With the end of the year fast approaching, Japan Cinema decided to give our Best and Worst Movies of 2011. There are still a ton of potentially great films that aren’t out yet but let’s not forget the fantastic and horrendous features from the last 11 months. We kick off the list with the no. 5 worst film released this year:
Why it’s awful: The film involves a female beach volleyball teams with martial arts skills. The sports portion is also unremarkable, with little tension leading up to the final game. So in terms of plot and actual tension, this film falls flat on its face. In fact, it kind of plays out like an old American film from the early 90s where cheese is apparant in every frame. In addition to the shoddy acting it seems the budget was cut short as well as many scenes featured low lighting and mediocre cinematography. But speaking of illegibility, the subtitles were an absolute howl, rife with errors. My favorite involves the misspelling of a specific word through juxtaposition of the two middle letters such that the resulting word is wrong but not misspelled. Given the context, it makes for a very funny joke. Which is basically what this entire film is the whole time; One. Big. Joke.
Why it’s awful: Much of the Beginning of the Great Revival seems to be an endless series of speeches–much loved by communist party leaders–some dramatic, some affected, mostly dull, interspersed with a few dramatic scenes of combat or mass demonstrations. Everyone knows the movie is a big ass-kissing for the Party. The director knew it, the actors/actresses knew it, the audience knew it, the hardcore angry communist party member knew it, and the most important dilemma is: the communist PARTY knew it. The story lacks a climax and it looks to have ended without any major thing happening. It could be made better by cutting off some of the less relevant scenes and making the main plot more concentrated on a few major characters. In the grand scheme of things, I’ve lost a bit of admiration for the actors in this movie because by appearing in this movie they are contributing to twisting the minds of young Chinese and increasing the friction between the west and east.
Why it’s awful: Guilty Of Romance focuses on a housewife, a married cop, and a highbrow professor by day, uninhibited prostitute by night, all of whom engage in a world of sexual pleasure. A world that of course, is morally wrong. This film sure tries to make a powerful statement, but the overload of sex and violence is just too blatant to be taken seriously. Sono’s message within the film gets obscured in the final reels by insignificant literary references and drawn-out scenes of sex that I felt he just inputted to film up time. So, no wonder the film is getting a re-cut! Previously, Sono’s The Room won a Special Jury Prize at Sundance in 1992, and he gained international notoriety for his 2001 picture Suicide Club. I’d really like for him to go back in the direction of those films instead of trying to push the sexual envelope to the limits.
Why it’s awful: This film is slightly different, mind you. And a film has to go in a direction, and a sex film especially, once the thrill of seeing the actors and actresses naked has waned somewhat. Anyone who wants to see a film entitled 3-D Sex and Zen shouldn’t be looking for anything more than mild titillation. We’re just really nice people here at JapanCinema that like to tell you the plot and script are terrible! No need to thank us.
Why it’s awful: Imagine the bastard love child of “Black Swan,” “Fight Club” and “LOST” and you might get something resembling “Magic & Loss.” “Magic & Loss” could have easily been an interesting suspense film. Where the film falters is its execution. I’m hesitant to chalk it up to the fact that it’s an indie film—there have been plenty of great films made on low budgets over the past few years. I’m still trying to figure out just what it is that transpired during the film’s 81-minute run time.
Why it’s great: It is comedy, drama, slapstick and romance all rolled into two hours of nonstop adrenaline rush. It also happens to be a musical about a group of young dreamers setting up a band to prove that they got what it takes for a shot at fame. The movie sure knows how to utilize each character well with a script that is masterful in separating the main roles from the supporting ones. It also helps that it is well-acted all throughout, which displays first-time director Chayanop Boonprakob’s capability to bring out the best from each actor. It grabs you and it does not let go with all its playfulness and musical sound effects. One of the most refreshingly eccentric titles released this year, SuckSeed is a two-hour attempt to define the youth of Southeast Asia through music, and it does so successfully.
Why it’s great: Set in Guizhou province in 1975, 11 Flowers depicts the last days of the Cultural Revolution as seen through the eyes of an 11-year old boy. At the same time, Wang subtly paints a picture of a world where getting a new shirt would be today’s equivalent of getting an iPad. It’s in these scenes that Flowers shines brightest; the acting is spot on for a movie filled with child actors (especially newcomer Liu Wenqing as Wang Han), the cinematography is beautiful and for 115 minutes, you really do get a sense of what life under Chairman Mao must have been like. To put it simply, 11 Flowers is well worth checking out.
Why it’s great: When it comes to story telling that deals with things of supernatural, fantastic and epic nature, Chinese are culturally drawn towards the past while American films tend to either go with fantasy or sci-fi. However, the plot is thorough, easy to follow and the language barrier shows no problems of slow-down. This really is the type of film I was waiting for all year. It isn’t your normal kung fu flick because the director laces philosophy behind the fighting. That aspect alone adds an authentic touch of realism. The perspective has become the main theme of the movie, where not only we have seen how Tsao wanted to control the territory, but also the Western powers who aims to take over China using gun power. It is such a rare occasion to see a filmmaker completed its storytelling without leaving any parts hanging. Shaolin made a very good start for the Hong Kong’s film industry in the beginning of 2011.
Why it’s great: There seems to be enough violence for the gore hounds and enough story for the serious movie goer, so it really is a nice mixture of both. When I thought about why his character had to cross the Yellow Sea and the circumstances behind it, I felt the drama was very humanistic. Personally, I really liked the script. The power contained within the film, the characters that centered around the story are what made me want to review this film. At well over 2 hours in length, this film has frantic action pieces as well as good character development. What more could you ask for? As the story escalates, so does the level of hell he’s put through. Take it as a warning, that by the time you finish this film you will be mentally exhausted.
Why it’s great: Easily the best film of the year and the most fun I have had at the movies this year. The sound effects and score are perfect for the claustrophobic and frenetic pace of the film. I haven’t heard bone crunching sound effects this good since The Brotherhood of the Wolf. The film is one of the most violent films I’ve seen to date, but never over the top. The Raid logically works its way through fight choreography that begins with automatic weapons, and he moves the camera intelligently to emphasise the visceral action and clearly also works with a top action choreography team and stunt performers to offer-up some awesome martial arts action moments. Director Gareth Evans clearly wants you to leave your brains at the door and celebrate in violent beatings and fight sequences that were stylishly choreographed and continue with such relentless regularity that you almost want to pause the projector to catch your breath before the next group of bare-fisted bruisers hit the screen. It is 50 kicks to the face and 14 roundhouses to the ribs type of flick. You’ve been warned.
All in all, a great year in film and heres to an even better year in 2012! I hope everyone, old and new readers alike, will continue to follow Japan Cinema into the new year.