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Hua hun (1994)
9/10
The first Chinese woman artist to be acclaimed in Europe
28 January 2003
Gong Li, as Pan Yuliang, and Zhang Yimou, as "Supervisor", add their prestige to this film by woman director Huang Shuqin. It seems than many film productions have been planned in China, too many stressing the lurid brothel background of the artist.

This film dramatizes the turbulent life of Pan Yuliang (1899-1977), the first Chinese woman artist to be recognized in Europe.

Faced with the dismal future as a prostitute, Yuliang (Gong Li), a maid in a brothel, suddenly finds refuge/ happiness with well-bred/ compassionate Pan Zanhua (Er Dongsheng), a customs official. In an attempt to quell gossip he makes her his second wife. Yet, they are forced to move to Shanghai where he teaches her to read and write and introduces her to Hong, a Western style painter. She shows talent in painting nudes at the Shanghai Art Institute, until it is closed by prudish authorities.

Unable to bear a son for Zanhua, Yuliang encourages him to `return' to his first wife (Shen Hairong). She then goes to France on a government art scholarship. (She actually received top scores at the Nat'l Art School in Paris and then received a Rome scholarship.) After several years, she has gained peer recognition.

In Nanjing, Yuliang is welcomed back by Zanhua and idolized by art students as a professor of art in the National Central University. Her happiness is short-lived when her work is discredited because of her brothel background and by a China not ready for Western Art. She and Zanhua make the heart-breaking decision to separate.

Yuliang returns to Paris to remain for decades in poverty, totally devoted to art. Her culminating triumph, shared with her long-time friend Wang Shouxin (Shichang Da), was her exhibition at the prestigious Musée D'Orsay.

In a sub-plot, He Qiong (Zunxia Gao), is the artist friend in Shanghai who urges Yuliang to go with her to Paris. There, Yuliang is unable to help Qiong who is victimized by a Chinese wheeler-dealer in arts. **************************************

Her wish to have her work given to the Peoples' Republic of China was fulfilled in 1985. There have been >20 exhibitions of her work, including controversial nudes, in various cities in China and Taiwan. `She has become a household name in China'.

For the sake of art, it is "fortunate" that Pan Yuliang remained a self-exile in France. It is not likely that she and her paintings would have survived the Cultural Revolution.

Articles on Pan Yuliang and some of her distinctive paintings can be found on Internet: "Pan Yuliang".
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Vive nous! (2000)
8/10
Judo brings people together
12 December 2002
VIVE NOUS! Director/lead Camile de Casabianca. Judo brings couples together in this delightful romantic comedy. Valérie (Camile de Casabianca, a Leslie Caron-type pixie) is married to a selfish heel. Yves (Thibault de Montalembert) is cheating on her and threatens to divorce her. Impulsively, she takes up judo and becomes skilled. She and Bruno (Dieudonné), her manly judo teacher, are attracted to each other, but their romance is thwarted by Yves' indecision about divorce. Of her men-hungry friends, Annette (Michèle Bernier) finds rich banker Alain (Daniel Prévost) but Clara (Emmanuelle Devos) is still looking. Marc (Pascal Elbé) is Bruno's sensible assistant- confidant. Dieudonné was a scheming clairvoyant in Voyance et Manigances.
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10/10
Placid livelihood in Viet Nam
12 December 2002
VERTICAL RAY OF THE SUN VIETNAMESE, Dir Anh Hung Tran (Scent of Green Papaya). Serene view of three close-knit sisters and the men in their lives. The film beautifully illustrates calm Buddhist livelihood of compassion, togetherness and non-violence. Vivid color imageries show harmony with nature. Spirited Lien (Tran Nu Yen-Khe, in Scentof Green Papaya) has a teasing/loving relationship with older brother Hai (Quang Hai Ngo) with whom she lives. She baby-sits for her oldest sister Suong (Nhu Qynh Nguyen) who is in a troubled marriage to withdrawn Quoc, caused indirectly by his lengthy absences on photographic outings. Khanh (Le Khanh), the middle sister, is happy supporting husband Kien (Manh Cuong Tran), who is trying to finish his first novel. Mutual trust and love among the sisters parallel those of Chekhov's Three Sisters.
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Al-kompars (1993)
8/10
A Courtship in present-day Syria
12 December 2002
Al-Kompars (The Extras) Syrian, in Arabic with English subtitles. Writer/Dir Nabil Maleh. Humorous contemporary romance about an insecure/moody bachelor and a gentle widow. Salem (Bassam Koussa) is a garage mechanic who finds escape as an extra in a theater group. Having no apartment of his own, he borrows a friend's place for an innocent afternoon tryst with widowed Nada (Samar Samy), a worker in a garment factory. Her sympathetic nature draws out Salem's hidden extrovert tendencies.
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Le zèbre (1992)
The oddball cannot leave "well-enough alone".
12 December 2002
LE ZEBRE (The Oddball). Bittersweet romantic comedy about happily married Hippolyte (Thierry Lhermitte), a likable, clownish-yet-successful lawyer, and beautiful Camille (Caroline Cellier), a philosophy lecturer. Natalie and Lauren are their children. Hippolyte becomes overly obsessed, trying to restore passion into their marriage. He devises zany, secretive, amorous schemes to entice and arouse Camille. At first, she is flattered but confused, since she has many admirers. She then becomes irritated by the demeaning nature of his schemes. Gregoire (Christian Pereira), their close friend, often serves as an intermediary. Because of Hippolyte's capricious and somewhat sadistic nature, the ending seems inconclusive (at least to me). Possible sequel?, "Return of the Oddball"(?).
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8/10
Self-exiled Italian political activists living in Paris
6 August 2002
This is a non-violent/ fascinating character study about a close-knit group of Italian political activists who had fled to Paris ten years ago. Dario, for one, lives happily with his French wife Fabrienne and daughter Olivia. His much-younger brother Jacopo, who had seen him only four times in his life, visits from Italy. Eager to learn about Dario and his friends, Jacopo, a journalist, tries to interview them individually. Paranoia about possible extradition to Italy causes the group, led by Ivano, to suspect that Jacopo is a government agent. Intuitively, Dario trusts his brother. Eugenia, who left a son behind in Italy, gets to know Jacopo better than the others.
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9/10
To enjoy, don't get involved emotionally.
25 July 2002
Initially, I stopped watching a copy of this film because I found myself feeling disgusted with the protagonists. Later, I decided to watch the film again as an impartial observer. To me, it became an interesting black comedy of frailties and morals.

