Category Archives: Crime fiction and film from India

MacKenna’s Gold: gold, ghosts and frontier violence

1969 was arguably the year Hollywood fully embraced the revisionist western. In addition to Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, there was True GritTell Them Willy Boy is HereDeath of a Gunfighter, and Midnight Cowboy. As well as playing with notions of ‘the cowboy’ and ‘the West’, they contained more stylised violence, more sex and stories that overtly fed off the cynicism and disillusionment of America’s war in Vietnam and domestic racial strife.

Released in May that year, Mackenna’s Gold straddles the divide between the classic big studio western and its revisionist successors. Headed up by Gregory Peck and Omar Sharif, the film boasts a cast to kill for. It is also a story filled with supernatural elements, in which humans are haunted not only by spirits guarding a lost canyon full of gold but by their own greed and paranoia.

In my debut for a website I have admired for some time, Diabolique Magazine, I wrote about gold, ghosts and frontier violence in MacKenna’s Gold. You can read the entire article on their site via this link. Enjoy.

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MIFF report back #2: Sunrise

Sunrise

A key question for me from Partho Sen-Gupta’s second feature film, Sunrise, which played as part of the 2015 Melbourne International Film Festival, is how does one make a gripping crime film out of a pervasive social problem like child trafficking? If this was indeed Sen-Gupta’s intention, I’m not sure he has entirely succeeded. That said, there is a lot to recommend it.

The narrative spine of Sunrise is fairly straightforward. Joshi is middle aged Inspector working in a poorly resourced unit of the Mumbai police. His life has been in tatters ever since a person or persons unknown kidnapped his young daughter, Aruna, in front of her school years ago. The crime has destroyed his wife’s sanity and threatens to do the same to him. Compounding his trauma is the fact that the unit he works in deals with other parents who have had similar experiences. Joshi and his colleagues are largely unable to help these people, usually because their resources and methods are no match for those of the criminals responsible for the disappearances.

Joshi spends his nights obsessively searching for Aruna. He thinks he sees her everywhere. One night he stumbles out of the torrential monsoon rain into a nightclub called Paradise. Through the crowd Joshi spies Aruna amongst a group of young girls dancing on stage.… Read more

My 10 anticipated films of the Melbourne International Film Festival

The Duke of BurgundyThe Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) is almost upon us and, this year, I am seeing more than my usual quota of films. I won’t go into detail regarding everything I’ve booked, but here are the ten films I am most excited about.

The Duke of Burgundy

Confession: I missed this in my first pass of the MIFF program and, thankfully, was alerted by a friend to the fact it was playing. Despite some problems with the last quarter of the film I adored Berberian Sound Studio (2013), Peter Strickland’s tasteful, authentic non-Tarantinoesque homage to Italian giallo films of the seventies. So The Duke of Burgundy, a tribute to the Euro sleaze films of Jess Franco and Walerian Borowczyk has me very excited.

Sunrise

My search for a decent Indian neo noir continues with Partho Sen-Gupta’s 2014 feature, Sunrise. In 2012 I sat through all six hours of Gangs of Wasseypur, the sprawling saga of two rival crime families in the Indian state of Bihar. It held together well for the first half before degenerating into a Spaghetti Western-like shoot ‘em up. In 2013, it was Monsoon, a Mumbai based crime drama about a rookie cop and his corrupt older partner. It showed promise but I felt it was too focused on achieving the right aesthete at the expense of story.… Read more

MIFF 2013 progress report #1: Manila in the Claws of Light & Monsoon Shootout

ManilaA couple of weeks ago I posted on the films I was planning to check out as part of the Melbourne International Festival. Yesterday I ticked off my first two choices, the Indian noir Monsoon Shootout and Manila in the Claws of Light.

First up, Manila in the Claws of Light (or as it is otherwise known as, The Nail of Brightness). This 1975 film is considered one of the classics of Philippines cinema. I’d heard a lot about and I wasn’t disappointed.

Julio (Bembol Rocco) is a young man who leaves his idyllic life in a small rural fishing town and travels to Manila to find his childhood sweetheart, Ligaya (Hilda Koronel), who has been trafficked into the city’s sex trade. Finding himself flat broke after he is mugged, he has no choice but to take a job working on a high-rise construction site.

The conditions are brutal, he sleeps in a wooden shack next to the half finished building, and workplace deaths are common. He also has to deal with the foreman, who regularly rips the workers off for a portion of their wages and sacks anyone who complains.

He eventually loses that job and ends up homeless on Manila’s streets, where he skirmishes with criminal gangs and meets a male prostitute who tries to induct him into the world of sex work.… Read more

Pulp Friday: spy pulp part 2, Assignment Asia

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of James Bond, last week’s Pulp Friday was a selection of spy themed pulp covers.

This week’s post takes us to one of the main battlegrounds for pulp spies in the sixties and seventies – Asia.

The Cold War was in full swing and those Reds were getting up to all kinds of nefarious activity behind the bamboo curtain, everything from kidnapping, sabotaging America’s space program, developing bubonic plague, drug running, to assassination.

And secret agents like Mark Hood (The Bamboo Bomb) Butler (Chinese Roulette) Death Merchant (Chinese Conspiracy), Joe Gall (The Star Ruby Contract) and Drake (“The man with nobody’s face” in Operation Checkmate), Nick Carter (The Defector) and Sam Durell (the Assignment series, over 48 of which were written), were in the thick of it.

They usually committed a lot of violence, had a lot of sex, and travelled to exotic locations. The books below are set in China, Singapore, Hawaii, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, Japan and Sri Lanka.

And, of course, there were some great covers. My favourite is the Robert Mcginnis illustration for Scott S Stone’s The Dragon’s Eye. But I’m also rather taken with the sleazy eighties feel of the photograph on the cover of Assignment Bangkok.… Read more