One of the common themes that can be found in traditional East Asian literature is that of a small village ensconced by mountains and protected by the ravages of the outside world. While the outside world might be enmeshed within the struggles of war, these secret hamlets prosper with their only concerns pertaining to daily necessities not the brutalities that man can wreck upon his fellow man. Welcome to Dongmakgol opens with a small detachment of North Korean soldiers whose numbers are continuously dwindling not only because of constant attacks, but also because they have been given the order to kill every wounded man. Sick of the murder of his own men, High Comrade Lee Su-Hwa refuses to kill the few remaining wounded soldiers. Yet his second-in-command is all to ready to follow the orders of high command and tries to stir up a mutiny versus the High Comrade. However, before the heated words are able to become firing guns, the small group is attacked and only four survive. These four men scale a steep mountain and their number is reduced to three when the fourth plummets to his death.
Wandering alone on the mountain, the medic Moon Sang-sang comes across a fellow South Korean soldier, 2nd Lt. Pyo readying himself to commit suicide. The medic stops the man from doing so, but almost gets killed himself. As with the North Korean soldiers, these two men make their way into the wilderness. The best part of the movie is the humor; the subtlety of comic scenes is fantastically portrayed. The cinematography is dazzling, every scene is crafted perfectly. The slow-motion scenes looked well-paced; the lush and green outskirts of Korea are shown with elegance, the rains are amazing.
While resting, the three North Korean soldiers encounter an odd girl dressed in traditional clothing with flowers in her hair. Although each man points a gun at her, she shows little concern and informs the men that they should move because they are standing close to a snake rock. After a snake falls on the arm of Sgt. Jang the three men unload their weapons at the rock. With their guns empty, the three men follow the girl, Yeo-il, to Dongmakgol. Later the South Korean soldiers arrive and, of course, there is a stand off between the two groups. However, after a few events, including the food storehouse blowing up and defeating a wild boar, the five Koreans, along with an American pilot named Kent Smith whose plane crashed at the very beginning of the film, are able to come to terms with each other temporarily, but with the threat of other outsiders looming on the horizon can this fragile friendship be maintained? One of South Korea’s biggest hits in 2005 Welcome to Dongmakgol is truly a visual delight. The natural scenery is quite stunning and the CG, a brilliant sequence with a wild boar and a rain of popcorn, is very well done. While not the best of friends, their friendship does shine through.
While primarily a comedy Welcome to Dongmakgol also contains a few graphic scenes of violence such as the eradication of the North Korean soldiers at the beginning of the film and a few scenes near the end of the film. While the film might be written off by some as a hurrah that both Koreas can work together, those of Western decent might be a little shocked by the portrayal of Western soldiery, i.e. American, in an otherwise comedic film.
Will and Eden were once a loving couple. After a tragedy took their son, Eden disappeared. Two years later, out of the blue, she returns with a new husband… and as a different person, eerily changed and eager to reunite with her ex and those she left behind. Over the course of a dinner party in the house that was once his, the haunted Will is gripped by mounting evidence that Eden and her new friends have a mysterious and terrifying agenda. But can we trust Will’s hold on reality? Or will he be the unwitting catalyst of the doom he senses?
“The Invitation” starts off really slowly and focuses on social anxiety and the uneasiness of being in an enclosed space with strange people. This is illustrated when a man attends a dinner party hosted by his ex-wife and her odd, new significant other at the house where his young son died. The majority of the film deals with the man’s paranoia and the horrific possibility of what could happen. To him, every weird activity planned for the guests deepens his suspicion and makes him wonder if he can figure out the hosts’ endgame before time runs out.
It’s not until about the last 15 minutes that the film shift gears and turns insane. This dramatic climax is the resolution for nearly an hour of buildup and worth it for the most part. It’s quite jarring to see the film switch pace so suddenly, but the tension and the clever ending make the journey worth it. There are some very interesting ideas about grief, depression, and how we cope with life-changing events in this modern world, but ultimately, the film doesn’t offer anything new to the “dinner party from hell” subgenre. This is one invite you could be forgiven for declining.
