10/12/2018 – Nepal: Kagbeni (2008)
Directed by Bhusan Dahal
Compared even to the cinemas we’ve looked at thus far this year, the history of film in Nepal is more on the scarce side. The industry is known as Kollywood, but that term is more commonly used to describe India’s Tamil film industry. While the first Nepali language film, Satya Harishchandra was made in 1951, it was made in India. It took until 1964’s Aama, which was produced by the Nepalese government and directed by Hira Singh Khatri, for the first completely Nepalese film to be produced. In 1966, Matighar would become the first film made privately and in 1977, Kumari would become the first color Nepali film.
The industry began to pick up in the ’80s with 1984’s Basudev and 1985’s Kusume Rumal which was the most successful Nepalese film at the time of its release. The director of the latter, Tulsi Ghimire, would continue his success with, Lahure in 1989, Chino (another of Nepal’s biggest native successes) in 1991, and Balidan in 1996 with the final two coming after the reestablishment of democracy in 1991 in the country. 1999 saw the Nepal achieve its only nomination for Best Foreign Language Film for the foreign funded and directed by a French filmmaker, Caravan. They did however receive that nomination on their first submission which is an impressive achievement.
The political climate remained unsteady with production increasing in the early ’90s before crashing in 1996 with the beginning of the Maoist revolution. The 2000’s started to see a turn around with Mask of Desire, Ghimire’s Darpan Chhaya (which took the box office record from his own Kusume Rumal), Muna Madan, and Basain (all but Darpan Chhaya were Oscar submissions). This past decade however has seen far more diversity with the releases of the lesbian romance Soongava: Dance of the Orchids, the action film Loot, the more traditional romance films Jhola and November Rain, the critically acclaimed dramas Talakjung vs Tulke, The Black Hen, White Sun, and Panchayat, and the satire Pashupati Prasad.
Kagbeni is the first digital Nepalese film and second horror film the country produced after the even lesser known Ber Pipal. In fact, it’s the only notable one to date for the country with this year’s Sunkesari the only other Nepalese horror film to manage more than 6 votes on IMDB (at a whopping 34). Loosely based on W. W. Jacob’s The Monkey’s Paw, the film centers around the story of two friends, Krishna and Ramesh. Barely a moment into a story, a crazed, ragged looking woman comes out of nowhere to start the movie making incoherent noises and approaching Krishna who pushes her back. After that fun start, the film settles quickly. Krishna has just started a liquor sales business and while he is doing alright financially (business is a bit slow at the start, but he’s getting by), he aspires to far more.
On the road to another town for business, Krishna and Ramesh stop off in a cave and come across a strange bearded man with a stripe down the center of his forehead. After giving the man a blanket and letting him sit by the fire for warmth, the man offers Krishna a monkey’s paw that can grant a wish, but it will bring consequences on anyone who uses it besides the owner. Anyone familiar with the story or its many descendants will know that the paw can only bring misery and SPOILERS1
The film is slow to start before spoilered bits with the conversations often ponderous. I do appreciate the way that the film takes the time to just establish the characters through non-expository conversations, the film just takes it a bit too far. Once it does reach that spoilered part, the story becomes a fairly standard take on the story, but there’s a reason it still holds up. The acting can get too melodramatic in a few moments, but it’s largely a subdued picture. The film is eager to show off the scenery in wide shots (not always when they are called for including during some conversations), but for the most part its well framed and it looks good for an early digital film. Kagbeni is just an overall satisfying and enjoyable take on The Monkey’s Paw and a nice little find.
Bonus Episode #18 – S – Katie Aselton: Black Rock (2012)
Directed by Katie Aselton
Jumping a bit ahead for a second, we are going to take a look at another female director that isn’t in the official lineup. Katie Aselton is better known as an actress, specifically for her collaborations with her husband Mark Duplass including a starring role on The League. She’s also directed two films of her own however, starting with 2010’s modestly reviewed The Freebie, a comedy-drama which she also wrote and starred in alongside Dax Shepard. Her second, and most recent film, was 2012’s Black Rock, yet another film that she wrote and starred in, but thankfully for this feature, it was a horror film.
For the first time in eight years, three friends are reconnecting. Sarah (Kate Bosworth) is an overly cheerful and excitable type who brings her friends together separately knowing that Abby (Katie Aselton) and Lou (Lake Bell) have bad blood in the past stemming from Lou sleeping with Abby’s boyfriend who she was “pretty sure she was going to probably marry someday”. Abby really is the worst at least at the start. Despite the two nearly just calling it a weekend over the deception (which honestly is understandable), they are able to at least agree to try to have a good time and go camping on an island.
