Editor’s Notes: The Complete Lady Snowblood and Deathgasm are out on their respective formats January 5th. While The Perfect Guy and Wolf Totem are available now.
The Complete Lady Snowblood
The Complete Lady Snowblood (The Criterion Collection) is a double feature from the early 1970s. Both films take place in turn-of-the-20th century Japan. In the first, “Lady Snowblood,” Yuki Kashima (Meiko Kaji), is a female warrior of Samurai blood. As she walks down a remote, snowy road, a group of men approach carrying their gang boss in a rickshaw. When they attempt to move her, the young woman strikes back, slashing her way through the men, spattering their blood over the pristine snow. Before he dies, the gang leader learns that her lethal attack was motivated by revenge against the people who murdered her father and brother and raped her mother, all before she was even born. With a vendetta plot reminiscent of The Godfather, Lady Snowblood features a seductive, beautiful protagonist with considerable skill in using a blade hidden in her umbrella.
In the sequel, Love Song of Vengeance, a wounded Kashima has avenged her family and is visiting their graves. Shortly after the opening credits, she once again snaps into action when ambushed by a group of bandits. Using the tanto, a short sword traditionally used by female Samurai, she dispatches a dozen men in short order. But she finds herself pursued by a large dragnet of cops who are after her for her crimes in the first Lady Snowblood film. She’s finally captured, but is offered a deal by the police. She will be pardoned if she infiltrates the home of anarchist leader Urami Renga and obtains an incriminating document from his possession. She accepts the deal, but finds her sympathies leaning toward Urami and his cause.
Both movies take place against the background of the Meiji restoration, a period in Japanese history that ushered in “modern” Japan. After 300 years of isolationism under the Shoguns, the shift of power to young emperor Meiji led to increased interactions with the West and a new policy of expanding trade and colonialism.
Bonus features on the Blu-ray edition include new interviews with Kazuo Koike, the author of the manga — a style of Japanese comic books and graphic novels aimed at adults as well as children — that inspired the films, and screenwriter Norio Osada; trailers; and a critical essay. The films are in Japanese, with English subtitles.
Deathgasm (Dark Sky) has a routine plot couched in a stylishly bizarre setting. Heavy-metal obsessed Brodie (Milo Cawthorne) is sent to live in a remote area with his fundamentalist Christian aunt and uncle after his drug-addicted mom is incarcerated. After putting up with the abuse of his new high school’s popular kids, Brodie falls in with a group of misfits and fellow rockers. They form a band, Deathgasm, and decide to rehearse with sheet music they find at the house of a reclusive rock icon named Rikki Daggers (Stephen Ure). They soon discover that these songs have the power to summon demons. Several enter the bodies of nearby peers and grown-ups. This draws the ire of cult leader Vadin (Tim Foley) and his evil followers.
This New Zealand horror/comedy features gallons upon gallons of human blood and viscera splattering everywhere. “Over-the-top” might be too tame a label for a film that strives in every frame to be more offensive, gut-wrenching, and gory than anything in horror cinema that’s gone before. Writer/director Jason Lei Howden seems to have set a personal goal to out-gross even the most graphic of previous horror flicks. The effects are so preposterously outrageous that they often inspire laughter rather than shock.
If you’re into the latest in gross-out special effects, this is your movie. The blend of heavy metal, horror, and comedy might alienate large swaths of the horror audience that prefers hair-raising chillers to gratuitous blood baths.
Bonus extras on the Blu-ray release include commentary with writer/director Jason Lei Howden; making-of featurettes; the music video “Deathgasm” performed by the band Bulletbelt; and theatrical trailer.
The Perfect Guy
The Perfect Guy (Sony Home Entertainment) is a yet another variation on the “boyfriend from hell” thriller. Leah (Sanaa Lathan) is a career woman who appears to have it all: a lovely home in Los Angeles, an important position in a political consulting firm, and a handsome boyfriend, Dave (Morris Chestnut). But her relationship with Dave has had its downside. She wants marriage and a family. He doesn’t. Eventually, she breaks up with him and immerses herself in work.
At a bar, she is offered a drink by an overly pushy guy and seems cornered. Another patron, the handsome Carter (Michael Ealy), comes to the rescue posing as her boyfriend, and tells the aggressive bore to back off. Grateful, Leah accepts Carter’s invitation to dinner. She is charmed by his excellent manners until Carter savagely beats a man merely because he talked to her. Clearly upset, she breaks it off with him only to find that he simply won’t take no for an answer. He begins to harass her, spy on her, and behave in such a creepy way that she fears for her life.
The film covers similar ground to such movies as Fatal Attraction, The Boy Next Door, and Fear, with a plot staple that usually makes for a reliable thriller. Here, however, the script is sub-par and predictable. There’s little attempt to layer the film with surprise revelations or twists, so we go down a familiar cinematic path, practically numbed by the time final credits role. Lathan, Ealy, and Chestnut do their best, with Ealy particularly menacing in several scenes, but “The Perfect Guy” offers little else to distinguish it and fails to be worthy of their performances.
The only bonus extra on the Blu-ray release is a behind-the-scenes making-of featurette. A digital HD copy is included. The film is rated PG-13.
Wolf Totem (Sony Home Entertainment), based on a novel by Beijing professor Lu Jiamin under the pseudonym Jiang Rong, concerns Chen Zhen (Feng Shaofeng), a student who, in 1967, is sent from Beijing to Inner Mongolia to teach the indigenous nomads during the Cultural Revolution. The nomads have a symbiotic relationship with the wild wolf packs, sharing food and resources, and have developed a deep spiritual respect for the power of the wolves. Fascinated by the wolves, Chen Zhen adopts a cub and raises it, sparing it from the command of his tough superior, a by-the-book bureaucrat who wants the wolves killed to sell their pelts to fashion-conscious foreigners. The young, idealistic Chen Zhen finds himself in the middle of a battle between traditional life of Mongolian nomads and the onslaught of civilization.
French director Jean-Jacques Annaud took seven years to complete this film. Wolf wrangler Andrew Simpson trained a pack of 35 wolves for often difficult scenes. He eventually settled on 14 especially intelligent pups to comprise the pack that haunts and intrigues Chen Zhen. Though the cinematography by Jean-Marie Dreujou is magnificent and breathtaking, the film has its moments of brutality and violence that is part of life on the expansive plains. Annaud films the wolves as they stalk through the high plains grasses, looking very much the masters of their environment. An especially grisly scene shows the wolf pack ambushing a herd of horses during a fierce snowstorm. This sequence is particularly graphic and little is left to the viewer’s imagination.
The film’s theme underscores the importance of humans and animals co-existing on the planet they share. The film has an epic feel, downplaying the political slant of the novel in favor of its ecological message. Rather than having cameras linger on animals in their native habitat, as in a TV-type animal documentary, Wolf Totem makes its nonhuman actors important cast members integral to the scripted story.
The Blu-ray edition contains standard Blu-ray and 3D Blu-ray. Featurettes focus on Andrew Simpson and his canine stars, director Jean-Jacques Annaud, and cast members. The featurette “Environmentally Friendly” illustrates how the filmmakers were careful to leave the land as they found it before the production team arrived at the Inner Mongolia location. The film is in Mandarin, with English, Spanish, and French subtitles.