Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
Jacob's Ladder (1990)
One of the best psychological horror/mystery/dramas you can find
Have you ever had one of those dreams where, after you wake up, the palpable relief is overwhelming that it was only a dream and not that nightmare you were in? Probably. Most of us can relate to that feeling. "Thank God it was only a dream!" What if you awoke from such a dream, started going about your daily business, and then realized that *this* was the dream and the nightmare you thought you woke up from was your real life? How terrifying would that be? Jacob Singer is living such a life. He's back home from Vietnam, settled in with a hot girlfriend, and has a mundane job at the post office. He's a smart fellow (his Army mates gave him the nickname "The Professor" because he earned a doctorate but never did anything with it).
But Jacob has inner demons that cause turmoil in his life. He's divorced from his wife, but still feels a connection. And he has to deal with the painful memories of one of his young children, who was killed prior to Jacob leaving for Vietnam. And his memory of a particular event in Vietnam that he can't explain and still haunts him.
But what Jacob has to face now is that these inner demons have shown themselves to be real (at least, to him), and are tormenting him. He goes to see his regular VA counselor, only to be told there is no record of such a doctor and no file for Jacob ever having been there. He sees strange things out of the corner of his eye that he can't explain. When he realizes that his platoon mates are experiencing a similar nightmarish existence, they go to a lawyer who checks out their story and tells them they were never even in Vietnam. They were all discharged on psycho grounds after going nutso on a training exercise.
Jacob becomes convinced that they were all part of some sort of Army "experiment" that did something to them, but he can't explain what because the things he is experiencing have no explanation. Were they all part of some Manchurian Candidate group hypnosis experience? Guinea pigs in chemical warfare testing? Is Jacob truly going crazy? Or, is it an example of "I'm not paranoid if they really are coming to get me"?
"Jacob's Ladder" is a frightfully effective film of a man who may or may not be losing his sanity. Robbins is perfect as the quiet, introspective, amiable fellow who is at the end of his rope and has nowhere to turn. Director Lyne does a great job keeping the horror in the shadows; playing with your mind's ability to extrapolate and fill in a scene. The film works much better as a subtle exercise in psychological horror, as evidenced from a few more explicit scenes wisely cut from the film (but available on the DVD.) Even so, there are images so frightening that you will probably jump a couple of times. And replay them in your head while trying to sleep later. (Good luck.).
The film works best if you go in cold. Allow the film to unfold and reveal its secrets, and then watch it again. This movie deserves NOT to be spoiled, but I see plenty of reviews doing just that. Shame on those people.
Pido nunmuldo eobshi (2002)
Wow, this action/comedy gangster/heist flick really delivers the goods!
Mix several parts "Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels," a dash of "Go," a smidgen of "True Romance," and fights as brutal as "Fight Club" (but with women giving and taking beatings as much or moreso than the men) -- put it all through the filter of a Korean gangster film and you have "No Blood, No Tears," a tour de force by hot young director Seung-wan Ryoo ("Die Bad"; "Crying Fist").
The plot is complex. But not so that you can't follow what is going on as it happens. Don't plan on being two jumps ahead, however. Just let the movie come to you and you will be rewarded.
The whole issue of the heist and most of the fights (which are pretty brutal) don't really come into play until the second half of the film, but there is plenty of good stuff in the first half to get you there.
The story is centered around two good female leads. Hye-yeong Lee plays Kyeong-seon, who owes the local neighborhood loan shark a lot of money. She's got a certain past and tends to solve problems by a beer bottle across the head or a kick to the gut. Then we have Su-ji (played by Do-yeon Jeon)--the frequently smacked around moll of a low-level gangster. A chance encounter puts them together and gets the wheels turning on how they can make off with a whole lot of the high-level gangster's money.
There are double crosses, triple crosses, and lots of surprises along the way. A multitude of other characters play important roles. Inept police detectives; idiotic street punks who switch back and forth from being informants for the police and trying to get in on the goods themselves; loan collectors who don't know if they should start taking off fingers or sit down and eat lunch with the debtor. Perhaps most impressive is a gangster tough (credited as "Silent Man") played by famed martial arts action director Doo-hong Jung. He has a great fight scene where he really gets to strut his stuff.
