The kingdom of Joseon is in a state of great turmoil as the absolute monarchy is being influentially divided. The King has treacherous whispers being fed to him by head of the nobles, Minister Kim, and the eldest royal son, the Crown Prince, witnesses his father’s dominion being redirected against the common people despite his best efforts to persuade his father. When the Crown Prince’s insurrection plan for kingdom stabilizing is foiled, the Crown Prince commits public suicide as act of sacrifice to spare his cohorts and their family from capital punishment, but before his death, the Crown Prince sends word to his younger brother, Lee Chung, to return home from the Qing Dynasty and escort his sister and unborn child out of a country soon to be in the throes of chaos. In the midst of the struggle, a foreign ship cargoes new age weapons and the Captain has secret dealings with Minister Kim, but is raided by the Crown Prince’s rebellion The ship also holds another human eradicating payload, a plagued foreigner in the brig is transforming into a blood hungry monster with grayed out eyes and razor sharp teeth With one of the raiding members being bitten, the carnivorous outbreak spreads throughout the kingdom days before the pleasure seeking and arrogant Lee Chung returns home. Chung not only finds his people suffering from bloodthirsty monsters, but also from a turbulent hierarchy sought for destruction by a devilish and traitorous orchestrator who will do anything, like leave a plague go unchecked, to see the lineage die out.
From the same studio that delivered the critically successful, zombie apocalyptic nail biter, “Train to Buscan” comes Kim Sung-hoon’s martial arts horror-fantasy, “Rampant,” that’s a perfect accompaniment double feature film involving a familiar fast-spreading zombie-like outbreak with gripping, non-stop action based on the webcomic Kingdom of the Gods. “Rampant” is the filmmaker’s junior film from 2018, a film blended with truly epic magnitude and an ancient Korean civilization that’s penned by “Scary Hair” writer-director Shin-yeon Won and Hwang Jo Yoon to weave battling aortic stories that inherently funnel toward the dismantling of an established empire. While not serving as a straight genre film with savage moments of on the edge of your seat horror, the theme hones in on the separation of classes, peasants and blue-blooded or high ranking officials, and the reuniting them by compassion and strength. Inklings of fear, greed, and ignorance are stitched in the very hanbok and gat-laden fabrics of the story and serving as a precursor to the Netflix produced television series, Kingdom, scripted by Kim Eun-hee and directed by Seong-hun Kim, involving virtually an identical premise of a troubled monarchy being plagued by a horde of diabolical creatures.
Prince Lee Chung is a stimulating character to say the least; the prince’s introduction isn’t favorable to royal morals as a pleasure seeking, womanizer who gets his kicks by doing what he wants, when he wants. Yet, Chung arches so prominently that the transformation goes seamless, and covertly, to persuades audiences to rally behind Chung in the least-to-most extreme circumstances. Hyun Bin’s confidence in the prince ceases to amaze. From his impeccable arrogance to selfless protection, Bin sustains high level performance no matter the situation while bearing a giant blade, holstered on his lower back. Chung has the skill of a warrior, but the tact of a barfly at first and comes to be a complete better version of himself at the dire end that also completes Bin’s full range of the role. Chung is pitted against Minister Kim, the head of all the court’s ministers, and Kim plots to dethrone the Joseon kingdom in chaos by any means. Jang Dong-Gun is Korean’s version of Mads Mikkelsen. Jang envelops a deepening mystery that’s hard to deescalate and emits a presence on screen just by the way he positions himself in an ominous, if not anime swordsman, manner. Minister Kim is a staggering and formidable nemesis, more overall suited to be the main villain amongst an ever-growing sea of plague-spewing creatures. The remaining lot of characters feel auxiliary around the protagonist Chung and antagonist Kim and these roles are supported by Kim Eui-sung (“Train to Buscan”), Jo Woo-jin, Jo Dal-hwan, Jung Yoo-An, Lee Sun-Bin, and Seo Ji-hye.
