IT'S A LIVING… BUT IT'S NOT A LIFE #13.8
J Church and Honey Bear - Fucking June - It's a good fist if it wins...

 

GIANT ROBOT

I forgot to mention that while I was away, I had another article printed in the latest Giant Robot. I was originally going to be writing a follow-up to the restaurant reviews that Liberty and I did for San Francisco. But they've been running this series called "My Perfect Day" where people like Jon Moritsugu talk about what their perfect day entails. So I re-tooled my article around a perfect day in Austin. I think it's pretty funny and they really only cut out a couple of things. You can get the latest issue was well as tons of other really cool stuff at www.giantrobot.com.

 

TOP TEN HONG KONG ACTION FLICKS

I've been a long time fan of Hong Kong action movies. I remember when I was a kid and I would visit my Dad on weekends. He would basically let me see whatever movies I felt like. We saw loads of horror movies like The Conqueror Worm or The Demon Seed. We would see all the great blaxploitation films like Bare Knuckles and TNT Jackson. We saw anything from Toho. We didn't know what was good or what was cool. We just knew what we wanted to see and we would check out a double feature every weekend. Sometimes we would watch three or four movies. I love doing that to this day. At some stage we got into martial arts movies. In the wake of my obsession with Bruce Lee (every boy my age was), I was blown away by Five Fingers of Death. From there on, I needed to see ANYTHING Shaw Brothers or Golden Harvest. I hold all of these movies close to my heart. As I got older, the martial arts movies are the only ones that I closely kept up with through the bleak `80s and `90s. Here's my totally arbitrary Top Ten Hong Kong Action Flicks…

Fists of Legend - I know it may seem like blasphemy to pick this over Chinese Connection (which this is something of a remake of) as my all time fave, but I have to be honest. I love this movie. It's by far the best Jet Li movie in terms of action. Taking a contemporary look at Japan's racist overtures in China in the `30s, Jet Li is a student studying in Japan dealing with violence and ridicule like a scholarly Jackie Robinson. Hearing of his master's death, he returns back to his home to find that they are in a rivalry with a Japanese martial arts school. From their the ass kicking begins with what might be my favorite fight scene of all time with Jet Li taking on several dozen of the Japanese students. Unlike Chinese Connection, racism is dealt with on both sides showing the political nuances that affect and are affected by it. A pivotal point here is when he needs to defend his Japanese girlfriend played by the amazing Shinobu Nakayama. She also stars in a couple of the amazing `90s Gamera movies.

Hard-Boiled - I used to love John Woo and Chow Yun-Fat. I still think Brother Chow is cool. But Woo has made some real stinkers since moving to America. Hollywood really fucked him up. But when he was good, he was amazing and this is his peak. You know how everyone is quick to parody and copy the Hong Kong style with double fisted handguns and body counts as quick as they are high? This is the epitome of how that style can be done right. Chow is amazing as a hardened cop trying to take down a powerful Triad sect. Tony Leung Chiu Wai is an undercover cop who crosses paths with Chow and is forced to become his partner. The acrimonious relationship becomes their bond as the second half of the film is the two taking down the bad guys in a hospital that doubles as a Triad front.

Enter The Dragon - It's hard to choose one Bruce Lee movie as the best. I love them all. I have real deep connections with Fists of Fury and Chinese Connection and even Return of the Dragon. But this is the most consistent film of them all. I don't need to say much as this is the one on the list you are most likely to have seen. But if you haven't seen it lately, see the new re-mastered version. It's amazing.

Five Fingers of Death - This film is so simple in structure. There's a good martial arts school and a bad one. They both spend time getting their best pupil trained for a prestigious tournament. But all hell breaks loose along the way. I love this movie. It's totally low budget, but still manages to steal just enough to work. The music is stolen from Ironside. The effects are the kind of thing you could do on a home movie. But it is so exciting and it doesn't look like anything else. I don't think enough is ever mentioned about film aesthetic and Shaw Brothers flicks. It's a beautiful thing.

36th Chamber of Shaolin - This movie is sort of the template for every Shoalin martial arts flick that involved any sort of rigorous training sequence. But it deserves all the praise it gets as it's the starting point for anyone interested in the Gordon Liu era of action movies. Driven by revenge (a noble cause in these films) San Te goes through a rigorous training at the Shaolin Temple before getting kicked out for wanted to share the secrets with the people. From there he builds up a crew to help him exact his revenge. No computers, of course, and often done in just one take, this film is daring in more ways than most.

