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I have currently seen over 4,000 films from Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Mainland China, and Thailand. Below is my East Asian Movie Recommendation Listing, which is incomplete due to IMDb Profile character restrictions. If you would like my complete list, please send me a private message with your email address. I will be happy to send you the following:
1. A Microsoft Excel workbook with information on all 4,000+ films (name, release year, country of origin, genre, and my personal rating for each).
2. 5 Microsoft Word docs that include my spoiler-free mini-reviews (one paragraph in length) for the movies that I highly recommend, strongly recommend, and recommend.
I have sent these documents to over 300 IMDb users thusfar. I am confident that they will help you to find specific East Asian films that you will enjoy, whether it's horror, drama, romance, action, rom com, or art-house. The total size of these documents is only about 1.5mb, so receiving them via email has been very easy in the past.
Do yourself a favor and watch more East Asian cinema. You won't regret it.
Abbreviations below are as follows: J = Japanese, K = South Korean, C = Chinese, T = Taiwanese
Incomplete, Rotating List of My Favorites
A Tale of Two Sisters (K Horror)
My Sassy Girl (K Rom Com)
Cure (J Thriller)
Lu Cha (aka Green Tea) (C Romance)
Kairo (aka Pulse) (J Horror)
Azumi (J Action)
Jumong (K Drama/Action TV Series)
Dae Jang Geum (K Drama TV Series)
Memories of Murder (K Drama)
Battle Royale (J Action)
Oldboy (K Drama)
Beyond Our Ken (C Romance)
Isabella (C Drama)
Samurai Champloo (J Anime)
Fate Zero (J Action TV Series)
Fist of Legend (C Action)
Hard Boiled (C Action)
Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (K Drama)
Diary (C Horror)
Hellsing Ultimate OVA (J Anime)
Sha Po Lang (aka Kill Zone) (C Action)
The Tai Chi Master (1997, starring Wu Jing) (C Action)
Swing Girls (J Comedy)
Liar Game (J Mystery TV Series)
Infernal Affairs 1 & 2 (C Drama)
Ju On: The Grudge 2 (J Horror)
Kamikaze Girls (J Comedy)
Gemini (J Drama)
Drunken Master 2 (C Action)
Lump of Sugar (K Drama)
Noroi (J Horror)
Vital (J Romance)
Charisma (J Drama)
Late Autumn (J Drama)
The Good, the Bad, the Weird (K Action)
A Brand New Life (K Drama)
All About Women (C Rom Com)
Eye In the Sky (C Suspense)
Midnight Ballad for Ghost Theater (K Musical)
Tom Yum Goong (Thai Action)
Whispering Corridors 4: Voice (K Horror)
Kisarazu Cat's Eye: World Series (J Comedy)
The Passage (T Drama)
Angel's Egg (1985) (J Anime)
Midnight F.M. (K Thriller)
Go Find A Psychic! (2009) (J Comedy)
Iris (2009) (K Action TV Series)
Brilliant Legacy (2009) (K Drama TV Series)
Season of Snow (2008) (J Drama)
Le Portrait de Petite Cossette (J Anime)
The Haunted Castle (1969) (J Horror)
The Forbidden Door (Indonesian Horror)
The Host (K Drama)
Survive Style 5+ (J Comedy)
Couples (K Rom Com)
Love Exposure (J Drama)
A War Named Desire (C Action)
Special Investigation Record (K Mystery TV Series)
2LDK (J Action/Drama)
Ong Bak (Thai Action)
Lost In Time (C Romance)
Musa: The Warrior (K Drama/Action)
A Page of Madness (J Horror/Drama)
A Bittersweet Life (K Drama/Action)
Exiled (C Action)
Marebito (J Horror)
How To Use Guys With Secret Tips (K Rom Com)
Audition (J Horror)
Koma (C Thriller)
Waiting In the Dark (J Drama)
I'm A Cyborg, But That's Okay (K Rom Com)
When I Turned Nine (K Drama)
Death Note 1 & 2 (J Thriller)
The Raid: Redemption (Indonesian Action)
The Raid 2: Berandal (Indonesian Action)
Tokyo Fist (J Drama)
Crush and Blush (K Rom Com)
Ip Man (C Action)
I Was Born, But... (J Comedy)
I Need Romance 2 (K Rom Com TV Series)
River (J Drama)
All About My Wife (K Rom Com)
Showgun's Shadow (J Action)
Lacuna (C Comedy)
Re-encounter (K Drama)
The Neighbors (K Thriller)
Magicians (K Drama)
Masquerade (K Drama)
Confession of Murder (K Thriller)
Confessions (J Drama)
Tokyo Family (J Drama)
A Time To Love (C Romance)
City of Life and Death (C War Drama)
Moving (1993) (J Drama)
Joint Security Area (K Drama)
Drunken Master (C Action)
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (K Drama)
Early Summer (J Drama)
Tokyo Story (J Drama)
Happiness of the Katakuris (J Comedy)
Hidden Blade (J Drama)
Tetsuo: The Iron Man (J Horror)
3-Iron (K Romance)
