Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Densha Otoko (Japan 2005)

Billed as a love story for the 21st century, Densha Otoko (Train Man), is a romantic comedy that manages to put a fairly unique twist on the boy-meets-girl formula while exposing audiences to the always-interesting otaku sub-culture. It's always refreshing when even a shred of originality or uniqueness manages to make an entirely stale genre feel new again.

Densha Otoko, or Train Man in English, is not only the name of the movie, but is also the name of the movies protagonist (Takayuki Yamada). What makes him so unique is that he is what the Japanese so lovingly refer to as an "otaku". To be brief, an otaku is pretty much what we here in America would call a nerd. However, the uniqueness I referred to applies because otaku are usually passionately obsessed over things, usually manga or anime. Regardless of their hobby, they're socially awkward human beings and that characteristic is the most important to focus on in regards to the film Densha Otoko. Cultural lesson aside, Train Man lives a fairly routine life consisting of work, shopping in Akihabara (electronics town in Tokyo), and chatting online with his "friends". Nothing out of the ordinary tends to happen to him, until one fateful day on a train ride home.

As Train Man sits quietly listening to his ipod, a beautiful woman (Miki Nakatani) steps onto the train and immediately catches Train Mans eye. Naturally Train Man doesn't have the courage to say anything to her, but thanks to a drunk and disorderly fellow passenger (Ren Osugi), the unthinkable happens: Train Man defends the honor of his dream girl and other women passengers by standing up to the harassing drunk! The police arrive to escort the drunk away, but they want to talk to Train Man, his dream girl and the others in order to collect their statements. Dream girl asks Train Man for his address so she can send him a thank you gift, and thus the opportunity for love to spark has shown itself. Train Man goes home and relays the entire evening event to his online buddies, and all of them are completely blown away by the romantic opportunity that has been presented. When a package does indeed arrive (a cup and plate set from Hermes) at Train Man's home, his online buddies advise officially refer to her as Hermes and advise him to use this as a way to contact her and ask her out on a date. After a shaky display on the phone, Hermes actually agrees to the date and thus the perfect date planning commences. The online team tells Train Man to get a complete makeover before the date, and advises him to do his homework on the restaurant he's taking her to in order to appear well-educated on the meal and location. After an interesting and insightful first date, Train Man is still unsure whether or not Hermes is seeing anyone and he didn't have the courage (yet again) to ask if she did. Train Man begins to run into a bit of problem when he starts relying on the help of his online buddies a bit too much and Hermes begins to find his behavior a little suspicious. With the makeover, and the constant guidance from his friends, Train Man has seriously begun to compromise his first real relationship. Will Train Man come clean with Hermes about who he really is? And will Hermes love Train Man for who he really is?

Obviously you'll find out the answers to those questions if you watch the movie, but I've decided to incorporate questions such as this as a new method of writing my reviews. Again, this is to keep them as "spoiler-free" as possible. I have to say that Densha Otoko is a really charming movie. It covers a lot of ground in the romance field that I think a lot of people can really relate to. We may not all be obsessive nerds, but we can all relate to what it feels like to fall in love for the first time. Being scared about whether the person you're fantasizing about will reciprocate those same feelings, and realizing how having someone in your life can make everything else seem so small and meaningless. I can't say that I've experience otaku behavior firsthand, but I think Takayuki Yamada did an excellent job at portraying such a socially awkward character who is experiencing all of these important feelings for the first time in his life. The supporting cast of online buddies, show via a six-way split-screen, are all wonderful characters that bring a lot of humor and warmth to the movie. The concept of making friends, and even lovers online are a seemingly normal part of everyday life in today's world. There presence in the film shows us that even though we may not see the person face-to-face, it is possible to have people care for you.

