Friday, December 12, 2008

My Wife is a Gangster (Korea 2001)

My Wife is a Gangster (조폭 마누라), holds a special place in my heart because it played such a big part in getting me interested in Korean cinema. It has action, comedy, and drama, and while all of these elements don't always mix together perfectly, the end result stills makes for a highly entertaining film. I promise to remain objective.

Eun-jin (Sin Eun-kyeong) is anything but the typical woman. In fact, she just so happens to be the boss of a major gang who has worked her way up to legendary status. Out of the blue, one of her minions receives a phone call and tells Eun-jin the news she's been waiting so long to hear; the sister she was seperated from as a child has been found. Sadly, their reunion is hampered by the fact that Eun-jin's sister (Lee Eun-kyeong) is dying. She tells Eun-jin that her dying wish (literally) is to see Eun-jin happily married before she passes. Feeling as if she has no other choice, she orders her gang to find her an eligible bachelor for a shotgun wedding. Eun-jin's right-hand man, Romeo (Ahn Jae-mo), brings in a woman (Choi Eun-joo) to help the boss become more lady-like, albeit with mixed results. By coincidence, her gang finds a suitable match in Soo-il (Park Sang-myeon), an ordinary civil servant who also hasn't had much luck in love, which makes him all the more willing to go along with the arranged marriage to Eun-jin. The two are soon married and naturally don't see eye-to-eye on almost everything. Soo-il wants to have an intimate relationship, and Eun-jin promises to break his fingers if he touches her without her permission. However, it's all to please Eun-jin's sister who is beyond thrilled to see her sister so "happily" married. Meanwhile, things are getting more dangerous in the gang world as Eun-jin's boss (Myeong Kye-nam) returns to check on his gang, annoyed at the news of his second in commands marriage. He feels that her marriage and new lifestyle are going to weaken the image of the gang, and the leader of the opposing gang, White Shark (Jang Se-jin), plans to exploit this new-found weakness in Eun-jin and her gang. To make matters more complicated, Eun-jin's sister informs her that she would love to see her have a child!

That is definitely a wild plot, and even a bit preposterous, but above all else, My Wife is a Gangster seems to present itself as a comedy above all else. That fact alone would make the proceedings more forgiveable, but the problem is, that while the film is humorous for the most part, there are many elements of drama and even some tragic scenes that make things seem unbalanced. Aside from the mild case of schizophrenia, I can't help but love this movie, mostly due to the outstanding performances by Sin Eun-kyeong, and Park Sang-myeon. While they may be the ultimate odd-couple, they definitely are amusing together and play their parts exceptionally well. This movies excels due in large part to it's wonderful casting, with a cast of characters that are always entertaining to watch. There are some action/martial-arts scenes, and most of them look good, but there are occasions of way-too-obvious wire use that detracts from these moments. The real goldmine here lies in the characters and their interactions with each other.

I can't say that My Wife is a Gangster is anywhere near perfect, but it is a great movie that is highly entertaining for many different reasons. It was a huge hit in Korea when it was released and when you start watching it, it's easy to see why. There is an undeniable charm and uniqueness to the film that made it, and makes it, so great. (Lee)

Grade: A

 

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Voice of a Murderer (Korea 2007)

Based on a true story, and serving as one of the most heart-wrenching films I've seen in years, Voice of a Murderer (그놈 목소리) is a fictional account of the very real disappearance of nine-year old Lee Hyung-ho in 1991. Stories like this stay with you for a long time.

Kyung-bae Han (Kyeong-gu Seol) is a successful news anchor who is recognized and admired the nation over. He seems to be on top of the world, with his beautiful loving wife Oh Ji-sun (Kim Nam-joo), and nine-year-old son Sang-woo. The families wonderful world is suddenly torn apart when Sang-woo doesn't come home after playing outside. Immediately, Ji-sun begins to panic and wants to alert the police, but Kyung-bae keeps a level head and feels it would be better if they just waited a bit to see if he returns. A short time later, the telephone rings, and when Kyung-bae picks up the line, the person on the other end explains that Kyung-bae needs to get 100 million won together if he ever wants to see his son again. The kidnapper explains that Kyung-bae needs to get a phone installed in his car, and that when he calls, either Ji-sun at home, or Kyung-bae in the car, that he'll only let the phone ring three times. As you can imagine, if any of the demands or rules aren't met, Sang-woo will be killed. Ji-sun panics and calls the police, much to the disappointment of her husband and the kidnapper. The kidnapper is infuriated that the police are involved, and the couples chances of getting their son back begin to diminish. The phone calls, demands, and meaningless tasks continue for more than a month, and the only thing keeping Kyung-bae and Ji-sun's hope alive is a few seconds of hearing Sang-woo's voice over the phone, pleading for help. The police are completely stumped as to who the kidnapper can be, and are running out of answers to give the worried couple. As the days slowly pass, everyone begins losing hope that Sang-woo will come home.

Voice of a Murderer is a re-telling of actual events that took place in 1991, and even though director Park Jin-pyo changes some of the details, the story at it's core remains the same. If you really do the research, you'll see how this story ends, but for the sake of this review, I promise not to spoil anything for you. I always have a hard time with movies that are based on true stories, especially when the subject matter is so dark and depressing. It's hard for me to find any entertainment value when dealing with such subjects based on reality, and if you're like me at all in that respect, watching this film can be difficult. It's not that the movie is bad by any means, in fact, the story is told in a manner that really places you in the nightmare that these parents are going through, and being engaged in the story like that is what filmmakers generally strive for. The acting is really top-notch. Kyeong-gu Seol, and Kim Nam-joo, as the victimized parents, put in stellar performances that looked absolutely draining for them emotionally. It's possible that people might have issues with the film being slow at times, and that's because it takes you through this harrowing journey that lasts nearly 45 days. I can understand the directors intention with showing the daily process of the investigation, but it can be a bit much for less patient viewers. It really just depends on how engaged with the proceedings you are. I have to point out that the ending is easily one of the most haunting things I've seen or heard in a movie and will stick with me for quite some time.

Again, Voice of a Murderer is the type of film that doesn't exist to entertain and won't easily be forgotten after viewing. It exists to tell a story, that whether you like it or not, is real. I recommend this film for that very same purpose, because this is a story that deserved to be told and should most definitely be seen. (Lee)

Grade: B+

 

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Death Bell (Korea 2008)

Akin to more well-known movies like Saw and even Japan's Battle Royale, Death Bell (고死: 피의 중간고사) may not be the most original horror movie ever conceived, but it's entertaining enough so that it doesn't necessarily have to be. Some genuinely startling moments, and creativity help make this film worthwhile.

Chang-in Foreign Language high school is preparing for it's special class, consisting of the top 20 students, to cram for the upcoming college entrance exams and to help put on a great face for the school. The pressure to succeed in school can put a tremendous strain on the students, but Mr. Hwang (Lee Beom-soo), is there to help guide these students to success. However, during the first day of the special class, a mentally unstable student begins to see things that may or may not be there. His behavior becomes erratic and the authorities are brought in to take him away. Could the stress of the exam be that great? Once the children have calmed down, a strange song begins to play over the PA system and a mysterious person with a disguised voice begins to address the class. The school television monitors then show one of their classmates trapped within a glass aquarium that has a math problem written on it. He instructs the class that they have to figure out the problem or the girl will die, and that if they try to leave the school, they too will be killed. No one can figure out what is going on, and aren't quite sure they believe what they're seeing...until the girl in the aquarium begins to drown. The students begin disappearing one by one, and Mr. Hwang, along with English teacher Choi So-yeong (Yoon Jeong-hee), and the remaining students, have to figure out more puzzles in order to save the these kids. Eventually, one of the students, I-na (Nam Gyoo-ri), figures out that the students are being taken according to their rankings in the school exam. Now the group knows who to keep their eyes on, but who's killing these kids, and why? When the truth is discovered, everyone begins to question who they trust.

