Regarded as a classic in Hong Kong cinema, Stanley Kwan’s extraordinary feature Rouge is a thoughtfully paced romantic-mystery, predating the similar, though very different, American feature Ghost by a few years. Featuring the star power of heavyweights Anita Mui and Leslie Cheung, Kwan’s take on Hong Kong’s once popular ghost genre of films is a thoughtfully drawn and accomplished film – one that delicately weaves in arthouse sensibilities with what can be chalked up to as a relatively mainstream area of Hong Kong films.
In 1930s Hong Kong, Fleur and Chan meet and fall madly in love with each other. Despite their wishes to be with each other, their relationship cannot go on any further as Chan’s disapproving parents forbid a wealthy, educated man like himself to marry a lowly courtesan. Promising to be with each other forever, the two agree to a suicide pact where they can live out the rest of their after lives together. But something goes horribly awry as Fleur, now a wandering ghost in modern day Hong Kong (or at least HK of the late ‘80s), finds herself without Chan. Fleur haunts two journalists and eventually enlists their help to find out what may have happened to Chan.
Amazingly, for a HK film made in the late ‘80s, the look of Rouge feels uniquely modern and doesn’t possess a dated feeling whatsoever (well, other than its obvious fashion choices). Kwan’s touch on the film elevates the picture from sappy melodrama to something far more considered and surprisingly rich. There’s a bit more going on than just its romantic-mystery angle as Kwan is able to telegraph some of the cultural shifts that Hong Kong and its people have undergone since the ‘30s (illustrated in its characters and its evolving cityscape). Additionally, Kwan’s sensitivity and control in direction, particularly during its costume period timeline, gives the film a level of confidence that would later transition over very nicely with Kwan’s other famous film, Center Stage. But it’s Anita Mui who knocks it out of the ball park with her turn as the sympathetic, Fleur. Her performance in the film is frequently hailed as her best and for good reason. Mui’s Fleur is a beautifully realized character, brought to life by Mui’s varying shades of desperation, longing, pity and guilt. It’s a wonderfully subtle performance which deserved all the praise that it garnered for Mui (and which it will continue to get).
It’s not easy selling people on the idea of seeing a film about a ghost looking for her lover but Kwan pulls it off superbly and maturely. A hauntingly beautiful film, Kwan endows every moment of the film with such sumptuous beauty that it’s hard not to be smitten by its elegance and grace. Though the ghost movie, once a staple of HK film, has seen a decline in the past decade or so, it’s nice to see what the genre is capable of, especially during the years it thrived. Rouge is a bona fide classic that no lover of HK film should miss out on.
It seems that, every few years, there are one or two Chinese films that, despite being slow-paced, dark, and lacking A-list stars, somehow manage to attract a large domestic audience without being controversial enough to risk complete censorship. In 2014, the only example I have seen so far is this, Black Coal, Thin Ice. As the story unfolds, despite being based around a series of murders, the film has a pace more similar to an art-house film than a crime- thriller. A couple of scenes were impressively disturbing, made even more so by the slow paced, subtle atmosphere surrounding them.
The protagonist is all but iconic for this genre, an alcoholic ex-cop. The details of what triggered his downhill slide in 1999 are incidental – a divorce and a fumble on the job. The case, however, is crucial, a bizarre and macabre affair of body parts of the victim being scattered like “flower pedals” (an imagery drawn from Chinese literature and mythology) in coal mines all over the province. The logistics of how this was accomplished would be the key to the solution. As Holmes motto says: when you have eliminated all other possibilities, what remains, however improbably, is the solution. Five years later, in 2004, two similar gory cases occur and all three victims, it is discovered, have had romantic associations with aforementioned fame fatale, a worker at a small laundry shop. Our protagonist is drawn back into the role of an investigator and during the investigation, develops romantic relationship with the women he is investigating – all too predictable.
The acting performances were all impressive, the female lead (played by Taiwanese Gwei/Gui Lun-Mei) seemed suitably out of place in the Far Northeast of Mainland China. Liao Fan’s male lead, and Wang Xuebing’s character, were both impressive. Despite a bit of dark humor that made me giggle, Black Coal, Thin Ice is a relentlessly grim and slightly disturbing film. I was impressed that it wasn’t (more) censored in China, as it paints a pretty depressing picture. Despite being enthralled by the film, I won’t be booking a flight to Heilongjiang any time soon.
