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)
Limited Edition Japan Version DVD (*No English Subtitles)

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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Nobody Knows (Japan 2005)

Nobody Knows (Dare mo Shiranai) is the touching, heart-wrenching story of four kids abandoned by their mother and left to fend for themselves. It stars You as Keiko, the children's mother; Yuya Yagira as Akira; Ayu Kitaura as Kyoko; Hiei Kimura as Shigeru; Momoko Shimizu as Yuki; and Hanae Kan as Saki. The movie is based on a true story.

Akira, 12, is the oldest of four children and he's not only the man of the house, but really the only "adult". He has to look after his younger siblings, do as well as take care of the cooking and shopping while their mother is coming and going as she pleases. Akira eventually works up the nerve to tell his mother Keiko how selfish he thinks she is and how her children aren't a priority in her life like they should be. As it turns out, all four siblings have different fathers, and Keiko once again feels as if she's falling in love with another man. She believes this guy is the one and even tells Akira that she might actually get married this time. The only problem, is that she hasn't told her boyfriend about her four children. Even the landlord of the apartment complex doesn't know that she has children other than Akira because she hid her two youngest, Shigeru and Yuki, when she moved in. Akira's has to pick up his other sister Kyoko from the train station at night so she can be sneaked into the apartment and they all have to be as quiet as possible to keep from being discovered. Except for Akira, the children aren't allowed to go outside, not even on the balcony. It's so bad that they aren't even allowed to attend school. Not long after they've moved in, Akira wakes up to find his mother has left him an envelope of money and a note saying that she has to leave for awhile and she wants him to take care of his siblings. Akira now has more responsibility than ever. making sure the bills are getting paid and him and his brothers and sisters have enough food to eat. After weeks without their mother, the money begins to run out prompting Akira to look for his mom's ex-boyfriends looking for help. Keiko eventually comes back bearing gifts for the children, but her stay is short-lived and she doesn't return a second time. As things worsen for the children in the apartment, they're forced to go to the park in order to get water so they can clean themselves and do laundry. There they meet Saki, a schoolgirl outcast that does what she can to help them get money. Akira wants nothing more than to just be a normal kid, and when he gets more opportunities to do so, he neglects his responsibilities to his family with serious consequences.

I was very impressed with Yagira as Akira as well as Kitaura as Kyoko. I thought both of them were excellent at portraying these complex children that had to be so mature and responsible while also expressing their displeasure and anger towards their mother as kids would do. You and Kan in their respective supporting roles also did a wonderful job, and the two youngest kids, Hiei Kimura and Momoko Shimizu, couldn't have been any cuter. At over 2 hours and 17 minutes, Nobody Knows did feel a bit long at times, however, it did keep my interest throughout the majority of the feel and never once lacked in emotion. (TheIceQueen)

Buy Nobody Knows on DVD at YESASIA!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Life Again (KBS Korea 2005)

As my first attempt at reviewing a drama series for the site, Life Again (aka: Resurrection) could've been a whole lot worse. It's nowhere near perfect (and what really is), but it definitely gets points for trying to break conventional molds that are all too common in Asian series'.

After being dropped off by a mysterious stranger to live with a family he doesn't even know, Suh Ha-Eun (Uhm Tae Woong) is now a grown man working as a detective for the police force. His new family consists of his "father" Suh Jae-su (Kang Shin Il) and "sister" Suh Eun-ha (Han Ji Min). Living with Eun-ha his entire life, Ha-Eun has always cared deeply for his "sister", in a way that steps outside the boundaries of loving a family member. Ironically enough, Eun-ha feels the same way about him, and they both realize that they've been repressing their love for so long that now it's time to be open about it and admit how they feel. These two are meant to be together. After being assigned to a murder case, Ha-Eun notices that the victim was wearing the same ring that he remembered seeing as child. As the memories come rushing back to him, he starts to think that this man has something to do with the death of his father, Yoo Gun-ha (Ahn Nae Sang), who was ran off the road with a young Ha-Eun in the vehicle. Ha-Eun also remembers that he had a twin brother when he was younger, and after he was placed with Jae-su and Eun-ha, he lost contact with him because of the trauma he endured during the car crash that took his father's life. Ha-Eun gets information from his new boss Kyung Gi-do (Lee Dae Yeon) that his brother is still alive, but before he can give Ha-Eun this information, trouble steps in to make sure the truth isn't known.

Unbeknown to Ha-Eun, his twin brother Yu Shin-hyuk (also played by Uhm Tae Woong) has been living and working in the same city as him as the vice president to Mureung Construction company under his step-father Kang In-cheol (Lee Jung Gil). Shin-hyuk lives at home with In-cheol and his mother Kim Yi-hwa (Sun Woo Eun Sook), also Ha-Eun's real mother, and his sister Kang Shin-young (Lee Yeon Hee), whom Ha-Eun doesn't even know about. Ha-Eun finds out that his brother is still alive and he needs to meet with him in order to continue his investigation as to whom this murdered man was and what his connection was to their fathers death. After a cruel reuniting of the two brothers, Ha-Eun finds out that his real name is Yu Gang-hyuk and is forced into impersonating his brother in order to find out the truth of their father's murder. It seems that those responsible for this crime are going to be a lot harder to get to than just your average joe and there are a lot more people involved then Gang-hyuk could've ever imagined. Fueled by rage, Gang-hyuk decides to take matters into his own hands in order to get revenge on those responsible so that they feel the same pain that he's felt his entire life. However, pretending you're somebody else and forgetting everyone you used to know in your life isn't easy and Gang-hyuk has to decide if all the pain and deceit will be worth it.

