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Category:    Home > Reviews > Martial Arts Cycle > Action > Drama > Murder > China > History > Horror > Comedy > Zombie > Food > Japan > Gangs > The Assassins (2012/Well Go USA Blu-ray)/Dead Sushi (2012/Millennium Blu-ray)/Hard Romanticker (2011/Artsploitation DVD)/Love Me (2012/Anchor Bay Blu-ray)/Monster (aka Dr. Crimen/1955/One 7 DVD)/Offic

The Assassins (2012/Well Go USA Blu-ray)/Dead Sushi (2012/Millennium Blu-ray)/Hard Romanticker (2011/Artsploitation DVD)/Love Me (2012/Anchor Bay Blu-ray)/Monster (aka Dr. Crimen/1955/One 7 DVD)/Officer Down (2012/Anchor Bay Blu-ray)


Picture: C+/B-/C/B-/C-/C+     Sound: B-/C+/C+/B-/C/C+     Extras: C/C/C+/C-/C/D     Films: C/C-/C-/C/C+/C



Glut equals desperation as this latest cycle of genre films shows what happens when you have no original ideas, save an older film that at least understands the basics and a big new problem of degraded images dives to a new low…



Zhao Yiyang’s The Assassins (2012) is set in 196 B.C. and is loosely based on the story of Cao Cao (Chow Yun Fat), a Prime Minister who becomes a self-appointed king and intends to rule any way he pleases, but assassins are being trained to stop him and this Wi-Fu semi-epic wants to tell us this story, yet cannot find much new in the way of doing so.  Though all shot on 35mm film, most of the images are degraded so badly in different ways (in an attempt to expand the narrative) that instead of creating a new kind of film, it becomes very mechanical and constantly gets in the way of suspension of disbelief.


The choreography is nothing great and script everything we have pretty much seen before.  This runs only 103 minutes, but feels longer covering several decades and though the money is on the screen, you cannot see it with the constant parade of degraded styles.  Even ignoring that, this never felt like its period and was surprisingly forgettable.  The actors are not bad either, but they are fighting a losing battle against pretension and desperation.  Had the makers just left the images alone, this would have at least run more smoothly and like the period, but the more degrading we see, the more it is like watching a very, very bad music video.


Extras include a trailer and behind the scenes featurette.



There are absolutely no pretensions in Noboru Iguchi’s Dead Sushi (2012) that mixes the martial arts genre and Asian food culture with the zombie genre as a nitwit with a formula tries it on the title animal to be eaten, only to bring it to life and cause unsuspecting innocent people to be killed (often in bloody, brutal fashion) by sushi that lives again.  It is a one-joke idea that leaves no stone unturned, but at 91 minutes, it wears very thin very quickly and is not as funny as those making it apparently think it is.  For genre fans only!


Extras include a Making Of featurette, Original Theatrical Trailer, World Premiere Stage Greeting, Fantasia Film Festival Interview and an eating contest ti3ed into this release.



Gu Su-Yeon’s Hard Romanticker (2011) is a rough tale of young gangsters on the streets of Tokyo with young Yakuza and a Korean anti-hero named Gu (Shota Matsuda) who gets into multiple conflicts while trying to get by and is more than formidable on his own when it comes to violence.  Far from Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971, reviewed elsewhere on this site), the film reminds one more of the confined world of teen youth in Brick (also reviewed on this site) where is it semi-real, never surreal and consistent in the world it builds.


However, this one gets carried away with its blood, violence, clichés and the way it both minimalizes women and trivializes the issue of rape is pretty bad, dumb and idiotic to the point of simply being unrealistic and ruining a work that had some energy going for it.  This is not a rejection on moral grounds, though that would occur to many viewers paying attention, but on sloppiness and self-indulgence.  Too bad, because this was very promising at first, then it slowly implodes (too self impressed with itself) and becomes a very wasted opportunity.  Other plot points fall apart as well, but I’ll save those for those who actually still decide to see it.


Extras include an 8-page illustrated Collector’s Booklet on the film including informative text and look at the Toei Studios, plus the Original Theatrical Trailer.



Rick Bota’s Love Me (2012) is very similar in wanting to take a familiar story and put it among teens, but not as isolated or self-contained as Brick or Hard Romanticker, we have the “will he kiss me or will he kill me” tale Alfred Hitchcock did so well in Spellbound and Notorious decades ago, but the makers here have no idea how to make it work so they throw in sex, clichés, the torture porn look, obvious predictability and more degraded images!