As mentioned, when the final revelation comes, it is a little bit of a letdown. As well, there is such a proliferation of red herrings that it gets somewhat tedious, especially when some of them come out of nowhere and are entirely irrelevant. Still, it wouldn’t have a furious audience pulling out pocket knives and cutting the seats. It’s not that bad. In any case, what the movie offers is something else, as mentioned, mood and style. The direction shows occasional flashes of cleverness; the camera work is exquisite. Acting is competent. All told, if you are not put off by some of the violence that is not unexpected, this would be an interesting cinematic experience.
In the world of cartography, a trap street is considered to be a deliberately non-existent street purposely set up to catch other mappers for copying another entity’s map. In Vivian Qu’s intriguing debut feature film, the term has larger implications and shares more than one meaning. Qu’s film provides insight into the state of contemporary China by expanding on the idea of a trap street, offering audiences a part of the country that most will have heard about but might not fully understand.
A young man, Li Quiming, spends his days working as a city surveyor, mapping out parts of the city. He’s not particularly outstanding and is by all accounts, just plain ordinary. On the side, however, he has a shady job of installing cameras in hotel rooms and other facilities for authorities and officials to spy on one another. On one of his usual working days as a city surveyor, he spots a girl, Guan, who walks by him on her way to work at a lab surrounded by secrecy on an unmappable street. Smitten, Quiming becomes infatuated with the girl to the point of obsession and eventually begins to strike up something of a rapport with her after numerous attempts to gain her attention. But not all is as it appears to be as Quiming soon discovers. Like a lot of debut feature films, Trap Street shows signs of a very promising career ahead for independent Chinese filmmaker, Vivian Qu though it isn’t without its missteps. The film very slowly builds within the first hour, which can drum up frustration as it mistakenly feels as though Qu is stumbling around for an idea to prop up or for a story to emerge. Characters and their motivations feel insignificant at this point but it isn’t until the latter portion of the film that Qu’s voice as a filmmaker really flares and where Trap Street shifts into a different gear.
Taking an unexpectedly dark swerve, Trap Street’s latter portion transports the film from deceptively light-hearted, if oftentimes aimless, affair to a more serious film criticising contemporary China’s paranoia. Relying on fourth-wall breaking techniques – which thankfully remain few and far in between – Qu conveys this feeling of paranoia, both of China and of its citizens, quite confidently as Quiming looks back at the audience looking at him while he’s installing or removing cameras at his after-hours job. This, combined with his interest in the mysterious Guan, end up attracting the wrong type of attention. For Quiming, the idea of the trap street then becomes more than just a matter of copyright, transforming instead into something of a literal trap as his fascination and attempts to communicate with Guan are inevitably thwarted by shadowy figures protective of the street on which Guan works on. In this case, Trap Street can also be read as a noir-like story as a lot of the elements that dictate the genre can be applied to here as well.
Despite some glaring pacing issues, the slow build of Trap Street feels earned as Qu is able to turn in a surprise of a film that bravely critiques current-day China in all its paranoid policing. Echoing Wang Xiaoshuai’s accomplished, Beijing Bicycle, director Qu brings to mind how the state of contemporary China can have quite a grip on its youth. And given the technologically forward age the world is currently living in, it’s hard to imagine Chinese youth be given a break when young minds are naturally curious. Trap Street, works as an observant piece of commentary and though it doesn’t stir the pot quite as much as it could, it reveals an impressive debut for director Vivian Qu.
