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'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)

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