An outstanding documentary feature which combines brief interviews with now-aged subjects who were often direct or secondary observers of key historic events in Shanghai history. This often involves ironic, unintentional consequences such as interviewees reflecting on not minding a spartan life under communism as they had lived it up frequenting the opera beforehand. One older man now frequenting a senior dance club speaks freely of the practical necessities overriding ideological concerns in people attending political events for the free MSG and mosquito repellent coils. Ironic, given his relative’s instrumental involvement in making MSG production independent of Japan’s Aji-no-Moto. Or those once youthfully involved with propaganda film now walking through an abandoned factory floor.
There is also a subtext paralleling Shanghainese history with that of the nation. One instance subtly draws a historical comparison between the Warring States period and the alley gang structure of power in early Shanghai, this is followed by a comic interlude panning by a child bragging for a fight. The KMT, political assassination in Shanghai, Chiang Kai-shek’s retreat to Taiwan, and the impact of the Cultural Revolution are all key – but it is also a history of cinema and theatrical art in the city.
Hou Hsiao-Hsien talks about his impressions of the city while making Flowers of Shanghai, and how the novel reflects the changing idea of romantic love there. There is also 1972 footage of Michelangelo Antonioni having tea after coming to Shanghai by Zhou Enlai’s invitation to make a film,(Chung Kuo – Cina) about the Chinese people. An interviewee assigned to Antonioni talks about his protest of the way China was being characterized as backwards. As it turns out, he says, the film was being used by the Gang of Four as a pretext to attack Zhou Enlai – a film he has to this day still never really seen. In another vignette, the director’s daughter reflects upon the reaction to the now classic Spring in a Small Town, (1948) and her family’s move to H.K. to let the dust settle over what may now seem a stylized romantic film. Wong Kar-Wai’s Days of Being Wild is touched on in an unexpectedly refreshing and sad manner, and later segments reflecting entrepreneurial capitalism and contemporary youth culture are equally unpredictable.
There are expected elements in a documentary of this type, with family members discussing migration and fragmented lives. But there are also the recurring architectural extended metaphors typical of Jia Zhangke’s work. These are multiple and constant, less literal and perhaps more open here. Director Jia has his muse Zhao Tao in key bridging scenes, using her dance background to reflect the sentiments of the first interview subject from the senior dance club who sings the titular song. This delves below the surface sentiments of romantic nostalgia to reflect uncertainty, disparity, and ironic consequences that shaped the city and its filmic representation.
In the film, the main female character is not in anyway involved in pornography but has sexual interest in her old friend which happens to be a porn star. He though isn’t able to express his sexual attraction to her because he has absolutely no interest in sex. Sex being his profession and not his pleasure. So he escapes into surreal fantasy of musical sequences. Which happen to be some of the funniest dance sequences I’ve ever seen. That said the film is slow, poetic and completely captivating. That is to say, don’t bring your kids to see this — but adults will be able to see that it is not porn, but rather a critique of porn. This is a simplification, since the main theme of the film is general alienation.
On the other hand it’s also outrageously funny (some memorable scenes including watermelons and crabs) and includes half a dozen absolutely insane musical scenes. Apart from them, the film is completely without music, which adds to the comical power of the musical scenes. The disconnection of humanity from humanity, the isolation in the modern world, shows up as Shiang-chyi and Hsiao-Kang are unable to find any meaning in their lives beyond base existence.
It veers between the common and the theatrical so organically it stops feeling strange when the sing-along, follow the money shots, which flow into images of watermelons floating down a river. As for what “Wayward Cloud” means, I would say it’s a love story. The two lead characters, I later read, were in a previous Ming-liang Tsia’s film called, “What Time Is It There?” and this is their “Before Sunset” second chance at love. It would have been simple for Ming-liang Tsia, to make a moody little film, about an alienated women infatuated with an alienated man, doing alienated things, which is basically what the film is. However like a true artist Miang Liang imbues the proceedings with a cinematic spirit, through editing, cinematography, MUSIC, and subdued/wildly theatrical performances that becomes transcendent of the films run-of-the-mill social yearnings for genuine connection in the cold, cruel, world. I can’t think of any film as repulsive, arousing, beautiful, fun, and sad, at least not with all those gears running at once like they are here. In a way I thought it was a happy ending. The couple has come together right?
