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Tuesday, November 23, 2004
Grindhouse Film Festival
Portland plays host to plenty of festivals every year for international films, animation and locally-produced labors of love but rarely, if ever, for anything that falls under the label of "Geek Cinema." Where are the zombie and sci-fi events or something along the lines of Butt-Numb-A-Thon, an annual, 24-hour marathon in Austin that sells out months in advance?
In recent months, the Hollywood Theater has been doing its part with a recent Godzilla festival and last weekend's Grindhouse fest. For three days, the organizers presented a series of classic martial arts films that, for the most part, haven't been seen on American screens since the early 1980s. Even then, fans of this genre would have to tread into "Grindhouses," low-rent, run-down places that typically served more as shifty hotels than movie theaters.
The six films featured are all available on DVD but are still hard to find for those unwilling to shell out $27+ for an international copy. I've been trying to see Shogun Assassins since the name was dropped in Kill Bill 2 but Movie Madness doesn't offer it. Seeing that this was, as the website put it, "a chance of lifetime," I headed to the Hollywood and caught three of festival's six features.
SHOGUN ASSASSINS: Based on the classic Lone Wolf and Cub comic series, the movie is a blood-soaked samurai free-for-all and deserves a spot among the world's coolest films. Ogami Itto stars as a samurai seeking revenge for the death of his wife. Along for the ride are his toddler son and a baby carriage/cuisinart loaded with booby-traps. Comprised of highlights from the comics, the two are endlessly confronted by a slew of assassins and shogun warriors. The film's action sequences are among the most gory and over-the-top ever put on celluloid. Limbs go flying as the two make their way across the Japanese countryside in search of the Masters of Death, three bodyguards in service of a corrupt Shogun. In one sequence, Itto takes on a female warrior capable of stopping swords with her hands and leaping out of a kimono like a rocket. In another, the carriage manages to take out a small army of would-be ninjas. If you only see one blood-soaked, old school samurai explotation flick in this lifetime, this is probably the one to see. Shogun Assassins is actually a combination of two films in the original five part series, which means I have three more of these to track down.
LADY SNOWBLOOD: Allegedly the inspiration for Kill Bill, this one follows a woman out to avenge the death of her parents. The action sequences are inspired but the film trudges along through a series of slow subplots. The finale, set in the middle of a masquerade ball, and Lady Snowblood's encounter with an elderly enemy in a dilapidated hideout, make it worth seeing. I would have enjoyed it more had I not caught it on the heels of Shogun Assassins.
MASTER OF THE FLYING GULLOITINE: After his two disciples are killed, the blind master seeks revenge against the one armed boxer responsible. 93 minutes of mayhem follow as he takes on a Hindu fakir with the ability to extend his arms ten feet and a martial arts school that trains its students to run on walls. The film's main draw is the title weapon, a flying contraption that works as a sort of truncating boomerang. The martial arts battles are epic and everything else is ludicrous. Great stuff with an iconic theme song.
I also wanted to catch 36th Chamber of Shaolin, the nexus for the Wu Tang Clan, but didn't make it to the Sunday screening. The next time it hits the big screen in Portland could be 2060. It's a shame that festivals like this come around about as often as Halley's Comet.