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Hideous and compelling
While not afraid of subtitles, I rarely dip into French cinema for the simple reason that people speaking French tends to lull me off to sleep. No such worries here, I think I even started to forget to blink as this hideously compelling film unfolded.
A young girl named Lucie (Jampanoi) escapes from unspeakable imprisonment and torture. Traumatised beyond measure, she's brought up in an orphanage, where she is taken under the wing of Anna (Alaoui), who cares for her with simple and heart-wrenching humanity. Fifteen years later, a helpless Anna cannot control the tragic and brutal events as Lucie takes her revenge on the couple who may or may not have been her tormentors so long ago.
A few years back, I really enjoyed Hostel. It was a lurid ride of bible-black comedy horror. It did, however, let loose a torrent of lookey-likeys that have become both tedious and sinister. Martyrs director (Laugier) considers this an 'anti-hostel', and by the film's end you can see what he means.
If you survive the squirmy gore and horror of the seemingly conventional (but technically excellent) first act, you find the film drags you deeper and deeper into the grotesque, but ultimately for a purpose. Whether that purpose justifies the movie or not depends on your resistance to high concept pretension, or the level of empathy you share with Anna, a character who surely belongs in any list of cinema's most tragic heroines.
Excellent chiller from Korea
Korean chiller that initially appears to poach elements from better known J-horrors 'Ringu' and 'One Missed Call', amongst many others. Fortunately, with the very important advantage of having a decent plot, 'Phone' is clearly far better than the latter, and perhaps even as good as the former.
Ji-won is a journalist who receives menacing phone calls after exposing a paedophile ring. She decides to lie low in an empty house belonging her best friend Ho-Jeong and her husband Chang-hoon, and their young daughter Yeong-ju.
All's well, until her new cell phone starts ringing, and all that can be heard down the line are disturbing noises and disembodied voices. Worse still, when little Yeung-ju accidentally answers the phone, she's possessed by a malevolent spirit that turns her from cutie-pie to scowling devil child. Ji-won desperately seeks the reason behind the possession, but will she be prepared to find the source of the evil is so close to home?
Refreshingly edgy horror, delivered with atmosphere and style, a little welcome humour, and perfect timing. Too many recent horror flicks seem to rely too heavily on their concept, and forget to tell a good story. In Phone, the twists keep coming, and every time you think you've got the film pegged, it pulls the rug out from under you - right up to its freaky, memorable climax.
The adults are perfectly fine actors, but all their thunder is stolen by See-woo Eun, who plays the little girl. A large part of the unease and sinister atmosphere the film generates is from how uncomfortable you feel seeing such a very young actress in such a role. I was watching the Tartan DVD, and felt much better after watching the behind-the-scenes footage included - which showed little See-woo clearly loving being the centre of attention, and the more intense scenes being filmed in small doses and in a light-hearted fashion.
Kaiju for the kids
When a logging company uncovers an ancient artifact in the mountains of Hokkaido, the Company's boss Mr. Goto finds a mysterious talisman. He prises it free from its resting place, thinking it would be a nice present for his daughter. Unfortunately he's unsealed the resting place of Desghidorah, a three headed, fire breathing beastie that's soon freed to run wild and destroy the local scenery, sucking Earth's precious energy.
Only a giant plush moth can save the day! A tired old Mothra - tending a lovely big egg - is reluctantly summoned (in a slightly more J-pop than usual fashion) by her tiny priestesses Moll and Lora. These cuties are from a race called the Elias, and they spend much of the movie astride a mini-Mothra called Fairy, battling their nemesis Belvera, who gets to fly a mini dragon thing and cackle a lot.
First in a trilogy of Mothra films for the nineties, while Godzilla was taking a well earned break. Clearly aimed at kids more than the average kaiju fan, this is still great fun, and while no cities get totalled in this offering, the countryside looks nice and there are some cool fight scenes between Death Ghidorah and Mothra.