If you are tired of the same old Hollywood plots, fights, and chases, do yourself a favor and seek this film out.
Tian mi mi (1996)
11 stars out of 10--it's that good
"Comrades, Almost a Love Story" is one of my all-time favorite movies, of any genre. It is hard to express just how wonderful and moving this romance is. Enough to touch even the most jaded and cynical of hearts.
"Comrades" swept award after award upon its Hong Kong release. For example, see the list for the Hong Kong Film Awards: Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Director (Peter Chan), Best Actress (Maggie Cheung), Best Supporting Actor (Eric Tsang). Plus Best Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume & Make-up Design, and Score.
The story covers a 10-year span. In 1986, Li Jun (played by Leon Lai) arrives in Hong Kong right off the proverbial turnip truck. He's a Mainlander from some rural community up north. He has come to Hong Kong to make some money in order to eventually bring his fiancée down and get married. This task is made difficult because he is rather naive and more importantly, doesn't speak a word of Cantonese. His best hope is to work menial jobs until he can learn the language and better his circumstances.
One day he goes into a McDonald's to pantomime his way into ordering a hamburger. The cashier, Li Qiao (Maggie Cheung), is arrogantly frustrated with his inability to speak Cantonese and tells him he'd better get with the program because in the hustling capitalism of Hong Kong, people like him don't stand much of a chance. He is drawn to her because she can speak to him in Mandarin and she is very cute. "Are you from the Mainland, too?" he asks. "Of course not!" she says. (It's hard to move up in HK with that stigma attached.) Anyway, they end up spending time together. She steers him toward an English language class. Out of friendship? Well, not really, because she gets a cut ($$) for every Mainlander she delivers. She also has him running errands and such for her.
They grow closer. At one point she confesses that she too is from the Mainland (but from nearby Guangzhou Province, not from up north hicksville). He replies "I've pretty much known that all along." "They why did you let me take advantage of you?" "I needed a friend and you're the only one I have." They become lovers of convenience and proximity. He still loves his fiancée and sends her letters, but she is distant and Li Qiao is near.
So far, this is the first half hour of the film. How it plays out from here is the magic of this movie. The backdrop of the next 10 years is the ever-changing Hong Kong as it prepares for the 1997 handover. Fortunes made, fortunes lost. Li Qiao and Li Jun go their separate ways, but find themselves back in each other's lives from time to time. She meets someone else and he ends up marrying his fiancée. But still their feelings for each other can never be suppressed entirely.
I hope I have not made this seem like a typical boy-meets-girl romance. It is so much more than that, and yet without all the trappings you might expect from a big-budget Hollywood film. There are no wisecracking sidekicks, no cute kids making fools out of the adults, no slapsticky miscommunications. Just these two wonderfully engaging people and the lives they lead and the difficult choices they make.
I know I am a romantic softie. A number of movies cause my eyes to get all misty. I've seen "Comrades" at least 6 times and I still get leaky. I know what happens, I know how it ends there are no plot surprises. Yet every time I watch it I can't help but be absorbed by the acting, the pacing, and the emotional impact of the story of these two people.
Wing Chun (1994)
Great fun all around.
I rented "Wing Chun" on VHS several years ago, after watching "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." I was impressed with Michelle Yeoh and the whole wuxia/martial arts fantasy genre. I'm glad I did because this is one of my favorites.
In addition to Michelle Yeoh (who plays the Wing Chun character), the movie stars Donnie Yen ("Iron Monkey"; "Hero") as well as Waise Lee, Norman Chu, King-Tan Yuen, and Catherine Hung Yan. Pei-pei Chang has a cameo.
The story is light and comic. Much of the plot will seem familiar to those who have seen a number of Shakespearian comedies--girl dressed as guy, mistaken identities, love triangles, suiters sneaking in and out of bedrooms just in the nick of time, plays on words, sexual innuendo, etc. You've even got a den of thieves with comically bumbling ne'er-do-wells.
The "plot" as it were is an excuse to hold the story together for the fight scenes. The martial arts in the movie are not brutal death-matches, but of the spin-through-the-air, prop-using, wonderfully choreographed, skilled ballets that are indicative of the film's action choreographer Woo-ping Yuen (who also choreographed "The Matrix," "Crouching Tiger," "Kill Bill," and many more). Donnie Yen contributed a lot to the choreogrpahy and action directing also.
