OCTOBER 3, 2011
I’ve been down on subtitles lately, and Fantastic Fest just made it worse, since so many of the films had sub-bootleg level titles (multiple typos, obvious “dumbing down” of longer phrases, skipping thing like newspaper headlines and such). So I was relieved to see that the 122 minute Escape From Vampire Island (Japanese: Higanjima) had an English dub option, since even perfect titles would be a chore for such a long flick. However, I did turn them on from time to time to see how closely they matched the voices, and more often than not they didn’t. Not sure why subtitle outfits are getting so lazy lately, but it’s a real problem and I wish more people would rant about it.
The problem is that sometimes it actually changes the meaning of what is being said/conveyed. For example, early on there’s a scene where our hero is chased by a bunch of bully types, and along the way we sort of meet the rest of who will be our supporting cast in the main part of the movie. At one point he encounters a friend who is selling fish, and they are all dropped to the dirty ground in the fracas. In the subtitles, the guy says “Hey, buy my fish!”, which makes it sound like he’s some sort of asshole trying to pawn off dirty food. However, in the (correct) dubbed version, he yells “Damn punks, why don’t you buy some fish?” - in other words, they owe him for the damages. Just seems to me it would take just as much effort to do the subtitles wrong as it does to do them right, so this sort of stuff really baffles me.
Anyway, the movie’s only real problem is its length. It’s not a very complicated story, nor are the characters really that interesting, but it just gets too damn drawn out. Any time you hit a point in a movie where you feel things should be wrapping up soon, only to discover it’s barely past the halfway mark, it’s a problem. Granted, most Asian horror films tend to run a bit long, but that’s usually the ghost/revenge type ones – not these silly gore flicks (Alien vs. Ninja was a far more respectable 80 minutes, for example).
Otherwise it’s pretty enjoyable. As I’ve said numerous times, I’d love to see more non-ghost films from Japan, but I’m also not a big fan of what my Twitter pal Evan Husney refers to as “Robo fart ninja” movies (i.e. Frankenstein Girl) – those things tend to wear out their welcome long before they’re finished even when they’re technically short. And I was afraid this would be like one of those, but instead I was more often reminded of the 80s Hong Kong comedy-horror films that Brian Quinn programs on occasion for the Grindhouse nights at the New Bev, where the tone sort of veers between slapstick-y comedy and melodrama at the drop of a hat, and the plots tend to be loose at best, but everyone involved seems to be working hard to ensure that the audience is never really bored.
Indeed, even with the length, it’s never really BORING – it’s just a matter of how much time I felt I should be spending with this particular narrative, in which a guy whose brother disappeared two years before is roped into joining an expedition to “Vampire Island”, where the brother is said to be. The action isn’t particularly great – director Tae-gyun Kim loves closeups and shaki-cam, unfortunately – but there’s plenty of it. And there’s some variety to it; big brawls, one on one sword fights, even a big monster rampage/scramble not unlike in Fellowship of the Ring when they take on that giant troll in the mines (except this is some spider-vampire beast).
It also offers a variety of villains. There’s a steampunk-ish head vampire guy, a mad scientist type, a “tank” type who keeps getting taken out and then improved by the scientist dude, the aforementioned monster, an old witch/crone, and then a ton of anonymous vampires. Of course, this is why the movie’s over 2 hours long, since you probably could have spread this out into two movies, but if it was just the steampunk and the vamps, even at 90 minutes the movie probably would have gotten stale, fast. I sort of liked the kitchen sink approach, and wasn’t surprised to learn that it was based on a Manga. My guess is that they combined a few volumes into one narrative, hence the rogue’s gallery of villains.
Another surprise was how (largely practically) gory it was. According to the IMDb, the movie is rated PG-12 in Japan, which is the same rating given to the LOTR films and even Princess Mononoke, so I assumed it would be pretty tame. But no! Plenty of splatter just in the first few minutes, and it continues throughout – slicings, beheadings, dismemberment, etc… all that good stuff is on display. Guess I should have looked into the rating more; movies like Fight Club and Die Hard also received the same rating. Apparently Japan has a very different approach to ratings.
The disc’s only feature of note is a 45 minute making of, narrated by one of the actors. It covers the entire production fairly well, and I liked that the actor admitted when the footage would depict something he wasn’t present for (“I wasn’t here for this, I was off fishing. Sorry.”). I wish more American productions would take this sort of approach; it’s a nice change of pace from the usual EPK bullshit where everyone sits down for scheduled interviews and talks about how great everyone else is. The interviews here seem to be impromptu, and it’s interesting to hear an actor’s take on things like the CGI work or changing locations. There’s also a trailer at the top for Alien vs Ninja that cannot be skipped or even fast forwarded through, which is annoying as hell.
The disc just hits today even though it was released in Japan almost 2 years ago; I don’t know if they make a lot of these sort of movies and very few of them make it over here or if Funimation is actually putting them all out for US audiences, but either way I’m glad they offer up an alternative to the sort of films that Tartan specialized in, and I hope the releases do well enough for them to continue bringing them over (and dubbing them!) for US audiences. None are exactly my favorites, but they are a very refreshing alternative.
What say you?