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ken_lee54

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15 out of 28 people found the following review useful:
Incomplete, 7 January 2008

Movie Review: My Blueberry Nights (2008) By Ken Lee

The filmic language of this film is unmistakably WKW, and it won't be wrong for one to say it's reminiscent of his earlier works, chief of which, "Chungking Express"; but it doesn't surpass past achievements, and does not bring us to the "next level", figuratively speaking.

A sentiment that may at once appears to be a bit too harsh, necessarily, this may be. But we do come to expect more from WKW, almost a master, in this age of ours.

Weak plot aside, this film benefits from some truly wonderful (supporting) casts throughout, especially from David Strathairn and Rachel Weisz, except for the most important - the ingénue character that Norah portrays. Symptomatic of this problem is, despite limited screen time together, one can't help wanting to find out more about the Katya character, who seems to share more on screen chemistry with Jeremy (Jude Law) in that cameo, and their past relationship seems a very promising spin-off, in its own right.

And if a post-modern pastiche can be made unto this film, imagine if it's the doll eye Faye Wong (of Chungking Express' fame) with Jude Law in this film...

Ten minutes into the film, when the "Yumeiji theme" (in harmonica) used so prevalently in "In the Mood for Love" was played in the background, I was almost teary eyes. This is one for WKW's fans, even if it's not for the ages.

31 out of 35 people found the following review useful:
Movie Review: External Summer (2006), 5 February 2007

Movie Review: Eternal Summer (2006) By Ken Lee

This movie was a box office success in its native Taiwan when it was released late last year, garnering 4 nominations in Taiwan's Golden Horse Award along the way, and an eventual win for one of its male leads (Bryant CHANG Jui-chia, or ZHANG Ruijia in pinyin, who plays Jonathan KANG Zhenxing in a nuanced performance repletes with all the requisite repressed troubled mood), though a nod for its other male lead (Joseph CHANG Hsiao-chuan, or ZHANG Xiaoquan in pinyin, who plays the other-worldly Shane YU Souheng with tremendous vigour and enough *bling*), for the role of the high school jock and the object of desire of Jonathan, will be just as pleasing.

But the movie's success is less sterling in HK, where it just opens, presumably because movie-goers here typecast it with yet-another-melodramatic-Taiwanese-film association, and one with GLBT-theme at that, which is a shame, for it deserves a wider audience, even as it's one that isn't without minor flaws of its own, as befits the fate of most coming-of-age films helmed by relatively young directors (in this case, Leste CHEN, all of 25).

The plot is decidedly simple, and the narrative mostly linear, tracking the friendship and love of its 3 main protagonists ("best friends" Jonathan, Shane, and Carrie, played by Kate Yeung who shines in limited screen time) in their youth, from age 11 in a school in rural Hualian (in 1991) to age 18 (1998) to the college year in Taipei (2005), with all of their ensuing majesty, glory, anxiety, complicity, confusion, pang, angst, and a dreamy quality thrown in.

The film will benefit from some minor editing for a more even pace. Original music by Jeffrey CHENG is intrusive at best. These minor quibbles aside, cinematographer Charlie LAM's rendering of the rural locations is thing of pure magic and the theme song by Ah Xin (of the "May Day" rock band fame) blends in magnificently with the direction to which the film eventually takes.

A friend asked if this is a tear-jerker to avoid at all costs. My answer to which is that hot and bitter tears may flow, not necessarily because of the inherent sadness of the human conditions, but may be because it deepens our understanding of those who are perceived to be "different" and living on the fringe.

And if the measure of a film lies in whether the audience connects with the characters towards the end, and whether it leaves you with the sudden urge to be young and fell in love all over again, then it isn't to be missed; and so it seems "Eternal Summer" is a welcome addition to the growing list of Taiwanese films with GLBT content.

Recommended.

31 out of 33 people found the following review useful:
Fun and Ultimately Uplifting, 26 February 2005
7/10

Review: Rice Rhapsody (2004) By Ken Lee

Though director Kenneth Bi's _Rice Rhapsody_ (2004) generates much interest primarily of its homosexuality theme (that troubled the Singapore Board of Film Censorship inasmuch as its month-long deliberation for the film's wide release in the city state in which the film is set and made), it explores at its core generational conflict; specifically, how a single parent's inability to adapt to modern circumstances leads to disillusionment and more misunderstanding. So it'd be misleading to categorize this as a "Gay" film, per se.

The plot is set in contemporary Singapore's Chinatown. Sylvia Chang, wonderful and enarmoured with supposed Singlish, plays a single mother (Jen) struggling with the uncertainty surrounding the sexual orientation of her third son, Leo (played by a certain delectable newcomer, Tan LePham), when his two elder siblings are both out and proud, much to her dismay, bringing issues of same-sex marriage and their boy-friends back to dinner table discussion. The lives of the family are going to be changed with the arrival of a French foreign exchange student, Sabine, played by a cooky Mélanie Laurent, who has a thing or two to show about finding common grounds, and knowing what's truly important in life.