Death Bell doesn't try very hard to differentiate itself from the popular horror movie Saw. The children are each taken and placed in near-death situations that are almost impossible to get out of. The only difference is the victims are counting on the smarts of their peers to get them out alive. If you're into gore movies with clever trappings, than you'll more than likely enjoy this films way of presenting things. The presentation is enthralling, and really does a great job in creating a tense situation. I particular like some of the creative death scenes, as morbid as that sounds. The actors are all more than competent, which is high praise considering I hate child actors. There is a sub-plot with the aforementioned mentally unstable student seeing ghosts, but that story isn't told very well and seems to clash with the rest of the movie, when in fact it should be better intertwined. Like any horror movie, there are moments where you question the actions of the characters because they seem so absurd and illogical, but then you realize it's all part of the fun. My biggest gripe has to do with the ending, which I hate admitting almost as much you probably hate reading. When you realize who or what is behind all of the killing, it will seem completely unfathomable, especially considering how intricate the kidnappings and killings were played out. Sadly, you'll also question why the these students were being killed in the first place.

It clearly borrows ideas from proven successful films, but Death Bell still does enough on it's own to keep you entertained while following the whodunit storyline. There are problems with the film, but forgiving audiences can definitely overlook them and just have a good time (and a good scare), and Death Bell will fit the bill just fine. (Lee)

Grade: C+

 

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Miss Gold Digger (Korea 2007)

Miss Gold Digger (용의주도 미스 신), a romantic comedy that aims to show us that sometimes it's alright to live for yourself, is almost a complete failure thanks to an incredibly annoying protagonist, amongst other things. This film has so many problems that it's downright embarrassing.

Sin Min-soo (Han Ye-seul) is a successful advertising specialist who is extremely confident in herself, her work, and her love life. She is so confident in fact, that she manages to juggle three different boyfriends; aspiring district attorney Yoon-cheol (Kim In-kwon), young, directionless singer/rapper Hyeon-joon (Son Ho-young), and the incredibly wealthy, and over dramatic Joon-seo (Kwon O-joong). However, when a new neighbor, Dong-min (Lee Jong-hyuk), moves into her building, the two get off on the wrong foot which leads to a number of awkward encounters. The two just can't seem to get along, and once Min-soo has begun to accept that fact, a situation at her work requires that she get along with him. Dong-min isn't making things easy for Min-soo, because unlike her three suitors, he sees Min-soo for the lying, self-centered snob that she is. As you can imagine, Dong-min's cold shoulder is appealing to Min-soo because no one has ever treated her that way. Meanwhile, the three boyfriends are doing everything they can to win Min-soo over, but she refuses to commit to just one. She really wants to weigh all of her options with each guy in order to determine who can provide her with the most fulfilling way of life. Eventually, Dong-min begins to find himself caught up in Min-soo's web of seduction, whether he likes it or not. Min-soo has her fair share of men to choose from, but will she eventually come clean with them? Or will she be forced to learn a harsh lesson?

To be as frank as humanly possible, I really hated Miss Gold Digger. From the very beginning the filmmakers decide to make Min-soo's character as nasty as they possibly can. She's conceited, a liar, and only looks out for herself, showing almost no remorse for the terrible behavior she exudes. This didn't really bother me because I knew that she would eventually learn a lesson from the way she acts, but that didn't happen until there was only 15 minutes left in the film. Honestly, by that point it was too little too late. Her character had gone so far into the red, so to speak, that there was no turning back for her. I felt absolutely no pity for her whatsoever when her world started falling apart. When it did, I just thought to myself, "serves you right!", when the filmmakers probably intended viewers to sympathize with her. I felt no chemistry between Min-soo and Dong-min, and the three boyfriends were the only amusing characters in the movie. When you see the ending, you'll wonder if Min-soo's character learned anything at all. Negativity aside, I will say that the film is filled with competent actors who all play their parts well, and the feel of the movie was also consistent from start to finish, with no major emotional highs or lows detracting from things.

Miss Gold Digger was just mind-numbingly bad the entire two hours through. It's been a long time since I've seen a movie where I literally didn't care about any of the characters. I've seen Han Ye-seul in television dramas before and thought she was great, so as her big screen debut this film was all the more disappointing for me. Maybe next time, but this is a definite pass. (Lee)

Grade: D-

 

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Going By The Book (Korea 2007)

Going by the Book (바르게 살자), a comedy about a police training exercise taken too far, has a premise that manages to be both unique and paper-thin at the same time. If that hasn't grabbed your attention, then this may not be the film for you.

Jeong Do-man (Jeong Jae-young) is a traffic cop working in a small country town who takes his job very seriously (as the film title implies). He takes it so seriously in fact, that when his new commanding officer, Son Byeong-ho (Lee Seung-man), arrives in town, and just so happens to take an illegal left hand turn, Do-man gives him a ticket even after he learns who the man is. After settling in at the police station, Byeong-ho is disturbed at the high number of bank robberies taking place within their town in such a short amount of time. Public confidence in the police and their capabilities is at an all time low and people are concerned about using the banks. Byeong-ho devises a plan to prove to the media and the public that the police are capable of stopping the banks from getting robbed. A drawing takes place, where every officer will receive a different part to play in a publicly televised training program in which a robbery staged by the police will take place. After seeing Do-man's police work first-hand, and hearing about this by-the-book reputation around the station, Byeong-ho knows exactly who he wants to play the robber in this scenario. Do-man, reluctant to take the position, eventually agrees under the pretense that he is to do his best and that his captain feels he is the only one who will take the responsibility seriously. So Do-man begins a meticulous training regimen of sorts, by studying up on past bank robbers and learning different methods on how to approach the situation. When he finally gets to the bank and makes the demand for cash, the undercover agents at the bank, as well as everyone else, are startled at just how serious Do-man is. With the whole country watching, Do-man plans to give his fellow officers a training experience they aren't soon to forget.

As you can probably tell, and as I mentioned previously, the premise for Going by the Book is one-dimensional for the most part. It's literally a bunch of bank robberies triggering a public training display by the police. However, the way in which the idea is executed is somewhat inventive and can be quite funny at times. Obviously, Do-man isn't going to kill or hurt anyone, so the running gag with the signs he hangs around his hostages necks is quite amusing. The hostages range from funny to annoying, with only one of them being relevant to the big picture. The problem with the story for me is that when the training goes too far, and too long into the night, the police seem to have no way of infiltrating this bank. I got the impression that Do-man was definitely a by-the-book cop, but he's later presented as the most intelligent cop ever by out-smarting everything the police throw at him. Do-man is always one step ahead which I thought was a bit much. There is a bit of a back story when they explain why Do-man is just a simple traffic cop and not in a higher ranking position, but it really wasn't needed in a movie as silly as this one, and to be frank, I didn't care about his past because there isn't any character development in Going by the Book. Characters are simply just thrown together. Speaking of which, some characters are well-rounded, while others seem like over-the-top parodies (such as the SWAT commander). On the plus side of things, I will say that the film stayed a comedy throughout, with the exception of a few small instances, and that seems to be a rarity today in Korean comedies. I'm happy to report that there isn't some misplaced melodrama halfway through. There is some terrible music played throughout the movie, but I may just be nit-picking at this point.

Truth be told, Going by the Book is a fun movie because it feels unique and has some amusing gags. Just don't expect anything great from it, either in terms of story-telling or performances. It's mindless entertainment, and in this case, there's nothing wrong with that. (Lee)

Grade: C

 

Sunday, November 16, 2008

L: Change the World (Japan 2008)

He's back! Everyone's favorite brain with a sweet-tooth, L, from the insanely popular Death Note series, returns with a movie of his own in L: Change the World (Lの本当の秘密). The bad news is that it's nowhere near as good as those movies, but the good news is that it still manages to entertain at times. However, calling it a prequel seems inaccurate.

