Thursday, December 20, 2007

Bollywood Actresses and Seasons Greetings


First, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to one and all. May the New Year bring good things for all of us. It has been a terrific year for me as I had the chance to travel around, see a lot of places, eat some good food and meet a lot of people. I only hope the new year brings me more of the same. The best thing of course about this coming year is that it will be the last year of Bush. May we never have another. I'll be taking some time off from the Blog to eat lots of pumpkin pie.


Before I disappear though, I had a lot of pictures of many of the current actresses in Bollywood that I scanned in ages ago and thought I would finally put them up. Most may not agree with me, but I am of the opinion that currently Bollywood has the best looking actresses of any film industry in the world. There was a time in which Bollywood actresses were almost a joke outside of India as a stereotype existed of chubby actresses dancing around trees shaking all of their ample body parts. There was certainly some of this but as I have delved into the films from yesteryear I have come to realize that most of the main actresses were actually quite lovely. Now though you will be hard up to find an extra inch of flesh on any Bollywood actress - most of the new ones come from either modeling careers or beauty pageants and they are not at all shy about showcasing their curves or revealing a bit of cleavage - well make that a lot of cleavage. It's all about sex appeal now and the newest ones into the industry have it in spades. This doesn't of course mean that they have a lot of acting ability, but they sure are pleasing to the eyes. One of the oddities about Bollywood is that new actresses get thrown right into top roles without any acting training at all and often it shows - it is a rarity for an actress to work her way up fom small roles to bigger ones - in this case you often start at the top and work your way down. The actresses who stay afloat become stars - the rest soon are out of the buisness or marginalized into regional film or small films - but no matter where they are acting they still manage to look great.

I have broken the names into very general categories to give you some sense of where they stand in the industry hierarchy. I also have tried to find a link with some information about them for those that are interested. Most of the links are from Wikipedia - I am actually quite amazed at how much information it has on most of these names. To whoever wrote these biographies up, I salute you. I also threw in a Youtube video for many of the names.

Legends:

These three actresses are simply legends. They are practically retired with only the rare film now, but in their day they were superstars and I suppose they still are.

Picts 1, 2, 3

Picts - 1, 2

Picts - 1, 2, 3

Veterans:

These actresses were all big stars in the 1990's and are still doing some work today, but in truth they have had to hand over the best roles to younger actresses.

Picts - 1, 2

Picts - 1, 2
Picts - 1, 2, 3
Video

Picts 1, 2
Video


Picts - 1, 2
Video


Picts - 1, 2, 3
Video

The Big Three:

These days there are basically three actresses that directors consider for the most prestigious films - Aish, Rani and Preity.

Picts - 1, 2, 3, 4
Video


Picts - 1, 2
Video


Picts 1, 2, 3
Video

Didn't Quite Get There:

Someday perhaps one of these actresses will rise to the top tier, but one senses that their day for that has come and gone - but they still get many of the top films coming their way.

Picts - 1, 2, 3
Video


Picts - 1, 2, 3
Video

Picts - 1, 2


Picts - 1, 2, 3
Video


The New Wave:

These young actresses have all made their mark and some of them may become the top actresses in Bollywood in the near future.

Picts - 1, 2
Video


Picts - 1, 2

Lara Dutta

Picts - 1

Video


Picts - 1, 2
Video

Picts - 1, 2, 3

Too Early to Tell:

These actress have had some early success and received their fare share of publicity, but so many Bollywood actresses hit the scene with enormous hype and are soon never heard of again.

Picts - 1, 2
Video

Picts - 1
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Picts - 1, 2
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B Actresses

By "B" I mean that these actresses are rarely the headliners - generally they appear as supporting actors, in lower budget films or in the regional film industries. A few of these looked like they were going to be stars such as Gracy Singh, Antara Mali or Mahima Chaudhary, but it never quite panned out.

Picts - 1
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Picts - 1, 2
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Picts - 1, 2
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Picts - 1
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Picts - 1, 2
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Picts - 1, 2
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Picts - 1, 2
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Picts - 1

Preeti Jhangiani

Picts - 1

Video


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Picts - 1, 2, 3
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Picts - 1, 2
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Still Unknowns (and may always be):

I have to admit to knowing nothing or very little about these actresses, but I came across pictures of them and so included them here. In many cases I didn't have enough pictures to fill a page and so have thrown various actresses together.





Arzoo Govitrikar





Picts - 1



Various - Pict

Picts - 1

Himanshi


Picts - 1





Pratiksha Sorte

Purvi

Various 2 - Pict

Rajalakshmi


Sailesh Ghelani



Picts - 1

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Various 3 - Pict



Picts - 1

Tora

Urvashi Solanki

Picts - 1


Various 4 - Pict

The Real Deal:

Not that I want to imply that Bollywood actresses are not good actors - though that is often the case - but these two women stand above the rest in terms of acting skills and both of them move easily between Bollywood and the parallel cinema that exists.

Picts - 1

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Video

Item Girls:

So far these actresses are known primarily for item numbers that they have performed in films.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Some Lobby Cards

I keep finding pictures that I scanned long ago tucked away in various places in my computer.


Here are some lobby cards of two films from two of Hong Kong's most memorable actresses. Memorable for what, speaks for itself.



Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Train (India, 1970)


Director: Ravikant Nagaich
Music: RD Burman; Lyrics: Anand Bakshi
Year: 1970
Running Time: 139 minutes

This film occurred near the beginning of Rajesh Khanna’s reign as a gigantic superstar before he flamed out after a few brief years at the top. Here he is C.I.D. Inspector Shyam but for some reason doesn’t tell his girlfriend Neeta this small fact about his life as they meet daily in an out of the way spot where they can dance badly without anyone seeing them. Neeta is played by Nanda who looks much too unattractive and matronly here to be a good counterpoint to Khanna’s sleekness. Their lack of chemistry is painful to witness and only a faithful script keeps them together. Shyam gets assigned to track down jewel thieves who have the habit of stealing them on the Delhi to Calcutta train and leaving the previous owners quite dead. The gang is led by a mysterious man who keeps to the shadows but his subordinates played by Madan Puri and Helen as the femme fatale Lily keep the loot coming in. When not robbing jewels, the two of them also work at the Hilltop Hotel – Madan as the manager and Lily as the entertainment.

Somehow Shyam realizes that the hotel is the hub of crooked activity and upon entering sees Lily performing O Meri Jaan Ko Main ne Kaha in which she sings “I am so fabulous” (the playback singers are Burman and Asha). In an unlikely twist, Lily turns out to be an old college chum of Shyam who had vanished without explanation and has been learning about the hard knocks of life ever since. Madan assigns her to keep an eye on her old crush which she is happy to do because she has never gotten over him. The romance between Shyam and Neeta hits a dead end when he learns that her father is a convicted killer and after looking into it tells her that her father is clearly guilty because he was discovered with the knife in his hand over the dead body. Obviously, he hasn’t seen many Perry Mason tv shows. When Neeta tells him her father discovered the body and pulled out the knife Shyam goes “oh, that sheds a whole new light on the case”! Not the cleverest boy our Shyam. Later after another train theft he forces a witness to track down a woman who was likely involved. Enter the supposed comic relief in the form of Rajendranath. What Shyam doesn’t realize is that the woman looks exactly like his Neeta dressed up like a hooker at a bachelor party.