Naked Killer - Hey, back in the `90s everybody loved Madonna and Claire Danes and Winona Ryder and whatever. I don't actually even know because at some point I started to tune out Hollywood. I still mostly tune out American cinema `cos there's just so much more garbage, even with the underground and cult stuff. So my favorites were always people like Chingmy Yao. I love her comedies like Blind Romance and Saint of Gamblers a lot. But this crazy action movie is where I first got into her. A duo of rapist-killing, lesbian assassins for hire have to fight off a former pupil. It's super stylized and captures all of the best elements of what people like about Category III flicks.

Police Story 3 - This is by far, my favorite Jackie Chan movie. Some people mostly like his really early work with Sammo Hung and that crew. But I like this mid-career stuff. He had the budget to do some really crazy stunts and he had the know how to make if into a really fluid film. There are some great moments, but I actually think it's Michelle Yeoh who steals the show in this flick. Aside from riding a motorcycle onto a moving train, she does some of the most athletic martial arts you'll ever see. It's quite graceful and beautiful and the one flick where you can obviously see how her ballet background paid off.

Heroic Trio, The - Speaking of Michelle Yeoh, this movie is a total nutso idea that could only happen at the height of Hong Kong cinemas prosperity. Yeoh is teamed up with fellow superstars, Maggie Cheung and the late Anita Mui to form a post-apocalyptic group of superheroines. All made famous through their work in Jackie Chan films, Heroic Trio has a lot of humor in it. But if the premise isn't absurd enough, they are out to find an evil Eunuch who's been stealing babies.

Untold Story, The - Anthony Wong has made some seriously fucked up movies. Underground Banker, Ebola Syndrome, Daughter of Darkness... If he's not doing something gross, he's right nearby. But that's why we love him. He's nuts. This one is the one. This is the most fucked up movie he's made and it's one of the most fucked movies in the history of Hong Kong cinema. Allegedly based on a true story, a guy murders a family, grinds up their bodies, and sells them as bao - the steamed buns you get at Dim Sum. That's the premise and how he gets more meat is the story. This is definitely not for everyone.

Dr. Lamb - Since we're talking about the disgusting side of violent movies, we can't avoid Dr. Lamb. Also based on a true story, this one is about a cab driver that doubles as a psychotic killer and necrophiliac. Simon Yam is brilliant as usual. It's strange that a guy like him, who is basically a huge sex symbol, would take on such a crazy role. It would be like a movie with Orlando Bloom fucking dead bodies and surgically removing breasts and tossing them around. The whole film is shot like Argento with almost psychedelic fringes.

 

IN THE J CHURCH LISTENING ROOM

NAVEL - Depend CD

Navel took a several year break between albums. But they're back with achingly beautiful guitar-pop that would make everyone from Teenage Fanclub to the Hard-Ons jealous. In fact, I think there is really something in their sound that is like the more melodic elements of the Hard-Ons with early Snuff and the best parts of the Fastbacks. It's really pure and the guitar sound is that impeccable tone that can only come from a Gordon Smith (Snuff to Leatherface to the Pastels to Teenage Fanclub).

There are even some thrashing hardcore breaks here and there. But it's the super pop of miracle songs like Wish and Movie And Moonlight that really make this record a keeper. The bands doing this kind of music at this caliber in this day and age are few and far between. You would be making a huge mistake to miss out on Navel.
(Snuffy Smile, 4-1-16-201 Daita Setagaya-ku, Tokyo 155-0033 Japan)

 

ORCHIDS, THE - s/t LP

With the success of the Runaways, official Hollywood creepy guy Kim Fowley decided to put together a new group of teen girls to package and market to America. With the beginnings of punk and new wave starting to make their mark in the States, Fowley decided to take advantage of the media fascination by starting the very, very fake punks Venus and the Razorblades and the fake new wave (and I know that seems like a contradiction in terms) group the Orchids.

