The Light Shines Only There is the new independent production by Korean-Japanese filmmaker Mipo Oh, and is one of many brooding indie Japanese features to have been released in recent times. Oh’s film often evokes memories of Sion Sono’s less than amicable feature, Himizu though unlike Sono’s confounding film, The Light Shines Only There is characterised by a very stark and believable realism. Surprisingly, one would assume the difference in tone and vision would benefit Oh’s feature but this is not the case. The film’s tedious narrative dawdles from one moment to the next and by the time it does try to inject some modicum of interest, it simply isn’t enough to redeem what came before it. What starts out as an intriguing feature concerning the lower class of Japan quickly devolves into a tiresome affair replete with a terribly dour and dry narrative. The indie Japanese film has been selected as the Japanese submission for next year’s Best Foreign Language Film category at the Academy Awards but will likely prove to be too grim for voters.
The film’s opening shot moves across the scarred body of Tatsuo Sato (Go Ayano), the film’s central character, who has drunken himself into a stupor. Unemployed, he spends his days at pachinko parlours routinely drinking in excess; all in an effort to escape the memories that haunt him. It is at these pachinko parlours where he befriends a perky young man, Takuji (Masaki Suda) who soon invites Tatsuo back to his rundown home. From here, we’re introduced to Takuji’s dysfunctional family – his tired mother, bedridden father and sister, Chinatsu (Chizuru Ikewaki). Chinatsu takes an interest in Takuji which eventually gets back to her jilted married lover (Kazuya Tanahashi).
The Light Shines Only There plays out as a dark and conflicting romance between Tatsuo and Chinatsu but you wouldn’t really see it as the film is primarily concerned with Tatsuo most of the time. The character proves uninteresting in the film though it could be as a result of the character’s own lack of interest in existing. A subplot involving Tatsuo’s post-traumatic stress disorder proves intriguing at first but doesn’t quite amount to anything in the end. The subplot feels like as if it was only included as a means to connect the fractured Tatsuo with the even more distressingly broken Chinatsu. Oh’s decision to withhold music from the film also stalls its progression. A stylistic decision on part of the director, the absence of music in most of the film unfortunately makes it feel as dead as the characters are on the inside. With the film already having to deal with a dry narrative, the lack of music only makes the stagnant momentum of the film all the more obvious.
But for all the bad, there has to be some good though, right? Thankfully, Chizuru Ikewaki turns in the most interesting performance in this barren film as a woman who moonlights as a prostitute to make ends meet. Her character is the only one in the film that has a natural growth and progression throughout – one that feels more focused and better written than the other roles in the film. Compared to Japan’s choice last year for Academy Awards consideration, The Light Shines Only There simply feels too flaccid and altogether lifeless. Were it not for the performance of Chizuru Ikewaki, and the considered attention director Oh gives to the character, the film would otherwise be a grossly tedious bore. Despite the potential it does offer in the beginning, Oh’s indie drama is unfulfilling which makes me think that perhaps the light could have shone on another film more deserving of Academy Awards consideration.
Arguably the most dramatic epic in Chinese ancient history is the titanic struggle between LIU Bang and XIANG Yu which many consider to have started at the Feast at Hong Gate which, arguably again, is the most famous single dramatic event in Chinese ancient history. This story has seen almost countless screen presentations in the Chinese language cinema. Quite predictably, all these attempts wound up in lush entertaining packages, from unabashedly melodramatic to somewhat more tasteful work. Yet, nobody has done what Lu did.
Anchored in LIU at his deathbed, having enjoyed his hard-won kingdom but not without a few regrets (albeit he probably still did it his way), the story unfolds in snapshots of short flashback scenes juxtaposing in an almost chaotic way between characters and events. For instance, the famous Feast at Hong Gate keeps coming back, from time to time, but each time with added perspective. The expected treacheries, betrayals, ruthless cruelties are all there in this, to borrow a critic so aptly borrowed himself, “game of thrones”. However, LU adds another dimension all of his own, close to the end. Allegorical in no uncertain terms, he spares no pain in telling the story of how people in power falsify history. It is almost a miracle that this segment survives uncensored.
