Death Fears No EVIL in Takashi Miike’s “First Love” reviewed! (Well Go USA / Blu-ray)


Orphaned boxer Leo grows up to be an up-and-coming star in the sport. After losing a match by TKO from a soft punch, Leo is diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor that sends himself into despair. In another part of town, the established yakuza and the imported Chinese mafia boil toward an inevitable war over turf and drugs. When Kase, a junior enforcer, betrays his yakuza family, scheming with a crooked cop to steal drugs for profitable gain, the tide turns blood red as the yakuza naively blames the Chinese. Caught in the middle is a drug addicted prostitute named Monica, a slave to the yakuza for her father’s past mishaps, who is kept locked away in a small apartment overseen by a yakuza lackeys, romantic couple Yasu and Julie, that also use the apartment to control drug flow. When Kase plan to raid the apartment and steal the drugs goes array, Yasu winds up dead and Monica escapes, running into Leo who has nothing left to live for except to protect Monica. A distraught-induced psychotic Julie, the deadly yakuza, the Chinese Mafia, a double-crosser and his crooked cop partner, a delusional girl of the night, and one apathetic boxer clash in a single night’s ultraviolet web.

Extreme Japanese auteur Takashi Miike fastens a lively tongue-and-cheek and supremely savage crime thriller in his latest mad yakuza film, amiably entitled, “First Love,” also known “Hatsukoi.” “First Love” is anything but friendly and pleasant as the street of Tokyo run red with blood or else the 2019 released film wouldn’t be a Takashi Miike trademark special. Penned by Miike’s long time collaborator, Masa Nakamura, the filmmaker’s affection for horror eludes this title that hones more toward the unpleasantries of clan betrayals, snarky criminal shenanigans, and, of course, a flavor for mega violence that become a maelstrom angrily surrounding a demoralized boxer and the victimized forced-into-prostitution young woman he aims to selfishly protect while in his mental clout regarding his mortality. Produced by OLM, Inc production company headquartered in Tokyo takes a step away from manga with “First Love,” a step that has been evolved over the last few years, but may have contributed to some of the illustrated content that seemingly has infiltrated into the third act with an initial explosiveness in the beginning portions of a car chase scene.

Cast as Leo Katsuragi, the boxer, is Masataka Kubota, a familiar face from another Miike film, “13 Assassins,” and most recently from the heavily Japanese cultured specter feature, ‘Tokyo Ghoul.” Leo’s lighter weight physique and fresh face has Masataka look the part of a promising fighter whose positioned for fame early into the story, but that framework comes to a screeching halt when he’s destined for a tumorous death. When Leo is coupled with Monica, a drug addicted forced in prostitution plagued with crippling hallucinations side effects, the repressed Leo finds himself sheltering someone with more burden on her shoulders than upon his own. Monica’s portrayed by Sakurako Konishi in what’s essentially her first major role and being paired as a scared, lonely, and crazy character coupled with a stoic vet in Masataka makes for an easy dynamic. Shôta Sometani’s chin deep in trouble Kase goes without saying that Sometani’s unfathomable range and charisma adds an aloof comic relief along with Kase’s dishonest detective slipped covertly into by “Ichi the Killer” himself, Nao Ohmori and pursued by a retribution spirited girlfriend, Julie, of her slain yakuza boyfriend; a role spearheaded with such energy and gusto from Rebecca Eri Rabone, credited solely as Becky, who has a slight Cynthia Rothrock vibe. “First Love” is no slave to boorish performances from Takahiro Miura (“Shin Godzilla”), Cheng-Kuo Yen, Sansei Shiomi, and Mami Fujioka.

“First Love” emerges as a smart and fun battle royal of decimation in the anarchist criterion. One would think a prolific director such as Takashi Miike would wear out his welcome with tired and stale filmic bread, crumbling with every soggy rinse and repeat. That’s not the case with “First Love.” Why is it entitled “First Love” anyway, you ask? The question’s open for viewer interpretation, much like most of Miike’s suggestive elegant style, and presents an illuminating unexplored journey in itself. A ventured guess would be that Leo and Monica have never experienced the feeling previously in either content or a labored life with Leo being an impassive athlete and Monica an escort since high school. The corollary of bumping into each other by chance results in the unorthodox dismantling of two rival criminal organizations, baring then an age-old theme of love conquers all and renders the mystics of destiny fueled from from within all the way easter egging sexual taboos inside his brazen, sometimes insane, transgression storyline. Either way, Takashi Miike helms a tremendous brutal-comedy that brands him as being the Martin Scorsese of Japanese filmmaking.

