Tuesday, December 25, 2007

My Scary Girl (Korea 2006)

"Ah Fuck. It's a porn republic because of the internet."

Korea is yet again responsible for another romantic comedy. They are the reigning champions of the genre and just might be running out of steam. My Scary Girl (달콤, 살벌한 연인) attempts to change all that by adding a few twists and perhaps something new.

Hwang Dae-Woo (Park Yong-Woo) is a thirty-something, shy, soft-spoken English professor that has never had any luck with the ladies. No date, no kiss, nothing. Dae-Woo is a nice guy and longs for female companionship and with help from his buddy he manages to ask out Lee Min-Na (Choi Gang-Hee), his new neighbor from downstairs. With love at first site, for Dae-Woo anyway, he finds out that she's an aspiring art student that wants to study in Italy someday. Mi-Na is everything that Dae-Woo could want in a girlfriend. She's smart, beautiful, and most important of all...she talks to him. After going on a few dates with each other, the two begin to really hit it off. Dae-Woo's dorky, "I've never been around a girl in a romantic way" charm starts to take it's effect on Min-Na and thus the sparks start to fly. Now that the two are in love, Dae-Woo shows up bringing some flowers for his sweetie, but to his surprise he finds a naked guy coming out of Min-Na's shower! Dae-Woo is naturally crushed by this discovery and wants to call the relationship quits. Min-Na explains that he's just an old boyfriend that barged his way into her place and he means nothing to her. She promises Dae-Woo that she'll take care of everything and that he shouldn't worry.

And that's about as much of My Scary Girl without giving away too much of the zing. With that said, you get a typical romantic comedy that takes a chance by implementing some new ideas. The look and feel is all up to snuff with what you'd expect from Korean cinema. In a way, it's really all up to the viewer and how much they've been exposed to this type of film in the past. If you're tired of the somewhat stale Korean romance formula, then the twists probably wont' do anything for you. On the other hand, if this type of film is your bag, then you'll most likely enjoy it for what it is and smile at it's attempts to bring you something new. As a whole, there isn't anything technically wrong with My Scary Girl, but it leaves you feeling unmoved and unfulfilled. In the long run, and unfortunately, it just comes off like an old dog trying it's hardest to do a new trick. (CBKevin)

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Exodus (Hong Kong 2007)

"Women are planning to kill men all the time".

You can call it a war of the sexes, a conspiracy theory gone awry, over the top, or even a little silly, but it would be more accurate to call it one of the most interesting movies to come out of Hong Kong in a long while. Exodus takes itself very seriously, and with a mix of fine performances and cinematography, you'll feel the same way.

Tsim Kin-Yip (Simon Yam), is a low-ranking cop with twenty-years on the force under his belt who is handed a suspect by the name of Kwan Ping-Man (Nick Cheung). Yip begins to take Kwan's colorful statement about how he was in a woman's bathroom video taping and peeping in on them. While doing this, Kwan explains how he overheard a couple of women plotting to kill men...all men, and he was gathering evidence to prove it all. Yip takes it as the ramblings of a crazy man and pays Kwan no mind by wrapping up the paperwork in order to let him go as soon as possible. Yip heads back to his life with his wife Ann (Annie Liu), and the task of helping with the renovations of their new place. Among other things, Yip also has to deal with Ann's mother (Candy Yu), and her always harping about his age and his time spent on the force. She's constantly complaining that he should own his own business and be doing something more with his life. Yip's bored with his position at work and and he doesn't give his wife very much attention at home, which results in her acting out in a variety of different activities. But when Kwan changes his statement to a simple peeping story, and nothing related to a "women killing men" conspiracy, Yip is interested in finding out why his story suddenly changed. He finds out that his superior officer, Fong (Maggie Siu), spoke with Kwan and that's when his story changed. Yip decides to dedicate all of his time to the case and finds out that a string of men have died in unexplained ways. While looking for Kwan, Yip finds Kwan's ex-wife Pun Siu Yuen (Irene Wan), snooping around Kwan's apartment. The two form an interesting relationship that seems to do nothing more than distract Yip from his investigation. Is Yip just looking for something that isn't there or just lost in the idea of making a difference?

The way Pang Ho-Cheung handles the subject matter in Exodus accounts for the reason you will either enjoy this movie or dislike it. I, on one hand, thought that it didn't come across as funny or a black-comedy in any way. I was there the whole time with Simon Yam questioning, "is this real? are these things happening?". I genuinely wanted to know the entire time and wished that Yip was a better cop to figure out the, "murder of men" scheme. I lost myself in the hunt for the answer and not so much in the answer itself. Yam's performance as Yip was a great spin on the usual police affair, because Yip is just an ordinary, curious guy who just happens to be a cop. He's not a super-cop or detective extraordinaire and that makes for a refreshing change. There's also no explosion-laced gunfight with a ring leader face-off at the end either. It's really just a man that wants an answer for himself. He's removed himself from his boring life of dealing with his wife and mother-in-law in order to dive head-first into a shallow case that just happened to be bigger than him. Does that account for boring cinema or boring story-telling? To some, I could see where it would feel as if nothing gets done and no questions get answered, but maybe nothing is all that's meant to happen. (converter)

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

My Boyfriend is Type-B (Korea 2005)

"All I wanted was a boyfriend I could lean on while riding the bus".

The simple idea behind My Boyfriend is Type-B (B형 남자친구) is that blood-type dictates the way a person acts and how compatible they are with another person. Now this is a weak premise for anything, let alone a movie. So with no strength to hold up an hour and a half of so-called entertainment, a shoddy movie experience is indeed on the horizon.

Young-Bin (Lee Dong-Geon) is a young heart breaker (and also happens to be type-B), that starts things off by leaving his girlfriend in the car so he doesn't get a ticket while hanging out with his boys. She naturally puts up a bit of a fuss and he has no problem with dumping her right on the spot. When he's not kicking them to the curb, he's off trying to sell his ideas for different types of phone jingles and sound effects. After a meeting with hopeful clients, he receives yet another rejection. While leaving in a huff, he runs into Han-Mi (Han Ji-Hye), a young and timid college student (who just happens to be type-A), just coming off the bus and longs for a boyfriend and romance in her life. They both spill onto the ground and their cell-phones get mixed up. Han-Mi's phone gets destroyed in the process and after a little bit of cat and mouse, and who has who's cell-phone, they two end up on a lunch date. Upon returning home, Han-Mi tells her cousin Chae Young (Shin Hee) about her exciting day. Chae Young demands to meet with this Young-Bin to see what kind of a guy he really is. See, Chae Young just happens to deal in the realm of match-making with the aspect of blood-types being a major factor. With Young-Bin being type-B, a cold, hardheaded, arrogant, jerk, douche bag, etc. Han-Mi, being type-A is a timid, soft-spoken, delicate young woman. This is clearly why Chae Young believes the two to be incompatible. However, Han-Mi believes it's destiny that they met and promises to give it her all, despite what her cousin friends might say, because she thinks she may have found the man she's always wanted. Will these too be able to make it through all the ups and downs? Or is there something to be said about a person's blood-type?

The romantic comedy is one of the tried and true hallmarks of cinema. Sure it's been done a million times, and thus should be a well-oiled machine by now, but My Boyfriend is Type-B seems to miss the point each and every single time it tries to execute anything from the genre. The two leads, the very beautiful Han Ji-Hye and Lee Dong-Geon, try to fill the screen with that campy kissy-kissy goodness, but Lee Dong-Geon's character is such an overwhelming prick that you don't care anything about him and you pray for the second that Han Ji-Hye's character stops acting like a doormat and tells this guy to get lost. The story does a poor job of giving us any incite or background on him and why he acts this way. I mean blood-type can only go so far right? One second he's treating Han-Mi like she's the only girl in the world and in the next scene he's reprimanding her like a child and speaking down to her. It just creates a situation where there is no real threat of love loss for Young-Bin when things don't goes his way or when he's "misunderstood", because it just turns into Han-Mi trying to figure him out while he pushes her away. She has endured a series of terrible crap coming from this guy and is ready to call it quits forever, and rightfully so, but this is a romantic comedy right? Maybe? Kinda?

