Hey folks, Harry here... I really want to see the documentary - TAIWAN BLACK MOVIES and the film THE LADY AVENGER... It sounds like this is an entire genre of films that I've never seen and this must be remedied. Read and see what you think... LADY AVENGER sounds awesome!
Hello people at Aint-it-cool,
This is Amahagger Muggle from the 2006 Rotterdam Film Festival. Today I saw two revenge movies: the French thriller "CachÃ©" and the Taiwanese exploitation flick "The Lady Avenger" which was double-billed with a documentary about Taiwanese exploitation cinema.
Directed by Michael Haneke, France/Austria/Germany/Italy 2005.
An upperclass family consisting of two parents (played by familiar faces Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche) and their fourteen year old son anonymously receive weird videotapes. These tapes show nothing but the front of their house being filmed for hours on end, which is of course not amusing and vaguely threatening. Then a tape arrives wrapped in a children's drawing of a bloody face, and the father starts to freak out. He obviously knows more but keeps it to himself, starting his own investigation. What will happen next? Violence? Madness? Murder? Mayhem? Or, even more spooky, NOTHING? I'm not going to tell, but the fact that I included the last option should prepare you for the feeling you get when watching this movie. The feeling that you don't have a clue where this will be going and that everything is yet possible. But don't worry, the "nothing" option doesn't happen (intentionally vague statement, but really, something does happen).
This being the only movie from Michael Haneke I've ever seen, I cannot judge how this fits in with his previous work (of which I've heard the weirdest stories). But if his other movies are as cleverly made as this one I will have to check them out, because CachÃ© (which means "hidden") is a very good thriller.
Michael Haneke wrote the script himself, and I can only say "bravo", a deceptively small and simple story is being told expertly. In it the rules of the revenge-thriller genre are being bent or discarded at will, creating a film which is fresh, tense, creepy and disturbing. Even the opening titles look like nothing I've seen before and effectively help set the mood for the rest of the film. I don't want to write about it too much as that would inevitably lead me into spoiler territory, but a couple of good things in this film need to be mentioned: the stellar acting all round, the incredible mood, the use of racism, the best party joke I've ever heard...
And at one point people outside the cinema must have seen a huge exclamation mark rising from the building, maybe followed by a question mark some time later.
Oh, and if all of this sounds off-putting, the audience rated this very higly indeed with an average of 4.23 out of 5. Seeing as how CachÃ© may not be the easiest film to like, this is quite an achievement.
Lots has already been said about the many omissions in this years' festival. I mean, if Terry Gilliam is around for the first time anyway, why not hold a retrospective of his work? I'd love to be able to see "Time Bandits" and "Brazil" on the big screen.
But certainly the most glaring omission this year must be "Sympathy for Lady Vengeance". For the life of me I cannot imagine why it's not playing here, as it fits the festival like a glove. It was the first thing I was looking for in the schedule. What I found instead was a movie which was called "The Lady Avenger". And a documentary about the group of films "The Lady Avenger" belongs to, the Taiwan Black Movies.
"TAIWAN BLACK MOVIES"
Directed by Hou Chi-jan, Taiwan, 2005.
Filmmaker Hou Chi-Jan had a daytime job typing articles into a movie database, and apparently he saw the weirdest things pass by during this. Even though he's far too young to have experienced this first-hand, he discovered that at the start of the eighties Taiwan had a thriving exploitation cinema industry. Revenge, rape, gangster and gambling films, often subsedised by real gangsters, were churned out by the dozen until the government basically put an end to it. These films were consequently shown as examples of what NOT to do when making pictures, and the Taiwanese art-house cinema jumpstarted from there. Astonishingly, all of the exploitation movies were discarded, most of which never to be seen again (the best examples remaining are actually Hong-Kong bootlegs).
These movies were called Taiwan Black Movies although the term used within the industry was "social realistic pictures" because in the beginning they showed some (very tame) nudity and (not so very tame) violence. Later on of course this changed by demand of an audience craving sensasionalism. A movie about corruption and murder in mainland China turned into a blockbuster by showing nipples for a quarter of a second, which caused producers to think. And in no time there was an industry which showed (besides a small moral lesson) sex as an amusing way to torture women, and violent retribution as... well... FUN! An older "social realistic" movie might show a woman taking a more or less realistic revenge on her rapist, but latter examples had women starting an army of katana-wielding ninja chicks clad in white bikini's fighting dirty men all over China.
So, his interest being peeked by all this naughty stuff, Hou Chi-Jan made a documentary about this short-lived industry. A place where the shortening of production times became such a big issue that you just had to hire gangsters to bully everyone into speeding up the process. He had to search and find every single image and film fragment himself, and especially the movie posters shown are to die for. Hou Chi-Jan also had to try and figure out the history behind this. Nothing had been written on the subject, and people still are very loath to talk about it. In the documentary some movie critics can be seen vehemently denying that they've ever seen a "social realistic" movie, hardly believable given the fact that these pics were topping the charts in their days. Others start apologizing by saying they were still in puberty or (always the ultimate excuse for debauchery) student. Only one actress will grant him a short interview. This makes the documentary a bit sparse, relying heavily on the assumptions of a small group of people. Much is made of the situation in Taiwan at the time, with social unrest being shown through the showing of newspaper headlines.