First off, I have to tell you that I really summarized the gist of the show as much as possible because it spans across twenty-four episodes! In all honesty, Life Again could've told it's tale in sixteen episodes max, and that makes it one of my bigger gripes about this drama. Aside from the length of the series, while it does change up the usual Korean drama formula quite a bit, it stills retains too much of the predictable melodrama that you know and loathe. One of the biggest offenders is the, "show you a flashback of a scene that just happened two seconds ago" elements that seem to occur way too often. Now that we have my major irks out of the way, I will say that the series' lead, Uhm Tae Woong, did an excellent job in displaying a wide range of emotions, as well as portraying two different characters. Han Ji Min playing the "sister"/love interest is cute enough to look at, but she spends the entire series making sad faces and crying constantly. A shame really. Life Again has an extensive supporting cast with talent ranging from good to laughable at best. So Yi Hyun as the incredibly nosey and sometimes annoying reporter Lee Gang-ju does just fine, as does Ha-Eun/Yu Gang-hyuk's co-worker and best friend Kim Su-cheol (Go Myung Hwan). Lee Gang-ju's father Lee Tae-jun (Kim Gap Soo) is really quite good as one the antagonists of the series, but sadly the same can't be said for his cohort Jung Sang-gook (Ki-joo Bong). The worst "actor", and I use that term loosely, of the entire series would have to be Kim Kyu Chul as Tae-jun and Sang-gook's henchman Choi Dong-chan. This guy is so over-the-top with his acting that you don't know if you should take him seriously or just laugh at everything he does. Definitely a misstep in the casting process. Story-wise, I had initially read that Life Again was supposed to focus more on the drama of the darker story than the romance angle which is almost always the focal point of a Korean drama. This, as you can imagine, grabbed my interest. I can't remember where I read this, and I wish I could because I'd like to go back and call them all liars. The uber-dramatic scenes between Ha-eun and Eun-ha happen way more often than I would have liked, and the love triangle between Ha-eun, Eun-ha and Jung Sang-gook's son Jung Jin-woo (Ko Joo Won) were unnecessary and even a little annoying. I did enjoy the fact that Ha-eun/Yu Gang-hyuk really followed through with a lot of the revenge that he set out to do. I initially had an anxious feeling in my gut thinking that the show wouldn't be "hardcore" enough to have him really go through with some of it.

A step in the right direction for Korean dramas, Life Again shows a lot of promise in what could a new sub-genre of Korean series'. I respect those responsible for thinking outside of the "norm", but it'll probably be awhile before shows like this, with a darker story and edge, become mainstays within the culture. Rest assured, I'll be ready and waiting to review them. (Lee)

*Life Again is temporarily out of stock at YESASIA

The Official Life Again Website *In Korean

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Rush Hour 3 (North America 2007)

Welcome to Los Angeles a mere three years after the outing that was Rush Hour 2. Detective James Carter (Chris Tucker), is now a traffic cop and Detective Lee (Jackie Chan), is the personal bodyguard for Ambassador Han (Tzi Ma). The Ambassador is scheduled to speak at the World Criminal Court, and during the middle of his speech about the over-whelming presence of triads, he's shot by an assassin. Lee gives chase only to come face-to-face with Kenji (Hiroyuki Sanada), a man that Lee remembers from his past. Han survives the attack, but is in critical condition. His daughter Soo Young (Zhang Jingchu), wants Lee and Carter to seek vengeance and find out who's responsible for the attempt on her fathers life and why. Soo gives Lee an envelope that her father had requested her to deliver if anything were to happen to him, and it contains important information on the triads. While looking for clues, the duo run into French speaking Chinese assassins and find out they're marked for death. Leaving Soo in the care of the French Ambassador, Lee and Carter are off to Paris to get to the bottom of this triad mayhem.

I'm very depressed that Rush Hour 3 has to be my first Jackie Chan movie review for UTAI. I'm a huge fan of this man and have been in awe of his work for a very long time. When watching Rush Hour 3, the only thing I can think of is that Jackie Chan is like the friend you've known for years and you see him start a relationship with a woman named Hollywood. You see that your friend is happy, but you don't like, or approve of his choice what-so-ever yet you smile and wish him all the best. Why? Because he's simply your friend. I understand completely why Jackie has this partnership, but it's still a waste of his charm, charisma, and even his talent. Brett "Hackner" Ratner is still a clueless director after doing three of these movies. He has no idea how to handle film, let alone action. The story is ridiculous in every sense of the word. Yes...even for a summer popcorn movie. Even the Roman Polanski cameo was completely unmoving (I guess Jean Reno was busy). Chris Tucker is still there whining away with his borderline racist comments towards Jackie's character, but I guess it's OK when you're loud and hard to understand most of the time. Jackie's performance, again, seems very turned down, which I guess isn't hard when you're working opposite Chris Tucker. It's a chore to find anything to like about Rush Hour 3. There might be a chuckle here and there, but even if you're a fan of this series, you'll have a difficult time with this so-called "Rush". (Converter)

Exiled (Hong Kong 2006)

Exiled (放‧逐), while not exactly the sequel to 1999's The Mission, definitely feels like it could be. Not only is Exiled also directed by Johnnie To, but it stars much of the same cast, playing different characters of course, but it seems to pick up right where The Mission left off. It reunites Anthony Wong as Blaze; Francis Ng as Tai; Lam Suet as Fat; Roy Cheung as Cat; and Simon Yam as Boss Fay. Other cast members include Nick Cheung as Wo; Josie Ho as Jin; Richie Ren as Sergeant Chen; Siu-Fai Cheung as Jeff; Ellen Chan playing a hooker; and Ka Tung Lam as Boss Keung.

The movie opens with Tai and Cat knocking on a door looking for a man by the name of Wo. Minutes later, Blaze and Fat show up, knocking on the same door also looking for Wo. As it turns out, these five men grew up together and joined the triad together. Blaze was supposed to kill Wo, however the job didn't get done and Wo left town. Wo is back now, along with his wife Jin and their little baby. Tai and Cat are there to help Wo, while Blaze and Fat are there to finish the job assigned to them from Boss Fay and kill Wo once and for all. After Wo gets home and has a little two-on-one shootout between himself, Tai, and Blaze, the men decide to talk things out. Wo tells them that his last wish is that his family will be taken care of financially. The five men go and visit Jeff, who runs a hotel and is also in the crime business. He tells them all about a few jobs he has available and they accept one, a hit on another mob boss, Boss Keung. This hit on Boss Keung just happens to be ordered by Boss Fay. Needless to say, the hit doesn't go as planned and thus the action begins! One of the best and most intense action scenes in the movie takes place at an underground clinic where Wo had to be taken and Boss Fay is right behind them. When things don't end up how they were hoping and Blaze, Fat, Tai, and Cat go into hiding, they happen to come across a gold transporting operation that Jeff had told them about and they all decide to go for the money. That is until Jin goes looking for the four men and ends up at Jeff's hotel where Boss Fay shows up and threatens to kill her and the baby if they don't get the gold and bring it back to him. What transpires when the boys get to the hotel is complete madness and a gunfight so out-of-control that it's hard to know who is getting shot and how anyone could possibly survive.

