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Laam yan sei sap (2002)
A touching drama
I've known Ann Hui to be a excellent director for drama films. Most of her film subjects have touch matters such as family dysfunction, ethical and moral dilemmas that afflicts individuals. One of her films Song of Exile (Maggie Cheung) deals with the relationship of a Chinese-Japanese daughter and her Japanese mother. The characters in Ann Hui's films are fleshed out in depth making them 3 dimensional to the audiences.
Lam Yiu Kwok (Jacky Cheung) is a Chinese Literature school teacher who is in his mid-40's (hence the Chinese title 'Lam Yan Sei Saap' literally meaning 'Man At 40'). Despite being educated and graduating successfully, he opted to teach literature thinking that he could inspire his students to appreciate the art. His friends from high school have gone on to own successful businesses, rich corporate executives, and even stockbrokers. Somehow Yiu Kwok feels inadequate when he meets them at a reunion dinner.
His wife Lam Man Ching (the late Anita Mui) is a homemaker blessed with two teenage sons; one in university and another a high schooler. She is caring and loving towards her family. She even shares her husband's passion for literature; they sometimes recite verses of poetry. However she hides a buried secret. It became apparent when her old lover returns into her life; the reason for that secret. He on the other hand is suffering from a terminal disease and she wants to help him out by caring for him till he passes on. Man Ching feels that helping him can resolve old wounds or perhaps she felt vindictive and wanted to laugh at his dying body?
Yiu Kwok is furious that the past wounds has come back to haunt him and Man Ching. This is made even worse when she agreed to care for her dying old flame. He lets her to devices and delves deeper into his teaching. This leads to him forming a relationship to a student (devilishly played by Lam Kar Yan). She is a nubile girl who has the hots for her teacher. Yiu Kwok feels objected to the Lolita-esque affair he is having but can temptation overcome his senses? This leads to Yiu Kwok reevaluating his life and noticing how inadequate it is. The final moments of the film seems to have the characters resolving loose threads but it has also created new life paths that may require a painful sacrifice. I can't help but feel for Yiu Kwok, shedding a tear for Man Ching when both husband and wife came to an inevitable conclusion.
The characters in July Rhapsody has such deep depth, that they could just jump out of the screen; the audience can identify with the issues that are afflicting those individuals. All the actors gave a wonderful performance especially the central characters whose stories are tightly interwoven.
I've never seen Jacky Cheung do a better dramatic performance and did well here. Anita Mui has never failed to light up my eyes whenever she comes on screen. Her poetry recital reminds me of one of her film scenes in Rouge where her character Fleur recites love poems. That film itself was one of Anita's best. For her performance in July Rhapsody, the feeling is bitter sweet as not only did she give a memorable performance, it was also the last film that she ever made.Anita passed on in following late 2003 as a result of cervical cancer. Ironically, the film's conclusion although not that tragically sad had me bawling for Anita as the Chinese community and the rest of the world can never see such an actress like her again.
Monte Carlo (2001)
Funny and endearing
Monte Carlo tells the story of Constance van Tuyl van Serooskerken; a wealthy Dutch lady who wants to go on a trip to Monte Carlo to re-live a part of her life when she was married to a handsome French man in the 1960's.
She wanted her son Harald to drive her there but he couldn't; due to a neck injury and he had to take care of the family business. So, Harald got his mother a chauffeur, young Danny Schat; a mechanic from a garage that Harald frequents.
Much to Danny's annoyance, he had to put up with Constance's complaints and everything has to be done her way; the route to Monte Carlo, which hotels to stay, and what restaurants to eat at. There are several times where Danny threatened to leave the old lady to her devices.
But the misadventures and comical situations that they encounter; from picking up two hitch hiking tourists, a visit to a french winery, non-payment of hotel fees, and Constance's holding up of a petrol station (which attracted the French police) results in the odd couple becoming close friends.
After watching for 30 minutes, I pretty much thought Constance and Danny's character resemble Morgan Freeman's and Jessica Tandy's characters in Driving Miss Daisy. But thats where the similarity ends; rich lady and chauffeur. The road trip in Monte Carlo shared by the odd couple is endearing and it becomes even more sentimental towards the end (which I won't divulge for the risk of spoiling the film).
Another beauty of the film is the images of the beautiful French landscapes; flower fields, towns, the great French Alps, and finally the beaches of Monte Carlo. The soundtrack of the film is wonderful; French accordions is simply lovely, and the ending song is quite nice.
Cheers to Norbert ter Hall's debut for directing such a wonderful film.