You might have noticed that the term creatures were used to describe the menace that plagues Joseon. Characters often reference the plague transformed attackers as demons and, to be honest, these grayed eyed, pointy teeth demons could pass as extras in Lamberto Bava’s “Demons” or Kevin Tenney’s “Night of the Demons,” but the U.S. marketing of the Well Go USA Entertainment release promises zombies and zombie action, even going as far as splaying on the front and back cover that the same studio produced “Train to Buscan.” To be fair, a plague did start the mayhem, transmission of the disease was by bite, and the course ran the kingdom very, well, rampant like a traditional, George A. Romero style, outbreak. Either way, to kill a demon and/or zombie, an assortment of kill method was acceptable such as: beheadings, severing the heart, and, to thoroughly ensure death, kill with fire. Demons. Zombies. Audiences won’t be too hard up on how to label the hungry hordes as “Rampant” slices, dices, and crucifies the the living hell out of the living dead.
Well Go USA Entertainment presents the VAST Entertainment and Leeyang Film, “Rampant,” onto a dual format, DVD and Blu-ray combo, release. The 129 minute runtime Blu-ray is exhibited in a widescreen, 16:9 aspect ratio. There’s money behind this release as visual effects are one of the superior cases over the lot of 2018 releases with pinpoint detail from the mass of infected, the textures and coloring of fire, and the Joseon Kingdom structures and detail attire. The attention is really in the details with not only historical authenticity, but also realism. Human coloring looks rather natural and the no issues with compression either. The Korean DTS-HD Master Audio track suits the action heavy film with LFE combustions and explosions, unlimited range and depth amongst a vast Kingdom battleground, and dialogue that right up front. The DVD has a Dolby Digital audio track. Well constructed and syned English subtitles are available on both formats. Inyoung Park’s ho-hum score is the Achilles’ heal of brittleness that downplays the feverish action and reducing the entire sequence as mediocre that doesn’t aspire greatness to come or to be beheld. The same can be said about the bonus material too with a making of featurette that’s more of “Rampant’s” Stateside promo reel, Behind the Scenes featurette that also feels like a marketing campaign ad focusing on character introductions, and Well GO USA Entertainment trailers. In short, no substance in the bonus features. With sound swordplay choreography, a swarm of multiplying reanimated corpses, and an engrossing narrative with a lore foundation, “Rampant” is the next Korean mega hit in the fantasy-horror catalogue.
Tan and Javid go on a killing spree in anarchy-riddled Germany after their families were killed in a house fire in which emergency services were purposefully withheld. After slaying bystanders at a diner, they happen upon a script in a stolen car; the script reads line-by-line, word-for-word on everything the two men say and do. Simultaneously, the wealthy Eliana is hunting them down, seeking revenge for the death of her parents by collaborating with her parents’ former bodyguard to hire cold-blooded serial killers to kill the men. As Tan and Javid try desperately to not follow script, the two men seemingly can’t avoid their fate along with circumventing a variety of dangerous people crossing their path. Only a couple of people from the script can possibly save them, an Angel named Snowflake, and, possibly, the screenwriter himself.
Adolfo Kolmerer’s “Snowflake” has maybe little-to-no relevance to the derogatory term commonly used by right-winged conservatives when describing the assumed liberal millennial with a heightened sense of uniqueness and having a knack of being overly offended by, well basically, everything. Kolmerer’s “Snowflake” also has no correlation with the concept of winter, snow, or even Christmas. So, the question is, what the hell is “Snowflake” about? The 2017 shocker, also known originally as Schneeflockchen in the German language, is as cold and as unique as any snowflake mother nature can cruelly reign upon down a person and methodically compounds the series of gritty events, from two sets of characters, through a head-bearing funnel that’s supernaturally poised and brutally executed. From writer Arend Remmers, the script itself is smartly constructed as a narrative character, woven to become a pivotal motivator that not only churns out characters’ supposedly ill-fated destinies, but also a metaphysically, arch-able player in the grand scheme of gruesome revenge and absolute atonement that within the bookend pages of the treatment has unorthodox religious themes and a radical, almost anti-hero like quality of rising against the powers of racially insensitive autocratic and populist agendas. The film’s location of Berlin isn’t the only thing that’s anarchical driven as Kolmere and Remmers bends cinema conventional rules to enthrall one punch to the gut movie.