I understand the perspective of those who argue that Tsai doesn’t have a clear point here, as he does in his other films. I would argue, though, that the film is more challenging because it does not offer the glimmer of hope found in Tsai’s previous films (the woman pulled up in The Hole, May’s dignity even as she cries at the end of Vive L’amour). The viewer has to piece together any hope from various parts of the film, as the shocking finale is not at all uplifting. Tsai has some real insights into the human condition here. Xiao Kang’s autoerotic sexuality has a lot to say about loneliness and insecurity. Also, the flirtation between Xiao Kang and Shiang-chyi is very charming, even sexy (I’m thinking especially of the way Xiao Kang leans against the elevator after their date.) I think this film’s vision brings to light the way sexuality has become a commodity, and I find it tragic that Xiao Kang and Shiang-chyi find that there is great difficulty in overcoming that commodification.
Part II of the Zatoichi film is good cinema and a compelling story. New details of Zatoichi’s life are revealed, but at times it feels as though Katsu Shintaro and director Mori Kazuo have trouble breaking out of the original story of film number 1 to move on to newer, fresher territory. Have patience, the Zatoichi series does break into new and fertile ground in later films. It’s fascinating to see this in retrospect, knowing it is a long franchise, and trying to map out the development and where the film and its success came from. I think the first film is strong because it takes its time in creating its own universe, simply so that the sequels don’t have to work so hard in setting things up. It’s nice, and so is the self-reference it allows both in humor and mythology, but the films quickly morph into each other.
This is an early installment of the series and it’s better than average because it actually has some continuity–making reference to the prior film in the series. Here, in a follow-up, you see Zatoichi pining for a long lost love and having an ultimate showdown with his main rival. Along the way, he falls afoul of a clan who is trying to kill him to keep their secret (their leader “has issues”). And, as usual, the film is filled with amazing sword fights as well as tender moments.
There are some inconsistencies in the early films. At the beginning of the project, nobody in their wildest dreams could have believed that the series would eventually grow to 26 films. Film number 2 is somewhat of a let-down compared to the great first film. It is a good film, with interesting information about Zatoichi’s youth. Zatoichi also finds love (at least for one night). Anyway, I think the two films have very well set up Zatoichi’s blindness as a metaphor, yet it’s the first film that’s more ambitiously conceived. In this respect these two first films are like “Yojimbo” and “Sanjuro”, Kurosawa’s duology. The last shot of this film, however, is one of the coolest film moments I know of.
Blind masseur Zatoichi discovers the weakness of a lord and must fight off various assassins who fear he will give away that secret. This was a pretty interesting samurai film from director Kazuo Mori, which relies a lot on fantasy but most of all is just all action and nice swordplay. Katsu makes for a wonderful lead and the supporting roles are filled nicely. The cinematography stretched out the full 2.35:1 looks incredibly sharp and the fights are well staged even though I have a somewhat hard time seeing a blind person doing all that.
Hirokazu Koreeda has once again masterfully constructed another family drama but this time, centered around two brothers who are separated by their parents disintegrating marriage in I Wish. The film is about the powerful notion of family unity as well as the inevitable deterioration and the painful yet calming freedom that comes from it. The original title is Kiseki (“Miracle”) and it is a miracle the two brothers, Koichi and Ryu, played by real-life brothers Koki and Ohshiro Maeda wishes for in order to reunite their family. The parents part ways leaving the mom, Nozomi (Nene Ohtsuka) to return to living with her parents with Koichi in her hometown of Kagoshima in which an silent volcano is at the possible cusps of eruption. Meanwhile the father, Kenji stays in Osaka with Ryu to pursue his laid-lack lifestyle of trying to maintain day jobs while attempting to be a guitarist in a band.
In his usual calm and natural storytelling, Koreeda captures the terrifically realistic and relaxed performances by children who possess the unflinchingly awe-inspiring composure and poise of adults without ever losing their exuberant child demeanors. Koichi with his undeniably adorable chipmunk cheeks possesses such naturalistic and contained emotions that evoke waves of empathy as he tries to cope and reconcile his family’s current broken marriage. Meanwhile, Ryu is perfectly content with the situation at hand and masks his worries with an effortless and contagious spirit. Despite their contrasting views, they hear through the grapevines that at the crossing point between two bullet trains that it is there that their wishes will be answered. Koichi and Rye both gather their friends to go on the grand adventure through cities in hopes of making their wishes come true.
