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From the Orient with Fury poster  
Italy | 1965
Directed by: Sergio Grieco
Written by: Arpad DeRiso & Nino Scolaro
Starring: Ken Clark, Margaret Lee, Philippe Hersent, Fabienne Dali
| 102 Minutes | Not Rated

- By KamuiX

After a brilliant scientist is kidnapped by a criminal gang in an effort to steal his formula for a disintegrating ray gun, Dick Malloy (aka Agent 077) is called in to take on the assignment. With a cache of crazy gadgets to help him along the way, he’ll have to go undercover and even deal with foreign powers to achieve his goal. Not helping matters is the parade of hot women that keep crossing his path and he can’t seem to ignore, one of which just happens to be an agent that’s been called in to help him on his mission.

A film that is MST3K worthy in every way, From the Orient with a Fury (a title that makes no sense since it has nothing to do with anything from the Orient) is the second in a trilogy of Italian James Bond rip-offs directed by Sergio Grieco. While I haven’t seen the other two, if this is any indication of their quality, I won’t be seeking them out anytime soon. That isn’t to say this is particularly bad, it’s just really underwhelming. Generally when the Italians decide to swipe something from the West, they spice it up with more exploitive elements like the sleaze of Gialli or the violence of Spaghetti Westerns. Sadly, From the Orient with Fury infuses nothing into the stolen formula, resulting in a film that feels like a paltry imitation and nothing else. The acting doesn’t help matters, which is appallingly wooden, and this is one time when I can safely say it isn’t just thanks to the dubbing (which is atrocious in its own right). Every actor in the film has about two or three stock facial expressions that they use over and over again, some of which are used at the most inappropriate times. Do you think you’d crack a smile when you realize your father has been kidnapped and you yourself have been duped? In this word you do. In a cinematic era where directors cranked out quality films quickly, even time restrictions aren’t an excuse for this. They had to have time for just one more take.

There is some fun to be had in the film though, as it does border on "so bad it’s good" territory and it's one that I would love to see riffed on by Mike Nelson and crew. The one thing that the film does nail is the wide range of gadgets Malloy has at his disposal, and they’re all pretty surprising and creative. A lighter that shoots poisonous needles, a belt buckle that doubles as a camera, a car with machineguns mounted in the brake lights, and Morse code-sending suspenders are just a few of the toys Malloy gets to play with throughout the film. The invention that the villains are all eager to get their hands on is a hoot to see once it’s built, complete with the Forbidden Planet-level effects that go with it. And really, you just have to enjoy a film on some level where the bad guys spit out lines like “It’s been a long time that I’ve wanted to tickle you, big boy” when they have the good guy trapped. Italophiles should get a kick out of a cameo from Fernando Sancho too, who finds himself in the middle of a fracas that nearly gets him killed but is more worried about hanging with his ladies. Dorado Films’ release presents From the Orient with Fury in a 1.85:1 print that looks to be stretched from its original 2.35:1. The print has seen better days, with tons of dirt, nicks and scratches as well as faded colors, but it’s certainly watchable and has a respectably high bitrate to keep the encode itself error-free. The English language mono track is okay, although possibly overmodulated as the dialogue is occasionally muffled and hard to make out. The track is free of any hiss or distortion. Extras include a trailer for this and other Dorado Films espionage releases, as well as bios and filmographies for stars Ken Clark and Margaret Lee.

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The Beast Stalker poster  
Hong Kong | 2008
Directed by: Dante Lam
Written by: Dante Lam & Wai Lun Ng
Starring: Nicholas Tse, Nick Cheung, Jingchu Zhang, Kai Chi Liu
| 109 Minutes | Not Rated

- By KamuiX

Hot on the heels of some drug pushers attempting to flee the scene of a crime, Sergeant Tong is involved in a car crash with the perps and a scene of utter chaos ensues. In the madness, Tong shoots at the car the criminals are in, not knowing they carjacked it while he was still regaining his bearings. They stuffed a little girl, who was among the passengers, in the trunk and Tong fatally wounds her. In the next few months, Tong is utterly devastated by the accident, and has struck up a friendship with the girl’s twin sister, unbeknownst to her mother Ann, who can’t forgive him. Ann is a district attorney, and is working on indicting the one surviving gang member from that fateful day months earlier. She currently has a blood sample that would put him away for a long time, but a few of his thugs kidnap her other daughter, bribing her to throw the evidence out. Tong sees this as a chance to redeem himself and set the wrongs right, and goes after the people responsible, which opens up a whole cam of worms he wasn’t prepared for.