I consider Snowpiercer to be one of the best films to come out of 2013, and Joon-ho Bong’s co-scripting duties on Haemoo was what attracted me to Haemoo. While first time director, and co-script(er) Sung Bo Shim took over directorial duties for Haemoo, it is with Snowpiercer that the film will most draw comparisons. Although they couldn’t be more different in terms of scripting, plot, or even the message they aim to get across, they are both a gritty, bleak look at humanity’s darker side, and in both cases, play their conflicts out in locations that mirror the messages the films are trying to get across. As Snowpiercer traces a revolution that begins in the bleak lower classes back carriages of the last remaining train on Earth, moves through the empowered, and autonomous middle class cars and ends at the apathetic, electronically numb upper classes carriages, the audience are treated to a class warfare fueled journey through the entirely of our world.
Bo Shim, here, plays his tale out on a small fishing vessel, and a desperate captain, who decides to transport human cargo when business runs slow. As in Snowpiercer, the fishing vessel, and the ocean it travels on, reflect the mental state of the crew. Clear waters and sunny oceans start their journey, dark stormy waters mark their arrival to pick up the new cargo and as the crew start breaking and coming to terms with what they’ve been forced to do, the Haemoo (sea fog) sets in, blinding our screens, and trapping the vessel in ethereal limbo. Bo Shim takes visual clues from Joon-ho Bong and dresses up the three areas of the ship according to their roles: the uppers decks are gray and steely, the fish hold (a very bad place) is dark and bleak, and the engine room, the only ‘sanctuary’ for a large part of the film, is decked in shades warm yellow and brown. The film looks stark and visceral, and everything, from the script to the acting, helps get that across.
All the sights and sounds would be a waste without a solid script to back it up, and the movie does not disappoint. Haemoo throws average, ordinary, salt of the earth people into desperate situations that shatter, twist and test them. The movie’s first act traces the lives of these fishermen, on and off land, and shows them going about their lives. The writing in these parts is so authentic that it’s hard not to view them as real people, with real, crappy jobs by the time they head back off to sea. It is through these unremarkable and slow sequences (a charming little love story on the boat takes the better part of the first hour) that the script manages to put us at ease. The final act culminates in one of the most haunting sequences you will see this year on the big screen, and ends with a perfect ending: unapologetic, chaotic, confusing, without closure. Real.
I find it hard to imagine anyone walking away from this film unscathed. How could ordinary people do these acts? Was there something dark inside them all along? Perhaps the things they were forced to do shattered their minds? Perhaps there something dark and twisted in everyone? These are questions I should stop asking myself, but I can’t. Haemoo is a masterpiece, and excels in getting under your skin and affecting you on a very primal level. This is a movie you need to watch, and with an excellent score to boot, one you should want to.
Choy Li Fut is an actual martial arts style that exist. I never heard of it before. But reading about it on the internet was infinitely more interesting than this poor production. What were they thinking? And how did they manage to get Sammo Hung and Yuen Wah on board? They are martial arts legends. The movie is supposed to be about Choy Li Fut but you don’t actually see much of it displayed. Sammy and Kane Kosugi are at this school supposedly training, but you don’t see a ton of actual training going on. Some of the tournament fighting is tasty, Kane Kosugi has the best moves, but there are times when a guy here or there, Sammy included, gets clobbered and has his arms at his sides – absolutely no defense. I’m no martial arts expert, but that can’t be right.
It is nothing new to the martial arts genre and even the fighting scenes are just okay for a martial arts movie. There is even sappy romance between the main characters. For God’s sake. The first third of the 1 hour and 32 minutes movie is okay focusing on the school and the contract of the fight competition for the school but the second third turns into a sappy puppy love story where the main characters are somehow attracted to each other. Martial arts fans will have to wait till the last third to see some real fighting in the competition. But the waiting for the competition is not well paid-off. The moves/choreography brings nothing new to the genre plus all of the horrifying slow-motion shots. And the song played during the last fight scene. What was the music composer thinking? The CGI in a few scenes is like from a cheap video game.
Unfortunately in “Fight the Fight” he gets a character that doesn’t have a ton of personality or much to do, really. As for the movie, how do you have Sammo Hung and Yuen Wah in a movie as kung fu Masters and not have them fighting more or doing much training? They have one scene where the two of them fight briefly, but otherwise they are just “there” like window dressing. The story is pretty thin and not terribly well written. The nicest moment in the whole movie for me personally is when Sammo, who plays Sammy’s Dad, is kinda wishing him luck as he’s going into his big fight and there’s this very genuine moment where you know it’s Sammo’s way of kind of saying publicly how proud he is of his son. It’s very brief, but very touching, real life father and son moment.
