Thursday, November 29, 2007

Exodus (Hong Kong 2007)

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

My Boyfriend is Type-B (Korea 2005)

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, November 25, 2007

Bubble Fiction: Boom or Bust (Japan 2007)

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Hooked On You (Hong Kong 2007)

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

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

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Monday, November 12, 2007

Tekkon Kinkreet (Japan 2006)

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

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

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

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

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Tokyo Zombie 東京ゾンビ (Japan 2005)

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

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

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

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

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*No English Subtitles