What to watch at home in April

An Ozu classic, a wrestling comedy and a Portuguese mystery about strange astronaut-themed dreams are among our picks out on streaming and home ents this month.

Anton Bitel


Anton Bitel provides a look at six titles heading to streaming and physical media releases this month that you should add to the top of your viewing list.

The Foul King (Banchikwang), dir. Kim Jee-woon, 2000

“Welcome to the real world,” a bank’s assistant manager (Song Young-chang) tells his employee Im Dae-ho (Song Kang-ho), having just held him in, and then released him from, a vicious headlock. “If you’re weak, you die.”

Dae-ho is a loser who wants nothing more than to impress his disappointed father (Shin Goo), and to break free of his boss’s humiliating hold over him. One day he spots an old wrestling gymnasium, where a tattered poster promises combat techniques that are “applicable to daily living!” — and so begins his double life, by day a banker, by night training hard in wrestling (and actually getting good at it). As these two worlds overlap, Kim Jee-woon’s second feature plays like a comic Korean rejoinder to Fight Club.

Dae-ho longs to be a ‘foul king’ like his former hero Ultra Tiger Mask, who specialised in cheating techniques. As Dae-il prepares to meet pro Yubiho (Kim Soo-ro) in the ring, he must decide whether to accept once more his scripted rôle of loser, or to give the match his all and show the ‘perseverance’ that is his gym’s motto. Somewhere in this ‘gripping’ underdog comedy is a real-world lesson.

The Foul King is available on digital from 8 April via Blue Finch Films

A Bittersweet Life (Dalkomhan insaeng), dir Kim Jee-woon, 2005

“You can do 100 things right,” says kingpin Kang (Kim Yeong-cheol) to his loyal enforcer Kim Sun-woo (Lee Byung-hun), “but one mistake can destroy everything.”

These words will be played out by the rest of Kim Jee-woon’s gangster revenge film, as the Sun-woo, a fastidious aesthete who likes to sweeten his bitter espresso with a sugar cube, and whose elegant dress and manner belie his thuggish martial skills, is about to see this clean, ordered world become a muddy, bloody chaos.

Sun-woo’s one mistake, when assigned to keep an eye on Kang’s musician girlfriend Hee-soo (Shin Min-a) with the boss out of town, is to develop tender feelings and to disobey a direct order. Now his well-tempered life comes apart at the seams, and a new self emerges. Ensuing scenes of Tarantino-esque mayhem, messy rebirth and ultra-violent destruction serve to dramatise Sun-woo’s conflicting inner desires as he shadow-boxes with himself as much as taking down everyone else.

This crazy genre-fied film, possibly just a romantic reverie, is no less cerebral, psychological, even spiritual than it is viscerally thrilling, with untold depths reflected in its brilliant surface sheen.

A Bittersweet Life is available on digital from 8 April via Blue Finch Films

I Was Born, But… (Otona no miru ehon – Umarete wa mita keredo), dir. Yasujirô Ozu, 1932

Yasujiro Ozu’s silent feature comes with a curious, paradoxical subtitle — “A Picture Book For Grown Ups” — whose meaning is only gradually resolved. The first part is easy to understand: for as manager Yoshi (Tatsuo Saitō) moves his family to the Tokyo suburbs to be closer to the home of his company’s executive Iwasaki (Takeshi Sakamoto), this new environment is focalised through Yoshi’s young sons Ryoichi (Hideo Sugawara) and Keiji (Tomio Aoki), who try to find their place amid the bullying and power plays of the other local lads. This is a funny, gently observed boys’ own adventure, playing out Yoshi’s (intertitled) assertion, “All young boys should have a little mischief in them.”

Yet his two sons’ struggles for supremacy over the other boys will bring them to question the importance of their father, who they see behaving subserviently to Iwasaki, even though they now boss around Iwasaki’s son (Seiichi Kato). Their subsequent disappointment and disillusionment is the first, tentative taste of a very adult lesson about patriarchy and pecking order in Japan’s social hierarchies. 27 years later, Ozu would reimagine the film as Good Morning, ringing the changes on this timeless principle with sound, colour and the advent of television.