And what great fight scenes they are! There are at least 8 or 9, so you certainly get your money's worth. They are so much fun to watch. Michelle is simply wonderful, especially in the last third of the movie when she stops dressing in men's clothes and goes into cute and perky mode.
Perhaps the most famous scene from the film is one where one of the local bandits has come to challenge Wing Chun in her place of business (a tofu store). No problem, says Wing Chun. All you have to do is smash this pan of tofu sitting on the table and you will be the winner.
How hard could that be, right? Well, it's damn nigh impossible when what prevents you from putting your fist into a plate of tofu is Michelle Yeoh and all her skills. An amazingly choreographed scene that brings big smiles all around. Michelle's facial expressions are priceless as she goads the hapless bandit into just "one more try" before slamming him back to the ground yet again.
Anyone remotely interested in martial arts romantic comedies should rush to pick this film up.
Vibrant Korean adaptation of "Les Liaisons Dangereuses"
"Revenge is sweetest when done secretly."
"Untold Scandal" is a lush adaptation of the novel "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" set in Chosun Dynasty Korea. I have not read the novel nor seen any of the other film adaptations (e.g., "Dangerous Liaisons"; "Cruel Intentions"), so my review is on the merits of the film itself rather than a comparison to other works.
Lady Cho is none too happy when her husband brings in 16-year-old So-OK to be his concubine. She is cute and virginal and of course Lady Cho can't stand it. So she turns to her cousin, Sir Cho Won, and makes a devious proposition--seduce this "innocent flower" and impregnate her. The thought of presenting her husband with a pregnant concubine makes Lady Cho's eyes sparkle. What would Cho Won get in return? What he has always wantedto enjoy the carnal pleasures of Lady Cho.
But the idle rich are easily bored and this is hardly the test Cho Won was looking for. Seducing a naïve teenager is no challenge. A few flattering words and, well, what girl would *not* fall into bed with the dashing and charming Cho Won? He offers a counter-proposal. If he can bed the virginal Lady Chung, who belongs to a Catholic group and has made a vow of chastity, that would be a true accomplishment worthy of the reward Lady Cho offers. (Of course, being the Lothario that he is, he can't help making eyes at So-OK as well. Just a little something on the side to keep in practice.) Now the games begin. Cho Won finds it rough going, as Lady Chung wants nothing to do with him. She has heard of his reputation and she has no interest in anything but her Catholic service and charity work. She's rather a plain Jane and can't even conceive of why Cho Won would want to have anything to do with her anyway. In fact, she tells him straight out that she would rather live with the plague victims than even carry on a conversation with him. He's certainly got his work cut out for him.
Lady Cho gets a perverse pleasure out of this game of seduction and manipulation. And she's got her own devious games to play with the clueless So-OK.
The scheming escalates in intensity and nefariousness. Will Lady Chung crack? Will Lady Cho have to pay up on the bet? Will So-OK end up a pregnant bride? Will the Law of Unintended Consequences come back to bite Cho Won? The challenge for the actors is to make such characters engaging enough so that the viewer isn't completely turned off by them. Let's face it. Cho Won is a cad of the first degree, and Lady Cho is no better. Even when it appears that Cho Won is succumbing to actual feelings of affection and love, we are not sure if it is genuine or just a part of his merciless game.
Many films can offer up good villains, but they are usually played off against protagonists who have the audience's sympathy and interest. It is more of a task when the villains have to carry the film. I think "Untold Scandal" rises to the challenge admirably. The scheming cousins set about their plans with such style and panache that viewers may find themselves actually rooting for them. These are interesting characters who are surprisingly multi-dimensional (especially in the case of Cho Won).
My major issue with the film was that the ending seemed sort of slapped together. Up until then we've been treated to a very tight and contained piece, but then things start spinning all over the place. I'm not sure if this is true to the original story or if the director felt that after 2 hours he'd better just wrap things up.
If you like costume and period pieces, this is the movie for you. The look of the film is colorful and vibrant. The Hong Kong DVD version carries a Category III rating for some nudity, eroticism, and sensuality, but it is not some silly sex romp. The characters develop, and there are some surprises along the way.
