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I loved it
20 August 2018
In short: simply wonderful, everything from writing (wonderful adaptation of the book atop enormous global expectations) to cinematography (a love story for Singapore) to casting to acting (world-class performances to make a global Asian diaspora proud).

There're so many types of reviews for a film with such enormous historical expectations to lift , carry the vast emotions of the Asian diaspora, and weighty expectation from readers of the popular book of the same title. I could give so many types of reviews from that of a sterile template review to the emotional ventilation of decades of being unseen and unheard to that of its strong rom-com merits which single-handedly lift the genre from dead to #1 to one about its storyline being so . It's even harder given the 100s here and the many everywhere across the Internet, so I review from my heart and less from a sterile perspective which professionals have well covered.

I've only been to the cinema twice (Skyfall, The Dark Knight) in 15 years and I've only done do so for films whose action nature prefers the cinematic experience instead watching nearly only streaming documentaries in that time, but this one spoke to me initially for explicit commercial support of kicking down the door which has denied us for so long but see it sweetly added the heartfelt pain of seeing so many of my experiences dramatized on the big screen, sharing it with so many others who've seen and felt it with me, knowing that this is a historical lift for our community, and the thrill of this said representation happening.

I spent an hour crying for so many reasons: the incredible writing that tells the carefully nuanced drama in marriage, Asian filial piety (mother-son relations); the high drama of the screenplay and the source material (from the best-selling book of the same name), excellent highlighting of the story and acting with the soaring rendition of "Yellow" by Katherine Ho and the powerful rewriting into Mandarin re-appropriates a former racial slur now defanged. The overdue need to tell the stories of the uniquely Asian-American experience are not only better for the art and thus better for commercial success but also uplifts the individual AAPI who've long suffered underneath disparagingly narrow stereotypes which have narrowed our perception by Americans and all those victims of its wide cultural reach. The stereotypes will end and we will have our voices heard for the many colorful varied stories that we live. That is how better filmmaking will occur in the Asian-American corner of the Asian diaspora.

Those who worried the conversion from a coveted beloved novel to a Hollywood-backed version including myself, no such concerns exist anymore. One can feel the very intricate weaving of many cultures far beyond just East-West but also the tons of Southeast Asian ones with more callouts to Cantonese, Hokkien, Nam-Kee, Malay, and other Straits ones all acknowledged in the film. For those who love the world and its many peoples, this element will thrill. In food, in language, in clothing and architecture (Peranakan!), everything lifts the varied stories that make the world a more interesting place to live and which are real human stories, too.

The casting choices are sterling. Citing examples would require repeating the lengthy casting list as even 1-liner roles like Victoria Loke as Fiona Cheng, Eddie Cheng's not-vain-and-snark wife, are brilliantly cast and can never get sufficient air time. May their characters' stories be told in due time, even if decades later in other formats. The casting of the leads is a natural which viewers can see and the countless press tour videos show the cast has a real, natural vibe that stems from such perfect casting. This kind of human connection is both great skill in acting and also a real connection born from the drama that is life.

The love story to Singapore is heartfelt because its food is indeed THAT amazing (I say this even as a Taiwanese whose homeland is its perennial food tourism competitor with a similar night market culture), the excellent fluid combination of East meets West audible in the equally confidently English-Mandarin soundtrack, and the green sterling scenery born of the famously high standards of architecture and personal conduct.

There're trivial complaints that it's not all things to all Asians, doesn't represent everything in Singapore, doesn't tell every Asian story, Henry's not Asian enough (a crude rude complaint by angry Asian dudes who I disavow as not credible misguided not-men), etc. to which I say, this is just 1 of an infinite number, it proudly doesn't tell every single story because it's huge role in kicking down the door which was closed to us for so long is why those other stories will be told, so unless you're actually going to take action to build those other houses, your criticism is not credible.

Go see it.
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What a documentary should be
25 July 2015
This documentary is a full on steady thrilling ride of probing questions, a mountain of huge ones which hang over each scene thus immense levels of drama.