The main piece missing from My Boyfriend is Type-B is an essential one; balance. This makes experiences of funny, silly, light-hearted mishaps with like-able characters a treat. Next time, let the couples work things out, be different, and slowly find out they have things in common, and yes, even need each other, or hell, want each other. That's what people want to see. It's something that warrants a smile, a chuckle, or sometimes even a tear. In short, balance is a simple trait that every romantic comedy needs to have in some degree. No excuses. (CBKevin)


Sunday, November 25, 2007

Bubble Fiction: Boom or Bust (Japan 2007)

Bubble Fiction: Boom or Bust is a time-traveling comedy that looks no further than to entertain the audience. It isn't going to blow anyone's mind, but Bubble Fiction is cute, funny, and at times incredibly campy. I love it when a movie is honest about it's intentions and comes through in it's delivery.

Nothing seems to be going right for Mayumi Tanaka (Ryoko Hirosue), a young woman who has not only recently lost her mother Mariko (Hiroko Yakushimaru), but is constantly avoiding Tajima (Hitori Gekidan), a scuzzy loan shark who's trying to collect his dues. Deep in debt and completely alone for the first time in her life, Mayumi works at a hostess club to pay the bills, all the while being observed from a distance by a mysterious older man by the name of Isao Shimakawaji (Abe Hiroshi). After approaching Mayumi, Isao informs her that he works for the Finance Ministry, and it turns out that her mother isn't really dead! Isao helped "orchestrate" Mariko's death so that she could travel back to the year 1990 and stop the then director of finance Serizawa (Masato Ibu) from passing legislation that could devastate the economy of Japan. Obviously bewildered at the news she's hearing, Mayumi wants to know what her role is in this whole situation. Isao tells her that he, and the rest of the ministry, need her help in finding Mariko as they haven't heard from her in days and fear the worst. With the incentive of having all of her debt paid in full, Mayumi agrees to help Isao. Isao takes Mayumi to her mothers basement laboratory and shows her the time machine that her mother built and that she'll be using to travel back to the year 1990.

After gearing up to take a spin in the washing machine, Mayumi emerges in 1990 Japan and immediately knows it by the fact that Rainbow Bridge (the main bridge crossing northern Tokyo bay) hasn't been constructed yet. More upsetting however is the fact that she can no longer use her much beloved cell-phone as they haven't become a staple in everyday life yet! Mayumi begins her search for her mother by going straight to Serizawa's office and naturally, he says he's never seen her. She then bumps into 1990 Isao and this version of Isao is instantly taken with Mayumi and is willing to do and agree with anything she says in hope's that he'll have a "chance" with her. Isao shows Mayumi around 1990's Tokyo and along the way she sees some familiar faces and hears music that is thankfully now a part of everyones past. Eventually, Isao comes to believe Mayumi's far-fetched story of time travel and agrees to help her find her mother and stop Serizawa from making the big legislation announcement on television. Isao also enlists the help of his TV reporter friend Kaoru Miyazaki (Kazue Fikiishi) to check the police stations for Mayumi's mother, as Serizawa has been having anyone acting suspicious or snooping into his business arrested. It's obvious that Serizawa is up to something, and Mayumi and Isao are the only one's that can find out the truth. Many surprising things come to light along their journey, but business has to come first. Saving Mariko is one thing, but can they really save the economic future of Japan?

Bubble Fiction is definitely one of those silly comedies that asks it's audience to suspend disbelief in order to really get the most out of it. The very idea of time-travel alone should be enough to make you realize that, but in case you take things too seriously, the fact that the time machine is a washing machine should give you a heads up. It's also a heads up to the type of humor one should expect upon watching Bubble Fiction, but at the same time, my major gripe about the movie is that it sometimes acts as if it wants to be taken more seriously. The story, revolving around Japan's debt and the downfall of the economy is definitely a major issue, but the movie puts more emphasis on being a comedy making it all feel a bit unbalanced. When things do get wacky however, they get really wacky and the action scene in the final act is proof of that. The "recreation" of 1990's Japan is interesting and amusing enough, but this aspect is clearly geared more towards Japanese people in what is sure to make them say, "Ah! Natsukashii!". (Ask me if you don't know!). I've complained about it before, but somehow, even with a running-time of nearly two hours, Bubble Fiction doesn't seem to drag on and has it's joke spread out well enough to keep you interested throughout. Kudos for that.

Make no mistake, Bubble Fiction: Boom or Bust is a "popcorn movie" with a story better served in a dramatic format. However, even with it's short-comings it stills manages to be a successful comedy thanks in large part to it's engaging leads and an often hilarious look back in time. So put your brain on auto-pilot, sit back and enjoy the ride. (Lee)

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Hooked On You (Hong Kong 2007)

It's 1997 and the Fortune Market is alive and well with a plethora of different vendors. One inparticular fish stall is run by Miu (Miriam Yeung) and her father (Stanley Fung). Miu and her gambling and promiscuous father are in debt to local loan shark Uncle Right (David Lo). With little to no help from her father, Miu works long hours and even sells congee on the side in order to make some extra cash to pay off the debt. The residents of the Fortune Market, Porky (Huang Bo) and Fishman (Eason Chan), both have an interest in Miu for different reasons, but Miu longs for a better life and wants something more than just the life of owning a stall in a food market. Fishman does his best to try and bully everyone, especially Miu, and even goes as far as to trash her stall. He loves to throw his weight around, but in reality, everyone in Fortune Market doesn't take him seriously. When Miu isn't working overtime, she's on a quest to find a high-profile husband to take her away from the mundane existence that is the Fortune Market. Fishman slowly stops picking on Miu and eventually finds himself warming up to her. Unfortunately for the Fishman, he's a part of the life at Fortune Market which is everything Miu is trying to leave behind.

Hooked On You has that rare something within the genre it's representing; namely two leads that work well together and don't annoy you as the viewer. Miriam and Eason play off each other incredibly well as their relationship volleys up and down throughout time. There are times when you really want to see the two of them happy together, as opposed to the usual "hurry up and get it over with" feeling. This is all thanks to the well-written story by Fung Chi-Keung and the direction of Law Wing-Cheong. An interesting addition to the character interaction is the way their story is marked throughout time with occurrences like the popularity of pyramid schemes, mass urban renewal, commercialization, SARS, and so on. This all plays out in Hong Kong's recent history and it's a cool addition not seen in many films. So as the story progresses through time, you see the characters grow and mature. This could possibly be the reason you feel such a closeness to them, because you really see them go through so much. For a romance comedy, Hooked On You does a pretty good job of keeping things light and interesting and tries not to bog things down with an overly sappy approach. The leads are fun to watch and both shine in their roles. A movie well worth your viewing, Hooked On You will make you smile and is undeniably "cute". (converter)

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Monday, November 12, 2007

Tekkon Kinkreet (Japan 2006)

A crazy hybrid of American and Japanese animation work together to produce something undoubtedly different from typical anime fare, but with Tekkon Kinkreet, the final product is a mixed bag consisting of questionable animation and storytelling. The director, Michael Arias, and co-screenwriter Anthony Weintraub, are both best known for their work on the Animatrix series. Need I say more? And no...that isn't a compliment.