Neukdaeui yuhok (2004)
What a pleasant surprise!
I was geared up to not like this movie, and the first 10 minutes or so did nothing to allay my fears. It starts off with 2 high school gangs squaring off against each other with bad kung-fu. A scenario found in countless other Korean films. Ho-hum. Add the fact that the story was written by the same guy who wrote "He Was Cool" (which was barely passable) and, well, I thought I was in for a nondescript 2 hours.
But don't give up so quickly! "A Romance of Their Own" was directed by Tae-gyun Kim, who also did "Volcano High" (which I thought was loads of fun). Anyway, "Romance of Their Own" soon takes a turn much for the better. A high school girl, just having moved to Seoul, finds herself in the middle of attention from two prospective suitors. Each guy has his own merit, and it is not clear which one (if either) would be the right pick.
What follows is not your usual teen love triangle. The emotions are complex, and while you may not agree with certain choices or actions as the film develops, you can certainly understand why the characters make them.
The movie asks questions of the characters and the audience. Who does one choose? At what point is one obligated to even make a choice (and is it unfair to one if it seems he is being strung along)? After you (or your heart) has made a choice, how do you react (and how *should* you react) when new information comes up that sheds new light on the situation? There is one scene, near the end, that is very subtle but perfectly captures what I think would be a real-life reaction instead of over-the-top "movie reaction." The subtlety is in a character in the background of the scene. Recent events and revelations have left him confused and emotionally overwhelmed. Basically, he doesn't know what to make of things. Instead of having him "act out" something, or look all gape-mouthed dumbstruck, he just stares off at some fixed point unable to react or say anything at all. It's like someone just pulled the plug on him. His reaction rang true to me and I appreciated the scene.
Like most Korean films, there is a mix of action, bravado, slapstick, and melodrama. Korean films often take abrupt turns (see, "Sex Is Zero" for a great example), which can be quite a shock for the uninitiated. Go ahead and initiate yourself with this one. Like it, love it, or hate it, I think most viewers will be able to relate to and appreciate the characters' actions and reactions.
Highly recommended Korean drama
Jeong-eun comes home after 3 years to find that her father wants nothing to do with her. And who can blame him? After all, she just got out of prison for the third time, having gone from petty theft to stabbing a guy with a knife.
The father realizes that Jeong-eun has come home after 3 years, but only to see her 5-year-old brother. She wants nothing to do with him. And who can blame her? After all, he threw his life away to alcohol and physically abused his wife (Jeong-eun's mother; now dead).
But each of them seeks redemption and atonement, and things are not all as they seem. And caught in the middle is the little boy.
Father and daughter find out things about each other that cause each of them to re-evaluate their relationship baggage. She wants to go on the straight and narrow, but her gangster ties do not allow that to happen. And he has a specific reason for needing his daughter back in his life.
The best thing about this film is the acting. Father, daughter, and little boy, as well as other major and minor characters all hit just the right notes. Absent is the overacting too common in Korean films. No 180-degree tone shifts in the middle of the movie. Yes, there is a gangster that goes around slapping his henchmen on the back of the head, but surprisingly it does not go over-the-top. Ae Su, as Jeong-eun, is a revelation in her first feature film.
The emotions that come out in the film (both in the actors and in the viewer) never seem forced. No melodrama just for melodrama's sake. Real people, facing real problems, making the mistakes real people make.
This movie is heartwarming and heartbreaking, with the two woven together masterfully. Highly recommended.
Daai cheung foo (2003)
Extremely funny farce with great ensemble cast
In the mood for a fun and funny battle of the sexes? Try "Men Suddenly in Black," a lighthearted screwball comedy/triad gangster spoof with a great ensemble cast. Eric Tsang (recently seen as the gangster boss in "Infernal Affairs") is the inspiration for a group of fellows who just want to let loose and have a little adulterous fun. The only problem is that their wives and girlfriends are constantly keeping an eye on them and thwarting their plans and schemes.
But one day the four women plan a short trip to Thailand. Opportunity! Time to make plans! The movie follows the men as they conspire to drink, skirt-chase, and engage in other male-bonding rituals while the girls are away. It seems that the poor guys just miss their bachelor days and gee, what the girls don't know won't hurt them, right? Oh, but the ladies are not stupid. Their suspicions peaked, they take us on a cat-and-mouse adventure as the guys try to stay one step ahead. Elaborate deceptions and near-misses ensue.
