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Rak haeng Siam (2007)
Gentle, yet deeply moving
This is a gentle little film with a big heart. "I don't know why I have to learn piano," asks young Mew early in the film. "Maybe one day, you can use it to show someone how you feel." Flash forward to present day, teenage Mew is the handsome lead singer of a band asked to write a love song. Everyone thinks it's cake but he struggles, as he doesn't know what it feels like. Enter Tong, Mew's childhood-separated neighbor. They hit it off immediately, and melody of love now comes to Mew naturally as he writes one song after another expressing his feeling about Tong. It's a joy to watch Mew fearlessly fall in love. His magnetic smile especially blossoms at Tong's presence. You can feel how drawn he is to Tong, especially when he sings to him. Unfortunately their love is interfered by an external force. Without the feeling, Mew can no longer sing authentically. It is heartbreaking precisely because we saw how happy they were together.
I've focused on the romantic relationship, but I fully concur with the reviewer who said it is the integration of this and the family subplot that makes it more whole than most gay-themed movies. In fact, that subplot dominates the second half of the movie.
Music is not only a central theme but the gentle OST is also used to great effect throughout the movie. The main imperfection for me was Mario's acting as Tong. He basically sleepwalked throughout the film. I get that he is supposed to be unsure about his sexuality, but he looks monotonically bored in most of his scenes.
Yoru no pikunikku (2006)
Nice simple movie
This is a feel-good coming-of-age story, where the strenuous walk strips students of their outer shell and makes them come out with their secrets. The end result is a little uneven - at times great, other times sloppy. There is an impressive long take at the beginning gradually revealing the entire student body on an open field. But some scenes don't achieve the desired emotional effect due to the amateur cinematography, which is odd considering the aforementioned impressive shot. It's as if the film was shot by different people.
As often in Japanese movies, there are a number of eccentric characters, from the rock-n-roll guy who is miserable during the day but comes alive at night, to the brothers with moose masks. These provided comic relief and memorable characters.
It's a simple movie we can all relate to on some level. The comedy helps maintain the light mood, while the mysteries keep you intrigued. Recommended.
Refreshing update to the classic
I'm a big fan of the original Saint Seiya anime from the 80s as well as the 2000s Hades arc. This story is a solid addition to the legacy. Like the Hades arc, it's more modern than the original, but what sets it apart is the superior characterization. Characters here are deeper and more complex; I found myself caring about even those who appeared only briefly. My favorites, as with before, are the gold saints. Here they bear resemblance to their 20th century incarnations, nearly everyone more fleshed out, but there will be some pleasant surprises. For example, I was glad to see a dignified Cancer, while the Pisces saint is beyond cool.
One of the problems with SS was it started getting repetitive after a while. I'm happy to say not so with this story. It does draw many parallels to Kurumada's SS, making old fans feel warm and fuzzy. Yet, the story here is refreshing and unpredictable. I couldn't take my eyes off the screen for all 26 episodes.
The 2 minor imperfections are one, the series ends before the manga, leaving you hungry for more, and two, it does get just a little repetitive and formulaic with the way gold saints are introduced and their fate. All things considered, the solid story and execution are quite possibly the best we've seen in SS thus far.
Chi bi (2008)
Surprisingly good mega blockbuster from a seasoned Master
Admittedly, I had my doubts about Red Cliff. John Woo in the chair to make a historical war drama? That hasn't happened since... oh wait, it's never happened before. Then again, if Ang Lee could make a great movie about gay cowboys, I'm willing to see what John Woo can do outside his usual territory. That, and the film's steady high profile publicity over the past several years, made Red Cliff a must-see for me.
For Red Cliff, the biggest divergence from Woo's prime time classics such as The Killer is the subdued emotions. Most of Woo's classics were rather in-your-face in terms of melodrama, but not so in Red Cliff. While I loved his melodramas, I believe Red Cliff reveals a matured Woo with improved craftsmanship. Make no mistake: he has incorporated his signature themes of male bonding, loyalty, and sacrifice in Red Cliff--but in a much more subtle and understated manner.
Unquestionable, some viewers have loved Woo for his badass action sequences. But for me, I've always been a fan because of his memorable characters. To this point, I was pleased with Red Cliff's strong characters. The film has focused on making the central figures appealing by either embellishing them with an edgy factor or giving them some depth, and this is successful for the most part.
For me, the low point of the movie was the weak acting from Zhao Wei and Takeshi Kaneshiro -- not just compared to Tony Leung, but on any scale. Kaneshiro is an odd choice to play the historically glorified Zhuge Liang, while Zhao Wei's character seemed totally inconsequential.
The film also features some annoying cartoonish music, which seemed to be oddly misplaced in intense combat scenes.
Other than those few shortcomings, Red Cliff is a solid film that is both a mega blockbuster and quality film-making.