I thoroughly enjoyed Densha Otoko, not only because of my self-admitted interest in Japan, but because the characters are lovable, and the jokes are genuinely funny. It's not reinventing the rom-com wheel. We've all seen movies where we've been asked to root for the little guy, but it makes a darn good effort at trying something new, and that fact alone should give you reason enough to want to see it. (Lee)

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Saturday, June 16, 2007

Lost in Time (Hong Kong 2003)

To say that life, at times, can be really hard would be an understatement. No matter how much you try and plan things out, life just has a way of throwing everything off course. Lost in Time (忘不了) is a movie that shows us just how difficult life can be, and how things don't always go as planned. If this movie doesn't get an emotional response out of you, then you just might not have a heart.

Everything seems to be perfect for Siu Wai (Cecilia Chung), and Man (Louis Koo, aka: the man with the tan). They are both happily in love, and are well on their way to getting married. However, as is often the case with most drama's from the Asian region, tragedy must rear it's ugly head in order for things to really get going. In true fashion, disaster strikes when Man is on the job driving his minibus. A truck comes out of nowhere and smashes right into Man's minibus, almost killing him instantly. A fellow minibus driver, Dai Fai (Lau Ching Wan), witnesses the horrific event and tries to help Man out of the wreckage. Man's dying request was to call Siu Wai, but he wasn't able to hold out long enough. Dai Fai finds himself at the hospital, getting a cut from the broken glass taken care of, when he realizes that he's holding on to Man's cellphone. He checks the phone to realize that Siu Wai had tried calling Man numerous times, but to no avail. Dai Fai calls the number on the caller id and hears a cell phone ringing in the hospital. Coincidentally, Siu Wai is arriving at the hospital, fearful that something terrible has happened to Man. For a fleeting moment she thinks Man is fine when her cell phone rings and it's from Man's number. After meeting with the doctors, the grim realization begins to sink in. Siu Wai is having difficulty dealing with Man's passing, and struggles to perform day-to-day activities. To make matters worse, Man left behind his five-year-old son Lok Lok (Daichi Harashima), and Siu Wai is in no condition to properly raise him. Siu Wai goes to the bus terminal where Man worked and offers to pay to get Man's old minibus fixed. She takes over Man's old route in what appears to be an attempt to help her through the grieving process, while having a need to pay the bills as well. Throughout this process, Dai Fai is there to offer encouraging words, be a shoulder to lean on, as well as providing guidance in the stressful environment of minibus driving. Siu Wai really struggles adjusting to the stressful work schedule, and trying to raise a son. Her parents, and sister, stick their nose in things by telling her she'd be better off giving Lok Lok to his relatives and that she can never survive at the pace she's going at. Siu Wai blows off the negativity and continues to battle on for the sake of Lok Lok and the memory of Man. Pretty soon, Dai Fai is spending time with Siu Wai and Lok Lok outside of the workplace, and seems to really enjoy having a family to be with and take care of. It's obvious that Dai Fai really wants to "rescue" Siu Wai and Lok Lok, and he shows it by buying them everything they could possibly want or need. Siu Wai begins to look at Dai Fai in a whole new light, and everyone seems to be genuinely happy. Does Dai Fai really love Siu Wai, or does he just feel sorry for the struggling single mother? It seems that Dai Fai may not have been entirely honest with Siu Wai and Lok Lok, and it could do some damage to the relationship that was starting to build.

First things first, the acting in Lost in Time is top-notch. You probably won't find better performances (at least not recently) out of Cecilia Chung and Lau Ching Wan. Oh, and little Daichi Harashima was a lot of fun and couldn't possibly be any cuter. Lost in Time has a lot of emotion in it, and at times these emotions are running full-speed-ahead! One particular scene where Siu Wai is trying to figure out what she's going to do with Lok Lok, and whether she can continue raising him is incredibly emotional. Cecilia Chung earned a mental "Bravo!" from me when I watched this. The story is something that's been told before, but the ideal of raising a child on your own is a realistic one, and the film does an excellent job at showing just how difficult raising a child on your own can be. I felt, at times, that the story had a bit of an "underdog" feel to it, because you find yourself really pulling for Siu Wai and wanting her to succeed. The ending has a little bit of a twist to it, but nothing that feels out-of-place or inappropriate. In fact, seeing the "revelation" at the end gives you a lot of insight about the actions of Dai Fai. Even though the movie is rooted in emotion, none of it felt over-the-top or unnecessary. You can really empathize with everything that's going on with the main characters.

