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Film Review: King of Prison 2: The Prison War by Kang Tae-ho

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Film Review: King of Prison 2: The Prison War by Kang Tae-ho

“Guys like you need to get beaten up”

I am not sure how successful the first entry was, but nevertheless, a sequel to “King of Prison” titled “The Prison War” did come two years later, and with an evidently bigger budget. Lee Sol-gu who played the King in the first movie gave his stead to the even more impressive physically Shin Yoo-ram, while the cast is almost completely different, with the exceptions of Lee Hyun-woong who reprises his role as Wai-wai and Kim Min-V as KTX.

This time the action is much more intense and actually starts from the beginning, as Kang Tae-ho creates an explosive mixture. King Beom-teol is here once more and is still the King, but his dominance is more challenged than ever. First from the Mess Sergeant, who works in the kitchen and thus has access to knives, and secondly from a cell filled with immigrants from China, who seem to be particularly violent. When Gi-cheol, the number two of a gang opposing the one Mess Sergeant belongs to enters Beom-teol’s cell and Gwang-ho enters Mess Sergeant’s cell, all hell breaks loose, with the King frequently finding himself under attack.

As the Christians in prison find themselves persecuted and the authority of the chaebol chairman in control of the prison and the head of the security department goes too far, the situation becomes even more dire, and the battle for the new King becomes more intense than ever.

As I mentioned before, the focus this time is more on action than the previous entry. However, this does not mean that the realistic premises are not here once more. On the contrary, the boredom associated with life inside and the value of food is highlighted once more, as much as the fact that people in prison frequently end up becoming friends, even though they have very little in common. The differences between those who were involved with organized crime and the ones who don’t is also showcased, as much as that the older ones are the one in charge, and the younger ones are treated as rookies. There is a sexual offender present once more, who is, once more, used for laughs, while the homosexual relations are not omitted either. Thankfully, the jokes having to do with the toilets are rather toned down.

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On the other hand, the concept of religion inside the prison is a new concept, implemented both for comedy and for drama, while the hierarchy of each cell also gets its focus. Furthermore, the corruption of the higher ups is even more stressed, to the point that their authority gets challenged more than ever. Lastly, Gi-cheol adds an intense sense of drama to the movie, that is definitely a plus for the narrative.

Regarding the action, it is framed for both impression and drama. Beom-teol is the King and the most powerful guy in prison, but his opponents are many and cunning, resulting in a series of fights he has to battle on his own against scores of enemies. Expectedly, this leads to multiple injuries for him and the occasional punishment by the corrupt authorities. Mess Sergeant proves a worthy opponent, particularly in terms of cunningness, although the reemergence of KTX balances the whole thing to a point. The real fight, however, begins when Gwang-ho takes over and the Chinese get involved, with chaos essentially ruling the whole prison and action taking over the narrative.

The fights, as in the previous film, follow realistic paths for the most part, without any particular exaltation, dictated by the fact that the majority of the protagonists are middle-aged. The brutality, though, is definitely here once more, particularly after the point when a number of inmates get their hands on various weapons.

The cinematography follows realistic paths, with the claustrophobic setting of the prison being communicated quite eloquently. The editing results in a relatively fast pace, that does become too slow, though, on occasion, while at 111 minutes, the movie somewhat overextends its welcome, particularly during the overlong finale.

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Shin Yoo-ram as Beom-teol is definitely a force for the movie, with him demanding fear and respect with every movement. That his acting is quite measured is definitely a tick in the pros column, although, as with the previous movie, if Don Lee was in the role the whole thing would be rather better. Kang In-sung as Gi-cheol presents a truly tragic figure convincingly, while Sung Nak-kyung as Mess sergeant highlights his transformation brilliantly. Yoo Sang-hoon as Gwang-ho is also good as one of the central villains here.

“King of Prison 2: The Prison War” although not staying as far away from usual prison films as its predecessor, it is actually a better film, much more well-shot and entertaining.

