Sunday 2 June 2013

Higanjima - Escape From Vampire Island

As you can see from the Blogger notification pictured above... this review has been up before (hence why I’m not promoting this post on Twitter in the usual way.. it’s had it’s day in the spotlight). As you can see from the notification, I was told I’d had a DMCA complaint against this review (a review which had already been up on this blog for almost four years) and been sent an email detailing the things I’d need to do before putting it back up. However... I never actually received that email. So I had no idea what the complaint was.

So, of course, I tried to contact Blogger to find out what the problem seemed to be.

Ever tried to contact Blogger or any of the services offered by Google? It’s impossible. There is no way to do it... which I find really bizarre and faceless of them but, hey, that’s another story. So I went on the forum to find out what the hell was going on and it was confirmed there that Blogger/Google don’t talk to their customers as policy. So I was advised to file a counter complaint against the company who filed it in the first place (which I’m assuming is probably the label who put this movie out).

However, I’m not in the habit of causing trouble and I genuinely wanted to find out what the problem was. Now, looking at what a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) complaint actually is, I can actually figure out that it must be something to do with the pictures I’d used (and it looked like I wasn’t the only person using pictures from this film who was hit with that complaint). This is pretty much the only thing it could be, in fact, since I am absolutely certain the written content of my reviews have never infringed anybody’s copyright. It's all my own words, people!

Now normally I might be inspired to kick up a fuss about such a thing and challenge this under 'fair usage' but, in all honesty and especially with a small film like this, it’s really not worth it. My friend advised me to put it straight back up with all the pictures and cry foul play at the censorship issue involved but... ahh... maybe if I was younger and, like I said, this particular movie really isn’t worth that.

So I’ve now removed the pictures from this review and am reposting it here and trusting that Blogger, or the complaining company in question, won’t have any further issues with it. So please, if you are so inclined, enjoy my four year old review of this movie again, if you like. It’s been off of the site for nearly four months while I tried to get a civil response so... like an old and weary friend, it’s back. 

The Bite Club

Higanjima - Escape From Vampire Island
2009 South Korea/Japan
Directed by Tae-gyun Kim
Manga Films Blu Ray B 

Warning: Slight spoilers in a jugular vein!

Okay. So this is something I found in the HMV closing down sale. It’s not a film I’d heard of but it had vampires in the title and it was only £3... so I figured I’d take the risk, expecting it to be rather silly but, hopefully, a lot of fun... and by that I mean, less plausible than a vampire flick usually gets these days, especially when it’s been based on a manga as this one was... they all seem to get pretty silly via modern directors.

Well, I have to say that, rather than another variant of Tokyo Gore Police or RoboGeisha (reviewed here) or Vampire Girl VS Frankenstein Girl (reviewed here), what I got instead was a film that did not seem to have its tongue firmly wedged in its cheek, or given the subject mater, firmly through its cheek and penetrating someone else’s carotid artery. Instead we have here a film which, although dealing with a fantastic subject - that of a group of teenagers going to an island that doesn’t appear on any maps to find a missing brother who is busy fighting vampires and such like on said island - is actually happy to take itself seriously enough to be able to get some actual drama on screen, in between the fight-chase-fight scenes.

That being said, though, while the acting is all pretty sound, I did find one of the main leads (who plays Akira) to be a bit hopeless and prone to histrionics about various elements of his life when, in truth, he should have already developed that warriors bloodlust that some of the other characters had easily acquired and maybe have been a bit less irritating in places. Having said that, though, most of the bunch of main protagonists who go to the island with rescue on their minds are fairly likeable, or at least more than tolerable and the film certainly makes up for things like this in other areas.

The design and colouring of some of the shots is absolutely exquisite, working extremely well when there are any reds to be highlighted (usually red flowers or blood, to be honest) but the way in which certain scenes are shot and the way the acting styles follow through is a bit off kilter. There are a few scenes in the first half an hour, for example, which are more or less static camera or steady fluid shots and show the characters in a very relaxed and naturalistic mode with an acting style that very much reminded me of early seventies Hollywood. However, the director seems to be keeping you guessing as to the mood of the piece because these kinds of little interludes are scattered in between more kinetic chase or action scenes and, in the case of the lead character Akira, will sometimes switch to an unnecessarily jerky, hand held style of shot even if it’s just the reverse of a conversation scene with the other person being shot with a static shot. I’m not sure what kind of intent the director was trying to tag the lead character with by doing this but it just came out as confusing to me. But that did certainly make it interesting in places too.

The second two thirds of the film were, for me, a little less enjoyable because there are less and less moments of calm between storms. When the kids get to the island, it more or less becomes vampire mayhem all the way. The film is, fortunately, not afraid to step up on the goriness front but, while many of the scenes of bloody carnage hold a quiet beauty all their own, other sequences are less effective, especially when the blood and explosions are so obviously CGI in a lot of the set pieces. I think, with a film which runs just a couple of minutes shy of two hours, it could have done with cutting back quite a bit, although, I have to say that I suspect there was a longer cut in there trying to get out at some point.

One character, Yuki, for instance, is shown during the opening sequence to be an expert archer, casually hitting a bulls eye with seemingly no effort. The film then takes pains, when this character joins our little gang to get onto the boat ready to take them to the island, to show that she has got her trusty bow and arrows with her on the journey. However, when the small group of friends are captured by vampires almost as soon as they arrive on the titular island, she hasn’t even got her arrows out and let loose with them yet and, as far as I can remember, never regains possession of her weapons of choice at any time throughout the rest of the film. This seems to me to be a little sloppy but, what do I know?

What is really good is the chief vampire villain, whose name escapes me and, frankly, the IMDB seems to be absolutely rubbish at highlighting too. But, either way, they’ve gone for one of these laid back and charmingly eloquent villains who is happy to slouch around quoting half relevant philosophical poetry and the like before finally going up against someone with his teeth or his sword and showing how much of a threat he really is. This guy is pretty much a white haired pseudo-albino with blood red eyes and it has to be said he’s a bit of a scene stealer, although his monologues do wear a little thin after a while.

One missed opportunity was with one of his main henchmen, who can slide his half a severed arm off the front and make use of a retractable/telescopic sword implant. This character seems tragically underused and, since there were no other real gimmicks scattered throughout the movie in the way usually associated with the less serious kinds of films in this vein (saw one where a woman had a flame thrower vagina last year, for example) it does kind of stick out like a sore thumb against the general tone of the movie. Since you never really see it used, it felt unnecessary and gave the film a sense of being uneven. It also lends credibility that there was a longer story to be told here... possibly by a longer cut or, just as likely, because the original manga source may have been a lot richer than can be accommodated into the alloted running time.

On a happier note, though, the movie did have flying vampire women in it and, more awesomely, what was referred to as a “gargoyle” in the final battle. This gargoyle was a big CGI beastie which resembled nothing less than a cross between the rancor that Luke Skywalker battles in Star Wars Episode VI: Return Of The Jedi and the alien queen from James Cameron’s ALIENS. It was, kinda alright and, to be truthful, did break up the monotony a little.

This gargoyle creature, a gazillion decapitations and a few impressive “head squished by small, hand held tree trunk” moments are enough to keep the entertainment level at a certain pitch and although I’ve seen a lot better out there, this was certainly a pleasing diversion and not something I regret buying for the price (if it had been into double figures I would have been less than happy). Not the worst film you could pick up if swordplay and gory vampirism are you’re thing but, similarly, not necessarily worth going out of your way for. All in all I’m glad I saw it though.

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