The Bow (K Drama)
Time (K Romance)
...ing (K Romance)
Nana (J Drama)
Election 2 (C Crime Drama)
Barking Dogs Never Bite (K Comedy)
Hello Schoolgirl (K Rom Com)
Chocolate (Thai Action)
The King and the Clown (K Drama)
Ditto (K Drama/Romance)
Secret (C Romance)
Happiness (K Romance)
The Wonder Years (K Drama)
Summer Time Machine Blues (J Comedy)
5 Centimeters Per Second (J Anime)
Lost and Found (K Rom Com)
The Water Magician (J Drama)
A Snake of June (J Drama/Thriller)
Lust, Caution (C Drama/Suspense)
Love in a Puff (C Rom Com)
Welcome Back, Mr. McDonald (J Comedy)
The Equation of Love and Death (C Drama)
Ritual (J Drama)
Green Snake (C Fantasy Romance)
Taipei Exchanges (T Comedy/Drama)
The Letter (J Drama)
The Legend (aka Fong Sai Yuk) (C Action)
The Chaser (K Thriller)
Muddy River (J Drama)
The Man Who Stole the Sun (J Thriller)
Conspirator (J Drama)
Drug War (C Action)
Crest of Betrayal (J Drama)
New World (K Drama)
Magic Crystal (C Action)
My PS Partner (K Rom Com)
Rebirth (2011) (J Drama)
I the Executioner (J Drama)
The Ball at the Anjo House (J Drama)
Senritsu Kaiki File-01 thru File-04 (J Horror)
Petal Dance (J Drama)
Shadowless Sword (K Action)
Uzumaki (J Horror)
No Mercy (K Thriller)
Sparrow (C Drama/Comedy)
Fine, Totally Fine (J Comedy)
Aoi Tori (J Drama)
A Dirty Carnival (K Crime Drama)
Jakarta (K Comedy)
Seagull Diner (J Comedy)
Accident (C Drama/Suspense)
The Boxer's Omen (C Horror)
Aachi and Ssipak (K Anime)
Daytime Drinking (K Comedy)
Wife, Be Like A Rose! (J Drama)
Hansel and Gretel (K Horror)
Departures (J Drama)
Tampopo (J Comedy)
Green Minds, Metal Bats (J Drama)
Nightmare Detective 2 (J Horror)
Not One Less (C Drama)
Heroes of the East (C Action)
After the Flowers (J Drama)
Dog in a Sidecar (J Drama)
Ghost Story of the Snow Witch (J Horror)
Postmen In the Mountains (C Drama)
The Sun Also Rises (C Drama)
Funuke Show Me Some Love, You Losers! (J Drama)
House (aka Hausu) (J Horror/Comedy)
Promenade (K Romance/Drama)
From Beijing With Love (C Comedy/Action)
Rendan (J Drama)
Cowboy Bebop (J Anime)
Black Coal, Thin Ice (C Drama/Thriller)
Kundo (K Action)
Miss Zombie (J Horror)
Thread of Lies (K Drama)
Why Don’t You Play In Hell? (J Comedy)
Loveholic (K Romance)
Bad Company (J Drama)
Once Upon A Time In Shanghai (C Action)
Oshin (J Drama)
The Suspect (K Action)
The Betrayal (J Drama/Action)
Shady (J Drama/Horror)
Wuthering Heights (J Drama)
Circus Boys (J Drama)
Laundry (J Romance)
Parade (J Drama)
Feathers in the Wind (K Romance)
Rush (K Drama)
Run and Kill (C Thriller)
Tiger Cage (C Action)
Stranger of Mine (J Drama/Comedy)
Forbidden City Cop (C Comedy/Action)
When Ruoma was Seventeen (C Drama)
Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance (J Action)
If You Are the One (C Rom Com)
Welcome To Dongmakgol (K War Drama/Comedy)
Tales of the Unusual (J Horror)
Strange Circus (J Horror)
Under the Blossoming Cherry Trees (J Horror)
Fudoh: The New Generation (J Crime Drama)
All Around Us (J Drama)
The Message (C Drama/Suspense)
Ergo Proxy (J Anime)
The Butcher, the Chef, and the Swordsman (C Drama)
Adrift in Tokyo (J Comedy)
Mad Detective (C Drama/Suspense)
I Saw the Devil (K Thriller/Horror)
Into the White Night (J Drama)
Fort Graveyard (J War Action)
Japan's Longest Day (J War Drama)
The Berlin File (K Action)
The Kirishima Thing (J Drama)
Lesson of the Evil (J Horror)
Evil Spirit Viy (K Horror/Drama)
Gakko No Kaidan 4 (J Horror)
Demon Within (J Horror)
Talk Talk Talk (J Comedy)
Cold Eyes (K Thriller)
Montage (K Thriller)
The Trap (J Thriller)
Moebius (K Horror)
The Cowards Who Looked To the Sky (J Drama)
The Terror Live (K Thriller)
I Have To Buy New Shoes (J Romance)
Hatsukoi (2000) (J Drama)
Buddha’s Palm (C Action)
Mermaid Legend (J Thriller)
Like Father, Like Son (J Drama)
Bleak Night (K Drama)
Take Care of My Cat (K Drama)
How To Become Myself (J Drama)
The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (C Action)
Robot Carnival (J Anime)
Silenced (aka Crucible) (K Drama)
Paprika (J Anime)
Moonlight Whispers (J Drama)
Symbol (J Comedy/Drama)
He Lives By Night (C Giallo Comedy/Thriller)
Orochi (J Drama)
Riki Oh: The Story of Ricky (C Action)
Postman Blues (J Comedy/Drama)
Drive (J Comedy)
Solace (K Romance)
I Wish I Had A Wife (K Rom Com)
Once Upon A Time In Highschool (K Drama)
