IRIS GETS T.O.P. TREATMENT FROM 88 FILMS!
IRIS GETS T.O.P. TREATMENT FROM 88 FILMS!
By Calum Waddell
K-pop is the music revolution that, for yours truly, provided the sort of sounds that I could only have dreamed about whilst listening to largely humdrum indie ‘tunes’. An experimental mash-up of various genres, the form may have reached international prominence with ‘Gangnam Style’ and more recently BTS (who are actually a less exciting version of K-rock mainstay B.A.P.) but there is so much to discover. ‘Ah’, you might be saying. ‘But what does K-pop have to do with 88 Films?’ Good question my blog-reading friend. The reason, however, is simple. On 13th August, 88 Films will be releasing IRIS on Blu-Ray (although the action classic will begin shipping from July 28th to early bird customers on our web site!). For those who do not know, K-drama, that is small screen televised serials that are broadcast all across the country (and which are insanely popular throughout the Orient) are just as huge as South Korean music and movies. IRIS was a prime time sensation when it aired in October 2009, so much so that a motion picture version – edited from the serial itself – was in-demand from numerous Asian nations who saw theatrical potential in the glossy and fast-moving franchise. And the fact that IRIS not only starred Lee Byung-hun (the megastar leading man of A BITTERSWEET LIFE) but the icon that is T.O.P only led to its celebrity…
Okay, so who is T.O.P? Only the rapper from Big Bang. And Big Bang, until mandatory military said otherwise (20 months in South Korea) were the biggest thing to happen to K-pop. Known to his mum and dad as Choi Seung-hyun, T.O.P. is widely regarded as one of the most naturally beautiful men in South Korea – and although controversy has recently hogged him (he was caught smoking a joint – a big no-no in his country… and so potentially career-wrecking that the young pop sensation attempted suicide. Yes, cultural differences and all that) there is no doubt that once his army time expires our man will return to his rightful place a pop culture fixture. T.O.P. (and given the death of the supremely talented Jonghyun from SHINee last December, suicide among South Korea’s talented but hugely pressurised twenty-something musicians, wherein training regimes and comebacks are often inhumane, is nothing to take lightly).
As such, for this very special and unique 88 Blog, I offer you the top ten K-pop albums to date. My choice, all of them, and an introduction to the greatest movement of music possibly ever. Yes, you can disagree, that’s the wonderful thing – horses for courses and everything – but if your ears have only recently experienced Ed Sheeran or Coldplay then we would wager at least some of the material below might well melt your mind…
TAEYEON – MY VOICE (Released: 2017)
The highest achievement of K-pop date is surely this multi-layered and remarkably varied 17-track album that exhibits the outrageously awesome range of former Girls’ Generation lead vocalist Kim Taeyeon. The album was previewed with the seductive thump of urban trap meets R&B single ‘I Got Love’ but it was the fuck-me-senseless soar of power ballad ‘Fine’ that really took the breath from fans (heard live it is a tear-jerking masterwork that no record can aptly capture). Add to this the rock of ‘Erasure’, the delicacy of hit short-play ’11:11’ and album centrepiece ‘Time Lapse’ and you have the best LP in history. Probably. Soul-searching and frequently moving, this is Taeyeon finding her voice and then some.
Hit single: FINE (YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NHXUM-6a3dU)
F/X – RED LIGHT (Released: 2014)
One of the most experimental albums of recent memory (even going so far as to re-appropriate the sound of Madchester baggy for the track ‘Butterfly’) F/X hit an all time high with this amazing long-play. The title track is actually about the Sewol ferry disaster (look up the lyrics) making its nightmarish and jagged dance beats and hysterical chorus all the more disturbing (and yet strangely beautiful). SM (the home of EXO and GIRLS’ GENERATION too) seem to have disbanded F/X at this stage which is a damn shame. They really are the sort of band that only comes along once in a lifetime. Except in K-pop. Maybe.
Hit single: RED LIGHT (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iv-8-EgPEY0)
TAEYANG – RISE (Released: 2014)
Big Bang member Taeyang came into his own with this sophomore album that bred the continent-wide smash ‘Eyes Nose Lips’ – a ballad powerful enough to bring grown men to tears. Yet, there was a wealth to love in this LP: the gospel infused introspection of the goosebump-raising ‘Stay With Me’ and ‘Let Go’, whilst ‘Let Go’ does ‘indie’ better than any indie band around at the moment with a fucking enormous chorus. Dancefloor favourite ‘Ringa Linga’ became an instant-classic but there is so much to love here it is difficult to know what to even single out. Taeyang had hinted at a mega-sized solo talent before this (search: ‘Superstar’) but this… this was something else. A perfect example of self-depreciating K-pop for those who like a little bit of ‘feel bad’ with their glam.
