Once you start getting serious about film you can't get around the influence a director has on the final product. Directors can make or break a film and I'm going to use this feature to put some of them into the spotlight. I'm not just going to list my favorite directors though, instead I'm going to single out the directors of whom I've seen at least 10 films, providing a little introduction into their work.

tobe hooper

April 29, 2014
Tobe Hooper

If you're only the slightest bit interested in the recent history of horror cinema you're bound to come across some of Tobe Hooper's films. Over the span of (more or less) 40 years he directed quite a few horror classics. Films that, at least in spirit, survived the test of time.

It all started for Hooper in '74 when he released The Texas Chainsaw Massacre upon the world. Considered by many fans one of the most important horror flicks ever made, it is indeed a big break with all the horror films that came before. Apart from its undeniable legacy, a groovy soundtrack and a nice finale are all that is left to enjoy nowadays, the rest of the film is pretty mediocre, even bordering on amateurism at times.

Hooper would go on to direct a few other cult classics (most notably Salem's Lot, an adaptation of Stephen King's book), until in '82 Hooper would hit it big a second time. With a little help from Steven Spielberg (writer of the script) he released Poltergeist, a film firmly etched in the realm of kiddy horror, but containing several scenes that would, over the years, become part of our cultural heritage.

It would turn out to be Hooper's last big commercial success as he would quickly slip back into B-film territory. Life Force might be considered a cross-over film, but was ultimately bogged down by bad acting, a lack of focus and some rather crude special effects. Hooper tried one last time to reach out to the masses, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 was a pretty loose sequel to the first film that traded in tension for comedy, but that clearly wasn't what people were hoping to see.

The 90s and early 00s would bring little success for Hooper, though he never stopped trying. His adaptation of King's The Mangler wasn't even half bad, Body Bags (his collaboration with Carpenter) is a downright failure though. I must admit I kinda lost track of Hooper during this period. He would rise once more though, during the mid '00s when the Masters of Horror anthology brought all the major horror directors back together one final time. Both The Damned Thing and Dance of the Dead (Hooper's entries) are highlights of the series.

Hooper has a new film (Djinn) sitting in his vault, waiting to be released, but practical (legal I think) problems are holding it back. Maybe not such a bad thing since the trailer was hardly worth the trouble. It's anyone's guess is Hooper resurfaces once more, then again he's had a sufficiently pleasant and worthwhile career so he could just as well call it a day. I'm not his biggest fan (80s horror isn't really my thing), but I don't mind catching up with one of his films from time to time. It's a bit hit and miss, but everybody with a soft spot for horror owes it to himself to at least check out his most famous films.

Best film: Dance of the Dead (4.0*)
Worst film: Salem's Lot (1.0*)
Average rating: 2.40 (out of 5)

sam raimi

April 16, 2014
Sam Raimi

Between Raimi's enormous cult status and my girlfriend's interest in superhero films, it's almost impossible to ignore the career of Sam Raimi. He made himself immortal with his first film, reinvented himself halfway through and even though he's somewhat meandering now, I wouldn't be surprised if Raimi surfaced a third time.

The Evil Dead is a cult favorite, no two ways about it. Not only did it launch Raimi's own career, the film also marked Bruce Campbell as an instant cult figure. I never really saw the appeal though, as for me the horrendous acting and some rotten special effects killed the film. Its two sequels are more comedy-oriented, a smart move as there clearly wasn't enough budget (or skill) to make a decent horror flick. Still not what I'd call great films, but at least a step up from the first one.

During that same period Raimi already dabbled his feet in the superhero pool. Darkman is a pretty poor (and cheap) attempt to make a darker superhero film. With all its 80s influences, it's a film that will keep a faithful audience for years to come, but this kind of cheesy nonsense is completely wasted on me. Needless to say, I'm far from impressed by Raimi's career start.

Raimi finally surprised me when he released A Simple Plan. A dark, dry comedy played out in a remote and snowy setting. Somewhat low-key and pretty different from the loud, attention-whoring films he made before, but really all the better for it. With commendable roles for Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton and a strong, uneasy atmosphere, it's by far the best thing Raimi has ever accomplished. It was little more than a quick diversion though, as he would gear up to tackle the superhero genre for a second time.