Aberdeen is a movie on family, tolerance, acceptance, confidence, how to face our history and make the best out of the present. On the surface it is a story on a family – grandpa (Man Tat Ng) with two adult children, a daughter (Miriam Yeung) and a son (Louis Koo). The daughter married a doctor (Eric Tsang) who has an affair with his nurse (Jacky Choi). The son married a pretty model (Gigi Leung) whose modeling career seemed to going downhill. Their daughter (Lee man Kwai) is not as pretty as her parents and is bullied at school. But it is also a tribute to Hong Kong (HK) history and culture. To start with, the title Aberdeen expressed two aspects of history: that the west set foot in Aberdeen when they first landed in Hong Kong. Aberdeen still remains a major fisherman neighborhood with a typhoon shelter to keep fishing boats safe from storms. For Hong Kong citizens, this movie is more like a family album filled with collective memories including the WWII bomb, cartoon-themed McDonald and the whale.
Going through these memories, the characters find that they are not perfect but they can make the best out of the situation. What we should not do is impose pressure or hatred on ourselves or others which is based on misconception. In this family, everyone is valuable though each of them have their challenges: grandpa seeks atonement by being a Taoist priest and looks like a loser but he is the one who helps the lost granddaughter. Granddaughter knows she is not pretty but she does not let it bother her. She learns Kung Fu and how to change the bulb but she cares more about pleasing her father which includes eating durian (a fruit she does not like). Like many kids who is puzzled about life, she begins ponder on this question when her pet chameleon Greenie disappears. Her father, a handsome and successful teacher at a tutorial school is obsessed with image. He is bothered that his daughter is not as pretty which could cause her being bullied as he did so when he was younger. He even began to doubt this blood relation. To prepare his daughter for this cruel world, he put her to learn changing bulbs and practice Wing Chun, a kind of Kung Fu which Bruce Lee also learnt. His elder sister believes her dead mom never loves her and develops a kind of depression which begins to affect her sleep, without noticing that her husband is having an affair.
The plot progresses when a bomb explodes and the granddaughter’s pet Greenie disappears, and elder sister wakes up from a nightmare, signifying some family secrets finally got exposed. Like the ignition of an old bomb, after minimal damage, the world keeps on moving. We just have to deal with it and support each other. Nothing is really that bad. We can change our perspective and life will go on. Another theme is that many pressure is self-inflicted. It is like looking through the narrow slit in the fort, there seems to be no future. But if we can step outside, we will find the big, wide world outside. It is OK if we do not have a definite destination, as long as we can breathe in, hold and breathe out.
Then of course another theme is appearance and confidence: there is no need to feel insecure just because we do not look attractive. The bullied high school classmate has got over it and forgiven the classmate who bullied her. It is only the adult son who carries the guilt around and the notion that it will be a bitter life for an unattractive person. Despite everyone’s worries, the director gradually leads us to realize that what we sweat are probably small stuff and there are more important things to celebrate. Greenie has come back/reincarnated as a whale (Chinese culture triumphs) and the teacher accepts plastic surgery while his wife learns new skills to please her husband. Sister resolves her conflict after being supported by her hubby and clarifying with her father.
Two vivid scenes are very interesting: one is a mini North Point made from paper models which Hong Kong people use as offerings for dead relatives. Another is a similar scene where elder sister takes a paper taxi to see her mom at her childhood home. Both scenes showed the interaction of the living and the dead and is visually stunning. The film is quite mild in saying things are not as bad as they seem. As long as the family is together and we accept each other and feel secure, even eating at McDonald is better than having buffet at a five star hotel. Relationship is more valuable than material gain. In that sense, Aberdeen/family is our shelter. Being able to forgive is a virtue that helps us deal with reality with maturity. Perhaps we should start with forgiving ourselves first. Don’t be too harsh on ourselves, and others for that matter. Do not take ourselves so seriously, because nobody else does.
Although I love Japanese movies, I haven’t seen a lot of anime (i.e., animated Japanese TV shows and movies). That doesn’t mean I am not familiar with it–it just isn’t something I watch very often. A few years ago, when my oldest daughter was in high school, she drug me to some anime conventions and got me to watch a few series with her, such as “Death Note”, “Azumanga Daioh” and “Sergeant Frog”–but I am certainly no expert on these shows nor the printed version, manga. So, when you read my review, it is NOT coming from a rabid fan–and from what I read, rabid fans of the original TV series and manga “Black Butler” were not especially pleased by this movie version. So, for you lovers of the original “Black Butler”, this review might not at all be very helpful–I’m just a guy watching a movie who has no basis for comparing it to the original.