The bottom-line is that if you like the exploitation genre, check out this documentary because it has a good amount of fragments from these movies. You'll see several eyes being gouged out, stabbings, beatings, with an absolute low being a concentration camp where women are tied to a stake, soaked in petrol and set on fire. All in all an interesting look at a "forbidden" part of Asian film history. And the gangster anecdotes are, unsurprisingly, a lot of fun.
Incidentally, this was a perfect companion piece to "Pink Ribbon", the documentary on Japanese Pink cinema I saw last year.
Hou Chi-Jan presented his movie himself, and held a Q&A afterwards. The biggest problem he had during the making of this documentary was finding fragments, none of these movies having been preserved properly. I commend him on finding as many as he did, and wish him the best of luck showing his labour of love around the world.
After the Q&A the main event started. Chosen as a perfect example of a Taiwan Black Movie, we were shown "The Lady Avenger".
"THE LADY AVENGER"
Yang Chia-yun, Taiwan, 1981.
Having seen parts of this film in the documentary already, we were prepared for the atrocious state the movie was in. No longer available in 35 mm, this 16 mm version is the last remaining copy. It's on loan from the Taiwanese Film Institute, and you feel guilty for watching it, afraid to damage it further. The copy is scratched, censored, and discolorations of all known types can be seen in abundance. As such, I'm not sure why I write a review of this, as chances are that nobody will ever see the film again once it's back in its vault.
Never mind all that: I can finally say that I've seen a revenge flick Quentin Tarentino probably hasn't seen yet. And I have the impression he would looove this one.
The story. Should I warn for spoilers? Because I'm going to tell all.
A female reporter (Yang Hsiao-Fen) covers a trial where an actress accuses a banker (called Mr. Li) of rape. Because everyone assumes the victim was asking for it Mr. Li walks, whereupon the actress attacks him. She later dies under notorious circumstances. The reporter keeps harassing Mr. Li, so he starts to stalk her. One evening she witnesses four men gang-raping a young women. Upon seeing the reporter, they ditch their victim because the reporter is prettier so they chase and rape her instead. The chase is harrowing to watch, the rape itself is thankfully not shown, but you get the picture. Alone, battered and shocked, the reporter is found by Mr. Li who makes use of the opportunity to rape her also.
After this, the movie for a few minutes almost becomes a serious drama. Much is made of the victim's feelings of dirtyness and humiliation. Her husband-to-be breaks up with her, stating: "my fiancee was raped by 5 men, how can I ever face my friends again?". This brought gasps from the audience. Unfortunately he does NOT get killed later on.
But then we return to exploitation land: the reporter decides to hunt and kill the men who defiled her. So now the FUN part starts: without a single wasted shot, you see the five killings in a row. All of them inventive. Here is the list:
-Rapist 1 lured into slaughterhouse, blinded by stroboscope, then butchered with the use of several tools including the largest meathook I've ever seen. The goriest killing, most of it heavily censored but uncensored parts can be spotted during the opening titles of the movie (which basically show the whole movie in two minutes).
-Rapist 2 lured onto roof of highrise, face burned of with blowtorch, lured into a noose, dangled by his ankle over a drop of thirty floors and after suitable time unceremoniously dropped.
-Rapist 3 chased into forest, where he meets a beautiful maiden in Rambo outfit (4 years before Rambo by the way) who seems vaguely familiar, helps her with loading her rifle, suddenly gets chased by her into a beartrap, made to run some more which creates a lot of clunk-clunk noises, and then shot. Yes, this was the most fun and cartoonish one.
-Rapist 4 gets seduced in a hotel room, stabbed in throat when both of them are more-or-less naked. He attacks her but she is waiting for him, striking a pose wearing nothing but a sheet and a Japanese longsword. Most beautiful killing, would fit in many a better movie.
-Rapist 5 is Mr. Li, who is still stalking her and has witnessed all killings. He tries to kill her, but makes the mistake of trying to rape her one last time. She gets her hands on his knife and stabs him for, oh, a minute or five, chasing him through rooms, up and down stairs. All in all there must be about 80 holes in him when he finally topples over a railing (which is so high that he has to jump it first to succesfully fall over it, which made for a good laugh).
This movie is just as bad as your average slasher flick, and it rates high on unintentional laughter. But it has a few redeeming factors. First it was directed by the only female director of "social realistic movies", Yang Chia-yun, which might be why the victim aspect of the rape gets some attention and why the rapists are dealt with in an uncommonly harsh way. Second, the killings are all really fun. Third, the actress Yang Hsiao-Fen who plays the lead is absolutely gorgeous. Apart from being unusually ehm... endowed for such a frail frame, she has a lot of onscreen charisma and generally manages to get away with bad acting unscathed. No matter how bad the movie gets you keep rooting for her.
Although I'm not sure I'd want to delve deeply into the Taiwan Black Movie genre (other Asian countries offer similar prductions which are more extreme or more intelligent, and sometimes both) this one was without a doubt fun. Maybe in the future they'll show another one that was in the documentary called "Lady Revenge". It's the one with the bikini ninja army, and it's condition was pristine compared to "The Lady Avenger". If it ever appears I might go and watch it as a guilty pleasure.
This was Amahagger Muggle, meaning easily bewitched but himself without an ounce of magic.