Once again it's a stellar cast, with Ng being particularly strong. Wong Roy Cheung, Suet, and Nick Cheung are outstanding and Yam is great as an over-the-top crazy villain. Ren does a good job as the silly, intimidated cop that just wants to retire in once piece. Where The Mission fell short was in the action department, but Exiled more than makes up for it. The characters are great as well as the emphasis on the relationships and the respect they have with one another. There is definitely a lot of male bonding going on here. All in all, it's a well-done, entertaining movie that looks great and To does a nice job filming the shooting/fight scenes using slow motion and an in-your-face approach. Exiled has the right balance of everything a movie should have. It is without question one of the best films of 2006. (TheIceQueen)

Saturday, August 18, 2007

See You After School (Korea 2006)

Goong-Dahl (Bong Tae-Gyu) is the unluckiest person alive. So unlucky in fact, he is constantly being bullied and abused. He signs up for a year-long clinical study that analyzes people who have been affected in this way and helps these "rejects" mesh back into society. After a large number of previous transfers, Goong-Dahl finds himself at another new school where he runs into Yeon Seong (Kim Tae-Hyeon), also a graduate from the self-help clinic. Seong brings him up to speed on the school, how things are done, and how he's managed to do so well there. His tactic of survival is like that of the sea. Basically, pick on students smaller and weaker than you and you'll get by just fine. To test this theory for himself, Goong-Dahl intervenes with some punks led by Kang Jae-Koo (Ha Seok-Jin), who happens to be harassing Choi Min-Ah (Jeong Koo-Yeon), Dahl's instant crush. So in his blind love for Min-Ah, Dahl has instantly angered the toughest kid in the school who now wants to destroy Dahl on the rooftop after school. Fearful of the impending beat-down which is sure to keep his reject status intact, Dahl with the help of his buddy Seong, now have to figure out a way to get out of this painful situation before the school day ends.

Well, if you've seen the 1987 movie, Three O'Clock High, then you've pretty much seen See You After School. Nevertheless, it still receives passing marks as an enjoyable movie. Technically it's fine and easy to watch, but it starts off rather slow with Dahl coming off as a dork and basically sucking at everything life has to offer. Slowly but surely, he gets his chance to shine as most of the humorous moments in the film fall entirely upon his shoulders. He does a great job in taking control and making the scenes result in a laugh. There are some CG touches to add to the jokes, as well as some slap-stick humor, but it's not enough to take the slack off of Bong Tae-Gyu. The supporting cast is all but non-existent, which makes the drama really lose it's punch. Unfortunately, a movie like See You After School really needs that dramatic element to work in order to make the comedic aspects stand out even more, and sadly that balance is never reached here. The film tries to sneak as many jokes in as possible near the end which really just hurts the movie all the more because it makes it drag on. See You After School isn't a bad movie, it just has one too many loose elements that keep it from being great. The geek and bully formula is a strong one, and we as an audience are sure to see more incarnations of it. Maybe we'll get 'em next time. (Converter)

Buy See You After School on DVD at YESASIA!

The Mission (Hong Kong 1999)

The Mission (鎗火) is directed by the always great Johnnie To and has an outstanding cast that includes: Simon Yam, as Frank; Anthony Wong, as Curtis; Francis Ng, as Roy; Roy Cheung, as Mike; Lam Suet, as James; Jackie Lui, as Shin; Eddie Ko, as Lung; Elaine Eca Da Silva, as Lung's wife; and Tian-lin Wang, as Fat Cheung.

After a failed attempt to kill Lung, the triad boss, at the Super Bowl restaurant ran by Fat, also a triad member, Lung's brother Frank brings together five triad assassins to protect his brother. Who exactly is after Lung at this point is unknown. It's up to Curtis, Mike, Roy, James, and Shin to not only protect Lung but to find out who's behind the hit. The five men all have their own unique style of how they get things done and are all very different from one another. Roy is a minor triad boss and runs a bar. Shin is Roy's protege and the most inexperienced of the group. James is a guns expert, and Mike is the most skilled shooter of the bunch. Lastly, Curtis is the cold-blooded, unstoppable killer working as a hair-dresser when he's approached by Frank and asked to meet with Lung. While protecting Lung, it also becomes Shin's job to take Mrs. Lung around and make sure she's safe, a job that proves to have been given to the wrong person when Shin soon finds himself in trouble. The assassination attempts made against Lung have the other high-ranking triad members doubtful of his ability to be the boss, and how his questionable leadership is creating a negative appearance amongst their fellow triad members and outsiders as well. The problem is, one of the triad could be the one responsible for the attempts on Lung's life. Once their mission is complete, Curtis is given a new one from Frank; a job that could very well come between them and put their friendship to the test.

To be honest, not a lot happens in The Mission; it's not an action-packed movie by any means. Instead, it's about the five different men coming together for the purpose of a job, the bond they form, and in the end what's more important, their friendship to one another or their loyalty to the triad. It's the characters and the dynamics between them that really make this an interesting film to watch. Even though it's a slower paced movie, it works because the actors all make it work with good, solid performances. It may not be great, or even the most entertaining movie, but I still liked it and would recommend it to anyone who can appreciate a character-driven movie. (TheIceQueen)

Ima, Ai Ni Yukimasu (Japan 2004)

Ima, Ai Ni Yukimasu (Be With You) is an incredibly moving story about the strength, love, and bond of one family. It may seem like it was crafted specifically for the sole purpose of tugging at the heart-strings, and that very well could be the case, but that doesn't make it any less touching and enjoyable to watch.

Takumi (Shido Nakamura) and his six year old son Yuji (Akashi Takei) are managing to move on with their lives after the tragic passing of Yuji's mother Mio (Yuko Takeuchi). Yuji is at such a young age that he doesn't quite understand the concept of death and believes that his mother will return to him just as she promised. The reason behind this is because the storybook his mother made him tells of the "rainy season return story" that says when she leaves this earth, she'll go visit the Akaiba star and will eventually return for the entire rainy season the following year. It doesn't help matters that Takumi tells his son that his mother is coming back because he just doesn't have the heart to tell him the truth. It also seems as if Takumi has a small part of himself that wants to believe the story as well, because he always felt as if his condition was a burden to her. Takumi suffers from an illness that causes him to lose control over his basic motor functions if he over-exerts his body. His illness always made him feel inferior as a husband and father because he couldn't do things "normal" fathers can. Dr. Noguchi (Fumiyo Kohinata) tries to help Takumi manage his illness and is a close friend and confidant for him as well. On top of these troubles, Mio's family blames Takumi for getting together with their daughter at such a young age and claim that giving birth to Yuji was too much of a strain on Mio's body. Sadly, Yuji believes the nasty things his relatives say and feels he's to blame for his mother's death.