Hit single: RINGA LINGA (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UJfZ69MSlvY)
BIG BANG – STILL ALIVE (Released: 2013)
One of the flagship and biggest South Korean pop album is still a delightful listen half a decade later (and that is an eternity in K-pop). Where to start? The continent conquering dance growl of ‘Fantastic Baby’ was the biggest thing in the Far East since boiled rice – and that is just the tip of the iceberg (being in Seoul when the song was at its chart peak was more exciting than anything that took place during the Britpop era. A real feeling of a zeitgeist moment in foreign soft power). The sombre ‘Blue’ is a personal standout, with its dreamy harmonious chorus, but the hip-hop of ‘Bad Boy’ and the electric snarl of the title track also hold-up as five-star efforts within a five-star album. Follow-up LP ‘Made’ is almost equally awesome – but I have limited myself to one band, one album for this top ten. It is also worth mentioning that YG Entertainment, home of Big Bang, were once one of the ‘big two’ (rivalled only by SM) and also the label behind Gangnam Style. Today their stock has slipped, but do not let that stop you from seeking out their latest investment – the mind-bogglingly brilliant Black Pink (who have only two short EPs to their name so far but who are shaping up to be something very special),
Hit single: FANTASTIC BABY (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AAbokV76tkU)
GIRLS’ GENERATION – FIRST JAPANESE ALBUM (Released: 2011)
The girls (then a nine-some) cracked Japan with this focused and eclectic mix of revamps of some of their Korean originals (‘Genie’ – but in Japanese! ‘Hoot’ – but in Japanese! ‘Gee’ – but in Japanese!) but added to the mix some masterpieces that cannot be found elsewhere. The dance-rock mash-up ‘Bad Girl’ is instantly addictive, whilst ‘Run Devil Run’ experiments with swing and ‘You-aholic’ became an understandable live favourite with its aggressive EDM grooves. Meanwhile some fans still argue that penultimate track ‘The Great Escape’ is peak-Girls’ Generation – so much so that the band would tease the opening during their 2015 Asia tour to an overwhelming response (before doing something else anyway).
Hit single: BAD GIRL (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9gQs7damTIE)
T-ARA – BREAKING HEART (Released: 2010)
T-ara have had a rough time of it in recent years and, for all intents and purposes, look as if they have finally and inevitably disbanded. A bullying scandal in 2012, which saw one of the then seven-piece band drop out, returned the girls to their original six but the South Korean public soured on the group as newspapers devoured stories of backstage bitchiness. Ever enterprising, though, T-ara turned to the Chinese market and signed a multi-million dollar deal that paid off and then some. But when the THAAD missile crisis resulted in the ever-liberal Beijing government banning all Korean entertainment, it meant T-ara were once again in a sticky situation, losing members Seohyun and Boram in the process. But looking back at the band and their sole Korean long-play still holds-up as a breakthrough addition to the movement: the sumptuous ‘Like the First Time’ – even in spite of its sexist video and lyrics – a throwback to Shoegazing by way of an electro-beat. It is still one of K-pop’s finest moments. The repetitive brilliance of ‘Bo Peep’ is enough to fill any dance floor and the likes of ‘Breaking Heart’, ‘Sexy Shadow’ and ‘One on One’ – three faultless opening tracks – are so breathtakingly confident that it is difficult to believe any album would chuck them into the mix so quickly.
Hit single: LIKE THE FIRST TIME (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EWSTtFoD0Ms)
SHINee – ONE ON ONE (Released: 2016)
The band’s last album with the late Jonghyun, this promised a more retro-vibe than the previous years ‘Odd’ (which had tackled an Ibiza-style summer anthem with the sublime ‘View’, penned by Jonghyun). ‘One on One’ is the more consistent album – lead single ‘I of 1’ is indie-pop at its finest but follow-up track ‘Feel Good’ is an experiment in chill-out and funk that begins as something and then turns into something else entirely for its EDM-inspired chorus. It is one of the greatest four minutes of SHINee’s career and still feels like a heartbreakingly rich soundscape that, thanks to the passing of Jonghyun, can never really be replicated again.