The cast is uniformly brilliant. The three top-billed are superstars from the three most prominent Chinese ethnic communities. LIU Ye (Mainland China) portrays the founder of the Han Dynasty (who might have even been an ancient ancestor of his from a score of centuries ago). Cast somewhat against type is Daniel Wu (Hong Kong) who portrays a most macho hero in history you can name, XIANG Yu. The third of this tripod is Taiwan’s CHANG Chen who plays the brilliant general and strategist HAN Xin, whose fate is tragically interwoven with the other two’s. QIN Lan is as chilling a dark queen as you can get, making Lady Macbeth look like Cinderella. ZHANG Liang, historically just as important (and some would say more so) as HAN is given a cool observer’s role in this film, ably portrayed by QI Dao. SHA Yi has his moment toward the end as XIAO He, another of the emperor’s key advisors who finds himself plunging into a bottomless pit of lies.
I think what the critics(western) don’t understand is the enigmatic character of Xiang Yu, whose role and part they feel is a foolish and trivial one. I believe the movie actually tries to show him as a noble, wise and a tempered king. Normally display of humility and kindness, is viewed as weakness in the west, and this may be the reason why critics cannot find a place for Xiang Yu in the plot. So yes, this is not your regular sword clashing, slashing movie. The Last Supper will likely disappoint some who are looking for conventional entertainment. Those with the appetite for an exceptional piece of filmmaking will be vastly entertained, albeit not in the conventional way.
The story picks up when a nerdy fund manager Sang-Yong (David Choi) walks in, and Byung- Hoon discovers that the target the agency is engaged to snag is none other than his ex- girlfriend Hee Joong (Lee Min-Jung). Talk about dilemmas here especially when there’s still that lingering affection, and of course given the amount of manipulation that goes behind the scenes, there’s this level of deception that one probably won’t even want to put an ex through, and it also tosses up questions involving sincerity whether to attempt a pursuit on your own, given flaws, warts and all or to rely on others, since the pursuer obviously is having no qualms about getting everything engineered to seal the deal.
Like a typical Korean film, there’s room for comedy as well as melodrama in a bloated film adamant in covering a lot of ground. There’s the exploits of Sang Yong in getting to be within Hee Joong’s attention radar which the Agency crafts, with laughs coming from the former’s penchant to drift beyond his prepared script, and the various rib-tickling efforts from members of the agency who pride themselves in their work, sometimes not going according to plan when their thinking on their feet fails. Then there’s Byung-Hoon’s inevitable meddling when not being able to separate business and personal, seeing it as an opportunity once again to work his issues with his ex when the cards fall into the right places.
And Uhm Tae-Woong has that charisma to play the flawed Cyrano, bringing in the melodramatic elements as the story unfolded given the back story of the romance between him and Min-Jeong and how it sparked and eventually deteriorated, so in effect you get two stories for the price of one, with a twist in perception of this relationship put on the back burner. Exploration of the themes of Trust and Love, and the prioritization and importance of these two elements in a relationship got pushed to the forefront instead as the narrative builds toward its finale with both Sang-Yong and Hee Joong vying for Hee Joong, with one obviously not in the know of the other who’s operating in the shadows, providing avenues for heart warming, and wrenching emotional outpouring in one combined, pivotal scene.
The film had probably presented its arguments to try and swing the audience’s sympathy toward the Christian character here rather than for Cyrano, but unfortunately cannot let go from its need to have an uplifting factor since this is a romantic comedy after all, with a minor romantic subplot kept brewing that you’ll probably see it coming from the start. Personally, the story of Sang-Yong’s pursuit of Hee Joong actually took a backseat as being the weaker of the two broad romances here and is a tad unconvincing, since after all, it’s engineered, to perfection even. Still, there are plenty of stories out there about others attempting to hijack the mark they’re employed to cover – coming to mind is Hollywood’s own zany comedy There’s Something About Mary – but for a more Asian spin coming from an adaptation of a well known classic, Cyrano Agency scores big marks.