There's a 'save the planet' theme going on that gets rammed down your throat a bit before the movie ends, but the more obvious beef many western fans are going to have with this flick is the lack of a Japanese language option on seemingly the only version available. Why do they do this? Yes, the film's been tarted up nicely, and the dubbing is lip-synched and not overly annoying, but some people will always prefer the original language and there seems to be little reason why it shouldn't be included.
Solid Japanese thriller
Efficient 'terrorists take over a building' thriller from Japan.
The building in this case is the largest dam in Japan, high in the mountains. A terrorist group seize control of the facility, threatening to open the dam and flood the surrounding countryside if they aren't given a suitably huge wedge of cash.
The spanner in the works is Togashi (Yuji Oda), an earnest employee who finds himself hip deep in randomly coiffured baddies.
Yes, there are big slabs of 'Cliffhanger' and 'Die Hard' here, and the flick outstays it's welcome by at least twenty minutes. However, this is a good solid thriller, buoyed in no small part by Togashi being an everyman rather than a typical action hero. He thinks on his feet and dispatches the terrorists in some neat ways, but at no point devolves into a dead-panning stereotype. In fact, his actions are in recompense for being unable to save the life of his best friend during a mountaintop snowstorm, several months previous. His friend's fiancé Chiaki (Nanako Matsushima) is visiting the dam and becomes one of the hostages, and she firmly believes Togashi will simply escape rather than help them. But Togashi has a debt to pay to his friend, and he'll do whatever it takes to save Chiaki!
Oda is a believable and spirited hero, and Matsushima a lovely and talented actress. The chief villain, mad haired and wheelchair-bound, is also good fun. The secondary characters, especially the cops, overact to a ridiculous degree, so much so that their scenes are almost comical. If this was deliberate, I didn't get what they were referencing or paying homage to.
The Ocean Shores DVD offers good, if unspectacular picture quality, and subtitles that are mostly fine.
Offbeat family drama
Offbeat family drama starring Eriko Sato (Cutey Honey, Carved).
When their parents are killed in a bizarre cat-rescuing incident, the dysfunctional Wago siblings are reluctantly forced to endure each other once more under the same roof.
Sumika (Sato) is a selfish wannabe actress, only returning to her quiet, rural home to collect her inheritance. When she finds there's no money and she cannot return to Tokyo for fear of a ruthless loan shark, she immediately recommences terrorising her younger sister Kyomi and elder stepbrother Shinji, and his new and relentlessly upbeat and optimistic wife Machiko (a wonderful turn by Hiromi Nagasaku).
While being a black comedy from the get-go, 'Funuke' soon gets darker and more demented, as the family's history of violence, prostitution and dark secrets are revealed.
While it's no classic, it's a good looking flick made with style and bolstered by some well measured and memorable performances.
The 'Third Window' UK DVD release is technically decent enough, but there are no extras.
Yau ching yam shui baau (2001)
Enjoyable rom-com starring Tony Leung and Shu Qi.
Skinflint businessman Richard (Leung) doesn't feel bad when he sacks his employees and secretary to cut unnecessary costs. He also doesn't bat an eyelid when his gold-digging girlfriend leaves after he refuses to give her money. She gets her revenge by cancelling his credit cards and giving away his furniture.
Suddenly destitute, he's forced to rely on the generosity of Choi (Shu Qi - lovely as always), a good Samaritan who helps him out even though she thinks he's a scumbag who makes a habit of cheating women out of money.
When Choi wants him to repay her by pretending to be her boyfriend, to throw off the unwanted advances of her father's choice of husband, Richard starts to see the appeal in stringing women along for money.
If you're watching this purely because it stars Leung and/or Shu Qi, you're not going to be too disappointed. They're a charismatic pair and their chemistry is good, and there are enough genuinely funny scenes to satisfy the 'com' part of the genre. The 'rom' side is handled strictly by the numbers. The leads are backed up in fine fashion by Theresa Mak and Yuk Fei Wong. Anyone who remembers the latter's singing prowess in Shaolin Soccer may be happy to learn he bursts into song in this one, too.
