A Blood Pledge (2008) Whispering Corridors 5 Review

The last in a series about South Korean all-girl schools, A Blood Pledge also known as Whispering Corridors 5, is the only one set obviously in a Catholic School. It is interesting to note that each film in the series, which are all considered part of the franchise, has a different director and writer.

All have similar themes, an emphasis on friendship and betrayal of same, fierce competition for grades/scores in class, which in turn leads to even more competition to get into a good university.

Girl crushes, teen pregnancy, Korean teenage girls portrayed as bitchy, bullying and overly obsessed with money and class, dysfunctional family units, and betrayal all are part of the franchise formula along with curses, urban myths and of course supernatural occurrences.

The first three films in the series are really the best. In my honest opinion, as the “sequels” continued they borrowed freely from whatever new trends in Asian horror were prevalent at the time of filming or when writing screenplays.

A Blood Pledge is directed by Jong Yong-Lee, who was actually a co-writer on the superior 2002 film Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Yong-Lee also wrote the screenplay for A Blood Pledge and the film marks his second time in the director’s chair, his second credit for writing and first feature length film.

Now, despite what IMDb maintains the storyline is; it is not about FOUR friends who make a suicide pact. There are only three who decide to swear an oath that they will die before their time. The mistake seems to have been brought about because a fourth joins the group later, after the blood oath, or pledge, and she is the only one who perishes.

Leader of an elite trio of friends, Eugene, or Eun-Jo, is a manipulative little schemer who does not like losing at anything. As she has been knocked off her spot as student with the highest grade average, mainly because of her “out of school” romance with the rich love rat Ki-ho, she comes up with a plan to knock current leader Yoo-Jin out of the top spot. Her grades have slipped so much that she is no longer in the list of top ten best students.

Eugene kicks an old established member out of her group and woos Yoo-Jin’s best mate Soy into her little trio, with the idea that the former straight A student will become so upset that her grades will drop. The plan backfires when Ki-ho goes after the new girl and in the process, dumps Eugene and impregnates Soy.

Oops!

She then plans to kill Soy, win back Ki-ho and resume her place as top straight A student. Unfortunately everything goes wrong when Yoo-Jin goes over the side of a school building instead of Soy and dies. The dead girl soon begins appearing and her younger sister keeps approaching Soy for answers.

The school, broken into various cliques and class loyalties, is a hotbed of rumors, theories, backbiting and mudslinging between the different factions.

A Blood Pledge is entertaining. Sadly, though, it is not a fitting end to the brilliant trilogy that started the whole thing off. While it does not borrow quite so heavily from the franchise as Voice did for example, the film feels like a poor relative to the series and seems as though it was meant to be a “made for TV” version of the franchise.

It is confusing and hard to follow at times, mainly because of flashbacks and the fact that Eugene, Eun-Jo and Soy resemble each other so much. It would have helped if the director had at least changed their hairstyles a bit. At times other events transpire that never have a real explanation of why or what exactly had been done. The locker scene in particular, you’ll know what I mean when you see it.

Another example is the “evil mother of the rich love rat” car scene. Good stuff, but it did not really fit the motif here…

I would recommend watching A Blood Pledge, and Voice actually, just so you can finish the franchise off. Then sit down and watch the first three and enjoy the best the series has to offer.

That’s it from me this week so until next time, keep watching the movies and have fun!

Here is the video from my YouTube channel where I talk about the film. Enjoy:

22 May 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014): Black and White Brilliance

Film posterIf the title has not provided a clue, let me spell it out, I adore this film. Written and directed by Ana Lily Amirpour with a cast that trounces their respective roles, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a study in black and white brilliance. The decision to make this a monochrome production was bold and fitting for an urban myth story set in an Iranian town, called Bad City.

Apparently life in the petroleum pump filled burg is cheap, or at least not valued too greatly as there seems to be a wash, or gully, on the edge of town filled with dead bodies. One wonders whether or not the stiff “cadavers” piled deep are not mannequins until later when the local “master” criminal is killed and his body dragged to the local “pit” and dropped in.

The film begins with a young man, Arash (played by relative newcomer Arash Marandi) who collects a large cat from an abandoned building. After a young boy begs him for money he gets in his prized car, that he bought after performing well over 2,000 odd jobs, and goes home to his heroin addicted father. A visit from the Jack-of-all-trades crime lord Saeed (This guy is Bad City’s Godfather of naughtiness; pimp, drug pusher and an all round nasty bit of work.)

