“Storm Riders” – From Comic Book to Live-Action to Animation

13 Oct

“Storm Riders” tells a long and intricate tale of the intertwining destinies of two young martial artists, Wind and Cloud, in the rarefied, mythical universe of competing martial arts clans in a fanciful version of Ming Dynasty China, the kind of setting popularized in the serial narratives of Hong Kong-based authors like Louis Cha (“Legend of the Condor Heroes”). It began its existence in 1989 as a Hong Kong comic book (aka “Fung Wan,” translated as Wind and Cloud) written and drawn by Wing Shing Ma, a recognized genius at home but little-known in the U.S. The comic was adapted into a live-action Hong Kong movie, THE STORM RIDERS, in 1998 starring Ekin Cheng, Aaron Kwok, Sonny Chiba, Kristy Yang and Shu Qi. This was followed by an animated sequel in 2008, STORM RIDER: CLASH OF EVILS, that was produced in China with significant Hong Kong personnel attached. Finally, there was a live-action sequel from Hong Kong in 2009 called THE STORM WARRIORS (or STORM WARRIORS II, as sometimes listed), with Ekin Cheng and Aaron Kwok the only cast members from the 1998 film returning in their roles.

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Bruce Lee Comics (1994)

22 Sep

In looking through boxes of comic books I purchased in the 1990s, I found five issues of “Bruce Lee,” a comic series from 1994, published by Malibu Comics. I have issues #1, 2, 4, 5, and 6. I’m not sure how long the series lasted, but it’s about a character named Bruce Lee, whose similarities to the actual Lee involve getting jobs in the film industry and setting up a school to train students in jeet kune do, a martial arts philosophy Lee devised from his own synthesis of varied fighting styles and methods. The similarity pretty much ends there.

The story is set in southern California at the time it was published, 1994, and not the 1960s when the real Lee was a young aspiring actor and martial arts champion who trained select students, first in Seattle and then in Los Angeles, and took various film and TV acting and fight direction jobs before achieving a short-lived burst of international stardom in the early 1970s, ended tragically by his untimely death from cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 32 in 1973.

I wrote about Lee here in 2013 on the 40th anniversary of his death: https://briandanacamp.wordpress.com/2013/07/20/bruce-lee-40-years-ago-today/#more-1328

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VICE SQUAD (1953) – The Real “Dragnet”

17 Sep

VICE SQUAD (1953) is a sharply-directed, fast-paced black-and-white crime thriller that follows a full shift in a day’s work for a police captain in the Vice Squad of the Los Angeles Police Department. The filmmakers shot it largely on location on a tight schedule and sought authenticity in every scene, adopting a semi-documentary approach that makes it one of the more believable police dramas of the era. As such, it offers a sharp contrast to the popular TV series of the time, “Dragnet” (1951-59), which, as much as I like it and as much as it was based on true cases, has always seemed to me quite stylized in its depiction of the LAPD through the quirky sensibility, off-kilter humor and incessant moralizing of its producer-director-star, Jack Webb, who played Sergeant Joe Friday in the show. I can imagine a conversation among the director, writer and producers of VICE SQUAD, where they wondered what “Dragnet” would look and sound like with someone in the central role who didn’t make speeches to all and sundry and wasn’t immune to bending the rules and making compromises to get the desired results in a case, i.e., someone less like Sgt. Friday (Webb, pictured below) and more like the actual police captain they consulted before making the film.

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Life Meets Godzilla

6 Sep

Life Magazine recently published a special issue devoted to Godzilla, which I found in the magazine rack at my local Walgreen’s. After thumbing through it, I decided to purchase it despite the excessive price of $14.99, since it seemed to be a rare instance of a high-profile mainstream American media outlet covering a Japanese pop culture phenomenon. Granted, it was timed to promote the recent Warner Bros. release of the latest Hollywood Godzilla movie, GODZILLA VS. KONG, but there were enough pictures of the original Japanese Godzilla in the magazine to pique my interest. (Last I checked, Life Magazine and Warner Bros. were both part of the same corporate empire, although that may have changed recently.)

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Deanna Durbin and Her Japanese Fans

15 Aug

I was watching THE WHOLE FAMILY WORKS (1939), a Japanese film directed by Mikio Naruse about a family with seven kids trying to make ends meet in contemporary Japan, when I was struck by a scene 20 minutes into it where the second oldest son, Genji, who has left school to work, opens a magazine or workbook of some kind during a scene where he’s helping his younger brothers study in the room they share and reveals a photo of American movie star Deanna Durbin that he’s hidden in the book.

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LIKE THE CLOUDS, LIKE THE WIND (1990) – Anime Tale of Village Girl-Turned-Empress

19 Jul

 

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In 1992, I bought a VHS tape, an animated feature in Japanese with no subtitles, from a dealer at a comics show and it was pitched to me as a film by Hayao Miyazaki, whose work I’d begun recently exploring. The title was LIKE THE CLOUDS, LIKE THE WIND (KUMO NO YOUNI, KAZE NO YOUNI) and it was from 1990 and 79 minutes long. I watched it with my daughter. It seemed clearly set in China several hundred years ago and followed the progress of a spunky young peasant girl, Ginga, who learns of a drive by the palace to recruit girls to be potential brides or consorts for the new Emperor. She’s picked to join them and embarks on a series of classes and instruction and physical training along with dozens of other girls who are eventually winnowed down to a handful, including her three roommates, each a disparate type. Palace intrigue threatens them on the inside while a rebel army building force threatens them on the outside, eventually forcing the girls to use the palace stocks of cannons, flintlock rifles and other weapons of war to fight back.

