Sunday, April 29, 2007

Three Short Film Reviews from SE Asia


Garasi (Indonesia, 2006), Directed by Agung Sentausa (debut film)

Rock films are still happening – not so much in the United States anymore but in fascinating locations like Indonesia. Garasi translates into garage - where so much of the great rock and roll music began – some kids forming a band for the pure love of music and practicing in their parent’s garage till their fingers bleed. This follows the traditional and often used story line from the formation of a band to their coming out party. Within that basic framework though, the film works in some sweet coming of age moments, a little critical social commentary and of course lots of rough house music. This being Indonesia don’t expect any drugs or sex to go along with the rock and roll – but the film is by no means a big happy marshmallow. Admittedly, much of the pleasure for many of us will simply be the milieu - a small town in Indonesia where one might least expect to find a film of this kind – but as this demonstrates the world is coming closer and closer together all the time.

Aga (Fedi Nuril) has just returned to Bandung from Jakarta and wants to form a rock band. It turns out his old easy going friend Awan (Aries Budiman) who is a drummer is also back in town after having lived in Tokyo for the past few years – so that part is easy but he still needs a vocalist. He thinks he spots one singing in a club but right after the gig she quits the band and walks away. He meets up with her again in the local record store which is run by three characters who give their customers quizzes before they part with their loved records (ala High Fidelity). Aga asks Gaia (Ayu Ratna) if she would be willing to come by his house the next day and see if they work well together. They do as Gaia tells him this is exactly the set up she has been looking for to transmit her vision and songs. They begin the arduous task of putting together a catalog of a few songs to play at local clubs and to put out a cheap CD. The music goes well but other issues slowly creep in – Aga’s difficult relationship with his brother who is a traditional gamelan musician and feels his brother is wasting his talents on rock music and a tentative romance between Aga and Gaia that is intruding on their music – but the real crusher is when a newspaper condemns Gaia for being illegitimate and her neighbors turn away from her and force her to flee town. But of course in the end music overcomes everything. Very nicely shot with lots of exteriors, the film moves back and forth comfortably between light comedy, drama and music. It’s main point of weakness is the indulgence of the director who perhaps should have cut back on the musical montage interludes a bit and though the actors do a reasonably fine job their lack of experience shows through as well – but Ayu in particular has a real hard edge fiery presence on the screen that is a welcome departure from most young sweet Indonesian actresses I have seen.

The three actors most amazingly wrote all the songs and formed a band called appropriately Garasi to perform them. Vocalist Ayu Ratna was discovered on Indonesian Idol where she made it into the finals but had to quit due to illness before her performance. She has a voice that reminds me a bit of vocalists like Tory Amos.

You can check one of the songs here on Youtube.

My rating for this film 7.5


Opera Jawa (Indonesia, 2006), Directed by Garin Nugroho

This is the sort of art film that can either make you hit the floor hard after you nod off or fall into a hypnotic jaw breaking trance. Fortunately for my noggin, I was mesmerized by this visionary Indonesian folk opera tale that is all told in song, dance, stunning costumes, startling images and exotic designs. It is simply an amazing piece of work unlike anything I have seen anyway and there are moments of such beauty and imagination that they were transcendent. At times it is astonishingly sensual as well with dance movements and themes that would possibly be taboo in most Indonesian films but likely got a pass due to the artistic designs of the film plus I tend to doubt that this had a theatrical run. It is a telling of an ancient tale from the Hindi Ramayana - The Abduction of Sinta - that explores morality and fidelity. The story though is brought into modern times and brings in plot elements such as street demonstrations and corrupt businessmen. In truth it was a bit difficult for me to follow the story at first because I was hesitant to read the sub-titles and take my eyes off the big picture.

Previous to her marriage, Siti was a well-known dancer and interpreter of Sinta, but after her wedding she has to settle into a traditional wife’s role to her husband Seito. His pottery business is not going well and he has seemingly become impotent and begins to ignore his beautiful wife. Into this situation dances the sleazy but wealthy local businessman Ludiro who very much desires Siti – and one scene of him hiding beneath her skirt when the husband comes home is remarkable. Full of costumes, masks, miles of cloth, hundreds of extra’s and endless imagination this can hold you in rapt attention though I would be the first to admit that many may be bored to tears if this doesn’t sound like their cup of tea. But quite honestly I was expecting to be one of the latter and found myself held completely captive by the constant undulating beauty of this film.

