Friday, April 20, 2007

Three Short Reviews

I have had the opportunity to go through a load of films lately - some good, some not so good - but really don't have the time to write full length reviews. That would interfere with my nap time. So over the next few days I will try to catch up on many of them with quick edible reviews. Some of them are easily obtainable on DVD while others are not and may never be. Sometimes I wonder if there is much point on writing about films that very few people will ever get to see, but those are the films that I really want to often bring attention to in hopes that it may help in some small way to publicize them.

Little Red Flowers (China, 2006), Directed by Zhang Yuan

This is a wonderfully sly satire that adroitly sticks a sharp pin into the fat side of Communist thought in China circa the late 1980’s. And most peculiarly, it takes place in kindergarten. Four year old Quiang isn’t very happy when he is dropped off by his busy father in a co-ed boarding kindergarten. He quickly learns that good behavior earns the children the cherished “little red flowers” and that for bad deeds they are taken away. The teachers are kindly but very intent on performing what they view as their duty – creating an environment of conformity in which the children are all expected to put on their clothes the same way, go to the bathroom the same way, eat the same way and behave the same way. Those that fail lose a little red flower and are lectured to in front of the other children. Initially, Quiang does his best to conform but when he can’t fit in he turns into a rowdy mischievous troublemaker bullying the other kids and becoming a rumormonger. For this unsocial behavior he is first isolated and then goes through re-education. Very charming and adorably cute with bunches of little urchins running about, the film definitely has a point to make but in a very subtle humorous manner. I couldn’t help but wonder while watching though whether this film could even have a theatrical run in the United States because of the many scenes of child nudity – things have gotten to such a point here that I am sure someone would raise a major fuss.

Viewed on DVD

Protégé (Hong Kong, 2006), Directed by Derek Yee

I believe that in the latest census in Hong Kong they discovered that close to 30% of the population were actually undercover cops. Or so you would expect if you have watched the spate of Hong Kong films of late revolving around them. This is the latest from one of the premier veteran directors in Hong Kong, Derek Yee. He brings back Daniel Wu who was so effective in Yee’s One Night in Mongkok – this time as an undercover cop who has over the past seven years been slowly rising to the top of a drug gang headed by Kwan (a bored looking Andy Lau). Kwan has kidney problems and is planning for early retirement with his wife (Anita Yuen) and his girls and he is preparing Nick (Wu) to take over. This part of the film is very solid with a few terrifically tense scenes that play out as Nick attempts to keep his cover going – but in another sub-plot Nick becomes friends with his female next door neighbor and her little girl. She (Zhang Jingchu) turns out to be a heroin addict who has a creepy husband (Louis Koo) hounding her. The husband is also an addict and dreadfully played by Koo with rings around his eyes that are so dark they could blot out the sun. Yee was very forthright about wanting to make a strong anti-drug film, but this thread of the film is so heavy handed and clunky that it is at times more giggle worthy than emotionally effective. Otherwise, this is another strong effort by Yee with some excellent exterior scenes that occur in Hong Kong and Thailand and a good performance from Wu.

Viewed on DVD

Fourteen (Japan, 2006), Directed by Hirosue Hiromasa

I honestly can’t really recall but life probably sucked at fourteen years old. It certainly does in this small independent Japanese film that tracks the lives of a few fourteen year olds in and outside of school as well as a few adults who fall into their troubled orbit. The young director who also acts in the film and was the lead in the equally disturbing “The Soup, One Morning”, shoots the film with a distinct style of very short scenes that bounce around from character to character slowly building a narrative of sorts and a mood of disintegrating disquiet. The kids are all combustible time bombs with pressure squeezing their insides out and the adults are no better as they look at their failed ambitions. It takes a while before you understand who all the characters are and what their relationships are to one another, but once you do the film takes on a fatalistic poignancy that eats away at you.

Here is an excellent review I came across of the film.

Viewed via screener


Buma said...

are these all candidates for the fest ?

Brian said...

Well, pretty much everything I am watching these days is to see if we want to show it in the fest - but even though I have enjoyed a bunch of these not that many are fest worthy. Though in truth we are having a hell of a time finding enough really good films this year - it was overall a lousy year for cinema in Thailand, Korea, HK and SE Asia and so many of the good films have been picked up by US distributors and they either aren't ready to have them shown or are rushing them on to DVD. So we are just watching tons of stuff in hopes of discovering a few gems in the dross.

tesha said...

hi. you have a great Asian cinema review blog going here. For someone who has limited budget to access films not shown in our local theater, I find your reviews helpful in discriminating which films to buy/look for. Just got a copy of Hana to Alice. happiness!

Brian said...

Isn't Hana and Alice wonderful - I have watched that Youtube video about 10 times just because it always makes me feel happy!