Legendary Chinese anti-hero Zhong Kui, a young man endowed with mysterious powers who is forced into a battle among the realms of Heaven, Earth and Hell in the course of his attempt to save his countrymen and the woman he loves. The Heavenly Emperor (Peter Pau) decides that one city, Hu, is particularly at risk from the results of this chaos, and allows Master Zhang Daoxian to go to Earth to help the people of Hu prepare. Master Zhang sends his favourite pupil, scholar-turned-demon-slayer Zhong Kui, to retrieve the powerful Dark Crystal from Hell, and houses it in the city’s Demon-Suppressing Pagoda, guarded by a kirin. Enraged at the theft of the powerful crystal, which records the demons’ bitter struggles, the Demon King sends Xueqing, aka Snow Girl (Li Bingbing), to retrieve it. Master Zhang assigns Zhong Kui to protect the crystal, and gives him a magic fan which, when opened, will transform him into a giant demon, the fire-breathing Black Monster. With seven days to go, Master Zhang puts Zhong Kui through intensive training, in order to control his super-powers for the good. Posing as the head of an entertainment troupe from Luolan in the west, Xueqing arrives in Hu with fellow demon Yi Wei and a team of female dancers, also demons in human form.
Zhong Kui recognises her as Little Snow, a spirit who bewitched and seduced him one winter three years earlier, when he was still a scholar. However, Xueqing says she’s never met him before. On the night Xueqing plans to steal the Dark Crystal, Zhong Kui doesn’t turn up to the troupe’s show; she later finds and seduces him but Zhong Kui temporarily paralyses her body and steals away to hide the crystal. In a battle involving Xueqing and Yi Wei vs Zhong Kui, the demons retrieve the box that contains the crystal; but when Xueqing shows the box to the Demon King, it’s empty. The following night, Zhong Kui presents the crystal to Master Zhang, and the latter kills all the female demons. He then orders Zhong Kui to kill Xueqing, but Zhong Kui can’t bring himself to do it. As the Demon King launches a full-out attack on Hu, Zhong Kui transforms himself into the Black Monster but proves inadequate in the fighting. Changing back into Zhong Kui, he frees Xueqing and the two hide out with his younger sister Zhong Ling and her boyfriend Du Ping, a street quack. Zhong Kui and Xueqing journey to Hell, where they learn the truth of his past and the perilous future of the Three Realms.
The effects themselves, though, are a bit of a mixed bag. Weta Workshop has done their usual fine job on creature design, and as you might expect with Pau being involved from top to bottom, there are a lot of shots that are just gorgeous; pop them out of the movie and they’d be great fantasy art. There’s just so much of it, though, that sometimes the budget seems to be stretched too thin, and monsters will look like they lack detail, the interaction between virtual and physical objects will seem a bit off, or there will be a rhythmic sameness to a thing’s movements, like a video game where each step is generated by the same algorithm rather than captured individually. The motion-captured demon versions of characters don’t necessarily even make it to the uncanny valley.
First off, this movie may not be what you expect. This is a not a campy film with tons of “Gillu” guys fighting and monsters. As you have seen in the trailer, Kikaida is modernized and is ferocious-looking. Yes, Hakaida is back and is just as menacing. Your favorite characters are here but they are very different characters. Gone is the slap-stick comedy and instead we are treated to a visualization of Kikaida that is actually pretty deep. The “conscience circuit” is more important than ever and affects Kikaida in ways you might not expect.
Gone were all of the familiar clichés and actions that we fans expected to see. In fact, many things I expected to see were totally absent. In that respect, the film failed. The second time I promised to view this film as a completely new film and I started to see that this film was made as a modernization and crafted from someone that actually did respect Kikaida, but wanted to remake Kikaida in a way that really showed what was his most unusual and powerful “feature” – his conscience circuit. Part of me wishes this film wasn’t like Batman and Bane or Terminator 2 or like most of the newer superhero plots. But I still support this film and hope they make another.