This 1970 film can be summarized fairly quickly – bad movie, great music. Bollywood was to begin undergoing large changes in the 1970’s with films moving towards a much rougher hard nosed attitude leaving the lush romanticism of the previous decade behind. But this film still has its feet firmly placed in the 1960’s style – in some good but primarily some bad ways. The good is easy to spot – a large role for Helen with two terrific songs for her and another song for Aruna Irani. These two actresses were two of the premier vamps in the 60’s as well as two of Bollywood’s best dancers and Burman often seemed inspired to write some of his best music for their numbers. That is certainly the case here as these three songs are fabulous. Much of the rest of the film though is an awful mash of rotating close-ups, stiff acting, clumsy narrative and dimwitted logic with some laughably dreadful choreography in the songs that Rajesh Khanna is in.

My rating for this film: 4.0

Song with Helen (partial)



Song with Aruna Irani



Song with Rajesh and Nanda

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Burning Train (India, 1980)


Director: Ravi Chopra
Music: RD Burman; Lyrics: Sahir
Year: 1980
Running Time: 143 minutes

Much to everyone’s surprise this big budget film with its gigantic cast crashed and burned when it was released back in 1980. It certainly had all the ingredients that go into a hit - it was produced by B.R. Chopra (brother of Yash), it had some of the biggest stars of the day, the songs were from RD Burman and it had a unique for Bollywood disaster scenario that is actually quite tense and at times moving. Over the years its reputation has grown, but mysteriously at the time no one wanted to see it. In many ways it not coincidentally resembles the spate of disaster flicks that had filled screens in the US in the 1970's with fare like Towering Inferno or The Poseidon Adventure – a group of strangers all with their own little dramas occurring face imminent death and have to struggle for survival – but no one was singing and dancing in Airport were they! But the main difference here is a lengthy back story of two friends and the loves of their lives that give the film an intimacy that the Hollywood films were missing. Of course, the special effects were not quite up to Hollywood’s standards, but other than a patently obvious toy train model being used in a few scenes the usage of fire on a speeding train is quite well done and you can only hope that the bodies writhing in flames were paid more than minimum wage.

Two boyhood friends both have their dreams – Vinod (Vinod Khanna) wants to design train engines and Ashok (Dharmendra) wants to do the same for automobiles. Their friendship also comes in handy when they go courting – using the well worn but often successful ploy of saving a damsel in distress - Ashok and Vinod play good guy/bad guy to win the respective hearts of Seema (Hema Malini) and Sheetal (Parveen Babi). Unfortunately, the girls turn out to be friends and wonder at the amazing coincidence of this and soon discover the farce – but in true Bollywood fashion find this trickery charming and quickly fall in love while double dating on bicycles and boats. Vinod and Sheetal soon exchange wedding vows but the romance of the other pair goes asunder when Ashok’s father goes bankrupt and kills himself leaving his son a pauper. He soon receives a Dear Ashok letter breaking off the relationship due to his financial status. This leaves Ashok not only a poor man but a broken hearted and embittered one as well.

Seven years later Ashok has disappeared but Vinod has succeeded in his dream – designing a Super Express train that he proclaims equals the Japanese bullet trains. This is a good thing as shown in the film Bombay 405 Miles of the same year when Vinod Khanna’s character at one point jumps from the moving train to get a girl a glass of water and runs a 100 yards to and from a hut and is still able to easily catch the train. What this Vinod doesn’t know is that he has created a crazed enemy – Ranbir (Danny Denzongpa) who lost both his love and his train design to Vinod and who has a little revenge in mind. Finally, the day of the train’s maiden journey has arrived and on board are loads of people with their own little stories playing out - a pair of jewel smugglers, an undercover cop, a newly married couple on their honeymoon, a pregnant woman (any bets on when she goes into labor?) and many others of all religious persuasions – which comes in handy when they later do a lot of praying. Of note in this crowd are also a light fingered thief (Jeetendra) and his target (Neetu Singh), Vinod’s son who is being sent to Bombay to get away from the bickering parents. Not surprisingly Ashok reappears to take the train only to quickly realize that Seema too is on the train! Many of the train passengers are played by familiar faced character actors from Bollywood with a special bent towards those who appear for comic relief. When a bomb goes off cutting the breaks and a fire breaks out with a speeding train out of control it is time for the big boys – Dharmendra, Vinod and Jeetendra - to do their heroics and try to save the day and win back their loved ones. It is good stuff.

Looking back at the cast today it is interesting to note how many of them were part of acting families to come. Dharmendra was to have two sons with his first wife – Sunny and Bobby Deol – and Esha Deol with his second wife. His second wife (and concurrent with his first one) was of course Hema Malini. Also, in the family business was Vinod Khanna who had a son named Akshaye, one of today’s bigger Bollywood stars. Jeetendra’s real name is Ravi Kapoor and though he is not related to the legendary Kapoor family his son is Tusshar, another major actor in Bollywood and his daughter is Ekta a well-known TV producer. It doesn’t quite stop there – Neetu went on to marry Rishi Kapoor and their son Ranbir is just beginning his career in acting (and of course her nieces are Kareena and Karishma). The marriage between Dharmendra and Hema was a major scandal at the time but it amazingly didn’t drag down the career of either as both were so popular. Hema had initially tried to break into the Tamil film industry in 1964 but was told by a director that she had no star appeal and should try something else. Instead, she went to Bombay and by the early 1970’s was a huge star and nicknamed The Dream Girl. Almost always playing the traditional good girl, her saucer sized eyes spoke volumes of vulnerability and heartfelt love. Much of this apparently translated off the screen as well as she was a much sought after lover. Two other actors Sanjeev Kumar and none other than Jeetendra both asked her to marry them – in fact Jeetendra was suppose to go to her to speak for his friend Sanjeev but fell in love himself. But she ended up going after Dharmendra instead and they are still married today – as he is to his first wife.

The music from R.D. Burman didn’t strike me as nearly his strongest – perhaps a factor in the box office numbers – by 1980 most of his classic tunes were in the past. Other than the wailing “Burning train” refrain there isn’t much of this that stayed with me.

My rating for this film: 7.5

Song 1:

Song 2:

Song 3:

Song 4:

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Bombay 405 Miles (India, 1980)


Director: Brij
Music: Kalyanji-Anandji; Lyricist: Indeevar
Year: 1980
Duration: 143 minutes

For much of its running time, Bombay 405 Miles is an amiable somewhat middling mix of comedy and crime, but in the final 45 minutes the director decides to unbuckle his seat belt and let all hell break loose as the film turns into an entertaining mess of fisticuffs, flying bodies and seduction in which no coincidence is left untouched. Coincidences were often the life blood of Bollywood films during the 1960’s and 1970’s in which the chances were that your long lost brother turns out to be your best buddy and the villain happens to have killed your father thirty years ago. This film has a coincidence under foot at every turn, but one senses that the filmmakers were almost having fun with this filmic device right to the end when an identical twin shows up in the final frame. Throw in a great cast that includes Zeenat Aman, Vinod Khanna, Shatrughan Sinha, Amjad Khan along with character actors Pran, Bhagwan, Iftekhar and Helen and the film is if far from being a classic still silly enough to be quite enjoyable.

