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.
The Overheard franchise is built on a fascinating premise: each film in the trilogy spins a thriller from the high-tech world of electronic espionage and surveillance, but the stories don’t connect. Instead, the same core group of three actors – Louis Koo, Sean Lau and Daniel Wu – take on different roles, whether as cops (Overheard 1), stockbrokers (Overheard 2) or wannabe property magnates. This third film pulls off the oddly miraculous feat of being surprisingly watchable even though its plot – centred on the complexities of Hong Kong’s property market – is almost catastrophically murky.
In a small country where land is scarce, there’s much money to be made from the land rights pledged to every native male resident in Hong Kong’s New Territories. Keung (Lau) and his three brothers (played by Alex Fu, Gordon Lam and Dominic Lam) are wheeling, dealing and doing everything they can to get a huge slice of that pie. They believe that Jau (Koo) is on their side, especially after he ploughs a car into a business rival and sits in jail for five years to prove his allegiance. But, really, Jau is keeping close tabs on Keung et al, his loyalties perhaps foolishly pledged to Yu (Michelle Ye), the driven daughter of Uncle To (Kenneth Tsang) – who is himself trying to set up a lucrative business deal with Chinese investor Wan (Huang Lei).
The story gets increasingly complicated as the film goes on, with subplots sprawling out in every direction. As the men talk and barter and fight over land rights, no houses actually get built, and the noble village people teach the arrogant city folk that land is for tilling and not for sale. (Or something like that.) We also meet Eva (Zhou Xun), a resourceful single mother – as it becomes increasingly clear to the audience just who she is, we learn that she will play an important role in the lives of both Keung and Joe (Wu), Jau’s tech expert. After a point, it becomes tough to remember – or care – just how the entire complicated web of relationships works.
What’s so surprising about Overheard 3 is that it remains a tolerably engaging watch despite its many flaws. The story is a mess, but the script has moments of surprising insight. It’s a rare and unusual film that can lose track of its plot while still keeping its characters fascinating, but Overheard 3 somehow manages to pull it off. Keung has a humanity and depth that keep him from being the film’s easy villain, just as Jau’s fatal flaw is shown to be also his greatest strength: his devotion to the one he loves. Of course, the entire enterprise is helped immeasurably by the fact that its cast is very good. There are even bursts of welcome humour scattered throughout the movie. By the time the film dives headfirst into its manic brick-tossing, car- tipping finale, you would either have written it off or given in to its odd rhythm and charms. Overheard 3 is not, strictly speaking, a good film. However, disregard the twists and turns of its unnecessarily labyrinthine plot, and it will prove a strangely compelling watch.
This is a solid action/thriller that should engage and entertain fans of Korean action cinema, Don’t expect it to have the staying power of films like Joint Security Area or The Man From Nowhere, but The Suspect is well worth adding to your line-up of films to watch all the same. The story revolve around Ji Dong-cheol (Gong Yoo), a former North Korean super’spy who defected after being betrayed by his superiors and nearly killed. Working in South Korea as a chauffeur for a millionaire CEO, he finds himself framed for murder when his boss is assassinated by masked intruders. Ji goes on the run, being hotly pursued by a relentless government agent, Col. Min, who bears a grudge relating to a previous encounter between the two during an operation in Hong Kong which resulted in Min’s being demoted. Also hot on Ji’s trail is a female documentary filmmaker (Yoo Da-in) who’s working on a project about defectors. Meanwhile, Jin attempts to discover the whereabouts of his missing wife and daughter who may have been killed by his former bosses.
In Short it all adds up to “fine Movie”, which means a fun time can be had anyway. The super-charged pace, with its non-stop assassins and fights and intrigue and car crashes, will certainly never bore. Ultimately, The Suspect is a decent Korean spy entry that offers no challenges and leaves no lasting memories.
Pretty much a Korean “Bourne movie”. Spies, secrets, double agents, betrayal, vengeance, action, you get it all. Solid performances from all the main cast. The writing is a bit of a B-grade but overall production values are top notch. I got two main problems with it. First one is the runtime. For such a fast paced action thriller, it’s at least half an hour too long.
But the main problem is the camera. It’s not the usual slightly shaky style to underline the action. Remember the second Bourne movie? Yeah, well, this is worse. Much worse. In most shots, you won’t know what’s happening at all. They probably fixed a non-stabilized camera on a kangaroo and let him run amok through the city. My head actually started to hurt while trying to decipher what’s going on on the screen all the time. Avoid if you’re sensitive to these kind of things. It ruined it for me.