Singapore Dreaming (Singapore, 2006), Directed by Colin Goh and Ten Yen Woo

Sometimes your reaction to a film can be strongly influenced by what you were expecting versus what you end up seeing. I was thrown off here in the most simplest of ways – the picture on the DVD cover of an apparently happy smiling family led me to believe this would be a warm hearted comedy of sorts with a family pulling together to make good. Not exactly. In fact, the two directors (husband and wife) seem intent on angrily puncturing a hole in the supposed Singapore façade of an orderly society where everyone lives well. This has become a common theme in recent years with directors such as Jack Neo and his gentle satiric comedies or Royston Tan showing a seamier dead end side of Singapore that didn’t please the authorities all that much. Here the family unit is used as the pretext to explore and condemn the inherent class hierarchy and overt class consciousness as well as the materialistic nature of the Singaporeans. The five C’s are what Singaporeans aspire to – cash, condo, credit card, car and a country club – and if they don’t achieve these status symbols they look upon their life as a failure.

The Loh family would be classified as lower middle class, living in public housing but by no means poor. Living under the same roof is the debt ridden father (Richard Low), an old fashioned uneducated mother (Alice Lim), their son (Dick Soo) who has just returned from university in the United States burdened by high family expectations and his sweet fiancée Irene (Serene Chen). There is also the daughter Mei Loh (Yeo Yan Yan) who is married and lives in her own public housing apartment. This is a stew of barely contained frustration always simmering with class and family resentment, but it really only boils over when suddenly the father hits the lottery and becomes wealthy. With all that money at stake the grasping nature of this family – in particular the son and daughter - shows its true colors and the infighting begins. Even here the viewer might likely expect that at some point the family will become reconciled and realize that family is more important than material goods, but the directors stick to their message and things go from bad to worse. Only the mother stays apart from all this – a seemingly simple woman who doesn’t have much to say other than offering food and drink to her family. In the end though she turns out to be the moral ballast of the film who understands everything all too well and deals with her family accordingly. The passive kindly performance from Alice Lim is marvelous and nearly saves the film from becoming too harsh, but overall the film paints a much too one sided nasty depressing portrait of Singapore. The film needed more of an even handed balance, but it becomes such a bitter polemic against the city state that it becomes hard to listen to. And harder to enjoy.

My rating for this film: 5.5

The trailer - banned apparently - can be found here.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Horse Sense

Horse Sense - "Sound practical sense"

Just a frivilous thought. I came across this term tonight for the first time in ages and it got me wondering why people don't really use it any more. Were horses smarter back when the phrase was in common usage or have people gotten smarter. But then if people are smarter how could we have voted George W. Bush in as President two times? In fact, one might question whether humans are losing I.Q. points as well. Two hundred years ago Thomas Jefferson was President - a philosopher, an inventor and the author of the Declaration of Independence while today our President proudly brags that he doesn't read newspapers. So what does that say about horses? Now, no one ever accuses George W. Bush of having horse sense certainly - but a horse's ass would be another matter all together.

Horse's Ass - "a stupid or foolish person."

Anyway, back to movie watching.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

And now for a little film break


Spring has finally come to Brooklyn and it feels like everyone has shed 100 pounds of gloom. It is just glorious and in my opinion there aren’t many better places to be than New York City in spring time. Of course, sometimes spring only lasts a few minutes before it slumps into summer heat so we like to enjoy it while we can.

Over the years I have had thousands of requests to know more about where I live – OK – actually not one but I know many were thinking it! Anyway, I felt like talking about my neighborhood just a little bit. As much as I loved traveling around Asia for eight months and living in hotels it is rather wonderful to be back in Brooklyn and once again ensconced in my small apartment – though every time I leave and come back I want to phone someone to ask why my bed hasn’t been made up and why there are no fresh towels. That part is hard to get used to. But I live in an area of Brooklyn called Park Slope – it is called that for a very simple reason – at the top end is Prospect Park and then the neighborhood gently slopes down. The closer you are to the top, the more expensive it is – needless to say I live at the tail end of the slope hanging on for dear life. When I began living here a bunch of years ago there was a friendly crack dealer on my corner but now it is all very genteel with well kept brownstones, little shops, delis, antique stores, fruit stores and restaurants of every food choice you can imagine – not that I was ever much of a cook but living here you would have to be crazy to cook with Indian, Thai, Japanese, Peruvian, Mexican, Vietnamese, French, Italian and much more all within a few blocks. It also has a surprising amount of friendly people.