What Did the Lady Forget? (J Comedy)
A Night In Nude: Salvation (J Thriller)
Sound of the Mountain (J Drama)
Kids Return (J Drama)
War of the Arrows (K Action)
World Of Silence (K Drama/Thriller)
Keiho (J Drama/Thriller)
Ballad of Orin (J Drama)
Shinku (aka Deep Red) (J Drama)
Mr. Vampire (C Action/Horror)
Art Museum By the Zoo (K Rom Com)
Shutter (Thai Horror)
Crazy N' the City (C Drama)
The Beast Stalker (C Thriller)
The Longest Nite (C Action/Drama)
Space Travelers (J Comedy/Drama)
Going by the Book (K Comedy)
Deja Vu (C Romance)
Rinco's Restaurant (J Drama)
She Shoots Straight (C Action)
Himitsu (J Drama/Romance)
Attack the Gas Station (K Comedy)
Ugetsu (J Drama)
Pyrokinesis (J Action)
The Road Home (C Romance)
Bashing (J Drama)
The Clone Returns Home (J Sci Fi Drama)
Baober In Love (C Rom Com)
MORE TITLES . . .
Gekijô rei (2015)
Fairly entertaining film that avoids jump scares and has a realistic mannequin
While rehearsing for a stage play, the cast and crew are troubled by strange events that are connected to a mannequin. Hideo Nakata directs this soft re-imagining of his horror film "Ghost Actress" (1996), but this turned out to be a very different film. This is essentially a mannequin horror film, not a ghost film, which is always welcome in my book because the concept has an old school style. Some may criticize this style as being cheesy, but I enjoyed it and they avoided CGI in favor of practical effects.
The biggest flaw of this film is the storytelling structure, which is very predictable and incorporates plot points you see all the time in this genre. That does weigh the film down a bit and prevents it from being great. Acting is okay and the characters are on the bland side.
Fortunately, the mannequin element makes it worth watching. This is one of the most realistic looking mannequins I've ever seen. Scare tactics range from very good to mediocre, with some freaky scenes near the end. Not sure what some of the other reviewers on this site were watching, because there were only a few jump scares in this one - certainly far less than what you'd see in the "Insidious" franchise.
"Ghost Theater" is a pretty good flick.
Excellent Crime Drama
A former political henchman seeks out revenge for being dropped by a ruthless politician. Meanwhile, a determined investigator tries to nail the politician himself, and a shady newspaper editor manipulates matters behind the scenes. This has a complex story that shifts back and forth in time, with a lot of maneuvering by a fairly large cast of characters, but the script is so cleanly written and presented that it is easy to follow after a brief period of adjustment by the viewer. It will take a bit of time, early on, to figure out which characters are aligned with whom, and how everyone is related. But that slight sense of confusion eventually dissipates and transforms into a totally immersive, entertaining experience because characters are properly developed, with decisions and motives that are fleshed out nicely.
Most of the players here are quite shady, so it's almost like rooting for the lesser of all evils, but it works really well because a few of these characters become more appealing as the film progresses. And that's one of the big positives that can be found in "Inside Men" there's some multi-dimensionality to enjoy, which makes it easy to root for the protagonists that emerge from the pool of corrupt characters. On the other hand, you will find some of the others to be very dislikeable. The newspaper editor in particular is a real snake, and I was rooting against him the entire time.
This is one of those films that gets more gripping and intense as it moves along. It just gets better and better, with the entire final hour being flat-out awesome. There is a lot of dramatic tension that is earned and I was glued to my television screen to see what would happen next. I have seen a few online movie reviewers criticize the film for being conventional, which is true to a degree. It is a crime drama, after all, and it has some similarities to films that came before it. With that said, however, the nuance and complexity that is presented keeps the viewer off balance. I wasn't entirely sure how things were going to play out during the second half of this movie, which helped to keep things fresh.