Erkan Acar and Reza Brojerdi play the brothers in arms, Tan and Javid. As they venture on nihilistically slaughtering quest to come face-to-face with their maker, Tan and Javid have nothing more to lose and Acar and Brojerdi depict themselves in that predicament while maintaining their characters’ seamless, longtime friendship, like watching two sets of personalities move as a single unit. Tan and Javid are hunted down by another character seeking vengeance for her parents are the wrong place, at the wrong time. Eliana has money, status, and all that she could ever want, but when she befriends her family’s bodyguard who is then let go from the position, she loses sight of the meaning of uncoupled protection in Berlin’s anarchy state and also loses sight of what’s truly important to her – her folks. When they’re slaughtered, Eliana, played by Xenia Assenza, is hellbent on exacting retribution. Assenza clearly proceeds with a cold, drafty personality for Eliana with unrelenting ambition. The character is scribed as ultimately over flawed if not even expressly obvious and Assenza does a fine job bubbling those flaws ever so delicately to the surface in every loss Eliana sustains. Tan, Javid, and Eliana have a very grounded reality about them when contrasted with other characters such as the superhero-esque Hyper Electro Man (Mathis Landwehr) with the steampunk power backpack of electrical power, a blind man named Fumo (Eskindir Tesfay) with fits of fury, and a madman named Caleb (“Braveheart’s” David Gant) who could very possibly be God himself. Electrifying, mysterious, and powerful can be their only descriptive adjectives that steer “Snowflake” into the graphic novel universe. David Masterson (“German Angst”), Gedeon Burkhard (“Inglourious Basterds”), Selam Tadese, Adrian Topol, Judith Hoersch, Alexander Shubert, and Antonio Wannek, Bruno Eyron, Martin Gores, Mehmek Kurtulus round out this amazing, eclectic cast.
On a single read through of the synopsis on the Artsploitation’s Blu-ray back cover, trying to process the quickly summed up tale might also quickly scorch and burn off invaluable brain cells, but “Snowflake” has an immensely alluring nature once reviewed on a second read. Might not be a tearjerking romantic comedy and can be stupendously offensive with hints of barbarism, but the fantasy element, infused with Western composition at times, is stone strong with this film that’s more than just a Tarantino or Coen brothers’ akin film as the summary impresses to potential viewers. I’d toss in their some steampunk aspects of early Terry Gilliam or the delicate fable-isms of Marc Forster. It’s also a little razor blunt like Takashi Miike and perhaps could have surrealistically lobotomized and strenuous dreamlike sequences that speak to the likes of David Lynch, in choice scenes. Adolfo Kolmerer can be considered an equivalent to not one, but all of these visual icons and mega storytelling filmmakers.
Truly unique like an ice crystal falling from the winter sky, “Snowflake” falls onto Blu-ray home video courtesy of Artsploitation Films. Presented in 1080 and in a widescreen format, “Snowflake” vividly impresses with a broad color palette and a sleek, crisp digital picture. Hyper Electro Man has vibrant electrical currents snaking around his body and arms that aren’t just blurry blobs, but maintain two-tones of color and depth. Various decrepit buildings have the details pop out to bring an anarchy German to life. The German-English-Polish Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track has range, balance, and fortitude with a clarity and prominence in all spoken dialects. English subtitles are available. Bonus features included a behind-the-scenes look at “Snowflake” that clocks in just under a hour and trailers of other Artsploitation films. “Snowflake” has an original frame that’s built to sustain the broken westernized violence and is tightly glued together with likable berserk characters and an engaging labyrinthine story that ultimately feels genuine, versatile, and thematically relevant in, nearly, a not-so-abstract vision.
Astral projection defined per Wikipedia: an interpretation of an out-of-body experience that assumes the existence of an “astral body” separate from the physical body and capable of traveling outside it. The otherworldly experience befalls suddenly upon Jamison Mandao, a young man living off the royalties of his late father’s flailing popular cereal brand, and his recently discovered, and also bewitching, new astral plane exploring powers land him in a macabre laced predicament with his adult squatting nephew, Jackson, and his nephew’s blood hungry, murderous ex-girlfriend, Maeve. With a little help provided by Jamison’s astral enthusiast relative, cousin Andy, and Maeve’s recent victim whose ghost is stuck in limbo, Jamison must use his astral projection to travel back in time, rearranging the series of events in order to not only appease the desperate pleads of a ghost, but to also save his daft, but good natured nephew becoming her next hapless fatality before the stroke of midnight segueing into the Day of the Dead when their chance to live again will rest in peace for eternity.