Blades, guns, and a fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes, “First Love” has mainstream aptitude with a carnage driven crime syndicate finesse and is now available on a two-disc, dual format Blu-ray and DVD release from Well Go USA Entertainment. Encased in a slipcover, the not rated feature is presented in full HD, 1080p, and in a widescreen, 16:9 aspect ratio. This review will focus it’s review on the Blu-ray quality. Much of Miike’s style is neo-noir basking in very grounded color palette that’s occasionally adorned by the neon brights of Tokyo. Often does Miike composite in his work and “First Love” is no exception with a brief manga nearly a rallying ending; the illustration is super sharp, a visual pop of blue and white, and, obviously, clean. Ultra-fine details add to a prizing fatalism and even the tasteful gore, on a granular level, passes the screen test. Some scenes appear sleeker than others inside a dark scope coded with darker shades of green and yellow, but the overall result smothers any kind of inconsistency. The Japanese and Chinese 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks savor every last audiophile morsel. The clear dialogue renders nicely, big effects and action sequences offer a wide range, and the depth covers more than enough ground surrounded by hustle and bustle of the urban element. Kôji Endô’s enchantingly lethal score will immerse you right into the mix and provide a slick culture twist upon classical composition. The English subtitles are well paced and mostly accurate as I did catch one grammatical mistake. Incased inside a slight embossed titled cardboard slipcover, the release also offers a teaser and a theatrical run trailer. Cynical on the surface and romantically submersible to the core, “First Love” is a Takashi Miike instant favorite of amusing antagonism and shorn almost completely of genial garments.

Own Takashi Miike’s “First Love” on Blu-ray+DVD combo set!

God Hatin’ MMA Fighter Still Has The Power in Him to Fight EVIL! “The Divine Fury” reviewed!


After the sudden and violent death of his police officer father, mixed martial arts champion, Yong-hoo, has a complete disdain for God from a young age now that both his parents have perished. Growing up angry and swarmed with negative thoughts, Yong-hoo goes through life without much of a purpose until he awakes from vivid dream with the wound of stigmata on his hand. Unable to stop the bleeding by means of conventional medicine, he resorts to a shaman who convinces him to seek out Father Ahn, an elder priest experienced at practicing the rite of exorcism, and learns that the wound and Father’s once unwavering benevolence provide a divine weapon against a growing covenant of demons under the black magic of a Dark Bishop. Together, Yong-hoo and Father Ahn combat the forces of evil before the possession runs rampant in the city.

South Korea packs a punch with an action-packed take on possession and exorcism with Kim Joo-hwan’s “The Divine Fury.” The 2019 released film that blends horror with the cinematic formulas of the comic book universe films is written and directed by Joo-hwan and produced by Studio 706, KeyEast, and Lotte Entertainment, the latter being a subsidiary of one of the largest Asia conglomerates and a leader in the Asian film industry. “The Divine Fury” isn’t low-rent horror, providing fans with salt of the earth martial arts, a range of diverse set locations, and a decent grade of special effects that range from stunt men quality to visual monstrosities, including a giant hell worm bristled with millions of arms and hands, and also gives a chance for Joo-hwan to showcase his junior horror-action that succeeds a 2017 buddy-comedy in “Midnight Runners” and a coming to terms drama in his 2013 film, Koala. One motif, and perhaps trademark, that runs through all of Joo-hwan’s written and directed films is the coupling of protagonists element and “The Divine Fury” is not an exception and follows the same coupling, if not slightly altered, mechanism.

A pair of actors from Bong Joon-ho’s award nomination buzzing “Parasite” also have a role “The Divine Fury,” one of them, Seo-joon Park, being the lead star of the Joo-hwan film as the MMA Godsend, Yong-hoo, with hate in his heart for the Lord Almighty. Yong-hoo’s a joy to watch on the screen as a character with an arch’s beginning as a young man, a mindless fighter, being verbally influenced over his shoulders by demon puppeteers to finding his lost father figure in a man who has an unflinching amount of faith. Seo-joon captures the defined struggle Yong-hoo has with God even in the face of pure demonic evil before him. An evil battled by Father Ahn, dolefully portrayed by “Sector 7’s” Sung-Ki Ahn. Sung-Ki fatherly performance places Yong-hoo into a role of humility, not only as a mentor, but with experience and patiences that resigns to trust rather than action. However, the dynamic goes both ways. Seo-joon shows lot of physical strength becoming unwittingly the “divine” warrior to thwart an insidious malevolency when Father Ahn is taken out of action due to Yong-hoo’s haste. Seo-joon had to quickly and naturally grow up his character to be the leading, brute force of experience and physicality and did just that as character faces off with the Dark Bishop, Ji-sin. Ji-sin invokes demons to inhabit those in a weak state of mind. This devilishness wouldn’t have been made possible without Do-Hwan Woo’s stoically sly and slimy confidence behind the character. The remaining cast rounds out with another “Parasite” actor, Woo-sik Choi, and Seung-Joon Lee.