Without any spoilers, I say the film's premise is not observing a white guy with a mail order Chinese bride which is so generic, overplayed, stereotypical & label-centric of a description that it's so rude to the film. Rather, the documentary is about the many questions which all think & few dare voice: why? what is ambition? do they know what they're getting into? are they going to make it? will they be happy? what is happy? is marriage a solution or the problem? how will the money work out? is love important? how do they love? what is love? These sorts of vast questions are what make the film so intoxicatingly awesome, so thrillingly tempting, so eagerly watched by so many.

Yet another fascinating angle is the documentarian's own presence. The typical Heisenberg Principle arises in many documentaries: how to observe without being a part of the film. Invariably, this film has Lum doing translation work which raises a hornet's nest full of questions about how she alters the otherwise natural flow. Truly, a wonderful set of questions atop the existing ocean of questions.

To this day, I still am dying for an update or a sequel. Lum's writing, editing & narration are too good, the issue too vast, the characters too interesting. Indeed, everything I'd hoped for in a documentary.
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Soaring Music, Cinematography, Narration
6 March 2014
This documentary uses custom composed music with all aerial photography to convey Taiwan's beauty. The sheer scope of scenes from urban, suburban, rural, water, ocean, rivers, gorges, mountaintops (4000m heights, even), grasslands, rice terraces, etc. bring the user through an arc similar in feeling to BBC's "The Earth".

An interview with the director on NTDTV brought this film to my attention. Despite having spent 1.5 years in Taiwan for family, I'd never known my homeland to have had such intense beauty. While the scenery may have been brightened and sharpened, the sheer variety and scale of the beautiful scenes kept me captivated.

Custom composed music is soaring and inspirational in tone with great. Even in passages regarding Taiwan's environmental woes (overbuilding, waste, rising sea, earthquake damage, overwhelmed landfills, many exist), music suggests a hopeful sentiment, a prevailing Taiwanese attitude. Narration finishes the film's spirit that Taiwan is a special and unique land whose beauty is mostly unknown even to Taiwanese & Taiwanese-Americans themselves.

Overall, this Golden Horse award winning documentary was greatly inspiring for both spirit, knowledge & tourism.
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Up in the Air (I) (2009)
Sharp/witty, relevant, excels in all areas
20 January 2010
Having flown >55k/yr for 4+yrs, I personally understand Ryan Bingham's (George Clooney) world: Blackberry in hand, efficiently filling grey TSA bins, hotel key cards as home key, snatching a boarding pass from a kiosk while by-passing non-Elite, living a week from rolling luggage, laptop on hotel WiFi, hotel shuttle as one's commute, and satellite offices as one's "home" office. These images of what people hate about travel are truly fond reminders of a frequent flyer's home. His Omaha office's and corporate apartment's sparseness both prove his fear of not being on the move. The camera carefully but quickly frames each fleeting postcard from the frequent flyer's world. Their world is not just a dream but a daily reality briefly hinted to some and lived by only a few.

Warning: frequent fliers expecting a rehash of their lives and loves will be disappointed. The movie must venture into emotional drama thus is not a documentary about high mileage.

Stereotypes of men as emotionally unavailable simpletons fall under Ryan's admissions of growing loneliness and desire to see someone more than once: his casual hotel fling, Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga). Ryan's purposefully designed world of emotional isolation, as many mature male knows, is unsustainable. Attending his sister's wedding pangs his conscience. His loyal partner/fling saves Ryan from a potentially lonely event. Life is a tease: we just want to be loved and to love.

New hire Natalie Keener's (Anna Kendrick) proposal of firing via videoconferencing grounds Ryan's high-flying ambitions. Her Ivy League psychology degree belies her chilly exterior, each glance able to efficiently e-fire an anonymous worker bee. Ryan's boss charges him with tour guiding Natalie through in-person firings on the road. Beyond the comedy of Natalie's new-to-flying hiccups is the familiar notion that coworkers become adopted families. Work experiences become unexpected opportunities to share personal revelations not told to even (or especially) family members. Personal, private turmoils burst into one's professional life. Work and life blur as working hours lengthen, as business travel forces ad hoc families.

