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Hulk (2003)
Brilliant filmmaking!
28 June 2003
Roger Ebert said the Hulk was a comic book movie for people who wouldn't be caught dead watching a comic book movie. Well, I'm one of the people who wouldn't be caught dead watching not only a comic book movie but any summer blockbusters. I'm much more an arthouse and foreign film fan. The last comic book movie I remember seeing was the first Batman. I thought that's lightweight fun. I don't remember much from that movie, but I do remember it didn't touch me emotionally in any way. Hey, it's a comic book movie! The Hulk is a completely different film. It's a suspense drama based on a comic book and what a brilliant filmmaking this is!

The way the filmmaker told us the story made us emotionally feel for the Hulk. He withheld the Hulk's source of rage until close to the end. When it's revealed, it's so powerful that it made me burst into tears. Sorry, US Army. Love you guys, but I was rooting for the Hulk all the way because of the emotional investment I put in the Bruce Banner character as the story unfolded.

And what a stunning visual style Ang Lee adapted to tell the story! He made scientific experiments look cool! All the shots of blood, DNA, eyes, atomic bomb explosions were amazing. I was awe struck by all the inventive transitions and all the morphings from one image to another. The style is not like the classical beauty of Crouching Tiger, rather, it's more like an edgy, abstract contemporary art. Yes, Ang Lee proved a comic book movie CAN be art. And I love the opening credit segment! It laid out the framework of the story in such a visually stunning way!

The acting was good all around. I thought Eric Bana and Sam Elliot were excellent in their respective role. Nick Nolte was a bit over the top, but the role seems to require it. The father-and-son confrontation toward the end was almost like dramatic stage play. Great performances by Nolte and Bana. The fact that Bana held his own on that stage versus a theme-stealing Nolte proves to me that he's not just a pretty face. He can act. Jennifer Connelly's performance was restraint but good. Her face while holding Bruce after the mayhem in SF was heartbreaking. I wish Lee would show her face after hearing the news of the bomb rather than Elliot's. Her character was the emotion center of the Hulk, not her father.

This is a film that doesn't spell out everything. It requires the audience to think. The psychological battles waging in Bruce Banner's head were revealed in dreams and images. After I saw it for the first time last week, I wasn't clear on some of the points of the story and thought the film had a few flaws. I just saw the film for the second time and I thought everything was brilliantly done. In its core, the Hulk is an arthouse comic book movie. It's made for adults who appreciate their entertainment with a brain and a heart, even in summertime.
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"Pride & Prejudice" II?
15 April 2001
This film has many hilarious moments and Colin Firth still makes my knees weak, but what's all the fuzz about this story? It's a modern version of P & P sans the more intellectual Elizabeth.

Instead, we have a 30 something woman who can't control her weight, drinking, smoking or doesn't seem to have any talents except being "good-hearted". Her one break in career came from her association with Darcy. This woman is reportedly a heroine in UK? I found her a complete anti-feminist model. Is that the point of the story? The heroine for the new millennium should be like the one for the last, sweet, a bit cheeky, a bit plum, vulnerable and thus, needs a strong man like Darcy. All the intellectual career women in the film are portrayed as cold and calculating in order to contrast Bridget's sweetness, clumsiness and thoughtfulness. It's a enjoyable romantic comedy if I take it as a pure fairy tale. Once I think it a bit deeper, the storyline bothers me.
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A Poignant Story Expertly Told
15 April 2001
The premise may sound like a romantic comedy: an eye doctor quits her job to find a husband through personal ads, but it's not. Sure, the film has quite a few comic moments with the string of unsuitable suitors who responded to her ads. But the film has a melancholy current just below the surface. We, the audience, could feel it, but didn't know the source of the current until the end. It's a very intelligent film that comprises of almost nothing but dialogues and the dialogues are in Mandarin. So for anyone who doesn't like to read subtitles or dialogues, this is not for you. (Fortunate for me, Mandarin is my native tongue. :-) Not that I have any problems with subtitles since I grew up with subtitles.)

I don't want to spoil any details. The film was basically made of this eye doctor Du's meeting with various men in a teahouse in Tian Mu, a surburb of Taipei. Through various shots, we sensed the desperate loneliness and isolation in Du, a 30 something attractive but a bit naive woman. It's something most people who live in metropolies can relate to. Rene Liu's performance was simply excellent. The subtle reactions to the wild stories/pitches her suitors told. The vulnerability when she poured her heart out on the phone to the answer machine of her former lover. The wordless heartbreak at the end. Rene Liu's performance was so convicing that I felt I knew this woman personally and I cried with her at the end. The film also contains some of the most blunt discussions of homosexuality. But despite the poignant story at its core, the film never dips into melodramatics or histronics. It also avoids the pretentous artsy traps (which "In The Mood For Love" got into a few times). The only flaws I can say about this film are that a certain unsuitable suitors were a bit too stereotypical (for comic effect no doubt) and the meetings with various suitors went on a bit too long. But through the long process of meeting these men, we sensed there was a reason for Du's detachment and it was revealed at the end.