Yeolhansi is a Korean sci-fi film that in many ways is a film about human nature, and I appreciate that. In fact, I think the best sci-fi is something that can have meaning that can be applied to us here and now. However, I will admit that the film is confusing at time…but still well worth seeing. The premise of the film is that a South Korean scientist and his team want to build a time machine and are assisted by the Russians to bring this dream to life. Although it’s taken years, the team is finally ready to test the system in their underwater lab. It will be a seemingly small test—to hop one day ahead and stay there only 15 minutes. However, this seemingly simple test turns out to be disastrous—though how disastrous and why you won’t realize until late in the film.
When the pair of explorers are transported to their station a day later, they are shocked to find the place in ruins—there are fires everywhere and it appears as if they are all about to die. However, since they only have 15 minutes, knowing exactly HOW to stop it and WHY it’s occurring does not seem possible. And, in their rush to get back to the day before, one is accidentally left behind. But, this person left behind is able to come back…though a bit later in the film. However, this late arriving lady behaves strangely—as if she’s trying to destroy the project. She even unleashes a computer virus into the system. What gives and why is she doing this? What did she learn on the future base? Or, is she just plain nuts?
The film asks the fundamental question whether or not we can change the future. Well, this isn’t an easy thing to answer when you see the film. The film is father fatalistic—but perhaps the problem isn’t our ability to change the future but our limitations because we humans are pretty stupid and in trying to change things, we might end up making it all come true! Many more questions will undoubtedly arise as you watch the film—and it really can make your brain hurt a bit with all the possibilities.
I would say this is a very good film—perhaps not a great one, but one that will make you think. Additionally, the movie has incredibly nice production values. The titles, music (with the exception of the Carole King song “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”) and sets are all top-notch and there isn’t a lot of fault about the movie except that there are so many conundrums presented by time travel…and it all does get a bit confusing to try to sort out in your mind. Still, it’s worth seeing and is proof that the South Koreans can make some excellent horror films.
Recommend reading about Yi Sun Shin before watching this movie. It’s relatively difficult to follow the first half of this movie if you don’t know something about him. Do yourself a favor and wiki Yi sun shin. It will give a quick glimpse into the man and back drops of this conflict. All historical accounts indicate that one ship went against superior numbers and he won. There are a lot of dramatic interpretations, but you will experience general gist of how he exploited fear in his own men and Japanese navy which suffered heavy casualties by Yi over 6 years of war. One other note: Korean uses a flat bottom ship. Japanese uses more traditional design. Korean navy has zero turtle iron clad ship in this engagement. That should be enough to enjoy one of the best ancient naval battle captured by this movie.
The acting in the movie was solid, even if I didn’t understand the language. The naval battle scenes and how Admiral Yi used naval tactics to fight his enemy were realistic and breathtaking at the same time. I’d compare this with the 300: Rise of an Empire movie, with far less CGI, fantasy elements, better acting, and more realistic portrayal of naval battle. It’s pretty amazing what they could do with ships back in those days.
The history/characters in the movie is a little hard to follow if you don’t know about it beforehand or don’t speak Korean/Japanese, but I still enjoyed it quite a bit and learned a little bit of Korean history in the process. At times the story did get too sappy. For the most part, the filmmakers went for art over realism to make the emotional scenes very dramatic, but those battleship fights were worth the built up of the tactical aspects of war that began the film, which was mostly really great speeches from the admiral to rally the troops. If your looking for something epic to watch and you don’t mind subtitle’s then this one is for you plus all gaming buffs take not this is how to make a battle movie.
If there’s one thing I can commend this movie for, it has to be the participation of actors from different countries. We see actors here from Japan, Thailand, USA, and Taiwan. can see where a non-Japanese audience is going to have problems with the film. How do you shoot a film with an international cast which live in a world where Japanese is the lingua franca? You dub it. Also, they shot the film in HDR (high dynamic range) which really animated the facial expressions and heighten the the boundary between real and imagined scenery — a huge plus in this kind of film, and especially beautiful to watch on the big screen. Oguri Shun’s performance was top notch. He nailed the role. The other characters hit their character’s tone, too. And when you see the situation the characters will find themselves in, you’ll see they are not played as one dimensionally as the typical anime/cartoon to live action film. Their situations are complex and multifaceted.
The film focuses on how the series’ main characters met for the first time and will reportedly update the franchise to a contemporary setting. Kitamura is a talented director, and one hopes he hasn’t fallen too far into the system to drag himself out and do films that don’t feel like they’re made by committee. And as for future Lupin III live action films, the disgruntled viewer I overheard coming out the theater ahead of me said it best: “I guess anime should just be anime.”