Master forger Kanhalya (Khanna) gets booted out of New Delhi instead of being sent to jail at the same time that the master safe cracker Kishan (Sinha) is forced to leave Calcutta by the authorities. They end up at the same bus stop where they immediately recognize each other as kindred souls and decide to become partners in crime. They also meet up with another charming crook, a con woman named Radha (Zeenat) and without hesitation they attempt to woo her together in song “You posses the one element that makes everyone lust for you. Great complexion, fabulous figure, a treasure chest of beauty” (Zeenat certainly had all that and more and her “treasure chest” certainly brought her fame and fortune). But Radha wants nothing to do with these two ragamuffins as she is on her way to Bombay (which is 405 miles away) to build a successful life in crime. The two men get put off the bus and decide to make their way to Bombay on the top of a freight train. There they spot seven thugs chasing after an old man and a small girl and promptly knock them all off the train – the old man is dying but before doing so he tells them that the girl is worth millions. Bing. A light goes off in their heads and they decide to hold on to this cute little tot named Munni.

They don’t know it (but we the lucky viewers do) but she is the daughter of Ranvir Singh (Iftekhar), a successful businessman who came home from a trip to Singapore to find his dead family laid out like appetizers on the dining table. They were all executed by his insane brother Veer Singh (Amjad Khan) who wants the family fortune and has a laugh so evil that it would embarrass Gabbar Singh (from Sholay). What would you expect though from a man who when accused of being a “drunk pervert”, replies “Gambling and womanizing are the decoration of the brave”. But his henchmen have made one mistake – the girl they killed was not Ranvir’s daughter but instead the niece of an old servant (the old man on the train) who was put in charge of her by his brother Masterji (Pran), who is yet another criminal who lives in Bombay. Bombay is clearly a magnet for more than people who want to make it in the movies. Before shooting Ranvir, Veer (as maniacs are wont to do) admits all this not knowing that the doll Ranvir has brought back for Munni has a recording device! Once he realizes the error, Veer orders his men to find and dispose of Munni.

It all comes together in Bombay when our two heroes try to find out who Munni belongs to so that they can collect a reward, meet up with Radha who is now a student in larceny under the tutelage of Masterji, discover that the mistress (Helen) of Veer is Masterji’s former wife and the mother of the dead girl and that Kalhanya had unknowingly forged Ranvir’s confession that he had killed his own family! It all moves to a different delicious level though once Munni gets run over, Kalhanya slices his wrist open to give her his blood (“doctor take all my blood if need be” as it gushes all around the hospital room), they fall through a trap door with a burning fire under them, are attacked by a motorcycle gang, little Munni gets tossed around like a football and dropped from a large height (don’t worry – Masterji drives his jeep through a brick wall and makes a nice catch), hand grenades suddenly appear en mass and the two heroes magically learn kung fu and can flip long distances – and thankfully through all this the doll remains intact.

The best scene though is pure sweaty sleaze – Kalhanya is trapped in a van with a bomb about to explode – so the good guys (crooks that they may all be) decide that the best way to distract the seven horny gang members is to have Radha drive up in a van and with the funky song na na na ye kya karne lage ho piercing the night air, moans her way through it giving off the impression that she is inside having sex “Oh you naughty boy. Love is enjoyed when both are breathless” and the gang begin practically humping the van as they peer inside and see small flashes of leg and shoulder. In the meantime Kishan frees his friend. It never hurts having a sex bomb around. That would go for most situations in life.

Saved by a final wonderful 45 minutes, Bombay 405 Miles just wants me to continue watching Bollywood oldies.

My rating for this film: 7.0

Blackmail (India, 1973)

Director: Vijay Anand
Music: Kalyanji-Anandji
Year: 1973
Duration: 131 minutes

Little did I know that India was far ahead of the curve on developing renewable energy. Back in 1973 Kailash (Dharmendra) and his badly bewigged scientist friend Khurana (Madan Puri) invent a process of utilizing the sun’s rays to derive enough energy to provide electricity for their entire city! With this invention Kailash proclaims that India will soon equal the United States as one of the most developed countries in the world. When he is not saving the world from future global warming Kailash is having his heart warmed over by Asha (Rakhee), the daughter of a friend of his dead father’s. He is a tongue-tied suitor though and is unable to approach her with anything more than a blush. As it turns out she is engaged of sorts to the charming rogue Jeevan (Shatrugan Sinha) who is not only her father’s choice but also a good friend to Kailash.

Thus it seems a bit odd when Jeevan begins to do his best to push Kailash and Asha together – is this true friendship or . . . perhaps something more sinister? If you chose the latter, you would be correct as Jeevan embarks on a plot so convoluted and devious that you will need to take notes to understand it. He imports a gang of Italian hoods who cleverly disguise themselves as professional golfers with bad golf fashions and worse swings. With them he plans to steal the formula for the sun ray converter, but first of course he has to get Kailash to court Asha, get Asha to fall for him, get them married and then break them up! What a dastardly villain! With shockingly ruinous photos of him embracing Asha, Jeevan will use anything necessary (blackmail, a buxom nurse and a forest fire) to get what he wants.

It is perhaps needless to say that much of this is totally silly and rather pointless and not as much fun as it may sound (though the usual bad fashions and esoteric interior designs of those times do add to the pleasure factor). Various kidnappings take place and finally near the end Dharmendra gets to show his fighting chops as his character takes on the entire gang with the able assistance of Asha conking lamps upon various heads. One scene though in particular had more sexual electricity than a dozen Indian films. Kailash and Asha have yet to consummate their marriage due to the skullduggery of Jeevan and at one point they are hiding from his henchmen in a small cramped tool shed and forced by their proximity to touch each other and finally they get down to business with dogs barking around them, men hunting them and a forest fire surrounding them! Let’s just say they had put it off for a bit too long.

The film is well-served by a very nice score with two songs in particular as standouts - Doob Jaata Hoon which shows up on loads of classic CD compilations and is picturized by Sinha rolling around on the ground a lot and Rakhee skipping through the trees and then later in the film Kailash expresses his love for Asha in the lovely ballad Pal Pal Dil through a set of love letters – “Every moment of my life you are close to my heart”.

The main positive for me though was that I came across two actors who are very well-known in the industry but I had never crossed their tracks before. Shatrugan Sinha played some of the slickest villains in Bollywood – not the usual eye bugging maniacs but one who oozed with charm and gab as he picked your back pocket. Later he became one of the early members of the Bharatiya Janata Party – the Hindi nationalist party – and served in the cabinet (and likely as a politician still picked a few pockets!). He is still a big personality in Bollywood with appearances at award shows and a magazine column. Rakhee simply had one of the loveliest faces in Bollywood during the 1970’s – full lips, arched eyebrows and astonishing eyes that are almost surreal – though admittedly her full figure would not stand a chance in today’s film industry. She hailed from Bengal and began in the Bengali film industry before moving to Mumbai and becoming a star in the 1971 film Sharmilee. Other notable films were Trishul, Lawaaris and Kabhie Kabhie. She often co-starred with Amitabh Bachchan and had the interesting experience of having played his lover in early films and his mother in later ones. She also married famed lyricist Gulzar and worked till 2003. Her daughter is Meghna Gulzar, one of the very few female directors in Bollywood (Filhaal, Just Married, Dus Kahaniyaan).

Btw – it should be mentioned that sadly the formula was lost in the making of this film and solar energy was put on the backburner for a generation.