L (Kenichi Matsuyama), still has 23 days to live, but now he's all alone as his beloved caretaker Watari (Shunji Fujimara) has passed on. However, he still chooses to spend his remaining days working and solving major cases with Interpol. We learn that L is merely one in a number of similar agents, all with one-letter names, that come from the Wammy House organization. He has reestablished contact with the mysterious K, and another fellow agent, F, is seen in a virus-ridden village in Thailand trying to rescue a small boy who appears to be immune. He makes sure the boy is delivered to L, and before long, L finds himself practically running a daycare when 12-year old Maki (Mayuko Fukuda), also carrying the virus, shows on his doorstep as well. The girls father, Nikaido (Shingo Tsurumi), the brilliant doctor who developed the virus, is killed by the those wanting to use the virus for their evil deeds. Nikaido knew Watari and told his daughter he'd be able to care for her. However, L is now responsible for these children and has to find out who's after the virus. The bad guys want to use the virus as a form of population control, so they can rid the world of people they feel are too stupid to exist. Only the brightest minds should live in their utopia! With the days literally counting down the rest of L's existence, time is now a luxury for the three as they rush to find a cure and stop the villains from executing their plan for world domination. Could the children be the key to finding a cure?


L: Change the World
is bit of a letdown when you think about where this character was last seen. In the Death Note films, his superior intelligence was really on display in the battle of smarts with Light Yagami. So it's definitely a letdown to see the L character in a film where he doesn't appear to use the characteristic that made him so special when viewers first saw him. Truth be told, a doctor later on the in the film does most of the thinking for him. The story of stopping a virus from eliminating most of the world's population, again, is nowhere as interesting as the content we saw L dealing with in Death Note. It feels too ordinary of a story for such an extraordinary character, and the way it's told just isn't that interesting. For such a simple idea, the movie seems to go out of it's way to make it all sound more complicated than it really is, which makes the movie feel long at times. However, that doesn't take away from the charming performance Kenichi Matsuyama gives as L. He does such an outstanding job with this character that you really can't picture anyone else playing it at this point. He truly made L his own. The cast of characters all do a great job in their roles and are entertaining to watch, but the story they're stuck in definitely works against them.

In the end, L: Change the World, is a spin-off for the character of L, who stills manages to be fascinating to watch, but isn't strong enough to float an entire movie on his own. The world his character comes (Death Note) from suits him best, and when taken out of that world, it doesn't translate into that same feeling you got when you first saw him. If you love L, you'll probably enjoy watching him here, but you can't help but feel as if he just doesn't belong. (Lee)

Grade: C

 

The Chaser (Korea 2008)


A battle of the wits, cat-and-mouse style Korean thriller, The Chaser (추적자), has it's moments of real suspense, but the relationship of it's characters seems underdeveloped thereby making the proceedings feel somewhat unwarranted. Above-average entertainment awaits.

Jung-ho (Kim Yoon-seok), is an ex-cop turned pimp who finds that his new career choice isn't without it's problems when his girls start to go missing. Determined to find out who or what is responsible for this mess, he begins to connect the dots by matching up the phone number with the corresponding nights when these girls seem to disappear. The problem is trying to figure out who's making the phone calls and requesting these women. Once the suspect calls in again for another woman, Jung-ho sends Min-jin to service his needs, but this time Jung-ho orchestrates a plan so that he can catch the caller. He instructs Min-jin to text him the caller's address upon arrival and that he'd be in there to handle business shortly thereafter. The problem is, the man responsible for these women disappearing has already planned ahead. Min-jin is now trapped in this house with Young-min (Ha Jeong-woo), the psychotic who's been kidnapping and murdering these call girls, and she has no way of contacting Jung-ho. Thanks to retaining some of his detective skills, Jung-ho eventually finds out that Young-min is the prime suspect, and Young-min actually confesses to his crimes almost immediately. However, when the police chief comes in to hear his story, Young-min stays quiet and acts as if he never admitted to anything at all. He knows that the police can only hold him for a certain amount of time without any evidence, so the police and Jung-ho are in a race against time to find Min-jin and possibly more bodies.

The Chaser is a really interesting movie in the way that it's story is told, because it doesn't take very long at all for Jung-ho and the police to catch Young-min. While I was watching it, I wondered where the story was heading because all of this was happening so fast. However, I soon realized the real intensity of the story happens when Young-min begins toying with the police and playing the oblivious card. It's a fairly unique method of story-telling, when you realize who the bad guy is instantly, and having him get caught right away, you wonder what's left to show. That's where The Chaser really shines. The suspense created by having this impending time constraint, with how long the police can hold Young-min and trying to find Min-jin during these few hours, is really intense. There are definitely some edge-of-your-seat moments to be found here as you follow the search for Min-jin. The problem is the incredible desire Jung-ho has in finding Min-jin, as if he has this strong emotionally connection with her. Don't get me wrong, I can understand him wanting to find her because they might share a bond or a strong relationship, but as a viewer I never really felt that and during the climax of the movie, Jung-ho's reactions seem a bit over-the-top. The use of Eun-ji (Kim Yoo-jeong) as Min-jin's daughter, as an attempt to connect Jung-ho to Min-jin, felt unrealistic to me, regardless of how cute the kid was. The character development with the protagonists just aren't that strong, but Ha Jeong-woo as Young-min is the star of the show. He has the frightening calm about him, where you truly wonder what he's thinking and what he'll do next. He can turn his emotions from zero to eleven at the drop of a dime. The ending is also a strong part of the film, because by the time I got there, I honestly didn't know what to expect, and what I saw was intense (there's that word again) to say the least.

Overall, The Chaser earns big points by presenting it's story in a somewhat original fashion. It's a suspense-thriller and it lives up to that genre definition. I would have loved some more character development, but other than that I would definitely recommend the film to anyone looking for a fun, nail-biting time at the movies. (Lee)

Grade: B

 

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (Korea 2002)

"Part one" of the unofficial vengeance trilogy, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (복수는 나의것)  is as every bit affecting and haunting as you may have heard. It's dark, gritty, emotionally-charged, and will leave you feeling with a new appreciation of just how good a movie can be when all the pieces fit. For those who expect more from their movies, Mr. Vengeance delivers in almost every way.

Deaf mute Ryu (Sin Ha-gyoon), is working at a smelting plant for a meager wage, yet saves every penny of his money in order to save so that his sister can have a kidney transplant. When he finally gets enough money, the only thing standing in his way is having to wait for a donor to come forward. As his sisters condition worsens, Ryu becomes increasingly desperate. To make matters worse, he gets laid off from his job because he was taking too much time off to care for his ailing sister. Ryu remembers an ad he saw in the men's restroom advertising a black market for organs and decides to call the number. He then meets with two questionable individuals that take him to an isolated and abandoned parking garage where upon he meets the woman behind this shady operation. The woman informs Ryu that she'll get him the kidney he needs in exchange for 10,000 won (which just so happens to be the amount Ryu had saved). Awakening the next day on the floor of the same building, which now shows no signs of anyone having been there, Ryu is lying naked on the floor with a horrendous scar signifying that his kidney has in fact been removed. With all of his money gone and no new kidney in which to save his sister, irony comes into play as the doctor informs him that they now have a donor.

Running out of options, Ryu seeks the help of his girlfriend Cha Yeong-mi (Bae Doona), and the two of them devise a plan to kidnap the daughter of Ryu's former employer Park Dong-jin (Song Kang-ho). The plan is to get enough from the ransom money to cover the cost of his sisters surgery. Yeong-mi and Ryu have no intentions of hurting the girl, but things don't go exactly as planned and the child's life is cut tragically short. The young girls death causes Dong-jin to pursue his child's kidnappers with no concern for his own safety and well-being. Once he confronts both Yeong-mi and Ryu, the two are are both apologetic and sympathetic towards Dong-jin for what's happened, but at the same time, his daughter would still be alive if she'd never been taken and Dong-jin won't just let it go.