From what I’ve read and learned from my daughter, the original show featured a 12 year-old boy as the protagonist. However, here he is now 17 and a girl–and, oddly, posing as a boy in order to maintain the family title and estates. Additionally, instead of being set in Victorian times, the movie is set today. I am pretty sure these are not the only changes, but these are a few of the obvious ones. The back story is that years ago, someone murdered Genpou Shiori’s parents. Genpou serves the Queen of the West and is one of her secret force, The Queen’s Watchdog. Their job is to serve their queen and ruthlessly pursue anyone who threatens her or her kingdom. As I mentioned above, she is posing as a young man and goes by the title ‘Earl’. Assisting the Earl is his/her faithful servant, Sebastian. However, Sebastian is no ordinary fellow…he’s a demon who does anything she wants–including killing the Queen’s enemies. It seems that when Genpou Shiori’s parents died, the boy sold his soul to the Devil in order to gain the services of this demon in order to assist in his quest for revenge–an obvious variation on the old Faustian tales.
The film begins with the pair on a mission to infiltrate a gang involved in the sex slave industry. Not surprisingly, Sebastian uses his amazing powers to wipe out the entire gang…but armed with only a butter knife!! ?? This and several other fight sequences within the film are insane–full of incredible action and which will keep you on the seat of your pants. However, what follows is not all action–in fact, in places the film can be quite talky and full of unnecessarily dull and complicated exposition by the baddies. When the film is in high gear, it is clever and intense. But, when folks start explaining things, then I felt as if I should take a shot of No-Doze! The plot that follows is amazingly cool and disgusting. It seems that there is some serial murderer who has so far made eight ambassadors turn into mummies!! One moment, they seem normal and the next they are bleeding from their orifices and the next they look like beef jerky! Obviously something horrible is afoot and it’s up to the Earl and Sebastian (as well as the clumsy yet amazing maid) to save the day.
So is it worth seeing? Well, it’s not bad and I mildly enjoyed the film. As I mentioned above, the show did have portions that were just too talky and I also disliked how many times the film backed up to show you what REALLY happened–this seemed like bad writing because it was used so much. But, it’s tough not to like Sebastian and the process by which folks became mummified and how is amazingly original. Not a must-see film but worth your time.
In 1777 Korea, King Jeong-jo (Hyun Bin) learns that assassin Eul-Soo (Jo Jung-suk) and two palace servants (Jung Jae-young and Jung Eun-chae) have been ordered to kill him. He has survived many other assassination attempts in the past by members of the Noron faction who are also responsible for murdering his father. Gwang-baek (Jae-hyeon Jo) has been training the assassins to kill ever since their were young orphans. Complicating matters, one of Jeong-jo’s servants confesses to Jeong-jo that he had known Eul-Soo since they were very young when both were raised by the pernicious Gwang-baek. Tensions between Queen Jeongsun (Han Ji-min), Jeong-jo’s grandmother, and his mother, Lady Hyegyeong (Kim Sung-ryung) also arise.
Director Lee Jae-Kyoo keeps the suspense building a gradual pace as more details emerge that escalate the assassination threat against the King. This isn’t a simple good vs. evil story, though, because it has complexities as you learn more and more about the characters’ histories and the dynamics of their relationship which aren’t black-and-white. The way that Jae-Kyoo informs you about those histories, though, lacks subtlety because he resorts to flashbacks rather excessively. Imagine being told a very compelling story that has you at the edge-of-year seat when, all-of-a-sudden, the storyteller stops the story to provide some vivid exposition every 15 minutes or so before returning to the story. He or she not a particularly effective storyteller because by pausing the story so many times, it loses its dramatic momentum. The same can be said for director Lee Jae-Kyoo. If those flashbacks were to be condensed and/or omitted while being referred to somehow briefly in the main story instead, The Fatal Encounterwould have been consistently captivating and shorter than 2 hours and 15 minutes. Fortunately, the action sequences aren’t excessive or particularly gory for that matter, so at least the director knows that the characters and the ensuing drama are more important than mind-numbing action scenes.