Song 1

Song 2


My rating fo this film: 6.0

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Japanese Posters


I had forgotten that I had scanned these images in a while back, but came across them the other day - so here are 5 pages of Japanese posters from long long ago.










Monday, November 12, 2007

Two from Hibari


Back in the 1950’s and 1960’s Hibari Misora was perhaps Japan’s biggest entertainer with her presence in film, radio, TV and stage. In the USA during these same decades we had giant stars like Crosby, Astaire, Kaye and others who fit this bill - able to dance, sing, act and tell a joke and were loved by the country. For some reason these bigger than life entertainers have become an extinct species and now most celebrities are safely cocooned in their respective art and have little appeal on a broad level. Hibari began as a child star helping to boost the morale of Japan in the post WWII era and continued in show business until her death at 52 in 1989. Not a particularly beautiful woman, Hibari won the audience over with spunk, charm and talent – a great singer and an appealing actress. Off the stage her life was rather a lonely sad one – married for a short while to actor Akira Kobayashi (Black Tight Killers) - she spent most of her life alone, but she radiated when the lights were turned on. She once said "I always sang about love, but I don't know if I ever knew what it truly was". In some ways her life mirrored that of another child star, Judy Garland, who never really found happiness as an adult and both took a bit much to alcohol to ease the loneliness.
Here are brief summaries of two of her films that I came across. Neither is likely rated very high up in her filmography – fairly ordinary bits of entertainment that were made simply to fill the need for her fans at the time and in truth her presence is all that is needed.

Before that though, here are some pictures of Hibari from a photo book of her.

Hibari 1

Hibari 2

Hibari 3


Hibari’s Tale of Pathos

Director: Watanabe Kunio
Year: 1962
Duration: 86 minutes

On the rural island of Sado, which lies west of Niigata, is a legend of two lovers named Omitsu and Gosaku. Gosaku was an outsider who had landed ashore on the island nearly dead and been nursed back to health by Omitsu and her father, but locals were not suppose to fall in love with those from outside and Omitsu sings “Don’t love a man from another land. You’ll end up crying like the crow.” According to legend, once Gosaku returned to the mainland a heartbroken Omitsu paddled the 60 kilometers from the island to Kashiwazaki in an open tub boat to be with her lover. On occasion people today still take up this challenge to see if they can do it. From this quick foreword, the film jumps into the present (1962) and a reenactment of the legend happens once again.

Kimie (Hibari Misora) is a tour guide in a jaunty cap who takes visitors to the island’s most scenic places (though likely skipping the mines where I read Japan used slave labor during WWII and felons before that) and often would break into song to entertain the guests. A big shot businessman Mr. Akiyama from Tokyo is on the island to consider building a big resort and vacation spot on the island and the local yakuza very much want him to as they are buying up land in hopes that they can make a financial killing. Akiyama leaves his son Shinje behind to check things out, but Shinje primarily wants to check out Kimie who he falls for instantly. Complications intrude their ugly heads into this simple love story as the head of the Ono gang also has his eye on Kimie and has a hold as well – Kimie’s unfilial brother has joined the gang and her father is deeply in debt to them. They urge her strongly to persuade Shinje to buy their land to build the resort and when this doesn’t go according to plan Kimie needs to escape them by boarding a small boat in a raging storm to make it to the mainland. This was an enjoyable little film primarily for Hibari, but also for good side characters such as Otaki the mistress of Ono and the brother who eventually of course is brought back into the family fold.

The Prickly Mouthed Geisha (Beranme Geisha)

Director: Koishi Eiichi
1959
Duration: 86 minutes

In this one Hibari Misora plays a modern day geisha who has a reputation among the clientele for not liking men very much and refusing to provide any of the “extras” they so want to get from the women in this profession. The viewer is introduced to the character when she stops three bullies from harassing a woman by smacking them and declaring to them “I am Koharu from Yanagibashi. Don’t take me lightly”. Forced into the profession because of the debts her father has piled up, she isn’t thrilled to spend her life entertaining trashy men.

Her father is a master carpenter but much too stubborn and surly to keep a job very long though she does her best to continuously find him one. One customer gives her a tip and she takes dad to interview for the job, but discovers that the President is her father’s old drinking buddy from years ago and the two immediately begin arguing over rank and status and nothing comes of it. But the President has an eligible son who needs a carpenter and he joins up with Koharu’s father to work on a project – and not at all surprisingly Koharu and Kenichi begin to fall in love – but of course his father objects to him marrying a geisha.

There isn’t too much to hang your hat on in this one but it provides a few small delights – playing pachinko for canned food goods, bowling and of course the songs that Hibari sings in every film it seems.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

More Thai Posters






World Film Festival of Bangkok


The World Film Festival of Bangkok drew to a close this past Sunday still in search of much of an identity in this tough movie going town. It ran for ten days and showed about 70 films from all around the world. At least from my small sampling they were generally excellent films though not always very audience friendly as the programmers seem to have a bent for slow going serious arty fare with many of them having won awards at other festivals. The festival moved to a new venue this year, but it was a bit out of the way for many and the audience numbers were quite slim at my screenings with only one film (4M3W2D) having a near sell out. Of course the main issue with the festival is that none of the films had Thai subtitles – something of a tough sell to a Thai audience and by default it really becomes a festival for the ex-pats who live here – though many of whom I chatted with were very appreciative of having the opportunity to see these films. The venue was the Esplanade Mall which gave moviegoers an opportunity to ice skate, skateboard or bowl between films – and a choice of Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese or Chinese food. And let me not forget KFC and Famous Amos!

Here is a quick rundown of the films I saw other than Dream of the Red Chamber and 20:30:40 which I wrote about in a previous post. Only one of these falls into the category of Asian cinema, but hopefully some of these will land up in a friendly festival near you.

Egg (Yumurta), Turkey, 2007 – directed by Semih Kaplanoglu

Yusef receives a phone call in his tiny used bookstore in Istanbul informing him that his mother has died and that he must return to the small town where he grew up for the funeral. The film is covered by a sheen of melancholy, memory and silence in which very little occurs, very little is explained and the dialogue is as sparse as people in some of the barren landscapes. We are witnesses and yet never taken into the confidence of the characters and so have to grasp at the small nuances, the expressions, the stares and the body language to understand that everything emotional here is happening beneath the surface.

Once at his mother’s house Yusef meets his young distant cousin Alya who has been his mother’s companion and housekeeper for the past few years and she explains to him that his mother’s wish was to have a goat sacrificed. He only wants to get back to Istanbul but something almost mystical keeps him from leaving. Clearly there is a complex uneasy back story between him and his dead mother and perhaps a future romantic story between him and Alya but it is left primarily to the audience to guess at. This is a marvelously moody introspective tone poem with near pitch perfect performances from Saadet Isil Aksoy as the hopeful Alya and Nejat Isler as the taciturn Yusef. Its reflective mood slowly and almost unnoticeably seeps into your unconsciousness and stays there long after the film ends. This is the first of three films in what the director terms the Trilogy of Yusef but in an intriguing decision the director filmed the final part of it first – so one assumes that much of what was left unexplained in this film is revealed as we backtrack in the next two. The director won the Best Director prize at the festival.

Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days, Romania, 2007 – directed by Cristian Mungiu

Horror comes in all forms. Here it is presented in a spiritually barren world where the banality and indifference of society is more frightening than anything that comes in the form of the supernatural because it feels all too real, all too possible. Set in communist Romania in 1987 the title refers to the length of the life of the baby that Gabita is carrying. She is a university student and along with her loyal friend Otilia, they have made plans to abort it. This is a red cruel slice of life as it depicts one brutal frantic day in their lives in perhaps more realistic fashion than many of us can stomach. This is a dysfunctional society where everything is up for barter – either in the black market or under the table with bribes. Or with sex. With Gabita in a helpless state, Otilia sets about organizing everything from borrowing the money, to reserving a hotel room to contacting the illegal abortionist. Using primarily a handheld camera the director gives everything a sense of urgency, a sense of instability, a sense of loss. It is often hard to watch because it is presented so matter of factly with not an ounce of compassion - yet with understanding. It is also very nonjudgmental about a very sensitive subject that will make some squirm. Truly gut wrenching and startlingly powerful, it will stick to you long after Otilia’s final exhausted stare into the camera has faded away.

Love Songs (Chansons d’amour, Les), France, 2007 – directed by Christophe Honore

This is a rather nifty throwback to the musicals of Jacque Demy with the characters walking through the streets of Paris constantly breaking into song about the city and about love. Though much more Umbrellas of Cherbourg than The Girls of Rochefort with its progression from romanticism to deep melancholy, it tackles the sharp cutting angles of love as only the French can in film. Times though have changed since the early 1960's and this time love begins with a m̩nage a trois and ends in a passionate gay embrace. Broken into three chapters the film goes into some unexpected places of the heart. The songs are those of Alex Beaupain and sung by the actors Рlilting and charming with very simple arrangements.

Ismael is in a threesome with his girlfriend Julie and his co-worker Alice and the three of them share nights out and a small bed together. The three way relationship is clearly a temporary one of experimentation and curiosity and edges of jealousy work there way around them. But when one of them shockingly dies of a heart attack, the film leaves its expected path and romantic moorings into a period of despondency and guilt as the other two deal with their grief and how to escape it.

The Band’s Visit, Israel, 2007 – directed by Eran Kolirin

This small very simple film has received loads of praise and prizes at various film festivals and every bit of it is deserved. It begins in a state of sublime droll comedy and evolves from there to something that pierces the soul and uplifts it at the same time. Eight members of the Egyptian Alexandria Police Orchestra land in Israel for a concert they are to give, but no one has bothered to meet them at the airport. They are led by the rigid, somber and stuffy Tawfiq (Sasson Gabal in as marvelous a performance as I’ve seen in years) who adamantly refuses to ask the embassy for help. Instead they decide to get to the town on their own but after Saleh the band’s lothario sings Chet Baker’s version of “My Funny Valentine” to the female clerk, he gets the wrong information and they end up on the roadside of a desolate isolated settlement all adorned in their best dress uniforms with only Egyptian money in their pockets. They are taken in by Dina (Ronit Elkabetz), the earthy sensual proprietress of a small restaurant for the night and in the ensuing hours their sad lonely lives quietly leak out through conversation, silences, remembrances and music in a pool of common humanity. This is one of my favorite films of the year.

Gardens in Autumn, France, 2007 – directed by Otar Iosseliani

If this passes for French irony and satire I expect I could go a long time without another piece of it. The charms of this film eluded me like a dying quail. Fanciful and absurd to a fault, this presents a fable of the transitory illusion of power in modern day France but it is so haphazard and jumbled that I soon lost patience with it. Vincent is a Minister of Culture and spends his time accepting tacky gifts from his constituents and berating his mistress for buying expensive even tackier statues. In his office resides a group of nameless flunkies that come and go with pointless papers to sign. As well as a tame leopard that lies about waiting to be petted. Vincent is blamed for some large protests and without much remorse hands in his resignation. Now a free man, he spends the next few days drinking, getting shit dumped on him, talking with his elderly mother (played by actor Michel Piccoli for some odd reason) and consorting with prostitutes and old mistresses. It is all done though with no particular narrative drive – just odd whimsical lazy shaggy dog sketches that add up to nothing as far as I could see.

Tokyo Tower, Japan, 2007 – directed by Matsuoka Joji

Nostalgia is awash in Japan these days with films and TV shows that hearken back to simpler days. Japan cinema is also awash in films made from TV shows and Tokyo Tower is both of these. A successful TV show, this film adaptation was a big box office hit with its sentimental and rosy portrayal of a relationship between a mother and her son. In fact, the film is really just a loving valentine to good moms everywhere (hi mom!), and though more than a bit overdrawn at 140 minutes it is certainly a very effective one that will elicit tears from most unless your mother was Joan Crawford. I am not sure what the Japanese equivalent of apple pie is, but this film is all mom and apple pie. Dad is strictly a side dish.

It begins in the present with Ma (Jo Odagiri) sitting by the bedside of his mother (Kiki Kirin) in the hospital as she fights cancer and he awaits the word whether it is curable. The film then bounces back and forth between the past and her progress in the present. With a husband (Kobayashi Kaoru) who liked his late night struggles with the bottle a bit much, mom (portrayed as the younger version by the real life daughter of Kiki, Uchida Yayako, which explains the eerie likeness) decides to leave with her small son and go live with her irascible mother in a small poor mining town. Over the years times are tough and money is slim but mom always manages to take care of her son (played by various child actors all adorned with Odagiri’s famous chin mole!). Eventually to her great pride he goes off to Tokyo to university where he decides to live a bohemian life and do little but drink and play cards. He still eventually graduates, pays off his debts and begins to make his way in the world as a graphic artist and a radio personality where he has mastered smut talk. But he cares for his mother dearly and feels pangs of guilt at having taken advantage of her love for him and so invites her to come live with him in Tokyo where she becomes the center of his group of friends. Humorous at times, poignant at many turns, the film wraps its soppy tentacles around you and won’t quit until you tattoo “Mom” over your heart.

Opapatika - Thai Film Review


Thailand
Director: Thanakorn Pongsuwan
2007


There are films like this in which they should hand over a pair of aspirin with the ticket. Or maybe just a brain transplant. Or electroshock. Loud, pointless and witless, this has a body count that could fill a football stadium on Super Bowl Sunday, but not one of these myriad of corpses would evince even a slight care from you – just fodder for the threshing machine of CGI death. Before the film begins the producers are kind enough to put up a place card that informs the audience that the filmmakers in no way advocate suicide as a form of recreation – but how about as a way to stop watching this film? Unfortunately, my shoe laces were not long enough.

Dripping in self-absorbed melancholy and ennui, the Opapatika live among us humans. The only way to differentiate them from us is that they all dress really well, look like pretty boys and seem to be clinically depressed (o.k. so that might describe much of Hollywood as well). Oh, they also have various types of superpowers and are really hard to kill. That’s not too surprising since they already are dead. Or perhaps somewhere between life and death. Or perhaps somewhere between bad acting and bad writing. You, like them can join the Opapatika by simply committing suicide and as far as I could tell no membership fees are required. By doing so it brings out the hidden powers within you – telepathy in the case of Techit who has been investigating the Opapatika and decided to join them because it looked like so much darn fun. He is mentored by another Opapatika, Sadok, who requests that he track down the other Opapatika’s in the world and turn them over to his right hand man Thuvathit, who will then use his million man private army to kill them. Good luck.

