Editor’s Notes: Assassination, Mojin: The Lost Legend, Scherzo Diabolico, & Arabian Nights will be released on their respective formats on May 3rd.
Assassination (Kino Lorber) stars Charles Bronson as Jay “Killy” Killion, chief Secret Service agent charged with protecting the new First Lady of the United States, Lara Royce Craig (Jill Ireland). It’s a tough gig, since Lara is egotistical and high-maintenance. She becomes the target of an international terrorist group determined to kill her. Thinking that it may be an inside job, Killy takes her across the country to keep her out of harm’s way. The fact that they are discovered might mean that the President himself is involved.
Assassination doesn’t provide the same punch as Bronson’s Death Wish, made 13 years earlier. There is comical interplay among characters and far less concentration on the bad guys and their ruthlessness. Bronson’s character projects a more sensitive, protective side than his vigilante in Death Wish, but Ms. Ireland is an unconvincing, one-note caricature. Director Peter Hunt doesn’t help her much to make Lara resonate as something more than an abrasive, spoiled brat.
The PG-13 rating means that violence is toned down and the action sequences are fairly tame, especially the chase scenes, which lack inventiveness. If you’re a Charles Bronson fan, you’ll probably see this movie anyway, though you’ll be getting a pale version of Bronson’s more macho cinematic persona. Non-Bronson fans would do well to look elsewhere for action flicks.
There are no bonus features on the widescreen Blu-ray release.
Mojin: The Lost Legend
Mojin: The Lost Legend (Well Go USA), the second film adapted from Tianxia Bachang’s best-selling series of novels, is based on the premise that over a thousand years ago, the emperor of China invented the Mojin Xiaowei (grave robbers) to steal gold from the dead for the living. Food supplies were at an all-time scarcity and China had divided itself into three kingdoms that were constantly at war with one another. The emperor relied on the Mojin Xiaowei to assist in those difficult times.
This film picks up in 1988 and traces the adventures of three tomb raiders — Hu Bai (Chen Kun), Wang Kaixuan (Huang Bo), and Shirley Yang (Shu Qi) —now retired and living in New York. They resume their former pursuit when cult-leader/millionairess Madam Ying (Liu Xiaoquing) hires them to discover the final resting place of an ancient princess in Inner Mongolia. Their mission: to locate the Equinox Flower, an ages-old treasure with mysterious powers.
Directed by Wuershan, Mojin: The Lost Legend is a fast-paced action/adventure/fantasy flick with that Equinox Flower serving as its central mystery. What is its power and why is Madam Ying so eager to get it? Flashbacks piece together the mystery as the three modern grave robbers pursue their quest.
Special effects don’t come up to the quality of Hollywood effects. Much of the action, performed against green screen with CGI enhancement, is not terribly convincing, but the sheer energy of the performers and the element of fantasy drive the picture, making for an entertaining if not overly memorable experience.
The film is in Mandarin, with available English and Chinese subtitles. Bonus features on the unrated widescreen Blu-ray release include a making-of featurette with a behind-the-scenes look at production, and the theatrical trailer.
Scherzo Diabolico (Dark Sky Films), is a thriller about a mild-mannered man who sets in motion a disturbing plan for vengeance. Aram (Francisco Barreiro) is a low-paid accountant living a dull existence, putting in overtime hours without getting paid for them. With a nagging wife who berates him for not being assertive, he suffers inwardly while awaiting a long-deserved promotion. Though outwardly he is quiet and unassuming, Aram is secretly devising a scheme that will finally get him what he feels he is owed.
Though the movie, written and directed by Adrian Garcia Bogliano, plays more like mystery, the final third inches into horror with some shocking violence accompanied by the darkest kind of humor. The film is essentially a psychological study of an extremely complex man. Barreiro’s performance at times enlists our sympathy, and at other times repels us. That’s what makes the movie so interesting. Most thrillers simply establish a villain and then show him/her going down well-trod cinematic territory. Director Bogliano keeps us on our toes, wondering what Aram is all about and keeping us in considerable suspense.
Scherzo Diabolico plays with the notion of “monster.” Aram is not an obvious monster, but one who observes, seethes, plans methodically, and finally puts in motion his devious plot. Perhaps his seeming normality is his most frightening aspect. He fits in so well — even blending into the background of most people’s lives — that he is virtually invisible.
The film is in Spanish, with English subtitles. Special features on the DVD release include commentaries, making-of featurettes, a music video, and theatrical trailer.
Arabian Nights (Kino Lorber), a trilogy of tales from director Miguel Gomes, focuses on Portugal’s contemporary economic crisis by using the structure of the ancient collection of Arabic folk tales, in which Scheherazade spins story after story for 1,001 nights to distract her new husband from killing her. The stories in the movie were conceived by Gomes, each with its own visual style, atmosphere, characters, and improvisational touches.
Though the three volumes can each stand alone, Gomes’ intention is to overwhelm us in the same sitting, making its 6 1/2-hour running time exhausting — a cinematic endurance test. The sections are multi-layered, with stories within stories, making the narrative extremely dense and often difficult to follow. The vignettes range from outright funny to surreal to sensual. Director Gomes has a knack for intertwining clever stories within stories, but undermines himself with the film’s excessive length.
In the first volume, The Restless One, Scheherazade tells of the restlessness that befell a country where people dream of mermaids and whales and unemployment is spreading. In The Desolate One, Scheherazade relates how desolation invaded man through her tales of a distressed judge who cries, a runaway murderer who wanders through the land, and the residents of a suburban tower block who are charmed by a friendly dog while surrounded by ghosts. In The Enchanted One, Scheherazade doubts that she can continue to tell stories that will please the king, so she escapes from the palace and travels the kingdom in search of pleasure and enchantment.
Bonus features on the 3-disc Blu-ray release include a booklet with production diary and critical essay; a conversation with Miguel Gomes from the New York Film Festival; and Redemption, a short film by Miguel Gomes.