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Japanese Bus Rides: MR. THANK YOU and HIDEKO, THE BUS CONDUCTRESS

10 Jun

Two of the most charming Japanese films I’ve ever seen are about bus rides in rural Japan in the pre-war era. MR. THANK YOU (1936), directed by Hiroshi Shimizu, follows a single bus, driven by “Mr. Thank You” (Arigato-san), played by Ken Uehara, as it plies its route along the mountainous roads of the Izu Peninsula towards Tokyo over the course of a long day. HIDEKO, THE BUS CONDUCTRESS (1941), directed Mikio Naruse, chronicles the efforts of a bus conductress, played by Hideko Takamine, who basically punches tickets on a route in farm country, to enhance the ride by announcing to passengers the sites of interest along the way. They’re simple, gentle, touching movies about people trying to make the best out of difficult, economically trying situations.

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“I will never grow tired of hearing stories told” – Quotes from Orson Welles

6 May

The great actor-writer-director Orson Welles would have turned 106 today, May 6, 2021. I did a centennial piece on him six years ago. Thanks to the release of MANK last year, which offered a questionable treatment of Welles’s role in the writing of CITIZEN KANE, I’ve been eager to read Welles’s own account and wound up re-reading three different books of interviews with him and soon forgot all about MANK. Welles is never boring and never predictable and shares extraordinary insights into life, the arts, society, history, and culture. He loved the act of creation, no matter which medium he worked in: film, theater, television, radio, painting, essays, etc. and he loved watching other human beings invested in creating. I’ve been reading portions of lots of other books about celebrated film personalities lately, mostly directors and movie stars, and I’m constantly finding instances of behavior that absolutely appall me. Some directors thought nothing of putting their cast and crew members in situations of great danger and discomfort or simply treating them horribly. These include some of my favorite directors, so I don’t want to name names. Some movie stars made life miserable for other cast members and their directors. But I’ve never heard anything like that about Welles. He seems to have loved working with people and put himself fully into every one of his creative endeavors. Here’s a quote from a 1964 interview done in Madrid that ends with a sentiment I wish more directors had endorsed:

Q: How do you work with actors?

Welles: I give them a great deal of freedom and, at the same time, the feeling of precision. It’s a strange combination. In other words, physically, and in the way they develop, I demand the precision of ballet. But their way of acting comes directly from their own ideas as much as from mine. When the camera begins to roll, I do not impro­vise visually. In this realm, everything is prepared. But I work very freely with the actors. I try to make their life pleasant.

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50 Years in Times Square: Kurosawa and his Western Remakes

8 Apr

On April 8, 1971, 50 years ago today, I made my first trip to see a Japanese movie on the big screen. It was Akira Kurosawa’s SEVEN SAMURAI (1954) and it may have been the first time the full three-and-a-half-hour cut of the film was shown on the big screen in New York. It was also the first fully foreign-language film with English subtitles that I would see in a theater. The theater was the tiny Bijou Cinema on West 45th Street, between Broadway and 8th Avenue in Times Square in Manhattan.  Interestingly, just over two months earlier, on January 28, 1971, I’d seen John Sturges’ THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960), a western remake of SEVEN SAMURAI, for the first time at a theater around the corner from the Bijou, the Victoria on Broadway and 46th Street. On May 20 of that year, I would see Sergio Leone’s A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964), the first in the Italian director’s “Man with No Name” western trilogy starring Clint Eastwood, at the Astor Theater, adjacent to the Victoria on Broadway between 45th and 46th Streets. A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS was an Italian western remake of Kurosawa’s YOJIMBO (1961), which I would then see on July 17, 1971, at the Bijou Cinema around the corner. So I saw Kurosawa’s two greatest samurai films and their western remakes in a six-month time period on one strip of real estate in Times Square, all while I was still in high school. Where else and at what time period could that have happened? I was so lucky to be coming of age as a film buff at just that time.31337908446_1655225bc8 Continue reading

Gamera, Hercules, Ninjas and Giant Robots: American International Television, 1964-1970

12 Mar

Screenshot_2021-02-26 Watch Voyage Into Space Prime Video(19)

I recently watched VOYAGE INTO SPACE (1970) on Amazon Prime, a feature compilation of episodes of “Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot,” an English-dubbed live-action Japanese series that aired in syndication on American TV beginning in 1969. This compilation was never released to theaters but was sold to TV stations as a movie by American International Television, the TV distribution arm of American International Pictures (AIP), which ruled the drive-ins and grindhouses of the 1960s with all manner of low-budget genre and exploitation films.

I had seen VOYAGE INTO SPACE on television around 40 years ago and seeing the AI-TV logo again triggered a memory of quite a few other Japanese films I’d seen from that era that bypassed theaters completely and went straight to TV. Foremost among these were five Japanese movies featuring Gamera, the giant turtle, that had been retitled for American television, all of which I’d seen on TV back then, usually on Channel 7’s 4:30 Movie (WABC), with four of them completely omitting “Gamera” from the titles: WAR OF THE MONSTERS (GAMERA VS. BARUGON, 1966), RETURN OF THE GIANT MONSTERS (GAMERA VS. GYAOS, 1967), DESTROY ALL PLANETS (GAMERA VS. VIRAS, 1968), ATTACK OF THE MONSTERS (GAMERA VS. GUIRON, 1969), GAMERA VS. MONSTER X (GAMERA VS. JIGER, 1970).

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