In Tokyo, in an area known as Treasure Town, the youth (referred to by public at large as "Cats") have taken over the streets and seem to run wild in an almost, "Lord of the Flies" fashion. Shiro/White (Yu Aoi) and Kuro/Black (Kazunari Ninomiya) are inseparable and get by on a day-to-day basis by pick-pocketing strangers and hustling in order to survive. Kuro has a reputation for running things on the street level in Treasure Town, and the police seem to understand and respect it as if there's nothing they can do about it. The boys seem content with their way of life, until an unforeseen Yakuza threat marches its way into town and makes plans to tear things down so they can build an amusement park, all in the name of monetary gain. As you can imagine, Kuro and Shiro aren't going to just sit back and let these guys take over their town, so Kuro goes on the attack in order to make his point. The Yakuza enlist the help of an evil, and sexually-ambiguous character by the name of Hebi/Snake (Masahiro Matoki) who promises to eradicate the "cat" problem with help from his three assassins. The assassins prove to be a major threat to our two protagonists and after a near fatal experience for Shiro, Kuro allows the police to take his young friend into custody for safety's sake. With Shiro out of his life, Kuro begins to become consumed with rage and a strong desire to exact revenge on the yakuza, Hebi, and the assassins. He continues to let these negatives feelings and emotions take over which sends him into a spiral of insanity. As Shiro so elegantly puts it, "I have all the screws that Kuro needs for his heart". In other words, the two young boys complete each other, and when they're separated, they become different people. Kuro needs Shiro so he can take back the city they love so dear, but in his current state, how will he survive long enough to make their dreams come true?

Right from the get-go, it's obvious that this story is all about balance. Even the trailer makes this point crystal clear, with the boys names, Black and White, being the biggest sign of all. As Kuro/Black's mental state continues to deteriorate, it's clear that he needs Shiro/White in his life in order to maintain "balance". There isn't much more to say about the story than that, because that really is the message being conveyed. Let's talk a little bit about what everyone says is the greatest aspect of this movie; the animation and visual design. Call me crazy, but I have to say that the visuals are entirely unimpressive and are worsened even more so by the use of CGI. How these "simplistic" character designs are examples of "amazing visual design" is beyond me. Even the animation of the characters is far from being fluid. The only attention to detail in Tekkon Kinkreet is in the background design, which would be great if Treasure Town felt like more a character, but it doesn't. The characters, aside from Shiro, are equally unimpressive, to the point where you don't really care whats happening to them. There was no emotional connection to any of them, so I really didn't care that Kuro was going crazy without his friend by his side. To make matters worse, the story is really run-of-the-mill stuff, with an attempt at conveying a more meaningful underlying message, but the impact is lost, again, due to uninteresting characters.

Scattered throughout my review for Tekkon Kinkreet, you probably caught the word that really sums up the movie as a whole: unimpressive. Granted, I much rather prefer the styling of Satoshi Kon and Katsuhiro Otomo, but I'm willing to give anything a chance. Unfortunately, the powers responsible for Tekkon Kinkreet can't even light a torch to the aforementioned names and it's painfully obvious. If this is an example of the direction "new anime" is headed in, I think I'll gladly stay rooted in the past. (Lee)

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Tokyo Zombie 東京ゾンビ (Japan 2005)

It's been far too long since my last review, and for those that give a crap, I do apologize. Formalities aside, I've returned with a review for Tokyo Zombie (東京ゾンビ), the craziest, and possibly one of the most disappointing zombie movies I've seen in a long time.

The citizens of Tokyo have really given up on caring about the overall cleanliness of their environment, and as such, have begun dumping everything (and I do mean everything) you can think of into a gigantic pile in the center of town. The pile begins to become so massive that it takes on a similar shape and appearance to that of Fuji-san, or Mt. Fuji, which leads citizens to refer to this massive heap as Black Fuji. Two slacker garage workers, Fujio (Tadanobu Asano) and Mitsuo (Sho Aikawa), really seem to have nothing to do all day except practice Jujitsu. Mitsuo, severely balding and the more "skilled" of the two, is always training Fujio on the arts of Jujitsu. When their boss shows up to check up them, he isn't happy with what he sees and an altercation breaks out amongst the three men which results in the boss being beaten to death. So where can our boys take the body? Black Fuji! Where else!? Remember, I did say everything gets dumped there. For reasons unbeknownst to the viewer, or maybe it's just plain unnecessary to tell us, the zombies begin to rise from Black Fuji and take our heroes off-guard after returning to the garage. After a slightly amusing display of Jujitsu skill, Fujio and Mitsuo are officially on the run from the zombie threat. Mitsuo explains to Fujio that all great warriors and martial-artists train in Russia, so that's where they need to go if Fujio plans to be a master of the arts. On their long drive north, they run into a young woman by the name of Yoko (Erika Okuda), who is under attack by the zombies after trying to clean out a convenience store. After their convenience store run doesn't quite work out as planned, Mitsuo takes the protesting Yoko with them. The boys reach a point where they can longer travel together, so Fujio and Yoko are left to fend for themselves and that's where everything changes. Why couldn't Mitsuo continue traveling with Fujio and Yoko? And will Fujio ever make it to Russia to complete his training?

I really had to stop my description of the movie at that point, because the minute Mitsuo decides to leave Fujio and Yoko, is the same time the movie decides to bash me over the face with the "out of nowhere" plot change. Don't get me wrong, I understand that this is a dark-comedy zombie movie, and nothing that happens in it is supposed to be "realistic" or meant to be taken even remotely serious, but the third act ruined the entire film. I will say that things get even more wacky and post-apocalyptic, but not in a good way. It seriously just takes everything you saw in the first three-quarters of the movie and does something completely different. Which is really a shame, because I was on board with the style that Tokyo Zombie had going for it. The biggest offense is the fact that this is above-all, a buddy movie with Fujio and Mitsuo needing to be together to make everything else seem interesting, and once Mitsuo leaves the picture, it's no longer interesting to watch. I'm sure it's a ploy from director/screenwriter Sakichi Sato to drive home the dark zombie future isn't all fun and games, but to make everything about the movie seem like "fun and games", only to flip a 180 is a move that takes away from the enjoyment of the film as a whole.

I'm a huge fan of zombie movies (minus that Dawn of the Dead remake and House of the Dead), and I'll watch them whether they are on the comedic side or the horror side. That being said, I really wanted to like Tokyo Zombie if for nothing more than it's original take on the genre. It almost succeeded in being an interesting, funny, and original zombie movie, but the keyword here is almost, making it a major disappointment no matter how you slice it. (Lee)

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*No English Subtitles

Monday, October 8, 2007

Cutie Honey (Japan 2004)

Honey Kisaragi (Eriko Sato, pin-up model extraordinaire), is enjoying a nice bubble bath when she gets a call from her Uncle Utsugi (Masaki Kyomoto), a top science professor. While on the phone, she hears him being abducted by an unknown assailant and quickly leaps into action. Honey, alter-ego of Cutie Honey, finds that she doesn't have enough energy to transform, so she's forced to dress in a clear garbage bag and run to the store for some snacks. With that catastrophe averted she's finally able to transform into Cutie Honey by pressing the heart-shaped button on her choker and yelling, "Honey Flash!". But alas, uncle Utsugi's captors have already been completely boxed in by police at the Tokyo Bay aqua line. Most notably among them is squad chief Natsuko Aki (Mikako Ichikawa, also a model). The chief finds herself in over her head when the kidnapper turns out to be Gold Claw (Hairi Katagiri), a member of the evil organization Panther Claw. Cutie Honey, dressed as a police officer, saves the chief just in the nick of time and drags her kicking and screaming out of harms way. Cutie Honey takes over from there and eventually defeats Gold Claw single-handedly, rescuing her uncle in the process. Natsuko is anything but impressed and tries to take Honey into custody. A mysterious reporter named Hayami Seiji (Jun Murakami), interjects that the chief is committing a false arrest and he finds himself being handcuffed for interfering with police business. With a smile, and some nice diversionary tactics, Honey slips away and turns back into plain ol' Honey Kisaragi, the low-status office worker with no friends who can't seem to do anything right.

