Sunday, September 16, 2007

Who Slept With Her? (Korea 2006)

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, September 9, 2007

The Taste of Tea (Japan 2004)

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

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

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

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

*No Trailer Available

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Friday, September 7, 2007

Tokyo X Erotica (Japan 2001)

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

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

*No Trailer Available

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Wednesday, September 5, 2007

War (North America 2007)

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

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

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Millenium Actress (Japan 2001)

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

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

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

Eye in the Sky (Hong Kong 2007)

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

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

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

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

Grade: B


Saturday, September 1, 2007

Moon Child (Japan 2003)

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

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

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