One rainy day, Takumi takes Yuji out to play in an abandoned shelter in the middle of the forest. While looking for the time capsule he and his mother hid, Yuji looks up to find Mio sitting in an open doorway looking lost and confused. After the initial shock of seeing her again, Takumi and Yuji can't believe Mio is back and it seems as if Mio doesn't remember anything about them or her life. Memory or no memory, the boys are happy to have Mio back, but have to take extra precautions to make sure no one else knows it. They aren't quite sure what's going on, but they have no idea how they'd explain Mio coming back from the dead. Yuji really wants to tell his friend Aya (Karen Miyama) and his teacher (You). Even Takumi's co-worker Midori (Mikako Ichikawa), who just happens to have a crush on him, notices a difference in his mood. After realizing Yuji's storybook was a creation of her own design, Mio fears that everything in the book will soon play out in the real world. She begins to make preparations for leaving, such as teaching Yuji how to cook, clean, and garden. She evens asks Midori to look over them both when she's gone. As time continues to pass and the rainy season begins to come to an end, everyone becomes increasingly worried that Mio will soon be leaving...including Mio herself.

Sometimes a movie can be both heart-warming and heart-breaking, and Ima, Ai Ni Yukimasu delivers in both areas. The story left me feeling a bit conflicted, because on one hand I'm thinking how great it would be to spend time with a loved one that had passed. On the other hand, I also felt that the whole idea behind seeing that loved one again, only to have them leave after a short time, seemed incredibly cruel. To lose someone you love more than once would be a pain you'd think most couldn't bare. I guess it's all a matter of perspective, as some would do anything to see that special someone again. The performances from Shido Nakamura and Yuko Takeuchi are literally award-winning, and Akashi Takei as little Yuji is one of the best child actor's I've seen regardless of a movie's nation of origin. A strong supporting cast help to round-out the movie as a whole and really make Ima, Ai Ni Yukimasu all about the performances. I have to warn you, if you're a sensitive person and cry during movies, then you better bring an extra-large box of tissue with you because this is one sad movie!

I've seen the ten-episode drama of Ima, Ai Ni Yukimasu and now the film version. Both versions were excellent, however, if you've seen one, than you've really seen the other as not much is changed between the two. Even little Yuji is played by the same actor in the TV drama. Regardless of how you see Ima, Ai Ni Yukimasu, it's a great story with wonderful performances and like me, I think you'll love every minute of it. (Lee)

Buy Ima, Ai Ni Yukimasu on DVD at YESASIA!

Buy the Ima, Ai Ni Yukimasu drama on DVD at YESASIA!
*No English Subtitles

Monday, August 13, 2007

Seducing Mr. Perfect (Korea 2006)

Feeling more like a means in which to showcase Daniel Henney's looks and non-existent acting ability, Seducing Mr. Perfect falls victim to it's heavy reliance on it's good-looking leads instead of more important things like a well-written story, funny jokes, etc. Another fine example of style over substance with too few redeeming qualities to speak of. Strictly for die-hard fans of Daniel Henney and Uhm Jung-Hwa.

Min-joon (Uhm Jung-Hwa) is unlucky in love. She can't seem to find a guy that will give her the attention or respect she deserves. After an accidental run in with Robin Heiden (Daniel Henney), in which Min-joon deliberately attempts to create a communication barrier, she soon finds out that Robin is her new boss that just flew in from the United States. Naturally, since these two don't see eye-to-eye, Min-joon is assigned the position of Robin's new personal assistant. Robin only speaks in English, but he understands Korean and makes sure his employees are comfortable by allowing them to speak in Korean. Robin mostly just wants Min-joon to find out as much information on various business dealings by acting as if she can't understand English through and eavesdropping on different conversations. All the while, Robin gets to know more about his assistant, yet act's as if he's so much better than her by criticizing her pronunciation of English words, and basically treating her as if she's a deceptive little swindler. Min-joon tells Robin that with his attitude and personality, there is no way he could possibly understand her or what true love is. Of course, Robin has no problem letting her know that true love is something he doesn't believe in. Thus, Robin begins schooling Min-joon on the world of love and relationships, where she went wrong in the past, and what she needs to do in order to break the cycle of ruined relationships. Min-joon is insulted at the way Robin belittles her and informs him that she could have any guy she wanted to if it came down to it. Robin makes a deal with her that if she can have him begging for her, he'd apologize for all the terrible things he said. Let the great romance experiment begin! Min-joon begins to find ways in which to win Robin over; wearing sexy outfits, cleaning up after him, bringing him food, throwing a pity-party and so forth, Of course, none of these efforts bring her any closer to winning his heart. At least, that's what she thinks. Robin uses his business-minded mentality as a front for how he really feels and soon finds himself becoming jealous when Min-joon is around other men. He also starts to hate himself for letting her get to him, which results in him sending mixed signals to Min-joon. Even though she's just playing a game to prove that even Robin can fall head-over-heels in love, Min-joon can't deny her true feelings for him. On the other hand, will Robin let his guard down for her and let the true nature of love take it's course?

Ladies and gentlemen, we are dealing with an incredibly simple premise in Seducing Mr. Perfect, making it all the more disappointing that the jokes and dialogue weren't strong enough to support the film. It took four screenwriters to put this story out there, which by all accounts is completely mind-boggling. There are no signs of complexity within the story that demands more than one person tackle this project. It's really no fun at all when you know exactly how the movie is going to end almost right after it begins. There are other characters in Seducing Mr. Perfect, like Min-joon's father, played by Ki-hyeon Kim, and Jennifer Cohen (Holly Karrol Clark); who seems to have some history with Robin, but they are so down-played and over-shadowed by the presence of Daniel Henney and Uhm Jung-Hwa that they're barely worth mentioning because they don't contribute to the progression of the movie in any way. This really is the Daniel and Jung-Hwa show and the screenwriters and director know it. So it's all the more troubling to see that Daniel Henney couldn't act his way out of a wet paper bag. I could only hope that his acting is somehow improved if he chose to speak in Korean, because his delivery with English dialogue is "straight-to-late-night-tv" quality at best (see the trailer if you don't believe me). Sadly, he is quoted as saying that his Korean speaking skills are on par with that of a "12-year old", but as long as he keeps putting butts in seats, we'll be seeing a lot more of him in the future. Uhm Jung-Hwa, a pop-star with limited acting experience, is, in my opinion the real star of the film as she's the only one displaying any kind of charm and personality in her performance. It also doesn't hurt that she's incredibly easy on the eyes.