Among the Opapatika is one who is immortal and bored, another who kills at night and feels guilty during the day, another Bruce Banner type who can project a monster like the Hulk, another who can foretell the death spot of his victims which seems a bit unfair if you are an assassin. Thuvathit constantly unleashes his endless army on them, but one can only hope they have lots of life insurance because before you can blink most of them are dead. You would think it might have dawned on a few that there were better ways to make a living and that the chances of killing a dead man aren’t good. So the film basically turns into a number of set pieces in which the Opapatikas are surrounded by the army and then easily kill them all. In between set pieces they brood a lot and dally with a mysterious woman in white who flits in and out of their lives like a bad dream - or a bad movie.

Note to Readers: I in no way advocate suicide as a manner of discovering what your inner super powers are – though I do wonder what mine might be – hopefully sleeping through films like this.

Monday, November 05, 2007

More Thai Posters


I never get tired of seeing these old posters and never get tired of putting them up! Just looking at them gives you some idea of what an interesting film industry Thailand must have had back in the 70's which I think is the period these are from - from beach movies to horror and everything else in between. Here are 30 of them with another 30 to come.








Saturday, November 03, 2007

Pusan Put to Rest


Here are short reviews of the last three films from Pusan. Finally!


Funuke Show Some Love, You Losers!

Director: Daihachi Yoshida
Japan
2007

With a mouthful of a title, this film refuses to be defined by genre as it gleefully stirs absurdist comedy, sexual dysfunction, sisterly psychosis, prostitution, manga revenge, fear of cats, minor miracles and sly vindictiveness into a delicious low key oddball brew. At times it flirts with a mirage of sweetness, but then pulls back the curtains to reveal lovely spite and malice clinging all around this family like spider webs that took years to take form. Dysfunctional families don’t happen overnight.

In the opening scene an elderly couple gets run over while trying to help a cat get out of the way – the lengthy red streaks in the road speaks of their demise as does the horrified look on the face of their gloomy looking eighteen year old daughter, Kiyomi (Aimi Satsukawa). Afterwards, Kiyomi moves in to live with her step-brother Shinji (Masatoshi Nagase) and his perpetually smiling new wife Machiko (Hiromi Nagasaku). Kiyomi’s sister Sumika comes back from Tokyo purportedly for the funeral but in truth because she is broke and in hiding from debt collectors. Sumika (Eriko Sato – Cutie Honey) is everything that Kiyomi is not – glamorous, sexy and sexually experienced – and when she brings Kiyomi a gift of a stuffed cat you sense that this is done not with affection but with a sharp dagger. Years previously Sumika went to Tokyo to make it as an actress but so far her only success was as a victim in a serial killer movie. Now at loose ends she needs to come up with money and a job but mainly she wants to torture her younger sister for having put her private life into a popular manga and making her a laughing stock in the town. Dear brother Shinji tries to cool things down but Sumika may have a hold on him – right between his legs. Behind her spectacles and cringes, Kiyomi looks very much the victim, but you don’t grow up in this family without having the sting of a scorpion. Set in the middle of nowhere, the film almost comes across as the evil cousin of Taste of Tea – but though mean spirited it still suggests in the end that your family is always family – sometimes though with sharp fingernails greeting you.

Mukhsin

Director: Yasmin Ahmad
Malaysia
2007

Yasmin Ahmad is something of an anomaly in Malaysian cinema where most films seem to fall into two very distinct camps – crass commercial fare directed primarily by the Malays and arty static box office poison directed usually by members of the Chinese community. The trilogy of Orked films directed by Yasmin straddles these two camps with its slow quiet reflective narratives that are amusing, poignant, romantic but above all optimistically humanistic in their depiction of the multicultural Malaysian society. And they do quite well at the box office. At a time when there is a widening global antagonism and distrust between the Islamic world and the Western world, Mukhsin is a perfect oasis of needed sanity in which Islamic culture is given an immensely normal, gentle and humane face. Whether this was the main intent of the director isn’t clear to me since this is not so much the gist of the film but what surrounds it, what permeates, what gives the film a powerful underlying resonance. Yet I don’t think this message is primarily meant for outside consumption, but is in fact directed at her fellow Muslim countrymen. There has been a growing rift between the Muslim majority in Malaysia and the large Chinese and Indian communities due to some Muslims pushing for laws and customs that more reflect a conservative interpretation of the Koran – and Yasmin appears to be quietly crying out for a return to their liberal tradition of tolerance in which a girl and her mother can dance together in the rain, women can attend a soccer game (something which a recent Iranian film pointed out can not happen there) and a boy and girl can fly a kite together.

This is the third film in the Orked trilogy – the other two being the wonderful Sepet and Gubra – but this one goes back in time to 1993 when Orked was 10 years old and living in a small village called Kuala Selangor. This is the story of her first crush. Orked (Sharifah Aryana) is a no nonsense little tom boy who prefers playing rough with the boys to being with the girls. Her mom (Sharifah Aleya – real life sister of Aryana) and dad (Irwan Iskandar) are extremely indulgent of their little girl and the family along with their maid (Adibah Noor) are as close knit and lovable as a nest of chipmunks. During a school holiday, the 12-year old Mukhsin (Mohd Syafie Naswip) comes to the village to stay with his old housekeeper since his parents have split up. After Orked passes his test of toughness, he allows her to join the boy’s games and the two become fast friends over the lazy warm days and cicada filled nights that follow. Scenes slowly melt into one another with poetic flashes of home life, friendship and faith on display – dancing, riding a bike, reciting the Koran and flying a kite are lovely moments of harmony and beauty. Very little of any dramatic purpose takes place in the film – it is just a nostalgic look back at innocence when somehow the world seemed so much simpler and kinder. It is a wonderful film that very quietly grabs hold of your emotions and is only weakened by an unnecessary side story involving Mukhsin’s older angry brother. When I took this film out at the Viewing Room in Pusan, a fellow who I had met a few days previously saw what my film choice was and just said “Mukhsin! God I love that film”. And now so do I.

Sukiyaki Western Django

Director: Takeshi Miike
Japan
2007

A lone cowboy wanders into the desolate dusty town upon a horse and witnesses two armed camps of men at war with one another. He offers his services to the highest bidder and one of the men shouts out to him “Don’t plan on doing a Yojimbo here”, but in fact that is exactly what happens as this film follows in those footsteps though to be more precise it follows in the tracks of Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars which was of course based on Yojimbo. Thinking about the cross-cultural influences of this film could give you whiplash. In this part sly parody, part affectionate homage to the Spaghetti Western of Italy, director Takeshi Miike takes the basic elements of many of those films and piles on his own unique style and bizarre vision as only Miike can. With its familiar plot set in place it allows Miike to give full vent to his creative urges and he does so in a very playful manner - occasionally drenching the screen in gaudy surrealistic colors and putting together various stunning set pieces that will have you often chuckling at his warped imagination and the absurdity of what passes before your eyes. It only takes a minute before you have passed through the world of Leone to that of Miike when one man is shot through the stomach and a hole the size of grapefruit results and with him still standing upright trying to figure exactly what happened various of his cohorts take turns looking through the gaping hole to the other side. Other influences run through the film as well and I couldn’t help wonder how much Quentin Tarentino who appears in cameos at the beginning and near the end contributed to this film – the terse pithy dialogue certainly sounded like it had his fingerprints all over it and some of his Kill Bill style seems evident such as the final duel in the suddenly snowy landscape – but then was that Kill Bill or Lady Snowblood that Miike was referencing?

