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.
Brothers Justin and Aaron struggle to maintain a normal and fruitful life outside Camp Arcadia, the UFO death cult camp they fled as young men. When Aaron feels empty, poor, and hungry as a cleaning serviceman on the brink of poverty and social misfortune, he convinces his older brother to take him back to the camp for one day. Once they’ve arrived, the two felt as if nothing has changed, even the cultists haven’t aged in the decade they were gone. Aaron seeks to reintegrate during his time at the camp while Justin is eager to vacate the premises pronto, but an otherworldly phenomenon promises answers to Justin and Aaron’s perceptions of their former cult and leaves questions to the unexplainable events that surround the camp site. The brothers must solve the mystery before being ensnared by the phenomena that lurks all around them with an ever present eye.
“The Endless” is the 2017 science fiction horror film from a pair of directors, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, who helmed a segment in the anthology, “V/H/S Viral.” The duo also star as the leads in the film as Justin and Aaron. Benson penned the film’ script that has grand originality and fosters an underlying Lovecraftian concept and despite the limited budget, “The Endless” has favorable special effects of mind-boggling proportions incorporated with a splash of mildly dark humor in this blithe fantasy horror. Reminiscent of such other off-the-wall commingling genre films such as Don Coscarelli’s “John Dies at the End” or Madellaine Paxson’s “Blood Punch,” where the supernatural and bizarre collide and the characters are equally demented for a pinch of extra pizazz.
Benson and Moorhead may be the stars of “The Endless” and essentially are the epicenter of the entire premise, but their characters wouldn’t be aptly as important if it wasn’t for the cast that supported them. One of the actors is Tate Ellington (“Sinister 2”) as the unofficial camp leader Hal with the gift of gab and just as mysterious as the camp itself. Ellington’s one of many of the camp so called UFO Death Cult characters that make the story really stick out as odd as there’s Lew Temple (“The Walking Dead”) too. A very unshaven and unkempt Temple weighs the look of an Civil War soldier in Tim and Tim’s distant expressionless is very much Temple’s bread and butter. Rivaling the unnerving silence of Lew Temple is “Alien: Covenant’s” Callie Hernandez. As Anna, Hernandez plays the girl next door, flirting with Aaron with trivial matter that toys Aaron’s inherent innocence. The rest of the cast includes Emily Montague (“Fright Night” remake), James Jordan, Kira Powell, Peter Ciella, and David Lawson Jr. as Smiling Dave.
“The Endless” could be said to have a slew of metaphors and symbolism, even the older brother Justin frustratingly points out how camp leader Hal always speaks in metaphors. So, what is causing all the weird and terrifying atmospherics at Camp Arcadia? Arcadia ends up being an oxymoron as the camp is not harmonious or a utopia as believed, but rather a coiled purgatory with an ominous presence thats ever present. Don’t know what’s watching, where it came from, or what it wants, but it’s driven fear of the unknown as noted during the title card epilogue of a quote. What we do know is this presence, this thing, is massive, looming over the hills and in the depths of a nearby lake; the thing is very Lovecraftian in proportion to what that means. Hell, even the quote I mentioned earlier about fear of the unknown is pulled from H.P. Lovecraft himself – “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” The brother symbolism fear for they have fear of the outside world and fear of their unforeseen and possibly poverish future, but once Justin and Aaron come to terms with ending being at odds with each other, the brothers know they can conquer whatever comes at them together.
Well Go USA Entertainment presents Snowfort, Love & Death, and Pffaf & Pfaff productions’ “The Endless” onto Blu-ray home video. The single disc BD-50 has a widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio. Image presentation has fair natural tones with a set of a rather light yellowish tint during desert sequences. Color palette is enriched especially when the inexplicable does come ahead; moments of heavy tinting, such as a heavy red flare, inexplicably stand out. Blotching, DNR, or banding are an issue here, leaving the details considerably intact in a plenty of the duration. The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound has not gaffs about it. The plentiful dialogue is clearly present to get the full story told, ambient and phenomena effects proportionally ranged and appropriate, and the soundtrack supports to dialogue and story with the amount of depth. Overall, the tracks are consistent throughout. Bonus features include an audio commentary with directors and producers, a 30+ minute make of segment, a behind the scenes featurette, deleted scenes, Visual effects breakdown, a “Ridiculous Extras” featurette that includes casting, and trailers. Don’t let the peppered black comedy in “The Endless” fool you; Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead have constructed an original sci-fi horror that shells out an unsettling ambiguity of a modern and universal fear too invasive to try and stop the perpetual replaying of attempting to know the unknown.