I can whole-heartedly give my full recommendation to those out there who haven't had the pleasure of seeing this film. However, a word of warning for you all you sensitive types out there: you may want to bring some tissue. (Lee)

Grade: A

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Wo Hu: Operation Undercover (Hong Kong 2006)

Wo Hu follows Police Chief Wai (Miu Kiu-Wai), who dedicates himself to combating the triads that plague his city. To shut down their grip on the city he implements Wo Hu: Operation Undercover. In a span of two years he has one thousand cop go undercover to infiltrate the triads. Resident triad leaders Jim (Eric Tsang), Walter (Francis Ng), Fei (Jordan Chan), and Tommy (Julian Cheung), each running a certain business for the low-profile triad head (Yueh Hua), are having a hard time believing the rumors that the organization is littered with so many moles. The solution? Take out the one's who raise suspicion. Jim has his doubts about Eric and sends some of his members to kill him. This puts the cops in an uproar, resulting in them leaning heavily upon the triads. Walter and Tommy are told to keep a low profile, but Tommy doesn't like this and thinks he's getting bullied by his fellow triad members. The cops are onto Tommy so he's forced to get of town. Jim takes over Tommy's businesses, even though Tommy doesn't seem to trust Jim, and has a plan of his own to deal with him.

There are a lot of things going on here in Wo Hu. There are the undercover cops, of which you only interact with three. One gets killed, one gives up and the other is only mentioned. The cops and their master plan all take a back seat just so we can interact with the triads and see how "real" they are as people. They have families, they fall in love with pretty shop girls, they have wives that get on their nerves, sick mothers, and even violin players for children. Oh, and they also have a boss that doesn't trust them entirely. The undercover angle seems to get lost in this mishmash of story telling. You never fill that there is a threat to the bosses, and Police Chief Wai just kinda hangs out, seemingly just to annoy the triads while recalling the days when he was undercover and how he did the unthinkable. Most of the time the bosses are hanging out wondering if they're the good guys or the bad. The acting is pretty good, because it's mostly Hong Kong A-list stars and the production quality is good. Ultimately, I feel like everyone just hangs out and lives life like us "normal" people, only they aren't, they're vicious triad members. I think Wo Hu just doesn't sit well, due to the fact it just felt like a wasted idea that could have been something more intense. (Converter)

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Beast Cops (Hong Kong 1998)

Considered a classic in Hong Kong cinema by many, Beast Cops is a decade late for this viewer, and I can honestly say I don't know what all the hype was/is about. Before I'm lampooned and the crosses are prepared to burn me in effigy, I hope you'll hear me out, because while it certainly had it's moments, it was still a bitter disappointment.

The story revolves around detective Tung (Anthony Wong), who isn't exactly the most by-the-books type of cop on the force. He gambles, frequents the burlesque clubs, and runs in a tight circle with a majority of the triad gangs around town, thus carrying a lot of clout within their ranks. Tung's days of doing as he pleases come to a stand-still when his new boss from the West, Mike Cheung (Michael Wong), comes into town with the heavy hand of discipline and his take-no-crap attitude. Mike has to find his new employee/partner at the aforementioned nightclub, where he runs into madame Yoyo (Candy Lo), who Mike is immediately taken with. Little does Mike realize, Yoyo is the girlfriend of Brother Fai (Roy Cheung), head of one of the largest triad gangs in the area. Tung wastes no time trying to buddy up to his new boss by kissing as much butt as possible, even going so far as to offer him a room in his apartment, which he shares with a younger member of the force; Sam (Sam Lee). Trouble begins when Brother Fai orders a hit on a leader of another triad gang, and when the mainland assassin is killed during his escape, he manages to let the police in on the fact that was indeed Brother Fai who ordered the hit. With no time to lose, Brother Fai is on the run from the police, deciding it's best to flee the country for awhile, with or without Yoyo by his side. Turns out Yoyo takes way too long to get ready for a getaway, thus leaving Brother Fai's understudy Pushy Pin (Patrick Tam) to move in on his woman and take over as the new "Big Brother". Yoyo isn't giving Pushy Pin the time of day, preferring to stick with Mike and trying to clean up her life of prostitution by staying on the straight and narrow. As you can imagine, this creates tension with Pushy Pin, because he's a spoiled brat who realizes he can't get everything he wants. Tung is also upset with Pushy, as his recklessness as a leader is destroying the order that Brother Fai had worked so hard to maintain within the gang. When Brother Fai finally returns to Hong Kong to put Pushy Pin in check, things finally spark out of control, starting a series of events that had been building from the beginning.

