Sunday, October 25, 2009

Film Review: Yellow Fangs

Director: Sonny Chiba

For his 1990 directorial debut, Yellow Fangs, Sonny Chiba seemed to have it all: a great story about bear hunters in early 20th century Hokkaido on the trail of a killer bear with a taste for woman flesh; a cast featuring his Japan Action Club, starring Hiroyuki "Henry" Sanada, and headed by Bunta Sugawara; and the beautiful, snow-covered mountains of Japan's northernmost island. Unfortunately, he also had the worst bear suit ever.

Sonny Chiba is no stranger to bad bear suits. In fact, he actually fought one in 1977's Karate Bear Fighter. As with that film, the bear suit only appears in Yellow Fangs when it's time for a closeup. The rest of the time it's a real bear walking around. But oh man, those closeups are hilarious. Imagine suddenly being attacked by a mangy bear rug, with the head and mouth being operated like a puppet. Scary, that's not.

The movie also has some issues with physics. Now, I'm no expert on early 20th century Hokkaido frontier houses but I'm pretty sure that structural integrity would be compromised if, say, a 7-foot-tall Asian black bear jumped on the roof. This is assuming, of course, that such a bear could leap two storeys to said roof. Also, sliding on your butt down snow covered hills—even in slow motion—is not that exciting and a waste of JAC talent.

However! There is one amazing scene involving a real bear. The hunters advance on a bear that they think has been killing the women. They chase it into a clearing and just as Henry (also composer of the synth rock score wailing behind him, what a guy) is about to take a shot, a dog leaps at the bear. Cut to surprised Henry. Cut to supposed-to-be-cute-but-isn't-really female owner of the dog. And cut to the bear and the dog fighting. Actually fighting. A real bear mauling a real dog. The dog is then thrown away by the bear suit, the girl shoots, and the poor bear (the real bear) stands up, dances around, and appears to be tripped or pulled down by wires. It's not often you get to see that in the movies anymore. Thank you, Sonny Chiba, for that scene of horrible animal cruelty.

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