This film is clearly a case of overwhelming style over substance and for some I expect it may just not click as the constant bag of flourishes may get tiresome and some emotional undertones may be wanting (a few people at Pusan told me they hated the film), but you have to give Miike credit for continuously trying something new and different and rarely feeling stale. The film received much of its advance hype because Miike has the Japanese actors speaking in English and I have read of people who found it cumbersome to listen to – but perhaps because I spend so much of my time overseas these days it truthfully didn’t bother me in the least bit and after only a few minutes I stopped reading the English subs and had no problem understanding them and actually found their readings very well done. I won’t go into the plot because if you haven’t seen either Yojimbo or A Fistful of Dollars I recommend you do so immediately.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

New Asian Film Blog Up and Going

I just wanted to let people know that a friend and long time Asian film fan has a blog going called Eyes Wide Screen. Mike has written professionally about Asian films and brings a unique perspective to the subject. So take a look and let him know what you think.

Eyes Wide Screen

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Sylvia Chang


Currently Thailand is hosting the 5th World Film Festival of Bangkok and as part of that there is a tribute to Taiwanese actress and director Sylvia Chang. They are showing six of her films in which she appeared or directed and last night I had the pleasure of catching the Shaw Brothers film Dream of the Red Chamber on the big screen. I am not really a fan of the Huangmei Opera films, but I love this one with its lush ornate sets, melodic tunes and gut crunching emotions. Oh, and it also stars Brigitte Lin and Sylvia Chang. Ok - that is mainly why I love this film. This was the only Shaw film that either of them ever appeared in and in their pristine youth they dazzle in their close-ups. I have occasionally thought what a shame it was that the Shaws didn’t sign Brigitte up after her success in Taiwan in the early 70’s – she would have been a perfect successor to Lily Ho after she retired in 1974 - think of the great films she might have appeared in. The print has not been restored but for the most part it was in excellent condition and they claimed that this film has not been shown since its release in 1977 but I am not sure about that.

But of course the big thrill for me was that Sylvia was in attendance looking absolutely radiant and still adorable in her fifties. I came to Sylvia a bit later than I did some of my other favorite Hong Kong actresses as she rarely appeared in action films which were what I devoured when I first discovered Hong Kong cinema back in the mid-90’s. Later on though I delved into other genres and first came across this elfin cutie as the beleaguered and set upon third leg in the Aces Go Places series – a quick witted foil to Sam Hui and Karl Maka. Other films were to follow and I began to realize what a fine actress she was as she easily shuttled between comedy and drama – and she is in two of my favorite Hong Kong romances - 8 Taels of Gold where she teams up improbably with Sammo Hung to create a poignant and bittersweet drama of unrequited love and of course the magnificent Shanghai Blues.

In her Q&A she mentioned that very early on she became curious about the workings of film behind the camera and grew increasingly interested in writing and directing. Her first directing gig, Once Upon a Time, was in 1981 at the age of 28 but I have never had the chance to see it. But she didn’t really hit her stride as a director until the late 1990’s with Tempting Heart, Princess D and 20:30:40.

At an early point in the film the print broke down but this turned out to be a good thing because it gave director Yonfan (Last Romance, Bishonen, Peony Pavilion, Colour Blossoms) who has come with Sylvia an opportunity to talk about the film. He mentioned that this was Sylvia’s first chance to see the movie on screen because as soon as the shoot was over she had to go to Korea for a year to work on King Hu’s Legend of the Mountain and its run was over by the time she returned. When asked why the Shaw’s chose these two actresses who were not part of their studio stable Yonfan just gushed that it was because they were the two most beautiful and popular actresses around at the time – a point I certainly question regarding Sylvia who had only made a handful of films at this point – it wasn’t really until Aces before she became a popular actress. In her Q&A Sylvia confirmed something that I had read about the film – that initially she was suppose to be cast as the male figure and Brigitte as the female but right before shooting began the director Li Han-hsiang changed his mind and threw Sylvia into a bit of a panic. The final scenes of her crying for her love took eleven days to film and her eyes became so swollen that she had to go to an eye doctor. More oddly she said that the director had offered the actresses the chance to sing themselves – probably a good thing they declined – though Sylvia actually has a good singing voice and has released a few CDs – one that I picked up and quite enjoyed until it went bad on me.

She was as one would expect completely gracious and stuck around for autographs and chitchat. In one of those strange co-incidences I had come across the picture above in Hong Kong a few weeks back in a little open air shop below Hollywood Road and had bought it – so I got my first autograph since I was about ten years old collecting signatures of baseball players. Now I just need to get Brigitte to autograph it as well some day!

Today I went to see 20:30:40 and realized that I had forgotten how much I liked this tale of relationships at various stages of life and that even though the nature of relationships change as one gets older they never get any easier. Much to my surprise she and Yonfan did an introduction and then sat through it – but no Q&A.

The other films being shown in this tribute are:

Tempting Heart
Forever and Ever
In Between (co-directed by Yonfan)
Siao Yu

Btw – here is another picture of the Ninja Vending Machine that I scanned in.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Still Catching Up on Pusan


Here are a couple more short reviews from the films I saw in Busan. As I slowly roll these out they will likely get shorter and shorter because in truth they are fading fast from my memory. The final review will probably be down to “I think I liked this”. I do attempt to take a few notes while watching the film, but even in the light my penmanship is a thing of horror – you would need a cryptographer of ancient languages to decipher my writing in the dark.

Kamen Rider: The Next

Director: Ryuta Tasaki
Japan
2007
Toei

If you had a line-up of the Kamen Rider, Ultraman, Zebraman and the Powder Puff Girls I am not sure I could have picked out the Kamen Rider before seeing this film. The character has been around for ages I believe in a television series and other incarnations but it is just one of those things that skipped under my radar. Still I thought this might be fun and it was in a Saturday morning kiddie TV kind of way and I was half expecting to see pop ups like “Wham”, “Crunch” and “Bang” appear on the screen – though I don’t recall any flashes of naked female breasts or having a woman seductively rub her private parts in any of my childhood morning viewing. If only. The producers assume the viewer has some previous knowledge of this Japanese superhero as well as having seen the first film, Kamen Rider: The Movie. I hadn’t and so it took me a few minutes to realize that the timid and ignored high school teacher Takeshi (Masaya Kikawada) was in fact The Kamen Rider. It also took me a while to understand why these guys in weird insect like costumes kept appearing to try and beat him up. They are the Shockers and seemingly Takeshi was once part of their union and they don’t appreciate the fact that he now wants to teach science to kids who think he is a wimp. The Shockers are also trying to take over the world by spreading minute nano robots among the populace turning them into creatures the Shockers can control. They are led by the very cool and very hot Chainsaw Lizard (Rie Mashiko) who keeps trying to remove various body parts from the Kamen Rider when she isn’t coming on to him like a Mae West wannabe.

In another parallel thread, the female pop singer Chiharu (Erika Mori) isn’t returning the calls of her good friend Kotomi (Miku Ishida) who just happens to be one of Takeshi’s students. He gets involved in Kotomi’s life and if he weren’t a super hero one might suspect that he has more in mind than being a good teacher as she is more than a bit cute. Kotomoi is also surprisingly nonplussed about her teacher suddenly turning into a jumping punching costumed super hero – must happen in Japan all the time. Chiharu is having some issues – a video song that is rumored to kill her fans and a ghost that wants her face – and this is putting her on edge and not acting very sociable. But mainly what the film has going for it is some fairly solid fight scenes with loads of flips and somersaults occurring on a regular basis, the fun insect costumes and a need to have something happen every few minutes to keep the kids from dozing off. I know I didn’t.

