Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Zankoku hanten (2008)

... aka: Cruel Restaurant

Directed by:
Kôji Kawano

Seemingly inspired by Fruit Chan's DUMPLINGS (most commonly seen in a shortened version in the anthology THREE... EXTREMES), this low-budget time waster basically takes the silly route, with mild gore scenes mixed with comedy that starts out goofy but becomes increasingly more tasteless as the film goes along. Young Ms. Lin (Mihiro), naive and oblivious to where head chef/butcher Mr. Chin (Sakae Yamazaki) is actually acquiring his cuts of meat, owns a very popular restaurant that specializes in unique tasting fried dumplings. Meanwhile, people from the same vicinity are disappearing without a trace. Put two and two together and it's pretty obvious what the secret ingredient is they're using in their prized dumplings. Many side characters seem to be onto the unorthodox practices of the establishment right from the beginning, including a female reporter (Miho Funatsu) who watches a fisherman reel in a severed hand, a food columnist whose sister had disappeared and was last seen at the restaurant and a couple of police detectives (Katsuya Naruse and Yûsuke Iwata). Also thrown into the mix are an unhinged wanna-be cook determined to become Chin's apprentice and a perverted dumpling "master" shown in flashbacks teaching Ms. Lin the way to make the best dumplings.

There's quite a bit of blood in this one with gory scenes of the chefs hacking up lumps of bloody meat, people getting chopped up with a meat cleaver, a decapitation, dismemberments, a chopstick stuck in an eyeball, a chicken beheading, a silly rubber frog getting chopped in two and more. There's also a strange rape scene where the rapist covers his victim in oil, eggs and ketchup before getting his head lopped off. I'm sure the multiple nude scenes from the beautiful lead actress will also be appreciated by many viewers. Unfortunately, this never seems to find the right note of lunacy and the uncertain fluctuation in tone throughout makes it less enjoyable than it could have been (nevermind the fact that the humor isn't always that effective to begin with). The "surprise" ending (a play on the old ping pong ball trick *wink*) doesn't really seem to fit in with the rest of the film, either.


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