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Based on a true story. In 1915, a mountain village in Japan was attacked by a giant bear, dubbed "Red Spot", who terrorized the villagers for days, murdering the men and carrying off the women to save for a late night meal. Sonny Chiba (`Kill Bill`), in his directorial debut, and special advisor Kinji Fukasaku ("Battle Royale") present a film based on this terrifying real life incident.
Produced and directed by none other than the Streetfighter himself, Shin'ichi 'Sonny' Chiba, Yellow Fangs was a massive failure at the box office and cost Chiba dearly: having stumped up much of the budget himself, he lost his home and his restaurant chain, and was forced to sell the Japan Action Club, the training school he established for aspiring martial arts film actors and stunt performers. It's a shame, because the film really isn't all that bad.
Apparently based on a true story, the movie takes place in Hokkaido, 1915, where a rampaging bear known as Red Spots has been terrorising villagers, carrying off helpless women for food. Five brave hunters head for the snowy slopes of the mountains in order to find and kill the beast, and are followed by a headstrong young girl named Yuki (Mika Muramatsu), who is looking to settle the score with the bear that slaughtered her family.
For his directorial debut, Chiba displays remarkable skill, deftly weaving a romance and familial drama into his animal amok story. His film also benefits from some wonderful visuals, from bleak snowy landscapes, to beautiful sunsets, to blood drenched cabins. Performances are convincing throughout, with relative newcomer Muramatsu more than keeping up with the more experienced Hiroyuki Sanada, who plays Yuki's love interest Eiji.
Where the movie does stumble badly is with its bear. Actually, it's less of a stumble, and more of a head-first fall off the edge of a mountain. Wherever possible, footage of a real bear is used, but all too often Chiba is forced to resort to a stand-in, a man in a really unconvincing bear costume, which is hard to take seriously. If only they had found a more realistic solution to the bear problem, I suspect that the film might have been better received.
6/10. Worth watching to see just how bad the fake bear is, and for cutie Muramatsu stripping down to a skimpy outfit to lure the creature to its doom.
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