Even though I'm in complete awe of the grandness of Marvel's movie emporium (they created something truly special these past 10 years), there aren't many Marvel films I actually like. Spider-Man is one of the worst offenders and Raimi's version is a blueprint of why I don't like these superhero films. Flimsy bad guys, silly dress ups and some poorly executed drama make for overly long and pointless films. Not that Raimi should care what I think, all three films were a major success and gave his career a second life.

With Drag Me To Hell and Oz the Great and Powerful Raimi tried to keep the momentum going, but with little success. Even though I liked these films a lot better than the Spider-Man trilogy, audiences weren't so kind to them. Currently there are no new projects lined up for Raimi, though he keeps busy producing films like Possession and the upcoming Poltergeist remake. I'm fine with that to be honest, I don't think I'm missing out on much without Raimi around.

Best film: A Simple Plan (4.0*)
Worst film: Spider-Man (0.5*)
Average rating: 1.60 (out of 5)

gordon chan

March 31, 2014
Gordon Chan

Gordon Chan is one of those Hong Kong directors who made it to Hollywood. Not just once, but twice. But like all the others, he quickly returned to Hong Kong to wash away the bitter taste. Not that his Hong Kong work is absolute bliss, but it is at least a few steps up from the drab he directed in America.

Gordon Chan's fame rose together with Stephen Chow's. In the early 90s Chan released two Tao Xue Wei Long (Fight Back to School) films next to Mo Jong Yuen So Hak-Yi (King Of Beggars), fine examples of action films with a strong focus on comedy. It was the start of a period when anything touched by Chow would turn into gold and Chan was there to benefit from it.

Chan reschooled himself to action and martial cinema, once again attracting the biggest names in the genre. Pik Lik For (Thunderbolt) is Chan's collaboration with Jackie Chan, Fei Hu (The First Option) and more notably Jing Wu Jing Xiong (Fist of Legend) see Chan team up with Jet Li. When the rest of the Hong Kong movie industry started to crumble mid 90s, Chan was one of the few to keep on releasing decent action films, with Yeshou Xingjing (Beast Cops - a team effort with Dante Lam) as my personal favorite.

In 2003 Chan took his first trip to Hollywood. The result was The Medallion, a pretty mediocre action film starring Jackie Chan in the lead. It marked the start of a pretty rough period for Gordon Chan, with clunkers like A1 Tou Tiao (A-1: Headline) and The King of Fighters further watering down his oeuvre. The only bright spot during this period is Ji Jern Mo Lai (Undercover Hidden Dragon), another collaboration with Dante Lam.

After recovering from The King of Fighters, his worst release to date, Chan moved back to Hong Kong and rebooted his career. Hua Bi (Mural) was a little shaky, but Si Da Ming Bu (The Four) put Chan back on track. The follow-up was as grand as Hong Kong spectacles get and Chan's entry in the Tales from the Dark 2 anthology shows a director who matured enough to create a strong, creditable and stylish horror film.

Gordon Chan isn't the director to create big, sprawling masterpieces, but he released quite a few enjoyable action flicks and comedies throughout the years. The quality varies, but there are only a few films that aren't worth the trouble. If you're looking for a filler director with a vast and amusing oeuvre, Gordon Chan should be high on your list.

Best film: Tales from the Dark 2 (4.0*)
Worst film: The King of Fighters (1.0*)
Reviewed film(s): Tales from the Dark 2
Average rating: 2.70 (out of 5)

wai-keung lau

March 18, 2014
Wai-keung Lau

Wai-keung Lau (often credited as Andrew Lau) is not only one of Hong Kong's most prolific directors, he's also one of the most versatile ones. Lau has had a pretty rich and varied career so far and shows no signs of stopping just yet. But it must be said, it cost Lau quite a lot of effort to get where he is today and he had to fight his way back into the game more than once.

The first few years of his career Lau struggled to get a foot between the door. His very first director credit was for Lian Ai De Tian Kong, an anthology project helmed by Jing Wong, his subsequent projects didn't fare much better. Not that they were terrible films (apart from Xiang Gang Qi An: Zhi Qiang Jian, which was pretty disastrous), they just didn't leave much of an impression.