It doesn’t concern itself with slavishly following the original manga and isn’t afraid to make radical changes or new additions to serve the strengths of the film medium. So, you don’t have to read the manga or watched the anime to understand what’s going in this movie. The manga styles and movie styles fit the genre perfectly without downplaying either medium, mostly for two principal reasons: a great visual and a great cast.
There is this one scene which somehow put me into questioning. There’s this scene where Lupin, as cunning as he is, employed some trick for the bad guys. He made use of this recorded tape/flashdrive and it was his animated look shown on the screen. They altered Lupin’s face to match Shun Oguri’s! Were they authorized to alter Lupin’s animated face just to match to the actor who played him in live-action? I mean, they’re basically altering a face already known for what, 30 years, just to accommodate a live-action adaptation? Which brings me, Shun Oguri doesn’t really have this Lupin aura. Lupin was oval-faced, Shun Oguri is square-faced. There were these scenes where Shun Oguri makes the trademark smirk of Lupin. I’m a very forgiving watcher so I’ll just go with that. Tadanobu Asano was fabulous as Inspector Zenigata! All in all, the movie is okay. There was a little drama, the action scenes were par, and the special effects were passable.
A band of smugglers reluctantly gets back together to do what they do best (and what makes them the most money)…i.e. extract and sell human organs on the Asian black market. They accomplish this task via their preferred method of arranging for an unsuspecting organ “donor” to take a cruise ship from Korea to China. During the journey, the gang harvests what they need from the unlucky target, disposes of the evidence, sell the goods in China, then return home for the payday. Things don’t always go as planned though, and this trip will clearly not be without serious repercussions for many of those on board.
The movie begins with a short flashback scene that somewhat explains why these smugglers got out of this nasty business in the first place. Then, the rest of the movie takes place in the present where the main characters are slowly introduced & expounded upon through the first part of the film. The story does its best to make you identify with these people and those around them as best it can, and, it does this fairly well actually (although, at the end of the day, it is awfully hard to root for people who are killing other people in order to slice & dice them up for profit). For better or worse though, the ship has soon set sail, and we’re underway towards the business end of this flick.
I guess you could say this film is somewhat graphic, but you’ll see/probably have seen far worse. There are no explicit scenes of organs being ripped out, but the blood does occasionally flow…and, there are a couple of boobs + perversion shots here and there. This is not a horror/gore film though, as it squarely has its sights on belonging to the suspense genre of films. It also contains a number of twists and turns as it goes along (some of which are predictable and some unexpected) until, and long after, it reaches is climax. In typical Korean movie making fashion for a film of this nature, things probably aren’t going to end very well for most of the characters involved with this story when all is said and done.
This whole endeavor is helped considerably by the main cast members; there’s a good deal of recognizable talent in front of the camera, and they all put in the solid work you would expect. The story is not half bad either, and, this movie is indeed entertaining and does quite a number of things well. Somewhere in all of this is a really, really good flick to be had. Alas, there’s ultimately just too much emphasis placed on playing up every conceivable story angle possible to make this a streamlined MUST SEE film…cut that stuff down by 50% or so though, and this thing would have been near awesome. Nevertheless, I often love me some suspenseful melodramatic brutality and this movie certainly delivers on that front.
A young man and his sister learn that the man that they’ve always thought of as their grandfather was in fact the second husband of their grandmother, and that their biological grandfather was a kamikaze pilot who died during the war. They decide to find out more about him but get conflicting accounts from his former comrades-in-arms about what kind of man he was and how he ended up in a kamikaze squadron. Thus began the investigation of Kentaro Saeki (Haruma Miura) and his older sister, Keiko (Kazue Fukiishi) upon discovering that their real grandfather was no other than Kyuzo Miyabe (Junichi Okada), the said fighter pilot.
Visiting many war veterans, the brother-sister team felt humiliated for having their grandpa branded as a weakling. But insisting on getting more information about the case of his death and why he joined the special forces, they soon discovered more clues as to who he really is – is he really a coward or was he a genius who can outsmart the best fighter pilots from Japan’s enemies? What are the reasons behind his seemingly strong desire to continue living and not getting shotdown on air? What really happened during that fateful day when he was listed as one of the special forces to attack a US carrier with no chance of survival?