It's almost difficult to put into words how great Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is. Without being incredibly unique in premise, it still manages to feel otherwise. The acting is simply stellar. I'm a huge fan of Song Kang-ho and I'm impressed with him as always. However, Sin Ha-gyoon is unbelievably impressive as the deaf mute Ryu and his performance is really a show stealer. The story of Mr. Vengeance is told in such a way that you don't really know who to root for, and whether or not you should rooting for either to be perfectly honest. There are no good guys or bad guys per se, but rather just human beings that ultimately make the wrong choices by letting their emotions take them down the wrong path.

I won't tell you that Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is revolutionary or "the best movie ever!", but it's got all the right ingredients (acting, story, pacing, etc.) that work perfectly together because they're all executed wonderfully. The extreme content and lack of backing-down where others would makes this film a hard sell for all crowds, but if you can look past the blood and dark subject matter, you'll find a movie with a powerful story to tell that you won't soon forget. (Lee)

Grade: A+

 

Monday, September 1, 2008

2LDK (Japan 2002)

2LDK (meaning two living rooms, dining room, and a kitchen in Japan real estate terms), is an ambitious film that has only two stars, one setting, and a lot of clever, witty dialogue that spans a mere 70 minutes in length. All of these elements combine to create an incredibly fulfilling viewing experience that feels wholly unique and inspired.

Nozomi (former gravure idol Eiko Koike) and Rana (Maho Nanami) are two aspiring actresses living together in Tokyo, and both are up for the same part in a major motion picture called Yakzua Wives. Nozomi is a low-key individual who comes from the tiny Sado Island and has a background and appreciation for theater. Rana on the other hand is the complete opposite as high glitz and glamour, looks, and being a household name is her ultimate goal. The two girls are living in an incredibly nice high-rise apartment, all the while waiting anxiously for the phone call that could change one of their lives. As the night progresses, the two of them start make small talk in a cordial manner, but soon find themselves getting into arguments over matters such as using stuff that isn't yours, boys, acting skill and ambition, and so on. The arguments eventually take a turn for the physical as the two girls let loose in an all-out brawl that has the two using anything they can get their hands on to unleash damage.

For the story of 2LDK, that's it in a nutshell. It's an incredibly simple premise, shot in a raw indie style that only took director Yukihiko Tsutsumi eight days to shoot (day and night mind you). Definitely an impressive feat, but more than that, the film has a great look and feel to it all and the dialogue exchanged between the two girls, including what the girls are really thinking about one another, is really clever and often times amusing. As we go deeper into these characters, we begin to understand the flawed nature of them and how deceptive one's appearance really can be. The acting from both Eiko and Maho are really exceptional and the sheer fact that they can anchor an entire film is proof of that. Some of the arguments between Nozomi and Rana may seem petty, but I feel there's a deeper meaning to the film and in particular Japanese society. The Japanese, by most accounts, are a people who exist and thrive by subduing emotional urges (including anger), with the greater goal being to maintain the harmony within any given situation. Sure, I may be looking into things way too much, but get out of it what you will. There's definitely more being said here than just two girls acting catty towards one another. 2LDK feels like an experiment in showing how things, even if seemingly exaggerated, can get out of control when you do in fact let your emotions get the best of you.

Some of the over-the-top violence may offend and turn-off a lot of viewers, but the creativity shown in the concept of 2LDK is enough to warrant a viewing. The acting and writing can simply serve as icing on the cake. A definite must-see. (Lee)

Grade: A


Monday, August 25, 2008

Rob-B-Hood (Hong Kong 2006)

After Jackie Chan had seemingly returned to Hong Kong to show us what he's made of (see: New Police Story), I was starting to wonder if he would continue giving us that brand of comedic-action that he's known for. With Rob-B-Hood (寶貝計劃), not only does Jackie give us the stunts and action that we've come to love from him, but the slap-stick antics as well. Still, the film as a whole is far from perfect.

Thongs (Jackie Chan) and Octopus (Louis Koo) are two burglars under the direction of Landlord (Michael Hui) who find themselves in a hairy situation while trying to steal prescription medication from the hospital. Security finally catches on to their thievery, but before they can do anything about it, they're distracted by some madman (Terence Yin) trying to steal a woman's newborn baby. During the ruckus, the kidnapper falls to his death with Thongs coming to the rescue of the newborn. As we learn more about our thieving trio, we see that Thongs, even with a very large family, is really all alone. They obviously don't approve of his questionable lifestyle, and with a major gambling problem, he still tries to win them over with lavish gifts. Octopus can't stop spending his money on expensive clothes, cars, and women that he takes out on the town...even though his wife Yan (Charlene Choi) is working as hard as she can to keep his attention. Landlord has been saving his cut of the money over the years and is planning his retirement with his wife (Teresa Carpio). She seems to have lost her mind due to a miscarriage from years earlier that left her mentally scarred and desiring a baby, which her husband can no longer provide. Things seem to be completely normal in their world until someone robs Landlord of his millions in savings. Desperate, he tries to convince Thongs and Octopus to take on one last job which will result in a massive payday for the three of them. Little do Thongs and Octopus realize, Landlord plans to kidnap a baby (unbeknownst to his understudies), the same baby (Matthew Medvedev) caught up in the ruckus at the hospital, which goes against everything Landlord has taught the two. However, as the saying goes, desperate times call for desperate measures. During the escape, Thongs and Octopus (with baby in tow) are separated from Landlord who was captured by the police. Now the two thieves are stuck with a baby and neither of them have any idea how to take care of one. Let the hilarity ensue!

Thongs and Octopus struggle with buying the right type of diapers, changing those diapers, feeding the baby with the proper food and so on. A cute, friendly nurse (Gao Yuanyuan) assists the two in taking care of the child and possibly even crushes on Thongs in the process. All the while, Landlord is working on a deal with a crime boss (Chen Baoguo) who wants the baby in order to find out if it's a party of family. See, the son of the crime boss was the madman trying to steal the baby from the hospital, claiming he was the father. Needless to say, Thongs and Octopus grow increasingly affectionate towards the baby are not exactly thrilled in handing him over to the baddies. When they do, they realize the mistake they've made and storm through the front gates to get him back.

What can you say about Jackie Chan, who despite his age, still manages to muster up enough inspiration to amuse and entertain his audience in creative new ways. Sure the addition of a baby thrown into the mix makes for more CGI moments than I care to see, but I don't expect to see the child really hanging off the side of a building so it's easy to let moments like this slide. Jackie's performance is amusing as always, but even next to the man with the tan, you can't help but feel like Louis Koo is the real comic relief here. Basically, both actors do a great job at providing the laughs. Michael Hui rides that fine line between being someone you can sympathize with and someone who's just a complete weasel. Teresa Carpio as his mentally distraught wife, while at times portraying someone quite pitiful, comes across more as over-the-top to me. The action scenes are great to watch, and the inclusion of Yuen Baio as Officer Mok amps up a cleverly choreographed apartment scene. The action scene in the final act, against the men in white, is the true stand-out of the film and props are cleverly used in true Jackie Chan fashion. The only real trouble with Rob-B-Hood is the ending. I know, I know...the ending is so important to the film in the grand scheme of things, but the insanely dramatic and wholly unnecessary manner in which things are played out (cars, batteries, babies!), while somewhat emotion-inducing, was also enough to make me scratch my head.

Rob-B-Hood is a good movie, not great, but definitely entertaining and innocent enough to please the young ones. It isn't without it's flaws, and few movies are, but in the grand scheme of things, they can be overlooked due to having far more good parts than bad. A worth-while viewing and a must for Jackie Chan fans. (Lee)

Grade: B

 

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Oldboy (Korea 2003)

I've been asked, "why are you even bothering to review that movie?", when I mentioned I'd be taking on Park Chan-wook's already classic Oldboy (올드보이). I was asked this because the movie is considered that good amongst nearly everyone whose seen it. It is as good as you've heard, and almost defies the need to be reviewed. However, almost leaves me just enough room to voice my opinion.