Directed by Dante Lam, who I consider a decent director of HK action, and starring Nicholas Tse and Nick Cheung, two guys who generally make a film attention-worthy, The Beast Stalker starts out with a bang, seamlessly mixing human drama and tragedy with taut action sequences, and for the most part delivers the goods throughout. Lam does quite a good job of juggling the four main characters whose lives intersect with one another when a tragic twist of fate barrels their way, defining each character nicely, all of which have different motivations but are generally driven by some sort of similar past catastrophe. This being an action flick, there’s some killer action scenarios that play out in indulgent fashion, and the effects used during these scenes are among the cream of the crop to come out of Hong Kong. By and large, Lam manages to intertwine the hard-hitting action and emotional turmoil very well, rarely pushing one out of the way too much in favor of the other, and there are certain aspects of the film that are seriously fantastic.

Sadly, Lam looses the reigns a bit too much in the final act and the melodrama starts to boil over, to the point where it becomes a little too cringe-inducing. While some of the characters may find salvation and redemption, others slip deeper into the gaping abyss, and this angle is laid on really thick which causes the film to lose the careful balance it had going for it up until the last 30 minutes. This isn’t to say that it’s horrible, but if you can’t swallow a whole lot of schmaltz, you may find yourself knocking the overall experience down a few pegs. I also found myself wincing at a few pieces from the score that pop up now and again, which sound very low-rent and don’t at all fit with the film’s tone or seemingly decent budget. The good certainly outweighs the bad here though, and fans of HK actioners should definitely find some enjoyment.

Cine Asia must have seen something in The Beast Stalker too, as they give it the royal treatment for its UK debut (R2 PAL) in the form of a 2-disc Ultimate Edition. The film itself gets an anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer that print-wise is flawless, but technically, thanks to being interlaced as well as being a NTSC->PAL conversion, suffers from some substantial combing and ghosting that marred the fluidity of a couple of the action scenes for me. As always, your mileage may vary depending on how picky you are. Audio is available in both Cantonese and English dubbed 5.1. The Cantonese track (how I viewed the movie) is pretty nice, with decent directionality during action scenes and when the score breaks in, and the optional English subtitles are free of errors. Extras are extensive, starting with a 14-minute making of and four behind-the-scenes segments that show how they pulled off various stunts throughout the film. Four interviews are also included, with actors Tse, Cheung, and Jingchu Zhang and director Lam. You’ll get the usual tidbits from these featurettes, including what it was like making the film, why they took on the project, what you should take from it, and so on. Eight deleted/alternate scenes are also included, and trailers for this as well as other Cine Asia releases round out the wealth of goodies.

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Green Fish poster  
South Korea | 1997
Directed by: Chang-dong Lee
Written by: Chang-dong Lee
Starring: Suk-kyu Han, Hye-jin Shim, Seong-kun Mun, Kang-ho Song
| 111 Minutes | Not Rated

- By KamuiX

The debut film from under-the-radar-but-really-shouldn’t-be director Chang-dong Lee, the man behind two of the best South Korean films ever, Peppermint Candy and Oasis, Green Fish tells the tale of Makdong, a soldier on his way home from being discharged from the army. While standing in an alcove letting the wind blow on his face, he sees a woman doing the same, who loses a scarf when it blows away and he catches it. As he goes back to give it to her, he sees her being harassed by a group of men. He steps in, but is beat up for his trouble. When the thugs get off, Makdong jumps off the train and sucker punches them, but misses getting back onto the train, thus losing his bags. A few days later, he gets a message from a woman name Mi-ae, who happens to have his bags. He figures it’s the same woman whose scarf he still has, so he goes to meet up with her. Little does he know that doing so is about to lead him into a life of crime that will eventually see him joining a group of gangsters that are about to be entrenched in a turf war.