One scene particularly strains credulity. Kyuzo opposes an officer’s attempt to shame a trainee, who crashed during a training flight, as a traitor for destroying the valuable plane. Kyuzo is badly beaten, but keeps his position and earns the respect of his colleagues for speaking out. Insubordination is not tolerated in any military apparatus. Such a lax approach in the Japanese imperial army to opposition from the ranks, especially in one of its most fanatical units, is to whitewash the methods used to instill fear. Moreover, what exactly enabled Kyuzo to withstand the military indoctrination and drove him to actively stand up to it? The issue is never explained or explored. The audience is simply expected to go along with it. The scene in which Kentaro, Kyuzo’s grandson, tries to argue the righteousness of “tokkotai” with his largely disinterested young friends is completely contrived.
The special effects – the dogfights and the bombings at sea were quite realistic, and offer lots of excitement. It may not be as awesome as the previous Michael Bay film, Pearl Harbor, which coincidentally also dealt with the deadly attack at the same US military base. We are often bombarded with war movies from Hollywood which almost always have Germans and Japanese portrayed as villains. In The Eternal Zero, we get to see a different perspective of the Second World War, from the eyes of the Japanese. While there was never really any direct justification of why Japan invaded her neighbors and entered an alliance with America’s enemies, the last part where Haruma Miura saw the fighter plane flew across his neighborhood – it felt like the movie is convincing viewers to be more sympathetic rather than cynical or apathetic to Japan’s war cause.
The film centers on a police detective investigating a series of gruesome murderers. As the case pulls him deeper, he soon realizes that he may be a prime suspect. MURDERER is an example of a film that tries too hard to be unique and different from every other film with a similar plot. In fact, it tries too hard that the film falls apart. Let’s start with the good: The first half of the film is interesting and captivating. The film lays out the puzzle pieces while our protagonist tries to put them together.
Aaron Kwok plays a police detective in charge of an investigation into a string of serial murders, who suffers amnesia apparently as a result of an incident shown in the opening sequence of the film (and in which another police detective was seriously injured). The first half of the film shows his state of mental decline as he gradually succumbs to paranoia when he (re)discovers clues and evidence that seems to finger him as the murderer. This part of the film is very well done, minus the grizzly murder scenes and the opening sequence, which are clearly gratuitous. Kwok makes a convincing performance as a detective who is simultaneously convinced that he is being framed but unable to deny the trail of evidence that confronts him. The uncertainty over his role in the murders is compounded by his amnesia and his personal conviction regarding his innocence, which compels him to conceal damning evidence from his colleagues while trying desperately to hunt down a killer that he believe is still “out there.” “Western” audiences are most likely to compare this segment of the film to Memento given the amnesia component and the gradually unfolding clues that lead the main character to question his starting assumptions.
Then comes in the dreaded second half. Whatever good was built up in the first half is now broken down, stomped upon, and lit on fire. Stupid and unbelievable things happen here. For example, our protagonist seems to be framed for some murders. Well, the easiest way to find out is some DNA testing, right? Nope. Somehow, nobody in this film ever thought of that. It’s as if the film took place 50 years ago when there was no technology or DNA testing. The lame script aside, we have to admit that the build-up is rather tensed and suspenseful – thanks to Kwok and co-star Cheung Sui-Fai who plays his cop buddy ‘Ghost’. Kwok gives his Detective Ling the requisite touch of outrage and paranoia that help to sustain our curiosity. Cheung, on the other hand, plays a man of reason and logic – until he is overwhelmed by them. Ning Chang is solid as the long-suffering wife but it is Josie Ho who livens things up as Minnie, Ling’s younger sister who arrives from the States. The movie collapses when the ‘truth’ is revealed. Director Roy Chow (who also wrote the screenplay with To Chi-Long) seems to have spent so much time on the build-up that he has to rush through the ending. Instead of explaining the plot (or mystery), he makes the ending more ridiculous, opening up lots of questions on the minds of viewers. A very unfortunate debut for director Chow