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DEADPOOL & WOLVERINE Review

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DEADPOOL & WOLVERINE Review
(PaPa, C, B, H, LLL, VVV, SS, N, A, DD, M):

Dominant Worldview and Other Worldview Content/Elements:

Strong pagan, slightly mixed, irreverent, often lawless worldview, but the movie’s premise has a solid redemptive, moral aspect to it where the main character wants to make a difference, save his friends, be a hero, and defeat two power-mad villains, and sacrifice ultimately solves the movie’s plot problem, and this is overtly referred to in the dialogue, plus the movie takes place in a humanist multiverse, though the movie appears to acknowledge the monotheistic idea that there are ultimate values that transcend the individual multiverses (thus, for example, Deadpool truly does want to be the kind of hero that his girlfriend wants him to be);

Foul Language:

At least 139 obscenities (including many “f” and “s” words), one possible Jesus profanity, seven GD profanities, and 13 light profanities;

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Violence:

Lots of extreme and even bloody and well as strong violence includes Wolverine gets really mad at Deadpool two or three times, and they fight and try to kill each other even though the bodies of both men have regenerative power, lots of stabbing from Wolverine’s claws and Deadpool’s swords against each other and against bad guys, Deadpool decimates a bunch of Time Variance Authority soldiers with bones from a skeleton that have been infused with unbreakable adamantine steel, some explosions, a villain is able to infiltrate and control the minds of other people (this is depicted as if one of the villain’s hands is poking through the person’s head – there’s no blood, the action seems to be more metaphorical or taking place on a non-physical plane), explosions, gunfights, people are shot multiple times (for example, both Deadpool and another character shoot Wolverine multiple times in two plot twists), and-to-hand combat, villain with telekinetic powers kills one character by ripping his skin away, and people go flying during the movie’s many fight scenes;

Sex:

No sex scenes but the dialogue has a smattering of crude sex jokes, including a joke about a Boy Scout leader exposing himself;

Nudity:

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Brief upper male nudity;

Alcohol Use:

Some alcohol use;

Smoking and/or Drug Use and Abuse:

No smoking, but an older side character enjoys cocaine, and there are jokes about her cocaine use, though it’s never depicted; and,

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Miscellaneous Immorality:

Deadpool lies to Wolverine about an important matter, but Wolverine eventually forgives him and accepts Deadpool’s perspective on why his lie wasn’t really a lie.

In DEADPOOL & WOLVERINE, Deadpool wants to make a positive difference in the universe to regain the love of Vanessa and teams up with a reluctant Wolverine to stop a power-mad bureaucrat from the Time Variance Authority who’s trying to destroy Deadpool’s universe. DEADPOOL & WOLVERINE takes the crude language and extreme violence in the first two Deadpool movies to new depths of degradation, which ultimately overwhelms the movie’s redemptive heroic premise and dilutes the movie’s enjoyment level.

In the story, Wade Wilson aka wants to regain the love of his girlfriend, Vanessa, to become a true hero. However, The Avengers turn him down, so he stops using his Deadpool identity altogether and just enjoys being with his friends, including Vanessa. He still wants to get back with her though, but she nixes the idea.

Two years later or so, a power-mad bureaucrat from the Time Variance Authority (TVA), calling himself Mr. Paradox, picks up Wade. Paradox thinks Wade has matured enough to be a hero. He wants Wade’s help for a special assignment. Wade is gung ho and gets Paradox to build him a new Deadpool suit. However, he rebels against Paradox when he discovers that Paradox is trying to destroy Wade’s universe, including Vanessa and his friends. Apparently, the death of Logan, aka Wolverine of the X-Men, in Wade’s universe has set off a chain of events that will lead to the universe’s destruction sometime in the future anyway. So, Paradox decides why wait for all that pain and misery to develop? Why not just destroy Wade’s universe now?

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A fight occurs Paradox’s offices. Wearing his Deadpool suit, Wade manages to escape in one of the TVA’s multiverse time travel portals. Deadpool travels back to Wolverine’s burial place to revive him. Things don’t go according to plan, and Deadpool finds a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. He eventually figures a way around it, but only to find another obstacle. Wolverine is not interested in stopping Mr. Paradox, and certainly not to work with Deadpool, whom he loathes.

Even when Wolverine finally reluctantly agrees to help, he and Deadpool encounter the biggest obstacle of all, a new, even more powerful villain. This villain wants to destroy the whole multiverse except for one area.

Can Deadpool and Wolverine stop this new villain and Mr. Paradox too? Can Deadpool save his own universe? Will Deadpool stop his incessant talking?

Except for some exposition, the jokes and action in DEADPOOL & WOLVERINE don’t stop. The movie also has some surprising, funny cameos. However, the movie takes the crude language and extreme violence in the first two Deadpool movies to new levels, or depths.