If you’ve seen any of Lee’s newer work, it’ll take you no time at all to see Green Fish has his name written all over it. It’s pretty surprising to see a debut film from an auteur that still has all of the same qualities as his more mature work; it’s obvious that Lee was busting at the seams to get behind a camera and already had a sense of what he was capable of. Like his other films, Green Fish is low-key and melancholy, yet bubbling below the surface is pain, despair and seething emotions that are clearly apparent yet only flare up in very rare, split-second explosions. Which of course makes the handful of violently emotional scenes all the more effective, as the bottled up feelings come pouring out during these exceptionally small windows of opportunity, and they’ll hit you like a brick to the back of the head. Add to that the facts that the characters are sympathetic and feel very real and the story is an intriguing one, and you have a subdued, yet highly interesting film.

About those characters, they wouldn’t be half as effective if not for the high caliber of actors in the cast, which is a hallmark for Lee’s films; he tends to unleash them and allow them to do play to their strengths, elevating films that coule be considered slow to intense character studies. Suk-kyu Han (Makdong) and Hye-jin Shim (Mi-ae) are marvelous not only technically but bring to life the two most interesting players in the film. General film fans will probably be most interested though in seeing Kang-ho Song (The Host, Thirst) in one of his first roles as an unbalanced gangster that tends to not play nicely. Pathfinder Home Entertainment’s DVD release is a bare-bones affair, with only the inclusion of some previews for other releases acting as extras. The film itself is presented in an un-matted full frame transfer that looks about as good as I’ve come to expect from low-budget late-90’s Korean cinema. A higher bitrate could have cleared up the occasional compression artefacts that pop up, but otherwise this looks fine. Only a 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo mix is included, which sounds fine and while I do believe a 5.1 mix exists for the film, I doubt it would be very effective and the 2.0 works in context. English subs are un-removable and are of good quality.

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Human Cobras poster  
Italy | 1971
Directed by: Bitto Albertini
Written by: Ernesto Gastaldi & Luciano Martino
Starring: George Ardisson, Erika Blanc, Alberto de Mendoza
| 95 Minutes | Not Rated

- By KamuiX

Former gangster Tony Gardner is in exile after having crossed his employers, attempting to dodge the hitmen that are out to snuff him out. Upon receiving news that his brother Johnny has been murdered however, he’s forced to travel back to New York to find out some information. There he meets up with his brother’s wife Leslie (and barely avoids death on a number of occasions), who gives him some information that eventually leads to a man named Mortimer. The man claims to know nothing, but soon after contacts Tony and says he’s ready to spill the beans. That isn’t in the cards though, as when Tony and Leslie arrive at his apartment, he’s dead. The only other name he’s turned up is that of George MacGreaves, Johnny’s business partner in Kenya. Leslie knows him, and tags along, claiming there’s no way that George could have had a hand in her husband’s murder, but Tony thinks otherwise.

For some reason unbeknownst to me, Human Cobras has been labeled as a Giallo by many outlets, including MYA themselves who says so on the back of their DVD. Nothing could be further from the truth though, and to be quite honest I’m not sure what genre the film really belongs in. For the first half, while there are no cops involved, it most closely resembles a gritty, albeit weak, Poliziotteschi, but by mid-film when the group are in Africa, things almost take on a tone reminiscent of an old Universal serial. Sadly, even with all of these elements that make it standout, there isn’t a lot going on in Human Cobras that makes it worth recommending. One of the most detrimental aspects is the actors themselves; even the Italian genre stalwarts like Erika Blanc (Kill Baby, Kill!, The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave) and Alberto de Mendoza (The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail, A Bullet for Sandoval) look bored and turn in hackneyed performances.

The biggest sin Human Cobras lays claim to however is its terribly underdeveloped and cliché-ridden story, which offers little in the way of answers about most everything. We never find out why Tony is on the run from the bad guys in the first place (or who the bad guys actually are), we just have to assume that he and Leslie were once an item before she married his brother thanks to a lame, cookie-cutter flashback that has them frolicking around on horseback, and apparently Italian is the new universal language, because whether we’re in Italy, New York, or Kenya, everyone speaks it! The worst offense comes with the ending (or the hilariously bad artificially darkened night scenes, take your pick), which not only expects us to suspend all disbelief, but also just accept everything that happens with no explanation whatsoever. I suppose that’s almost par for the course though, as while Human Cobras is flat-out bad, I had little trouble sitting through the entire thing, something that I can’t explain either.