I ended up in Park Slope completely by accident after first moving to New York City with no job and $1,000 in the bank. For the first month I stayed in a cheap hotel on 43rd street and 8th avenue – the heart of Times Square – though back then it was more accurate to say the intestines of Times Square - and used to be kept awake at night by the gigantic cockroaches crawling on the linoleum floors and the shouting of the prostitutes who used the hotel for public relations purposes. The only place that I could find that was willing to rent to a simple boy with no job and no money was an elderly prim English lady named Ms. Cavendish who had lived through the bombing of London in WWII and had settled in Brooklyn. My apartment was the size of a large postage stamp, but it was in a beautiful brownstone and she took a great interest in her tenants – to the point where she would let herself in and clean my dishes. That was much appreciated but other strictly enforced rules such as no women being allowed were not so much. So I moved to my current place and have been here for longer than I like think about, but over the years I have seen the neighborhood transform into a lovely place to live (and most importantly see the value of my co-op shoot through the roof!) .

So this weekend I went out and took a few photos of Park Slope and Prospect Park and as I realized when later checking them out I was a bit foliage obsessed but it had been so long since I had seen any and it was such a welcome sight. Winter is over. I hope.

And another three short reviews for your viewing pleasure


Nana 2 (Japan, 2005), Directed by Kentaro Otani

The first Nana was a sneak attack on my happy glands – a warm sweet story of female friendship that struck a perfect balance between sentiment, comedy and drama. It was that rare feel good film that didn’t make you feel like a complete sap for falling for it. The film can almost be used as a litmus test for prospective partners – if they don’t like the film the chances are they kick animals when no one is looking and will become abusive alcoholics over time. Stay away from these people. That is because Nana is a giant two hour communal hug that reaches all of our soft vulnerable places that we shield so diligently. And in the middle of that group hug is Aoi Miyazaki, who plays the cute Nana or Hachi as she becomes known as. Aoi Miyazaki is a candidate for the cutest actress in the known world and she can bring out every paternal, maternal or protective instinct that humans have – and all with one little flustered pout. She is like a fluffy stuffed toy and I am surprised that Japan hasn’t created a holiday for her called Kawaii Day when everyone has to be nice to each other. Off setting her Kawaii qualities in the film is the other Nana, a tough but tender hearted punk rocker played by singer Mika Nakashima (who’s CD The End I am listening to now). Perhaps in the real world this odd pairing of friends may seem close to fantasy but in the celluloid world it is like chocolate ice cream and almonds – just right. Through all the things that the cold world throws at them, it is their friendship that holds their heads above water and keeps them going.

The success of that film demanded a sequel and so it arrived like a Japanese Bullet Train right on schedule, but unfortunately Aoi was unavailable for her part and it went to actress, Yui Ichikawa, who toils mightily to imitate Aoi as the adorable Hachi but just can’t quite pull it off. The film didn’t meet expectations at the box office and I expect that part of the reason was this cast switch (as well as a few others) but may also have much to do with the uncomfortable turn that the narrative takes in the film. If you recall the first film ends with Hachi having overcome heartbreak to stand on her own, Nana coming to an understanding in her relationship with fellow musician Ren from the band Trapnest and Nana’s band The Black Stones still looking for commercial success. Perhaps it should have ended there as there is really no where for it to go. The beauty of the first film was how simple and unadorned the emotional aspects were, but with the basics already set in place the new film loses the fine balance it had and goes head first into unkempt melodrama in which our little Hachi goes through emotional grownup hell. Did anyone really want to see Hachi fall into a suicidal depression and become a serial killer who first seduces her targets before stabbing them in the eye? OK – not really but not so far either as Hachi finds herself in a messy love triangle, makes bad relationship decisions, ignores her true friends, gets knocked up and in a sense finds herself back where she started – dependent on a man. In the midst of this wreckage are some fine scenes, some fine songs and a friendship that still holds together – but it never manages the warm magic of the first and there are no group hugs here. It certainly does set up another sequel though, but with the so-so box office of this one I don’t know if one is planned – but they can’t leave Hachi where she ends up can they?