Great fusion of entertainment and quality content
Released amid a horde of Korean romantic comedies following the success of "My Sassy Girl", Singles--I found--was not simply another manufactured commodity. It broke some major clichés that are risky for any studio film to deviate from. There was realistic acting of genuine human behaviors underneath the surface of light-hearted humor, which may I add, is very funny! I would even consider this film to be a great painting of the common people. A lot of films take the escapist approach to deviate its content from real life; in my opinion that is a perfectly legitimate way to make films, and while Singles certainly has its share of over-the-top moments (which are highly enjoyable), I found it to resemble life more than most genre films. And, if art is to imitate life, then I consider Singles to be a successful work of art. It's great to see films incorporating both wild entertainment AND something meaningful that we can take away from.
The Velocity of Gary (1998)
A story with subtle poignancy, as charming as its weaknesses
What a pleasure it is to discover a little film which presents little pieces of your own life story. This is a film that I imagine many will question what the hell is the point. It feels like an exploratory independent film that doesn't try to be very clever or cool, just an ordinary story with plenty of room for randomness. As it fits in neither the energetic class of cinema characterized by Tarantino and Fellini, nor the understated class a la Hou Hsiao-Hsien and Gus Van Sant, it won't impress the entertainment seekers and may not work for the purists. That said, I personally liked it more than not.
The great Michelangelo Antonioni said that films are not to be understood; they are to be experienced. As a film VELOCITY may not score high, but viewing it was an experience which I will not forget soon. The scenes with the deaf boy in drag were simply poignant and memorable. I'll never forget the priceless look on his face when his wig was pulled away by the rascals. It was a look which captured a thousand unspoken words that few, if any, Hollywood star would be capable of replicating. His pursuit of Gary brings back traces of my own memory. For me, this character was the primary saving grace of the film; his "acting" was superb, so heart-felt that I'm not sure if it's acting or reality--probably a hybrid of both.
In summary, VELOCITY is a film where some fragments are better than the whole package. Whether or not you can enjoy the film probably depends on how much your life experience draws you to the characters.
Delivering socio-political commentary through entertainment, stylistically compromised to permit greater accessibility
In my opinion, BULWORTH at its core can be viewed as an artist trying to make a statement via his film, using the same approach as Charlie Chaplin's final speech in GREAT DICTATOR and Paul's reply to Jesus in Martin Scorsese's adaption of THE LAST TEMPTATION OF Christ. In GREAT DICTATOR, Charlie Chaplin was misidentified as Hitler, and he was given the opportunity to make a public speech to the world. Chaplin stepped up, cleared his throat, and delivered one of the unforgettable speeches in cinema about peace and freedom. In the case of THE LAST TEMPTATION OF Christ, Paul would rather bury the truth of Christ's existence, endorsing that "faith" in Jesus is more important than whether Jesus' resurrection really occurred. Both Chaplin and Scorsese had something which they felt compelled to communicate via their art, and although both deliveries felt contrived and unrealistic, this approach ensures that the point is understood by the audience.
Now, I am not here to discuss the merit of this "force-feed" approach (frankly, I think it's rather crude...), nor am I here to assess the merit of Warren Beatty's statement (OK, I admit it oversimplifies the situation...). I am merely pointing out that Bullworth takes the same approach as Chaplin and Scorsese did in making a personal commentary, in this case: the government (specifically, the democratic party) doesn't care about the people, and never will be able to, as long as corporate millionaires are influencing their decisions. In this respect, I believe that BULWORTH should not be critiqued on the basis of realism, but rather on its effectiveness in making the viewer contemplate about our current political environment. After all, at the core of every art, its purpose is to make people THINK, granted that from an artistic perspective, the artist value remains important (which BULWORTH has very little), but from a practical point of view, its maximum impact is what matters to the world.
In short, BULWORTH is a political commentary delivered in-your-face with typical annoying Hollywood conventions. I cringed at the few laughably unlikely scenarios which defy any sense of realism; at the same time I was entertained; in the end I was rooting for Senator Bulworth, and the film had its share of impact on me. Most of the time when a movie is as shamelessly contrived on the surface as BULWORTH, I wouldn't have anything nice to say about it. The saving grace of this film is its underlying heart. It could have been more subtle and more intelligent, but in the process of such elaboration BULWORTH would compromise its ability to reach a wider audience with an important message.
Youyuan jingmeng (2001)
Exquisitely composed, Expertly crafted, PEONY PAVILION is hypnotizingly graceful to the eye, undeniably seductive to the senses, and gently evocative to the mind. The acting is near perfect, and Joey Wong is easily at her best that I've ever seen. As a bonus, listen to Brigitte Lin's voice in the narration.
This film is perhaps most enjoyable as a visual art. The imagery is simply wonderful, and it is that which I remember the film for. I would have agreed with the comment from reviewer Hermes regarding Yonfan being a superior cinematographer than screenwriter, except the credits reveal that Yonfan was in fact not the cinematographer of this film.
Survive Style 5+ (2004)
Broadcasting the laws of life through deliberately wild entertainment
First, a brief advice for those who haven't seen the film: expect bizarreness, randomness, random bizarreness, exaggerated randomness, and exaggerated bizarreness. However, beyond the exaggerated random bizarreness, the film doth have meanings that we can take away. It has style and substance, albeit a lot of style. FINAL VERDICT: highly recommended if you don't mind bizarre exaggerated randomness.