For example, Wolverine gets really mad at Deadpool at least twice. They fight and try to kill each other, with Wolverine stabbing Deadpool repeatedly with his claws, and Deadpool stabbing Wolverine repeatedly with his samurai swords. As fans of the two characters know, the bodies of both men have regenerative powers, so these scenes seem to go on forever with no resolution. In another long scene, Deadpool slices and dices multiple TVA policemen. Also, in a third long scene, Deadpool and Wolverine wade through a horde of assailants together. The brutality of the violence is clearly too extreme.

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The number of obscenities in DEADPOOL & WOLVERINE has also sunk to new “heights,” going well over 100 to about 140 or more. There’s also some strong lewd dialogue, including a joke about a Boy Scout leader exposing himself. Unlike the first DEADPOOL movie, however, this third movie has no explicit sex scenes or nudity.

Ultimately, the brutality of the violence and the amount of obscene language in DEADPOOL & WOLVERINE dilutes the enjoyment of the story. It also overwhelms the movie’s redemptive ending. Shock for shock’s sake is a flawed concept that ultimately turns off more people than it attracts.

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Film Review: Brush of the God (2024) by Keizo Murase

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Film Review: Brush of the God (2024) by Keizo Murase

A tribute to a late special effects modeler leads to fiction and reality intertwining.

Following a prolonged absence, tokusatsu veteran Keizo Murase returned to film as a sculptor for Daisuke Sato’s wonderful short film “Howl from Beyond the Fog.” Recently, he’s made his directorial debut with the independent feature “Brush of the God.” Originally conceived as a story written by the director, it has now been adapted, with a screenplay by Takeshi Nakazawa, and Sato producing and directing the special effects. With a small budget, the project would receive additional funding through donations on Motion Gallery and Kickstarter. The final product is a movie with a promising setup but underwhelming payoff.

Renowned special effects model artist Kenzo Tokimiya passes away, and a memorial service is held for him to honor his legacy. His work is on display, and his daughter is organizing the event. One of the attendees is Kenzo’s grandaughter, Akari Tokimiya, who feels torn about the event because she doesn’t have the fondest memories of her late grandfather. While there, she runs into her classmate, Takuya Kido, a big tokusatsu fan, and they discuss the artist’s legacy and what will become of his work. Then, they meet a man named Hozumi, a proclaimed acquaintance of the old master, who shows the two teens an outline for a film Tokimiya had planned but never got around to making called “Brush of the God.” He then pulls out a brush and requests that they find it and save the world from vanishing. The duo is then transferred into a fantasy world that turns out to be the fictional reality of the unfinished movie, with the script being their only major resource available. They come across numerous creatures, including a friendly winged bunny creature called Mugumugurus, yet realize that the stakes are high when they encounter the legendary monster Yamata no Orochi, an eight-headed serpent capable of devastating catastrophe.

The premise for “Brush of the God” is very promising and, on the surface, endearing. It is a passionate tribute to the special effects art form of tokusatsu while channeling the filmmaking mode of meta-cinema. There is prominent self-insertion, with Kenzo Tokimiya meant to represent Keizo Murase and reflect on his career. The work of the deceased artist within the movie humorously references Murase’s real-life contributions to the medium, including films like “Matango,” the “Daimajin” sequels, and “The Mighty Peking Man,” yet the fictional movies showcased still feel like they could exist. There’s even referencing real independent productions, prominently “Howl From Beyond the Fog.” Additionally, there are themes of family reconciliation, with Akari reflecting on who her grandfather was as a person beyond his craftsmanship, material that can make for compelling drama.

There’s undoubtedly passion behind this feature, yet “Brush of the God” fails to deliver a compelling story, largely due to lackluster direction and writing, further dampened by awkward staging. The plot is incredibly rushed with how it progresses, reliant on continuous convenient contrivances that stretch subversion. It never feels like things happen naturally, which becomes a glaring detriment when the film attempts to insert drama, primarily with Akari reflecting on her relationship with her grandfather. All the characters are forgettable, with the only attempts at development being with Akari Tokimiya, but even she feels underdeveloped, and the intended resolutions to her conflicts don’t feel earned by the end, due to the lackluster screenplay. These narrative faults are not helped by almost all the dialogue being blatant exposition, frequently spelling things out for the audience, which becomes irritating.