The movie's purposeful shift to a ponderous ending comes after a series of unexpected turns. Emotional isolation becomes impossible. A family crisis undoes his intentional emotional distance from them. Each firing brings Ryan closer to his own firing. The trainee becomes the trainer. The unfamiliar world of frequent flying becomes too familiar. The theme song "Help Yourself" sarcastically toasts the new economy. This movie has its pulse on our lives. Widespread acclaim of the movie is thanks to its balancing a fun lifestyle which is based on true stories which relate to our lives: emotionally isolating 1-night stands, unforgivingly impersonal corporate climate, travel as general burden, and family rifts growing and healing. The movie covers much ground without ever leaving home ... pun intended.
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Fireproof (2008)
Lame to the Point of Embarrassment
4 December 2008
Warning: Spoilers
To disclaim my biases, I'm a highly critical "evangelical" Christian with little reservation against R-rated movies as long as their content isn't a mandatory love scene and for ever-increasing shock value. I, however, don't cheerleader Christian films merely for their waving a religious affiliation.

Now for the review. Oversentimental is an understatement. This film is an embarrassment to Christians everywhere and laughable for everyone. Just because one has faith doesn't mean one has talent, and asking God to deliver it doesn't mean He will. This movie is an example of that. Easily one of the worst films I've ever seen in all aspects. Where to even start? Faith-inspired dialogue washes it clean of most drama. Let's start with basics: the cardboard acting is to be expected of the film's staff, mostly Albany, Georgia's Sherwood Baptist Congregation. Whether they oppose serious drama and serious, intense content or not, it sure seems it. It's difficult to convey how bad the acting is, but it's like with any art: you know it when you see it. The banal goody-two-shoes nature of the film turns its attempt at drama into folly and comedy. Attempts to simulate marital strife don't get intense and uncontrolled as one might expect in a marriage. Caleb's father testimony, or what most call preaching, about faith and saving one's marriage is too much like a self-help video instead of an honest heart-to-heart. As for the dialogue behind the acting, it is so fake that only a Christian could appreciate it, and even then, it's tough to believe a real life could be like that. It feels more like a series of sermons combined then turned into individual stories which prove the Biblical theme. Just awful.

Now to discuss the capstone scene. For those who didn't or won't watch the film (that'd be my recommend), the lead character Caleb faces porn addiction (aside, they never even use the word, but sadly, that's to be expected of a church-produced film). He's surfing the Internet when a pop-up "click on me" for an adult site appears. He focuses on it, cheap dramatic music begins, then the kicker: he dramatically stands up, looks back at the computer screen, takes the computer to the backyard, and bashes it with a baseball bat. All while the music does the requisite triumphant turn. Even if we ignore the cardboard acting, he neither succumbed nor would the film ever bother to show it. Who knows if he's just disinterested in his boring quiet domestic wife or how deep his struggle was. Boring.

Now for the actors themselves. Kirk Cameron has styled his career to be some pop culture and now Super-Christian icon, not a serious actor with real acting chops. Milking his former fame with "Growing Pains" pains me to say that even his likable quality can't save him from critical ridicule. In attempted intense, seriously emotional scenes, his effort is obvious to the point of disbelief. Excessively stressing lines and expressions means he's not truly in character and you can feel the pain from your seat. This problem doesn't mean he had to have gone through the character's pains, but he may have no life experience that even approximates his character's problems. It shows.

Now for the other so-called actors. Caleb's wife Catherine (actress Erin Bethea) reminds me of an airbrushed soap opera with milky backgrounds and entry level acting. To be fair, all her character has to work with is an alpha-male, control freak husband whose ego has been neutered by his own inability to love her and then expects her love to motivate him which is wickedly self-destructive. So kudos to Erin for even accepting this role. Caleb's dad (actor Harris Malcom) is probably a pastor with all the "life experience" (cough) to boot. If you haven't lived life, then you probably can't act it either. Either that or you need to take an acting class to shake out all the repressed angst inside. All the other extras are either sorely humorous or as artificially friendly as your local missionary. They're about as good a friend to Caleb as a fellow Sunday worshiper who one sees once a week.