There are a few recognizable faces here, but the big-man actor is Byung-hun Lee who I'm sure you've seen elsewhere. He's been in popular Korean films such as "A Bittersweet Life", "The Good, the Bad, the Weird", "I Saw the Devil", and "Masquerade." His performance in "Inside Men" is one of his better outings, in my opinion. He's successful at portraying his character as intimidating, flawed, and endearing all at the same time. This guy is really good actor, but I wish he would stop wasting his time in American movies. I'm sure it's beneficial for him to try to break into Hollywood, but every single time I've seen him in a Hollywood film, he's been wasted. For example, I was looking forward to seeing him play the Terminator in that stupid Genisys movie, but he only had like 5 minutes of screen time. It's ridiculous.
In any case, I definitely recommend "Inside Men", which is one of the better crime dramas of the past decade. I did watch the 3-hour extended cut, which is 50 minutes longer than the theatrical cut. I'm not exactly sure what scenes are included in one but not the other, but I can say that the 3-hour cut is really good. There is a Region 3 DVD available with English subtitles, and that release includes both the theatrical and extended cut.
The manga business is less desirable than you might think.
An amateur artist teams up with an amateur scriptwriter (both of which are still in high school) to create manga and break into the business at Weekly Shonen Jump, but the demands and stress of the industry may derail their plans. The stress of working in this particular industry is a major theme here, and it's communicated in multiple ways.
First, there's the competitive aspect. Our protagonists are very quickly roped into the cut-throat nature of business and almost immediately create rivalries with other manga artists. Success at this particular company is dependent on sales of the manga you're drawing, so every week a Top 10 list is posted in the office, which gives everyone a gauge as to how well their manga is doing. That creates rivalry, because you need to perform better than the other manga artists to stay on that list.
Second, there's the survival aspect. If your manga does not sell well, it is discontinued and you will have to go back to the drawing board to produce something else. But you're not a permanent employee of the company, so if your manga fails, you may never get another one of your works published ever again. It all depends on whether or not they like your stuff. It would seem to me that the job security of this profession is not good at all because you're constantly fighting to keep your job.
Third, the weekly deadlines result in very long working hours. It seemed like these guys were working about 80 hours per week, at least. In fact, it's probably more because at times they had difficulty finding enough time to sleep. That's just insane. I previously worked at a Big 4 accounting firm for 5 years, so I know what working long hours is like. But even I was horrified at what our protagonists were going through in this movie. It almost makes the profession of manga drawing seem undesirable. This is not a film that glorifies the industry, and I like that.
Bakuman has a fantastic cast of young acting talent. Start with Takeru Satoh, who recently starred in the awesome Rurouni Kenshin trilogy. Then we have Ryunosuke Kamiki, who starred in Poison Berry In My Brain, The Kirishima Thing and has appeared as a villain in films like As the Gods Will and the second and third Rurouni Kenshin films. Then we have Shota Sometani, who is practically everywhere recently. He was in the Parasyte movies, Tokyo Tribe, Wood Job, As the Gods Will, etc. Finally we have Takayuki Yamada, who had a lead role in the Crows Zero movies, and has appeared in Lesson of the Evil, 13 Assassins, and many others. So we have solid core of young acting talent that helps to establish a foundation for Bakuman to build on.
Another big positive is the rhythm and pacing, which will keep the viewer glued to their screens throughout the entire runtime. The film keeps moving and it maintains interest. The story plays out very naturalistically; even the romantic subplot is nicely portrayed and really like how it concluded. There's a nice dramatic impact to everything and the protagonists have very likable personas. There are also some very funny scenes along the way, which always helps to humanize the characters and make them even more relatable.
Stylistically, there are a few creative sequences that use manga drawing special effects that are blended with the live action shots and it works really well. It's something a bit different, but I liked it. One final surprise, for me at least, was the scoring and soundtrack, which are really good and were apparently performed by a Japanese band by the name of Sakanaction. I may have to check out some of their stuff.
I definitely recommend Bakuman, and I can't really think of any big flaws to complain about. This is a solid movie.
Highly entertaining remake of "Eye in the Sky" (2007)
This is a remake of the excellent Hong Kong film "Eye in the Sky" from 2007.
A high-tech police surveillance team attempts to take down a gang of ruthless bank robbers. If you'd like more detail on how exactly the protagonists go about their job, check out my review of "Eye in the Sky." Now in terms of "Cold Eyes", events play out in a very similar fashion. Some sequences are practically shot-for-shot, but there are also a number of differences that make this worth watching even if you've already seen the original film. In fact, these two films have become one of my "go to" double features. I love watching these back-to-back.