Wang Shouxian de xia tian (2002)
A parallel to 'Not One Less'
Not since Zhang Yimou's 'Not One Less' have I seen another film about the rural folk of China. Li Jixian's Wang Shouxian de xia tiang (Wang Shou Xian's High Sky Summer) tells the story of Wang Shouxian, a 12 year old who has a passion for films. Action films from Hong Kong that has Jackie Chan or Jet Li are his favorites. During one 'high sky summer', Shouxian's village got a visit from a film crew from Beijing. Their intention was to shoot a film there and to find a young boy to play the lead role.
With an opportunity to become a film star at his fingertips, Shouxian manage to convince the directors of his acting talents. The trick? Rubbing hot peppers into his eyes in order to cry during an audition. However, his dreams was dashed when the headmaster of the village school brought up Shouxian's tardiness in class and lessons. Therefore, the role was given to the class monitor, bright and studious Luan Liwei. Shouxian's best friend Xiao Liuzi thinks that Shouxian deserved the role more than Liwei. So, Liuzi distracts Liwei by setting off the cow belonging to Liwei's family, forcing Liwei to go looking for it. In addition, Liuzi also stole the script for Liwei's role. No guessing who got the lead role in the end.
However, as Shouxian's involvement in the film got deeper, he questioned the lead character's preference for the village life rather than the city. This causes a conflict between Shouxian's ideals where he thinks the city life is better than the village. Hence he forgets his lines in his scenes and causes much anger in the director and the assistant director Mr. Liu. The scene was then abandoned and the crew left for other shooting locations. The next morning, Shouxian spotted the light meter left by the crew. With hope he can get redemption by returning the equipment, he sets off looking for them.
I can't help but noticing the parallels of Not One Less and High Sky Summer; the rural village landscapes, the egalitarian village community in modern communist China. Even in the storylines, we have the leads tempted by the urban city life far from that of their rural village. Not One Less has the runaway student, and here we have Shouxian aspiring to be a famous actor in the big city. The underlying motive of both films are also equal; the importance of education. With education, only can those young children look forward to a brighter future. Shaoxian realised this when he had his glimpse of the city and how lost he is; in the films end he began paying attention to his studies and 'yearns' to achieve his dreams.
If you don't mind another 'Not One Less' inspired film, this I recommend for the performances by the non professional leads.
Cracker Bag (2003)
I saw this short film prior before viewing Disney's Holes. I thought I was in the wrong cinema when Cracker Bag showed up. But I stayed through the entire length of this piece.
Eddie is young bespectacled girl growing up in Australia in 1980. On the 4th of November she has a special day planned out called Cracker day. She saved money to buy numerous firecrackers just for this occasion. Her mother made a special Cracker Bag (hence the title) for her just to carry the crackers. Simple as this film may be, it had that nostalgia feel to it as I recall wondrous memories of my childhood and yes, those colourful firecrackers.
A film that lights up my heart with fireworks.
Le fate ignoranti (2001)
Life after a death of a loved one would not be same, then there is this 'life'....
Antonia was living the life of most women would dream of. A good medical career, a loving husband, and a wonderful marriage. All that came to a crumble one day when he died in an accident leaving Antonia is grief and mourning.
But an accidental discovery of a painting hinted that Antonia's husband Massimo has another lover. Burning with anger, Antonia sought to find out more about this lover. But there is a catch; Massimo's lover is a man, Michele. Which shocked Antonia more to realising that her husband had lead a double life; one a straight married man, the other a gay lover.
Through Michele, she learnt more of her husbands secrets. A circle of friends Massimo has known through Michele, drag queens, immigrants, gay men, quirky apartment neighbours, and also AIDS patients. This circle of friends shared a warmness that all frienships has. Her open minded curiosity led her to befriend Massimo's circle of friends. Indirectly, she has replaced the vaccuum left by Massimo's death. At the same time, there is a growing attraction between her and Michele, as both are brought closer together. She then contrasts her life with Massimo and then with this 'new life' she has found after his death. Furthermore, she has to address her growing affections for her departed husbands lover.
Turkish director Ozpetek captures the warm bindings of this motley group of friends and in realistic detail in the confines of Michele's flat which serves as the groups meeting point for dinners and chats. The audience can feel the warmth emmitted from the togetherness of these people. A beautiful scene is where we see the dance party which is played to the tune of a slow song number overshadowing the dance beat in the background. We see all the circle of friends, Antonia and Michele included having a good time, bonding (yes even literal bonding!). Longing glances were exchanged between Antonia and Michele. This serves as a powerful scene and many assumptions or predictions can be made from this tease.
There are many side stories to Antonia and Michele's friendship as well such as dealing with rejection, pain suffered by an AIDS patient. Some of these issues are delicately dealt and while some humorous. There is plenty of humour in this film. Never has it made me laugh out loud. We see quirky characters like Louiselle the quirky supermarket cashier, Serra the 'apartment secretary', Mara the drag queen turned transvetite, Ricky, Sandora and Emir, all of them add together the humouros elements and warmth. A special mention would be Antonia's mother whose opened and profound views on life and adultery really had my sides splitting. The main leads by Margherita Buy and Stefano Accorsi depicts two people coming in terms of both of their loved one's death are very well potrayed. The emotion and the passion is felt from these two actor's performances.
