Movie double part 2 – Kuro-Obi (Black Belt) (2007)

If there’s one thing I’ve continually come to love about Japanese cinema, it’s how they can create something utterly poetic of what many see as a static, mundane or spent medium. Whether it be animation (and let’s pick every Western film critic’s favourite buzz-names, Mamoru Oshii or Hayao Miyazaki [nothing against either director BTW, but there are plenty of other brilliant examples of Japanese animation out there that deserve some love and attention]), or live action martial arts (again, I’ll go mainstream with citing Kurosawa here, again, with no disrespect to him, as his movies are brilliant), outside the awesome fluff and pop-art execution, there are some amazing gems that just come out of nowhere. While the West was late to the party with Kuro-Obi /Black Belt (including yours truly), it is such a beautiful and almost poetic vision of traditional karate during Japan’s shift to totalitarianism that it deserves all the attention it keeps on receiving. For those interested, here’s a trailer:

I’ll leave the discourse to the IMDB entry on it (click here), and while I’d love to fire across a Wikipedia link, I can’t seem to find it in the English version (found it in the Japanese version though). Where I will wax lyrical is in the absolutely stunning form of the three main karate-ka.

My god, words can’t do justice how superb their form is, or of the beauty of the karate in action. There are no wire tricks, CG or other random silliness. The film’s is quiet, reflective and stoic, not unlike the process of learning and performing your favourite kata. The lead actors are actually martial artists first and foremost (and if the IMDB entry is to be taken as accurate, very high ranking ones at that), and thankfully the film is centered around this precept well – the characters don’t have a whole lot of dialogue, and they leave the acting to the supporting cast.

I highly, highly recommend you give this one a look. While I’m not sure about availability of this film in other countries, in Australia Madman Entertainment have it available via their website under their Eastern Eye label, and most good DVD retailers should be able to get it in for you. As far as I know, it hasn’t been murdered with a terrible English language dub at this stage, so you’ll have to do the right thing watch it in Japanese with English subtitles, as you should be anyway 😉

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Movie double part 1 – Best of the Best (1989)

Alright, in my last post I said I would be writing up on two films watched back-to-back over two nights that inspired some true awesomeness. For this post, I’ll be ranting about Best of the Best, a 1989 martial arts flick about a group of American martial artists who compete against an elite Korean martial arts team in a karate tournament. Even though it looks like it’s a taekwondo tournament. Methinks America-town wasn’t familiar with TKD, so it’s karate. Even though it’s mistakenly referred to as TKD in some points. It also features a poor-man’s Eye of the Tiger as the rousing montage theme, which they’ve been kind enough to include in the trailer:

See, doesn’t it just reek of pure awesomeness????? 😀 😀 😀

Surprisingly, this one isn’t too bad for a martial arts flick caught in the late-80s, early-90s cross-over period. There was a real combination of awesome (The Perfect Weapon) and rubbish (too lazy to single one out :P) during this period, often with really stark contrasts, but to be fair, most of the rubbish is hilarious. The fighting choreography isn’t too shabby, with Phillip Rhee’s skills given plenty of room to shine. Their competing cast from Korea weren’t too shabby either.

I guess where the movie comes into its own is in having just the right amount of cheese – despite some occasionally woeful acting, it’s a reasonably enjoyable and senseless romp, possibly enhanced by the presence of super-chief James Earl Jones and the often-typecast Chris Penn (who you may remember from the Bacon-fest that is Footloose, which also happens to be epic and full of win).

There are plenty of 80s and early-90s martial arts flicks that are great popcorn fodder, and Best of the Best ticks every box – unnecessary acting, plenty of biffo, familiar but enjoyable characters, James Earl Jones, montage anthems, demonised view of East Asia, and of course a good helping of Asian mysticism. Leave the sensibilities at the door, otherwise you won’t be able to savour the awesome cheese of it all 🙂

For more info, the IMDB listing is here, and the Wikipedia entry is here. Thanks to magic of Wikipedia, I found out there were apparently three sequels; might have to have a cursory look, though I imagine the cheese factor might be not quite as balanced as the original in the sequels.

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