If anything, I felt a growing sense of despair throughout the film that unless Jiro stopped talking about his conscience circuit and just plucked that sucker out, he’d never be able to overcome the odds and rescue his creator’s children. How that issue resolves itself is a bit convoluted and makes the movie feel like it’s a few minutes too long, but the end result is still entertaining. Make no mistake, the rebooted “Kikaider” is as much for fans of the original “Jinzo Ningen Kikaida” as it is for those who may have never watched a single episode of the TV series. There’s enough action to keep you fully engaged, along with a manga-style plot that includes a bit of backstory to go with twists and turns you might not expect.
And just as Kikaider made his debut in a post-credits scene in 2013 Japanese film “Kamen Rider × Super Sentai × Space Sheriff: Super Hero Taisen Z,” a short scene at the end of “Kikaider: The Ultimate Human Robot” makes it clear the door is open to Jiro returning in a potential sequel. Be sure to sit through the first round of credits to catch it!
March 10th, 2011, I was scheduled that night from 10pm to 6am at my crappy IHOP job. First few hours everything was silent, and going smoothly, but then a serious altercation turned what was supposed to be a typical graveyard shift, into a nightmare; my night was only about to get worse. My phone wouldn’t stop buzzing. Little did I know, the largest recorded earthquake in Japan’s history, a magnitude 9.0, and the fourth largest in the world had happened. That wasn’t the end of it, a tsunami was about to hit.
Considering today’s technology, it’s safe to assume back in 2011 the Tohoku 3.11 Earthquake was pretty well documented through cell phones, security cameras, along with other recording devices. National Geographic took advantage of that modern day technology, and made another special on Witness, a small series on natural or man-made disasters, and the footage is caught by the people. First round of footage is of the earthquake, people with their recording devices capturing themselves, their families, or others huddled under tables, or running for any kind of coverage available. Even with shaking devices, you can clearly see the buildings swaying, while others barely holding at all.
With the severe part over, aftershocks are felt throughout the land. People are gathering their wits, others nervously waiting to hear back from loved ones, many working together to help others, and some already making their way to higher ground. Within minutes a tsunami warning is issued, and those who are only able to go so far from the coast line, make their way to the tallest and strongest structures. From there they witness the water slowly getting closer, then quickly crashing into the land. At the coast, boats disappear into the distance, while small businesses and homes are destroyed. As the water reaches further inland, vehicles are being swept away, and people are still running.
Witness: Disaster in Japan, gives the viewers an up close and personal look at mother nature’s ugly side. Having seen this documentary many times, I still get the chills, and teary eyes. Those that survived, whether you’re my distant Facebook friends, people I watch on Youtube, or are complete strangers I hope nothing but the best for you all, and a speedy recovering for your home land. Those that didn’t survive, may you rest in peace and your families find peace.
This is Fei’s penultimate film as director, but is still enjoyed by many today as one of his best works. It has now been a firm favorite of many since it was restored in the 80’s by the China Film Archive and some rate it as one of the greatest Chinese movies in history. The story revolves around memory: memory of love, and memory of a pre-war period of youthful promise. These moments of being are stirred to life by the visit of the husband’s long estranged friend Zhang, who is now a city doctor. Zhang means renewed life and vigor at the desolate, war ruined estate of the noble Lyan, and love and passion to Yuwen, who happens to have been someone she once loved as a teen. But Zhang’s surprising appearance is more widening of vision than epiphanal. It’s complicated by Yuwen’s passionate desires and longings concentrated under the guise of romance, the doctor’s scruples and detachment, her husband’s illness, depression, and stoic passivity, and her sister-in-law’s budding mutual relationship with Zhang. But there is no love triangle here, nor double love-triangle–something far more subtle is happening and it’s happening in that whole arena suggestive of love and affection–one that extends into a range of human emotions, but is not romantic love itself.