If you have to rely on subtitles (like I do), unfortunately there doesn't seem to be a good version of this flick available. I first watched a Chinese import copy a few years back which was almost indecipherable, and recently 'upgraded' to the Tai Seng version currently on sale in the UK. The subs were better, but disappeared way too fast and were still riddled with bad spelling and grammar. The film also seemed to drop frames, or even whole seconds in places. A shame.
Kei fung dik sau (2003)
Colourful caper starring the gorgeous Shu Qi
Given a leave of absence after killing a criminal in the line of duty, undercover cop Grace (Qi) takes a trip to a beautiful Malaysian resort with her friend Joey (Chan). Joey is a model and shooting a commercial, but the trip is also a chance for Grace to get away from a pair of overbearing and overly competitive beaus.
Unfortunately, these lovely ladies are soon embroiled in an arms smuggling deal between Joey's slimy agent Bobby (Lam) and smooth criminal Poon (Yam) and his colourful moll. A pair of bounty hunters, Alex (On) and his boss (Hui) suspect the girls of being involved in the deal and - as they clearly know what kind of film they're in - set up hidden cameras in their suite to keep an eye on them.
Highjinks ensue, and I for one enjoyed pretty much every minute. This flick knows it's silly and makes no pretence otherwise.
The best thing about this movie, other than a chance to slaver over Shu Qi, is Simon Yam's over-the-top act as the twinkle-toed villain. Yam is always good value when he's allowed to climb the walls, and here he's practically dancing on the ceiling.
There are also a couple of impressive action set pieces - including a Bond-style jet-ski chase, which may go some way to reminding you you're watching a Ringo Lam film.
The final fight scene goes too far over the top in terms of slapstick comedy, but if you've been enjoying the flick up to that point, you'll probably forgive it.
This is a nice change if - like me - you've watched more than enough grimy cop thrillers and mafia nastiness. It's a bright, fun movie that should put you in a good mood for the rest of the day.
Dong jing gong lüe (2000)
Fun and fast moving spy caper
After being jilted on her wedding day, Macy (Chen) journeys to Tokyo to look for her errant fiancé Ken. She's accompanied by Yung (Cheng), a disgruntled interior designer (with kung-fu skills!) who's decorated the happy couple's Hong Kong apartment and is after his pay-cheque.
It soon becomes clear that Ken has been up to no good in Japan, and is in trouble with the authorities and the mob. Macy finds herself beset on all sides by people wanting to use her in their efforts to hunt him down. Luckily, playboy man of mystery Lin (Leung) is on hand to batter the baddies and rescue the fair maiden - provided no-one tries to damage his face!
This colourful spy caper from Jingle Ma is fun and fast moving. While the plot veers between baffling and boring, there's always a fight or action scene around the corner to keep you amused. The mambo soundtrack is a little off-putting at first, but you'll probably end up whistling it for the rest of the day.
Leung's physical prowess is respectable - plus he seems to be doing most of his own impressive stunts, and Cheng is convincing when he's beating on hordes of mob goons. Chen mostly screams and cowers during the fight scenes, but there's girl power on hand from Lin's team of gorgeous sidekicks, including the lovely Cecilia Cheung and Shibasaki Kou.
This is fun stuff and well worth a watch. Tony Leung is always good value, even in more light-hearted movies, and Kelly Chen is as lovely as always and - as a bonus - not too shrill in this one.
Tian xia wu zei (2004)
An engaging and beautiful crime romance
Professional thieves Bo (Andy Lau) and Li (Rene Liu) con a businessman out of his BMW, and head for the hills to lay low. They visit a temple, where Bo busies himself relieving pilgrims of their wallets and phones, while Li earnestly prays. Shortly thereafter, she announces to her lover that she wants them both to abandon their thieving lifestyle and settle down. When he refuses, they argue and split.