When the Mt. Jang cave is broken into by a couple of lethal wrongdoers, a ominous presence is released onto the mountainside, a malevolence that can precisely mimic voices of loved ones to lure victims to their ultimate doom. A young family, hanging on to a last bit of unnerving hope, moves into a house on the surrounding area, seeking to reverse the impossible by rejuvenating their semi-catatonic grandmother whom perhaps knows the last whereabouts of their missing boy from five years ago, but what the family encounters on the mountainside is a harmful specter hellbent on using the body of a obsessive and loyal shaman and his innocent, preschooler daughter to obtain more souls for a fearful urban legend, the Jangsan Tiger.
Based off the South Korean folklore involving the Jangsan Tiger, a man-eating beast that lives and hunts on the Jangsan Mountains and can imitate a woman’s screams or the sound of running water to lure people in, “Hide and Seek” director Huh Jung helms “The Mimic,” his sophomore 2017 fantasy thriller that explores a highly entertaining, opt-ed version of the urban legend. Originally titled “Jang-san-beom” in South Korean, Huh also pens the script catered to blend fantasy with delusional, family-destroying hope. Even though hope is more than usually a positive aspect in all dire situations, Huh manipulates hope by molding it as an entrapment, leading friends and family members down a path to a false reality, psychological impairments, and, ultimately, to a melancholic demise.
“The Mimic” stars “A Tale of Two Sisters'” Yum Jung-Ah as a grieving mother, Hee-yeon, looking for answers to the mystery of her son’s disappearance while in the care of her grandmother. Jung-ah tackles a role that’s compiled with emotional affliction, fear, and chimera to which the Seoul born actress challenges herself to depict each complication as one connective element. Park Hyuk-kwon plays her husband, whom is struggling to cope with his wife sadness and inadequacy to let go of the past. Together, Jung-ah and Hyuk-Kwon’s character dynamics strive to unearth deep-rooted, therapeutical hurdles and they accomplish just that with the help of influential costars, especially in the 9-year-old actress Shin Rin-Ah. The sweet, fresh face of Rin-Ah Shin becomes the ultimate deception, a suspected sheep in wolf skin, that this pint-sized bundle of cuteness could be the family’s undoing. The cast rounds out with Heo Jin, Bang Yu-seol, and Lee Jun-hyeok.
Now while “The Mimic,” not to be titularly confused with Guillermo del Toro’s “Mimic,” is laced with unsettling camera angles and bottom-popping jump scares, the embodied Jangsan Tiger regrettably places the Huh Jung one notch lower on the proverbial grade scale. The shaman’s body, a rather thick individual, has been possessed by the Jangsan Tiger that’s been depicted covered with stringy white coat, long arms and legs like a sloth, a tiger-like maxilla and jowl on a human-esque face, and with cold, blank eyes. Instead, the Jangsan Tiger remains in human form throughout with subtle changes that reference the tiger; for example, the horizontal white fur on each side of the shaman’s rather gnarly face. Transformation effects just don’t do the antagonist justice and, frankly, should have kept the shaman a wretched shell of himself, spawning through mirror gateways, ever reaching to touch the next soul to digest, but when Hee-yeon and her husband enter the labyrinth Mr. Jang cave system, the shaman is a rabid dog, a ravenous trickster, but not as ferocious as the description might sound.
Arriving on Digital & Blu-ray June 12, Well Go USA Entertainment distributes “The Mimic” onto an unrated, 1080p Blu-ray presented in a widescreen, 16:9 aspect ratio, and the image suffers no compression issues, has a fine palette that more-or-less of a blue or yellow hue, and has a leveled up bitrate. The 100 minute runtime feature has a Korean 5.1 surround sound DTS-HD Master Audio that’s effective with the Jangsan’s imitation lures. The waterfall rain and echoing animal ambient tracks are spot on with range and depth. Optional English subtitles are available and, considering the film’s duration, are considerable accurate and timely, but I did manage to catch one error where “leaves” was typed instead of “lives” where appropriate in the context of the sentence. Extras are slim with a cursory making of featurette and the film’s original trailer. “The Mimic” revels in South Korean lore, even if it’s a variation of, and the menacing atmospheric and audio cues exhibit a precision that’s a testament to director Huh Jung’s psychological spook show filmmaking, but the build up behind the mysterious small girl, the bricked cave, and the alluring voices are quickly summed up with meretricious humanoid value instead of a mystical and enchanting beast.