Here we go again with a time traveling genre film, the horror-comedy “Mandao of the Dead” from writer, director, and star Scott Dunn. Dunn’s sophomore feature film of 2018 dares the chances in being overly and, frankly, unnecessarily lambasted by internet trolls aiming to pick apart the film, hunting vigorously for time travel plot holes, but, and I reiterate this point again, that Dunn’s film is mainly a comedy where the laws of physics and ideas of probability have no bearing on Dunn’s grim fantasy loop. Despite the rather clichéd title suffix implying a facet from the zombie genre, “Mandao of the Dead” refers toward the post-Halloween, more traditionally Hispanic recognized Day of the Dead on November 2nd and while Dunn uses the day typically held for respect of past lives, the “Schlep” director conjures up a lively twist upon deathly circumstances that forms a cut-off date when that slither of twilight time for the dead ceases to be no more.
Alongside Scott Dunn as Jamison Mandao, Sean McBride buddies up as the freeloading nice nephew, Jackson. Dunn and McBride have previously worked together in Dunn’s first feature entitled Schlep and their rapport in “Mandao of the Dead” indubitably confirms a harmonious witty banter and a light-hearted dark comedy in fine, mechanical form. McBride’s spot on heartfelt halfwit Jackson nicely compliments Mandao’s knack for impatient contemplating. Throw a dude name Darth into Jamison and Jackson’s inert existence and things get dire and interesting. “2-Headed Shark Attack’s” David Gallegos isn’t portrayed as your friendly neighborhood ghost nor is he a malevolent one; instead, Darth begs for help and the cosmic universe delivers to him an astral projector and Gallego’s couldn’t be more sharply colorful with his spontaneous humor. Together, the three 30-something year-olds are pitted against the dark horse that is Maeve. Playing an incognito blood drinker, Marisa Hood has an innocence about her that renders a false sense of security and, in Jackson’s case, a pair of weak knees. Alexandre Chen, Sean Liang, and Gina Gomez round out the cast as characters finding their ways into the Day of the Dead debacle.
While we’ve seen where timelines become mangled by the interference of a time traveler and where the theme is fondled with in “Mandao of the Dead,” Dunn doesn’t over knead the narrative with it though certainly a centerpiece of the film as a whole. Mandao’s adventure with astral projection and his middling with the planes are only the beginning that have stirred a frenzy of unhappy campers in the spiritual world. The whole event of Mandao going back in time, twice, to save people is the proverbial tip of the iceberg and a welcoming taste of what’s to come from Dunn and his team. Shot in 10 days with a tight budget, Dunn, who also self-produced and edited the final product, has crystal clear storytelling abilities even with some of the rough, less glamourous edges encompassed within the world indie filmmaking. The characters are well written, from Cousin Andy, to Jackson, and to Darth, as their three various personalities colliding under a thin, blurry gothically influenced omen line.
“Mandao of the Dead” arrives onto Amazon Instant via Prime Video and presented in a widescreen, 2.35:a aspect ratio, and clocking in at a runtime of 74 minutes. No physical media specifications were provided now or for future release. With a budget around $13,000, the English stereo audio track and Panasonic GH5 image quality are finely calibrated and a flat out success for streaming platforms. No bonus features are included with this release. Vampirism, science-fiction, spirits, and astral planes, “Mandao of the Dead” is Scott Dunn’s golden genre-bending film of ghoulish and space and time continuum disproportions! So much so, a sequel has been announced, “Mandao of the Damned,” sparking a positive anticipated interest, by at least this reviewer, for the next chapter of a hapless, macabre adventures that Jay Mandao and Jackson will step into in the next astral plane!