On foot and hopelessly lost, Li encounters Sha Gen (Wang), a simple man who wants to find a wife and settle down with the money he's earned. He helps her find her way to a train station, where she's reunited with Bo.
Touched by Sha Gen's open honesty and trust in his fellow travellers, Li adopts him as her little brother, and decides to protect him and his money on their journey as an act of redemption. However, while Bo wants to get back together with Li, he has his eye on Sha Gen's moneybag. To make matters worse, a whole gang of thieves is on board the train, and they all wouldn't mind helping themselves to the easy cash. It's thief vs thief as the train rolls through gorgeous landscapes, and Li has her work cut out defending Fu from all sides, not least her unscrupulous lover.
I've only seen one of director Feng Xiaogang's movies before, 'Big Shot's Funeral', and will admit to not being blown away by that. This, however, is a very engaging and beautifully shot romantic crime comedy, and I enjoyed it immensely. The product placement that seems to have offended many viewers slipped by me, and the pro-communist message simply fits the character of Sha Gen and did not seem out of place. I certainly didn't feel anything getting forced down my throat.
Andy Lau manages to be a likable rogue, while Rene Liu plays her role with a lot of heart. Their on-screen chemistry is perfect.
There are a number of 'fight' scenes between the thieves, that put me in mind of the 'God of Gamblers' series of films. Instead of fighting with Mah Jong sticks or flinging cards at each other though, the thieves duel with razor blades as they try to poach from one other. These scenes are inventive and done with flair and just the right amount of CG trickery.
I did have a problem with the ending, which - while being necessarily melodramatic - seemed overly manipulative. To compensate for this, Rene Liu's acting at the conclusion should leave all but the hardest of hearts unmoved. I have to admit with some shame that this is the first film I've seen starring this astonishing actress. It will definitely not be the last.
Yi jian zhong qing (2000)
A romantic comedy, with very little of either.
Maggie Cheung and Leon Lai are among my favourite Asian actors, but any hopes I had that they would set the screen on fire again after their partnership in 'Comrades: Almost a Love Story' were soon dashed as it became clear this unassuming romantic comedy contains very little comedy, and not much romance either.
It starts off well enough. Ellen (Cheung) is a cab driver in San Francisco, raising a young son. Invited to a nightclub, she ends up having an uncomfortable one-night stand with Mike (Lai), who appears to be some kind of dot-com playboy millionaire. I say 'appears to be' as for some reason Lai underplays the role to such a degree that he seems bored most of the time - and this rubbed off on me.
Naturally the two hit it off and begin to learn more about each other, until Mike's business deals start to go sour, which disrupts his relationship with Ellen. Can true love overcome such a hurdle, etc.?
The opening half hour focuses on Ellen, and Cheung is more than capable of drawing us her lonely, struggling character. It's regrettable then that the focus shifts to Lai's rather unlikable character for the remainder of the film, and even more regrettable than the film starts to pile more and more unlikely scenarios on us right up to its (anti)climax.
I was actually sad I didn't like this flick. The setting is certainly different, it's well shot by Andrew Lau (although the musical score is horrible), and I usually enjoy Cheung and Lai. There was simply more NOT to like, though, including an uncomfortable and almost homophobic role for the wonderful Richard Ng (Wong Jing's influence, I suspect), and the wasting of Valerie Chow as a corporate femme fatale.
If you're a huge fan of the stars, you may see past the story and enjoy this one. It didn't work for me, though.
The Deltamac version looks decent enough, and the subtitles are OK, although definitely not perfect.
A fantastic monster movie!
Let's get this out of the way right now. If you don't like monster movies, you're probably better off not bothering with this.