Vaguely modeled after Blondie and Pat Benatar, the band isn't even that bad. They've got the same problems the Runaways had. You know what they are mimicking. But they really never make it all the way. They never really get to where they're heading. The same is true here. But for this kind of band, a catchy pop song can make up for lack of conviction. Hard rock done even a little lackluster sucks ass. Most of it sucks ass anyway. But you can get away with more if you have a good pop song despite some less than confident playing. Girls, Bad Guys and The Boy Can't Dance are pretty tuneful and most of the 10 songs have at least one really good hook. I would even say that Radio Dream is a respectable homage to the Shangri-Las.

The funniest thing about this record is that it really is just a simple pop rock record trying to be something that it isn't. The photo of the band on the cover, dressed up in Hollywood's idea of new wave, is really funny (jumpsuits and all). I love when they try to include punk imagery with lyrics like "Skinhead bootboys mambo with bread and water fools". What the fuck is that? You can tell a lot from the desperate "thanks" list where they thank Jimmy Pursey and Sham 69, Rodney Bingenheimer and Herman Brood. What's that all about?
(MCA Records)

 

PARTISANS, THE - s/t LP
PARTISANS, THE - The Time Was Right! LP

Here's another band that I came across during my love affair with the second wave of UK punk. I don't care anymore about the implications or who said what. I love a lot of those early Oi comps my favorite being Carry On Oi!. The Partisans track was one of my favorites to say nothing of instantly having a teen crush on bass player Louise
(reportedly a nanny these days for David Beckham and Posh).

When you really break down the first album, it's pretty generic punk. It's really basic and not the best production meaning it's not big and it's not as raw as you would hope. It's like there was an effort to polish up the band's sound. But it's still a great record largely because of the sloppy and weird performances and the great, rough vocals, unmistakably British. Great songs like No Time hold up just as much as the hits 17 Years Of Hell and Arms Race. I wonder why Police Story was left off of the album?

A few years and a few bass players later, the band moved to London and regrouped with a power pop sound. The studio tracks on The Time Was Right! have had a bit of controversy around them as somehow the rough mixes made it to the album and the real version were lost. But the mistake meant a bigger guitar sound and a huge leap in sophistication for the band. The second side of the LP was recorded at a huge anarcho gig at the Brixton Ace with Conflict, Anthrax and more as the band were becoming more interested in the anarcho scene. The board recording is suprisingly full and gives an idea of what the first LP would have sounded like if the band hadn't been rushed. Incidentally, the Conflict set was also recorded and used as the second side of their sophmore LP Increase The Pressure. The record ends with what is probably the band's best song, Blind Ambition which appeared on an interim 7" between the two albums.
(No Future and Link Records)

 

PHOTOS, THE - s/t 2xLP

I loved Blondie from the first moment I saw them on the Midnight Special. I loved every moment of Parallel Lines when it came out. I thought they were so smart. I remember needing to find out what "petite ingenue" and La Dolce Vita meant. They were so great. I think Johnny Ramone is the only person in the world that didn't love them. The problem was, they only put out one album a year. What do you do for the other 11 months?

That's where bands like The Photos came in. No, they weren't as good as Blondie. But they were definitely good enough. Now, with our much lowered standards and confused history of music, they seem like a pretty great female fronted power pop group. In fact, the simple melodies and fairly unthreatening guitars are a lot like the K-type pop stuff of the `90s like the Crabs or Small Factory. With song titles like Barbarellas and She's Artistic you know what their trajectory was.

If you're gonna bother to track this one off album down, you might as well keep looking until you get the version that comes with the bonus Blackmail Tapes LP. This is some sort of pretty good sounding demo that has a couple of originals and a lot of cover versions from the Beatles, the Stones, etc.
(Epic Records)

 

ZERO FAST - Fifth Street / Some Little Hope CDEP

Is there really a Fifth Street anywhere in Yokohama? I don't know. I don't even know if there is a Go Street. It's a cute lyrical idea that works for this cute little pop song. Ferocious live, the band is nicely restrained on this record putting the melody forward. Japanese do pop punk better than anyone else in the world. The first track is a sweet almost Pixies like pop tune. The second one has its roots more in '77 punk with its classic Stiff Little Fingers influenced guitar progression. There's a bit of the Business as well. But from I know about Japan today that probably has as much to do with Hard Skin as any old school Oi!
(Anti-New Waves Records)

 

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