Commercial film-making in every way, Seducing Mr. Perfect probably won't stay with you long after it's over, and to be frank, you wouldn't want it to. (Lee)

Buy Seducing Mr. Perfect on VCD or DVD at YESASIA!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Hard Boiled (Hong Kong 1992)

While the story of an undercover cop that's in deep with the bad guys has been told many times before, Hard Boiled (辣手神探) is an as-good-as-it-gets action movie from director John Woo. The three main stars are Chow Yun-Fat as Tequila, a cop known for not following the rules; Anthony Wong as Johnny, an arms smuggler; and Tony Leung Chiu Wai as Tony, an assassin who isn't all he appears to be. Other supporting characters are Teresa Mo, as Teresa Chung, Tequila's superior officer and girlfriend; Phillip Chan as Pang, Tequila's boss; Wai Sun-Lam as Johnny's #1 guy; and even John Woo himself makes an appearance as a bartender/confidant of Tequila's.

Woo wastes no time getting the action started as Tequila loses his partner in a well-done tea house shootout, which leaves him bent on getting revenge on Johnny and his men. Johnny's competition in the arms business is Mr. Hoi; Tony's boss. Johnny arranges a raid in Mr. Hoi's arsenal and convinces Tony to kill Mr. Hoi and to come work for him. Tequila learns of the raid and shows up. It's there that he learns there is more to Tony than meets the eye. He confronts Pang, but Pang refuses to answer any of his questions. This leaves Tequila to finding Tony for himself. Tony and Tequila form an alliance in order to take Johnny down. Little Ko, an employee of Johnny's, is found to be an informant for the police and is beaten and shot by Johnny's men. He does find out where Johnny's arsenal is and tells Tequila that it's at Maple Group Hospital, where Tequila then takes him. Unfortunately, Johnny doesn't completely trust Tony yet and sends more men, including his #1, to make sure the job gets done. This is where the action really picks up and you get about 35 minutes of pure chaos with bullets are flying everywhere, explosions going off left and right, and a lot of fun!

One of the aspects of Hard Boiled that I really liked was the twist on Tony Leung's character. It wasn't until an hour into the movie that it was revealed and I felt that it added a lot to the story and made it that much better. In between the action scenes, the dialogue at times wasn't the best and the music is cheesy, however, the action scenes more than make up for these short-comings. The acting is as good as expected from Chow Yun-Fat and Anthony Wong, but it was Tony Leung's performance that especially stood out for me. He was a very cool and calculated killer when he had to be, but was obviously not at ease with it and Leung did an excellent job portraying that. With not much dialogue, Wai-Sun Lam also stood out as a fierce and brutal killer.

It's really no wonder that Hard Boiled is considered a classic in the world of Hong Kong cinema. (TheIceQueen)

Invisible Target (Hong Kong 2007)

Invisible Target (男兒本色) consists of martial-arts, gun-play, chase sequences, crooked-cops, and the most shattered glass I've seen since the original Police Story. However, none of these things are bad by any means because it's a Benny Chan film, and who does Hong Kong action cinema better than Benny Chan? No one. Could be the best action film of the year.

Chen Jin (Nicolas Tse) is a heart-broken, bitter cop who lost his fiancee Ivy during a heist in which Tian Yang-Seng's (Wu Jing) and his team blew up an armored van and stole all the money being transported. Wei Ching-Hao (Jaycee Chan) is a young, somewhat naive patrol cop who lives with his Grandmother after his parents died in a car accident when he was young. His older brother Wei Ching-Da, also a police officer, disappeared and Wei eagerly awaits for his return. Fang Yi-Wei (Shawn Yu) thinks with his head, but still knows how to handle himself in action.

Six months after he lost his fiancee, Chen Jin's team is looking for a gangster by the name of Little Tiger, who works for Tian and is smuggling weapons in from Thailand. After finding where Tiger keeps his stash of guns, Tian and his crew show up on the scene. Since Tiger has such a big mouth, Chen Jin finds out that Tian is the one responsible for the explosion that killed his fiancee six months prior. Chen Jin is displeased with Tiger for not knowing where the money from the heist disappeared to, as it seems the mastermind behind the heist has betrayed Tian and run off with the money. Fang also finds himself in a run-in with Tian and his crew after what appeared to be a routine traffic stop. Fang and his fellow officers were caught off guard and attacked by Tian and his team resulting in a lot of injured cop's in the hospital. Ching-Hao is brought into interrogation because his older brother is suspected of being one of Tian's men. He refuses to believe his brother would be responsible for such violent acts, and chooses to believe that when his brother disappeared, he was going undercover within Tian's gang. It's through this suspected connection of Ching-Da that Chen Jin, Fang and Ching-Hao come together. Chen Jin and Fang want answers with revenge being the primary fuel that drives them, and Ching-Hao wants to find out where his brother is and why he disappeared without saying a word. After realizing that the mastermind behind the van heist goes higher up than Tian and could be one of their fellow officers, Chen Jin, Fang, and Ching-Hao have no other choice but to go rogue and do whatever it takes to stop Tian and his crew from getting to the person responsible for causing this mess before they do.