My Rating for Nana 1: 9.0
My Rating for Nana 2: 7.0

Nana 1 Viewed on DVD
Nana 2 Viewed in a theater

Mika's songs in Nana 1 and 2 and live here and musical video here

Nana 1 Trailer here

Nana 2 Trailer here

Nana 2 theater promo

Heavenly Forest (Japan, 2006), Directed by Takehiko Shinjo

Apparently, this is the film that Aoi Miyazaki skipped out on Nana 2 for. Hmmm? Perhaps that wasn’t the greatest decision she could have made. Not that this is a terrible film, but it is such a conventional romantic tearjerker that it seems rather a waste of her talents and though the film revolves around her character, her screen time is limited. The main character is Makoto (Hiroshi Tamaki) a sweet, shy young man who is just entering university to study but has aspirations to be a photographer. On his first day he runs into Shizuru (Aoi) a nerdy little creature who is as cute as pecan pie behind her eye glasses and oddball fashion sense. They become pals over time and he takes her into the nearby forest where he shares and imparts his love for photography to her. She clearly has a crush on him, but he only has eyes for the lovely and sophisticated Miyuki (Meisa Kuroki) who he also becomes friends with – but is too shy to try and take it further. Time passes but nothing much happens even though Shizuru moves in with him – but still they remain only buddies though she tells him that she is still growing and will have enormous breasts someday and he will be sorry for not taking advantage of her while he has the chance. The audience of course all knows that she is the right girl for him – we have seen this same scenario many times – but just as he comes to this obvious realization she disappears on him with no explanation. Years later (but actually where the film starts), he receives a letter from her that she has a photo exhibition in New York City and invites him to come see it. It is a very genial film for the most part, but has the edge of a butter knife even when it takes a sudden dip into tearjerk territory. Whenever Aoi is on the screen it does take on a charming quality that can navigate you through this film with a certain amount of pleasure, but she disappears too often and for too long – but for her fans this is probably still worth a look.

My rating for this film: 6.0


Short trailer here on Youtube


Woman Transformation (Japan, 2006), Directed by Tôru Kamei

Thank goodness there is still a place in the world that makes films like this – strange little curiosities for which there is no grand marketing plan whatsoever – just a desire to be weird and original. While Asian cinema has generally gone very mainstream, Japanese films can still surprise and delight you with their off the wall content. I have been watching Asian films for around 10 years now and I can’t help but think that globalization has affected them in terms of smoothing down the edges and partially removing their distinct cultural flavor. When was the last time Hong Kong came out with a truly crazy film that made little sense but was entertaining as hell? There used to be loads of them that Hong Kong audiences ate up with relish, but now their films more and more fall into strict genre based categories that can be remade in Hollywood or sold to foreign distributors. Korea makes films with wonderful production values and smart well thought out scripts, but they rarely surprise you any more other than a few mavericks like Kim Ki-duk and Park Chan-wook. But a very profitable straight to video market in Japan allows directors to experiment with small personal films or ones that are just so peculiar that it makes you shake your head with a big fat grin on your face. This would be one of the latter. When you are finished watching it you sort of go huh? What exactly was the point of this film – it’s not a horror film or drama or comedy – it is just fun and a little bit freaky.

This feels like a cousin to another low budget film I just saw – Unholy Women, which contains three tales on the dark side of women (as if they had one!), while Woman Transformation has the stories of three women – slightly connected – who are going through drastic and unexplainable physical transformations. The Japanese title of Yokai Kidan is more to the point if you have seen the Great Yokai War – as these women mutate into monsters – Yokai - but for no discernable reason – it just happens and can’t be stopped and their lives fall apart. That sounds kind of depressing perhaps, but in fact much of the film is filled with sharp black humor because the situations are just so silly, surreal and absurd. One young woman discovers that her neck is beginning to hurt and when she goes to the doctor he tells her after x-rays that her spine is like a snake’s. And soon she is able to stretch her neck to extreme lengths – which her hospital roommate can’t help but notice – but she has her own problems as her face is getting like moldy bread. Finally another woman who is a bit of an airhead who dresses in a cowboy hat and hands out leaflets discovers that her fingernails are growing at incredible rates – and are very very sharp. In here I suppose are some observations about women in today’s society where they are often judged so superficially on appearance – but though I found this rather purposeless, it was wonderfully peculiar – a real treat that only Japan is serving these days.