Oh Daesu (Min-sik Choi) is a drunk and belligerent man whose been brought into police custody while on his way home to be with his daughter for her birthday. Once his friend Joo-hwan (Dae-han Ji) comes to pick him up, he makes a call to his daughter to let her know he's on his way home...or so he thought. The next time we see Daesu, it's been months since he went missing on his daughters birthday and he's been imprisoned in a small room with nothing but a bed, TV, toilet, shower, and a regular diet of the same fried dumplings on a daily basis. Daesu is literally a prisoner of this room, with no idea who his captors are. Watching the news, he learns of his wife's murder, with him as the prime suspect as things taken from his "new" home are placed at the scene of the crime. All he can do is watch helplessly. Months turn in to years, fifteen to be exact, and as the years go by, Daesu fills his time by digging an escape tunnel behind his bed, training his body and mind, and watching television; his only contact with the outside world. Just as his escape tunnel is near completion, Daesu is surprisingly released from his prison and awakens on a rooftop in the outside world. As you can imagine, the world he once knew has changed significantly. As he begins to explore this new world, he is intercepted by a homeless man in front of a sushi restaurant who hands him a wallet full of money and a cellphone. Just because he's been released, doesn't mean he isn't being watched. After going into the sushi restaurant, he meets a beautiful young woman by the name of Mido (Hye-jeong Kang) preparing the sushi. When she reaches to touch Daesu's hand, he passes out, later awakening in her apartment. The two seem to be taken with one another, and Mido, after learning of Daesu's tale, agrees to help him on his quest to find out who's responsible for killing his wife, what happened to him and where his daughter could possibly be after all these years. Eventually Daesu confronts the person responsible for his capture, Woo-jin Lee (Ji-tae Yoo), but instead of exacting his revenge on the man, he decides to play Woo-jin's game in order to find out the why instead of the who.

Oldboy is considered to be part two in Chan-wook Park's "vengeance trilogy", with parts one and two being Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance respectively. That being said, this is in no way a sequel and is a stand-alone film that simply shares vengeance as the central theme that ties the films together. With that out of the way, I can say that Oldboy is a movie that puts an entirely new spin on the desire to seek revenge. The story is smart, in the sense that it has you guessing from the very beginning as to who's responsible for ruining Daesu's life and as to why they're doing it. It's done in such a strong, well thought out way that when everything is finally revealed to the viewer, you'll genuinely be shocked at the end. There is a lot of shocks to be had in this movie, and it can be graphic at times, but none of it seems contrived. The way in which Oldboy is filmed wonderful, and I hate to mention the hallway hammer scene as everyone seems to, but it's a sight to behold and the shot is outstanding. The acting is award-winning stuff, and the Grand Bell Awards in South Korea seemed to agree as Min-sik Choi was awarded best actor and Chan-wook Park was given the best director award. Seriously, Min-sik as Oh Daesu is simply amazing and shows a range that couldn't be described as anything but professional. Ji-tae Yoo is also superb as the emotionally drained Woo-jin. Both actors make all of the pain expressed seem absolutely real.

So is Oldboy worth all of the acclaim it's received? Absolutely. If you disagree or don't "get" the movie, than I'd honestly be surprised. Do yourself a favor and see what all the fuss has been about. With an American release courtesy of Tartan (r.i.p.), the film is now more accessible than ever, so you definitely have no excuse. (Lee)

Grade: A+

 

Hana and Alice (Japan 2004)

Based on a series of short films made to celebrate Kit-Kat's 30th anniversary in Japan, the story of Hana and Alice (花とアリス) was expanded into a feature-length release. It's an interesting portrayal of friendship and how first loves can change that dynamic, but with a run-time of 135 minutes, it's entertainment value is dragged down considerably.

Best friends Hana (Anne Suzuki) and Alice (Yu Aoi) have a friendship that can only be developed over years, and it appears that nothing could come between the two. On one of their routine train rides to school, the girls begin to take notice of a Masashi (Tomohiro Kaku), a boy that rides the same train as them. Alice tries to get Hana interested in him, but she doesn't seem to really care. However, it appears she's just playing coy and secretly pines for him, to the point of stalking him with her camera. Heck, she even goes so far as to join the same comedy club as him at school. After school one day, Hana follows Masashi home, and he is so engaged in his book that he smacks his head against a metal gate which knocks him unconscious. Hana, seeing an opportunity, convinces the confused boy that he has confessed his love for her and just can't remember. Hana's lie eventually turns into a relationship with Masashi, but he can't help but feel completely lost as to why he's with her. Meanwhile, Alice is also caught up in Hana's lie, as she plays Masashi's ex-girlfriend and has to act as if she used to go out with him. See, Masashi found the photos that Hana took of him and the only way he'd believe that Hana wasn't crazy was to make it appear as if Alice took the photos. The two girls are basically creating the boy's memories for him. Aren't lies wonderful!? When Alice isn't trying to convince Masashi that they used to be an item, she's discovered by a talent agency and begins going on various modeling and acting auditions. However, she has no real talent, other than ballet, so she comes up empty handed at each opportunity. The more time Alice begins to spend with Masashi, the more the two of them begin to develop real feelings for one another. This, as you can imagine, creates a rift between Hana and Alice and poor Masashi is stuck in the middle. Will the girls finally tell Masashi the truth? And will Masashi want anything to do with either of them if he does find out the truth?

Ah young love. Is there anything cuter than that? Well I'm sure there is, but it's unquestionably a major turning point in any young persons life and the attempt at portraying it in Hana and Alice is a noble one. I have to admit that I haven't seen the three shorts films that the movie is comprised of individually, but I still can't help but think that those shorts films would have sufficed in getting the story across just fine. No buts about it, Hana and Alice is a long movie folks. It doesn't take long to get the ball rolling with Hana convincing Masashi that they're a couple, but after that, it's a lot of stuff that doesn't have much at all to do with that major plot point. The movie doesn't take itself too seriously, and that's possibly where I had my biggest problem with it. I could never understand why Masashi didn't get more upset over the fact that these two girls were so blatantly deceiving him and seemed to think nothing of it. Most of the film just acts as if this sort of behavior is normal, and that seemed incredibly bizarre to me. On a brighter note, the cinematography throughout the film is wonderful, with some scenes having been shot beautifully. There is a quirky sense of the humor to the film, that while not flat-out hilarious, will make you smile on more than one occasion. The performances, most notably from Anne Suzuki and Yu Aoi, are impressive, with Yu Aoi going on to win a Best Actress award in 2005 at the Japanese Professional Movie Awards. These girls just seem like complete naturals in front of the camera, which in turn, seems like an ironic joke in regards to Alice as she performs so terribly at auditions within the movie.

In the end, Hana and Alice is a cute look into the friendship of two teenage girls and how their friendship is compromised because of a boy. This is certainly a reality for many young people out there, but the way it's played out here doesn't necessarily feel realistic. Hana and Alice is at times heart-warming and engaging, but with little substance to stretch over such a long running-time, even the most patient of viewers will find this innocent look at love a trying experience. (Lee)

Grade: B

 

Seven Days (Korea 2007)

I know what you're thinking, "Hey! I recognize that lady in the poster! Isn't she in that show Lost?". Why yes...yes she is. Seven Days (세븐 데이즈) stands as Yoon-jin Kim's return to Korean cinema after becoming a break-through star with the previously mentioned hit television series. Sure it's another movie about child abduction, and we all know that's nothing new, but it's still somehow entertaining.