Right off the bat you know you're in for a good two hours of pure entertainment. It just goes with the Benny Chan territory. Invisible Target really is no exception to this rule. The story treads familiar waters, with money being the cause for so much death and betrayal, but again, you know you're here for one thing and one thing only: the action. Trust me my friends when I say that Invisible Target delivers it in spades. There are moments here that will have your eyes glued to the screen wondering if the person in that scene just died for your entertainment. Benny Chan films action, particularly martial-arts scenes the way they should be filmed. They're filmed at a wide-shot angle so you can actually see who's fighting who and it makes the scenes all the more intense and realistic. I have to say that I'm a fan of Nicholas Tse and Shawn Yu, but I'd been waiting for Jaycee Chan to really show me if he was capable of an action movie after having seen 2 Young and the disappointing Twins Effect 2. Big shoes to fill aside, Jaycee does an excellent job as the rookie patrol cop who is all about upholding the law and doing things by-the-book. He has a few action scenes that are nicely done, in the sense that they seem well within his capabilities. I no longer have any doubts as to his acting abilities after watching his performance as Ching-Hao. Nicholas Tse and Shawn Yu are both excellent as the hard-hitting cops Chen Jin and Fang, and Wu Jing delivers as the antagonist, as well as an excellent martial-artist. If I had any complaints at all, it would be minor gripes against the use of some CG and wire-work, but they are both used minimally and without those wires, we'd have some dead actors on our hands. There is one awkward scene involving our three main characters, shirt-less with a bottle of Red Flower oil that seemed a bit out of place, and strictly for the ladies enjoyment.

I have to say, Invisible Target could be the action movie of the year, but I'll keep my eye out for Flashpoint, the prequel to 2005's fantastic action film S.P.L., just in case. Even so, the Asian cinema viewing public should be grateful to have movies like Invisible Target, if only to remind us why we fell in love with Hong Kong cinema in the first place. (Lee)

Grade: A


Friday, August 10, 2007

Yo-Yo Girl Cop (Japan 2006)

In Yo-Yo Girl Cop (スケバン刑事 コードネーム=麻宮サキ), K (Aya Matsuura), is a hard-ass teenager living in New York with her mother, who also happens to be the original Yo-Yo Girl Cop. After running away from home, K manages to get arrested by the local police. A Japanese cop by the name of Kazutoshi Kira (Riki Takeuchi), offers her a deal and explains that Asamiya Saki is a fake name handed down to a large line of delinquent teenage girls, all of whom have been recruited by the authorities to return to Japan and help stop a website named "Enola Gay". The website has been teaching high school students how to build bombs and commit suicide. Now, time is the enemy as the website has begun displaying a countdown, and no one seems to know what it's counting down to! When K enters the school, she soon finds out that disorder is the norm, with students getting bullied and abused, and the teachers just don't seem to care. Reika (Rika Ishikawa), is the number one girl in the school and she knows it. K and Reika clash every chance they get, making things worse for K as she struggles to find the source of the website and the mystery behind it's countdown. Between sticking up for the weak, and trying to stop explosions and suicide bombers, will K find those responsible for the "Enola Gay" site and stop them in time?

Yo-Yo Girl Cop (the original Japanese title is "Sukeban Deka: Code Name Asamiya Saki), is based off the hugely successful manga in Japan created by Shinji Wada. The series has spawned an anime series, OVA, as well as multiple films. This rendition of Sukeban Deka is brought to us by Kenta Fukasaku, the director of Battle Royale 2. While not being familiar with the source material, I didn't know what to expect from a yo-yo wielding cop played by a pop-star. The story is simple enough, although it does seem to have a little too much going on resulting in a lot of things being over-looked, such as the kids being bullied, the fights, and the fact that there are bomb-making supplies everywhere. The girls are all attractive and they play their parts well, and I must say that I loved Riki Takeuchi in this film. The action scenes are nicely done, with a few CG scenes thrown in for good measure. However, there is something about the finished product that comes across as rather bland. It's hard to get excited over the film's lead, and it never really reaches the peak of being an all-around good action movie. If you're already of fan of the Sukeban Deka series, than Yo-Yo Girl Cop is definitely for you, but in deciding if it's a film for everyone, I'd have to regretfully say no. (CBKevin)

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Bichunmoo (Korea 2000)

The story for Bichunmoo (비천무) is nothing new. A lower-class man falls in love with an upper-class woman and everything seems to be against them being together. The man's parents were killed by her father, and in typical martial-arts movie fashion, the lower-class man knows a , "strong, secret martial-art". The film stars Hyeon-jun Shin as Yu Jinha, who later becomes Jahalang, and Hee-seon Kim as Sullie. They story also follows the typical, "hero's journey", meaning that Jinha starts off being ignorant, yet possessing great power, and after suffering the loss of his parents, he gains the wisdom he so desperately needed. However, Jinha himself dies after Sullie's father sends out a "kill order" on him. Jinha crosses water, having fallen from a waterfall, and is re-born as Jahalang. He seeks revenge on all of those who have wronged him and vows to be with the woman he loves.

First off, the fighting in Bichunmoo is actually pretty good. They do a lot of original things that are normally not seen in live-action movies, such as hitting their swords on the ground resulting in the earth splitting. I'd also like to point out the costumes used in the film, as they seemed to blend in a way that gave the film a slightly cartoon-like feel, yet seemed to fit the era being depicted. The love story angle is often too dominant in the overall story, and to be honest, it isn't very engaging. In fact, I'd say it's better to just ignore the love story since Hee-seon Kim, as Sullie, doesn't give a very strong performance anyways. Hyeon-jun Shin, on the other hand, does a fine job playing Jinha, even if Hyeon-jun probably wasn't the best fit for the films lead. Even though there's not a whole lot or originality in Bichunmoo, I'd recommend it to martial-arts fans based on the fight scenes alone. (CBDustin)

City of Glass (Hong Kong 1998)

City of Glass (玻璃之城) has two love stories happening in two different time periods. The first love story is set in the colonial 70's, and centers around Raphael (Leon Lai) and Vivian (Shu Qi). Why they have such unattractive English names, I do no know. What I do know, is that they die in a car accident on New Years, at a time when Britain was handing Hong Kong over to China. So, now that they're dead, their kids meet each other for the first time. Raphael and Vivian weren't married to each other, but they each had children with their significant other. The kids are at the reading of the will, since the spouses Raphael and Vivian left behind want nothing to do with them. The first three scenes make City of Glass incredibly hard to watch, and I understand why. Trying to get that plot line established within the first ten minutes must have been a nightmare for the screenwriter.