In 1996, while the entire Hong Kong movie scene was drowning in sorrow, Lau rose to the occasion and released Gu Huo Zi: Zhi Ren Zai Jiang Hu (Young And Dangerous), the first part of what was to become an incredibly popular crime series, spouting five official sequels and at least as many spin-offs. In its wake stars like Francis Ng, Ekin Cheng and Jordan Chan rose to fame. This series is probably the perfect starting point if you're interesting in Lau's earlier work (or Hong Kong Triad films in general).

Lau continued to release solid films, most notably Fung Wan: Hung Ba Tin Ha (The Storm Riders) and Kuet Chin Chi Gam Ji Din (The Duel), sticking to a close crew of actors who were all more than happy to return to Lau's projects. Ekin Cheng in particular owes a lot to the success of Lau's films. But as most Hong Kong directors around that time, Lau wasn't able to escape the occasional dud. Oi Gwan Yue Mung (Dance of a Dream) and Wai See Lee Ji Lam Huet Yan (The Wesley Mysterious File) rank amongst the absolute worst films in Lau's entire oeuvre.

But Lau picked himself up again, and how. I admit I'm not the biggest fan myself, but Lau's Mou Gaan Dou (Infernal Affairs) trilogy travelled the world and would end up in the hands of Scorsese. The films are slick police thrillers, featuring some of Hong Kong's best actors and spanning a wide era of Triad activity. The success allowed Lau to travel abroad. First somewhat tentatively, taking a group of Korean actors and a Japanese composer to The Netherlands to direct Daisy, soon after he'd make the trip to Hollywood to direct The Flock. But like most travelling directors, the jump to Hollywood was little more than a failed adventure.

Back in Hong Kong Lau started over once more and came out with Jing Wu Feng Yun: Chen Zhen (The Legend of Chen Zhen), my favorite Lau film so far. With Xue Di Zi (The Guillotines) he repeated that success, earning him a second chance to make the trip to America. Revenge of the Green Dragons is set to be released later this year, featuring Ray Liotta as a potential crowd puller.

From crime to martial arts, from comedy to thriller, Wai-keung Lau has tried many genres and played around in many different corners of the movie business (not just as a director either, Lau also has cinematography, production and even some acting credits to his name). While his truly great films are few and far between, most of his oeuvre is filled with solid, fun-filled entertainment. If you're not a big fan of Asian cinema Mou Gaan Dou is probably the best place to start, if you're familiar with Hong Kong's genre cinema then the Gu Huo Zi: Zhi Ren Zai Jiang Hu is a must-see.

Best film: Jing Wu Feng Yun: Chen Zhen (The Legend of Chen Zhen) (4.0*)
Worst film: Wai See Lee Ji Lam Huet Yan (The Wesley's Mysterious File) (1.0*)
Reviewed film(s): The Legend of Chen Zhen
Average rating: 2.94 (out of 5)

koji wakamatsu

February 24, 2014
Koji Wakamatsu

RIP Koji Wakamatsu. He's my undisputed favorite of all classic directors. An amazing man who died a plain and unheroic death only a year ago when he was hit by cab, returning from a meeting about the funding of his latest project. It's truly sad because Wakamatsu had reacquainted himself with his love for cinema, making films (and good ones at that) as if he'd just started out in the business.

Wakamatsu started his career in 1963, taking a flying start and not slowing down substantially until almost 30 years later. At his prime (1969 was an important year for him) Wakamatsu made 11 films. That's about one film a month. You'd think the quality would suffer a lot, but surprisingly one of his best (and best known) films was made during that year. Yuke Yuke Nidome no Shojo (Go Go Second Time Virgin) is one hell of a movie, one that shows little signs of ageing and still feels like a breath of fresh air, even today.

While a unique director, I feel there is a strong connection between the work of Wakamatsu and Godard, especially the more political and experimental films both directors share in their oeuvre. Politics and rebellion are often returning topics in Wakamatsu's films, his documentaries in particular (Sekigun-PFLP: Sekai Senso Sengen) smelling more than a little of propaganda. Wakamatsu's ideals fare better in his feature films, where his characters and their often retracted personalities give counterbalance to the political ideas covered.

