Quickies: Helldriver (Japan, 2010) and Castaway on the Moon (Korea, 2009)

I was certain “Helldriver” would be a Japanese splatter winner, as it looked to be a spiritual sequel to Yoshihiro Nishimura’s masterpiece Tokyo Gore Police, with Eihi Shiina in the leading villain role, a chainsaw as the weapon of choice for newcomer hero Yumiko Hara, and Old Faithful levels of blood geysering into the stratosphere all but a certainty.

It starts off strong: a Japanese cowboy gleefully tosses severed human body parts down to a pit of ravenous zombies in order to wrangle their heads and create some good ol’ basic neck stump fountains with a tow hook he swings like a lasso, all the while hootin’ “Heee-hoo! Yeee-hoo!” Classic Japanese splatter. Quickly you’ll notice a large amount of stylistic CGI, something I tried to be forgiving about until indeed all went wrong about ten minutes in, when digital blood made its unwelcome appearance. I’m sorry, I just can’t forgive CG blood in a movie like this. Or really any, for that matter. It’s pretty much a deal-breaker. Here it’s so ridiculously out of place that I have to assume Nishimura’s trying his hand at some Asylum-style CGIsploitation, but it doesn’t work at all and it’s simply offensive. The reason TGP has gained its cult following is that every effect was painstakingly practically done, and every character was sopping in bright red kool-aid in nearly every scene. Nishimura appears not to have understood that fact, as in this flick clean, dry, white-shirted actors scream and gurgle as After Effects particle generators spurt shiny brown globs of computer ejaculate into the air and onto the camera. Bullshit.

(The trailer spoils the entire movie, don’t watch it)

Korea is proving to be one of the new real go-tos for quality film-making, currently KO-ing all other Asian countries like they were Glass Joe and brawling bare-knuckled with the Scandinavian nations for top spot, and I’m always excited when I find a new South Korean director. Writer/director Hae-jun Lee’s second outing “Castaway on the Moon” starts off with a sniveling debt-and-break-up-induced suicidal dive into Seoul’s Han River – a failure of a suicidal dive that deposits the failure of a character callously on a tiny island, surrounded on all sides by the thriving metropolis. The beginning admittedly feels a tad clumsy. There a few places some restraint would have been welcome, and the soundtrack is slightly overused. Also in a compulsory conscription country like South Korea, I was immediately wondering why this creep didn’t just breaststroke ashore. It turns out his crippling inability to swim as a child has carried into adulthood, and combined with the aforementioned suicide waiting for him at home, he has no choice but to either go ahead and do himself in here, or get native on the island. When we’re introduced to our second lead however, in the form of a disfigured shut-in who lives her life completely online, the story starts to get moving and Lee’s quirky, slightly surreal nature begins to shine. There’s a superb attention to detail and to storytelling and he crafts some truly memorable scenes as he quite effectively explores the themes of hope and despair. The beginning lack of likability in the main role  proves to have been deliberate as well, as lead Min-heui Hong goes on to give a powerfully moving performance as a petty man earning his redemption. Recommended.

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