Archive for April, 2018

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Movies That Made Me #2 – Crying Freeman

April 14, 2018

Continuing my series of off-the-radar films that influenced me as a filmmaker, today I want to talk about Christophe Gans’ “Crying Freeman.”

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I recently picked this one up on Blu-Ray (I had to import a French version because it’s not available in the UK) and I won’t mention how much for, but this is actually by far the most expensive disc I own! So, why, I hear you ask, have I spent a fair chunk of change on a) a Blu Ray and b) this little-known action flick? The first is easy- it isn’t available in HD any other way- but the second…

This is probably the movie that has influenced my style as a filmmaker more than any other film. It’s no cinematic masterpiece by any means (although much of it is beautifully shot and put together) and it’s not coated in nostalgia like some other films I could mention, but from the moment I first watched it, it has affected how I tell stories- first through the comic books I drew and then through the films I’ve made. I’d hesitate to call it my favourite film, but it’s certainly the most influential for me as a filmmaker.

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If you’ve seen my work, I think you can see where I got it from…

So, what is the film about?

Based on a manga, “Crying Freeman” is about a young woman called Emu who witnesses an execution by a professional assassin, the Freeman. The Freeman (Mark Dacascos) is an unwilling killer, hypnotised into action by a secret triad society, and he cries tears of regret every time he kills. Now that Emu has seen his face, the Freeman is ordered to kill her too, but chooses not to do so when he falls in love with her- a decision that sets in motion a power struggle within the yakuza and a series of massacres in the Japanese underworld. The film has some beautifully shot and edited action scenes and some solid performances as well as a sense of style rare in action movies of the mid 90s.

The flick hit the shelves of our local video store at some point in 1995. I remember I’d seen a tiny mention of it in one of the manga magazines I bought semi-regularly at the time and to be honest, I had never heard of the manga before. I had heard of the movies’ star, Mark Dacascos, however. Growing up on a diet of martial arts films, I had seen several of his flicks and by this point, he was one of my favourite action stars. One of the nice things about Dacascos was that he’s a decent actor- something the role of Yo Hinomura, the titular crying freeman, lent itself to. And Dacascos got to show both his acting chops and his martial arts skills in the film and demonstrated he had great potential as a leading man. It’s a shame his career went in a different direction, because although his role as the Iron Chef on the US TV show undoubtedly pays well and keeps him busy, I think that with more roles like Crying Freeman, he could’ve broken through into mainstream cinema.

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Tcheky Karyo and Masaya Kato put in compelling performances, as does Julie Condra (soon to be Mrs Dacascos!) as Emu. There are also appearances from well-known faces like Yoko Shimada, Rae Dawn Chong, Byron Mann and Mako and each one does sterling work and helps the film feel a lot bigger budget than its meagre $5 million.

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A butterfly twist between two sword strikes is equal parts illogical and cool as hell.

Like the previous film in this series of reminiscences, “Hard Target,” “Crying Freeman” has some outstanding action sequences and they are also well-shot and edited, stylish affairs. In fact, it’s fair to say that Christophe Gans’ style was influenced by John Woo’s heroic bloodshed movies, what with his liberal use of slow motion, long takes and subtle gestures. From a tense sequence at a Yakuza funeral that ends in a ballistic gunfight to the final katana and kicks battle at a crumbling forest shrine, Gans shows he has a talent for directing stylish and fluid action, something he’d do again in his next film, “Brotherhood of the Wolf,” also starring Dacascos.

But aside from the action, there’s also a beauty to this film, partly in it’s cinematography (that always looks rich, full of depth and evocative) but also in its soundtrack (full of detail and subtle textures and enriched by an atmospheric score).

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“Mark, stop feeding the swans, we’ve got a movie to shoot!”

And this is what I think influenced me the most. “Crying Freeman” was probably the first film that I saw that had real artistic value. Prior to this, I’d only really watched popcorn blockbusters, low-budget scifi, animation and B-movie action flicks. This film had visual elements and soundtrack cues that I had never encountered before and they opened up a new world of cinematic language for me. Although it would be a while before these elements turned up in my own films, they became a benchmark for me as a film viewer. I started looking for this level of craftmanship in other films and this eventually led to me broadening my cinematic palate and watching a wider range of films that didn’t involve jumping kicks.

So if you get a chance and it comes up on Netflix or you find it on DVD, I heartedly recommend checking out the live-action version of “Crying Freeman.”

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Fests, Bests and all the Rests

April 7, 2018

So… an update!

A few things have happened, so I thought I’d scribble down a few poorly-thought-out thoughts.

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The last time I’d talked about Dead Meet it had been shown at Birmingham Film Festival and I had kinda drawn a line under the project. But I guess I shouldn’t have written the film off so easily because out of all the festivals I’d submitted to, it got accepted into two I thought were out of the film’s league- Starburst Media City Festival and Artemis -Women in Action festival.
Starburst, from the magazine of the same name, is a fairly high-profile festival focusing on scifi and other genre films. I submitted “Dead Meet” to them but didn’t hold out much hope of getting a screening- partly because the flick had had a few knockbacks by this point and partly because I didn’t know if it was what Starburst were looking for. But it got accepted (although FilmFreeway originally told be it had been rejected!) and even more surprisingly, it won an award! Or more accurately, Francesca, our lead actress, won the Best Performance award for her role in the film- which was well-deserved, given how much time and energy she put into the role, especially the fight scenes. And, if I’m honest, I think the latter was a lot to do with why she won- audiences and critics respect things that are difficult and performing that sort of action, particularly when you’re not a professional stunt-person, is extremely hard and demonstrates a lot of skill and effort.

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Francesca with her Performance Award from Starburst Media City Festival

But the surprises weren’t over. “Dead Meet” also got into Artemis, which as its name might imply, is all about female empowerment. Artemis was a festival we had in mind when making the film, but I had no idea it would actually get accepted. But it’s something of a double-edged sword for me. On the plus side, Artemis is quite high profile. On the down side, it takes place in LA. And I’m in the UK. And broke. And my passport’s out of date. So, yeah, sadly I won’t be attending the film’s first international screening later this month, which is a shame because Francesca went and won another award: Best Actress – Short (the film, not Francesca!)! Again, it’s well-deserved and hopefully she’ll be able to attend the gala and pick up her award in person.

So if there’s one thing I’ve learnt from all this, it’s never write a project off- you never know if it’ll go the distance!

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The next update is about my other directorial effort, “Making a Killing.” It’s finished and it too is being submitted to festivals. I’m pleased with how it’s turned out- it’s a very different film to “Dead Meet” so it should show another side to me as a director. I reckon it’ll do well at a number of festivals and it’ll probably pick up a lot of views when we start pushing it online. Will it win any awards? Time will tell… but it’s already through to the semi finals of the Los Angeles Cinefest, so it’s doing well so far!
To complete my hat trick of directing credits this year, I’ve also been writing a short ghost story with the aim of directing it at some point. The aim for this one is to focus more on visual storytelling and have a film that really lends itself to striking images, something that I feel my previous work lacks a bit. There are also a number of microshorts I have planned so this could be an interesting few months… Hopefully, I should have enough new material to redo my directing showreel and then, all being well, I can start getting actual directing gigs.

Hopefully.