During the 80s and 90s Wakamatsu laid low, only producing one film every year or so. The quality of these films isn't up to par with his earlier work either, as he edged closer and closer towards commercial, identity-ridden projects. During these 20-odd years he only made about 10 films in total. That's still a lot for a normal director, for Wakamatsu it's almost as if he didn't have the energy any more. I'd say these films are probably best kept as filler for those of us who have run out of other Wakamatsu films to see.

In 2004 Wakamatsu made a comeback with 17-Sai no Fukei - Shonen wa Nani o Mita no Ka (Landscapes The Boy Saw). A combination of a harrowing personal portrait interspersed with political ideals, it's my favorite Wakamatsu so far. While not a big commercial success, the film proved there was still some life left in the man and it kick-started a new series of films in his name. With 3 films released in 2012, it seemed Wakamatsu was getting back to his earlier level of output, until one car decided differently.

Wakamatsu is not the kind of director to make easy accessible, commercially viable films. But the combination of interesting characters, natural acting, stylistic freedom and strong ideals make for an oeuvre that hides many gems. With 100+ director credits to his name, I have only scratched the top of the iceberg, but what I've seen so far puts him firmly in my ever-growing list of favorites.

Best film: 17-Sai no Fukei - Shonen wa Nani o Mita no Ka (Landscapes The Boy Saw) (4.0*)
Worst film: Sekigun-PFLP: Sekai Senso Sengen (The Red Army/PFLP: Declaration of World War) (0.5*)
Reviewed film(s): Landscapes The Boy Saw - Kaien Hoteru - Buru
Average rating: 2.86 (out of 5)

luc besson

February 19, 2014
Luc Besson

Even though France has a pretty bustling movie scene, nowadays not too many French directors find success outside of their home territory. There will always be niche interest (like the recent wave of French horror flicks) and some occasional outcasts turned famous (think Jean-Piere Jeunet or Gaspar Noé), but when it comes to big commercial successes, there is only one man who made the cut this generation: Luc Besson.

Like many a great director Besson started off with a very small, personal and uncompromising film that got people to notice him. Le Dernier Combat still stands proud today, thanks to its stylish black and white photography and one of the first major roles of Jean Reno. Besson's productions (and success) grew bigger from that point, with films like Le Grand Blue and Nikita finding their way to larger audiences.

Besson's true fame came when he crossed the ocean and went on to make Léon. Very few foreign directors can say they made one of their best films when they moved to Hollywood, Besson is one of them. Not only did it immortalize actors like Reno and Oldman, the film single-handedly launched the career of Nathalie Portman. His second attempt to woo the American market was a harder sell, though I'll gladly admit that The Fifth Element remains one of my favorite Hollywood flicks to this day.

Besson made one more big production (Joan of Arc) before he rebooted his career. Angel-A (his best film to date) is a throwback to Besson's very first feature. Beautiful black and white photography, an original concept and a small cast was all he needed to make something truly special. From then on Besson's directing career starts to falter a little. His Arthur films form a passable children's animation trilogy but little more than that, Adèle Blanc-Sec an above average mix of Indiana Jones and Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Malavita a decent attempt at importing Hollywood stars into France, but all of these films lack that extra something that made his earlier films stand out. While fun and amusing, none of these films truly impress.

On the side Besson also immortalized himself through his production work, giving French genre cinema (mostly action-oriented stuff) such a boost that it got noticed far across the border. Films like District 13, Taxi and The Transporter all carry Besson's name, with of course a special mention for Ong-Bak. If you want to dig into Besson's own oeuvre though, Léon is probably the best place to start. If you're more into off-beat cinema, give Angel-A a spin.

Best film: Angel-A (4.5*)
Worst film: Arthur et la Vengeance de Maltazard (2.5*)
Reviewed film(s): Angel-A - Léon - The Fifth Element - Lucy
Average rating: 3.50 (out of 5)

akira kurosawa

February 10, 2014
Akira Kurosawa

Akira Kurosawa is the first classic director to appear on my "10 or more" list of directors. He is after all Japan's most honoured cinematic legacy with an body of work that regularly rears its head in all kinds of popularity contests. His oeuvre spans 50 years of cinema and Kurosawa is often cited as an inspiration by fellow film makers (including some of my own favorites, like Shinya Tsukamoto), so it is pretty hard to ignore him.