Two young women, traveling toward a music festival near Lake Tahoe on a lonely stretch of isolated Californian road, hitch a ride with a pair of seemingly harmless guys with a fast, expensive car. Their elated joyride goes south when the car flips over during a torrential downpour and crashes near the edge of a lake adjacent cliff, but this isn’t just any car these kids have completely wrecked. The car is stolen and belongs to a powerful criminal kingpin hellbent on getting the car back in his malefactor grips. With being pinned under the upside down car, sustaining serious injuries, and being accomplices to grand theft auto of a wired traced car, the odds of survival are slim and time is running out as henchmen move into retrieval mode to track down the stolen car and kill anyone they come across involved.
“Cheeseburgers and Ryan Gosling.” That direct quote fairly sums up the Dan Tondowski written and director action thriller titled unambiguously as “Accident.” The 2017 feature is Tondowski’s debut feature film; in fact, it’s his own credited feature film that embraces, or maybe just mirrors, the action sequenced camerawork of Russian filmmaker Timur Bekmambetov, director of “Wanted” and “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Killer.” Tondowski begins his film impressively enough with a long take, nearly 7 minutes, of setting up the two women, Jess and Caroline, into their catalytic moment that forces into hitchhiking. After that, “Accident” becomes strictly popcorn cinema on a downward slop of insufferable filmmaking that maintains an afloat affliction with moderately entertaining special effects that include a slow motion car crash, an intense helicopter crash, and a 50 caliber machine gun.
Each and every single character in “Accident” was written without an ounce of redeeming value and Stephanie Schildknecht (“Death Race 2”) and Roxane Hayward (“Death Race: Inferno”), who were Jess and Caroline in the film, couldn’t rile up a brief moment why the plight bestowed upon them should have not have happened to them. The suspicion of how Schildknecht and Hayward received their roles might be due to the fact that they both look damn good in a bikini and black lingerie, featured when they strip to the said garments in a gas station bathroom during an back and forth dialogue. Don’t know why they removed their clothes, but that was certainly an aesthetic highlight. Tyrone Keogh (“Death Race 2” – if you haven’t noticed, three out of the four main stars have been in “Death Race” sequels) and Keenan Arrison portray the two car thieves, Fred and Thomas, who pick up Jess and Caroline to have everything they need, fast car and beautiful girls, so Fred states.
While the production value for “Accident” is top notch and ultra-glossy, that’s roughly the sole positive aspect of the film. The script by Dan Tondowski is a wild hose of loose-to-absent plots and subplots chased with misplaced dramatics and cringe worthy dialogue, the latter already stated earlier with the “cheeseburger and Ryan Gosling” line in the context of being the very one thing a person would want on the brink of death. The overall script as a whole is terribly superficial without much substance to care why these four joyriders should be saved from the pain that’s barreling their way and the answer to that is there is no recourse for any of the characters; no one single redeeming value is actioned or given in exposition to rejuvenate them to a higher standing. Jess is wish-washy with her life choices and a patsy to Caroline, Caroline deceives her mother and neglects her friendship with Jess, Fred wishes everyone dead to save his own butt, and Fred is a potential rapist with pivoting change of heart. Neither of them have self-respect and so when they’re thrown violently into a mix of blood and bullets, an agonizing amount of wait time goes by until their ultimate demise. The plot dissolves around the importance of the car and it’s connection to the great threat that descends upon the four naïve adolescents. At one point in post-crash, the carjackers find a suitcase thrown from the vehicle and they dig through it to only find clothing. The scene is awkwardly out of place and fizzled after the initial “AH-HA” interest that might have shed some light on what the hell was going on.
Exclusively on digital come April 3rd, Well Go USA is releasing Dan Tondowski’s action-thriller “Accident.” The feature-film will be not rated and have a runtime of 89 minutes. The image and audio quality will not be critique for this review due to the digital platform that varies in qualities and no bonus features were included with the digital screener. In closing, “Accident” crashed and burned after the nice 7-minute single take that dapples of nice imagery from then on out and figures to quickly run through the digital market, but with the Tondowski’s cinematography, I expect the filmmaker to only get better from here.
Three hundred million yen and Yakuza boss Anjo have disappeared without a trace. Anjo’s most deadly and most sadomasochistic enforcer, Kakihara, and the rest of the Yakuza gang embark on a torture-riddle search and rescue to find their missing boss. After unrightfully torturing and mutilating a rival Yakuza leader, Kakihara learns through a trail of mayhem of a fierce killer known as Ichi and after being exposed to Ichi’s grisly handiwork first hand, a usually stagnant and emotionally detached Kakihara becomes stimulated and eager to go one-on-one with a formidable foe like Ichi, who could possibly bestow upon him gratifying pain to feel something other than emptiness. Ichi’s eviscerating destruction isn’t totally in his control as the sexually-repressed and candidly disturbed overall nice guy is being coerce through psycho-manipulation by Jijii, an old man seeking retribution against the Anjo gang. With blades projecting from his shoes and his skill at martial arts, the timid Ichi becomes the ultimate killing machine when brainwashing takes him over the edge into a hysterical fit of rage that leaves guts and blood to paint the floor and walls.