If you ARE a fan of monster movies, this is probably what you've been waiting for - a genuine attempt to reinvigorate a genre that's considered something of a bad joke (by movie snobs at least). Emmerich tried it with Godzilla a few years back and, while that was a good monster movie, it fell victim to pompous reviewers who clearly didn't have a clue what they were supposed to be enjoying. Similar comments seem to be getting fired at this movie, by people who unfortunately are not prepared to suspend their disbelief for a mere 80 minutes.
Cloverfield tries a different tack than your standard monster movie. With perhaps a nod towards Korean flick 'The Host', the movie focuses on the humans rather than the beast. It's all shot from the point of view of one of a group of (rather tedious) party guests, who tasks himself with capturing events as they occur on a camcorder. What we're witness to is everything that you usually get in a monster flick, but from this unique aspect - the merest glimpses of the creature to start with, followed by mass panic and, eventually, the wholesale destruction of a famous city and its national monuments.
The nature of the film being played back from camcorder footage allows for a couple of neat tricks, and an ending that raises a smile while at the same time being quite poignant.
The film - at a brisk 80 minutes - offers little backstory or exposition, which is something of a relief. While dry explanations and dubious scientific mumbo-jumbo are a monster movie staple, I can live without them, and they had no place in this particular movie. If you need to know more, there are a number of websites you can have fun with, and apparently a manga, that chart the lead up to the attack.
It's a brave movie that destroys New York in such a fashion these days, but I for one heaved a sigh of relief. Filmmakers should never be afraid to trash a national monument or even a whole city for fear of being insensitive, and in this genre it's nothing less than essential. I personally believe the film's choice of location is a bullish 'F you' to the idea of post-attack skittishness affecting media, rather than some kind of tasteless metaphor.
Bottom line, I had a lot of fun with this, and I'll be watching it again real soon.
Keep watching the credits to hear a fantastic, if slightly cheeky, monster movie theme.
Siu chan chan (2000)
Pleasant little time-waster
By the numbers rom-com starring Kelly Chen and Aaron Kwok.
Pretentious, self-obsessed newspaper columnist Luna (Chen) finds an old LP in a junk shop, that turns out to be the one she gave to her first true love as a gift years before. She tries to buy it but it's reserved for Cheung (Kwok), an arrogant radio host who dispenses his rather dubious wisdom between playing classic tracks on vinyl. He refuses to let her have the record, and mentions the incident on his show. Incensed by this, she responds by attacking him in her column, resulting in a tit-for-tat battle that soon gets out of hand.
That their hate turns to love at some point in the movie is a given. In fact, the only surprise on offer here is that the film flits between this pair and another, only tenuously linked to Luna and Cheung. Theresa Mo plays Cat, the lady who owns the junk shop. Feeling lonely, she buys a pet dog, and unwittingly finds her soulmate when she runs into the dog's original owner, Mo (Eric Tsang). This second story is amusing, but mostly only succeeds in highlighting how lightweight the main story is.
My main problem with this film is how unlikeable the leads are. Chen's bug-eyed gurning gets old fast, and Kwok doesn't put in much effort. Their characters seem shallow and it's hard to muster the enthusiasm to care what happens to them.
Still, it's a nice enough movie, and if you're after a pleasant little time-waster you could do a lot worse.
Xing yuan (1999)
A touching and lovely piece of cinema
Onion (Ren) is blind, mute and has to live in hospital, but his life is good as he's in love with his beautiful nurse, Autumn (Cheung). Unfortunately he expresses his joy by dancing around like a nutter, and ends up being hit by a car and killed in a (presumably) unintentionally funny scene. His spirit flies to, er, Polaris, where he's given a chance to return to Earth for five days and see the face of his beloved for the first time. The only problem is, he'll look completely different from when he was alive and won't be able to reveal who he is.
He agrees, but once he sees Autumn again he knows he cannot leave without telling her how he feels, and knowing if she feels the same.
