written by Marcus Sabom


I’m not usually a big fan of murder mysteries, but Marcus Sabom’s novel The Good Friend has certainly done a lot to make me reconsider my stance on the genre. Sabom, who is currently turning the book into a film, appears to have a real gift when it comes to keeping the reader on the edge of their seat

Usually, if you were told that a book contains an ensemble cast of four central characters instead of one main protagonist, you’d probably lose interest right away because we tend to connect with singular point of view characters more than we do with ensembles. However, Sabom proved me wrong in this regard, because each of the four leading women in The Good Friend were such engaging people with such real problems that I never felt like there were too many characters and plot threads to keep track of.

To give a brief overview of our four principal players, we have Sarah, who wants to be in a meaningful relationship after her asshole boyfriend dumps her, Alana, a slightly older woman stuck in a loveless marriage with a manipulative husband who tries to turn her kids against her, Megan, who has to deal with crazy stalkers, and Rita, who is traumatized by a vengeful psycho named Caleb after he attempts to belittle and humiliate her.

With this being a book set in modern times, they naturally use social media to broadcast their problems to the world. Now, we all know about the dangers of chronicling every step of our lives on social media, but Sabom takes things to a whole other level. Because after the aforementioned women post about their troubles on Faceplace (which is basically Facebook, but with a name Mark Zuckerberg can’t take legal action against), a masked killer begins to permanently put an end to their man problems. Whoever the knife-wielding psycho is, he’s clearly a mutual friend of all the women, because he obviously looks at their posts.

One of the only male characters in The Good Friend who wasn’t a complete asshole was Detective Jack Miller, a cop investigating the case of the misandrous serial killer. Miller is described as occasional leaning towards antinatalism, the belief that people should stop reproducing because the human race should not continue to exist. I’ve also always believed that human beings should stop reproducing because we are beyond saving, so I’m glad that Sabom was able to tap into an area that deserves far more open discussion rather than being a social taboo.

The book itself is just under three-hundred pages in length and uses relatively large text, so most readers will probably get through the whole thing in about three days. Whilst the prose was certainly easy to digest, there were a number of errors and typos that would be painfully obstructive to most of us, the most obvious being that it confuses the phrase ‘couldn’t care less’ with ‘could care less’, which, as you know, means the exact opposite.

However, if you’re looking for a easy to digest murder mystery that will keep you guessing until the very end, The Good Friend is certainly an ideal recommendation. At the very least, the book should teach you not to make negative posts about people on Facebook or other social media sties, because a knife-wielding killer might be looking at your status.

  • The Good Friend
4.0

Summary

An easy to digest slasher story that will keep you guessing until the very end, The Good Friend serves as a perfect reminder of the darker side of social media.

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