• Ansatsu kyôshitsu: sotsugyô hen / Assassination Classroom: The Graduation (2016)

    Assassination Classroom: The Graduation is the second and final part of the science-fiction live action duology that had started with Assassination Classroom one year earlier. The transition between the two movies is very fluid and it's mandatory to watch both films in order to understand the entire story even though this second part starts with a short summary of the first film. If compared to the first film that included numerous spectacular action scenes and quite a lot of eccentric humour, this second installment has a more serious tone and could be described as a drama. The story still revolves around the mysterious creature that had apparently menaced to destroy the Earth after having caused an explosion on the Moon. The monster that is called Koro-Sensei still teaches a group of juvenile delinquents and undesirables from an elite junior high school who are tasked to execute their teacher. However, the monster slowly changes the difficult students for the better and they start seeing their strange teacher as a mentor rather than a menace. When they learn more about the creature's fateful past, they plan on fabricating a medication that could heal the monster and prevent the destruction of the Earth. However, the students don't realize that the government is tricking them and planning on intervening to kill the creature by any means necessary.

    On the positive side, the story takes a few unexpected turns in this sequel that will keep the audience on the edge of its seats until the very end. The movie doesn't simply follow the strong predecessor but develops its very own charm with a more dramatic, mature and serious tone. The characters develop some depth with the help of flashbacks and especially the intriguing past of the monstrous teacher is finally revealed. The movie's conclusion is quite emotional and leaves a lasting impression. The epilogue convinces with a fitting idea and leaves no questions unanswered and has no need for a potential reboot or successor.

    On the negative side, some of the flashbacks overstay their welcome and slow the movie's pace down a little bit. The flashbacks should have been shortened or cut into different sections interwoven at different moments in both movies. The action scenes in this film are less impressive than in the first part and especially the final battle is less spectacular than anticipated. Since this second movie is rather a drama than an action film like the first installment, potential viewers should have an open mind and expect something different to fully enjoy this flick.

    In the end, both movies convince for different reasons and complement each other splendidly. The first film is quirky, humorous and dynamic while the second movie is sinister, mature and dramatic. These charming live action movies might even convince me to discover the source material which only few films of this kind ever managed to do. Both movies are highly recommended to fans of Japanese culture in general and to teenage and young adult audiences who like creative science-fiction cinema in particular.

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  • Rurôni Kenshin: Meiji kenkaku roman tan / Rurouni Kenshin: Origins (2012)

    Rurouni Kenshin: Origins is the first of three live action movies based upon a popular manga and anime series around a former assassin turned wanderer named Himura Kenshin. Two more live action movies are scheduled to be released early next year in Japan. Out of the three already existing live action movies, this first film is certainly the best. It convinces with fascinating characters, stunning locations and a coherent plot that doesn't overstay its welcome or features any cliffhangers. This is certainly the best way to start discovering this franchise that mixes action, drama and thriller elements in a historical setting.

    The titular hero had been employed by Imperialist forces to fight the shogunate. After the decisive victory, the young swordsman abandons his katana and swears to never kill again. He even procures a reverse-blade sword that can only be used for defense but not fatally strike an opponent. Haunted by his bloody past. Himura Kenshin lives as a loner and arrives in Tokyo eleven years after the final battle. Someone is murdering people, acting like a public avenger and claiming to be Himura Kenshin. The philosophical wanderer needs to clear his name and find the real culprit. He gets assisted by the owner of a martial art school, a young but resilient student, a fugitive doctor who had been forced to make opium, a vicious street fighter and a grumpy police officer. However, the mastermind behind the grisly murders is an influential businessman supported by conservative minds who want to bring back the shogunate.

    This first entry in the live action franchise convinces on several levels. The settings are colourful, detailed and realistic as they bring the nineteenth century to life. The locations blend in splendidly and vary from bloody battlefiels over modest dojos to luxurious mansions. The characters are particularly charismatic, diversified and unique with tough street fighter Sagara Sanosuke being my favourite. The story offers an eclectic mixture of action, crime and drama as the titular hero must save his reputation and life while facing off against a powerful enemy and his numerous associates.

    If you like Japanese martial arts movies, Rurouni Kenshin: Origins is a contemporary highlight that deserves its attention, praise and success. Despite an unusually challenging length of two hours and fourteen minutes, this movie entertains from start to finish and mixes fantasy and history fluidly. The other movies of this live action franchise aren't essential but this first strike here is a genre highlight that justifies its hype no matter if you are familiar with the source material or not.

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  • Ansatsu kyôshitsu / Assassination Classroom (2015)

    Most people who come here complain about the movie and express almost religiously how much better the original manga and anime are. I'm not a big fan of comics and animation films that mostly have children and teenagers as target audience. However, I had heard about Assassination Classroom and wanted to give it a shot. It turns out that watching this live action science-fiction comedy spectacle was the right decision for me. I can't compare it to the manga and anime but highly recommend this outstanding movie to fans of Japanese culture.