Now, City of Glass isn't great by any means, but the premise is quite interesting. If you've ever had a first love (and almost everyone has), you'll probably be able to relate to Raphael and Vivian, who even though their lives drifted apart, managed to find each other and hold onto their love the entire time. After the kids have dealt with the will, they both end up inheriting the house that their parents, Raphael and Vivian, shared their secret lives; the life they always wanted have with each other. As the kids delve deeper into their parent's secret love life, they begin to fall in love with each other. Of course, they start off hating each other, blaming the other's parent for this or that happening, and hating their remaining parent for not handling matters of the will themselves. However, after learning more and more about this undying love each of their parent's had for each other, they begin to find that same love between themselves. To be honest, the story is much more about the children than it is the parents, as the parents are just used as the catalyst to drive the kid's story forward. If anything, it teaches us that sometimes, no matter how hard we try, love is unpredictable. Love might not be able to keep you together forever, but it may just be enough to lead others to find love together. (CBDustin)

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Tales from Earthsea (Japan 2006)

The newest film from Studio Ghilbi, and the feature film debut from Goro Miyazaki (son of legendary animation director Hayao Miyazaki), Tales from Earthsea (ゲド戦記) continues in the tradition of excellent animated films that Studio Ghilbi has long been known for. Not an instant classic, but still an incredible achievement in story-telling and animation.

Prince Arren (Junichi Okada) murders his own father, the king of Enlad (Kaoru Kobayashi), and finds himself on the run. His life is saved by a stranger with mysterious powers by the name of Haitaka (Bunta Sugawara). The two decide to travel together and arrive at Hort Town, a place where everyone and everything is on the move. Haitaka explains to Arren that it's chaotic in Hort Town all year, and Arren is appalled to see that people are being sold as slaves. He also explains to Arren that the behavior on display in Hort Town is happening everywhere. The farmers crops are withering away, sheep and cattle are dying across the land, and it's as if the balance between life and death is at risk of being destroyed from all corners of Earthsea. While coming to the aid of a young girl by the name of Theru (Aoi Teshima), Arren is consumed by rage, as if something has taken over his spirit, making him disregard any concern for his life. He later finds himself at a disadvantage when the leader of the slave takers, Hare (Teruyuki Kagawa), and his men, overpower Arren and take him as a slave. Haitaka uses his magical abilities to find and rescue Arren, and upon doing so, takes Arren to an old friend's home where he can rest and heal his wounds. Tenar (Jun Fubuki) lives in a quiet country-side home with Theru, the girl Arren saved, whom she has cared for after taking her in five years ago.

The slave takers report to Lord Kumo (Yuko Tanaka) that the slaves had escaped, and the wizard with the scar was responsible. He instructs Hare to find Haitaka immediately. Arren and Haitaka have been staying with Tenar and Theru for awhile, and they work in the farms everyday. It doesn't take long for Hare and his men to find out where Haitaka is staying. Arren leaves the farm for fear that his uncontrollable rage will return and but the women in jeopardy. Now left alone, Tenar is abducted by Hare and his men. Hare leaves Theru so that she can inform Haitaka that Lord Kumo is waiting for him. After a run-in with his shadow of rage, Arren passes out in the marshes and is taken by Lord Kumo himself. Lord Kumo is obsessed with find ing eternal life, and he needs Arren in order to unlock the secret. Arren is brainwashed by Lord Kumo, and now Haitaka has to infiltrate Lord Kumo's castle in order to rescue Arren and Tenar. Once there, Haitaka's powers become useless and he is easily subdued. Meanwhile, Theru is on her way to Lord Kumo's castle, thanks to some guidance from a "friend". If she can find Arren, he just might have the strength inside to save himself and everyone else.

Tales from Earthsea is an excellent movie on a multitude of different levels. We're all aware that Studio Ghilbi puts out consistently good films, but this one was under the microscope more than others because it was the first time Hayao Miyazaki wouldn't be pulling the reigns. For the skeptics, you just have to be thankful that if it wasn't Hayao, who better to take over than his son Goro? I'm happy to say that the finished product is a film that gives you the same feeling previous Ghilbi movies have. You just know that you're watching something that people have put their blood, sweat and tears into. The animation is fantastic, as to be expected, with my only complaints being in the one or two occasions where they used CGI. However, in a time where animated films are done completely in CGI (at least in America), it's a minor nuisance and I'm just happy to be watching a "traditional" animated movie. The story is simple, but the underlying message is a powerful one: enjoy your life to the fullest, because it's the only one you've got. Without death, people wouldn't truly live, and we can't live our lives in fear, because we never know how much time we have left. Sure, it's a deep message, but it's absolutely correct and will ring true with everyone that watches. The soundtrack is also worth pointing out, as "Theru's Song", performed by Aoi Teshima (who also voices Theru), is really beautiful and adds to the already "epic" feel of the movie.

Even though Spirited Away still holds the number one spot for my all-time favorite Miyazaki film, Tales from Earthsea is a worthy addition to any Ghilbi fan's collection. (Lee)

Grade: B


Friday, August 3, 2007

And I Hate You So (Hong Kong 2000)

And I Hate You So (小親親) is...difficult to explain at first, because it's a romantic comedy, but in order to get the ball rolling you can't just introduce the main characters and explain the difficulties they have with one another. It starts with Luna Ng (Kelly Chen) who is having a hard time writing her popular social article for one of the major newspapers. Now, I'm assuming it's a major paper since so many people are seen reading it throughout the movie and the column lands her an audition as host of a brand new talk show. She finds her way into a struggling antique store run by Cat (Teresa Mo) who's looking for love. Luna finds a record that she had given her first love as a show of her devotion, but apparently this guy ended up selling the record to Cat, which of course infuriates Luna. She decides she's going to buy back the record from Cat and find her first love so she can give him an ear full. Now here's the catalyst for the story! Cheung Yung (Aaron Kwok) has already placed the record on hold so that he can pick it up for his nightly radio show, and since his show plays jazz and oldies, the record fits the bill perfectly. Cheung doesn't want to give Luna the record, which ticks her off even more, and to make matters worse, he decides to give Luna a lesson on purchasing gifts of the heart on the air. Insert dramatic music here!