Asyl

Director: Izuru Kumasaka
Japan
2007

This small independent Japanese film has a surprisingly quiet life affirming message setting down roots among the melancholy and solitude that permeates it. Revelations about life can happen anywhere it seems – in this case in a rundown old fashioned love motel that is owned by the taciturn middle aged Tsuyako (Lily) who seems to get through each day only as a means to get to the next. The film tracks a few other women who cross her path over a few days. The blonde haired Mika (Hikari Kajiwara) is a thirteen year old girl drifting sullenly through her life unable to deal with the fact that her father left her mother and has now settled down with another woman and had children with her and no time for Mika. She notices the odd sight of young children making their way into the love motel and decides to follow them inside. She goes with them onto the elevator where they tell her they are going to Asyl, a liberated zone in the city. It takes her to the rooftop where she comes upon a garden and playground where anyone is welcome. She decides to stay for the night and later is grumpily invited by Tsuyako to have something to eat.

Thirty-something Tsuki is frantic – she has lost her notebook where she monitors how many steps she has taken each day for the past many years. The loss though serves to liberate her and that day she begins a conversation with her neighbor Tsuyako who she has ignored for many years due to her profession. Tsuki is married but always alone and she asks Tsuyako if she can work for free at the love motel. She too discovers Asyl. The final character to enter the film is Marika (Chiharu Sachi Jinno) a young woman who brings a different man with her to the love motel each day. She is equally annoyed and fascinated by this grim woman who runs the hotel and begins to poke her nose into her background and the past of both of them spills out. Slowly paced and often static – one lengthy conversation takes place entirely in the pitch black – the film takes you into unexpected subtle emotional places with some small wonderful discoveries if you are willing to go with it.

Dai Nipponjin

Director: Hitosi Matumoto
Japan
2007

Among my many failings is apparently a lack of appreciation for a type of Japanese comedy that has been breaking out like a small rash over the past couple of years. These totally absurd dead pan parodies are so straight-faced that even Buster Keaton might not realize he is being nudged in the funny bone. Set in the real world they present ludicrous and inherently comical situations with complete seriousness and just expect the audience to get it. A few other films of this ilk are Ski Jumping Pairs, Executive Koala Bear and Calamari Wrestler and I have to admit to not liking any of them (though all of them do have moments of utter hilarity). But that is almost beside the point because all of these films have a loyal fan base and Dai Nipponjin generally received rave reviews when it snuck in under the tent at prestigious festivals like Cannes, Toronto and Pusan. But they are not my cup of soup and I don’t plan on going into rehab to correct that any time soon. So it is almost unfair of me to review this – it would be like me reviewing a vegetarian restaurant where my first line would be “The vegetables would have been so much better next to a big chicken breast”. So I will just give the basics here.

Being a super hero isn’t what it used to be in Japan as this mockumentary points out. Once idolized in the country, they are now considered nuisances with signs around the neighborhood telling them to stop breaking things, to quiet down and to move out – and the occasional rock is thrown through their windows. Even their TV ratings have withered and their battles against the bad guys are shown on the late late show after the Shopping Show. Dai Sato (played by the director who is a famous manzai comic on TV) initially first appears as a poor middle aged schmuck with not much of a social life and it is a mystery as to why a journalist is doing a documentary about him and is following him wherever he goes. He tells the reporter that he makes about $5,000 a month and that he is separated from his wife and misses his little daughter. This goes on for about 10-15 minutes to test the audience’s patience before Dai Sato gets a phone call from the Defense Ministry and tells the reporter that it is time for him to go to work.

Work being a super hero when he is called in to save the country from disaster at the hands and feet of various bizarre gigantic baddies that trod the country and destroy property like Godzilla on a sleepy day. But to battle them he needs to become Dai Nipponjin – a giant in blue underwear with hair that stands straight up and who uses a club to beat down the bad guys. Using electricity to increase his size he goes forth like a bored salaryman to make a paycheck and do battle against bad mannered baddies with various characteristics such as the comb over to hide their bald heads, that smell badly, that have giant heads like Jay Leno and one that throws his eyeball like a lasso. Japan seemingly has an endless supply of baddies. Dai has an agent as well who seems to be living much better than he does and who does her best to get him corporate sponsorship in the forms of their logo’s on his body when he fights. The best part of the film are certainly these many battles set usually among wonderful detailed city landscapes in which model buildings get knocked over – but even these began to tire me after a while. Between these silly fights were endless wry and dry interviews and conversations – much of this just felt like a skit that didn’t know how to die – sort of like Dai Nipponjin.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Ninja Vending Machines!


Do you see anything slightly suspicious in this picture? Now I know what I want for Christmas!


International Herald Tribune Article

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Shadows in the Palace - Film Review


Director: Kim Mi-jung
Korea
2007
113 minutes


“Shadows in the Palace” is a terrific fast paced conspiratorial page turner that refuses to take a breath. Occurring in the period of the Joseon Dynasty, this palace potboiler is full of enough twists, turns and red herrings to keep most viewers off balance and perplexed. What makes it especially fascinating is the feminist milieu in which the plot unfolds – a secret world behind the gates of the royal palace in which ambitious women grasp desperately for power and for survival and murder is only one of many options available to them. In fact, nearly the entire cast is female with only a few small roles for the opposite sex. The director is female as well, but her debut entry is not a delicate tale of polite manners and subtle intrigue – it is historical pulp with mangled bodies piling up like a layer cake and stocked with gruesome torture scenes that are not for the squeamish. In a disappointing year so far for Korean film, this is one of the more enjoyable films that is let down only by the unnecessary introduction of some supernatural elements towards the end.

The palace is simmering dangerously as a sly power play develops between the Queen and one of the King’s concubines. As the queen has been unable to bear the King an heir, he is on the verge of naming the son of one of his concubines, Hee-bin (Yoon Se-ah), to be his successor. This would of course greatly elevate Hee-bin’s influence and prestige within the court and the Queen and the Queen Mother are pulling various levers to be sure this doesn’t happen. Other women on the side of Hee-bin though are doing everything they can to make sure it does happen. Into this unsettled atmosphere the body of a maid is found hanging from a rope in her room. Everyone wants it to be called a suicide, but the female nurse Chun-ryung (Park Jin-hee) who performs the autopsy isn’t so sure.

Like an historical Kay Scarpetta (the character from the Patricia Cornwell series), Chun-ryung notices various forensic clues that seem to indicate that this was murder – but who would want to murder a maid. As she stubbornly investigates it turns out that many people in fact might have reason to do so and it somehow seems tied to the contest for succession. As Chun-ryung frantically claws through the evidence and avoids attempts on her life (and is tortured to boot), she realizes that menstrual cycles may reveal the answers. Surrounding all of this is the fascinating and at times astonishingly cruel workings of the palace in which the female help must keep their virtue or be harshly disciplined and everyone is in fear for their standing and their lives. Production values are excellent with great period detail and apparently (according to Variety) many of the sets from King and Clown were used. It is interesting that a film like this went to a female director – hard to imagine that happening in the states these days.