The rest of my review provides an analysis of the meaning behind the lushly colorful sets and the exaggerated bizarreness. It will be most helpful to readers who have already viewed the film.
As first glance, "Survival Style 5+" would seem a totally bizarre film-going experience. Indeed, few movies can claim to feature the following exaggerated acts:
-a hot wife who visualizes a complete "speedy" internet commercial in her head, which uses olympic sprinters to compete in how "speedy" they can cum on the field by having sex.
-a dead wife who breathes fire to light her husband's cigarette.
-a middle-aged father who permanently turns into a bird by undergoing hypnosis.
-an executive who answers an "important" phone call from his wife during business hours; "What is it?" He asks, and then his face shows great concern as he repeats after his wife: "What, the bathroom lights are out!"
-an assassin asking a cooked broccoli what is its function in life.
These are just a few examples to gear up your expectations for the randomness in the film. However as the film progresses, it becomes evident that it has meanings more than meet the eye. Why when the man wants to kill his wife, he can never succeed, but as soon as he retracts the intention, she is really dead? Why when the same wife cooks a full meal for the man, he is not pleased, but at the end he is happy to accept a less full meal from her? Why does the woman in commercial business run after her lost recordings, only to stop before she reaches it with a sigh: "I'm so stupid?"
To me, this film illustrates the basic lessons learned in life through these wildly random events, and it all ties up at the end. The wife is not able to please the man with her cooking at first because she is feeding him what she wants to feed him, not what he wants to eat. Later, when she adjusts the food to his liking, both he and she are more satisfied. At first, the man is repeatedly killing his wife because he is a killer and that's what he is supposed to do. Even though he fails every time, he just repeats the same thing over and over again without thinking. He can never succeed killing her because the more we want something, the harder it seems to obtain. However when he finally has no intention of killing her any more, she is taken from him forever. How ironic. This incident also illustrates the inevitability of consequences from our actions: the man had hired a hit-man to kill his wife, and it comes back to haunt him. Therefore the man's action is responsible for his wife's death.
Furthermore, the woman in commercial business is a workaholic. She has no personal life, and her husband detests her work. On Christmas eve, she is running with all her strength to retrieve missing work. As she races past the holiday decorations and Santa on the street, it finally hit her: she has been living in vain; on this day of celebration, she has nothing to celebrate and no one to celebrate with. And what about the band of thieves? During a near-death situation, two of them finally come out with their feelings, reinforcing the notion that tragedy brings people closer. As for the bird dad, he didn't turn into a bird without a purpose. It is a statement about coming to terms with who we are and who our neighbors are; we need to co-exist with people who are different from us, and it begins with accepting who we are and who they are.
Although this review has concentrated on the film's meaning, I must take a moment to comment on the wildly imaginative visual style. This movie is a visual feast full of vibrant colors. Along the same style, the film definitely has its share of random, exaggerated situations. Why would the director take this exaggerated approach to illustrate the lessons of life, you might ask. The answer lies in the commercial expert Yoko's reply to her boss' criticism about the offbeat nature of her presentation: "You have to make something entertaining. Otherwise, people will not watch it," she says. Her bosses are pressing her to make another dull and straight-forward presentation; they think that spoon-feeding the audience is the only way for the us to grasp their intended meaning. Well, I am confident that most people who see this film will agree that Yoko's offbeat commercials would be more effective than any boring standard commercial. By taking the same offbeat, exaggerated approach to make this film, the director is trusting our ability to grasp the essence of his intentions, and we should be thankful for such filmmakers who have enough faith in their audience to take chances with a deliberately creative offering.
Match Point (2005)
Woody Allen, you did not disappoint me. Bravo
Walking into "Match Point" as my first Woody Allen experience proves that I have a long way ahead in exploring cinematic excellence. Here Allen deftly plays with our expectations. At various points, the film appeared to be falling into conventional traps; for example, when the attraction between Nola and Chris became unbearably evident, but one of them was afraid to be seen together, I suspected the story to branch into the "forbidden love" territory a la "Brokeback Mountain." But not so! Or, when Chris was reluctant to accept an office job, I thought perhaps this film would explore his unhappiness with the business world, and where his heart really belonged, as a conventional film is expected to do after establishing the character's reluctance. My foreshadowing was off, and I'm glad that the seemingly conventional plot was nothing more than a warm up for the dark, haunting side of the human experience that is often overlooked because the truth hurts. If you have not seen this film, here is a word of warning to set the right expectation: do NOT expect to walk away charmed, and do expect "Match Point" to explore psychologically frightening territories. The story progresses through several phases, and Allen demonstrates that he refuses to give in to popular expectations. Nevertheless, keep in mind that Allen stated in an interview that he was not aiming for a depressive tone -- merely a realistic one, not that it isn't funny occasionally!
"Match Point" is my first Woody Allen experience, and I would rate it as a daring and powerful effort that transcends the limitations of popular cinema; I would not have expected any less from the legendary director.