With the end of the year fast approaching, Japan Cinema decided to give our Best and Worst Movies of 2012. 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: Dark Flight 407 is a Thai horror film that wears its scares directly on its sleeve. No deep plot or interpretation here. There is not many scary points in this movie. For a film billed as horror, just having 2-3 scenes of jumps will not suffice, at least not for this reviewer. Any feeling of tension or suspense instead turns to frustration amid all the shrieking, confusion and 3D gimmickry.
Why it’s awful: We spend the first 20 minutes watching various students, teachers, café workers and doctors wander around a rural university campus, and chit-chat in annoyingly long mundane scenes. Everyone else is a vehicle for weak attempts at drama and irksome social statements. Rather than grieve for the loss of their friends and family, each character is engulfed in their own self imposed ennui for life. Neither realistic nor cogently stylized, this crapfest moves along leaving the viewer with hopes that director Ishii will kill off each character quickly (at nearly two hours long, he doesn’t) and the damn thing will be over.
Why it’s awful: Without any hesitation, this film starts off with a fighting scene. I like fighting scenes don’t get me wrong but what exactly is the reason as to why these certain characters are fighting? What exactly is the reasoning behind all of this? You don’t care about any of these characters. They try to give a couple of the characters some back story so you can relate to them but it’s already too late for the film to catch up to its own failures. Some of the characters are just there to die. They mean absolutely nothing to the overall “story”. Speaking of the story, it’s virtually nonexistent in this film.
Why it’s awful: No doubt owing to its video game genesis, this movie has undeveloped characters and poor narrative. Battleship wasn’t great, and I guess it may even be a pretty bad film as far as scripting goes. But while watching it, I at least was interested in what was going on. Still, in summary, it is now available in 2D and also in 3D for those who don’t mind being ripped off, it would have been better if ‘Battleship’ had sunk without a trace during pre-production.
Why it’s awful: Arguably, the worst part of the movie can be easily surmised by the second part of the film’s title. I’m not exactly sure at what point the filmmakers decided to go ahead and create a 3D movie. Perhaps it was a poorly judged decision based upon the recent trend of 3D films, or maybe no one was interested in making another long haired ghost woman title. Suffice it to say, the combination of 3D effects with the deliberately paced plotting create an uneven marriage at best. This isn’t our Sadako, this isn’t the perilous spectre that was once revealed itself at the film’s climax. What we have instead is an approximation, a feeble attempt to capitalise on a much loved series, combined with a filmmaking technique that seems to of only been utilised to bolster profit margins.
Why it’s great: Keeping a couple apart by telling the audience that a relationship isn’t valid if the people involved don’t share similar social statuses or breaking a marriage because the virgin that a rich and famous man is going to marry suddenly becomes a non-virgin isn’t new, to be sure, but it’s interesting to see a movie hit on these concepts to propel its story into richer complexity. Still, what’s good about the film is Jin-ho’s commitment to old-fashioned melodrama. Dangerous Liaisons is like a punch to the heart. For me, it was high-brow love told very elegently.
Why it’s great: Blending the confident and frankly bonkers visual style of Takashi Miike with the Ace Attorney franchise was a master stroke. During the film’s production, many began to speculate exactly how a film could translate the off-kilter court room drama of the video game series. It would seem Miike stumbled upon the special sauce. By blending a whole host of visual wiz bang effects with the likes of fast cut editing, split screen and even bullet time, Ace Attorney takes on a life of its own. Ace Attorney stands as a benchmark for what can be achieved with the perfect marriage of director and source material, with an array of fantastic performances and oddly compelling plot.
Why it’s great: For me, China Heavyweight is more about the human connection than the sports itself. Boxing is clearly a metaphor as is the title which has multiple meanings. While three characters can be a handful to focus on, Chang does an excellent job in intertwining their stories and bringing them back together at the end of the film during Coach Qi’s final match. But given that the documentary’s subject is boxing, there’s deeper meanings entwined in the film’s narrative approach. While extremely personal, it successfully highlights the camaraderie between each individual and the struggles faced as they go away from home to take a shot at fighting for the glory of their country. All in all, a fascinating look at a changing China and the courage it takes for those living there to punch above their weight.
Why it’s great: Technically getting a wide release in 2012, this films storyline deals with the kind of issues that may not sound like much fun and in places it is hard going. Factor in a running time of almost two hours and it may sound like the odds are stacked against it. However, it is a poignant take. In many dramatic Chinese movies, the piano is a must for every music score, and it is overdone cheesily at many times. For this movie, however, composer Law Wing-Fai knows crucial music timing – the music is not overdone, yet not too minimal, and it knows when to appear at the right time. It’s a movie where there’re no explosions, no foresight drama or no extreme twists… it’s truly, a simple life, which showed me how simple it can be to be humble, and care for those we love.
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Why it’s great: While the film was in production, Ai Weiwei vanished – presumably he’d been taken into custody. Needless to say the news fuelled global outrage at how the Chinese authorities deal with people who are only asking for basic freedoms. But by silencing him they only make his ever-growing supporters louder. And Klayman documents their support in all its glory: clips of Hilary Clinton singing his praises alongside other eminent figures all help the cause, and thankfully he’s eventually released. Internet shutdowns lead to Ai Weiwei utilizing Twitter to communicate each and every step of his drama. Brutality from the government was evident. They wanted him shut down and would do anything. Ai Weiwei’s future was at stake, but he will risk everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, in order to ensure that his son will have a better future. This documentary was one of the most emotional, educational, yet somehow still entertaining documentaries I have ever had the honor of seeing. This was real life. This was a man wanting to change the world.
All in all, a great year in film and heres to an even better year in 2013! I hope everyone, old and new readers alike, will continue to follow Japan Cinema into the new year.