I realize that last sentence of the previous paragraph was a tad bit vague, but I really don't want to ruin the ending for you, and I promise to keep my reviews as "spoiler-free" as possible. After reading the synopsis of Beast Cops, you might be under the impression that it has a pretty good plot and some nice opportunities for tense, action-filled moments. However, you wouldn't be completely accurate in those thoughts. I hate to blast on this movie, mainly due to the fact that everyone seems to love it, but I have to be truthful; Beast Cops is a really boring, sub-par movie. With a running time of around one hour and forty-five minutes, the movie really doesn't do anything until the one hour, thirty minute mark. There were so many times director Gordon Lam could have inserted something to spice up a scene. It's a lot of BS dialogue between Mike and Tung, and sometimes a comic-relief moment from the anorexic Sam. When the action finally hits at the very climax of the film, it's all about Tung, machetes and broken bottles, but it's also completely over-the-top and unfitting of Anthony Wong's character the story has been showing us for the previous ninety minutes. I know a lot of people thought the final action scene with Tung going ballistic (minor spoiler?) was amazing and true to the Anthony Wong style of things, but for me, it just didn't fit with the style of the movie, or the character of Tung. Michael Wong wasn't as terrible as he is in just about every other movie I've seen him in, possibly because he spoke more Cantonese than English, but he'll always be a B grade actor in my eyes. The best acting in the film would have to be from Patrick Tam as Pushy Pin. Retarded name aside, he showed the most range and believability in his character and you will genuinely hate him by the end of the film.

I know that I'm in the minority with my feelings on Beast Cops, and I can honestly say that I was surprised by not enjoying it more than I did. Hong Kong cinema fans seem to love it for reasons that are apparently beyond my realm of understanding. I walked away feeling more disappointed than anything else, but I also realized that we can't all like the same stuff. Saying that one mans trash is another mans treasure would probably be going too far, but just barely. (Lee)

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Monday, June 11, 2007

DOA: Dead or Alive (North America 2006)

DOA follows four beautiful female fighters and their quest in the martial arts tournament that is Dead or Alive. Kasumi (Devon Aoki - princess), begins a fight with Hayabusa (Kane Kosugi - resident ninja) about her brother Hayate's (ninja and the best fighter in the world) supposed death. If she leaves to find out what happened to her brother, she will become a shinobi, and her army will kill her. Worried about what could happen to her family, she leaves. When she does, she receives a DOA shuriken, inviting her to the tournament, which happens to be the last known location of her brother. Tina (Jaime Pressly - the professional wrestler), relaxes on her yacht, and is arguing with her father about the importance of taking professional wrestling seriously. At the same time, a gang of pirates shows up and as you can imagine, Tina makes short work of them. A DOA shuriken pierces the side of her boat. Christie (Holly Valance - the Thief) is being investigated along with her "partner" Maximillian Marsh (Matthew Marsden), after a theft of diamonds. After some quick moves, she evades arrest, and the authorities, just in time to receive her invite. Ayane (Natassia Malthe - resident ninja), is instructed to secretly follow Kasumi, and kill her for betraying the clan. Helena (Sarah Carter- descendent of the DOA creator) welcomes the three girls and the other participants that have entered. Helena then introduces the fighters to meet Donovan (Eric Roberts - DOA host and bad guy), the organizer of this year's DOA, who explains about the $10 million prize money, and some of the history about the tournament. However, fighters be warned. These fights can take place at anytime, and anywhere!