Cheers to Ozpetek for creating such a warm and sentimental film! Almost made me shed tears when the ending loomed.
I Capture the Castle (2003)
Satisfaction with a tinge of sadness
I do not know why but periodic films always get me and leave me in awe. I Capture the Castle does leave me in awe and also leaves me with the warm feeling of satisfaction.
Cassandra Mortmain (brilliantly potrayed by Romola Garai -also known for her television works, most prominently Attachments-) moved from London to a countryside castle with her family when she was young. Reason being for the move is that her father (Bill Nighy); an author made famous by his first bestseller, wanted to stimulate his creative juices to write another novel. Unfortunately, it has been 12 years since he has written anything and this has affected the Mortmain family financially. Cassandra's older sister Rose, laments about this and wishes to escape from the deepening poverty they are enduring.
This changed however with the arrival of two american brothers; Simon (Henry Thomas) and Neil Cotton (Mark Blucas). Simon is the new landlord of the land that the Mortmains are renting. Their arrival has stimulated the emotions of curiosity, lust and love in those two girls. Rose, although initially wary of Simon is soon smitten by him and has agreed to marry Simon. From that point (for which I shall not spoil), we see Cassandra drawn into the centre of interwoven relationships. Some twists did occur although not very suprising, neither are they predictable.
Having seen Romola Garai's acting in Attachments, I find her underused in the television series. In Castle, she gives a colourful range of emotions. From what I can tell, the sadness or the joy is as real as it is. Another thing is that her narration (also written in the journal she writes in the movie) interspersed in most of the scenes, gives the audience an insight to her feelings and her deepest fears. I feel that there is more to come from this talented young actress and hopefully it will be good.
Another thing to note is the recreation of 1930's England. Brilliant, glamorous are in the dinner scenes, the girls trip to a London department store and the dance clubs. Quaint are the scenes in the countryside and also the gloominess from the weather. Humour? There are with Thomas Mortmain and Topaz Mortmain (delightfully played by Tara Fiztgerald; loved her 1930's 'hippie' bohemian act) supplying the punchlines and the laughter.
With all the side stories aside, I feel Castle was meant for audiences to see Cassandra's coming of age and how she deals with the plethora of emotions that hits her. I just left the cinema feeling warmly satisfied but with a tinge of sadness.
The Pianist (2002)
Brilliant and yet sad......
I went see The Pianist tonight feeling a bit curious and expecting the usual Saving Private Ryan spread. Man, I was wrong. This Roman Polanski directed film effectively conveys the horrors of The Holocaust that the Polish Jews have to endure during the German Occupation in Warsaw, Poland WW2. Jews; young and old, are shot for no reason, abused, and ridiculed. Caught in the middle of this nightmare was Wladyslaw Szpilman (brilliantly potrayed by Adrian Brody) a young and talented pianist and his Jewish family. They, like other Jews, were forced into small ghettoes and are sealed off from other parts of the city. There, they live their lives in poverty, waiting to be deported to concentration camps. In a heart wrenching scene, he was separated from his family and was forced to survive on his own in the ghettoes of Warsaw. From that point of the movie, it started to run a little slow. Even so, Adrian's performance shows him constantly hiding in the shadows, waiting, watching, fearing whether the next day would be his last. He doesn't talk much in this part of the film but the facial expression and body language tells it all. The other actors that supported Szpilman like his family also convey the sense of looming fear and dread that is also present in the other Jews in the film. This really and I mean realistically, gives us the impression that the Holocaust is much more than just the slaughtering of 3 million Jews (FACT;from the start and end of WW2).
Some points of the movie are interspersed with haunting piano solos. Being a music appreciator especially piano acoustics, the music from the film further conveys the suffering endured by our pianist. There is one piano solo that still resonates in my eardrums, but you will have to find out for yourselves.
Roman Polanski's beautiful cinematics truly captures the emotions and horrors of the war. A noted scene would be when Szpilman walks through the battered city ruins of Warsaw, a look at this scene reminds me of the blown buildings of Hiroshima after the first A-Bomb was dropped.
One of the best films of the year, its going to be in my DVD collection later this year. Its a shame if the Academy does not recognize the talents of Adrian Brody and instead giving it to others like Daniel Day Lewis for Gangs of New York. Still, its very tacky to give it to actors who potray psychopaths. 9/10
About Schmidt (2002)
Its about life, Its about you, Its about me, Its about Schmidt.