One reason for this is that you get to see the differences between Hong Kong and South Korean filmmaking. The realistic, suspense-driven "tailing" sequences are preserved and proficiently executed, but "Cold Eyes" has a slightly higher octane, with some added punch in terms chases, shootouts, and hand-to-hand fighting. So it "pops" a bit more when the action hits. It's also 30 minutes longer, which should probably result in some pacing issues but that's not the case. It takes a bit more time developing the characters and drama, but everything continues to movie briskly. There's also a bit more comedy here that works well. However, that does not necessarily mean that "Cold Eyes" is a better film, because I slightly prefer "Eye in the Sky" due mostly to the fact that it really sticks the ending. The ending to "Cold Eyes" is certainly satisfying, but it's more commonplace and less poetic.
So what about the acting in "Cold Eyes"? It's really good. Kyung-gu Sol is the lead actor here. Not a familiar name, but he's been in a bunch of good movies: "Peppermint Candy" from 2000, "Public Enemy" from 2002, "Oasis" from 2002, and "No Mercy" from 2010. Very good actor, and this is probably my favorite role of his. The lead actress is Hyo-joo Han, who is always awesome. I'll watch her in anything. And finally, the villain is played by Woo-sung Jung who you may have recognized in films such as "The Good the Bad the Weird" from 2008 and "The Divine Move" from 2014. He plays the bad guy with slightly less nuance than Tony Leung Ka-fai did in the original, but Jung is very menacing in this one. A real cold-blood killer.
On a final note, there's a fun cameo at the very end of the film. So keep an eye out for that. Just like "Eye in the Sky", I highly recommend "Cold Eyes." It's widely available on DVD. And I'm telling you that these two films make a fantastic double-feature for a movie night. Watch "Eye in the Sky" first though.
Gun chung (2007)
The ultimate surveillance film
This is basically the ultimate surveillance film that revolves around the covert operations of an undercover police unit attempting to gather intelligence on a sophisticated crew of jewel robbers. So the way the film works is that you have this sub-division of the police department that has maybe a dozen or so operatives, in civilian clothes, who attempt to identify and gather information on suspected criminals. So let's say that there's a robbery somewhere and a street camera catches the image of a suspect. Well, this sub-division will search the other street cameras in the area and see how far they can follow this guy, to see where he went after the crime was committed. Eventually you're going to lose him, but if you have an idea of an area that he frequently goes to (whether it's near his home or work, etc.), then you dispatch this surveillance team into the streets to stake out the area in an attempt to find him, follow him, and gather information on him.
So most of the film concerns the protagonist operatives as they do their jobs, which is really interesting to watch. From the very first minute, the cloak-and-dagger shadowing begins and continues right up to the final moments. This contributes a slow-burn suspense that keeps the viewer on edge. Although technically this is a "slow moving" film, the pacing still seems very brisk due to the premise. And there are also some great moments when a protagonist is in a position that may expose the entire operation.
The overall quality of "Eye in the Sky" is impressive on all fronts. The direction is very engaging, with fluid camera-work that keeps things moving while at the same time effectively showing everything that is happening. The viewer is constantly aware of the positions and locations of all of the characters, which is key when you're dealing with the theme of surveillance and "tailing" suspects. Also, the music is excellent and very catchy. It's perfectly suited given the themes of the film.
Now what about the acting. It's exceptional, and all of the actors have great chemistry together. We have another appearance by Simon Yam and this is one of my favorite performances from him. When I first saw this movie years ago I had seen a bunch of Yam's more nasty, notorious films where he plays the bad guy, so his turn in "Eye in the Sky" as a reserved, intelligent, extremely likable father-figure totally convinced me of his range as an actor. He's fantastic in this. The lead actress is Kate Tsui, who is also surprisingly excellent in this. I immediately became a fan of hers after watching this film, but the only other memorable role of her career subsequent to this was when she appeared in the Donnie Yen's flick "14 Blades" from 2010, where she played a villain. Now I have heard that many of her best roles are in TV dramas, so I definitely need to check those out if I can find them. And finally, we have Tony Leung Ka-fai, who plays the villain here in impressive fashion. This guy is paranoid and very sharp, with a fantastic memory which automatically makes him a challenge for our protagonists. As an FYI, there are two Tony Leungs on the Hong Kong acting scene. The more popular actor in the west is Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, who you've seen in films such as "Hard Boiled" from 1992, "In the Mood for Love" in 2000, "Infernal Affairs" from 2002, and "Lust Caution" from 2007. I'm a big fan of Tony Leung Chiu-Wai he has a very suave, slick look to him that is instantly charismatic. But I must say that Tony Leung Ka-fai has significantly grown on me over time, and I think that his role in "Eye in the Sky" represents some of his best work. So that's just another reason to watch this movie.
The one thing that might irritate some viewers is that there are a few improbable coincidences that are used throughout. I think that in that case it's a bit easier to swallow because right at the beginning of the movie, the theme of "coincidence" is alluded to by Simon Yam's character. He specifically tells Kate Tsui's character that sometimes you just gotta get lucky to catch these guys and it happens more often that you might think. So they introduce "coincidence" as an "up front" theme of the film, so it feels less like a contivance and more like an interesting aspect.