Eventually, they figure out who the other person is and begin a feud by their two professions. Luna attacks Cheung in her column and Cheung attacks Luna on his radio show. As their battle continues on, Cheung becomes increasingly interested in Luna until he finds himself reading every article that she puts out. Cheung reads an nice story on umbrella's that Luna wrote, and afterwards the two make amends and even seem to set off some sparks. They decide to go out for lunch as friends, but they run into Luna's current boyfriend who happens to be out cheating on her with another woman. Luna feels like Cheung set her up to see this, and begins to hate him more than ever. Long story short, Luna hooks back up with her first love after he makes up some lame excuse about why he got rid of the record. The rest of the film is left for you to watch, but I will say that the main stars play off each other incredibly well, and Kelly Chen is just cute as hell. Also, the wardrobes used throughout the film are worth pointing out. It's not that everyone is dressed super nice, but they all have a similar look going on and it works. Eric Tsang has a cameo in the film playing a guy named Mo, but unfortunately it's an awkwardly placed love story with Teresa Mo's character Cat. Mo and Cat both own the same dog and are trying to date other people while dating each other. Confused? You should be. That's because they both have too much screen time throughout the movie and it's seems they're mostly used as filler to keep the clock running over the hour and thirty minute mark. Overall, And I Hate You So is a good looking movie, and everyone, side characters included, put in strong performances making for an entertaining movie. (CBDustin)

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Art of Fighting (Korea 2006)

Art Of Fighting (싸움의 기술) follows a young man, Byung Tae (Hyun-kyoon Lee), whom due to his lacking grades, is forced into enrolling at a vocational school by his police-detective father. Once there, the shy and quiet Byung finds a slew of bullies waiting to make an example out of him every chance they get. Between keeping to himself and being fearful of venturing out, Byung seeks the advice of his elders, as well as referencing books in order to help him with his bully predicament. Sadly, he comes up empty-handed. Byung then meets a strange man named Oh Pan-su (Baek Yoon-sik), who is staying in room B, a special room in the Daemyeong reading room. Pan-Su is a gruff and street-wise man who has the scars to prove he's led an exciting life. The only thing that keeps him hanging around is the fact that he's waiting to receive a fake passport from some gangster types so he can leave town. Byung asks Pan-su to teach him how to fight, and after multiple rejections, Pan-Su finally agrees. The two slowly begin to form a bond and learn from each other.

Art of Fighting is a film that doesn't tread any new ground, but with the performances from its two leads, you won't even mind. The story is very streamlined and is void of any sub-plots that could hurt the relationship of the leads. It keeps a humorous tone, though the training does get a little dramatic at times. However, that only helps keep the dynamic of the story, as well as keeping the characters strong and engaging. I will admit, their is even a part where I was cheering out loud at my screen, because it does become that fun to watch. Plus, the choreographed fight scenes are done very well, and they maintain a nice "street-fighting" feel so you don't have to worry about the wire-fu. It's really hard for me to not like Art of Fighting and I'm very excited to see what Shin Han-Sol, the writer and first time director, has in store for us the second time around! (CBKevin)

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Go Go Sister (Korea 2007)

Go Go Sister (언니가 간다) is an unoriginal comedy that manages to do nothing remotely interesting, and worse yet...makes time travel seem boring! I'm sorry to say that I have nothing exciting to report folks. For those who bore easily, proceed with caution.

Na Jung-ju's (So-young Ko) first love growing up, Jo Hani (Jung-min Kim), grows up to be a pop-star sensation all across Korea. In high school, he burned her pretty bad during a performance at the school's big talent show, where he was going to announce the name of the woman he loves during his final song. Jung-ju was crushed when her name wasn't the one he called out. Now that they're adults, Jo Hani has moved on, but Jung-ju still hasn't gotten over him and how he did her wrong so many years ago. Oh Tae-hoon (Beom-su Lee) is the nerdy, but loveable guy that was always in love with Jung-ju when they were in high school, but never got his chance because of Jo Hani. Oh Tae-hoon comes back into Jung-ju's life by accident, would love nothing more than to get his shot with his first love. His chances might be better than ever now that he's made quite a name for himself and went on to become the CEO of a multi-million dollar company. Jin Seon-mi (Ji-young Ok) is Jung-ju's friend and co-worker, who also happens to have a snobby, materialistic side that shows itself at the most inappropriate times. By coincidence, Jo Hani meets Jung-ju at her job, and he no longer recognizes the girl he once dated back in high school. The chance encounter with Jo Hani, as well as a nightmare of a dinner-date with Tae-hoon, was more than enough to ruin Jung-ju's day. However, the most depressing part is yet to come as she arrives home only to realize that it's also the anniversary of her mother's passing. After falling asleep feeling miserable, she wakes up and notices a strange message on her laptop. It asks her if she would like to go back in time, to before everything started going wrong in her day. Jung-ju experiments with the laptops new feature and notices that she can also jump to various other important moments throughout her life thus far. With her new ability, Jung-ju goes back to 1994 when she first met young Jo Hani (Jung-mun Lee) in high school, and tries to convince her younger self (An Jo) that Jo Hani is not the kind of guy she should be with. She tells her high school self that they're cousins and her name is Alice. The goal is to get young Jung-ju together with young Tae-hoon (Geon Yu), because Tae-hoon has always been in love with her and would never do anything to hurt her.

Young Tae-hoon, thanks to Alice, is more determined than ever to win over young Jung-ju's heart. The trouble is, Alice/Jung-ju starts to realize that changing the past isn't as simple a task as she thought it would be, and maybe things turned out the way they did for a reason.

Does any of this sound familiar? The main thing going through my head was, "hasn't this woman ever seen Back to the Future?". I'm going to go off on a nerd tangent here, because everyone who's ever thought about this scenario knows that you can never change the past no matter how tempting it may be. If you do, it either results in chaos for the future, or it just doesn't work at all. For the most part, in Go Go Sister, it's more of the latter. Whenever Jung-ju tries to change something, the situation ends up the same no matter what. Aside from the stupidity, or I should say naivety, of our protagonist, this story has been done to death. As we all know, in cases such as these, it's necessary to look for anything minutely original or interesting to deviate from the worn-out formula. The most annoying part of the story was how they introduced time travel to Jung-ju. Through a laptop? It was completely out-of-nowhere. So did anything worthy of mentioning happen? No, not really. So-young Ko gave a "cute" performance as Jung-ju, and the child actors were all on-point, but watching Beom-su Lee as Tae-hoon really made his performance in My Wife is a Gangster 3 seem stellar by comparison. It's also necessary for me to mention that Go Go Sister is a lot like the American film, 13 Going on 30 with Jennifer Garner, but minus the humor and the charm. I know one is a girl wishing to be 30, and the other is a 30 year old wishing to change her teenage years, but the similarities are there.

In fact, that's how I'll end this review, by recommending you watch 13 Going on 30 if you're even tempted to watch Go Go Sister. I know it's not Asian cinema, but it's almost the same movie and I promise you it's far more entertaining. (Lee)

Grade: F