Superstar attorney Ji-yeon Yoo (Yoon-jin Kim) never loses a case and has become something of a media sensation because of it. Her lawfirm takes on all the big cases because their confidance in Ji-yeon is unwavering. Seeing as how she takes on so many cases and is almost always working, this leaves her very little quality with her seven year old daughter Eunyoung (Ra-hye Lee). Eunyoung really wants her mom to particpate with her in her schools mother-daughter relay race, and Ji-yeon promises to be there. On the day of the event, everything seems to be going according to plan, until Ji-yeon finishes her winning run only to find that Eunyoung is nowhere to be found. Ji-Yeon, naturally, contacts the police and prepares a large sum of money as payment for what she assumes is a ransom situation. However, the kidnapper interestingly enough isn't after money, but makes a demand for Ji-yeon to use her outstanding skills as an attorney to free someone on death row. Not understanding the details of the case she's dealing with, it doesn't take Ji-Yeon long to agree to the terms as she only has seven days (hence the title) to prove the inmates innocence. She gets her detective friend Seong-yeol Kim (Hee-soon Park) to help her in her quest to find her daughter while she tries to focus on the court case as well. As you can imagine, it's a race against time to get her daughter back before the case is closed for good.

My interest to see Seven Days stemmed from the fact that I'm a big fan of Lost and I wanted to see Yoon-jin Kim's return to the movies as the main star. I'm pleased to say that she puts in a wonderful performance, showing a gamut of emotions I can only imagine one goes through when faced with a nightmare scenario such as this. In fact, I don't appear to be the only one that feels this way as Yoon-jin later went on to win the Best Actress award at the 45th annual Daejong (Grand Bell) festival in South Korea. Hee-soon Park, her "sidekick" for most of the movie, is just one of those guys that you really love to stand behind because he means well in his intentions and looks cool while doing it. The child-abduction formula is given a mild breath of fresh-air thanks to an interesting plot-twist that doesn't have anything to do with money. However, there's not all praise to be given here as writer Je-goo Yeon, while doing alot of things right, also tries to cram way too many story elements into a movie that's based around limited time. This can be annoying when you wish the film would just focus on the main plot of Ji-yeon and Seong-yeol getting Eunyong back. Director Sin-yeon Won does an excellent job at making everything look incredibly polished, in a Hollywood blockbuster way, and that look fits the bill just nicely.

So if nothing else, Seven Days proves that Yoon-jin Kim really is a great actress that is more than capable of being an engaging lead and that Korean audiences will embrace her with open arms. After this performance, I'll be more than happy to join them. (Lee)

Grade: B-

 

Sunday, July 13, 2008

New Police Story (Hong Kong 2004)


Symbolizing the long-awaited (by most) return to Hong Kong cinema for Jackie Chan, New Police Story (新警察故事) is almost exactly what you'd expect from everyone's favorite death-defying entertainer. It's got high-flying leaps, well-choreographed fights, and a lot of shattering glass, which is customary in Benny Chan territory. Not the best JC movie on the market, but an excellent return to form nonetheless.

Detective Kwok-Wing Chan (Jackie Chan) is merely a shell of his former self. What remains of the happy-go-lucky policeman of yesteryear is a sad, drunken, mess of a man, who honestly has every right to be that way. It's only been a year since the team under his command was brutally murdered on what appeared to be a fairly routine operation. However, Wing severly underestimated the sadistic nature of Joe (Daniel Wu) and his cop-killing cohorts (say that three times fast). The gang get their kicks by robbing banks and killing as many police officers as they can to earn "points" for their sick game. Wing and his men, including his soon to be brother-in-law (Deep Ng), were led into a warehouse rigged with numerous traps that led to them being picked off one-by-one. Clearly distraught by having his men mowed down, Wing is unable to fight Joe and his croneys off by himself, leaving him with unbearable amount of shame and guilt. Fast-forward to today and Joe and his gang still haven't been caught as they continue to rob banks and kill cops all for the thrill. The newest cop on the force, Frank (Nicholas Tse), has been assigned as Wing's new partner to take on the case. Frank knows that Wing has a score to settle and wants nothing more than to help return Wing to his former glory. Not only does this entail getting him back to the detective he used to be, but by also restoring his relationship with his girlfriend Ho-Yee (Charlie Young), as the two haven't been the same since her brother's death. Needless to say, Frank gives Wing the push he needs in order to get back in the saddle and take down these baddies once and for all.

We eventually see what makes Joe tick, as his father is a chief police inspector who constantly beats Joe at home for being a lazy, good-for-nothing brat. This in turn makes Joe hate authority figures, police included. Growing up I could definitely understand the desire to be angry with authority figures, and while I've never been treated as poorly as ol' Joe in New Police Story, the urge to murder every single cop I possible could never seemed like the right avenue for me. What I'm saying is, the motivation driving Joe and his gang of thugs seems a bit much, but it's an action movie, so no one is really going to care. They just want to see Jackie Chan do what he does best, and in New Police Story he delivers in spades...for the most part. Jackie isn't getting any younger, so naturally the presence of more wire-work is more obvious, but you can still overlook it for the sheer fact that you still know it's Jackie putting his butt on the line for your entertainment. Not many Hollywood-types can claim to go so far. Also of note is Jackie's performance in the film. We're all used to see the wacky, slapstick-humor Jackie in just about every one of his movies, but in New Police Story we see a different side to his acting. He's carrying a lot of emotional baggage and is generally just an unpleasant person to be around. Life has hit the man hard, and his portrayal of such a distraught soul is admirable, if not a bit over-the-top at times. Nicholas Tse is great at taking over the comic-relief role, and even Daniel Wu (Golden Horse Winner for Best Supporting Actor) conveys the troubled-youth angle in a believable fashion. Andy One (on the the gang members) does an excellent job holding his own in the fight scenes with Jackie. All I'll say is I love Legos! Charlene Choi of TWINS makes an appearance as the police departments IT personality, and is really only notable because I know there are a lot of TWINS fans out there.

I really welcomed New Police Story with open arms. Jackie had been reduced to side-kick only roles (for the most part) here in the states, and when he was the leading man, it was a sad sight to see (The Medallion, The Tuxedo, etc.). I really couldn't have expected more out a man well into his fifties, that continues to impress and entertain with his acrobatic ability. It has the feel of a well-polished popcorn movie, but for Jackie Chan fans, it's a ray of hope in what appeared to be a career on the downward spiral. A return to the motherland, is a return to form. Viva la Hong Kong! (Lee)

Grade: A


 

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Shaolin Soccer (Hong Kong 2001)


Shaolin Soccer (少林足球), the 2001 masterpiece (yes, I said masterpiece), by the amazing Stephen Chow (hailed by People magazine as the Jim Carrey of Asia...hmm, whatever), is exactly what I look for in a Hong-Kong comedy: wild slap-stick humor, entertaining acting, fun and decent-looking special effects with a story that does a good enough job taking the film from point A to point B. A must-see for any fan of Hong-Kong cinema or simply comedy for that matter.

The once much-revered soccer star Golden Leg Fung (Ng Man-Tat) is now a washed up, handicapped, street-beggar after being let go by his once teammate/boss Hung (Patrick Tse). A particularly important soccer match when both were in their prime led to Fung being crippled by a group of rioting fans, and Hung took over his spot as team favorite. Now that Fung is out of a job, he also has nowhere to go. He eventually runs into a lowly street cleaner by the name of Sing (Stephen Chow) who, when he's not collecting trash, is trying to peddle kung-fu lessons to anyone who will give him the time of day. The two men discuss their views on soccer and kung-fu, resulting in Fung storming off and believing Sing is just some crazy guy with an incredibly strong kicking leg. Sing then meets up with brother Iron Head (Wong Yat-Fei) whom is trying to make a living working with a bunch of gangsters. Sing is desperatley trying to find a way to incorporate his Shaolin kung-fu with other forms of entertainment (singing and dancing for example). After having his interest peaked on the soccer field, Sing thinks that mixing his Shaolin kung-fu with soccer would be a great way to get the public interested in kung-fu and Fung sees the potential in Sing's "steel leg". Seeing as how the upcoming soccer tournament could make Fung a cool million dollars, he agrees to teach Sing how to play soccer and the two of them head out to recruit Sing's "brothers" to fill up the team. Each member of the team, Iron Head included, have special Shaolin kung-fu abilities that they can ulitize on the soccer field. Now they just need to learn how to play the game. The ability to play the game and Hung's "Evil Team" are the only things standing in their way of the million dollars the championship trophy.