Upon returning to headquarters, Natsuki is having problems of her own. Her superiors reprimand her for the damage done at the aqua line and her inability to capture the criminals responsible. With that, she finds out Professor Utsugi has been kidnapped by Panther Claw once again from right under her nose. Now we're all back to square one. So Natsuki, Cutie Honey, and Hayami come together due to the fact that they all have their own reasons for wanting to get to the bottom of exactly what Panther Claw might be up to.

Cutie Honey is based on Go Nagai's 70's comic creation. This has spawned countless OVA's comics and other merchandise over the years. Enter Hideaki Anno, of Neon Genesis Evangelion fame, Warner Brothers distribution company, and a legion of fans that have probably been waiting years to see one of their favorites manga's come to life. All of this could be a recipe for success, or it could create a movie that is aimed directly towards the hardcore fans, so much so, that it completes neglects anyone else. Cutie Honey is a perfect example of the latter. I for one have seen the animation and found it to be alright, but how it would translate into a live action movie was the million-dollar question. I like to think that it holds it's own. The presentation is bright and colorful and keeps with that anime flare. Eriko does a fine job playing a bubbly, cute, yet dim-witted at times Honey. However, the story starts without you, in the sense that it's based on a world that the fan's know all about, but be patient and you'll soon catch up. Most of the special-effects are a double-edged sword. Either you'll hate the campiness of them, or you'll totally adore it. I did notice a few animated effects that were pretty original, such as when Honey is flipping about during her fight sequences. Overall, Honey won't amuse everyone and I don't believe it was meant to. It was built for the fans and I think they love seeing Honey come to life and do her thing. (Converter)

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Sunday, October 7, 2007

Flash Point (Hong Kong 2007)

If you have ever had any interest in either Donnie Yen or martial-arts, Flash Point will impress you in both departments. Sure the story is about as bland and cookie-cutter as action movie plots can get, but you're here to see one thing and one thing only: Donnie Yen beatin' some ass.

Serving as a prequel-of-sorts to the much-loved S.P.L., Flash Point takes us to 1997; a time where Hong Kong was still under British rule. Why this point is made in the movie I'll never know, but I digress. Inspector Ma (Donnie Yen) is working on a case with his undercover partner Wilson (Louis Koo, aka: the man with the tan) that involves three bad Vietnamese dudes. Archer (Ray Lui) is head of the gang, and his younger and bigger brother Tiger (Xing Yu), and co-hort Tony (Collin Chou) manage to look over the illegal shenanigans while Archer faces a bit of trouble with the authorities. Wilson has a lot of info on the gang's activities and is ready to testify against Archer, because everyday they seem to grow more and more suspicious of Wilson's behavior. However, everything can't always go as plan (nor would we want them to) and Wilson's cover is blown. Already having been reprimanded by his superiors for excessive behavior and force, Inspector Ma is ready to protect his partner anyway he can. When Archer's thugs kidnap Wilson's girlfriend (Fan Bing-Bing), Wilson finds himself unwilling to testify against Archer in hopes that his girlfriend's life will be spared. This doesn't fly with Ma, so he takes action into his own hands in order to help his friends and put Archer and his boys away once and for all.

As noted earlier, the story is about as run-of-the-mill as you can get, but in all honesty it's the perfect instigator for getting Ma's character fueled with enough anger to show us what he's made of. First off, let me say that I love Donnie Yen's style and after some serious discussion, me and a few others believe he could truly be the one to save Hong Kong cinema as we used to know it. No one is doing martial-arts as aggressive, realistic and as well choreographed as Donnie Yen. In Flash Point, the grappling-style we saw him incorporate into the action of S.P.L. is still here and it produces some truly jaw-dropping, holy-sh!t moments. The final act with Ma squaring off against Tony is one of the best fight scenes I've ever seen...I kid you not. Not to discredit the others involved, but Donnie is the centerpiece of the film and everyone else is their simply to support him in his beat-down quest. Collin Chou displays some excellent fighting skills, and let's be honest...anyone that can hang with Donnie has to have excellent skills.

He proved he could make a modern movie with mind-blowing action in S.P.L., and he once again shows us that it wasn't a fluke with Flash Point. I can only guess that as he continues to direct and choreograph action scenes in future projects that it will only get better. How it can get any better than this probably depends on the story, but overall I'd still say Flash Point is a success and if you love intense and innovative martial-arts, you'll see it as soon as possible. (Lee)

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Monday, October 1, 2007

Hold Up Down (Japan 2005)

A unique movie to be sure, Hold Up Down uses a Pulp Fiction-esque formula in an attempt to create a wacky, all-over-the-place comedy. For the first and second act the movie is fairly successful, but for the ending, what some would call the most important part, is where it all goes wrong. Color me disappointed.

Brace yourselves folks, because Hold Up Down is almost as hard to explain as it was to watch. Meaning that a lot of stuff happens in the movie, but most of it for no seemingly good reason. Right off the bat we're following two of the many main characters, dressed up in Santa Claus outfits preparing to rob a bank. After the hold-up, the two bandits run off and into the subway station to stash the cash in a station locker. Unfortunatley they don't have the change to lock it up, so they bother homeless musician Koichi (Okada Junichi) for his spare change. The men threaten Koichi, resulting in another foot chase in which Koichi is hit by a speeding police car (with our two other main characters). Our main hobo ends up with the key to the bank heist money, but the two police officers think he's dead. Now we meet a young man who is questioning his faith after an unfortunate incident at his church. His path crosses with the homeless man Koichi, and due to Koichi's...rustic appearance, the young man believes Koichi to be Jesus. So now we have two cops and two robbers racing to get to the stolen money in the station locker, and a young man on a spiritual journey with whom he believes to be Jesus, but is really just a homeless musician. Everyone crosses paths at one point or another throughout the film, and they all eventually come together in the end. In this case however, that isn't a good thing.

Forgive the lack of name-dropping in my review, but the characters in this movie never use their names so it was close to impossible to find out who played who. Actors aside, the story of Hold Up Down is actually really fun, in a quirky, nonsensical kind of way. It's amusing to watch everything that happens to Koichi the hobo, and a lot of the action and comedy is incredibly over-the-top. Suspend disbelief for the first hour and a half of the movie and you'll have a great time with it, but it's in the final act that everything goes straight to hell. To say the final act came out of left field would be an understatement, and to be honest, it just seemed like a last minute attempt at getting all the characters together in one spot just for the heck of it. It really didn't serve any purpose and to be honest, it ruined the movie for me.

I really wanted to like Hold Up Down, and for most of the time I did. I don't need a movie to be perfect to find it worthy of a purchase, because let's be honest, a perfect movie is strictly based on personal opinion. However, when one part of the movie is just so bad and the complete opposite of the rest of the movie, you can't look past this "flaw" for the sake of adding it to your collection. Hold Up Down succeeds in getting your hopes up, only to bring them to a crashing halt. (Lee)

*No Trailer Available

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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Who Slept With Her? (Korea 2006)

A comedy that's driven by the mystery element presented within the title, Who Slept With Her? is, for the most part, a success due to great casting, genuinely funny jokes, and excellent pacing. Who-dunnit storytelling that will actually keep you engaged until the big reveal.