    For those who aren't familiar with the story, this first of two movies talks about a mysterious creature with supernatural powers that has destroyed half of the Moon and menaces to destroy the Earth next year. However, this creature has made a deal with the Japanese government: it wants to work as a teacher for an isolated class of hopeless delinquents and undesirables of an elite junior high school. The creature even offers the students the opportunity to kill it and earn a hefty reward. It teaches different techniques, strategies and plans to see the assassination through. The mysterious creature is assisted by a careful government official and a seductive Serbian assassin who starts working as an English teacher. The class also welcomes some new students such as a radical loner who had been suspended from school for a violent brawl, an artificial intelligence presented as a hot-tempered girl living in a box and a strange youngster who claims to be the creature's blood brother. There are also influences from the outside who plan on getting involved such as a brutal drill instructor. As if all those distractions weren't enough, the students also need to study for their mid-term exams and deal with their everyday lives. The biggest secret however is what the creature's true motives are.

    This movie convinces on numerous levels. The story is quirky, diversified and creative as an unsuspecting viewer couldn't possibly foresee what might happen next in this highly entertaining potpourri. The characters are unique, memorable and have interesting dynamics with one another. The special effects are employed with care but thankfully not as exaggerated as in many other live action movies.

    Assassination Classroom might be difficult to digest for Western viewers who aren't used to quirky, fast and experimental live action cinema. This film features science-fiction, action, comedy, drama, horror and slice of life elements in this exact order of preference and proportion. I got used to the movie's unique style right from the start and the film went by much faster than its running time seems to indicate. This charismatic frantic pace can't be reproduced by a manga or anime. Please be aware that this isn't a stand-alone movie since its sequel Assassination Classroom: Graduation tells the second and final part of the story.

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  • Manyeo / The Witch: Part One - The Subversion (2018)

    The Witch: Part 1 - The Subversion is the first part of a trilogy about a female teenager with supernatural capacities. This first film introduces her as she escapes a secret laboratory at the age of eight, runs through the forest and collapses next to a nearby farm. The childless couple who lives there takes care of her. The protagonist Ja-yoon grows up to become a very intelligent and gifted teenager who is still rather shy and isolated. Her best friend Myung-hee encourages her to participate in a talent show where Ja-yoon sings and performs magic. As the show is broadcast on national television, Ja-yoon becomes a star but also starts attracting shady characters. She is stalked by a boy of her age who is the leader of a group of criminal teenagers and claims to know her and asks her to remember what happened in the past. She is also tracked down by a a group of armed security agents who harass her downtown and at her secluded family mansion. Ja-yoon must confront the demons of her past to protect her foster parents and her best friend and to find out who she really is and what her destiny might be.

    This excellent science-fiction movie for teenager and young adults convinces on numerous levels. The story is intriguing and comes around with a few twists that also lead to a volatile atmosphere. The characters are attaching, intriguing and mysterious. The locations are diversified and fitting. The special effects are intense and memorable. The film starts as a coming-of-age drama that becomes a science-fiction thriller with spectacular action scenes. The camera work is calm and precise, the lighting techniques are crafted with care and the soundtrack blends in perfectly to enhance the atmosphere.

    If you like contemporary science-fiction films with intriguing characters, unpredictable plot and stunning special effects, you can't get around watching The Witch Part 1 - The Subversion. This excellent start of the franchise raises the bar for its two sequels that are yet to be released. Expert director Park Hoon-jung of New World, The Tiger and V.I.P. fame delivers his best film yet. Lead actress Kim Da-mi is one of the most skilled new actresses I have come across in quite a while and I certainly hope to watch more movies with her in the future. If you have only discovered Korean cinema thanks to Parasite winning the Academy Award for Best Picture, you have a lot of things to catch up and might as well start here.

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  • Hong hai xing dong / Operation Red Sea (2018)

    Operation Red Sea is a Chinese big budget patriotic action film that is inspired by the highly successful Operation Mekong released two years earlier but follows a different set of characters in a different location. The story takes place on the Arabian peninsula where a group of terrorists overthrows a weak government. The People's Liberation Army Special Operations Forces are given order to evacuate Chinese personnel and workers from the country. They must save a hostage from a heavily guarded terrorist stronghold. The group comes across an ambitious French-Chinese journalist who reveals that the terrorists plan to weaponize yellowcake materials into a dirty bomb. The military personnel must now save the hostage, protect the journalist and prevent the yellowcake materials to be delivered to the terrorists.

    This stunning movie convinces on numerous levels. The story isn't particularly imaginative but already more elaborate than similar American movies and comes around with a few interesting events and turns. The characters are attaching, diversified and unique as viewers will care about their fates. The realistic locations have been perfectly chosen and offer much diversity. The action scenes are among the most spectacular ones ever created. Especially the bloody showdown in the terrorist stronghold is absolutely breathtaking. The special effects are employed with care as the movie has a realistic touch. Despite a length of nearly two hours and a half, this film never gets boring and convinces from start to finish. Even the deleted scenes adding more information about the lead characters are sympathetic and could have been included in the original movie without making things redundant at all. While many similar Chinese movies are a little bit too patriotic, this one here focuses on the story, locations and characters which makes it more diversified.

    If you like action movies, you should definitely watch Operation Red Sea that offers some of the very best fight scenes ever created in the history of cinema. As if this weren't enough, the movie convinces with an above average story, sympathetic characters and gripping tension that will keep you hooked for nearly two and a half hours. While American cinema led the world with action franchises such as Rambo four decades ago, the best action franchises these days seem to come from China and deserve more international attention and acclaim.

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