MYA Communication’s DVD is a shoddy full-frame affair that clearly isn’t open-matte, but pan-and-scan and occasionally zoomed-in. The film’s intended ratio is apparently 2.35:1, and I wouldn’t argue about it considering the copious amounts of facial close-ups that many times see half of the person’s face cut off screen; there are even a number of scenes where both the left and right sides are cropped, and all we get to see is someone’s back as they knock on a door, with the rest of the frame being a porch or hotel hallway. The quality of the print is passable, but far from pristine, with some scenes in particularly bad shape. Surprisingly, color reproduction is of a respectable quality. There aren’t many problems with the Italian mono track, although a few of the higher-pitched sections of the score can sound shrill. The optional English subs are okay, with a handful of spelling and grammatical errors, but nothing as bad as what’s been found on a handful of previous MYA releases like Italian Sex. There are absolutely no extras included.

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Screwballs poster  
Canada | 1983
Directed by: Rafal Zielinski
Written by: Jim Wynorski & Linda Shayne
Starring: Peter Keleghan, Kent Deuters, Linda Speciale, Alan Deveau
| 82 Minutes | Rated R

- By KamuiX

Inspired by the success of Bob Clark’s raunchy Porky’s, the Canadian teen sex comedy Screwballs (also taking place in some alternate version of the 50’s) tells the tale of young Purity Busch, a senior at Taft & Adams High (sound out the initials) who fancies herself better than every other student at the school. It’s not a far stretch when taking into account how sex-starved and depraved much of the alumni is. Five of those horndogs, who all end up in detention together for reasons ranging from impersonating a school nurse to give out breast exams and jerking off in the cafeteria, make a pact to break Purity down and somehow, someway see her naked from the waist up. Each of them ventures out on their own with their own scheme to see the Promised Land, but each comes up short, always winding up in more trouble than they bargained for. But while their individual efforts may have failed, working as a unit (pun totally intended) may prove to be more successful…

I don’t know about you, but I have to admire a film that features a plot where the entire set-up and eventual resolution boils down to nothing more than trying to see a pair of tits. To a teenage guy, especially in the 80’s, what better reason was there to see a film? Sure, whether Blondie finds his way to the gold or wondering if Dorothy will ever find her way back home to Kansas are pretty thrilling plots, but trying to catch a glimpse of the good girl at your schools tits? Epic. Of course as awe-inducing as the point of the film may be, you have to have something surrounding this premise if you actually want to make a full-length film out of the idea, and luckily director Rafal Zielinski and writers Jim Wynorski and Linda Shayne do a good job of keeping things interesting. Stupidly interesting, but interesting all the same. Let’s face it, Screwballs isn’t going to win any awards, but watching this unlikely quintet of fellas (would the school nerd, a masturbating fatboy, a preppy rich kid, the school jock, and the new kid really hang out like best buds?) do everything in their power to see some nip is a rewarding experience. Just make sure you check your decency at the door. This is an awful flick, but its balls-out, unmitigated charm is undeniable.

Severin Films have put together a nice little package for Screwballs' debut on DVD and Blu-Ray. While you can’t complain about the quality of the DVD, the Blu-Ray is certainly a disappointment. That’s not to say it’s bad, it just doesn’t look much better than the DVD, which looks nearly the same while viewing it upconverted on an HDTV. Still, this is a decent anamorphic 1.66:1 print and I’m sure Severin did all they could with what they had to work with. The English mono track is in very good shape, with all dialogue coming through nice and clear. There are a lot of extras on the disc, starting out with four video interviews featuring director Rafal Zielinski, writers Jim Wynorski and Linda Shayne, star Kent Deuters, and FX artist Gerald Lukaniuk. You’ll hear stories that range from getting the film off the ground, working with Roger Corman (his New World Pictures produced the film), and how to make boners throb on the cheap (seriously). Next up is a piece featuring Canuxsploitation expert Paul Corupe, who talks about the Canadian tax shelter exploitation boom, as well as comparing finally seeing the tits in Screwballs to the reveal of Harry Lime in The Third Man; a wise, wise man. Mr. Skin shows up to talk about the great sex comedies of the 80’s in an 8-minute piece, and rounding out the extras are some deleted and alternate scenes taken from a Spanish VHS tape (which include better shots of Purity’s boobs!) and the film’s original theatrical trailer.

Please feel free to discuss "Screwballs" here, in our forums!

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