Incredibly attractive Uhm Ji-Young (Kim Sa-Rang, best known for her participation in the 2001 Miss Universe Pageant), is the new trainee French teacher at an all-boys Christian academy. As you can imagine, her arrival has creates a big excitement on campus for the students, but not everyone is happy to see her. The Dean of Discipline, Mr. Cha (Lee Hyeok-jae), lovingly referred to as Slanted Eyes by his students, sees Ji-Young as an inappropriate distraction for the students. The movie begins after the school festival has already taken place, and Mr. Cha sees Ji-Young running off with someone after the show. He sneaks behind the two and hears them having sex in the library, but when he opens the door...it's empty except for a shoe he say Ji-Young wearing during the festival. Mr. Cha is on a mission to find out who slept with her. One month earlier, we see Ji-Young's arrival at the school, and after introductions have taken place, homeroom teacher Mr. Ahn (Park Cheol-min) suggests that Ji-Young help and participate in the big yearly festival the school puts on. The three students in charge of planning are Tae-Yo Kim (Ha Seok-jin), Jae-Seong (Park Joon-gyoo), and Myong-Sub (Ha Dong-hoon). Unfortunately, the festival has put on the same show of, "Three Wise Men and Baby Jesus", for the past ten years straight. This doesn't sit well with Ji-Young and she proposes the idea of doing a musical number to the three boys. At first they think she's crazy and they'll never be allowed to do it, but their lust for her makes them weak and willing to do anything she says. Spending so much time with Mrs. Uhm, the three boys find themselves becoming more obsessed with their new teacher, and all for seemingly different reasons.

Tae-Yo is the cool kid in the school. The guy that all the others look up to because he has experience with women and knows how to win them over. He isn't impressed with Ji-Young like all the others at first, but soon he finds himself wanting to win her over because she shows no interest in him and he isn't used to be snubbed by the opposite sex. Jae-Seong is the strangest of the three, not only because of his personality, but because he has the appearance of a man in his late 40's or early 50's, but he's only 17. He also has a "defect" in a part of his anatomy in which he can't seem to exhibit any self-control over himself. Naturally, he has a crush on Mrs. Uhm and tries to win her over with his romantic and caring personality. Lastly, we have Myong-Sub, who is the biggest pervert of the three, possibly the biggest pervert of the entire school. He lusts, more than loves, over Mrs. Uhm and in order to get him to study harder, Ji-Young says she'll humor the possibility of going on a date with him if he gets at least a score of 90 on his French mid-term exam. As you can imagine, Myong-Sub turns into a completely different person after hearing such a proposition. Even though all three boys are doing everything they can to get Ji-Young's attention, even Mr. Ahn and Mr. Cha can't resist her charms and they pursue her in their own way with hilarious results. With the archbishop coming to view the school festival, the boy's need to get their act together and work as a team with Mrs. Uhm if they want to present the school in a positive light, and Mr. Cha just wants to know who slept with Mrs. Uhm!

The story in Who Slept With Her? is a lot of fun because it has you guessing for most of the movie about who Mr. Cha saw having sex in the beginning of the film. Not only that, but the jokes throughout the film are really funny, with Sae-Jeong's appearance being the funniest on-going gag for me personally. Just looking at that guy was enough to make me chuckle. Although, Ha-Dong hoon's character Myung-Sub is really funny as well, in his special perverted way. I think most guys at that age can relate to a lot of the thoughts he expresses which makes him the easiest character for guy's to relate to. Lee Hyeok-jae is great as the incredibly strict Mr. Cha, and he often had me cracking up with laughter. Kim Sa-Rang as Ji-Young, did a fine enough job for what her character was there to do. She didn't have to pull out all the acting stops for her role. She really just had to look pretty enough for these guys to drool over her and I think in that respect she was a perfect fit. My only gripes with the story is that Ji-Young seemed to exhibit a lot of inappropriate behavior with the three main students, to the point where you just roll your eyes and go with it because it's only a movie. I enjoyed the way the film gave you background information on all three students, around thirty minutes each, because they are all, for the most part, likeable characters that you wanted to know more about.

If you just want to sit back and watch a wild, somewhat over-the-top comedy that will keep you entertained the whole way through, Who Slept With Her? fits the bill perfectly. I was pleasantly surprised and you really couldn't ask for anything more from a movie. (Lee)

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Sunday, September 9, 2007

The Taste of Tea (Japan 2004)

An oddly-fascinating tale, with equally fascinating and eccentric characters, The Taste of Tea (Cha no aji 茶の味) is probably like nothing you've ever seen before. Not only does it earn points for originality and uniqueness, but it's manner of storytelling is so non-typical that you'll have a hard time not liking this movie.

The Haruno family are definitely not what most people would consider "normal". Residing in rural Tochigi prefecture, just north of Tokyo, we follow along as the Haruno's go about their daily lives, which by all accounts should be a boring task, but what's mundane to them is fascinating to us. Teenager Hajime Haruno (Takahiro Sato) is experiencing what all teenage boys experience in their lives; falling in love. The girl of his dreams has moved away, and due to some rather unfortunate eaves-dropping incidents, he's developed a phobia of the opposite sex and is finding it hard to speak to them. His younger sister Sachiko (Maya Banno) is a typical 6-year old girl, in the sense that her over-active imagination has taken shape in the form of a giant version of herself that follows her around and watches her every move. After hearing a story from her Uncle Ayano (Tadanobu Asano), in which he explains a similar situation he experienced as a child, Sachiko dedicates her free-time to doing a backflip on the horizontal bar located in the forest. If Ayano could get rid of his "ghost" problem that way, than maybe Sachiko's giant-self will disappear as well. Mother Yoshiko (Satomi Tezuka) is working on some new sketches that she's hoping will re-establish her within the animation industry, as she had to take a step back due to her family responsibilities. Her father, Grandpa Akira Todoroki (Tatsuya Gasyuin) assists her in developing new poses for her characters, and otherwise displays a wide array of strange behaviors, all the while humming and singing different songs around the house. The father, Nobuo Haruno (Tomokazu Miura), has an interesting job as a hypno-therapist, where he hypnotizes people into a relaxed state, either to calm them down, or help them overcome different issues in their lives. We're also briefly introduced to Nobuo's brother Ikki Todoroki (playing himself), who is an accomplished manga artist living in Tokyo, who also fancies himself as somewhat of a singer. Uncle Ayano works as a sound mixer for a living, and Ikki requests that he mix a song that he's been working on as a birthday present to himself. This session results in a hilarious song and dance routine known as the, "Yama-yo", or "The Mountain Song". Meanwhile, Hajime is excited about everyday life again when new girl Aoi Suzuishi (Anna Tsuchiya) joins his class and shows an interest in one of his favorite hobbies; the board game Go. Will Hajime will find the strength to confess his love to Aoi? Will Sachiko overcome the horizontal bar? Will Yoshiko be accepted again amongst her peers to revitalize her career? And most importantly of all; what will Grandpa do next?

You'll be asking yourself these same questions and more as you watch The Taste of Tea, because due to the unique vision and direction of Katsuhito Ishii, you really won't know what to expect. In a lot of ways, that level of uncertainty is what makes movies, including this one, so great and entertaining to watch. The story is very untraditional in the sense that at times it feels as if you're watching a reality show, or a documentary on this family and their day to day life. Although, it's the strength of the characters that keep it from being as boring as that last sentence makes it sound. Even at two hours and twenty-three minutes, you'll find yourself wanting the film to keep going just to see what happens next with the Haruno family. Great performances (especially from Tatsuya Gasyuin as the quirky Grandpa), and a fun, almost fantasy-like feel, help to contribute to the overall experience. Director Katsuhito Ishii has an interesting way of showing us the imagination of his characters, with Sachiko's giant-self being the most obvious example.