Perhaps director Takashi Miike’s finest work, the 2001 Japanese blood bath “Ichi the Killer” is a must own for any film aficionado teetering on the razor wire between crime dramas and gory action flicks that might be on the viewing docket for then night, but certainly a must-see for all film lovers at some point in time. Miike’s stone cold, chaotic style of filmmaking embraces the story’s unwavering havoc that blisters with ruthless brutality between two very different, black and white characters with one thing in common – being good a killing. Based off the manga penned by Hideo Yamamoto and from the adapted screenplay by Sakichi Sato, Miike crafts the most disturbing elements of mankind and brings them to the forefront in a simple story of revenge. On one side, there’s Kakihara, a scarred-face Yakuza enforcer with a very rich violent history to the extent that he’s become numb to his own existence in the world and then there’s Ichi, a reclusive cry-baby stemmed from being mentally fed graphic bulling stories of battery and rape in a memory built upon languishing lies. Vastly different, well-written characters opposite the spectrum and both are good at dealing death, but one aims to dish it out and the other yearns to stop his carnage, and that compelling core element is immensely fluffed by extreme violence in a way that only Miike can deliver it.
But for a film like “Ichi the Killer,” Takashi Miike had a little (hint of sarcasm) help from his gifted cast in making this project a cult success. Before this actor was Hogun in the Marvel Universe’s “Thor” franchise, Tadanobu Asano shaped up the psychotic enforcer Kakihara and the usually dark featured Asano reconfigures his appearance to put life into the character who sports blonde, wavy hair, a frothy complexion, and small hoop piercings at the corners of his lips to keep the slits from opening to expose the entire gaping jaw which is used as a defensive weapon. Opposite Asano is the Tokyo born Nao Ohmori who perfectly subjects himself to being a wimpy human shell with an explosive inner anger. The two men have only a small amount of screen time together and that requires them to build their character’s standout personalities. Complimenting their performances is an amazing support cast, including Shin’ya Tsukamoto (“Marebito”), Miss Singapore 1994 Paulyn Sun, Hiroyuki Tanaka, and Suzuki Matsuo.
“Ichi the Killer” is simply magnificent where it vulgarly touches upon various themes, mostly human flawed that also destines opposing counterparts together. Aside from the graphically realistic violence, Miike’s film hits upon other attributable tangents, among them some are just being plain gross, but these aspects are undeniably important to the story. Themes ranging from sexual suppression and female inferiority to sadomasochism and severe obsession top the charts in a heap of motifs throughout. Accessorial blood and other bodily fluids are extravagantly portrayed, spraying across the room with jettison entrails or dripping from potted plants to a cloudy puddle below during in a voyeuristic rape scene, to get the clear sense of an adult manga inspired chockablock exploitation and crime drama.
Well Go USA presents “Ichi the Killer” on Blu-ray in a newly restored 4K digital transfer of the director’s cut; a task undertaken by Emperor Motion Pictures in 2017. Presented in a widescreen 16:9 (1.85:1) aspect ratio, the film starts off with a blurb about the history of this particular digital restoration and transfer that asserts director Takashi Miike’s approval for release. Well Go USA’s rendering resembles much of the previous Tokyo Shock Blu-ray with subtle differences such as a slightly more aqua tint to the picture coloring and also much like it’s other Region A Blu-ray counterpart, a bit of noise is present in the restoration, but still the better detail of the two. The Japanese stereo 5.1 DTE-HD Master Audio surround sound has an bombastic soundtrack, but dialogue remains on the softer side where relying on the English subtitles is crucial. No issues with timing or accuracy in the subtitles. Surprisingly, the only extras included on the Well Go USA release is an audio commentary with director Takashi Miike and manga artist Hideo Yamamoto, still gallery, and the trailer that undercuts this releases’ purchasing value and might as well hunt down for the out of print Media Blasters Blu-ray, if extras are a must. Even still, “Ichi the Killer” has been resurrected in North America again and the release technically sustains growth amongst the mass of releases around the world. The lack of special features is disconcerting, especially being a restored director’s cut, but “Ichi the Killer” can stand on it’s own as a gracefully sanguinary masterpiece. Look for the Blu-ray to hit retail and online shelves March 20th!