In my opinion, "Eye in the Sky" is a contemporary classic. I could watch this movie a thousand times and not get sick of it. Fans of mostly realistic, suspense-driven "tailing" sequences ala "The French Connection" will be drooling all over themselves. And it's fairly easy to find on DVD so watch it!
Cossette no shôzô (2004)
Work of art
Technically, it's a 3-episode OVA ("Original Video Animation"), with each segment lasting around 35 minutes. But since the sum of these 3 parts is basically the length of a feature film, one could be forgiven for treating it as such. And that's what I do. I consider this a feature film. So here's the plot synopsis: A young man uncovers a delicate Venetian glass that holds a startling secret within: a haunted beauty, named Cossette, has been waiting 250 years for someone to set her spirit free. The man soon becomes obsessed and determined to help the girl trapped inside the crystal, but the necessary physical and psychological sacrifices might be too great for him to bear.
The first thing I want to point out: this film is one of the most visually stunning anime I've ever seen. Virtually every single frame is saturated with fantastical Gothic eye candy. The use of color is real treat for the eyes, and there's a wide variety of color schemes that are used. It really has a beautiful mix and keeps changing things up, which means that the viewer will be constantly mesmerized by its presentation. This is supplemented by two creative choices: (First) The protagonist is transported via the Venetian glass into a nightmarish world. This allows the filmmakers to go "all out" on the visuals. (Second) The environments and old school architecture designs are very cool to behold. There are a few flashbacks set in the real world that have a European vibe to them. And many of the "nightmare world" sequences showcase otherworldly objects and phenomena. All of these things come together to create a fantastic visual experience.
As if that weren't enough, the scoring is just as phenomenal. Some beautiful music is composed for this film. To describe it, it's very romantic, magical, and mysterious. Piano and violin are used quite a bit. The music of "Petite Cossette" is a true accomplishment that should be mentioned more often when people talk about their favorite anime music. The official soundtrack is widely available and I highly recommend you pick up a copy. I have it and listen to it a lot.
But the positives of "Petite Cossette" are not limited to its visual and audio qualities, because the characters and story are fascinating. Cossette's spirit is basically cursed, because in order to release her from that curse, she needs a human being who is willing to endure the pain and suffering that should have befallen her murderer. So in Christ-like fashion, a man must willingly endure this reckoning in order for Cossette to be redeemed. But, in some sense Cossette herself is emotionally conflicted with this scenario because she doesn't want to see someone she cares for suffer to such a degree. So their relationship is very interesting. Also, there is a dense romantic tone that mirrors the horror. I'm a huge fan when romance and horror are expertly blended together, and this movie is one emphatic example. The themes of love, sacrifice, and haunted imagery are blended together, because painting and artistry are introduced and become very important themes in their own right. As one online reviewer noted (I believe it was EyeforFilm.uk), "The result is a creepy riff on beauty, love, the madness of artists, and the treachery of images." That sums things up nicely.
There's one aspect to this film that could prove frustrating for some viewers. There is some surreal imagery that may confuse you. The script intentionally keeps the viewer off balance with events that may not be easily interpreted during a first viewing. I say this because there are some moviegoers who need everything explained thoroughly, with no ambiguity or open ends. If you're one of those people, this film may frustrate you at times. Nevertheless, the general course of events is very easy to understand. It's just that there are some scenes that will require some effort from the viewer to interpret the details.
In my opinion, Le Portrait de Petite Cossette qualifies as a work of art, and it's one of my favorite anime films of all time. Most fortunately, it is widely available on DVD. So be sure to watch it, if you don't mind some disturbing imagery and ambiguity to steer thru.
Mei ren yu (2016)
So here's the story. An estate project involving reclamation of the sea threatens the livelihood of the mermaids who rely on the sea to survive. So they dispatch one of their own to seduce and kill the project manager. The director here is Stephen Chow, who has also acted in many films. His more popular directorial efforts include Shaolin Soccer (2001) and Kung Fu Hustle (2004), but two of my personal favorites are From Bejing With Love (1993) and Journey To the West: Conquering the Demons (2013). If you're familiar with his work, you will know what to expect with Mermaid. He gives us a charmingly wacky, high energy film that moves at a brisk pace from start to finish. There are tons of jokes that are consistently peppered at the viewer; some work better than others, but it helps to keep the viewer engaged throughout.
The premise itself also allows for some unorthodox character interaction, which is especially entertaining. How many comedy movies concern a nutty mermaid who is attempting to seduce and assassinate someone? I always like it when a movie is a bit different, and this one certainly is. Like some of Chow's other films, there are some rather serious and violent moments that are introduced, but they work well despite resulting in some tonal shifts. The reason I feel this way is because this film makes its lead characters likable and you don't want to see them get physically harmed. So that's a positive.