Definitely not conforming to typical film-making standards, The Taste of Tea is a refreshing change of pace in the all too mundane cinema landscape. I love it when new things are tried in film and end up a success, and that's exactly what happened here. (Lee)

*No Trailer Available

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Friday, September 7, 2007

Tokyo X Erotica (Japan 2001)

The year is 1997 and a man by the name of Kenji traveling through the tunnel underneath an overpass on his scooter. He stops when he finds a slew of dead bodies lying on the floor. He goes to investigate the bodies to see if he can help, but by the time he realizes what has happened, he's overcome by the toxic gas that has flooded the tunnel. He falls to the ground, dying from the fumes, when he begins to remember what an old girlfriend had once asked him. "Which is longer, the time before birth, or the time after death?" Meanwhile, Kenji's ex-girlfriend Haruka, who is working as a prostitute, is standing by a street corner watching a man in a bunny costume promoting a local shop. She slowly makes her way to him and invites her services. After Haruka expertly services the man, he seems to go bi-polar and begins to degrade her and questions all of the choices she's made in life. His tirade becomes more violent and the man ends up strangling Haruka to death. That marks the time that Kenji and Haruka both died. Welcome to 1995, where the couple are alive and not so well because they've just broken up and Haruka isn't dealing with it well. We then move on to a woman who is waiting for her lover and watching the news on television which begins to describe that the gas in the tunnels were the result of a terrorist attack. Her lover shows up and after the two have sex, we're transported to 1989 where we meet a younger Kenji and Haruka who are meeting with friends to party and hang out. There's a little cheating done on Haruka's part with the other two friends and once again we are whisked away to 2002 when the same couple is alive and well...again. However, now it seems as if it's just the same lead actors playing different parts. Although, relationships and death are still all in question.

Tokyo X Erotica is an example of what is called pink cinema. Where basically a movie's story is hidden within a lot of soft-core sex scenes. So if that's not your thing, you might want to stay clear of this due it's graphic depictions of sex. Tokyo X Erotica's story of life and death with sex can be a bit confusing at times due to the way the story hops around different time periods. There is a narration that tries to fill in all the little holes and move things along, but sometimes it ends up doing more bad than good. The uses of color and black and white are subject to the viewers interpretation. I believe it represents death and the times of their lives that they get to choose to live. This is the basic theme in the movie that gets explored every time you meet the characters in a different time period. There are also documentary-style interviews with random people and some of the main characters throughout different times in their lives. The interviews explore how these people live and if they're living their lives the way they truly want to. There are some key references and items that show up throughout to aid in the life and death mystery, but these soon become afterthoughts. The actors and their performances are all pretty decent, and the cinematography holds up too. Director Takahisa Zeze does a lot better with this film than say...Moon Child. All in all it's just hard to say if the adventure is really worth it. I just wanted things to be a little tighter with the story because it has an interesting premise. So if you do watch Tokyo X Erotica for just the simulated sex, you'll only be getting a few scenes and you'll be missing the point of the film all together. However, if you watch it for the story, you'll be left wanting more. (Converter)

*No Trailer Available

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Wednesday, September 5, 2007

War (North America 2007)

Jack Crawford (Jason Statham), is an FBI agent in charge of an anti-Asian gang force in San Francisco who discovers that a hitman name Roge (Jet Li), is back in town after 3 years of complete seclusion. The trail is sparked up again by Rogue's trademark titanium shells with depleted uranium slugs. Crawford has dealt with Rogue's antics before due to the fact that he killed Crawford's partner Chang (John Lone), Chang's wife and daughter, and set fire to their home. Crawford is now hell-bent on getting revenge for his partner, so much so that it's cost him his marriage and his relationship with his son. While Crawford and his team hit the streets to find out this killers whereabouts, Rogue is pulling off robberies, and a murder that incites a war between the local Triads and Yakuzas in San Francisco. All the while, he's also a personal "yes man" for local mafia head Shiro (Ryo Ishibashi), and is ordered to help him keep his control over the local syndicates. While cleaning up most of Rogue's handy work, Crawford finds out Rogue has actually changed his face with plastic surgery and his current identity is Victor Shaw (Jet Li). Now it seems that Crawford's back at square one on his revenge tangent, that is until Rogue goes looking for him.

War is undoubtedly one of the worst action movies I've ever seen. One would've thought that "The One" was terrible enough to keep Jason "I play the same character in every movie" Statham and Jet Li from ever working together again. These two have zero chemistry together and I don't buy into the hype of these two together on-screen. The director, Philip G. Atwell's career lies mostly with music videos and he has no real experience in the action movie genre and that definitely shows in War. On the other hand, it doesn't really matter, because War plays out more like a bad drama than an action film. The story is a train wreck that is just so uninteresting you'll begin to question if you even want the over-acting Statham to get revenge for his partner or he'd just be better off callin' it a day. So the story just spins around and around, with the worst part of it being the ending. It comes so fast and abruptly that you'll stare at the black screen waiting for something, anything to help explain what just happened for one hundred and three of the longest minutes of your life. The saddest thing about War is that it seemed to have had the recipe for a solid action movie; revenge always equals plain and simple text-book action. It looks like everyone involved with War doesn't read books. (Converter)

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Millenium Actress (Japan 2001)

Millennium Actress (Sennen Joyu) is the amazing story of Chiyoko Fujiwara , an actress for a once great movie studio. Genya Tachibana (Shozo Izuka) is a famous TV interviewer and quite possibly one of Chiyoko's biggest fans. When the studio closes, he tracks her down to get an interview with her as she's been in seclusion for over thirty years. He brings with him a key that once belonged to her. The key represents a lot of things in the movie, the first being the key that unlocks Chiyoko's memories. Chiyoko begins telling Genya and his cameraman how she initially came across the key.

When she was a teenager, the producer of the studio came to Chiyoko's town and tried to recruit her. Unfortunately, Chikoyo's mother wouldn't allow it, so she ran away from home, upset at her mother. She bumps into a young man only a few year's older than herself, who is bloody and on the run from the police. The officers chasing him ask Chiyoko as to his whereabouts and naturally she steers them off his path and brings the young man home, hiding him in the storage room where her mother won't find him. After school the next day, Chiyoko comes home and finds a whole in the wall with the young man now missing and the police searching the area for him. Chiyoko's caretaker secretly informs her that the young man took off towards the train station, so Chiyoko decides to go after him and along the way finds the key. She takes it upon herself to find him so that she can return the key to him.

The thing about Millennium Actress is that it flashes between reality and Chiyoko's movies, but as we watch Chiyoko, so do Genya and his cameraman who are both transported through time to the events in Chiyoko's life. Soon enough, her biggest fan is helping her in almost every situation as Chiyoko tries to give her mystery man back his key. Thankfully the cameraman is clueless as to what's happening, which is to say he's like the rest of the audience, waiting for someone to say what's going on. I mentioned that the key has different symbolic meanings, one of them being hope, and the other being love. It's also used to reveal the truth, and to lock away Chiyoko's feelings, but most importantly of all it's used as a reminder. The movies Chiyoko stars in also play a huge part of the storytelling because they relate to what shes going through in life at that time in her journey. I could go on and on about Millennium Actress, because it really was a great movie that had a lot of heart, and frankly, it could have been a big budget, live-action film. Even though it's a cartoon, it's still a cinematic masterpiece. I doubt that many other movies will be able to accomplish the feeling and storytelling of this wonderfully crafted film. I'll stop myself from going any further and I'll leave you to watch it for yourself, because only then will you really see what I'm talking about. (KSG-301)

Eye in the Sky (Hong Kong 2007)

A welcome change in the typical cops-and-robbers formula, Eye in the Sky (跟踪) places it's focus on the men and women of law enforcement that watch everything from afar. The premise is intriguing and the execution is even on point, but thanks largely to an unnecessary subplot, it's not a 100% success.