I got the chance to see an advance screening here in one of my local cinema. Although the release date was last December, well, it was quite late here then. Having heard that Jack Nicholson has won a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Motion Picture for this, I was curious so i went to see the film.
My, my, Jack has not lost his touch. Having seen him in engaging dramas like A Few Good Men, and in the comedy As Good As It Gets, Jack is still amazing and yes he is.
Its about Schmidt here as the title says it all. A retired pensioner who has lost himself after the passing of his wife. A father who is concerned about his daughter's choice of her soon-to-be-wed husband. A man who is disillusioned about his life. And what does he do about it? He sets out to do some soul searching and away he went in his brand new RV.
Along the way though, he corresponded to a child he has sponsored. And through his letters, we see Schmidt pouring out all his anger and frustrations that he has pent up in him all these years. Although we never get to meet the boy, in the end we see the child bringing tears to eyes of Mr. Schmidt.
Throughout the movie, i noticed many life events that has affected Schmidt; his retirement, the passing of a loved one, the marriage of your offspring, and the impending predicament of you own passing. Schmidt represents the kind of fears that we all will have once we are pass our prime. However, we see Schmidt trying to make a difference in his life and the people around him even at this age.
What can i say? Its about life, Its about you, Its about me, Its about Schmidt.
Tian mai zhuan qi (2002)
Action, Adventure, Romance, Humour all rolled into one.
I managed to catch the premier of Datuk Michelle Yeoh's film during its premier in Malaysia on August 1st. I can say that Datuk Yeoh has done a wonderful job, as a producer and also as the main lead in this film.
The Touch tells the tale of a relic treasure known as the Sharira which is said to contain the pure essence of a Buddhist Holy Man. To protect this great treasure, the Monks of Dun Huang hid it. When the time has come to retrieve it, the monks turned to a family of acrobats. For hundreds of years, the family trained, passing on the skills required to retrieve the Sharira when the time comes.
Yin Fei (Datuk Yeoh) and her brother Tong (Brandon Chang in his debut), are the heirs to the skills of the long lineage of acrobats. One fateful day, Eric (Ben Chaplin), a man who used to be Yin's old flame shows up with the Heart of Dun Huang, a medallion which is the key to unlocking the secret location of the Sharira. Together, they embark on a perilous journey to discover what Yin's ancestors once guarded. And what do you know, there is always the rich, merciless, unscrupulous man, Karl(Richard Roxburgh), who will stop at nothing to get his greedy hands on the prized treasure.
Pretty much your average treasure hunter movies with a little touch of Indiana Jones. There is almost a Tomb Raider reference when Karl offered Yin his resources to find the Sharira together. Fortunately, Yin just rejected his offer by kickin' his butt. By far, the scenes featured in the film were breathtaking ( China and Tibet ), thanks to director Peter Pau, who also doubles as the film's cinematographer. Action scenes were well pulled off and linked using spectacular special effects. Just don't miss the 'fight' scene between Yin and Tong in the beginning of the movie which is just reminescence of the fight between the Monkey God and Na Za.
Brandon Chang who had just made his debut in this film, may one day be the next Jet Li. It is heard that his now under Datuk Yeoh's tutelage in martial arts and Kung Fu. Datuk Yeoh, after the phenomenal success of Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon , still manage to captivate the audiences with her acting and also her butt kickin'.
Way to go Datuk Yeoh!!
A roadtrip journey into America's culture
What caught my eye about this movie was that it was about a roadtrip. Now I have a special slot in my list for movies that have the roadtrip element in it(Tumbleweeds & Neon Signs). Pretty much I was expecting the journey of the unexpected. Unexpectedly for me, it was a journey into America's culture which is evenly covered throughout the whole of the movie.
Plot wise (now i do not want to be a major spoiler for those who haven't seen the movie, so I'll keep it sweet and short), Neal Oliver (James Mardsen) embarks on a journey for an answer to his life and what it means to him. It brought him to an 'unchartered highway' Interstate 60; hence the movie title. What makes Interstate 60 out standing is the references of the the American Culture scattered in the movie. As Neal cruises along the highway, we see the motels, the gas stations, the odd townships, and also the motley bunch of characters that he will encounter. Among the towns that he visits, the one that intrigued me was the one where its residents 'utilizes' young drug addicts to do work for them in return for a-much-needed drug fix. Another one is a litigious town where there are rules for everything. Who would live there ? Lawyers! And the people that he will meet is a colorful bunch, from downright wacky, scary, and lowly cheap.
The casting of the characters also played a major role in making this movie come alive. I was suprised to see Christopher Lloyd after some time. James Mardsen, fleshed out his part well as the honest and opened Neal. Gary Oldman also played his part well as Neal's guide. Just don't miss the Micheal J. Fox cameo at the earlier part of the movie, simply comedic.
An amazing journey from start to finish.