“The Divine Fury” is fundamentally an essential oil extracted from the widely popular comic book universe money-making machines, that are sometimes also called movies from time-to-time, but “The Divine Fury” doesn’t have that monstrous platform of a narrative pulled directly from the illustrated pages of comic book franchise. Yet, the story builds a downtrodden, seeking-answers Seo-Joon with a tragic past and an ability to pulverize people – a winningly similar combination to any pre-defined hero in the Marvel character evolution. There’s also this theme of fatherhood and mentorship, like seen in “X-Men” with Professor X or “Blade” with Abraham Whistler. The latter of those two examples perhaps more closely resembles Father Ahn as the relation to the horror-action genre is similar in nature, but instead of abstaining from blood thirst, Seo-Joon is abstaining from letting God into his heart. Of course, “Blade” was ultra-violent and bloody and “The Divine Fury” is grossly more toned down with the exception of a few key moments of blood regurgitation. Speaking of effects, the visual effects waned from expectation and teetered more toward a rushed and unpolished look. They weren’t terrible, but not the best looking visual effects demons in the industry.

Well Go USA Entertainment brings the action of exorcism to Blu-ray and DVD home video with a dual format, two-disc release of “The Divine Fury.” Presented in a 1080p widescreen, 16:9 aspect ratio and sheathed in a slipcover, “The Divine Fury” feels necessarily gritty in comparison to the subject material with a clean, almost sterile image that defines the blacks and colors, despite a short range of vivid hues the hues that are dominant are profoundly thick and dark. The limited color palette won’t be a problem as demons hide in the shadows and that’s where the story takes domain in scaffolding-laden churches, orphanage basements, and even a swanky neon-glowing club with a well of damnation beneath in the dungeon. The skin tones have a natural feel about them, but going against the grain of naturalism is the visual effects as aforementioned as they don’t render properly to exude the right viewer reaction. The Korean language 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio has ample weight. Whispering shadows of slithering speak and the bubbling of the, again, well of damnation emit the right kind of range and depth needed to descent into doom and gloom atmospherics. Dialogue is crystal clear and in prominent. An English dub is available, as well as English subtitles that errorless and well synced to the Korean dialogue track. There is some English during a MMA fight on the Korean track. Bonus material includes a rather generally spiced together making of featurette that includes mini segments such as prop commentary, special effects, behind-the-scenes look, and the construction of the antagonist world in “The Divine Fury. There are also a couple of trailer variants and a U.S. trailer for the film. Ultimately, “The Divine Fury” intrigues on the fray, desiring more into the backstory of Father Ahn and delving further into Seo-Joon’s weaponized stigmata and director Joo-hwan Kim teases just that with a taste of things to come with a short pre-credit scene that sets up “The Divine Fury” for more themes, perhaps, on a love-hate relationship with God, more, perhaps, finding suitable father figures, but, of course, there will be for sure more exorcizing ass-kicking of demons.

Purchase the dual format release by clicking the above image! “The Divine Fury”

EVIL Doesn’t Care For Your Fame and Fortune! “The Lingering” review!


Young Dawa Wang and his mother live in a rundown mansion in 1980’s China. Dawa’s father labored in a wood factory over the course of a year, away from his family, and was supposed to return to celebrate in the New Year, but when he didn’t arrive, Dawa’s mother phones the factory to only find out that there was a landslide at the factory that drowned many of the workers. Not only does Dawa’s mother fear his father is dead, she suspects the house is haunted by his spirit on that very New Year’s Eve night. However, the presence was much more malevolent. Years later, Dawa, a young man, leaves home against his mother’s desperate wishes as their life of poverty drives him to seek solace in wealth, but when the news of his estranged mother’s demise, the now upcoming restaurant entrepreneur returns home to identify her body and to collect on a wealthy realtor offer on his childhood home. Dawa again comes face-to-face with the baleful presence, sparking the unravelling of a 30 year mystery.