Things start off interestingly enough as we are brought in on the surveillance unit doing what they do best. New recruit Bo (Kate Tsui) is following Dog Head (Simon Yam, noticeably fatter than in previous films) and his intention is to try and give her a crash course in properly tailing a lead and remembering every detail. Ironically enough, during this exercise, both agents cross paths with Shan (Tony Leung), a jewelry thief who is currently in the middle of staking out the next place to be victimized by him and his team. During the heist, one of Shan's lackeys, Ng Tung (Lam Suet), slips up by showing his face on camera which gives the cops the lead they need to find those responsible. Dog Head let's Bo on the team and gives her the charming nickname of Piggy. The SU themselves are collectively known as the Zoo, with other members having various animal names. The team are now on the case to find Ng Tung, also known as Fatty, to find out who he works for and who else is involved. After a lot of tailing, the team eventually find out that Shan is the man running the show, but during a botched attempt at apprehending him, Piggy is taken off the case and is reassigned to an assignment to find a kidnapper trying to get a ransom from the parents. Piggy has her eye on the kidnapping suspect, but has a chance run-in with Shan and decides that she's going to ignore her orders and go after Shan to stop him once and for all. Piggy has learned a lot from Dog Head during their time together, but what she doesn't realize is that Shan is just as smart as she is.

Marking the directorial debut of long-time screen-writer and collaborator of Johnnie To, Yau Nai-Hoi does an excellent job in putting the characters in believable situations with some genuinely suspenseful moments. Also, the "art" of surveillance was done remarkable well with the agents moving in convincing ninja-like fashion. However, the majority of the film, and I'm talking at least forty minutes or so, is comprised of a lot of tailing the suspect(s) with little dialogue. I understand that it's all a necessity for the story that's being told, but it doesn't always make for an exciting or entertaining story on-screen. The story revolving around the hunt for Shan was the engaging element, but the small subplot of finding this kidnapper near the end of the film seemed totally out of place and detracted from the overall story. It was as if they needed something extra to add to the surprisingly short running-time of 1 hour and 27 minutes. The acting was top-notch for the entire film, but the only performance that stood out was that of Kate Tsui as Bo/Piggy, because seasoned veterans Simon Yam and Tony Leung have proved they're capable of far greater acting feats in their previous works. I will say that Eye in the Sky is one of the few Hong Kong films that actually portray Hong Kong police officers in a capable light. They're usually always getting man-handled by the bad guys and made to look like incompetent buffoons.

Eye in the Sky, while not being the best that Milkyway Films has to offer, is still better than a majority of HK films coming out these days, and it definitely serves as an exciting start to what could be a promising career for Yau Nai-Hoi. (Lee)

Grade: B


Saturday, September 1, 2007

Moon Child (Japan 2003)

The year is 2014 and Japan is suffering from a major economical collapse that forces it's citizens to emigrate to nearby mainland China. Most of the refugees seek a meager life in a city called "Mallepa", where crime, drug-use, and thugs infest everything. This is also where three street-wise orphans Sho (Gackt Camui, ex-singer of pop-rock band Malice Mizer), his brother Shinji (Susumu Terajima), and Toshi (Taro Yamamoto) survive by pulling off scams and pick-pocket attempts. While the three try to rob a gangster, they come across Kei (Hideto Takarai aka Hyde) a vampire who is weak from not being able to feed and he's about to die. The boys are chased and attacked by the gangster, but Kei steps in to save their lives. Sho and Shinji are taken aback by Kei's thirst for blood, but they aren't afraid and end up becoming good friends. Years later we find the boys are now young men who have continued their hustle of robbing gangsters. Shinji, who now has a limp and is addicted to drugs, is replaced by Kei who takes his place and helps Sho with some pointers. During a robbery, the team runs across Son (Wang Lee Hom), a man out for revenge for his sister Yi-Che's (Zeny Kwok) rape. The team aid Son in his revenge and this is the beginning of the group becoming close friends. Sho and Kei slowly develop feelings for Yi-Che, but don't act on them which in turn creates a small amount of tension. On top of that, Kei grows tired of needing to "feed" in order to survive and he continues to bring up the fact that Sho can succeed without him and he'll just outlive everyone anyway. This begins the downward spiral within the group as their lives begin to change and grow apart at a rapid pace.

Moon Child has a lot of things going on within it's futuristic, manga-inspired, vampire, HK-style gun-play, eight-gun-toting-hero, bullet-dodging, Japanese not liking Taiwanese people in the fake city of Mallepa, storyline. However, the one thing that sticks out the most is the huge inconsistencies in the story. It's a field day of subplots that get lost in the shuffle. The main reason Moon Child is such a mess, is because the story jumps forward through time, leaving huge gaps of to be filled with just a few lines of dialogue. You come back and there are new subplots and characters to put up with. The only thing that is forced in order to keep the time line is that of the group's friendship. When that begins to deteriorate in leaps and bounds, it makes you shake your head. It's doesn't help matters that the characters are so boring to watch. When they interact with each other, namely on the beach, you're supposed to believe that this is forever? The worst is when they don't even interact with what's happening to them! Why don't the friends ever question Kei for not being around for half the day? Has no one noticed that this guy doesn't age? What's with his death-wish mentality at times? Or when he attacked that man at the park, why was he sucking blood from his neck after he hopped ten feet in the air? And so on and so on, it's just plain stupid. All good questions to ask one of your supposed best friends with abnormal behavior. Well, I guess when a movie is mostly laced with pop-stars, this is the kind of product you end up with. So a lesson has been learned and it is as follows: when strong friendships border strangely with a homo-erotic symbiosis between two androgynous guys, but one happens to be a vampire, this won't do anything good for anyone. (Converter)

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Collage of our Life (Japan 2003)

Completey over-exaggerated and misdirected, Collage of our Life (Renai Shashin), sabotages itself by being way too ambitious for it's own good with an unbalanced end result. Throughout the entire viewing experience, I found myself intrigued, irritated, emotional, but ultimately disappointed.

Masato (Ryuhei Matsuda), is an aspiring photographer, spending night and day capturing the world around him on film. He also has a love for all things English, and practices the English language as often as possible regardless of how weird his friends think he is. A somewhat dark and private individual, Masato's life takes an unexpected twist when he meets the bright and mysterious Shizuru (Ryoko Hirosue). Masato is captivated by her charm and spunky personality and soon Shizuru is the center of attention in his photographs. The two become an inseparable pair, always on the go and taking photographs with one another. Eventually Shizuru moves in with Masato and grows more interested in his photography. She finds herself wanting to learn how to shoot photos as well, so she asks Masato to be her teacher. After some initial growing pains, Masato thinks she's got a real knack for shooting photos, which gives her the motivation to enter both of them in a photography contest. As you can imagine, the student surpasses the teacher and thus the green-eyed monster makes it's debut. Regardless of the endless praise Shizuru gives him, Masato feels like an untalented hack and decides to runaway from his photography and his woman. Shizuru knows that Masato will be a pro one day and when he does, she'll be there waiting for him. The two lovebirds go their separate ways and three years later, a package from New York arrives in Masato's mailbox. It's from Shizuru and she's been in NYC for the last three years taking photos and informs him that she's got her first exhibition coming up and would love nothing more than to have him there. Naturally, this throws Masato into another jealous fit of rage, so he throws the letter and the accompanying photos in the trash. Wanting to get his mind off Shizuru's letter, Masato goes to a class reunion his friends convinced him to attend. However, he soon realizes it was mistake as everyone seems to have found a career and he's still struggling to find his way in life. A former classmate turned news reporter informs Masato of some troubling news that she heard about Shizuru which gives Masato the urge to go to New York and find out what's going on with her first-hand. Now in the "Big Apple", Masato doesn't find the city to be very accommodating, but eventually develops a strange relationship with a man by the name of Cassius (Dominic Marcus), who has a penchant for all things Japanese. Cassius helps Masato find Shizuru's apartment only to discover that she's not there...and hasn't been for quite some time. A friend of Shizuru's named Aya (Eiko Koike), runs into Masato and tells him that she's in Mexico shooting more photos for her exhibition at Convoy's Gallery. Masato tries to take care of things for Shizuru while she's away, but as more time passes, he becomes increasingly suspicious about where she really is...and if she's coming back.