It is such a rarity when interactions between kids are portrayed through such an unfiltered light that their awareness of the camera isn’t present and we get to witness a child’s genuine blissful wonderment and growth right before our very eyes. When they finally arrive to their wishing area, the magical bubble of infinite possibilities encompasses them where they freely express their hopes and dreams–becoming an actress and learning how to paint– aloud into the void so it may one day be achieved.
In swift movements, Koreeda doesn’t just examine the different dynamic of unconventional family living standards but also explores through keen analysis of modern day life that even with hardship, life continues to trek on with or without us. Like his other films, he unravels unique yet everyday stories about human lives with delicacy and passion.
Rather sloppily directed by Terry Tong (with the somewhat better fight choreography handled by Sammo Hung), and scored with what must certainly be one of the most inept sets of cues ever slathered onto a soundtrack, Seven Warriors lumbers about, attempting to revisit a lot of the tropes in Kurosawa’s masterpiece without ever offering much of anything new and finally kind of sullying the memory of the famous film. The samurai themselves demonstrate a key facet of Japanese culture: honor and the sense of obligation to the defenseless. The seven who agree to defend the village do so out of honor, feeling it is their duty to protect the weak. Unfortunately, not all the Japanese warriors are quite as understanding and kind as the heroes. I don’t see the point! There does seem to be a consensus that the age of a movie compensates for its shortcomings. I don’t think so!! It certainly is part of the reason, but it doesn’t make it less boring!
First and foremost, the film cannot justify its almost comically absurd length. I don’t shy away from long movies as long as there are sufficient plot and character development to keep me interested. The plot here is so straightforward it’s kind of embarassing. The characters themselves are little more than paper cutouts with little no emotional lives whatsoever. I couldn’t even get behind the few characters that actually were given breathing space in the film: the villagers. They were all whiny, crotchety, needy, and generally a pain in the ass for two hours. While this is indeed a theme of the film, it’s frustrating because I need SOMEONE to sympathize with here, if for no other reason that to relieve the mind numbing boredom this film induces.
One of the most ridiculous things about it is the way many of the actors are wearing really obvious skin head wigs. They look so fake you can’t help but but focus on them. Why not have the actors all shave their heads for a while during filming? I don’t understand why they couldn’t find some Japanese guys with shaved heads to act in the movie? Weren’t there tons of people in Japan who already had their head’s shaved like that? Why not just get them instead? Who knows? Nobody knows…The whole thing about the villagers eating millet and guarding a bowl of rice like it was made of gold was just silly. These are farmers that are growing rice – why wouldn’t they have tons of it? Another unanswerable question. Why do the villagers need these Samurai anyways?
Some people may get a kick out of this often frenetic reboot of Kurosawa’s classic, but probably only for those who are willing to completely divorce the film from the shadow of the earlier classic. But why take the time on a pale imitation when you can have the original? Or even The Magnificent Seven? Though Seven Warriors boasts an impressive cast, it is haphazard in execution and too lo-fi to warrant much more than some passing curiosity as to how something like this ever seemed like a good idea in the first place.
Da-eun lives a happy life with her single father, a man who sacrificed everything in his life for her. She was a daughter who loved her father very dearly. However, their relationship is about to take an unexpected turn. Da-eun becomes suspicious that her father might be a monstrous kidnapper. Even though she wants to believe in his innocence, she finds herself searching for evidence to the contrary. Blood and Ties” raised disturbing thoughts in me after watching it for the reason that the killer was drawn in a very positive character. A very effective role that really strengthened the depth of how the heroine tried to resolve the conflict, because it was a really perplexing decision and ordeal to cut ties with a person who has been good to you because he did something evil to another person.