Explain the premise of this movie to anyone, and they might well steer clear of it. And that would be a bit of a shame as, while you could find it painfully syrupy and melodramatic, you might also find it a touching and lovely piece of cinema. I guess it depends how cynical you are.
A young Cecilia Cheung is earnest and pretty, and acts the socks off her overacting co-star. To be fair, Onion would be a difficult part for anyone to play, and it's perhaps too much for Taiwanese pop star Ren.
It's a beautiful looking film, and the score is heartfelt and enjoyable when it isn't being overly intrusive.
The Deltamac DVD provides a decent picture and clear subtitling, with only a small amount of on-the-fly grammar correction required.
Lian zhi feng jing (2003)
A beautiful film
When her artist boyfriend Sam (Ekin Cheng) dies, Maan (Karena Lam) is left lost, alone, and with thoughts of self-harm. She pines over his memory, and becomes obsessed with his recollections of a landscape he remembers vividly from his childhood.
Maan travels to Qingdao, where Sam grew up, to try and find this mysterious location. She stays with a cousin of Sam's, but wallows in her misery, copying a page of Sam's diary every day while she vainly tries to find someone who can help her. Unfortunately, none of the locals recognise the landscape she describes.
Eventually, and after several hesitant encounters, she finds help in the form of Lit (Ye Liu), a laconic postman with whom she slowly bonds. But can she find happiness again with Sam constantly on her mind?
This beautiful film struck many chords with me when I first watched it a few years ago, and re-watching it was a real pleasure. Qingdao is a lovely location, the gentle storyline unfolds pleasingly, and the ending is magically breathtaking. It's easily one of my favourite films of the last few years.
Seung joi ngo sam (2001)
An engaging and frequently beautiful melodrama
When Yee (Charlene Choi) is diagnosed with terminal cancer, she morbidly hires funeral director Duan (Eason Chan) to prepare for her own funeral. Luckily for her, he's not prepared to let her fade away without a fight, and sets about trying to convince her that life is worth living.
This languid little melodrama is a melancholy and quite mesmerising affair. Beautifully shot and with a lovely, if sometimes overwhelming musical score, you'll hopefully forgive the more cloyingly sentimental elements of a plot that could quite easily have become depressingly maudlin.
Choi is endearingly cute enough to instantly get your sympathy, but what's more of a surprise is her convincing and well-measured acting. Chan also delivers a likable performance.
Well worth a watch.
Pao zhi nu peng you (2003)
If we needed yet another Chinese Pygmalion, you'd hope the writers would take the trouble to inject something fresh and new into such a well flogged horse. As it is, even this stalwart Vicki fan can't find much nice to say about this unfunny mess of a film.
Joe (Cheng) is a HK rogue living off his clearly long suffering girlfriend. When he's inexplicably hired as an image consultant by Shanghai millionaire Cheung (Ng), to spruce up his long-lost, street urchin daughter Ning (Wei), the scene is (or at least, should be) set for a fun ugly duckling tale in the tried and tested rom-com style.
Unfortunately, we're asked to suspend belief on too many levels to make investing in this flick a possibility. It's difficult to care for any of the characters, and when the inevitable character transformations occur they're jarring, and even a bit annoying.
The leads are cute in their respective ways, so if that's all you're after you may get your money's worth. Just don't expect a decent story. More importantly for a comedy, don't expect many laughs either.
Siu Lam juk kau (2001)
Stephen Chow writes, directs and stars in probably his funniest and most accessible (to Western audiences, at least) film to date.
Sing (Chow) is trying to find a way to encourage his countrymen to re-embrace their Shaolin kung fu heritage. When he meets down-at-heel ex-soccer coach Fung (Ng), the pair hatch a plan to form a soccer team with Sing's Shaolin brothers. Unfortunately, these guys have lost their kung fu skills. Sing resolves to help his brothers regain their dignity, then lead them into a championship showdown with the seemingly unstoppable Evil Team. He also finds time to fall in love with Tai-Chi baker Mui (the usually lovely Vicki Zhao), who gets some of the funniest scenes in the movie.