I Was Born, But… is available on the Blu-ray set Two Films by Yasujiro Ozu (also including There Was A Father, 1942) from 15 April via BFI

The Cat and the Canary, dir. Paul Leni, 1927

“Medicine could do nothing more for Cyrus West, whose greedy relatives, like cats around a canary, had brought him to the verge of madness,” reads an intertitle near the beginning of Paul Leni’s comic horror/murder mystery.

In keeping with old West’s instructions, exactly 20 years after his death those same relatives are assembled at his remote New York castle to hear his last will and testament, and his most distant relative Annabelle (Laura La Plante) is nominated as heir to his fortune. Yet with ghosts and an escaped lunatic said to be lurking around the premises, with the next in line to West’s legacy still behaving like a predatory cat, and with the guests going missing one by one, it is going to be a long night.

The first of six adaptations from John Willard’s popular 1922 play, this silent film lands in the sweet spot between Leni’s German Expressionism and the camper American gothic of what would emerge as Universal horror in the early Thirties. With plenty of trickery and treachery on screen to match the inventive artifice of the film itself, this is a stylised succession saga of murder and madness, and a romantic melodrama with claws.

The Cat and the Canary is available on Blu-ray from 22 April via Eureka

Suzhou River (Suzhou he), dir. Lou Ye, 2000

“I could tell you that I saw a mermaid once sitting on the muddy bank, combing her golden hair. But I’d be lying.”

So says the Videographer (Zhang Ming Fan), unseen narrator and sometime focaliser of Lou Ye’s vibrant feature set in the grubby riverside demimonde of contemporary Shanghai. The videographer’s work brings him to Meimei (Zhou Xun), who does a mermaid act in a seedy bar — but as their affair is shown from the POV of his own camera, that same handheld documentary style is used to track the parallel, perhaps interrelated love story of motorbike courier Mardar (Jia Hongsheng) who falls for, betrays and loses his young ward Moudan (also Zhou Xun), only to become convinced, after a search for her spanning many years, that she is in fact Meimei. Unless of course the Videographer makes the whole thing up, as a counterpoint to his own rather less committed dalliance with Meimei.

Like its central motif of a mermaid, this mystery romance is a hybrid creature, split between truth and fiction, idealism and cynicism, and unfolding along a river where there are many stories, where everything is in constant flux, and where even love may be just another myth.

Suzhou River is available on Blu-ray from 29 April via Radiance

Footprints (aka Footprints on the Moon, aka Le orme), dir. Luigi Bazzoni, 1975

In blue-tinged monochrome, one astronaut drags another across the lunar surface, and then abandons him there, as Professor Blackmann (Klaus Kinski) in the control room looks on. This opening sequence from Luigi Bazzoni’s enigmatic feature is also the recurring nightmare of Alice Campos (Florinda Bolkan), a Portuguese-born interpreter in Italy who, like a man alone on the moon, seems isolated, alienated and lost in translation. Alice’s dreams are based on a sci-fi movie she saw years earlier that, horrified, she had to leave before its end, never learning the purpose of Blackmann’s cruel “experiment”.

After suffering a three-day memory blackout, Alice follows cryptic clues (a torn-up photo, a blood-flecked dress) to the liminal island of Garma and its Marienbad-like hotel that she half-remembers (and whose guests half-remember her). There, in keeping with her name, Alice goes down a rabbit hole of alter egos, repressive parenting, lost love, déjà vu and dissociative identity disorder. This is Lynch avant la lettre, with an archetypal paranoid-neurotic ‘woman in trouble’ undergoing a psychogenic fugue in which she tries to trace, in the footprints of mystery and madness, a meaningful yet forever misunderstood ending. Astonishing lunacy!

Footprints is available on Blu-ray and digital from 29 Apr via Shameless Films

Published 11 Apr 2024

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