While searching for some treasure that they buried as kids because of The Goonies, they come across three male hunters (and veterans) they grew up with and who join in on their girls time, generally bringing things down with depressing tales. But after one of them sneaks off with Abby SPOILERS2
As a thriller, it’s finely shot and with ample moments of tension. SPOILERS3 The characters are all stock types on both sides though, the women and the men. The plot relies on them, especially the men, to act like idiots for it to continue, and with the exception of Bell’s (who occasionally rises above her basic type), aren’t very interesting. It’s a competent film all over, but nothing more.
Bonus Episode #19 – A – 1970s: The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974)
Directed by Roy Ward Baker and Chang Cheh
Hammer‘s Dracula series had begun in 1958, but after eight films, it was time for it to end. The series had its ups and downs from the solid (Horror of Dracula, The Brides of Dracula, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, Scars of Dracula) to the much less so (Dracula: Prince of Darkness, Taste the Blood of Dracula, and Dracula A.D. 1972) to the I haven’t seen it yet (The Satanic Rites of Dracula), but with the exception of The Brides of Dracula, the one constant had been Christopher Lee as Dracula. An increasingly bored Lee who was barely in certain entries and clearly wanted out. After reading the script for our final film for today, he would leave the series again, this time permanently.
In Transylvania 1804, Kah, a monk heads to Castle Dracula seeking his help to restore the power of the 7 Golden Vampires. Dracula, tiring of his dismal surroundings, agrees but only on the condition he can take on the visage of Kah, so he can walk the Earth again (Kah is given little say in this). Mostly set in 1904, Professor Van Helsing is teaching a class in China, but when he broaches the subject of vampires and a village that becomes cursed every year on the 7th moon, his class walks out, believing in it is all superstitions and that he is treating them as simple folk. I love the little take that which the students give to the dumb white Europeans implying that only they could be dumb enough to fall for this (okay, they go beyond implying).
One Van Helsing’s students (the grandson of a man who had unsuccessfully battled the vampires years before), however, believes him and approaches him, asking for assistance against the vampires. These vampires are golden because of their masks (with decaying mummy like faces underneath) and able to raise the dead who are all shot in slow motion and fight like they are stuck in molasses. I love the way the vampires fly in behind columns as bats in one scene and run out the other side as vampires ready to fight like it’s a wrestling match or the way that the vampires deflate into dust when their heart is destroyed. It’s exactly the kind of bonkers this kind of film needs.
The bare-chested women and spilled blood quotient definitely feel straight out of late Hammer while the action skews far more towards Shaw Brothers martial arts films. Which makes sense on both accounts since the film was a collaboration between the two studios and co-directed by Hammer veteran Roy Ward Baker (Quatermass and the Pit, Scars of Dracula, The Vampire Lovers) and an uncredited Chang Cheh (the Shaw Brothers legend who directed The One-Armed Swordsman and would go on to direct Five Deadly Venoms, Crippled Avengers, The Kid with the Golden Arms).
It’s not a perfect fit as the film struggles to try to make Van Helsing’s son (played by Robin Stewart and brought along on the expedition) seem like a worthwhile fighter alongside the actually talented types. His flails that are allegedly punches stand out all the more clearer especially when they just have him shooting people with a gun. In fact, the film struggles to justify Van Helsing’s presence either since he could have just said “go for the heart” back at the university and not even gone on the trip. He gives one pep talk and along with his son and the financier lady need to be protected more than once by martial artists who probably shouldn’t be distracted from fighting vampires. That’s not to say Cushing isn’t a welcome presence as an actor and the film is desperately missing Lee as Dracula. John Forbes-Robertson just doesn’t cut it in the role (even if it feels like Chan Shen plays the role about as much), and a better actor would have added so much more to the appeal here.
There’s still plenty to like though. I’ll admit that I went in very predisposed to the film. Taking horror and martial arts films, two genres I’m fond of, and mashing them together in one gloriously cheesy mix sounds perfect. Obviously, it’s not going to be particularly horrifying of a movie, but then again, this was Hammer so that ship had already sailed. I’d struggle to call it a good movie, the fights are big, unmemorable skirmishes and too many moments feel like an anticlimax, but it elevated the typical Hammer formula (especially to the point it had decayed to by the late 60s and 70s) to become something fun.
Next up: We head to the 1960’s for Mario Bava’s Kill, Baby… Kill!