Fugitives and Fatal Attractions: on shelves and screens this month

Ivana Karbanová as Marie II in Věra Chytilová’s Daisies (1966).
Ivana Karbanová as Marie II in Věra Chytilová’s Daisies (1966).

It’s here: Shelf Life, our new monthly column in which Katie Rife selects the best of this month’s restorations, repertory screenings and re-released physical goods. 

The streaming age provides an illusion of endless choice, but cinephiles see it for what it is—an illusion. Similarly, the explosion of boutique Blu-ray labels may give viewers the impression that there are no more worlds left to conquer. But the work of cinema archivists, restorationists, and repertory programmers is never done—and Letterboxd is highlighting their efforts to extend the Shelf Life of classics, both beloved and forgotten, in this first edition of our new monthly column.

For our inaugural trip through the month in new restorations and re-releases, we’re heading to Hong Kong with Wayne Wang and Andy Lau before embarking on an around-the-world tour with Martin Scorsese and the World Cinema Project. Stop-offs in Prague and London precede a spin in the wayback machine to the golden age of the erotic thriller, before finally landing on the gritty, hardscrabble streets of postwar Japan. 

Just before you dive in, we have an offer to share for our members based in the US: to celebrate Metrograph at Home’s new arrivals this month, including films from Shirley Clarke, Miklós Janscó, Peter Greenaway and more, Letterboxd members can join for one month free with the code LETTERBOXD. The offer ends September 15, grab it here.


The Infernal Affairs Trilogy

4K restorations in theaters beginning September 16 from Janus Films.

Infernal Affairs

Infernal Affairs 2002

無間道
Infernal Affairs II

Infernal Affairs II 2003

無間道II
Infernal Affairs III

Infernal Affairs III 2003

無間道III: 終極無間

We start in Hong Kong for a visit with two of the greatest superstars the city has ever produced: Tony Leung Chiu-wai and Andy Lau, whose chemistry lights up the screen in the cult classic Infernal Affairs trilogy.

A shot of adrenaline to the heart of the then-flagging HK film industry, the original 2002 Infernal Affairs sparked an artistic renaissance—and, more importantly to the film’s investors, raked in boatloads of cash at the domestic and international box offices. It also inspired Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, and established co-directors Alan Mak and Andrew Lau (not to be confused with star Andy Lau) as a filmmaking team. Beyond all that, it remains a slam-bang crime thriller whose slick style belies its layered commentary on politics, identity, and ethics in post-handover Hong Kong. In short, it proves why, as Yi Jian writes, “Hong Kong crime thrillers are invincible.”

All three Infernal Affairs movies are already set for a Criterion Blu-ray release in November 2022—not much of a surprise, given that the series’ new 4K restoration comes from Janus Films. In the meantime, however, the trilogy is set for a theatrical run, starting with an engagement at Film at Lincoln Center in New York. The line between “good” and “evil” will cease to have any meaning on September 16.

Life is Cheap… But Toilet Paper is Expensive 

Directed by Wayne Wang, written by Wang and Spencer Nakasako. 4K Director’s Cut in theaters starting September 17 from Arbelos Films.

Following the Criterion release of his 1982 murder mystery Chan Is Missing in June of this year, director Wayne Wang is back on the repertory circuit with a new 4K restoration of Life is Cheap… But Toilet Paper is Expensive. Part offbeat noir and part documentary travelogue with just a hint of Western style, Wang’s genre-bending 1989 indie film vibrates with the anarchic energy of Hong Kong—the “wild wild East,” as the film’s directionless cowboy narrator muses early on.

Life is Cheap… But Toilet Paper is Expensive was rated “X” by the MPAA when it was first released in 1989, and especially sensitive animal lovers are hereby forewarned. But non-hypocritical meat-eaters should know that the slaughterhouse footage that appears throughout the film does serve a purpose: In this city—and especially the triad underworld in which our unnamed protagonist has been so carelessly sticking his snout—it’s eat or be eaten, as the sex workers, taxi drivers, and street hustlers who populate the film can attest.

And Wang runs with the anything-goes conceit, both stylistically and in an extended foot chase shot guerrilla-style in one of the city’s many bustling marketplaces. In that same spirit, he’s continued to fiddle with Life Is Cheap… ever since—although the 4K version, which includes new footage shot in Hong Kong on the eve of the 1996 handover, is his preferred director’s cut and should be considered definitive, according to distributor Arbelos Films. That version will premiere as part of a complete Wayne Wang retrospective at the American Cinematheque on September 17.

Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project No. 4

On Blu-ray/DVD on September 27 from The Criterion Collection.

Prisoners of the Land

Prisoners of the Land 1939

Prisioneros de la tierra
Chess of the Wind

Chess of the Wind 1976

شطرنج باد

Every new edition of the World Cinema Project is an event, and the fourth volume—which hits shelves on September 27 in a new Blu-ray box set from The Criterion Collection—is no exception. Four of the films in this globe-spanning set are presented in new 4K restorations, and two of them in new 2Ks. One of them, Mohammad Reza Aslani’s Chess of the Wind (pictured above), was shelved after one screening at the Tehran International Film Festival in 1976 and was considered lost for four decades—until, in a twist worthy of its own movie, the director’s son found the original negative in an antique shop.

With Martin Scorsese giving the set the ultimate Film Dad seal of approval, expectations are high for this volume, which also includes an early film from ​​André de Toth about working women in Budapest (Two Girls on the Street), a visionary Indian dance film (Kalpana), a militant anti-colonialist Angolan drama (Sambizanga), an explosive Argentinian film about worker exploitation (Prisoners of the Land), and a culture clash between generations in Cameroon (The Child of Another).