It is once again very desperate, but the makers think this will help (or help distract) the viewer, but it again looks like a bad music video trying to be a bad thriller and when it comes to awful, succeeds.  A young new student (Lindsey Shaw) is trying to find a guy to be in love with, but when “Mr. Right” (Jamie Johnston) shows up, he may be a killer.  Yawn!  Bore me might be a better title and it does tend to trivialize violence against women, by the way.


Extras in two featurettes including a Behind The Scenes piece and Scenes From The Set segment.



So we’ll go back a bit for Chano Urueta’s Monster (aka Dr. Crimen) to 1955 for this sometimes surreal, black and white Mexican production that shows a love of the genre achieving a constantly odd look and feel without trying so hard like most of the new productions on this list.  A female reporter (Miroslava) answers a bizarre ad to meet a man (Linares Riva) to get a story, but she is putting her life in danger and within a few minutes of meeting him (he is hiding his face behind several scarves) should abandon the story and run.


However, she stays and is crazy enough to go to his house with him!  There, he has strange statues (they look like frozen dead, dressed female bodies, but she still stays!) as he explains he is deformed (we will hypothesize you guessed that one already, so no e-mails about spoilers, OK?) and she tells him she sees him as human, which touches him.  However, this does not last and he’ll go mad and soon kill for reasons we’ll save for those who want to see the film.


The inspirations range from German Expressionist cinema to Universal Horror Films, but this film is credited for starting up the Horror genre in Mexico and I can see why with its mix of Beauty & The Beast, House Of Wax, Frankenstein and even Dracula on some level, doing what it does well even if it is not very original.  It shows how if you care, you can do the genre without coming up with much new and still makes an effective thriller.  Too bad most making films in the genre lately do not understand that simply point.  Horror fans should see this one at least once.


Extras includes a Poster Gallery and DVD-ROM accessible Italian Photonovel (they put word bubbles like a comic book on stills form the film and you read it that way) of the film.



Finally we have Stephen Dorff in Brian A. Miller’s Officer Down (2012) which wants to be Noir-like and does not know how to do it, but we have a cop played by Dorff who talks to the audience in voice over as if it is a given he is talking from the grave.  But is he dead?  When is he dead?  Can he avenge himself and someone else before becoming dead for good?  Nothing supernatural is here as someone saves him from dying because they have vengeance of their own they need taken care of, but our cop is dirty bad and that might not help either of them.


This might have worked if it did more than make all this a mechanical exercise, but the worst part of this despite having a supporting cast that includes David Purcell, David Boreanaz, Stephen Lang and James Woods is a parade of…  more degraded images!!!


Yes, anything that could have worked is sabotaged by a series of different ways to degrade the image and though not quite as obnoxious as the examples of this above, is still awful and neither the performances (which are not bad) or the script can save what could have been more interesting if the makers just concentrated and tried to do more.  You have been warned if you watch.

There are no extras.



Despite the obsession for degrading the images, the four Blu-rays here are the best image playback performers, even if that is with reservations.  The 1080p 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image on Love Me and Sushi are the best here, but again, they have their issues with detail issues, motion blur and other fidelity issues (including some caused on purpose) that make these far from consistent, stellar performers.  The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image transfers on Assassins and Down have even more degradation issues throughout and not just because of their aspect ratio.  They are also very disappointing and I cannot believe they look as poor as they do, but expect to be shocked, even if you don’t mind images being so all the time.


The anamorphically enhanced 1.85 X 1 image on Romanticker is softer than any of the Blu-rays and some of it is from decoloring the image, but in this case, the format is partly the culprit, so this should look at least a little better on a Blu-ray edition, but still has its down-styled intends.  The 1.33 X 1 black and white image on Monster is from a really rough, scratched, weak, soft print and transfer, but it at least is a real black & white print with real silver in it.  This film needs saved and restored badly, so I hope this VDD gets the film enough fans to make that happen.


The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix on Assassins and Dolby TrueHD

5.1 on Love Me are towards the front speakers and lack consistent soundfields (the recordings are also an issue at times), but they are the best-sounding releases on this list. 


The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix on Officer and lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes on the Sushi Blu-ray (Where’s the lossless track?  They likely understood their soundmaster was weak.) and Romanticker DVD are next up for best sonic performance, but that is not a good thing with sound coming too much from center channels, having distortion, compression and often pushing it to be 5.1 in the first place.


That leaves the lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 mono on Monster showing its age and sounding scratchy, but it plays better than its picture and has a good music score by Raul Lavista that is better than the other entries on this list.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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