Oh man did I really want to like this movie more than I did. Your attention is grabbed immediately by the fact that Ryuhei Matsuda's character is narrating the entire story in English. A rarity indeed. Everything starts off great, but the minute Masato lands in New York the whole movie goes right down the drain. The poor direction from Yukihiko Tsutsumi really keeps Collage of our Life from being the heart-warming, coming-of-age, dramatic love-story that it could've been. Instead, it's a hodge-podge of romance, drama, comedy, violence, and 9/11 stock footage! Movies shouldn't try to be so many different things all at once. I thought I was watching a romance while the characters were still in Japan, but after that it was a fish-out-of-water dramatic mystery. Comedy of the unintentional kind came courtesy of the American actors in the New York scenes. I looked it up, and AmeriFilm Casting...I got my eye on you. Apparently they'll hire any no-talent bum to be in their films. All of the "characters" portrayed in New York were over-the-top stereotypes of how the rest of the world (at least Japan apparently), seem to view Americans. Masato gets the hell beat out of him constantly just because he's walking down the street. If I were a Japanese man and I saw this movie, I'd never go to New York...ever. The portrait painted of this city was that of a living nightmare from the minute the plane landed. The acting from Ryuhei Matsuda and Ryoko Hirosue were fantastic, and so much better than everyone else in the movie. They're the only ones I'm willing to call actors. The first forty-five minutes are wonderful and the last fifteen minutes make for an ending wrought with emotion. You're left with an hour of mind-numbing filler that can only be described as laughable and unfortunate. Some of the cinematography was really original and beautiful to look at, but in contrast you'll see some terrible use of special effects later on which only add to the overall unbalanced feel of everything.

I really wish I could recommend Collage of our Life, if for no other reason than to see the fine performances by the two leads. However, I'd be left with a haunting sense of guilt if I told you to watch it, because this movie is more mess than magic. And as a self-admitted super fan of Ryoko Hirosue, I can assure you my heart is breaking. (Lee)

*No Trailer Available

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Japan Version DVD (*No English Subtitles)
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Dynamite Warrior (Thailand 2006)

Welcome to 1890 Siam, Thailand where the northern land rice fields are under great pressure to produce their chief export. To keep up with the growth of the rice, they use animals such as buffalo to help them with the harvest. This resulted in the in the merchants having to transport the buffalo to the northeast. They were known as the "Nai Hoi". With this being the way of life for these people, bandits would often appear and steal from the farms in order to make money. Jone Bang Fai (Dan Chupong), is on a quest to find the man marked with a tattoo that did the same thing to his village and in the process killed his parents. He stops the band of thieves with homemade rockets (used in ceremonies to pray for rain), and his deadly Muay Thai. Jone then returns the buffalo to their rightful owners. Meanwhile, a local nobleman by the name of Lord Waeng (Leo Putt), represents a foreign company that wants to introduce the steam tractor to the local farmers. And after a failed attempt to win them over, he hires The Thief (Somdet Kaew-ler), to steal the buffalo so that he can force the need of his tractor's. The Thief is successful until he runs across a man named Nai Hoi Singh (Samart Payakarun), a cattle trader with supernatural martial-arts powers and a certain tattoo on his chest. After hearing about Singh's powers and the defeat of The Thief, Waeng incites the help of the dastardly Black Wizard (Panna Rittikrai), to help trick Jone Bang Fai into beating Singh.

The one thing that stands out the most in the comic bookish tale that is Dynamite Warrior, is the action. If you're a fan of martial-arts action, than the action and the action alone is the sole reason you should watch this movie. The stunts, bumps, hits and falls that these actors take are simply great. I would just smile and grimace a little when they would hit an unforgiving wall, box, dresser, or even buffalo. Not to mention when the always present flying-knee would land across someones forehead. Of course when you have a hero that uses rockets (more like over-sized bottle rockets), you're going to get the CG. And with supernatural powers, you're going to get the wire-work. "Notice, it's not wire-fu because those fights are real", says director Chalerm Wongpim. The story in Dynamite Warrior is just okay, and it didn't seem too ridiculous when Chupong rides on top of a rocket like a surfboard. That's because I knew when he was done riding, someone was getting a knee to the head...and hard. There are a few laughs that completely work and the acting does it's job in moving the story along. All of this is what made Dynamite Warrior such a fun ride for me. So let's get Dan Chupong and Tony Jaa together in an action film as, "Buddies of the Flying Tiger Knee", so all can be right with the world. And yes, I knew Chupong was in Ong-Bak as a bodyguard. (Converter)

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Sunday, August 26, 2007

Paprika (Japan 2006)

Paprika, in it's simplest form, is a movie about dreams. In a deeper form, it's a movie that explores what dreams mean to us, what problems we work out, and of course what fantasies we live out in them. I don't think a single person could disagree with having a dream that felt too "real", or the inevitable "work" dream that happens to you mere hours before waking up to go to that very job you just dreamt about! Paprika is the dream persona of Chiba (Megumi Hayashibara), a scientist working on a device called a DC mini which allows people into the dream's of others helping them to rewrite their synapse curing them of mental illnesses or helping them work through their problems.

The film starts with Officer Kogawa (Akio Otsuka) conquering his fears in order to help Paprika. We learn that they're 3 missing DC mini devices and the number one suspect is Himuro (Daisuke Sakaguchi), an assistant at the lab, who pop's up in the chief advisor's dream that's implanted in his head in the middle of the day while he's awake. Therein lies the danger of this technology. Imagine dreaming while you're awake, and the danger that could take place. In one scene, Chiba goes to jump over a handrail and almost jumps to her death from off of a building because of the DC mini. Now Chiba/Paprika is on a mission to stop Himuro and get the missing devices back.

Looking past the fact that the overall look of Paprika is absolutely fantastic, their are other elements that make this film work on so many levels. The soundtrack, being one of those elements, is poppy and yet very dreamy itself. I found myself wanting to buy the soundtrack just to continue listening to the great music the film displayed. Also, the way they handled the dreams and the dreamscape were just unreal. The point of the film was to question whether or not we could truly tell if something was a dream or a part of reality. In fact, the characters ask that very question within the movie. If Paprika had been live-action, or even CG, it just wouldn't have worked. It needed to be animated the "old fashioned way", and frankly speaking, I got lost in the world they created and forgot I was even watching a cartoon. That's how cool and mature the theme was.

When I first saw the trailer for Paprika, it had a bunch of quotes spliced in-between scenes and one of those quotes said, "Evidence that Japanese animators are reaching for the moon, while most of their American counterparts remain stuck in the kiddie sandbox." - Manohla Dargis of the New York Times. Anyone who's watched American animation should be able to agree with this quote. Thankfully we have Japan to make animated movies that have heart and require you to pay attention to the movie, rather than shrugging off the moral lesson that some Disney CG movie tried to teach you. Although there's no need for it, I would be more than happy to see more adventures of Paprika. (KSG-301)

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