What makes this movie so enjoyable are the cast and the vignettes that the guys go through. The plan allows for each guy to engage his own separate pursuit while still allowing for episodes of group activity (such as a visit to a cyber sex café and a hotel room party). All this is intercut with the ladies planning their own traps for the guys.
And these vignettes are nothing short of hilarious. See the guys try to negotiate for better looking and more interested "dates" at the cyber café (and learn that what is advertised is not exactly what you get, especially when you are trying to do it on the cheap). In one especially inspired episode, the guys are almost caught by camera-wielding paparazzi (the last thing the guys need is to be on the evening news). The whole scene plays out as a spot-on send-up of a John Woo film. Slow motion flying through the air, and, well, I don't want to give it away, but when you see what they use instead of guns, I dare you not to laugh out loud.
Another funny episode involves "Ninth Uncle." It seems that in an earlier escapade, Ninth Uncle (played by Tony Leung Ka Fai, "The Lover"; Johnny To's "Election") took the fall when the girls showed up, thus allowing the other guys to make a clean getaway. Now he is a prisoner in his own home (his wife won't even allow him to read "porns," poor guy!). Very funny stuff here.
As I mentioned before, the cast is great. In addition to Tsang and Leung, the movie features Jordan Chan, Chapman To, Teresa Mo, Candy Lo, Tiffany Lee, and a number of cameos.
Enjeru dasuto (1994)
Very intriguing, little known-gem. Worth seeking out
If you've come across the VHS of Angel Dust in your local rental store, you've probably seen the promo material refer to it as "The Japanese Silence of the Lambs." It's really not, however. Yes, the two films share a basic plot: an attractive female detective/ psychologist tracks a serial killer while tapping into the talents of a manipulative mentor type to help get into the killer's mind in order to catch him. But the similarities pretty much end there. There are elements of a whodunit and we get just enough police procedural to keep us on track, but those expecting a big-star Hollywood type production like Silence of the Lambs, or a trendy, graphic thriller like Tell Me Something will probably be disappointed.
However, if you enjoy the psychological aspects of a hunt for a serial killer; think that a secluded brainwashing clinic can be a creepy setting; and appreciate mood, atmosphere, and symbolism over jump scenes and gore, then I suggest that you seek out this little-known film.
Every Monday at 6:00 PM a 20-something girl drops dead right in the middle of the crowded Tokyo subway. The killer's predictability is more than offset by his elusiveness. Meanwhile, we are introduced to our detective, Setsuko Suma. Described as an "analyst on abnormal criminal personalities," she seems to be a cross between a psychic and a empath and is driven to get into the mind of the killer in order to stop him. However, Suma is no confident and strong Clarice Starling. In fact, she is barely hanging on to her sanity, and we get the feeling that the efforts of the investigation just might tip her over the edge, if not kill her. Suma has frequent nightmares and fugue states. In these she finds herself descending into a cave (her nightmares? her memories? a trap from which there is no escape?). The symbolism is effective.
To complicate matters, her investigation leads her to a former mentor and lover (Rei Aku), a mysterious renegade psychologist who has set up a "reverse brainwashing" clinic known as a "Re-freezing Psychorium." We aren't quite sure if the mind games he draws Suma into serve the purpose of helping her in her quest, or something more diabolical. In any event he is always several steps ahead of her and she finds herself psychologically and emotionally at his mercy once he gets into her head.
Something that impressed me greatly about Angel Dust was the visual style and the director's stylistic touches. The look of the film is grainy and washed out. The Tokyo of Angel Dust is bleak and full of urban decay that hangs like an oppressive weight over everything. The color palette tends toward sepia and a pale industrial green that will have you thinking about basement cafeterias, hospital corridors, and flickering fluorescent lighting.
We are treated to some interesting visuals, and I firmly believe the sound editor must be a genius. (I can hear you saying it now--"Oh great...he's going off on the sound editing, that's like telling me the sister has a great personality"). No, no, really. It's very effective, including the use of an atonal synthesizer that really complements the production design.
In sum, well worth the effort to seek out if you are in the mood for something different from the typical Hollywood fare.