The lead actress here is Yun Lin, who is a newcomer, but she dominates the proceedings with a very expressionistic performance. When she shows up for the first time, her make-up is all messed up and she's practically screaming her lines. You're saying to yourself, "Is this the lead actress?" Acting like this can get extremely annoying, but I have to say that she nails it very well. To give a performance this energetic and yet still be funny and likable is quite an accomplishment. She was definitely good in this. The lead actor (Chao Deng) is also very good. He plays off of Yun Lin properly and they have good chemistry together. Finally, I have to point out that the supporting actress (Kitty Zhang) could very well be the most beautiful woman on the planet. My goodness! The first time I saw her was in the very romantic comedy "All About Women" (2008) and really liked her performance in that one. She's just as good in Mermaid. At one point during the later half, she gets quite serious and she's entirely convincing. I do not want this woman getting angry with me.
With all of that said, however, I would not elevate Mermaid into quite the same class as the previously mentioned movies from Stephen Chow's filmography. But at the same time, I'm not exactly sure why I feel that way. Maybe it's the environmental theme and characters, which are basic and not particularly nuanced. So in some sense these qualities limit the overall depth of the film.
Also, the special effects are low grade and cartoonish. There's a lot of mermaid and tentacle stuff going on, which is not particularly convincing from a visual standpoint. This flaw is limited to being a minor distraction due to the light overall tone. For some reason, I easily forgive lackluster special effects in comedy films. And to be perfectly honest, I think moviegoers place way too much emphasis on special effects nowadays. If the film itself is immersive, low-grade special effects can be perfectly fine. Clash of the Titans (1981) is a great example of that. I love that movie.
Regardless, I definitely enjoyed Mermaid, and it could very well move up my ratings list after a second viewing. If it plays in a cinema in your area, check it out. It is not yet available on DVD, but there is a good chance at a wide release given the popularity of the director.
Tai chi zong shi (2003)
Action-packed martial arts extravaganza!
This is my review of The Tai Chi Master, a Chinese action film from 1997. Not to be confused with the Jet Li movie from 1993, this one stars Wu Jing and is a two-hour film that was condensed from a 25-episode television series. Yes, you heard that correctly. A 25-episode television series (with each episode lasting 45 minutes each) was cut and re-edited to fit into a mere 2 hours. Such an endeavor may seem impossible, but it's emphatically successful here. Definitely one of the best martial arts movies you'll ever see, but it does have a few drawbacks.
First of all, the production values are not the best. The visuals are a bit hazy and the sound design could have been better. Not a big deal, because I find that I get used to it fairly quickly. Second, editing is a bit choppy which is probably a consequence of editing a television series down into movie form. Third, the storyline feels a bit rushed at times. This is set during the 1800s and is basically about a young man who learns Tai Chi and clashes with a number of people, one of which is a vindictive prince. The overall story and conflicts are good enough, but its the side stories that are weakened by this condensed version. However, one positive aspect that helps to mitigate the weaknesses in story is the likability of the protagonists. There's a bit of humor that's used well, and the actors have good chemistry with one another and it's fun watching them interact.
But that's not the best aspect of this movie. The real reason to watch this is for the martial arts. I kid you not, this is one of the most action-packed martial arts movies ever made. The first hour is peppered with entertaining fights, but the truly spectacular scenes are found during the second hour, which begins with a pagoda sequence (lasting a whopping 20 minutes) that represents exactly what Bruce Lee was going for when making Game of Death. If you remember, Bruce Lee wanted his character to fight a different opponent with a different fighting style on each level of the pagoda. Now, the Game of Death that was actually released in 1978 only has about 15 minutes of Bruce Lee footage because he passed away before he got a chance to finish it. Well, the pagoda sequence in The Tai Chi Master forces our protagonist fight against a Korean kickboxer, a Mongolian wrestler, a Miao pole fighter, a master of inner chi, a Japanese lady ninja, and a drunken monk. Let me put this into perspective. It's a treat when you see one fight in any action movie that showcases opponents with completely different fighting styles. This movie gives you 6 in a row! Utterly insane.
And that's not all. Like they say in those infomercials, "But wait, there's more!" After all of this, we a three-phase duel between two practitioners of Tai Chi. So this time, you get two guys who use a very similar style, and it's just awesome. One of these fights takes place amidst hundreds of hanging swords.
These fights are so intricately choreographed, it will blow your mind. There are so many martial arts moves here that I've never seen before in any other movie. I am not an expert on martial arts, but even I feel like I have a much greater knowledge of the style of Tai Chi after watching this movie because you see so much of it, and it's captured so well.
This movie and Kill Zone (2005) made me an instant fan of Wu Jing. I love this guy and I try to watch every action movie he's in. He's had a very inconsistent film career, with inexplicable patches of inactivity and/or quality. It's nice to see him reach some financial success in recent years. Both Wolf Warrior and SPL 2: A Time for Consequences made a lot of money in 2015, so he's on a bit of a hot streak.