As a respected nobleman and the right hand soldier of his King, the fearless Lyutobor endured the misfortunate event of his wife and newborn son pillaged from his estate by the endangered Scythian assassins known as wolves. The assassins were hired to kidnap the nobleman’s family by an insider in an exchange to overthrow and kill the King to campaign a new leadership, but the King has other plans for his faithful servant; the nobleman has seven days to locate his family and to unearth the dastardly plot against his lord. Using a betrayed and captured young Scythian wolf named Marten as his guide, the pair journey through perilous terrain and murderous adversaries to the secluded Scythian camp. Lyutobor and Marten have to reluctantly rely on each other’s sacred and unwavering oaths and battle experience if they want to survive the cutthroat time where betrayals scathe more deeply and plots thicken.
4Digital Media, through Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, presents “The Last Warrior,” a Russian epic fantasy from writer-director Rustam Mosafir and co-penned by Vadim Golovanov. Also known under the original Russian title as “The Scythian,” Mosafir’s feature is a perpetually violent medieval adventure, packed with action and oxymoronic imagery of a serene Eastern European landscape. Tremendously epic with some serious fight sequences, “The Last Warrior” has sword swinging teeth and long lasting narcotic impressions. Its as if the cold inflicted violence of Mel Gibson had middled and mingled with the surrealism action of “The Wanted’s” Timur Bekmambetov and had a child, that child would be “The Last Warrior, born through cauldron of Russian krov’ i ogon’ (blood and fire).
Aleksey Faddeev patrons his time as the last good solider that is Lyutobor. Faddeev simply acts upon an inextinguishable ferocity that’s flames within Lyutobor, seizing every moment like it’s the actor’s last chance to be the hero. Lyutobor’s a bit of a one dimension character, arching ever so gradually to embracing a clan he’s been taught to hate, but only because they didn’t rape or murder his beloved wife. Faddeev pulled the character off with ease; however, Marten has an interesting persona donned by Aleksandr Kuznetsov, sporting a mohawk, cranial tattoos, and an unlikely spartan physique that makes the bloodshot and wired eyed character quite spry and deadly. Kuznetsov bends his character’s will after a taking a sacred oath to his clan’s God. Gods are essential part of the story as every act, every event, or every course is in the interest or will of some sort of God. The cast rounds out with Yuriy Tsurilo, Izmaylova Vasilisa, and Vitaly Kravchenko.
“The Last Warrior” never ceases to degressive transitions, picking up one fight after another without much breathing room in between. The Russian epic fantasy is essentially a visual speed read and by the time ingestion sets in the one crazy, unforgettable moment, Mosafir uses it as a seque right into the next choreographed conflict. Mosafir’s brilliancy illuminates during long takes and optimal camera work that embrace the slipknot action and yet, the director can’t seem to find an equalization during the talking head moments that push the story along. The quickly fed motivation nearly suppresses the story; there are factions that needed more shepherding explanation such as the forest people and their hallucinogenic drug that can release a person’s inner anger bear like an animality in Mortal Kombat 3. After desperately drinking from the drug, Lyutobor’s bear emerges and when pushed, the nobleman can call upon the strength and ferocity of the bear to his advantage, but the concept goes as far as that without much explanation to Lyutobor’s inherence of what could be much rather a curse than a blessing. Watch out, little Lyutobor! Don’t make daddy angry or the bear will come out!
through Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, 4Digital Media presents “The Last Warrior” onto UK DVD home video that takes the oath of an August 20th release date. I’m unable to write up a full technical assessment of the DVD as I was provided with a screener. The screener had a forced dubbed English soundtrack with 15% of the Russian subtitles and no static menu, an atypical critique screener; however, the proper DVD release will have both the Russian audio track with English subtitles and the English dubbed version, which if the same as the screener is completely hilarious, off kilter, and just awful. I’m also positive there will be a static menu as well. To sum up Rustam Mosafir’s medieval fantasy would be to note that its speedy, stab-happy, and a no-nonsense. The sword play is notable, fight scenes are aesthetic, and there lies some neat visuals, but “The Last Warrior” fails to find a deeper purpose to counteract it’s surface level of the bizarre blood splatter in a chute of metal music and that’s where Mosafir will lose most of his well-versed audiences.