While I won't contest Kurosawa's legacy, I myself am not a big fan of his work. I got acquainted with his films through several influential top lists and/or popularity contests, but found little to my liking. It seems that Kurosawa's most popular films unite actor Toshiro Mifune and his samurai work, while I seem to prefer Takashi Shimizu and his more contemporary films.

I'm not a very big fan of samurai films to begin with, classic or contemporary, and coupled with Mifune's never-changing bully with the heart at the right place character there just isn't too much there for me in Kurosawa's films. The plots are pretty basic, the fight scenes terribly outdated and the visuals too functional. Still, quality varies as I could, up to a point, appreciate a film like Rashomon, where Kakushi-Toride no San-Akunin bored me to tears.

Ikiru and Nora Inu stand out as some of his better movies, sadly Kurosawa also has a tendency to drag his films out way past the 120 minute mark. It's the prime reason why I haven't seen more of his contemporary work, as the running time of these films often nullifies the positive points. It won't stop me from watching more of his work though, just not on a very regular basis. I know it's not a popular opinion to hold, but I guess I just don't like Kurosawa all that much. Still, if you're looking for a way in I would say Ikiru is your best bet. If you're big on samurai films then Shichinin no Samurai is an absolute must see.

Best film: Ikiru (Doomed) (2.5*)
Worst film: Kakushi-Toride no San-Akunin (The Hidden Fortress) (2.0*)
Average rating: 1.50 (out of 5)

lik-chi lee

February 04, 2014
Lik-Chi Lee

Unless you've truly familiarized yourself with Hong Kong cinema, the name Lik-Chi Lee may not ring a bell. Chances are you've seen at least one of his films though, as a few of his collaborations with Stephen Chow have reached far beyond the boundaries of the local Hong Kong market. Sadly Lee's efforts are often overshadowed by Chow's presence, a good reason to put him in the spotlight for a change.

Lee started his career with Lian Ai De Tian Kong, an anthology project that also launched the career of Wai-Keung Lau and featured Jing Wong as both producer and director. It would take Lee 7 more years before he would release Qing Sheng (The Magnificent Scoundrels), his second feature and his first director/actor collaboration with Stephen Chow. Qing Sheng is the film that truly kick-started Lee's career, even though by modern standards the film has become a rather tame experience.

It's Lee's third film, Tang Bohu dian Qiuxiang (Flirting Scholar), that showed his true potential. Quirky Hong Kong parody, humorous martial arts bits and Stephen Chow's natural flair all combine into faced-paced comedy fun. When Lee finally took Chow on board as co-director he fully cashed in on that potential. Gwok Chaan Ling Ling Chat (From Beijing with Love) is Lee's first truly great film, an almost continuous assault of silliness that charms from start to finish.

While the rest of Hong Kong descended into a dark period of mediocrity, Lee continued to churn out good to great films for a little time longer. Shi Xiong Di (Ten Brothers) is Hong Kong comedy at its most random, Sik San (God of Cookery) is Lee's magnum opus. After that things started to go downhill for Lee too, though Hei Kek Ji Wong (The King Of Comedy), Lee's final collaboration with Chow, saw Lee give it his all one final time.

Hong Kong comedy is an acquired taste, but if you want to have a go at it Lik-Chi Lee's films are an ideal starting point. His collaborations with Stephen Chow in particular are quite accessible, and if you end up liking those there are still some of Lee's solo projects that are definitely worth exploring.

Best film: Sik San (God of Cookery) (4.0*)
Worst film: Hung Wan Yat Tew Loong (The Lucky Guy) (2.0*)
Average rating: 3.15 (out of 5)

herman yau

January 06, 2014
Herman Yau

At first glance, Herman Yau could easily be mistaken for another one of those mainstream, prolific Hong Kong directors, but upon closer inspection you'll find a man who operates in a slightly different corner of Hong Kong cinema. Yau is the king of B-cinema, a director who uses small budgets to his advantage and who made a name for himself with some rather questionable (but fun!) films.

Bat Sin Fan Dim Ji Yan Yuk Cha Siu Bau (The Untold Story), Di Shi Pan Guan (Taxi Hunter) and Yi Boh Lai Beng Duk (Ebola Syndrome) are three of the biggest 90s classics of Hong Kong B-cinema. Together with Anthony Wong (who plays the lead in all three) Yau built his reputation mostly on these three films. Surely it's not everyone's cup of tea, but with a slew of memorable scenes and a truly wicked Anthony Wong they are definitely worth checking out.