So, is there any real reason for watching ‘Blood and Ties’? The ultimate destination of the narrative will likely be figured out in advance to those paying attention during the conversation between her and the murdered boy’s father but the ongoing inclusion of character Shim does tend to be more forced than it should: When he’s unwelcome, he turns up like a bad penny, violent and demanding money, but when Da-eun tries to approach him he absconds at speed on a motorbike; his constant threats to reveal ‘everything’ to Da-eun when he’s so obtuse it’s obvious he never will serving only to feel like Gook Dong-seok is deliberately withholding information from Da-eun and viewers alike simply to allow an expositional reveal in the film’s final stages. And frankly, that’s exactly what he’s doing.
The true brilliance of “Blood and Ties” is hidden in the intricate details sprinkled throughout the film. Director Kook Dong Seok is strategic in his choice of detailing, carefully building up to an ending that leaves viewers on the edge of their seats until the closing scene. To no one’s surprise, Kim Kap Soo’s compelling performance as a typical doting father Soon Man also deserves a standing ovation. Kim Kap Soo perfectly portrays a mysterious figure whose behavior becomes more and more eccentric, leaving viewers confused as to whether his innocent appearance is just for show.
The suggestive influence of mass media is a theme made subservient to the dynamic of trust between father and daughter. While not especially revelatory, further exploration of the topic would have given Blood and Ties a sorely needed layer of substance to pad the otherwise thin, mostly predictable melodrama. Dong-suk’s vision is as scattered as the script, artlessly and jarringly leaping between footage types and perspectives in order to clumsily cram in expository information. Much of the dialogue is repetitive, and the translation is graceless and outright spotty in places, making it that much harder to appreciate what is already essentially the plot hole-ridden stuff of made-for-TV movies.
The first half of life is passion, the last of it is family bonds, while between them two is full of affairs. Does LOVE really exit and matter? What is LOVE? What is TRUE LOVE? Director doesn’t try to give each a definition, and the answers are beneath the 5 stories from which you can get your uniquely new opinion. Of these five lightly inter-connected tales, two stand out. The first is the spiky, fascinating tryst between the pair of adulterers in Greece, which reveals itself to be so much more when the duo stop flirting and start arguing. Over the course of their conversation, it becomes clear that there’s an unexpected wealth of depth and history to their sordid relationship. Leung and Lau are fantastic, coyly teasing each other before they start to scratch away at the very real emotional scars they’ve both suffered since their lives first intertwined.
The second story – the string of blind dates set up for the reticent older gentleman – has its own little twist too, and it’s the kind that will warm and break your heart in the same breath. Chen’s grasp on this particular story is great: it starts out as a sweet, awkward tale about finding love later in life, before it segues almost seamlessly into a devastatingly simple, achingly profound love story.
It’s perhaps no coincidence that the two better stories in Chen’s collection of five focus on protagonists who hardly ever get the spotlight in romantic movies. The other three tales, which revolve around the more conventionally young and pretty, are perfectly sweet and watchable but, barring a few great lines of dialogue, not especially memorable.
Taken as a whole, this is an unapologetically sentimental, sometimes draggy tribute to the power of love in all its guises: whether in the first flush of puppy love, or the tangled mess of an affair. But Beijing Love Story does make up for what it frequently lacks in terms of its narrative with plenty of heart and a great cast. It’s not necessarily amazing cinema, but, on at least two counts, it’s very good story-telling.
The film’s plot centers on rival lion dance troupes in Singapore — a liberal-looking faction of a traditional troupe, Tiger Crane (led by Wang Wei Liang), breaks away from it to form a new one called Storm Riders (led by Tosh Zhang), which advocates a new style of lion dance with more modern influences of hip hop dance and more flashy acrobatics. Meanwhile, the male stars of the show clash with a third rival troupe called Black Hawk, competing in wushu, love triangles and of course, lion dance. Five of the well-loved “Ah Boys To Men” cast headline the film, joined by 23 “unknowns”.
With The Lion Men, he brought the neglected art of lion dancing into pop culture consciousness. In Singapore, only the director of the second most-watched film in Singapore last year (Ah Boys To Men Part 2) has the clout and resources to do that. Neo is no ordinary Singaporean director. He won the Public Service Medal at the Singapore National Day Awards 2004, for his achievements in filmmaking. He is our 2005 Cultural Medallion winner. Which is the reason why many felt that he can do better with this movie. His awful melange of genres (comedy, drama, romance, action) and his inept handling of lion dance action sequences do the traditional maritial-art dance an injustice that is more egregious than if he had left it alone.
