Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Another Happy New Year

Ah, the years fly by. Another year done and gone and I must admit to not being a better man for it. Just a year older. It was an interesting year to say the least, the best and the worst of times. Seeing Obama get elected still astonishes me even a few months after the election and I have to persuade myself at times that it really happened. Following the campaign totally consumed my time and emotions this year. As I traveled around from place to place the first thing I would do in a different hotel would be to check the air conditioner and then check to see if they had CNN on the TV. In a few hotels I got stuck having to watch Fox News which was always good for a laugh. Then of course the economy went south and so many of us were hurt in many ways. Fortunately, I was already unemployed! And not looking too hard.

I very much lost touch with what was going on in Asian films. Nothing very important happened from what I can gather. The various Asian forums are empty of much enthusiasm for anything new. The financial mess didn't help but even before that the film industries seemed to be catching their breath and holding back. The collapse of a few US distributors who focused on Asian films was the pop of another smaller bubble. Asian films for a while were being picked up like candy on Halloween for silly amounts and I never understood the economics of it. Apparently neither did the distributors. Asian films have come a long ways in popularity in the USA over the last 10 years but at the end of the day they still rest near the bottom of the viewing barrel - right above travelogues. Film people on both sides of the equation who think differently are just chasing after fool's gold.

My ambitions for the new year are slight. Stay solvent. Get back to Asia. I want to review more films as I have slacked off way too much in this regard but for the most part I want to review older films that are not being covered by a hundred other web sites out there. The fascination for new films and the hype that often surrounds them that some sites cater to has left me jaded because the films so rarely live up to the hype and those exciting breathless trailers. I'd rather dig into the past for a while.

I want to read a lot more. A friend recommended a biography of Neil Young called Shakey that I put on my Christmas list. Santa brought it to me. 738 pages. I can barely lift it. It's great so far but I am questioning whether I really need to know that much about Neil Young. I figure if someone wrote a biography about me it would run to around 5 pages. My love for Asian films would be covered in a paragraph. "In the mid-90's he walked by a HK film festival on 12th Street in New York City and he came to an abrupt halt after spotting a poster of The East is Red with a colorful messianic picture of Brigitte Lin spreading her arms outward. He went in to the theater and in a sense he never came out. Later he joined up with some fellows who wanted to put on Asian film festivals and he began to watch films from Korea, Japan, China, Thailand, Taiwan and anything else Asian. He liked those a lot too. Mainly because they were not afraid to draw their films outside the lines of conventional film making and film narrative. That and the beautiful actresses of course. His fascination began to wane a bit circa 2008 when many of the film companies began to draw within the lines in an attempt to sell their movies to Hollywood. The actresses are still beautiful, but there are no Brigitte Lin's out there."

Neil Young by the way is a rock and roll singer who has been around since the mid-60's and is still going strong today. Buffalo Springfield, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and over 40 solo works. His quavering, plaintive voice has had a hold on me for decades. Except for the 80's where he really sucked. Sometimes acoustic, sometimes screeching electric he never fails to surprise you. Just to kill time I put together a top 5 albums and a top 10 songs:


After the Gold Rush


Everybody Knows This is Nowhere

Neil Young

Tonight's the Night


Like a Hurricane (American Stars 'N Bars)

Sugar Mountain (only released on a Best of album Decade and in concert)

Cortez the Killer (Zuma)

See the Sky About to Rain (On the Beach)

Helpless (Deja Vu with Crosby Stills and Nash)

Cowgirl in the Sand (Everybody Knows This is Nowhere)

Broken Arrow (Buffalo Springfield Again)

Ohio (4 Way Street with CSN)

Living in War (Living in War)

I Believe in You (and pretty much every song in After the Gold Rush)

I want to get to Edinburgh but probably won't. My sudden desire stems from reading three of the Isabel Dalhousie novels by Alexander McCall Smith over my Christmas stay at my parents. I am not sure I really like these books that much as they parade themselves as mysteries but are really just about the philosophical musings of Isabel. But I really love the Edinburgh that the author describes. I was there years ago as one stop on my hitchhiking tour around the British Isles one summer and I recall being charmed even back then when few things charmed me much.

I need to get to Shanghai also just because I want to finally read the three mystery novels I have of the Inspector Chen series by Qiu Xiaolong. But I am holding off on them till I go - hopefully on a train from Hong Kong.

I had posted a comment on this blog about dropping out of the New York Asian Film Festival. Thirteen festivals and three million films felt like enough and it was time to move on. It just gives me more time to do the things that I want to do these days. Needless to say the festival will continue without me - stronger than ever I am sure and likely without as many of the sentimental films that I always fought for. It will give me many fewer opportunities to see and report on new films but as mentioned above that is fine with me.