Now for the staff behind the camera who are no less guilty. Storyteller Alex Kendrick tries too hard to be super Christian and it shows in the lameness. The lack of effort in cinematography is unforgivable. A low budget is no excuse to not even TRY. And film school students stage, frame, and block scenes better than this film.

The problem isn't the film is good-hearted or encouraging. It's that the quality is so insulting. I almost wanted a refund, and only the movie "White Noise" has ever done that to me (suspense fans will know what I mean). The only way to enjoy this film is if you were really addicted to porn of control in a marriage and found it somehow life-changing, then great. Or if you rarely see films above a PG rating and think R-rated films are the Devil's hand. Otherwise, forget it.

For a more spiritually challenging film, try Spike Lee's film released at the similar time, Miracle at St. Anna. Its presenting an actual spiritual challenge instead of merely hinting at one is far more convincing. Of course, there're countless other more spiritually meaningful films out there, also.
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Recount (2008 TV Movie)
Gave Me a Heart Attack, In a Good Way
21 July 2008
If you thought a movie about the controversial 2000 Presidential campaign recount in Florida, you're wrong. Just when you think it's some crazy movie, you recall that it all really happened. At times, only the CNN footage reminds us that it really did happen. The drama and gravitas of the story should not be lost, but is, upon Americans. The movie not only accurately portrays actual events, but notes their context and their importance to American history, an analysis that many have already so soon forgotten.

The star-filled cast's fame does not disservice or overshadow the characters they portray, a fine balance of talent and respect. Special note, however, must be paid to Laura Dern's awe-inspiring role as the aloof, artificial Secretary of State, Katherine Harris. Despite makeup which makes prostitutes jealous, her mannerisms and uncanny slanted poise cause incredulous disbelief that such a wacky imitation could be enacted. All the cast, however, is likewise surrealistically convincing.

The hard working, late hours, and soul-sucking reality of working in a campaign office, often a suite rented out of a strip shopping mall with temporary desks and phone lines cheaply laid in for only a few months' time, is evident and pervasive. Such atmospheres lend the movie a realistic feel of grassroots-level work. One is likely to develop a profound respect for the idealism and vigor (or ego) of such volunteers with such spartan environments.

Music is not even necessary as the chaotic, meaningless buzz of a campaign office or the silent seriousness of a limo ride are soundtracks in and of themselves. The seriousness of the situation does not let the viewer go for the entire movie's arc, from the movie's opening seconds when an elderly lady's seemingly innocent action will cause screaming suspended disbelief in all viewers alike. The tension continues for over an hour more, frustrating and terrifying viewers until an ending whose frustration compares with few other feelings. Even typically dry court readings gain an impossible level of drama, tension, and emotional disbelief to the point of tears as the movie progresses through the increasingly unbelievable tale. The dirty tactics are unsurprising, given recent politics, but to witness the beginnings of the such era in retrospective is humbling. The animosity of the foes is tempered with a thin grasp on reality and humanity, summoned by powers eluding most of us common lay men and women.

The film is so accurate and nearly documentary which is suitable for those of all political persuasions. The far more important point is the preservation of the Union and our ability to pass power peacefully and civilly. Affairs even weightier than party affiliation are at stake. The movie is trying on the heart and mind as it begs us to question how insane the electoral system is, a view with which those of all political persuasions may likely agree. Nonetheless, the system somehow survived to live another day, a day that will again return.
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Batman Begins (2005)
Best Batman Film in History
22 October 2005
I won't replicate the rave reviews of the 1000s before me here, but I will add testimony about the film's ability to raise excitement and that one man *can* make a remarkable difference. The music, motive, the history, the man himself. The strong application of a just justice, especially against Gotham's worst, is awe-inspiring and takes viewers away from the world's sobering daily news. The not-so-far-fetched technology combined with disciplined athleticism makes everyman a potential Batman. The goodness of many men around Batman, from a warm Lucius Fox to a reliable Alfred to a heart-melting Rachel Dawes, their talents combine in Bruce to give society a new hope in new justice. Even Henri Ducard has an important part in giving Gotham a man whose hopes are theirs, too. From the darkness, you will see the light which Batman sees and shines. This film's ability to impress this spiritual experience upon the viewer is beyond words.