As a non-Chinese speaker, my experience with Chow's previous films is patchy, his wordplay humour rarely making a decent transition to subtitles. The comedy here though is mostly physical, possibly even deliberately geared more towards a Western market. The plot - however clichéd - is a pleasing tale of underdogs made good, and the movie has a definite feelgood feel and uplifting ending. Even the CG is impressive and well used. It's the most entertaining movie I've seen in ages.
I was watching the Universe DVD. Subs are decent enough, without too many typos, and the 'making of' and other extras have English subs also.
Wan quan cui hua sho ce (1997)
A waste of Jade
Monumentally awful no-budget yarn starring Jade Leung and Michael Chow.
Secretive special agent 'Charlie' and his trio of babes (Sunny, Moony and Starry!) fight baddies for some vague reason. There appears to be no discernable plot and the action scenes are terrible. Even if, like me, you're a Jade Leung fan, do yourself a favour and steer clear of this one - she's totally wasted in it.
Bulletproof Monk (2003)
Depressingly lacklustre buddy movie, based on a lesser-known comic book. It's a particularly strange (and poor) choice for Chow Yun Fat when he could really do with a good solid hit. He plays a Tibetan monk who gives up his name to become the protector of some 'sacred scroll' thingy that can save or destroy the world etc. etc.
What with sneering nazi villains pretending to be Gary Oldman, 'streetwise' thieves with hearts of gold that learn their kung-fu from watching movies, cheesy dialogue, amateurish direction and drab setpieces, both credulity and patience are stretched to breaking point. Add some primitive, half-finished CGI and shameful fight choreography and this is nothing more than a wasted opportunity.
Maybe you'll enjoy it if you're a big fan of Fat and/or Scott, but whatever you do, don't rent or buy expecting to see a class kung-fu movie.
Ying xiong wu lei (1986)
Truly mindless violence
Ludicrously violent war movie, notable only for being director John Woo's first foray into gung-ho gunplay that's since become his forte.
Every plot twist is improbable or just plain ridiculous, every character a hackneyed stereotype or just there for cannon fodder, and every line of poorly subbed dialogue unintentionally funny. In other words, I thought it was great.
Definitely worth taking a look at if you're in the mood for some truly mindless violence, or if you're a Woo completist.
If plagiarism was art, this movie would probably be in the Tate. An Amercian movie referencing so many others would raise a sneer but, for some reason, coming out of Japan it seems oddly fitting - maybe because so many of the films Returner pays homage' to owe so much to anime and Asian cinema in the first place?
Whatever. I'm going to resist the temptation to liken this to ANY movie and just enjoy it for what it is: a cheeky mishmash of biggish budget sci-fi claptrap, with a decent cast, varied and mostly impressive effects, and a ridiculously over-the-top plot. The bottom line is, if you like cool effects, aliens, explosions, blood splattering all over the place, cute Japanese girls, transformer spaceships etc etc, there's no reason you shouldn't enjoy this. If you prefer your sci-fi more cerebral, watch Solaris again - then try to relax, unclench, and remove that stick from where the sun doesn't shine.
I've only seen Kanashiro in HK movies before. He's always worth seeing, and plays this slight role with humour and natural charisma. His jailbait co-star Anne Suzuki plays the tough but vulnerable heroine well, but for me the star player here is Goro Kihitani, playing a nasty boo-hiss villain to the hilt, all mad hair and extravagant gestures.
I could happily watch this again, and would have no qualms in recommending it to people who like fun cinema. My only real problem with it was the unnecessarily long-winded finale, which could have been tightened up a fair bit. Other than that, it's a good laugh, and I for one will definitely be keeping an eye out for writer/director Yamazaki's future projects.