Watchable fluff - not as bad as some have claimed
The first Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon was released 16 years ago. I think it's a solid film and I enjoyed it quite a bit. There are other swordplay films that I enjoy more than that one, but overall I think it's deserving of its accolades. Now, after watching the trailers for Sword of Destiny, I gathered the impression that this would be a more generic period action movie that's less dramatically effective than its predecessor . . . and that's basically what I got. Over the past few days I've noticed that it has become instantly fashionable to bash on this flick, but I don't think it's as bad as its initial reputation suggests. It has its flaws, but I found it watchable.
For example, it actually looks quite lovely. It's nicely shot and has some impressive locations. The natural environments are captured well and have a bit of a variety; there are pretty forests, mountains, snowy locales, bodies of water, etc. It's nice to look at and looks professionally made. I feel like I need to say this because some people think that Netflix produced this film. I don't think that's true at all, actually. Unless I'm missing something, Netflix is just distributing it in conjunction with its theatrical release.
Unfortunately, the scriptwriting is significantly weak element here. The characters and the story are very generic, which makes this feel like a "by-the-book" genre movie. I almost feel like it's pointless to even discuss the plot in any detail. You have some martial arts masters who take in younger trainees with questionable morals, and some bad guy (who's bad . . . just because) tries to steal a special sword. If you've seen a number of wuxia films, there's nothing new that you're going to see here. The conflicts do not have a lasting dramatic impact, which means that you're basically just waiting for the next action sequence.
But fortunately, there are a number of good fights that are peppered throughout. The director here is Yuen-Woo Ping, who previously directed a bunch of entertaining action films in Hong Kong a few of which include Iron Monkey (1993), In the Line of Duty 4 (1989), Tiger Cage (1988), and Drunken Master (1978). More recently he's been known for his action choreography in films such as The Matrix trilogy, Kill Bill, and the first Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon film. In terms of action, this guy knows what he's doing. Also, Sword of Destiny has some legitimate action movie stars with Donnie Yen and Michelle Yeoh. So you have some serious talent both in front of and behind the camera here, so the fights are generally good. The best of which involve Donnie Yen on an iced-over pond and Michelle Yeoh in a dark room (fighting a witch). There is use of wires (as expected) and some use of CGI (but not too much). Sometimes it does look a bit cartoony. There's nothing here that will rival the Ip Man films or The Raid films in terms of sheer awesomeness, but I found the action to be generally entertaining. And there was enough of it to make up for its dramatic flaws.
Suwingu gâruzu (2004)
It's almost impossible to dislike this film
A group of flunkee schoolgirls take up jazz in this hilarious movie by Shinobu Yaguchi. If you're unfamiliar with Yaguchi, he's a very reliable director and I would place him on a pedestal as one of the best if not the best contemporary directors of comedy films. One reason I feel this way is that he usually chooses a different topic for each film and explores the topic to point of being informative for the viewer. For example, his film Wood Job (2014) focused on forestry, his film Robo-G (2012) focused on robotics, and his film Happy Flight (2008) focused on air traffic control. So the viewer usually leaves his film with a slightly greater knowledge of the topic at hand. Swing Girls focuses on how teenagers learn to play instruments a topic that is certainly more familiar to the typical moviegoer than something like forestry, but the informational value of the film is still there.
The second reason I love Yaguchi as a director is that his humor is more of the everyday variety, which is very funny and very charming. Unlike some other directors of comedy, Yaguchi's films never even come close to being annoying or grating on the nerves which is a huge positive, in my opinion. There are no gross-out jokes or juvenile dialogue to sit thru. I mean, there's nothing worse than being irritated by a comedy, and you have nothing to worry about here.
Lots of hijinks occur in Swing Girls, which include disastrous lunch trips, money-making schemes to buy new instruments, and musical debacles. The set-up of how these girls become involved with music is very entertaining. The laughs just keep coming while incorporated within a distinctive cinematic approach that avoids over-the-top silliness in favor of quaint, well-timed events. One of the more memorable comedic set pieces occurs mid-way thru (in a forest) and is very creative in its style of camera-work. The pacing is fast, the characters are lovable, and the finale has some very catchy tunes. Yes, you have some legitimately good music to look forward to here. The opening half focuses on a few songs that the protagonists consistently fail to learn properly, but once they progress in their skill set we are treated to some great stuff during the finale.
The lead actress here is Juri Ueno, who is very popular in Japan because of her screen presence and charisma. Most of her films have not made the jump to American shores, but Swing Girls is an excellent introduction to this actress. One of the teachers is played by Naoto Takenaka, who is one of those Japanese actors who is seemingly in every film (not unlike Ren Osugi) IMDb credits Takenaka for 225 acting roles. He's great in this one, and it could be my favorite performance I've seen from him.
Swing Girls is great fun and comes highly recommended.