“The White Storm” is a totally unreal movie about three Hong Kong narcotics cops trying to bring down a big time drug dealer. Director and co-writer Benny Chan should stick to directing. Chan’s previous movie, 2011′s “Shaolin,” was a very well made movie that held your interest throughout. “The White Storm” is mainly a series of gunfights, very well choreographed but totally unreal. More a video game shoot-em up than a movie. In the middle of the movie, the HK cops are in Thailand to trap the drug lord. During an ensuing gun battle, the bad guys bring in a helicopter fitted with a mini-gun that blasts away at everything. For me, that was the high point of the movie, just mindless destruction with no shallow dialog from the three buddy cops.
The action set-pieces use the locations very well. From the night market streets of Mongkok, to dilapidated sleazy apartment blocks, to the forest of Thailand, the action is well-framed and shot. The sound design is out of this world – so much stuff is happening from the sides and in the surrounds. It would have been just plain stupid if it’s just action for action’s sake. No, Benny Chan always emphasizes the melodrama behind all the action pieces. One of the best shoot outs I have seen in recent years occurs at the end of the second act. Breathtaking… the see-saw shifting of power, empathetically seeing an officer get shot, all hell breaks loose, culminating to the heartbreaking scene where Sean Lau has to make the choice of his life. It’s Hobson’s choice really… any which way he chooses, the brotherhood disintegrates.
The acting? No need to say. The three of them play off each other very well. Of the three, I enjoyed Nick Cheung’s arc the most. He is a complete revelation in any role he has taken up. The ever dependent Sean Lau plays his character without histrionics but I could feel his pain. Just look at the scene where he has to make the Hobson’s choice. A lesser actor would have over-acted, not Sean Lau. Then Louis Koo. He has definitely improved much in his acting but I do feel he got the short end of the 3 sticks.
The writing is quite inspired and for some reason it reminds me of John Woo’s Bullet in the Head. A simple recurring motif cements the entire narrative together. There was no need for too much homo-erotic knowing looks or nods to suggest the themes of loyalty and honor. My wife’s favorite scene is when the 3 are at the hospital seeing Nick Cheung’s mom for the last time. It is an incredibly written scene. I have seen so many of these death scenes but nothing like this. The words that spew out of their lips are amazingly poignant.
Dave Wong is a troubled police officer, a loner whose only friend is an old lady he calls granny. Shunted from precinct to precinct due to perceived mental problems, he winds up stationed at a police box inside a hospital. Wong is inextricably drawn into a violent armed robbery case when Hon (Nick Cheung), the cop killing leader of the gang of robbers, is seriously injured while trying to escape the scene of a heist, and is brought to Wong’s hospital. Wong unwittingly provides the blood to save Hon’s life, who subsequently escapes to continue his brutal work, leaving more cops and innocent bystanders dead. Berated by his peers for having saved the killer, Wong’s already damaged and fragile psyche is pushed ever closer to the edge as he sets out to make amends.
“That Demon Within” ends up a moody mess. Lam juggles so many tropes — the vigilante cop, the man with a mysterious past, the visual blur of reality and fantasy — everything tumbles. Action movie shootouts, fight scenes, and explosions undermine the story of Wong’s deteriorating psychological state. Meanwhile, Wu plays Wong with such grim-faced, shell-shocked catatonia, it’s difficult to empathize with his mental struggles.
Lam keeps tightening the screws and the atmosphere bleak, but the narrative spins askew when Wong starts to play on the already divided loyalties of Hon’s fellow jewel thieves. The gratuitous raping of a blind woman (just so a witness can hear, and not see, someone cry out: “Hon!”) is distasteful enough, but the script also seems to lose sight of where it is going for about 15 minutes. The scenes during this lapse have dramatic value, but with both Hon and Officer Wong absent from the screen for a considerable amount of time the film loses its central relationship and the established tension. Thankfully, the story’s gyroscope does regain its balance and, skilfully, even commits to its genre (supernatural or psychological thriller? I’m still not telling) in the film’s last 20 minutes without betraying the set up or cheating audiences. Forgive the narrative bump in the road, because for the rest of the time That Demon Within is a helluva ride.
That being said Lam’s film is great looking, exciting and always interesting, it delivers something that feels fresh, never easy in the cops and robbers genre. It will be interesting to see where Lam goes next, given just how different That Demon Within is to the crowd pleasing Unbeatable, on the strength of this film, I’ll be along for the ride.
Like Emir Kusturica’s Underground, Devils on the Doorstep is a great, epic comedy-drama which examines how history can effect and destroy a small group of people. Like Underground, Devils mixes Rabelaisian humour with powerful drama to create a rousing, albeit bitter, commentary on the foibles of the human condition. Devils begins as a humorous comedy-drama examining how a group of Chinese villagers react to two Japanese POWS who are dumped mysteriously into their village. It is both touching and hilarious to see how the villagers deal with the POWS. However, Devils takes an unexpectedly tragic and violent turn in the last quarter of the film, when the realities of WWII destroy the lives of all the villagers.
This is truly a masterpiece. I didn’t plan to write a comment, but there are only 15 comments. Then I found out that it was banned by the Chinese State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television due to its political incorrectness. So I am compelled to write a comment. This film was never released in mainland China. Is that government that afraid? Why do the Chinese filmmakers have no freedom? Those great Chinese directors, actors can not live on forever. When will the Chinese filmmakers have the freedom to make films that they want, so those films can be forever treasured by the generations forever.
This film reminded me of the other film called “Life is Beautiful.” They are both funny and about world war II. So few people in the West knew about the Japanese invasion of China during world war II, and millions of Chinese were brutally killed. Who could have thought that this kind of war movie can be super funny and meaningful? If they can give Oscar to “Life is beautiful” and “Schindler’s List”, they should also give Oscar’s Best Foreign Film of the year or maybe Best film of the year to this film. This is just a rare epic coming from China. I have seen quite a few so-called best foreign film of the year given by the Academy, they were not great at all.
Most of the Chinese and Japanese actors were pretty good. However, David Wu as Major Gao did not perform well. When he first appeared, he actually was speaking Cantonese instead of the standard Mandarin Chinese. Then when he was delivering his speech, he also said a few words in Cantonese. Overall, he doesn’t look like a Chinese nationalist army major at all. Comparing to “Life is Beautiful”, this film lacks of the beautiful music. I can laugh and cry when I watch “Life is Beautiful.” I can only laugh and feel sad when I watch this one. I can see why Chinese censors would take offense to the film. China is painted as the victim that it is so often stereotyped as. However, with the country’s continued objections against the Japanese glossing over wartime indiscretions, it could be seen as having nationalist overtones. I don’t see the film as necessarily sympathetic to the Japanese: at the end of the movie, they are still the “devils”. Additionally, when the plot is extrapolated outside of the film itself, the irony is of course that Japan was defeated by a powerful external force due to their brash political maneuvering.
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.