Louis Koo is a washed up drunken former fighting champ who is going blind, other fighters and weirdos (incl. Tony 2 and Aaron Kwok) want to challenge him to fights, while singer Cherrie Ying hides out in his karaoke bar. Sold as a tough-guy redemption story, that is not the movie Johnnie To felt like making. He felt like using the skeleton of an archetypal Judo-hero story and hanging every eccentricity off it. The emotional climax isn’t a big fight, it’s when our three main characters team up to free a balloon from a tree.

This was pretty incredible. Nude man in asylum thinks he’s a monkey. Flashback to when he was a young boy in a false mustache in the circus, watching a tattooed hottie force a deaf-mute girl to walk a burning tightrope. The boy’s mom is chief priestess at the santa sangre temple, which is torn down after being disavowed by the church, claiming the armless woman they worship is not a saint. Later she catches her awful drunken husband with the tattooed lady, and he cuts off her arms then kills himself, and the young mime tightrope walker is driven away from the traumatized boy.

Then after that first 45 minutes, the unthinkable happens: the movie got boring. Later I changed my mind about this, figure it just changed mood and speed and I wasn’t able to follow along, because retracing the story through the million screenshots I took, it sure doesn’t look boring. Anyway, now the boy and his armless mom have a stage act where he hides behind her, being her arms, imagining himself invisible. A bunch of people, including the tattooed woman and a cross-dressing wrestler, get brutally murdered – mother commanding son to kill with his/her hands. He hooks up with his midget best friend from the circus, who may have never existed. Only when he finds the mime girl does he stand up to his mother (and stab her to death), then he and the girl walk outside to start a new life together. No just kidding – they walk outside to find themselves surrounded by police.

Too old to play the young lead himself, Alejandro has his son Axel play the lead, with younger son Adan as young Axel, Blanca Guerra (also in Walker) as his mother and Guy “Dean’s brother” Stockwell as his father. It’s possibly the most coherent Jodorowsky movie I’ve seen, a true horror bursting with ideas and excellently filmed. I hope all the dead or dying animals were just special-effects this time.

D. Lim (who also makes a howler mistake, calling La Cravate a lost film years after it was rediscovered and issued on DVD):

Psycho is hardly the only cinematic influence on Santa Sangre. The circus grotesquerie suggests Fellini, though Tod Browning’s big-top movies Freaks and The Unknown are perhaps even more relevant. James Whale’s The Invisible Man is glimpsed on the television at one point. Also apparent is the lurid imprint of the film’s producer and co-writer Claudio Argento, brother of schlock-horror maestro Dario. But for all its sundry inspirations, Santa Sangre never seems derivative. Jodorowsky’s anything-goes alchemy has a cumulative power, as does the documentary energy of his location photography. It’s a movie bursting with life — interrupted frequently by processions and pageants, shot in actual slums and red-light districts.

You can’t tell from the dim screenshot that this is a white bird rising from an open grave:

Supposedly Mickey Rourke’s big comeback film, but I first heard of Mickey Rourke in 2005’s Sin City, and I didn’t think three years was all that long a wait. Checking his imdb page, I’ve seen him in four other movies this decade so it’s not like he hasn’t been around. But these statements are made by the same kinds of people who didn’t see Johnny Depp in anything between Edward Scissorhands and Pirates of the Caribbean. Point is it’s a showcase film for Rourke, who’s rumored to be the same kinda washed-up aging broke druggie loser as his character. Does his acting shine in this? Oh yes: comeback achieved, awards deserved. Does the rest of the movie hold up? Not really, no.

First off, I knew this would be a smaller film after Aronofsky got himself into the shithouse with hyper-expensive personal epic The Fountain, but I didn’t realize he was following the new indie wave towards handheld follow-cam dramas. Seems about a sixth of the film was the back of Mickey Rourke’s head walking between rooms. There’s nothing here, not even in the Clint Mansell score, reminiscent of our ol’ Aronofsky. The man’s got a right to change, but by flushing his sense of style, he’s making it so the next time there’s “a film by D. Aronofsky” it’s not going to mean anything.

Written by The Onion’s Robert Siegel, and there’s some good comedy when Rourke’s supermarket boss Todd Barry is around, but the writing is kinda garbage overall. The attraction here is the performance, and less the acting and line-reading and emotion than the physicality, The Body of Rourke (oh, and the fine Springsteen song over the credits). Take that away, or give it to a lesser body (say, the early-rumored casting of The Body of Nicolas Cage) and you haven’t got a theatrical release, you’ve got something that dies on video… Jesus metaphors, stripper with heart of gold, overplayed/underwritten Evan Rachel Wood performance and all.

Oh, he dies at the end.