As Arash’s father, Hossein owes Saeed money, he takes the son’s car keys and vehicle in payment. While the one man crime wave is collecting money from his hooker, he sees a cloaked figure in the dark. He keeps all the money given and knocks Atti, his prostitute, out of Arash’s car. He later talks to the hooded figure, who turns out to be a beautiful girl, and entices her to come into his home.

The film really begins its first twist in this scene and continues to shift in mood, purpose and destination throughout. Set in Iran, but filmed in Bakersfield and Taft, California, Amirpour has delivered a feature length treatment of her original short 2011 film of the same title.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is clever, stylish, funny, thoughtful, eerie and impressive as hell. I dare anyone who loves film to watch this and not get totally swept up in its imagery and delivery. Sheila Vand, who plays “The Girl” will captivate the viewer with an aura that makes her both alluring and vulnerable.

There is a scene with the actress where she comes in possession of a skateboard. This incident in the film begins on a scary note which suddenly shifts moods. All of the actresses chosen for the three main roles, Rome Shandaloo and Mozhan Marnò and of course Vand, are beautiful women who are impressive actors and not just “pretty faces.”

The lighting for this black and white masterpiece is spot on, with scenes set up by utilizing a delicate balance between light and shadow. The decision to have things go very dark at emotional turning points is a brave one that works extremely well.

Arash Marandi is the male equivalent to Vand’s “Girl” and he is another actor for audiences to keep an eye on. This young man will most assuredly become a star with an appeal not seen since Omar Shariff made people swoon, “back in the day.”

Fans of world cinema will adore this quirky tale, filmed in Persian with subtitles. For those who are not fans of having to read the dialogue at the bottom of the screen, you are missing a brilliant film. It is streaming on Netflix at the moment and well worth the 100 minutes spent watching it.

5 out of 5 stars.

Watch it.

20 May 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Getting My Mojo Back…Sort Of

Trailer for my new channel

Well, it’s been a long time coming, but I’m getting my Mojo back…sort of. For a good while I had a fair presence on the Internet. My blog and two channels on YouTube where I talked about film, one of which was a co-channel with my daughter, who now has a new channel – Critique Quest. On a side note, if you’ve not seen her channel, head on over and subscribe…tell her I sent ya.

My time spent working for the Internet publication that “shall not be named” (Thanks for that little quote Marilyn!) suddenly pared down my contributions for anything other than that particular site. Learning later that the publisher utilized black hat techniques frowned upon by Auntie Google, I was very glad to leave.

Now I’m back on track with having my dulcet tones and balding head back on YouTube. My good friend Jacob Tiranno on Chasing Cinema allowed me the wonderful privilege of being a guest on a number of his podcasts and while one could not feast their eyes on my old-ness, they could hear me. These “appearances” made me yearn for the days when I reviewed favorite films and talked World Cinema.

It has been a while since I left the Vegas area and the publication, but I’ve now sorted out a new channel and will be loading a new video tomorrow and will be attempting to keep this new venue moving. For those who have not seen my announcements via the old channel, here is the link.

If you are not too tired of hearing my opinions and stories on here, please stop by. Kick off your shoes, relax and enjoy yourself. For those who may wonder what I used to sound like in my reviews, check out my old channels, here and here.

Here is the “trailer” to my new channel:

Plus, my “notice” on my old channel (Which explains the different accents):

If you are not “bovvered” by this news, disregard the post and wait. I’ll be doing another one very, very soon.

24 April 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

EXTE aka Hair Extensions (2007) Hirsute Black Comedy

Poster for Hair Extensions aka EXTEEXTE OR Hair Extensions is a 2007 black comedy horror film made by the Shion Shono (who made the “based on a true story” horror film Cold Fish in 2010) and in EXTE Chiaki Kuriyama (Battle Royale, Kill Bill Vol 1 and 2) plays very much against type as a hairdresser in training who must take on a madman and a lot of cursed hair extensions to save herself and her niece.

At the start of the film two Japanese character actors who seem to be in pretty much every J-Horror film ever made open a shipping container because it smells. Upon opening the thing, they discover it is full of human hair. A body is also found and taken off to the police morgue.

Once it arrives, assistant and hairdresser(?) Tatsuo Sugarawa, played by Ken Mitsuichi (Audition, 13 Assassins) becomes obsessed with the bald-headed corpse and takes her home. Once there, he discovers that she is continuing to grow hair which he cuts off and sells, or gives away, to local hairdressers.

Unfortunately the hair is possessed and whomever gets one of the extensions soon dies, some after they’ve killed someone else. It seems the hair contains memories of the dead young lady who was murdered for her organs. Yuko and Yuki are roommates, the first a hairdresser in training and the latter a dancer in training.