Scrolling through the Letterboxd reviews of the films gives you more than enough reason to be hyped, with members describing them as “brilliant”, “poignant”, “stunning”, “beautiful”, “a masterpiece” and “a major rediscovery that is going to smash its way into the canon with shocking speed”.

Daisies (Sedmikrásky)

Directed by Věra Chytilová, written by Chytilová, Pavel Juráček, and Ester Krumbachová. 4K restoration in theaters now from Janus Films.

Daisies

Daisies 1966

Sedmikrásky

Aside from being a pillar of the Czech New Wave and a classic of feminist agitprop, Daisies is also just a really good food movie. As CinemaVoid notes, “girls just wanna have fondue… and cake and chicken and crepes and pickles and eggs and bread and fish and apples and watermelon and meatrolls and bananas and cupcakes.” All that, and trifles, too, as Vera Chytilová’s immortal achievement in insatiable surrealism debuts a gorgeous new 4K restoration from the Karlovy Vary Film Festival, the Národní filmový archiv, and the Czech Film Fund.

The film’s psychedelic color trails and tinted black-and-white sequences benefit the most from the new transfer. But the whole movie is a revelation in vivid, clean color, from the strawberry tint of the first Marie’s hair to the cool blues and greens in the girls’ shared bedroom. 

As with Infernal Affairs, Criterion is already planning to commit the new 4K of Daisies to disc come November. But if you’re hungry for joyous feminist troublemaking right now, the 4K restoration is currently in the midst of a theatrical roadshow that began at Chicago’s Gene Siskel Film Center at the end of August.

Fatal Attraction

Directed by Adrian Lyne, written by James Dearden. On 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray September 13 from Paramount Presents.

Fatal Attraction

Fatal Attraction 1987

Having hot, passionate withdrawals now that Karina Longworth has wrapped up the Erotic ’80s season of You Must Remember This? Enter a new 4K transfer of Fatal Attraction, personally supervised by director Adrian Lyne. The result of Lyne’s labors is a shiny new 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray from Paramount Presents, one that captures the whitewashed bricks in Glenn Close’s Manhattan loft and the flowered wallpaper in Michael Douglas and Anne Archer’s Connecticut idyll in razor-sharp detail (no pun intended).

Real-estate porn aside, the film is best known for two things: Its controversial depiction of a sexy, independent, self-assured career woman of the ’80s who turns into an emotionally unstable psycho bitch the second she doesn’t get what she wants, and its series of wild twists. Lyne’s command of cross-cutting and rising action in the film is masterful—the tension he mines from shots of family pets alone is more than you’ll find in the entirety of many less accomplished thrillers.

Kya declares that “as of 2022, Glenn Close is no longer the villain. Michael Douglas wins the prize for shittiest husband, shittiest boyfriend, and shittiest father.” You can decide for yourself if Alex Forrest has aged into redemption or remains a bunny-boiling cliché when the disc hits US retailers on September 13.

Burning an Illusion

Written and directed by Menelik Shabazz. On Blu-ray September 5 from BFI.

Menelik Shabazz’s 1981 debut feature Burning an Illusion is a classic of Black British cinema. The first British film with a Black female lead, it’s a spellbinding time capsule of Black life in London in the early ‘80s, documenting the clothes, hairstyles, eateries, parties, and music of the era with a sense of realism befitting its director, who started his career as a documentarian. (Why yes, it was a major influence on Small Axe.)

It would still be valuable if that’s all it had to offer, but Burning an Illusion is also a superb example of British working-class social realist drama, featuring a lead character whose journey from shallow social climber to politically aware activist is drawn with a sense of interiority and nuance that’s matched by star Cassie McFarlane’s sensitive performance. It’s a romantic movie, too, and a thought-provoking one, with a structure that recalls Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle but with a much better soundtrack. As Ava writes, “Shabazz has mastered narrative film because he mastered documentary, a true acknowledgment of how, for Black folks, they are more or less both truths.”

With the new Blu-ray—out September 5 from the BFI—comes the opportunity to pause every time a character picks up or puts down a book, giving the film yet another life as a suggested reading list.

A Fugitive from the Past (飢餓海峡)

Directed by Tomu Uchida, written by Naoyuki Suzuki and Tsutomu Minakamin. On Blu-ray September 27 from Arrow Films.

A Fugitive from the Past

A Fugitive from the Past 1965

飢餓海峡

Unlike his more celebrated contemporaries Akira Kurosawa and Yasujirō Ozu, the work of Japanese cinema master Tomu Uchida has been relatively slow to catch on in the West. The first retrospective of Uchida’s work in the US didn’t take place until 2008, and now, fourteen years later, his magnum opus A Fugitive from the Past—the third-best Japanese film of all time, according to a 1999 Kinema Junpo poll—is finally available on home video outside of Japan. 

Arrow Video’s release features a restored 183-minute cut of this hardscrabble crime drama, whose gritty, grasping portrait of the desperation that defined postwar Japanese society is enhanced by its grainy 16mm footage, blown up to 35mm and newly restored for Blu-ray. The effect is similar to documentary newsreels, as Uchida digs through the rubble left behind by WWII and finds cynics, liars, thieves, and more than a few dead bodies buried there.

Letterboxd members describe the film as “without a doubt one of the most unique” works of the Japanese New Wave and “an absolute gem of Japanese cinema.” North American and European audiences will be able to experience it together with simultaneous US and UK Blu-ray releases on September 27.


‘Shelf Life’ is a monthly column and newsletter by Katie Rife, highlighting restorations, repertory showings and re-releases in theaters and on disc. Amazon links earn us a small commission.

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