Well this definitely wasn't the first time that I'd watched Shaolin Soccer, but I figured it was time to get a review going for this modern-day classic. Really, I feel like this is already a classic. Stephen Chow won awards for best director and actor and the list of awards and nominations for the film fall into basically every single category imaginable. Sure, the story is a simple one of redemption and underdogs having their moment in the sun, but the entertaining characters, special effects, and overall feeling of "what are they gonna do next!?" is what makes Shaolin Soccer so enjoyable. The magic these characters pull off on the field is always a blast to watch and you'll really want to root them on when they're faced with daunting challenges.

Shaolin Soccer put Stephen Chow on the map in the States, and continued solidifying his already concrete-career throughout Asia. It's a film that will make you want to explore the man's impressive catalog of films and you'll almost certainly be a fan that will follow his future works as well. For that reason alone, you should really purchase this movie and see what all the fuss was, and in some circles, continues to be about. (Lee)

Grade: A

 

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Brave (Thailand 2008)

"Whoa! Now that the truth is revealed, get ready to go to hell!"

Brave (กล้าหยุดโลก) is a film attempting to do what Hong Kong martial-arts cinema God Jackie Chan did the best in the late eighties and nineties. Basically, take action with an unlikely hero that uses the environments, wit, and charisma to outshine his opponents. So does Brave have what it takes to bring us all back to that classic time? Maybe.

B (Pairote Boongerd), is a young guy thats forced by the biggest mafia gang in Thailand to steal client information from Wealthy Bank, an international credit card company. He shows up "looking for a job" and makes his way in. Once inside, he places some calls for a ton of food to be delivered to the various businesses within the building. After taking care of some martial-arts experts/credit-card call center workers, B finds Lita (Supakson Chaimongkon), the company's vice president, and forces her to give him the password that will allow him to finish his assignment. With the cops everywhere, he's bound to mix it up with at least a few of them and still manages to find enough time to sneak away disguised as a food delivery driver. Now B has the data he can use to negotiate the release of his brother Tong (Afdlin Shauki), who has been captured, tortured, and held hostage by this gang. So B goes to rescue him and make the switch, but the gang sets up the old double-cross, "rig your buddy with explosives trap", in an attempt to kill both B and Tong.

Later, the mob boss Kovit (Sahaschai Chumrum), finds out that B and Tong are still alive, so he sends waves of gang members to finish the two off, as well as B's former best friend Mia. Meanwhile, Lita's husband, the CEO of Wealthy Bank, takes his own life due to the embarrassing and disrespectful loss that his company has experienced. B and Tong find out about this man taking his life and feel nothing but guilt because of it. They try to find Lita to explain that B was just a pawn in this gangs evil plan, but when they get to her home, they find that the gang has already arrived.

There are things going on in Brave that will really make you want to like it, but sadly, there are also too many red flags that get raised to let you. As with most action movies, the action taking place is definitely the film's selling point, but in the search for the perfect action movie, the narrative is always the one part getting the short end of the stick, and Brave is no exception. It has these odd sub-plots that keep rearing their ugly heads and sends the viewer into mass confusion. So really, you'll just end up ignoring them and continue waiting for more action. At times, the acting is passable. The bad guys say as little as possible and mostly stand there looking menacing. The "sidekick" (Tong), overacts and gets exciting about everything, while Lita cries a lot and seems to question everything that happens. B does his best Jackie Chan impression, from the smiling, light-hearted, good-guy antics, down to the facial reactions he uses to "sell" his pain during the fights. It's not a bad thing per se, but he just has to make all of this his own, and it seems a bit sacrilegious to play on the masters work.

Now, as for the fighting and the stunt work in Brave, I will say that this stunt crew takes some pretty darn good bumps and falls. Just about every scene has a slew of guys flying through something or falling from way too high up, which is always a treat to see. The use of an old building sets up an exciting jump that Pairote Boongerd takes, and it does that classic martial-arts "double-take" replay, and yeah...it's worth it. The fights as a whole do a good job of gradually getting better as the film progresses, with the best being saved for the climax. Seasoned fans will notice that some of the choreography could have been a little tighter at times in order to keep a better flow during some fights. Other than that, most scenes were quite entertaining and you can really tell that the action was the main focus. So is the Thai martial-arts action film on par with Hong Kong martial-arts action? No. Is it headed in the right direction? With a little help and time, I'd say so. (CBKevin)


Saturday, March 8, 2008

See You In You Tube (Hong Kong 2008)

"Would you choose love or friendship?"

In the movie See You In You Tube (愛鬥大), yes, that's really what it's called, that question does indeed get answered. Add together a series of wacky hijinks, mix well with one hand-held shooting experience (camera) and you'll get to the see the full effect of a trend that is putting the world of cinema into a choke hold. Who wouldn't want to see what comes of all this?

Janice (Janice Man) and Ling (Elanne Kong), are best of friends and have been since they were little girls. They compete in everything from school grades to popularity. Him (Law Chung-Him), is a buff film student that can't seem to get enough money for one reason or another. Janice first meets Him on the bus where she witnesses Him pickpocket one of the passengers. Later on, Ling becomes one of his victims. She gives chase and follows him into an alley only to end up being saved by Him when a gang member attacks her. After that, and the girls don't seem to care, but instead see that the VERY same guy, that victimized Ling and that Janice caught in the act of pickpocketing mind you, has a video club that can teach you how to make movies. So now the girls decide to show up to his makeshift class, both with their tag-along boyfriends that are whipped beyond belief. There are also a rag-tag collection of other cardboard cut outs. After Him and his buddy get the group hanging on to their every word after a few meetings, Him notices that these girls have a very competitive streak between them. So he makes them split into two teams and participate in a game where the teams have to do outlandish things to win points.

Challenges such as, sing the Happy Birthday song at a Triad members funeral and see how long it takes you to get beat up, or even a commercial jingle at the funeral of a child. A kung-fu fight with random produce. How about going into a jewelry store in a ski mask with a fake AK-47 to buy a necklace? HA! Now that's a knee-slapper! (For those who don't know, these places are always guarded by a man with heavy firepower). There are more challenges for the two teams to go through, but which team will end up the winners?

To say that See You In You Tube (God, I hate the title), is a terrible movie is nothing but the whole-hearted truth and even that's being nice. I don't care that Oxide Pang produced this film and that there were seven directors (four of them students). Hell, that would explain why nothing in the story made any since or happened for a reason. For example, why would these kids even consider risking their lives or the safety of others for no clear reason? Never explained. They use this black and white, documentary-style of filming the interviews taking place at random with various characters of the group and it really doesn't change anything for me. At that point, it's too late and it's not like I'm going to be relating to these kids. I had to research the cast to see if any of them had worked prior to this because I don't think any of them had ever seen a video camera before. It was that bad. Most of the time the movie tried to keep that "shaky" camera feel, but only sometimes. Mainly when it was convenient for them which comes off as inconsistent. I'm sure they were just trying to give it an authentic feel, but really it was just annoying. Oddly enough, they did stick to a theme, but unfortunately it was the, "annoy the viewer" theme. What could be mistaken as a high-energy romp with a good time to be had by all, ended up as a movie with a questionable running time of nearly two hours in which I was done with after fifteen minutes. In short, there is no way I can recommend this train-wreck of a movie, unless you're a fourteen year old girl that feels the exact way the two leads in this movie do. In that case, I do believe See You In You Tube was made solely for you and you alone, and for that I'm truly sorry. (CBKevin)


Eat The School Girl: Osaka Telephone Club (Japan 1997)

"Dear Diary, I just killed someone today."