Wang isn’t the only one who had to step out of his comfort zone for “The Lion Men”. His co-star Zhang plays the highly skilled lion dance performer Wang Wei Cheng in the movie, and performs numerous acrobatic stunts many metres above ground, without a moment’s hesitation. But it turns out the young star actually has acrophobia in real life. “I am afraid of heights. I can’t even go on roller coasters!” said Zhang. “When I first went for lion dance training, I thought lion dance was simply about moving the lion head around and make the eyes blink a few times.”
One of the worst things about The Lion Men is its absolutely awful attempts at product placement. In recent years, it’s become an unfortunate hallmark of Neo’s work. In place of artistic integrity, he is now better-known for showcasing his sponsors in so brutally blunt a way that it’s actually a distraction within his film’s narrative. And yet, he somehow manages to take that to a new low in The Lion Men: every other scene flings another product at the audience, from beer to canned drinks, pre-paid cards to bakery chains. It says something when an audience of film critics – long ago rendered cynical and inured to the ways of the movie business – collectively groan when one last blatant commercial turns up and tries to pass itself off as a legitimate part of the film. By the time The Lion Men clangs and clatters to its abrupt and yet very welcome end, audiences might find themselves wondering what story there is left to tell. The trailer for Movie #2 that Neo adds to the credits only adds insult to injury, suggesting that his non-plot will dip even further into the realm of melodramatic soap opera. In fact, it plays like a warning for anyone who has fond memories of I Not Stupid and its thought-provoking social commentary.
Won-joon is a bona fide movie star, and knows how to carry himself in the industry, without being a dickhead to people. His manager is Tae-sik; though it feels like Koreans have a different definition of a manager than, say, Hollywood, where the term PA/runner would be more fitting. Tae-sik harbours dreams of becoming an actor himself, but his background isn’t exactly perfect. However, when Won-joon accidentally knocks a commoner down, Tae-sik takes the fall and in return for his unyielding loyalty, Won-joon rewards him with a role in a TV series, and soon enough, Tae-sik’s star begins to rise, to the point that he will become Won-joon’s rival in a couple of years.
But Tae-sik needs more than opportunity, comically he also needs acting lessons and Won-joon finds that he must keep Tae-sik employed, groomed and supported if he is to keep himself out of prison. As the film proceeds, Tae-sik develops his talent, begins to believe his own publicity and supersedes his former master, Won-joon, who begins his descent from the apex of the star system regardless. Then the film cuts to two years later, and my, what a transformation. It is remarkable because we see that Tae-sik is at core still the same man.
If Top Star had come from an outspoken rising novice director, it wouldn’t be a poison pen letter but a suicide note. While no one – not even Park – is untouchable, his long and successful career gives him a degree of immunity. The rest of the film details how he increasingly loses touch with that core and finally becomes a destructive movie star, a process that’s quite depressing to watch. he other characters don’t fare as well. Won-joon’s personality seems over-nice for a movie star most of the time, and treats Tae-sik almost like a brother, except when the plot required him to be a dickhead to Tae-sik, which is the final straw that drives Tae-sik to abandon the restraints of his conscience and commit a despicable act; soon after that, tragedy strikes, and then suddenly Won-joon is a saint again. Most of the other characters are fairly one-dimensional, though perhaps it just reflects the shallow world of the film and ad industry, except maybe Tae-sik’s fat friend, who plays the standard sidekick role you see in Hollywood films, that is, he’s the comic relief, until he’s required to deliver the moral lesson to the protagonist because the protagonist has forgotten who he is.
Those things aside, I really felt taken in by the way the film charted the journey of a simple, good man who gets sucked into a world he’s always wanted but from which he couldn’t escape from the inevitable change of behavior that world would elicit from him. We want him to realise his mistakes, even as we start to dislike the person he has become and one by one the people around him start giving up on him. Perhaps it’s not a great film, yet I think I will remember it in years to come. Perhaps that’s partly because I feel like I can relate to Tae-sik, if only a little.