The issue of homosexuality isn't a "modern" circumstance, of course. Its open acceptance (or tolerance) and embraced and head-on examination as an "idea", however, is, especially in this city-state notorious for its anti-gay "lifestyles" stance. So even if the movie isn't without its flaw, it's still ultimately uplifting, and a welcome addition to a growing list of movies purport to examine social, cultural and political aspects of the city-state, from "12 Storeys" to "Eating Air" to "Chicken Rice War".

Recommended.

Little known facts: Director Kenneth Bi is the son of Ivy Ling (Ling Bo) who is a mega star in Shaw's Huang Mei Diao era. She has a cameo appearance in this film.

2046 (2004)
180 out of 237 people found the following review useful:
Mesmerizing, 20 October 2004
9/10

Review: 2046 (2004) By Ken Lee

Several years in the making and highly anticipated, _2046_ (2004) should pacify director Wong Kar Wai's fans, at least, for its end-of-an-era feel and look. At its core, this is a decidedly (or deceptively) simple movie, in spite of its fractured and non-linear narrative. It tells the tale of an emotionally wrecked man, Chow Mo Wan (played by Tony Leung), a reprised character from Wong's critically acclaimed earlier oeuver, _In the Mood for Love (2000)_, and the many beautiful women he keeps and fails to keep, in a time-space continuance that is laden with sepia-tinted memories: a monologue, if you will, of Chow's torrid love affairs, love spats, and the ensuing heartbreaks resulting, no doubt, from the pangs of a failed liaison Chow is trying to escape. It'd appear that the failed relation with Su Lizhen (Maggie Cheung) in _In the Mood for Love_, who has a "special appearance" in this film, has changed Chow irrevocably, which is key to understanding Chow's troubled soul.

But it is not a sequel necessarily, per se, to _In the Mood for Love_. This film can still be watched on its own, though it'd certainly help if you could link moments in _2046_ to the director's earlier works, for it's laden with jumbled continuity (take the character of Lulu, for example, first seen in _Days of Being Wild (1991)_), hidden meanings (read: Neo-Godardian) and other fun stuff, sorta an insider's joke, if you dig such esoteric things. But I digress. And it's been said that this is a culmination of all the previous filmic experience of director Wong (bordering on narcissism); hence its "end-of-an-era" feel and look is duly appreciated and a point well taken.

In _2046_, Chow's isn't an easily likable character owing to the frailty and the vagaries of his own personal emotions and peccadilloes, but that makes him only human and real, and his character, believable. Take the following exchange:

Su Lizhen (Gong Li) to Chow Mo Wan (Tony Leung): Do you know my past?

Professional gambler Su (she who is of the same name as that of Maggie's character in _In the Mood for Love_) asked Chow, dissonantly, questioning the latter essentially whether there is a future for the both of them, if he cannot forget his past. And it's for the same reason, or so we're led to believe, that Bai Ling (Zhang Ziyi) is left devastated, as Chow cannot treat her any differently from the scores of other women he's seeing; hence eliciting the following memorable line from Bai which I'm sure speaks to most of us one way or another:

Bai Ling (Zhang Ziyi) to Chow Mo Wan (Tony Leung): You may not like me. But I'll like you all the same.

What fools we are made by love. :)

Contrasting Chow as a man who dwells in the past and in need of closure to move on, Tak (Kimura Takuya) isn't ambiguous when it comes to matters of the heart.

Tak (Kimura Takuya) to Wang Jingwen (Faye Wong): I do not know what your answer may be. (I dread to know.) But I need to know.

Here is a man who is not afraid to love and says his love. And he needs to know if his love is unrequited. And in seeking happiness, the message seems to be that there is no other way. Now why does this remind me of all the sorry tales with which we are all-too-familiar with men-who-cannot-commit-or-decide? :) And so the film is thusly replete with impressions of repeated variations of the same theme: the pointlessness of returning to the past. Which is why we have the following line:

Bai Ling (Zhang Ziyi) to Chow Mo Wan (Tony Leung): Why can't it be like before? (The same reason why nobody returns on the 2046 train, in Chow's sci-fi novel of the same name. Seen in this light, it is also a double-entendre for director Wong: Why can't this film be like the one before in the form of _In the Mood for Love_? Where does he go from here?)

Those familiar with Wong's earlier works will notice his signatures throughout: quick cutting, slow motion, fast motion, freeze frames, black and white, tilt shots, color filters, neon-sign lighting, aided ably by three able cinematographers. Production value of _2046_ is expectedly top-notch. Music by Shigeru Umebayashi is haunting and sets the right mood. Zhang Suping (William Chang Suk Ping) does a wonderful job in creating an enrapturing atmosphere set in the late '60s.

How great it is, in an otherwise desolate world of unease, vulnerability, hopelessness, and pathos, we have directors such as Wong to feast our senses. Highly recommended.