When adapting a popular video game, a fighting to be more specific there has to be one simple rule: make the fighting as awesome, fun and fantastic as the source material. This is a tall order for DOA (based off the Tecmo/Team Ninja popular series of fighting games), mainly due to the fact that the movie loses most of the games main story line and tailors it around the four girls. So in turn, this just becomes an "Enter the Dragon" rehash. This is too bad because there is a lot of potential here. Some of the locations are beautiful with filming locations in Bangkok, Guilin, Heng Dian and Hong Kong. The stunt and choreography are decent at times, but it's your typical wire work and CG taking over a majority of the fight scenes. This is understandable with most of the talent involved. The one thing that stood out was the use of sound effects. The sound effect of a character launching and landing a kick, while a shotgun cocks and fire is just plain cool. It worked with the way the movie was presented. I would of liked the movie to take more risks. The acting is cheesy and weak most of the time, but the performance by Eric Roberts and Matthew Marsden will hurt the most and have you questioning the casting as a whole. Overall, DOA is another example of a video game-movie blunder. Due to the overseas release, the movie is wildly available on the internet for sale (YesAsia.com for example), but North American audiences will finally get DOA in theaters on June 15, 2007. So bottom line, if you're a fan of the game, you might get a chuckle out of it, but that's pretty much it. (Converter)

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Saturday, June 9, 2007

Fearless (Hong Kong/China 2006)

Fearless follows the life of Huo Yuanjia (Jet LI), founder of the Jing Wu Sports Federation. When Hou was little all he wanted was to follow in his fathers (Collin Chou) foot steps. Eventually, he did just that, by taking over over the school and responsibly that comes with it. Now a little older, and only a little wiser, Hou is on the quest to become number one in Tianjin. As his brash tirade continues, he adopts more students that want to one day be as powerful as he is. When one of Huo's disciples is beaten by a rival master, Huo takes it upon himself to get revenge and prove he's the true master...even if it means facing disrespect from the community and his peers. His actions eventually make him lose face and family. So he retreats to the country side to find solace. Soon he comes across a small village, where a local by the name of Moon (Betty Sun) takes him in and cares for him. Moon and her village rekindle the idea of simple honor within Huo. Huo gets his act together and returns to his town and the people that he left behind. He returns to find out there are a few foreign faces that would like to take him out of the game permanently.

The movie is loosely based on true events and life of Huo Yuanjia and his Jing Wu Sports Federation. Jet Li's performance seems a bit up and down, even for the content, but this is never enough to hurt the movie. It takes the fight direction of Yuen Woo-Ping, (who never lets you down) and a little CG coupled together to give you some very intense fight sequences. The direction from Ronny Yu does what it needs to do, and that means showing us the fighting, which he does really well. Also, due to some lofty production, we get some beautiful location shots as well. Other than that, the story moves along in such a way as to just get the viewer to the next fight, but not in a classic "beat'em up" type of way. There is a story here; it's just on fast forward most of the time. So it kind of puts a dent in the story telling aspect of things, but this still remains a very entertaining movie to watch. As everyone knows, this will be Jet Li's final movie about martial arts, which is too bad. There is something about Li and his performances in a period piece that can be described as magical. Legend of Wong Fei Hung, Hero, the OUATIC (Once Upon a Time in China) series, and of course his all time best movie ever: Fist of Legend are all examples of this, and he shines in each one. Fearless is a good movie that does it's best to keep company with the classics preceding it. As his final martial arts film, Jet Li couldn't have done a better job. (Converter)

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Thursday, June 7, 2007

Bug Me Not! (Hong Kong 2005)

It's been awhile since my last review, and boy did I pick a doozy to come back with. A mixture of poor CG and live-action, Bug Me Not! is a movie that is clearly geared towards the under 10 crowd, and with good intentions. However, the hour and twenty-seven minutes that it takes to get to the end would be considered trying even for the most patient child. Sometimes reviewing movies ain't easy.