One part pink-cinema, one part avant-garde, and one part college film project. Eat the School Girl (コギャル喰い 大阪テレクラ篇) seems to be more out to "shock" the audience than entertain them, but oddly enough, it doesn't appear to do either.

On the busy streets of Tokyo, Japan, two young guys work for a small-time gang of thugs pushing sex fliers and tapes. One is a sex-crazy, wired-up neurotic, and the other (our main protagonist), is a solemn, lonely time-bomb of a man that is addicted to phone sex. After calling his favorite operator and enjoying some "me time", he's off to handing out fliers with a special "idol-ish" girl on it and selling some sex tapes. The two return to their bosses hangout to receive change from their sales and end up getting a peek into the seedy underworld that's making these hardcore pornos. The gang is basically kidnapping random girls off the street and film the debauchery themselves. The two are chased off to resume selling the tapes and as the day comes to an end, the two go their separate ways. Neurotic hits the streets and tries to pick up various women while the Protagonist goes home to place that certain phone call. However, when he gets home, he's greeted by a naked woman that just happens to look like the one from the flier. She boldly proclaims that she is all for him and that he may do as he wishes. He gets so worked up and frustrated that he leaves and heads back to the streets dressed as a schoolgirl and kills a man in a tunnel with a box cutter. Then we see him "climax" on the body, all while trying to regress the memories of seeing his family brutally murdered in front of him as a child. When he finally realizes what he's done, he run off into the night.

There's more that I could add that takes place in Eat The School Girl, but it all seems pretty pretentious and just seems to be trying to hard to "shock" us. For a film with a running time of only an hour, it all becomes "old hat" and just comes across as a total yawn by the end. The acting is incredibly campy and difficult to watch. The gorilla-style shooting style on the streets got annoying in the first five minutes, but the real bad guy here is the story. The story keeps this, "leave it all up the viewer to decide what's happening", way of things. Was there a girl on the other end of the phone? Is she an angel telling me I need to kill someone to climax in order to be free? This smug and vain way of story-telling is spotty and there's not enough substance to captivate and makes you want to ask the previously mentioned questions. In the end however, you simply just won't care. All is not lost however, as some people may enjoy this for the gore, the simulated rape scenes, or for the so-called "shock" factor. Maybe I've become desensitized over the years, but you'll have to excuse this horror-veteran (Japanese or other-wise), when I say that you'll simply have to do better than this. Naoyuki Tomomatsu missed the mark big time with Stacy and Eat The School Girl on all accounts. So here's hoping that Zombie Self-Defense Force turns out better than his previous work, but I doubt it. (CBKevin)


Sunday, March 2, 2008

Trivial Matters (Hong Kong 2007)

A wide array of experiences in life, death, and relationships, Trivial Matters is the film version of seven short stories from director Edmond Pang Ho-Cheung aimed at amusing the masses. Problem is, the more stories you have, the higher the risk of a hit-and-miss situation, which is exactly what this package as a whole provides.

Vis Major - The film opens with an off-camera therapist (Jan Lam) trying to get to the root of a married couples (Chan Fai-Hung and Crystal Tin), problems. Naturally, both sides have their own unique spin on the story of their sex life which is recreated through the use of no-name actors as both husband and wife explain their discomfort over the therapist visualizing them having sex.

Civism - Next, we see Edison Chen and Stephanie Cheng in a dance club having a conversation on what it means to be a "civil" citizen. Edison goes into great, and graphic, detail about what it is that makes him such a great helper of the working class.

It's A Festival Today - Chan (Eason Chan) and his girlfriend Wai Ying (Isabel Chan) move in together but they each have a different motive for doing so. Wai Ying wants to save money on the rent and further develop their relationship. Chan just wants to have sex but Wai Ying wants to wait until after marriage. He convinces her that "oral" activities isn't the same as having sex, so she agrees to it because it's Christmas day and she wasn't able to buy him a present. After that, she'll only "service" him on holidays.

Tak Nga - Told from the perspective of a future race living on another planet and in silent-film style, an instructor is telling his class the story of Ai Chi (Kenny Kwan), who writes a letter to the editor of Easy Finder magazine in hopes that they'll name a star after his crush Tak Nga (Angela Baby) for her birthday.

Ah Wai The Big Head - Ah Wai (Gillian Chung) is an insecure secondary school student who often relies on the advice of her friend Kate (Stephy Tang) before making any decisions. Ah Wai mentions that a garage worker by the name of Eagle has taken notice of her and she can't decide if she should date him or not. Kate really doesn't care about Ah Wai's problems and seems to just tell Ah Wai what she wants to hear in order to get rid of her. Kate is busy being in love herself and is planning a trip to Japan with her boyfriend Ronald. When things take a serious turn for Ah Wai and she needs Kate's help more than ever, their quasi-friendship is put to the test. Eventually the girls find themselves in similar situations, but the end result is the opposite of what both girls expected.

Recharge - We're back with Chan and the story of his prudish girlfriend, but now the focus is on his best friend Ah Keung (Chapman To). Through narration, Ah Keung gives the impression that he's no stranger to the "services" prostitutes provide and soon finds himself in a hotel with a woman from Shanghai by the name of Fay Fay (Zhang Zheng). The two of them exchange some small talk and eventually conduct "business" together. However, by the end of their encounter you can tell by the looks on their faces that both have been somewhat changed, even if it's ever so slightly.

Junior - The last story starts with killer-for-hire businessman Feng Xiaogang explaining to his client Peter Kam, a long time customer of Feng's company K&C, that due to his frequent use of their service, he's now eligible for a new bonus scheme they've implemented. Peter now has a coupon worth one free kill as long as the killer is someone from K&C's Junior Hitman Training Program. Enter our junior hitman (Shawn Yue) who finds his target Chan Wei Yeung, working at the bowling alley. When Junior confronts his target, gun drawn and all, Chan is caught hitting the bong red-handed. Instead of doing his job, Junior decides to get high with his target instead.

Based on producer/screenwriter/director Pang's collection of short stories, it's safe to say that not all of the stories portrayed in Trivial Matters translated to film successfully. I haven't read the collection, but I can only hope this was the case. Some of the stories are genuinely entertaining; It's A Festival Today and Ah Wai The Big Head were the stand-outs for me. The former for just being funny in a dark way and the latter for telling an affecting story about friendship. As a side note, I'd like to point out that Eason Chan may have the worst hairstyle in all of Hong Kong cinema. Tak Nga and Junior were quite pointless and Junior in particular felt like an inside joke that none of us were meant to get. The only thing I can say about Civism is that I don't think it's real word and it made me dislike Edison Chen more than I already did because I get the distinct feeling that his "character" in this story is how he is in real life. The attempt at humor in Vis Major was somewhat lost on me, as I've yet to hit that married, middle-aged period of my life but it was cute nonetheless. Recharge, while showing a fine performance by Chapman To, also felt completely unbelievable. A man who frequents the use of prostitutes is suddenly smitten by one girl in particular with no real connection (outside of the sex mind you) to make him feel this way. While I'm at it, I should point at that Trivial Matters isn't too shy when it comes to nudity. Mostly of the female persuasion, but a cameo by Chapman's tubby bottom does make it's way into the film.

Trivial Matters, if nothing else, is aptly named and a fine display of potential from Pang. The variety of stories within seem to aim at having something for everyone, but that alone should tell you, possibly even warn you, that your overall enjoyment of the film will vary. (Lee)



Buy Trivial Matters on DVD from YESASIA!