Although there is clearly a patriarchal social world at work here, its oppressions are not exactly active in or bearing down on the two male and two female characters of this intimate drama. Each character has a kind of self-direction which comes from some inner sense of integrity, and acceptance of the life dealt them. They have deep emotions, but these are more felt than viewed. In other words, no one character dominates any other, so that each is free to call upon aspects of themselves which can result in self-determined responses and/or personal changes that are small but lasting adjustments. The result is a world of stasis and intimacy which bears the physical-ness of the natural world. The characters seem to be as embodied as the stones of the ancient walls of the estate. They exist and move in a kind of equal world in which each senses the most minute emotion, movement, or thought in another–sometimes in soundless scenes. Honesty and simplicity arising from honoring the complexity of human-ness are what sets Fei Mu’s film apart.
“Spring” is one of the most beautiful of all films because the things of beauty, sensuality, love, the natural world are more akin to hints than expressions. A breeze, spring sunshine, plants, the moon, water, fire are almost unnoticeably present, as are glimmering lights in an interior stillness. And all this bears more weight because of the period between war and change which seems to create a profounder environment. One in which the destruction of towns and persons is experienced in say the town’s depopulation or the mild husband’s bitterness and self-defeat. Yes, buildings and lives are equally vulnerable in Fei Mu’s somewhat inconsolable world.
But “Spring” is as much about spring, as it is about the gravitas of war. Lyan’s young sister Xiu has a youthful spontaneous presence which with all its trust, directness, driving sympathy pushes both her brother into re-connecting to memory, and her sister-in-law into and through the painful memory of Zhang’s failure to be in love with her back then. In the end, Yuwen may not be less alone, but she is more in sync with her husband’s now awakened life and affection and more in touch with her own emotional life which was deeper than what she understood it to be. Dr. Zhang and Liyan do not answer her passions, but they have both contributed to her more certain grasp of them. There is a touch of sadness at end though, because the male social structures are still in place and Yuwen needs a fuller life–it’s perhaps promised in her sister-in-laws embrace of all that must await both women.
Epic historical war movies are easily marketable, they have a certain hook to captivate audience, especially when big budget and A-list actors are involved. Dragon Blade couples together many aspects from similar movies. With its grand production some of these work fairly well. However, it tries too hard to please viewers. How about the fight and the war scenes or any other details? I won’t go into more detail about those topics and it’s best if you go watch it yourself. You should, because as predictable as it was, the morale of the story is very touching and heartwarming.
Huo An (Jackie Chan) is an officer of Silk Road tasked to maintain peace in a land divided by many countries. Soon, he’s drawn by the turmoil and political struggle as conspiracy of Roman Empire knocks on his door step. The story admittedly has merits, there are a few subplots that are decent enough, although the pacing drags on way too much on unity issue. The main message that it wants to push is how many tribes or Silk Road can exist, this could be a great if the movie doesn’t consistently shove it in the most heavy-handed way. To me, Jackie Chan along with Daniel Lee has managed to pull this out quite remarkably. Their choices for the actors are good, because each one of ‘em could play the role nicely. They could get into their role so deep, you would think they were re-enacting a piece of story from their personal life.
Jackie Chan is a star in his own right. He’s not that well versed in acting, but audience would know what to expect at this point. John Cusack holds his own, but frankly he’s not very interesting. The choice for child actor isn’t that great either, this is an obvious bait to draw audience sympathy. Still, some of the Chinese actors are pretty good as they look more natural. Props to Adrien Brody, he alone raises the acting level. A beastly antagonist, he delivers a menacing on-screen persona. For setting and costumes, the movie puts a lot of effort. Design is flamboyant, it almost looks like a high profile video game set. Each character has their distinct look which is quite appealing to showcase diversity. Choreography is fine as well, this is a strong point of Chinese movie. The fights are engaging with many details in movement, meticulous array of gimmick and different fighting style. At least it got the warfare department covered.
Cinematography, on the other hand, is bad till the point of cringe-worthy. The scenes are badly paced and often recycled, some scenes are even needlessly repeated several times. There’s no logic on flashback of events that just occurred, it doesn’t add to emotional value, instead it makes the movie that much boring. It also spams slow motion in insufferable rate, not to mention with overly aggressive soundtracks that attempt to sell the scenes with cheesy tone. It’s as if the movie is constantly yelling, “Intense! Emotion! Sadness!” Dragon Blade is an odd endeavor in epic historical film, it copies too many aspects of already known formula in hope that the success can be transmitted here. It has choppy direction and all sorts of issues, but the movie sometimes brings some good elements, which might just be enough for light entertainment.