Since I grew up in Taipei, various references in the film were amuzing to me. One was a real life actor who showed up to meet Du told her she must be a graduate of Jing Shing when she said he looked familiar. Jing Shing is a private school I graduated from. The smog-shrouded citiscape of Taipei looked both familiar and unfamiliar (because it has changed so much since the last time I saw it). Those characters' mannerism was familiar, so familiar in fact that I suspected some of them might not be professional actors. I only recognized three professional actors in the bunch: Ching Shi Jieh (as a lonely and stingy grade-school teacher), Nu Cheng Zer (as himself) and Gu Bao Ming (as the security equipment salesman I think). Ching is a great stage actor in Taiwan. He made a wonderful guest appearance in the film. I'm sorry to say I can't place the actress Rene Liu. I haven't paid close attention to Taiwan's actors/actresses since I left.

An old couple sought me out after we walked out to ask me my interpretation of the ending. Both of them thought it a very emotional film. Yes, it's a very emotional film, and for a single woman, it hits a bit too close to home. :-)
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The Plot Is Jen!
12 February 2001
Not all films are plot-driven. The CTHD is character-driven. The plot of CTHD is JEN! The whole film is about the choices she made and the impact her decisions had on others. That's the core of the film. It doesn't follow Western narrative. It's based on a Chinese wuxia novel. Chinese wuxia novels are always character-driven, with tons of subplots. They don't follow the Western literature structure with one central plot.

Plus, Ang Lee was using the visuals to tell the story. Why would you close your eyes? Of course you lost a lot if you did that. The visuals in this film are as important as the dialogue because the characters often communicated with eyes and gestures.

Another thing, this is not a martial arts film! This is a drama about people who happened to be martial artists. If non-stop action is what you want, stick with Jackie Chan. CTHD is not for you.
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My Dream Came True
31 December 2000
As Ang Lee, I grew up reading wuxia novels in Taiwan. Those novels usually mixed engrossing history, thrilling action, enchanting romance. But when these novels were made into movies or TV series, none of them could match my imagination. It's either because of wrong casting, bad acting, tedious costumes, sloppy storytelling, minimal budget (so everything is shot in studio rather than in the grand Chinese landscapes as they were told in books), fake action... I could go on and on. Now Ang Lee finally made a wuxia film that captures my imagination and fulfills my dream of childhood.

The casting of CTHD is perfect. No disrespect to Jet Li, but Jet Li would not make Li Mu Bai into what he should be: noble, wise but weary. Chow Yun Fat conveys the unspoken feelings of Li Mu Bai in a way I can't imagine anyone else can. But he's known for his acting, Michelle Yeoh was known for her fighting skills. Here in CTHD, she proves herself as an excellent dramatic actress. The secrete longing for Li and the confusion of Li's true feelings were clearly conveyed by her eyes. The scenes between them are heartbreaking. Zhang Zi Yi is a true discovery! What a wonderful talent to steal scenes after scenes from the veterans around her. She ran from looking innocent, haughty, feisty to loving and distraught. She made the complex Jen a real flesh and blood believable human being. Chang Chen made a perfectly sexy and charming bandit.

The scenery and the photography was beyond belief. The majestic landscapes of China match my imagination when I read all the beautiful Chinese poems of the Tang and Sung dynasties. No wonder those poets could come up with those masterpieces. They sure had the best inspiration. Peter Pau not only captured the landscapes and the settings, he also managed to capture the fast-as-lightening action wonderfully. The shot of Jen gliding over water just lodged in my mind. The soundtrack is also excellent. Tan Dun used different instruments to match the different locales. He mixed in Central Asian music in the desert sequence and Chinese flute in the Southern China scenes. Yo-yo Ma's cello in the main theme makes me want to weep everytime I hear it.

The storytelling was also done expertly. As a romantic-at-heart, I love the desert romance between Jen and Lo. It's one of the most charming and believable love stories that I can remember. Most people gave credit of the fighting to Yuen Wo Ping. I'd give kudos to Ang Lee. I've seen Yuen's martial art films before, but they're never done in such an imaginative and artistic way. The artistic vision has to come from Ang Lee.

To sum it up, three cheers for Ang Lee! You not only fulfilled your childhood dream, you fulfilled mine too. It's such a pleasure to finally see a wuxia novel be done right. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
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