Anyway enough about me. I wish all of you a great year and exciting times.

A few pictures:

Tien Niu

Vivian Chow - 1, 2, 3

Vivian Hsu - a little risque but I am just in the process of putting up everything I have left.

Wu Chien-lien

Yoyo Mung

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Pictures and a Merry Christmas!

A Merry Christmas to one and all. It's cold back here in the good old USA and I hope I get some warm Asian weather in my stocking this year! Best wishes to everyone.

Sharon Yeung Pan Pan - 1, 2, 3

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Back to HK Actor Photos

I still have tons of these to get up so here are a few more.

Lily Chung

Liz Kong

Michelle Yeoh

Mona Fong

Nina Li

Pauline Chan - 1, 2

Pinky Cheung

Rain Lau

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Ong Bak 2

Ong Bak 2
Director: Tony Jaa

After the well documented travails that accompanied the making of this film in which director/actor/action choreographer/producer Tony Jaa seemed to suffer a psychological and financial meltdown mid-production it finally hits the screens with a massive adrenaline driven jolt. This is manna for action junkies – continuous injections of eye opening ferocious poundings that will keep you hard and happy. Other than a throwaway cameo from Jaa’s good luck charm Mum Jokmok, there isn’t a light moment in the film – it is surly, mean and angry. Jaa appears to be discharging whatever inner demons he had with set pieces of brutal physical violence that never pauses for mercy. Yet the physical artistry on display is so breathtakingly astonishing and imaginative that the film never feels exploitive but instead almost becomes a beautiful hymn to the human form, its grace, its lack of fear, its agility and what it is capable of doing.

No doubt Jaa is trying to up the ante here from his two previous films – seemingly challenged to give the viewer even more of what they want and driving himself even harder. Watching this, it is no wonder that he had a mid-film mental pause and needed to refuel. He puts all his physical skills on screen with an astonishingly diverse display of martial arts from all over the world. He is almost rubbing it in, taunting all the other so-called martial art film actors with his ability to master so many forms. He leaves them in the dust. There is a plot here though it is minimal and very much in the tradition of hundreds of Shaw Brothers martial arts films. As a boy (seen through various flashbacks) Tien (Jaa) witnesses his father, a Lord, being betrayed and killed along with Tien’s mother. Tien escapes but is captured by a tribe of slave traders who are easily amused by tossing victims into a crocodile pit and betting on how long they survive. As Tien is fighting for his life, the traders are attacked by the Bandit King and run off. The Bandit King takes an immediate liking to the boy and tosses him a knife and tells him that if he kills the crocodile he lives. Hard love, but Tien is taken under the wing of the Bandit King and is trained in his village in myriad forms of styles of violence – from sword fighting, to wrestling, to muay thai to hopping from moving elephant to moving elephant where one slip would likely mean death. It is a global village of sorts and to paraphrase our new Secretary of State, it takes a village to teach you to kill in 100 different ways. Tien learns quickly.

Once he graduates, Tien decides it is time for some payback. First the slave traders (some drunken kung fu against that giant fellow who has an alarming resemblance to Richard “Jaws” Kiel and an assortment of others) and then on to the people who slaughtered his family. Revenge, pure and simple. It always works in these films. Keep it simple. And the action is a wonderful thing to witness – precise, fast, acrobatic (the fight on the elephant against Dan Chupong will raise the hairs on your arms) and always very vicious. The film smartly throws some great martial art talent against Jaa and his moves are often counterbalanced by his opponent in a dance like revelry of artists who love what they are putting on screen. All the villains are also eccentrically adorned in masks or head gear that simply make them very cool – again in that old fashioned Shaw Brothers manner.

The film only fails in the end – a shockingly sudden end just when you think you have many more broken bones to go – leaving one assuming that there will be a follow up but I have yet to see any such official announcement. It is interesting that Jaa decided to set this film in the past (1400’s if I recall) after his two successful contemporary films. I wonder whether this may hurt its international sales as it in no way resembles the opulence of the recent Chinese martial arts films but is placed in humid disheveled jungle with very little in the way of sets. But at the same time the period setting seems to have set Jaa free from polite constraints and civility – here it is all about exacting a pound of flesh in the most efficient brutal manner possible. If you appreciate this kind of action like I do you just want to curl up and purr as you bite your nails.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

More Pictures!

I hope to see Ong Bak 2 sometime this week but until then here are a few more photos of HK actors. I think I could probably write the review already - thin plot and great brutal action - just the way we like it!

Idy Chan - 1, 2

Irene Wan - 1, 2

Jade Leung

Jo Koo

Joey Wong - 1, 2

Karena Lam

Kelly Lam