Hit single: 1 OF 1 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WJua7KEP_oE)
2NE1 – CRUSH (Released 2013)
Another sadly missed band, 2NE1 arguably hit their peak with their 2011 six-track EP that included the stadium rock belter ‘Ugly’ and the acoustic loveliness of ‘Lonely’ but ‘Crush’ made them enormous, including a sold out American tour, before they split up anyway. For anyone looking to let the unique cut-and-paste of K-pop seduce them – one could do a lot worse than this album’s lead-off single ‘Come Back Home’ which blends dance, trance, trip-hop and rock into a hit single that, at the time, felt like music beamed from another planet, never mind another country. And fuck me, what a video… For those missing the 2NE1 sound, the 2017 EP from former band member Minzy goes some way to writing this very premature break-up.
Hit single: Come Back Home (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vLbfv-AAyvQ)
EXO – THE POWER OF MUSIC (Released 2017)
Last year’s EXO comeback indicated that, whilst the West gets wild about BTS, the true Kings of K-pop are still producing the genre’s most adventurous music. From the opening soft-rock of ‘The Eve’ to the outright pop of ‘The Power’ to the reggae-infused ‘Ko Ko Bop’ (one of the best EXO efforts yet), this is another left-field attempt at evolving the sound of a band that has never been radio friendly and yet continues to be a legitimate stadium attraction across the Orient. Probably still the best band on the planet at the moment. Although curious fans are advised to seek out their 2015 single ‘Monster’. Which just rocks.
Hit single: Ko Ko Bop (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IdssuxDdqKk)
WONDER GIRLS – REBOOT (Released 2015)
Another band that has since split (with band member Sunmi hitting a confident solo stride with the hits ‘Gashina’ and ‘Heroine’), ‘Reboot’ saw another Wonder Girls line-up shift and the release of their first album since 2011. This time, the girls re-cast themselves as sexy eighties superstars with a synth-fuelled sound and lots of big keyboards. It worked a treat, although their 2016 single ‘Why So Lonely’ would have been very welcome as an inclusion too (it might be their best tune). That said, there is so much to love here – the tortured, ominous ‘One Black Night’, which sounds like the theme track to a still-in-development horror movie chase set across the night-time alleyways of Seoul, and single ‘I Feel You’ are among the best music that label JYP ever produced.
Hit single: ‘I Feel You’ (probably not safe for work - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V9QXQz6uE0M)
Far From Toxic - by Calum Waddell 0
Far From Toxic
Calum Waddell looks back at Troma's original and best flagship figurehead...
I have been writing quite a bit about Troma this month - including an eight page 'Complete Guide' in the new issue of Sci-Fi Now and an additional chat with Lloyd in next month's issue of The Dark Side - and it got me thinking about the original The Toxic Avenger (1984). Even seen now, almost 35 years since its debut, The Toxic Avenger is a solid bad taste romp that (with a mere 80-minute running time) never wears out its welcome. It is also easy to understand why Lloyd Kaufman wants to see it remade and further sequalised (with a part five on the cards) - the mythology of cinema's least-likely superhero still has a lot of potential even if the three sequels never quite exploited this to the bombastic levels of gore and gross-out gags that the first film specialised in. Troma movies can sometimes be disgusting but without the additional charm - but what really works with The Toxic Avenger is that the characters are oddly endearing and the main muscular monster is weirdly engaging. Even the not-entirely-convincing makeup work on the titular creature is all the more brilliant for lacking that special effects spit-shine.
Moreover, it is hard not to admire a ﬁlm that is so exhaustive in its attempt to shock. So much so that it is little wonder that - arriving just after the 'video nasties' scare - The Toxic Avenger found itself so heavily censored on VHS in the UK. With un-PC - and very eighties - humour prevailing throughout The Toxic Avenger, rest assured that there is something in this movie to offend just about everyone. Take the sequences where a blind lady has her guide dog shot dead in front of her: at the time this must have left audiences gasping for air - especially when it is played for slapstick guffaws. Was there a movie before The Toxic Avenger that could legitimately boast of an intentional 'cartoon-gore' atmosphere? Truthfully I am not entirely sure. Maybe The Toxic Avenger is the genre equivalent of 'The Aristocrats' - wherein every set-piece pushes the boundaries of what might be 'acceptable' to chuckle along with? Kaufman clearly found his calling with The Toxic Avenger - and it still presents the best of his company's ethos: to be independent, individual and to even try and present a style that makes the Troma brand 'stand out' (and like it or not, one almost always knows what they are going to get from one of the label's in-house productions).
