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DVD review: Eccentricities of a Blonde-Haired Girl & Return of the 5 Deadly Venoms

For a closer look at two recent DVD releases, we turn to local film critic & former Scarecrow employee Sean Axmaker: Eccentricities of a Blonde-Haired Girl (Cinema Guild) At over one hundred years old, Portuguese filmmaker Manoel de Oliviera is the world's oldest active filmmaker, and the last twenty years have not only been his most prolific period, but his most artistically satisfying. This miniature of a feature film, based on a short story by Eça de Queirós, is an almost abstract tale of obsessive love, enormous personal sacrifice and an almost capricious twist of irrational emotional reflex. Ricardo Trêpa stars as the young man who tells his story to a stranger on a train: the odyssey of an unambitious accountant smitten with a young beauty (Catarina Wallenstein) who lives across the street from his office window and. Forbidden by his uncle to marry, he sets out to make his fortune and win her hand. It's kind of like a grown-up fairy tale with a deadpan humor and a wry irony. For all the dialogue (it's framed as a kind of confession told to a stranger on a train) it has the patience of a silent film, with long, still shots observing the characters until they reveal themselves through the smallest of telling action or the slightest emotional reaction to ripple across their face. Cinema's grand old director has become a master of miniatures and this is a perfectly executed short story, slight yet delightfully told with minimalist direction and imagery and a very European sensibility. The DVD features a bonus 2009 short by Oliviera, a press conference from the 2009 Berlin Film Festival and a promo for his next film, as well as an insert with an essay by James Quandt.
The Return Of The 5 Deadly Venoms (Vivendi) The alternate title to Chang Cheh's 1978 kung-fu classic, Crippled Avengers, is a more accurate description of this martial arts revenge film. A martial arts master of the Tiger technique returns home to find that gangsters have cut off the legs of his wife and arms of his young son (hacked off with geysers of red spewing dramatically, more in the spirit of Chinese opera theatrics than slasher movie gore). He goes mad with revenge and draws his son (now outfitted with iron arms and working fingers that fire hidden projectiles—my, what talents the local blacksmith shows) into his reign of terror. That's just the preliminaries. Together they capriciously beat and cripple four civilian who had the bad luck to say the wrong thing within earshot: rendering one mute and deaf, gouging out the eyes of another, hacking off the legs of third and crushing the skull of a fourth until he's left a childlike idiot. So the four victims train with a master to overcome their injuries (cue obligatory training montage) and return for their own revenge, including a battle between iron arms and iron legs. Some of the most memorable classics of old school Hong Kong martial arts revenge movies are built on gimmicks and this one is a doozy, but it delivers the goods with over a dozen major fight scenes, fabulous weapons (the iron arms shoot tiny razor bullets) and all the whip zooms and slap-crack sound effects you expect in old school Hong Kong action. And yes, their kung-fu is very good. In Mandarin with English subtitles and alternate English dub soundtrack. No supplements. Both reviews originally published on and Parallax View, republished by permission of the author.