Young Moon is an interesting little girl, in the sense that she walks around speaking gibberish all the time, to the point where it concerns her mother (Candy Lo). It seems Moon's best friend is a little ladybug with an incredibly awkward name: Coochie (Jan Lamb). This obviously doesn't have the same meaning in Chinese as it does in American English slang, so we'll just have to look past it. It's cute, and maybe even a little strange that the little girl and a bug can talk with one another. Moon's mother tells her it's unhealthy to talk such gibberish (walking around screaming Coochie all the time), and that talking to bugs will pretty much make adults cry. Moon doesn't want to make her mother upset, so she stops talking to Coochie, resulting in the two parting not to be reunited until a fateful encounter in a trashcan years later.

Coochie couldn't have come into teenage Moon's (Isabella Leung) life at a better time. Moon has her eye on a young man Hyland (Wilsen Chen), who works for his dad, just across the street from her apartment building. Who better to give advice to a young woman on the verge of her first love than a jive-talkin' ladybug? Don't answer that. At school, Moon and her girlfriends are doing the chit-chat things in the restroom, unaware that three teenage boy's are sitting in a stall eavesdropping on their conversation about breasts and being horny teenage girls. Smarty (Kenny Kwan), Eggy (Steven Cheung) and Baldy (Xu Boping) are the three culprits, and Smarty shows off an interesting skill, by being able to look through the stall door at the girl's! Eventually the three are caught, and after a wacky getaway scene, we find out these young men have "Ultra Powers", and are part of a special group of young people that are led by Auntie (Gillian Chung) who looks 23, but is 70 years old in reality. It turns out the boys were observing Moon in an attempt to lure her to their group because of her Ultra Power of speaking to bugs. I couldn't possibly be making this up.

In the romance department, things are progressing slowly for Moon and Hyland. Auntie tells Hyland about the "Pushover Contest" that she believes he should enter. Hyland has a severe problem with people touching him, so the idea is to help him get over his fear by being forced into man-handling people in a ring. Aside from not wanting anyone, including Moon, to touch him...Hyland can't read either. So the real question is: who wouldn't want to date him!? The prize for winning the Pushover Contest (think a sumo match, but anything goes), is a "close encounter" with Japanese idol Sasao (Charlene Choi). As you can imagine, Hyland is in the final match vying for the prize, and Moon's heart, but I'd hate to spoil the outcome for you. After a little help from Moon's bug friends, the organizer of the contest catches Coochie and Co. Moon steals them back and runs off, but Hyland stands in her way, refusing to let her leave until she apologizes to the contest organizer for ruining the match with the use of bugs. Moon can't believe Hyland won't take her side and the two get in an argument, which shows how incredibly insane Moon actually is by throwing everything she can find at Hyland. Oddly enough, the fight ends with Hyland grabbing some breasts' and Moon is so shocked (and happy) that she runs off, completely forgetting about the Coochie crew. The bugs get angry at Moon for being a "typical" human, and they get angry at Coochie for having such a terrible human friend. After a confusing situation for the bugs (and myself), they believe Coochie is dead and go on strike against contributing to the environmental cycle of Hong Kong and wage war amongst the humans. Moon, Hyland, and the other's just want to find Coochie and stop the madness. Is Coochie really dead? Will the bugs ever forgive Moon and her friends? Do you even care at this point?

The answer to that last question is probably a big NO. I have a hard time trying to find good things to say about kids movies. Sure, the performances were competent enough, and the two leads are sure to make some pre-teens swoon. However, the very idea of the movie was just so absurd without explanation that you can't being to wrap your head around the proceedings. Chances are you won't even want to. Not to mention the two musical numbers in the movie that literally came out of nowhere. Watching Bug Me Not! has helped me realize that I'm willing to watch any movie that shows up at my doorstep. It has too much story to get kids entertained, and it seems way too childish for teenagers to really enjoy. It's awkwardly stuck somewhere in between, and that just makes me wonder why, at my age, did I even bother. (Lee)

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