Derrick Tao and Mak Ho Pong’s “The Lingering” is a Cantonese Hong Kong ghost story written by Edmond Wong {“Ip Man” franchise screenwriter) and the first penned worked by Zheng Dong. Originally titled “Ku Zak,” “The Lingering” marks a freshman film under the directorial duo of Pong and Tao who manage to scare up a rich atmospheric supernatural fright. Laced with Chinese traditions and catered to retain a more modernized kitsch, Tao and Pong have rendered great fluidity through the decades without the realization of a massive time gap between the two first and second acts; a relatively tough obstacle for any first time directors and the filmmakers manage to pull it off seemingly with ease and poise under Mandarin Motion Pictures productions, the company behind the money aggregating “Ip Man” flicks so there was money to toss at the ambitious auteurs.

“Keeper of Darkness” star Kai-Chung Cheung stars as the grown up and successful Dawa who salivates at the prospect of fame and with a lucrative restaurant franchise as his finger tips, Dawa will go as low to ignore his mother and sell her willed estate to further his prosperous image. Perfect for his role, Cheung challenges himself to be the arrogant and thoughtless whippersnapper many elderly quip about while they throw an angry fist in the air in some kind of protest. The character arch feels deserved with Dawa, going from a young innocent boy, to a bratty teen and young adult, to a successful and negligent son, and then reverting back to being the loving boy he once was; the stages were pleasant to behold and both performances, Cheung and the young child actor, did an excellent job at their respective roles. Cheung’s love interest counterpart is played by Anthena Chu, whose previous films included a couple of sequels, that must be mentioned here, were in the series realm of “Raped by an Angel.” Chu, a complete angel in “The Lingering” dons the role of Dawa’s well-off wife with well-off friends who offer well-off contracts to fund a well-off life for Dawa. While Anthena’s role is rather complimentary to Dawa that symbolizes poor and wealthy children can unite as one, her character flounders the rest of the way and becomes a hapless, if not second string, catalyst in Dawa’s rediscovery of love for his mother. Completing the cast around Cheung and Chu is Bob Yin-Pok Cheung, Fung Lee, Yao Tong, and Terry Zou.

From out the gate, “The Lingering” amps up the shadowy, spine-tingling specter action with an ominous roaming presence, a creepy kid, and a surplus of jump scares complete with an equal amount of braised pork dishes. The first act, set 30 years prior, is all about the pseudo scare with mounting music to, low-and-behind, nothing actually there to frighten the Cantonese out of you Westerners and, to give credit to Edmond Wong and Zheng Dong, a developing mystery enshrouds this mother and son of who exactly looms around the rustic Wang mansion. However, as the narrative progresses into Dawa’s older self, a man desperate to forget his roots, the mystery becomes a mystery more so when his family home becomes haunted by his own mother. At this point in the second act, “The Lingering” is up to two different spooks circulating the grounds like illuminating ghosts in Pac Man. By the third act, the whole haunt falls to pieces and an overwhelmingly forced theme is stuff down our throats about how us children should never forget about the sacrifices of our parents and how their love sustains them despite our affectionate inadequacies and equal rights – Dawa’s equal right to be rich – yeah, it’s a stretch, I know. The philosophy is sound but the execution irreverently chokes out the ghostly atmospherics in baffling fashion and a, for a comical effect, blue balls moment.

Sticking around on Blu-ray home video is “The Lingering” courtesy of Well Go USA Entertainment. The region A and widescreen, 16:9 aspect ratio, release teeters heavily on the tint scale with a over-saturating bluish hue, especially during night scenes or darker moments of plight, making defining the object in the mirror or in a brief photo capture difficult to define. Blue for sad as it’s saddening to lose a chunk of that goose bump atmosphere to over tinging. The Cantonese language 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is by far the reigning attribute of unfiltered bite tracks including a sparkly clear dialogue track, a formidable LFE score that’ll get the blood pressure up, and simple, yet effective, range and depth with the ghost house antics. Available are English subtitles that sync well, yet are more on the kindergarten-ish side of interpretation; almost as if audiences couldn’t comprehend comprehensive and/or complex sentence structures. Bonus features include the trailer and other Well Go USA Entertainment preview trailers. Clocking in at 87 minutes and more of an ode to parental sacrifices, “The Lingering” doesn’t stick around to neatly gift package to it’s audience an eloquent evil apparition feature as promised in the beginning that saw a 100 meter sprint into a tormenting zone that harrows a mother and son by a bloodied soul aimless in disposition, yet compelled to crucify the family.

[YOUTUBE=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AJhtkX0AyZI]

Own The Lingering on Blu-ray!