Yuko (Kuriyami) is an optimistic, funny and good natured girl whose dream is to become a professional stylist. Her sister, Kiyomi is a nasty bit of work who abuses her daughter Mami and drops her off with Yuko when she wants.

As the hair begins claiming more victims, Tatsuo becomes more and more consumed with his dead girl and he begins behaving bizarrely. The film has its funny moments and other times there are scenes which are surreally entertaining.

In terms of the Asian fascination with long black hair, this movie is the ultimate homage to all things hirsute and creepy. Some of the scenes with the hair extensions are difficult to watch and others just are just flat out horrible. Despite this urge to turn away from the screen, or to at least watch through one’s fingers, overall the movie is more funny than scary.

It has to be said that the scenes with the girl after she is caught by the organ traffickers (with its Christmas music background) are more sad than terrifying and while these are disturbing to watch, the film does fall firmly into black comedy territory.

For those who do not like subtitled films, EXTE comes with dubbing that, to be honest, is not too horrible. At least the American market one features “normal” voices and not those cut glass English accents of The Grudge fame. A definite winner from the chap who brought the brilliant Cold Fish to screen.

Hide and Seek [Sum-bakk-og-jil] 2013 (Review and Trailer)

Hide and Seek

Written and Directed by Jung Huh this offering appears to be his first ever feature film and Hide and Seek is set against an urban myth of squatters in South Korea who live illegally in homes while the owners are still in them. On top of this myth, is the story of a successful business owner  attempting to find his estranged and missing brother.

The movie starts in a derelict section of town, a woman is talking to her boyfriend on her cell phone as she walks home. After almost being mugged, or assaulted, she says that she can no longer live in this neighborhood. As she gets in the lift, a stranger in black motorcycle gear gets on with her and as the young woman warily keeps an eye on the helmeted figure, she goes into her flat.

Shortly after entering the woman discovers that someone has been in her apartment while she was out. She goes to confront her next door neighbor, the person in the helmet, and this mysterious figure shows up and murders the woman in her own home.

The businessman, who owns a coffee shop/restaurant has OCD and despite this little problem, which he takes medication for, he has a normal family with two children and a wife. He receives a phone call saying that his estranged brother has gone missing and once he hears this bit of information his OCD gets worse.

Seong-soo, the businessman, goes to collect his missing brother’s belongings and tries to track him down. The film is a combination of mystery, drama, thriller and horror. The “villain” in the film is terrifying enough to give the audience nightmares. Not because of their appearance but because of the level of their madness.

One viewer felt that Hide and Seek is a reimagining of Dream Home, but there is no basis for this at all. Dream Home, the 2010 Hong Kong horror film about a desperate woman who uses murder as a way to get around the problem of over-expensive real estate, bears no resemblance to this little treat from South Korea.

There are plenty of nail bitting moments in this 107 minute film and as a first effort for the director it does not fail to impress. All the actors convince in their various roles and the subplot of a brother’s guilt about telling a lie and getting his older sibling in trouble just adds to the tension.

The two small children are excellent in the scenes where they are terrified and the two interact very well in others, so much so that they feel like a real brother and sister. Hide and Seek has several film plots and threads running simultaneously and it is to everyone’s credit that the film never gets confusing.  Great plot, performances and suspense. There are points where the viewer will be on the edge of their seat.

This is a real 5 star film and well worth the effort of watching even for viewers who may not like subtitled films. Hide and Seek is available on US Netflix at the moment.

’54 Days’ Independent Australian Film Is Truly Gripping (Review/Trailer)

’54 Days’ Independent Australian Film Is Truly Gripping (Review/Trailer)

54 Days, an independent Australian film from Tim R. Lea is a truly gripping bit of work that goes to show just how great cinema is that comes from Oz. It has to be pointed out that of the best horror and science fiction films out of the last 20 years, quite an impressive number have come from “the land down under,” and this award winning festival favorite joins a lot of popular movies that have either become cult favorites or great additions to a film genre.

Lucy: Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson Treat (Review/Trailer)

Lucy: Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson Treat (Review/Trailer)

Scarlett Johansson is Lucy in this darkly humorous treat from Luc Besson. It has to be said that this film will not appeal to everyone. Only true Besson fans will enjoy this film, although many may not understand the parallels that run throughout the entire movie. However, if those viewers who loved Fifth Element and its music, which guided events to the end of the film, see his latest effort, they will most surely love it.