Aesthetically, the production values are all top-notch. Everything from the cinematography to the set design, costume design, lighting and make-up look exquisite and add a richness to the film as well as some eye candy. It’s worth noting that The Fatal Encounter surpassed The Amazing Spider-Man at the Korean box office, and it right deserves that major feat. Hopefully, one day, American audiences will embrace such sophisticated thrillers made for adults and turn them into blockbusters instead of supporting the constant onslaught of vapid, bloated, uninspired comic book movies, but I’m not going to be holding my breath for that moment to arrive anytime soon.
Our protagonist works as a chief in the city. He collapses mysteriously at work and ends up stuck in some kind of waking coma. Baffled doctors leave him to his friends/family who take him to his father in the middle of god-only-knows-where. And then the journey begins.. With a genuine ‘wait, did that just happen?’ moment. It’s a dreamy, brooding film, with a tiny cast, shot around a massively isolated and elevated farm in the middle of a wet, steamy jungle. I don’t remember much about the score but the ambient jungle noises work perfectly with the mysterious, menacing and unpredictable setting. It seems like the perfect place to film such a story.
Dialogue is at times minimal, which is going to irritate some, with a few ‘just please have a conversation about what just happened’ moments. And this would usually annoy me, BUT it somehow works. It slowly makes sense as you begin to understand what might be going on in the heads of the two main characters – who are coming to terms with both what’s going on and the world around them. And when a third party turns up with a lot to say it’s both jarring and a joy to watch.
The actions of one of the leads is also, initially, a little hard to fathom. But considering his age, the setting and a few plot developments you should eventually swallow it. This is a completely different world we’re dealing with here, and these characters have issues to say the least. The violence is handled well and carries the same sense of bizarre wonder the rest of the film drags along with it. One of the final scenes is genuinely tense and compelling. It forces you to fill in a lot of gaps as it very slowly unravels, so patience and imagination is required. It does thankfully wrap up well I thought.
Soul is quite a strange movie. It’s typified by a brooding atmosphere that never lets up. It’s downbeat more than thrilling and that may be a challenge for some viewers. It’s certainly a film that operates in a minor key and you need to be able to get into its unusual rhythms in order to be able to take anything away from it. Whatever the case, it’s certainly very beautifully shot, with some great shots of the mountainous, woodland area in particular. The ambient humming soundtrack compliments the images and gave off a sort of Twin Peaks-ominous-mountain-forest vibe. It’s certainly distinctive. The story-line on the other hand is slow paced, a little too slow-paced at times in all honesty. And I don’t think I necessarily completely got it if I am truthful, there may have been a cultural gap here I suspect. It seemed to tap into Taiwanese ideas about the spirit world which I didn’t really understand. But that’s hardly the film’s fault. On the other hand, the slightly surreal setting was pleasingly weird, with characters using a small monorail to ascend and descend the mountain. On the whole, an interesting, downbeat psychological drama. Not for all tastes but interesting as an example of Taiwanese cinema.
Chinmoku begins with a montage of classic Japanese art depicting the introduction of Christianity into Japan. As the opening credits inform us, “The 16th for “Japan’s rulers were worried about the new religion’s rapid spread since it came with the gun.” And here, we enter the 17th suppression of the Shimabara Rebellion (Kakure Kirishitan). Christians were severely persecuted in Japan at this time: “Straw mats were wrapped about them and set afire. As the fire spread, they began to hop around. The pagans laughed at the mat dancers. They enjoyed it … and things have gotten worse.”
One of the missionaries, our protagonist, Sebastiao Rodrigues (a character based on Giuseppe Chiara) seeks to determine the whereabouts (whether alive or dead) of a Padre Ferreira, his mentor. He is accompanied by Padre Garrpe, who is earnest but naïve. They are brought to the shores of Japan by a man named Kichijiro. Sebastiao asks him if he is a Christian while Garrpe asks if he is Japanese. Kichijiro responds, “Of course. I am Japanese.” And this is often the breakdown between the concept of god and the human individual: the sacrifice of religious integrity or personal preservation. Such is the fundamental struggle for the believer; the test of true faith. Kichijiro soon becomes a liability as he is unable, in his boasting, to keep the presence of the padres a secret. We soon learn that eight years before, his family was reported to the magistrate and ordered to step on a medallion bearing Christ’s image. His siblings refused and were burned at the stake. He denied his belief out of terror and lived.