As a result, even though it is hard not to leave The Toxic Avenger feeling slightly guilty for having laughed along with some of the most gutter-level jokes, it is also difﬁcult to remain disgusted for long - largely because no character really seems to suffer and the tone is consistently jovial and childishly positive (we really want the Tromaville residents to win out against corruption and crime). Nevertheless, this is surely a ﬁlm that even today will perhaps split people’s opinions in two. For instance, I still remember switching the movie on during my MA in Film, whilst someone doing a similar course tutted in snobby disbelief and eventually left the room telling me it was rubbish and nothing like Kubrick or Welles. To be fair, this ex-flatmate was such an abusive drunk that I moved out fairly soon thereafter, but the point is that, no, this is not Kubrick or Welles - and nor does it want to be. However, it is an insightful look at how to survive in a challenging industry. Whether one enjoys The Toxic Avenger or not, Troma has now been kicking around for 40 years and doing their thing to enough fan reception to remain that rare last American indie genre house that continues to occasionally provoke mainstream coverage and even acceptance. Can you learn about identifying an audience and keeping them interested from The Toxic Avenger and later Troma movies? Damn right - and Kaufman should be feted for having been able to accomplish this in an era where any sort of distribution is near impossible outside of the indiest of film festivals.
Probably the biggest influence on The Toxic Avenger is Herschell Gordon Lewis - the late horror-hack who cheapjack and darkly comic gore effects, however unrealistic, retained a certain power that somehow enraged censors (Lewis would famously find his work banned in the UK). Hence in The Toxic Avenger eyeballs are poked out, arms pulled off, guts ripped asunder, a young boy is run over twice – the second blow from the car crushing his head like a grapefruit – and a man has his face turned into an ice cream sundae. Such mayhem is graphic, but treated as a series of vignettes, Police Academy-style, with each attempting to outdo the next in regards to a laugh-out-loud 'yuck' factor. Herz and Kaufman even conclude the moment where a child is squashed in a hit-and-run with the “I have to go to church” punch-line, reminding the viewer not to take any of the ketchup-heavy 'horror' too seriously. As such, a man might lose his arms, but he is still up and ﬁghting, and when Tromaville’s mayor has his insides pulled out, he responds with a befuddled look and tries desperately to shovel them back into his wounded stomach. As I maintained earlier, this really is not for everyone - but it is somewhat heartening that so many of us 'got it' when The Toxic Avenger first made a splash. Even when someone is given a violent blow to the testicles, it does nothing but allow the man to speak in a high-pitched tone. This is the stuff of Tom and Jerry. And it is maybe for that reason that, on a personal note, I find the film to be so easy to revisit from time to time.
Kenneth Kessler lends his gentlemanly, English voice to the Toxic Avenger himself (yes, apparently being covered in toxic waste changes the way you speak as well!), and while the joke is somewhat obvious, it is also amusing - perhaps also a sly in-joke nod towards Kaufman's own Shakespearian knowledge and fondness. Likewise, despite an obvious low budget, the ﬁlm’s direction is assured and conﬁdent–certainly not ﬂashy, but neither does The Toxic Avenger ever give the impression of laziness, and the picture has obviously been crafted with at least some degree of thought and a cinematic ambition that puts it far above its reputation as a mere VHS 'hit' (the movie was a box office success too). With 88 Films having released all four films in the franchise on BluRay, it goes without saying that the time has never been better to catch up The Toxic Avenger. First time viewers may well be seduced - whilst seasoned Troma veterans surely owe it to themselves for a reminder of just why we fell in love with the 'monster hero' in the first place. It really is an essential eighties comic book caper.
- 88 Films
SWAMPS, SONGS AND SLASHERS by Dr Calum Waddell 0The late David Hess, who sadly passed away in 2011, left a remarkable legacy in screen villainy - and 88 Films is proud to do his memory justice with our forthcoming special edition of Swamp Thing, which reunited him with the great Wes Craven! In this vintage interview, from the archives o Calum Waddell, theperformer remembers his often outrageous career!
- 88 Films
Back to the Grindhouse - By Calum Waddell 0Grindhouse cinemas have long since ceased to exist and yet the movies that played in them continue to be idolized by new generations of directors and films buffs. With the release of GRIZZLY and ADULT FAIRY TALES, 88 Films tries to figure out why we remember these old films and pine for an era when going into an inner-city American cinema actually meant risking life and death!
- 88 Films