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In addition to dull characters, the acting is generally poor here. Rio Suzuki and Takeru Narahara are distractingly subpar in their roles as Akari Tokimiya and Takuya Kido, with some especially clunky line delivery and emotional conveying. While intended to be mysterious, Takumi Saitoh looks more lost than engaged in playing Hozumi. There’s also a handful of cameos from recognizable faces in tokusatsu media, like Yumiko Shaku, Shinji Higuchi, and Shiro Sano, yet they are sadly just as wooden as the film’s leads, which can also apply to the rest of the cast here.

Another frustrating aspect of “Brush of the God” is the inconsistent production values, particularly the special effects. While this movie aims to stay true to classic tokusatsu techniques, the quality is all over the place. Granted, even with crowdfunding from Motion Gallery and Kickstarter, finances are more limited here than in a big studio production, and it’s admirable how determined Sato and the team remained. Yet, for every great visual effects moment, such as Orochi’s rampage on a city, there are numerous bad ones, with some very shoddy digital effects and green screen work. This issue also applies to the cinematography by Yoshihito Takahashi and Yoichi Sunahara, sometimes looking good while other times not so much. However, the music score by Shota Kowashi adds a nice mystical flare to the movie, and the ending theme song, “Kaiju,” performed by the pop band Dreams Come True, is an endearing tune.

Keizo Murase’s “Brush of the God” is a disappointing film, especially considering the talent the filmmakers have. There are elements to admire, yet a lot to criticize. Its heart is in the right place as an intended loving tribute to the special effects art form of tokusatsu, yet its narrative execution fumbles. For every visually stunning moment, numerous sections look incredibly poor. Keizo Murase and Daisuke Sato don’t quite capture the immersive magic here that they did with their previous and vastly superior creative collaboration, “Howl from Beyond the Fog.”

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Film Review: The Right Moment (2022) by Fang Chen

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Film Review: The Right Moment (2022) by Fang Chen

“The Right Moment” is a very competent short that manages to eloquently present a series of social and political comments.

Fang Chen, from the Chaoshan region in Guangdong, China, holds a Master’s degree in Film Making from the China Film Art Research Center. She is dedicated to creating genre films with a personal touch, navigating the space between commercial and artistic cinema while continuously exploring and uncovering unique perspectives in female narratives. In 2022, her feature film script “Ms. Wang Cailing” was selected for the 13th “Supporting Outstanding Youth Film and Drama Program”. Her short film “The Right Moment” was officially selected by the 29nd Beijing University Student Film Festival, and the Macau International Film Festival, among others. Additionally, several of her short films have been showcased at various film festivals.

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The film begins with a letter circulating in a classroom while the teacher is talking, with the last girl giving it to a male student who doesn’t seem to want to get involved, making her rather anxious. It turns out it is a joint petition asking for signature from students in order to complain about a teacher, and everyone in the class have signed it. Two girls, obviously good friends, seem to be the ones that started the whole thing and are quite happy about the outcome, although they are worried they will be discovered, as the whole thing seems to be anonymous.

The girls then split up, with one, Sheng Lan, obviously lying about the place she lives in, mentioning a high-rise place, although she lives in a rundown house across the aforementioned area. Furthermore, it seem her mother does not want her to get involved with anything political. Eventually, however, the letter is discovered, forcing the two girls to choose between protecting or betraying each other. A flashback showing the two, Sheng Lan and Tang Yanyan, reading the letter, reveals what it was all about.

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Fang Chen directs a 15-minute short that unfolds in two narrative axes. The first one one is sociopolitical, with the director commenting on the fact that, in the current era in China, reporting on each other has become a routine, thus highlighting a setting that can easily be described as suffocating. The second moves into coming-of-age territory, with the decision Sheng Lan makes essentially forcing her to mature and realize the concept of taking responsibility in life. On a lesser extent, the discrepancies that are found in students due to their parents’ financial situation, even for those attending the same schools, is also commented upon.

This last aspect is also well embedded in the cinematography, with DP Xiaojie Huang highlighting the difference of the two settings, the rich and the poor, in the most intricate fashion, in frames that include how one looks when witnessed from the other. Fang Chen’s own editing also works well, with a relative fast pace that allows the story to unfold nicely, without rushing.

Lin Jingtong and Huang Siyan give realistic performances as Sheng Lan and Yanyan, with the former having the meatier role, and being quite good in highlighting her discomfort about what is happening.

“The Right Moment” is a very competent short that manages to eloquently present a series of social and political comments.

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