The padres are given refuge by a smattering of Christians in the local village of Tomogi – the few remaining priests and monks having abandoned the village years ago. The islanders flock to the missionaries for leadership but soon officials arrive demanding the names of Christians rumoured in the village. No one discloses and, in turn, the villagers are eventually either crucified or run out of Tomogi. Sebastiao, out of sheer luck, escapes and happens upon Kichijiro hiding in the mountains. The padre is told that there is a bounty for him worth three hundred pieces of silver and he shamefully replies, “And Christ was only sold for thirty pieces.” It isn’t long before he’s captured, betrayed by Kichijiro. He is taken to Magistrate Inoue, dubbed “the king of the demons” by an islander. We later learn that Inoue was once a Christian himself. When the two meet, the soundtrack is utterly silent for a moment – a fine bit of artistry.
With a soundtrack by the always brilliant Toru Takemitsu, the film is saturated with strains of classical and baroque, experimental and avant-garde music. The cinematography is steady and sweeping; a quietly methodical atmosphere. Released in 1971, Masahiro Shinoda’s Silence is based on the 1966 Shusaku Endo novel of the same name which was (mostly) narrated in the form of a letter by Sebastiao. Endo’s novel dealt with the silence of god in the midst of adversity and Shinoda’s film captures that theme perfectly. It is rare in cinema when a filmmaker decides not to pursue a particular direction and allow the audience to interpret the portrayed events and characters subjectively. Inoue is not presented as a villain (“You force your own dreams on us thoughtlessly”) and neither is Sebastiao – they are merely two men from differing homelands, each committed to the truth of his cause. There is nothing as immovable as the conviction of the religious, the lustful indulgence of selflessness. By the film’s conclusion, one can’t help but conclude: religion is exceptionally effective at segregating people from each other. And finally, Chinmoku prompts the question most relevant to the human condition: given our instinct to assimilate according to our environment/condition, is the concept of adopting a religion (ignoring the argument of whether the religion is propagating a truth or falsehood) even a human capability when subjective wellbeing is threatened? “All rivers run to the sea but the sea is not full.”
Although being past his prime, he still has energy and skill for defense and attack, so he quickly becomes a media sensation as he keeps winning matches. He does not care about this newly gained fame, but his noodle restaurant business is boosted because of his popularity, and it seems it may provide him the chance to reconnect with his teenage daughter Soo-bin(Ji Woo), who usually goes back and forth between being sullen and being shrill because, well, she has problems. Meanwhile, Deok-gyoo encounters Sang-hoon(Yoo Joon-sang) and Jae-seok(Yoon Je-moon), his old high school friends who also come to participate in the show for different reasons. Through several flashbacks, we see their rough high school days when they were bonded with each other, and we are also introduced to several other characters who indirectly or directly push them into the big matches during the second half of the story.
Now usually, I don’t watch fighting movies but this unusual take on fighting intrigued me. The film starts with lots of fighting and not much character development, it was kind of disappointing actually as I had high hopes but as the story progresses, it shows various inside meanings which some people may not understand. When watching this film, I began to think it was a drag, but around the mid point where Lim (main character) reflects on his behavior as a youth, you begin to realize what he’s thinking, you begin to empathize with him. This brings to you, a whole new consciousness while watching the film. And through watching this, I have to take two sentences which summarize the moral from my point of view.
It’s not the usual fighting tournament movie. The movie follows a number of contestants and shows how good they used to be when younger and what they’ve become now that they’re in their 40′s. Some have lost all of their skills, but some have retained them and are still good martial art fighters. The movie has a great build up, some good laughs, some (typical Asian) drama, but that doesn’t distract at all. Overall the portrayal of the main characters and supporting characters is very well done. This is a very enjoyable fight movie, with a good plot and some interesting surprises. Before I knew it the movie was over, it kept my attention all the time even though it’s a long movie. I’m sure I’m going to watch again in time to come.