My rating for this film: 7.5

A trailer for the film can be found here.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Tres Mas Quckies


Bubble Fiction: Boom or Bust (Japan, 2007), Directed by Baba Yasuo

This is another happy pill from the folks at Fuji Television to take away all your worries for at least 2 hours. Fuji specializes in these types of feel good films that manage to appeal to both your funny bone as well as that soft spot in your emotional center. Think of Bayside Shakedown, Swing Girls, Leave it to the Nurses and Udon as points of reference. No doubt inspired by Back to the Future (with a reference to a DeLorean included), a young woman has to return to the past to not only save her mom but Japan’s economy as well. It’s 2007 and Japan’s famous economic bubble of the 1990’s has popped badly and the country is now on the verge of total economic collapse with everyone hocked up to their eye lids with debt and a nasty looking collector on their doorstep. Finance Ministry official Shimokawaji (Hiroshi Abe) has determined that the genesis of this bubble and the ensuing trouble can be pinpointed to a misguided law that Japan passed in 1990. When he finds out that an old friend, Mariko (the legendary Hiroko Yakushimaru), has accidentally discovered a time machine while trying to build a new and improved washing machine, he sends her back to that year to try and stop the law from passing in the legislature. But she has now dropped from sight and so he turns to her bar hostess daughter Mayumi (Ryoko Hirosue) to follow her mother back into the past. So Mayumi dons a wet suit, climbs into the sudsy washing machine and finds herself back in 1990 where the bubble is swelling with good times and disco is still going strong. There she manages to run into Shimokawaji as a young man – who wants very much to seduce her – her younger mom, herself and various future Japanese celebrities that she gives career advice to. It is great fun leading up to a crazy Pink Pantheresque finale (with Bond music) as she comes across a conspiracy to topple Japan by outside forces. Not exactly brain surgery but a good time for most.

Viewed on a screener

Lost in Tokyo (Japan, 2006), Directed by Kotaro Ikewa

This is vaguely reminiscent of a low budget small cast indie version of The Big Chill that leaves its punches until near the very end. Two friends, Takkun (Takuya Fukushima) and Takachan (Takahiro Iwasaki) have just been to the funeral of one of their friends from their university days. Dressed in mourning clothes they proceed to go on a two day drinking binge that takes them all over Tokyo from bars to saunas to pool halls to karaoke. Both are in their early thirties and neither seems particularly successful – Takkun is still trying to make it as a musician and Takkun has become a dull salaryman. Over the two days they talk intermittently about noodles, drinking and women but can’t seem to approach the subject that is stabbing them in the heart – the death of their friend and their youthful dreams that haven’t materialized and likely never will. The film drifts along for much of its running time in a near haze of drinks and fractured conversations that leaves the viewer a bit puzzled at their behavior and where the film is heading – until it all clicks finally as the two friends face their sorrow and say goodbye to their dead comrade. The herky-jerky camera work and lack of cinematic sophistication gives the film an echo of cinéma vérité that draws you into their lives for this brief period of time.

Viewed on a screener

Trouble Makers (China, 2006), Directed by Cao Baoping

This is a fast moving satiric look at present day corruption in small town China that barely slows down to catch its breath. The town of Black Well is run by the four Xiong brothers, tough hoodlums who have their dirty fingers in everything from rape to kickbacks and run the town like a little fiefdom. The townspeople hate them but have no idea what they can do about it until Ye Guangrong is appointed to the position of Party Secretary. The Xiong brothers expect him to tow their line and so he pretends to while secretly enlisting riled up locals to help him overthrow them. Much of the film takes place on one long frenzied night when Guanggrong thinks he has evidence of the crimes of the brothers and organizes raids on their residences, but nearly everything goes wrong in the chaos that follows. The film starts a bit slow but builds steam as it moves along to a frantic finale that feels like a three ring circus gone haywire. Totally bereft of romance (or women for the most part) or characterization, it is just a fierce funny straight line into the black heart of a China going through dramatic change resulting in a power vacuum and the corruption that has rushed to fill it.

Viewed on a screener

Friday, April 20, 2007

Hell's Ground Trailer

This Pakistani zombie/slasher flick is hitting the fest circuit and will probably be playing at the New York Asian Film Festival. So I figure it's never too early to start promoting it! The producers just put up what I thought was a really good - if longish - trailer on Youtube. As far as I know this is the first burqa wearing slasher iron mace wielding Muslim cannibal film but I could easily be wrong.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_TJKfOT0j1Q

While on Youtube I came across a few videos of a film I just love and need to watch again - Hana and Alice. Here they are

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AeYrdJmoRuw&mode=related&search=

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ClvIpdj4UR0&mode=related&search=

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VztUXFxqkfI&mode=related&search=

What made me think of Hana and Alice was seeing the adorable Yu Aoi in Honey and Clover, a sweet gentle manga adaption of a circle of university students all in love with the wrong person.