The next 10 years in his career are still somewhat of a blind spot for me. Sut Ging Mo Sun (Dating Death) and Gong Tau (Gong Tau: An Oriental Black Magic) are pretty much okay, but some of the others I tried are just flat out horrible. Whatever you do, try to avoid Aau Yeung Liu 4 Yue Gwai Tung Hang (Troublesome Night 4) and Lao Fu Zi (Old Master Q) until you're certain you want to dig through Yau's entire back catalogue.

Yau did work himself back into the picture though. Ever since he released Laughing Gor Chi Bin Chit (Turning Point - what's in a name) he has been cranking out respectable films once again. He even managed to land him some international attention when he took up two Yip Man films (which are pretty good unless you compare them to Wilson Yip's efforts). Compared to his older work his newer films aren't as edgy or nasty, instead Yau focuses more on quality these days, though always within the limitations of his budgets. This lead to Jian Hu Nu Xia Qiu Jin (The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake), a surprisingly interesting mix of martial arts and feminism.

Herman Yau has a vast and broad oeuvre that contains quite a lot of hidden gems. You have to dig a little to find them though. Just about every film he made falls into the B-film category, some of them are plain bad, others reach far above their initial potential. Start with his older films if you're into the B-movie scene, if you're not it's best to tackle some of his later works and go from there.

Best film: Jian Hu Nu Xia Qiu Jin (The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake) (4.0*)
Worst film: Lao Fu Zi (Old Master Q 2001) (1.0*)
Reviewed film(s): The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake
Average rating: 2.78 (out of 5)

hark tsui

December 23, 2013
Hark Tsui

Hark Tsui, what a legend. More than 30 years in the business, always busy directing, producing and writing. If not that, he's probably acting or editing. With more than 40 films on his resume as a director, his oeuvre is a sprawling trip through three decades of Hong Kong action cinema. He belongs to a generation of prolific workers, starting out right before Jing Wong and Johnnie To. While that also means Tsui directed some real stinkers, he stands as one the best of his generation.

Die Bian (The Butterfly Murders), Suk San: Sun Suk San Geen Hap (Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain) and Do Ma Daan (Peking Opera Blues) are your smartest bets when browsing through Tsui's early works. Signs of Tsui's talent are littered through most of his earlier films, though you might want to avoid Da Gung Wong Dai (Working Class) and Huang Fei Hong Jiu Er Zhi Long Xing Tian Xia (The Master), Tsui's first crossover to the USA.

Working up to '93 (the golden year of Hong Kong martial arts cinema), Tsui started with Xiaoao Jiang Hu (Swordman) before he hit the jackpot with Wong Fei Hung (Once Upon A Time In China). An amazing collaboration with Jet Li that started a 6-film long series of martial arts bliss. Sun Lung Moon Hak Chan (New Dragon Gate Inn) and Ching Se (Green Snake) might be less famous, but still a treasure for those who have already sifted through the more famous martial arts films of the 90s.

Tsui suffered together with the rest of Hong Kong when the movie business went downhill in the mid 90s, his Hollywood adventures didn't wield any great films either. Until 2001, when Tsui rose from the ashes with Shun Liu Ni Liu (Time and Tide), my favorite Tsui film to date. A film that earned him enough credit to direct Qi Jian (Seven Swords) and Tie Saam Gok (Triange - together with Johnnie To and Ringo Lam).

Nowadays Tsui is busy directing the Di Renjie series (Detective Dee), a mixture of Sherlock Holmes and Chinese folklore. A fine set of films that show the master has still some juice left in him, even if these films don't exactly measure up against Tsui's absolute best. Thirty years is a long time and Tsui lived through a career of ups and downs, but considering the many ups (and comebacks) Hark Tsui is a director that's hard to ignore. When you're planning to acquaint yourself with Hong Kong action cinema, he should be one of the first directors to dig into.

Best film: Shun Liu Ni Liu (Time and Tide) (4.5*)
Worst film: Black Mask 2: City of Masks (1.0*)
Reviewed film(s): Green Snake - Zhi Qu Weihu Shan
Average rating: 3.08 (out of 5)