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Shi gan (2006)
An incredible exploration into the oblivion of contemporary identity.
There is something startlingly relevant to this film. The ever increasing lack of identity in the modern world, and the rise of all sorts of abstract selves, from Internet IDs to Social Security numbers, has left our age with nothing but ever changing faces and dubious selves. The most corporeal and brutal example of this is cosmetic surgery. And, Kim Ki-Duk's haunting masterpiece speaks to both the obsession with a physical ideal, as well as the very ambiguous ideology of identity.
As a cynical and often apathetic moviegoer, this film entranced, bewildered and truly disconcerted me. Kim Ki-Duk is developing into an incredible filmmaker. The cinematography is delicately crisp, in a way that is very new and only really found in a handful of Asian movies from about the last 5 years. The dramatic elements are utterly profound, and the plot functions on many levels, (though not specifically allegorical) invoking and evoking issues ranging from history, the failure and ultimate relativism of communication, the absurd necessity for beauty, as well as a plethora of other parallels.
Anyhow, I find myself being verbose, but I just watched this movie and am terribly excited about it. Instead, the film itself is anything but convoluted, and though not exceedingly complex, is incredibly deep. Be patient, because it starts a little slowly, but erupts into something so strange and meaningful that I would recommend this film to anyone that enjoys Asian cinema or that likes to think.
The Muffin Man (2006)
silly... but cute
This short film seemed very much like a student production. However, though clearly amateur in nature, the film had its funny moments. The screenplay, music, acting and production were all quite noticeably put together by a novice filmmaker, but slasher/horror cinema is the best forum to expand ones visual vocabulary. All of these elements held together fairly well to create a coherent little picture. Furthermore, the dark humor of food and gore was great. The film intentionally doesn't try to be serious.
At the same time, I waited for 40 minutes for Frank Zappa's "Muffin Man" to come on, but to no avail. The movie seems like it was "specially prepared" for this film.
<-historical and cultural implications of the film->
This film was shocking, original, and shows not only Mel Gibson's artistic ability as a director, but his brilliance in pandering to what an broad audience really wants out of a movie. At the same time, the film seems to be steeped in political controversy of having a racist and colonial agenda. Mel Gibson has proved himself to be quite culturally insensitive, and his deploring public have rushed to psychoanalyze 'Apocalypto' as synonymous with the director's disreputable behavior. Furthermore, I think it it dangerous to create an allegory about the decline of empires using a culture that was ultimately colonized by the West.
However, Gibson (and Farhad Safinia) chose the Maya civilization, which mysteriously disappeared almost 300 years before the Spanish, who historically invaded the Aztec empire. The Spanish never actually had any contact with dissipated remnants of a once great Mayan civilization. This secures the film within the realm of historical fiction. Furthermore, I think the Postcolonial theorists, who presume the arrival of the West at the end of the film signifies some ultimate salvation, are too immersed in their own prejudices to honestly judge the film. By now, the colonization of indigenous Native Americans is almost unilaterally agreed as nothing but perhaps the greatest genocide in history, but don't hide behind utopian fantasies of passive precolombian culture. And yes, the costumes and locations are represented as exquisitely exotic, but the entire movie is about giving agency and humanity to a "lost civilization." And yes, the incredible sociological and technological advancements of the Mayans were downplayed in the film, but the movie had another message, namely that civilizations are by nature built upon the sweat, tears and blood of a slave underclass. Egyptians had Jews and many others, Romans had Greeks and plenty more, Post-Enlightenment Europe had Africa and South Asia. And in a more global community today, the United States has its thumb pressing upon the poor of most nations.
And I wish obviously privileged people would stop their bloody battlecry for political correctness. Anyone enjoying the comforts and amenities of 'modern civilization' is participating in a colonizing, oppressive agenda. As for the film, Gibson stated that he meant it to be perceived as allegory for the futility of the Iraq war, which quite surprised me. Finally, the film is beautifully shot, and while quite gory (which again is I think a commentary on current violence), has brilliant pacing and incredible cinematography. Furthermore, I think that it would be hailed as a miracle of tolerance if anyone else besides Mel Gibson made a mainstream movie in an indigenous language using indegenous peoples. Finally, though its only supposed to be a chase movie, the film succeeds fantastically.
Notwithstanding the epidemic of sitcoms today that try to balance the drama of crime and family, Legend emerges as an incredibly fresh yet genuinely touching experience. I knew nothing about the show and almost as much about Irish television (Radio Telefís Éireann), yet this program stands shoulder to shoulder with the giant enterprises of American cable. The writing, the acting, the cinematography and the music are brilliantly combined, creating an artistic and relevant atmosphere easily equal to some of my favorites like Showtime's Brotherhood or Weeds or HBO's The Sopranos. Yet the show lacks all of the dramatic pretension that has become a prerequisite for American primetime.
"Legend" even surpasses other television shows with its gritty yet beautiful realism. The premise of a middle-class young father losing his loving wife, falling into financial difficulties with some less than reputable characters and having to care for his children, could so easily fizzle into a myriad of clichés. However, within this deflated modern Irish suburbia, every character is developed into beautiful contextual nexus of what it means to be young and struggling with life and death today. I was really blown away with the series and I hope the generic title of the show will not bury this gem in obscurity.