Chin gei bin (2003)
It's clear at the outset of this lightweight, Blade/Matrix-influenced comedy vampire flick that you're watching a potential cash-raking franchise in the making. What is a nice surprise is that, mid-way through, you suddenly realise that even in spite of this, you're having a great time.
The Twins, diminutive Canto-pop babes Charlene Choi and Gillian Chung, aren't a phenomenon I'd really encountered before first-hand. They're cute and amusing in about the right doses, and seem enthusiastic enough about the fight and wire work they're called upon to do. Chung, in particular, shows promise as a possible future action starlet. With Donnie Yen handling the action, though, you'd expect no less, and all the action scenes are very well done, if a touch heavy on the wire-fu.
Ekin Cheng and Edison Chen seem quite happy to let the girls hog the limelight. Both are solidly entertaining in what appear to be roles more second-fiddle than they're used to. Anthony Wong's turn as the vampire prince's batman (sorry) is reason enough alone to check the film out. His scenes are very funny.
I'd put the snarling Euro-vamps on just the wrong side of ridiculous, but they certainly didn't ruin the film, and the often-elaborate stunt filled fights they're involved in ensure they don't outstay their welcome. The much-mooted Jackie Chan (extended) cameo is entertaining, and there are a whole raft of other guest stars to enjoy, in particular Karen Mok and Josie Ho.
It's probably fortunate that the soundtrack doesn't feature the girls themselves, but the music remains the weak point in my opinion, being a mix of rather heavy-handed homage to Batman, Blade and, somewhat bizarrely, Titanic.
Still, this didn't ruin what turned out to be a well crafted, action packed and, most importantly, fun movie.
Neko no ongaeshi (2002)
A wonderful fantasy film
After the wild but fully justified furore surrounding Spirited Away, Studio Ghibli's next production is a much lower key affair, clearly aimed at a younger market. Having said that, this cynical thirty-something loved it to bits. Ghibli purists seem to be somewhat snobbish about the studio's output, but If this is an example of one of their films designed more for harmless family entertainment, I can stand to see a lot more of it.
This is a wonderful fantasy film, cute and funny, and full of remarkable and memorable characters. The animation is solid and detailed, occasionally even breathtaking, and the soundtrack is gorgeous. The brisk running time ensures the light story doesn't outstay its welcome. In fact, I could easily have watched more, and I'm already looking forward to Ghibli's or Miyazaki's next flight of fantasy.
Lu ding ji (1992)
Slapstick Stephen Chow comedy...
Slapstick Stephen Chow / Wong Jing comedy, which follows the exploits of hapless but well-meaning Wai Xiao Bao (or, er, Wilson Bond) as he manages to land himself in the middle of a power struggle between warring dynasties.
The bawdy humour is purely physical enough for the movie to be enjoyed even if you have to rely on the somewhat flaky subtitles (I was watching the Deltamac version). Naturally, Chow's more verbal comedy doesn't translate well to English, but there's still plenty to enjoy in this lively spoof, including some surprisingly good kung fu, Chingamy Yau as a cheeky princess, and a cameo by Brigitte Lin to set up the sequel. Good fun.
Chek law dak gung (2002)
Dumb but fun action yarn
Charlene (Maggie Q) is a young girl who finds herself imprisoned and trained to be an assassin, along with a group of other girls including Katt (An Ya) and the psychotic Jing (Jewel Lee). Six years later, these three girls are the only ones left alive to pass the grade, and are sent out into the outside world to become assassins, working under the control of the sinister Madame M.
What follows is a pretty much non-stop fight scene, big explosions, blood and death. It's totally cool in a way that western films try so hard but fail to be (mentioning no Ballistics). It doesn't even matter that a lot of the fighting is weak and/or doubled, the lead girls for all their inexperience look and move great. There's lots of wirework and plenty of camera trickery, but it gets away with it by being far more fun than it has any right to be. I loved it, and if you like girls with guns, looking cool and shooting people in slow motion, you will too.