The music's ability to queue the assigned emotions is also impossibly effective. The light touch of piano keys and swooping strings give instant visual image of a young Bruce Wayne. The heroic march and urgency of the lead-up to action scenes and Batman's preparation and mental battles gives one hope, thrill, and a sense of something bigger in life. The unrelenting action scene music grips and holds you, and willingly, for its full duration. The music as the movie ends is keen to give viewers a quick review and reminder of the film's soaring moments: the loss, the hope, the possibilities, the future at hand. Batmans' ethos are yours for the taking.

Truly a spiritual experience. Dare I say it, the very best Batman film to date. The very best.
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Best Comedy In 40 Years
22 October 2005
This comedy's principal achievement is in its laid back, shrugged shoulders attitude. When you can take life as not-so-seriously, even being a virgin past age 17 is solvable. For those less fortunate (in either sense), this comedy shows the way.

This film combines a gross-out teenage comedy, slapstick oldie, a life-is-easier-without-sex message (i.e. 7th Heaven) and an overarching touching love story whose ever-present cheesiness is kept in check thanks to the actors' sincerity and casual delivery.

The one-liners are so good, you'll share them with friends for the few hours after getting out of the movie. The best part is knowing you share a similar critical review and reaction to the film.

This film pushes the R-rating with bestiality, porn clips, condom installation, legs wrapped around a male pelvis, bare breasts in public, vaginal models, husky seduction (use your imagination on that one), female masturbation, and the standard bed scene, but those watching the film aren't likely to cringe. Except maybe at ... oh, let's not spoil it.

Too many formulaic comedies trained me to expect a twist at any second, but this comedy's not doing so actually bucks that standard and leaves a very pleasant, heart-warming aftertaste. This pleasant nod to reality and real lives raises the film's reality and believability in addition to the aforementioned actors' sincerity and talents. The ease with which the actor's chemistries happen is a wonderful testimony to both writing and casting.

I saw it because Steve Carell was so wonderfully self-effacing in the American version of the BBC's "The Office". His talent again shines enormously. This movie is very much not my usual type of brooding, intellectual, and philsophical film which radically and permanently changes one's thinking, but I laughed clear through the entire film. Let's hope Carrell's not type cast into the self-reducing type of role, but even if he is, he brings smiles and laughs to all as he does so. Correspondingly, Keener's bright, shining, simply radiant presence in the film gives such wonderful goodness to the film's believability. She doesn't over- or under-play her part, but it seemingly entirely comfortable as the hot grandma whose temporary romantic woes are the woes of many.

The film's ending credits are stunning in a way in which I hope more movies do so, but I won't spoil it. Seeing is believing.
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Serenity (2005)
Fundamentally Rocked My Film Making Experience
2 October 2005
No spoilers from me! This film achieves amazingly on all factors: writing, cinematography (6-minute single-shot intro-credits sequence, human parts of battle scenes), SFX (galactic battles, even ships themselves exude actor's emotions), acting (fantastic facial expressions from River, deadpan from Jayne, verbal spears from Zoe, Inara's desperate-yet-strong looks, Simon's call to arms, Shepard's blood pressure-lowering tone of voice, barbed one-liners from all, just awe-inspiring), humor (where to even start?), and the wanderlust of unbounded space (with its unknowns which the story uses to maximum advantage). Marketed as an action film, as with most amazing films, labels and ratings only limit its full excellence.

The sheer awe makes me unable to convey to you how amazing it is. The only fitting review I could write would be: go see it. I'll rest the whole of my artistic credibility with this film. I breathed but a few times during the film, afraid of missing a single splendid moment. I cannot remember ever being so fully engrossed with a film and its fan culture. The audience clapped at least 5x at climatic moments. I, uncharacteristically, felt like leaping out of my chair to cheer, groan, and hoot-and-holler on the film's emotional ride. It was like a spiritual experience.

Hopefully it fulfills corporate profiteering, but Universal can be proud of a fantastic film in its name.
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