Here are a couple of her:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ff2Q78Uxit8&mode=related&search=
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jb04squPbFQ&mode=related&search=
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T5MRZ5RfTlc
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r0L7Ixu9RkM
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FTONiPXF7bc

from Hula Girls;

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tHV-QjIu1jM

Also, here is a Village Voice link to a great review of the Thai film Syndromes and a Century, one of those films that I haven't had the courage to check it, but this review really makes me want to. It has opened here in NYC.

And finally just a heads up that everyone's favorite Asian Film blog will be back in action within the next 2 weeks - get ready to rumble again with Kaiju Shakedown!

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

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Korean Gangsters


The gangster genre is alive and well in Korea with a number of strong releases that occurred in 2006. It is the genre that won’t die no matter how often you hit it over the head with a metal bat and directors continue to try to find a new angle in order to give it a fresh look. The gangster genre is a truly Asian phenomenon and one has to wonder if the enduring popularity of the Jopok, Triad and Yakuza films has some underlying social significance. While gangster films have had their periods of popularity in the West, most western crime films are one’s of individual transgressions against society. In Asia though, the vast majority of crime films fall very much within the structured world of organized crime. It seems to suggest a very different approach between the West and Asia – the individual vs. the collective or perhaps outcast vs. family. While individual crime is nearly taboo in Asian film (and often of a horrific nature ala Dr. Lamb or Untold Story), crimes committed under the umbrella of an organization that acts as a surrogate family is much more understandable and forgivable. Within this structure it is also socially permissible to invest some of your criminal characters with heroic qualities – those that follow a code of honor and loyalty. These conflicting ethical gray areas often allow the directors to go far beyond making simple crime stories to exploring character, community and morality. That was certainly the case with last year’s Bittersweet Life and this year with films like Cruel Winter Blues, A Dirty Carnival and these two additions, Righteous Ties and Sunflower.

Righteous Ties (Korea, 2006)

http://brns.com/korea/pages1/korea30.html

Sunflower (Korea, 2006)

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Link to Asian Film Review Blog - Lunapark6


I assume this blog has been around for a while considering the number of reviews, but I just came across it tonight. I like his selection of films - primarily Korean and Japanese - and though I often don't agree with his ratings - only a 7 for Nana while giving the tedious Daespo Naughty Girls a 7.5! - but you can see where he is coming from. Also, the fact that two of his favorite actresses are Bae Doo-na (and praising the highly underrated Saving My Hubby) and Lee Na-young (Please Teach Me English) are two of mine gives credence to his opinions! The blog is Lunapark6 and can be found here. Take a few hours and give his reviews a look. He covers a number of films that get very little internet presence.

I came across the site when I was looking for information on a Japanese film I just watched called Arch Angels. It was such a peculiar perplexing candy colored confection of surreal imagery, live anime action and pop Manga quirkiness that I was curious what others thought of it. It's a bit slow getting started but by the end it is a lot of fun even though it was probably made for teenagers. But a film that has three female high school super heroes who chow down on Ramen noodles and chocolate is hard to resist. And all the villains are gaijin. And there is a super dog as well that narrates the story. I thought I would take the lazy way out from having to write a review and just post a link to his since I agree with him. I should do this more often - sure saves a lot of time!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Twins Pictures


It feels much too long since I put up any pictures of The Twins. I thought it had been announced last year that they were going their own separate ways, but apparently that was only a vicious rumor someone spread to cause riots in various urban areas and protests at the United Nations. Thankfully, they seem to be back with a CD and a musical video DVD and the world rests more peacefully for that. In fact, by the look of these pictures they are closer than ever! I also picked up the DVD of their latest film, Twins Mission, but haven't had a chance to watch it yet. Tomorrow may just turn into a Twins double sugar overdose. Have the medics on standby.
Here are seven pictures contained in their video DVD case.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Four More from Korea


The Customer is Always Right (Korea, 2006)

Between Love and Hate A.K.A. The Unbearable Lightness of Loving (Korea, 2006)

http://brns.com/korea/pages1/korea34.html

Family Ties (Korea, 2006)