This is a story of middle-class immorality and a pathetic obsession reminiscent of Maugham's Of Human Bondage. Morally-weak Didier (Fabrice Luchini) tries vainly to break his ties with brazen/ promiscuous Juliette (Sandrine Kiberlain). She has no need to be reasonable/considerate as long as she has the upper hand. Didier vacillates in a promising affair with insatiable Aurélie (Valentine Cervi) which would free him from Juliette. Others involved with Didier and Juliette are womanizer Jérome (Laurent Lucas) and his fiancée Violaine (Nathalie Beautefeu). Unfortunately talented Michel Piccoli is wasted in his role as Ariel, Lucien's smug/outspoken critic.

As in this film, Luchini seems to specialize in far less than ideal `heros'. In the '96 Beaumarchais the Scoundrel, Luchini was a brilliant-but-roguish delight and Kiberlain played his confidante/ mistress-and-later-wife. In '90 La Discrete, he played an egotistical womanizer who gets his come-uppance.
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8/10
Charming tale of a woman chasing a man
25 July 2002
Witty/romantic comedy. Headstrong/out-spoken Sabine (Béatrice Romand), working on her thesis in Art History, has tired of affairs with married men, such as Simon (Féodor Atkine). Playing Cupid, her confidante Clarisse (Arielle Dombasle) introduces her lawyer cousin Edmond (André Dusollier) to Sabine. Encouraged by Clarisse, Sabine impetuously decides that she will marry Edmond and tells her mother (Thamila Megrah) and sister Lise (Sophie Renoir). When confronted by Sabine, Edmond resorts to an astonishing/glib double-talk to explain why he is not ready for matrimony.

Béatrice Romand was the delightful/ talkative teen ager in ‘71 Claire's Knee, and commitment-shy widow in '98 Autumn Tale; Dusollier, in the whimsical '75 And Now My Love. Arielle Dombasle has appeared in many films, starting as a seductive beauty. Féodor Atkine played a somewhat slimy character in '83 Pauline on the Beach.
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Sauve-moi (2000)
9/10
Algerians settled in France
21 July 2002
SAUVE MOI (Save Me) is a simple-but-excellent `slice-of-life' story about French-Algerians living near the Belgian border. Mehdi, who has lived in Roubaix all his life, meets Agatha, a seemingly-carefree drifter from Romania who has wandered throughout Europe. He introduces her to his group of friends, including Cécile, his current lover, who befriends Agatha. The Algerians, living in a localized area, find difficulty finding even menial jobs. There is cooperation and moral support among Mehdi and his friends. It seems that this worthy film about an unpublicized ethnic minority in France has been ignored by the art film critics.
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Za co? (1996)
7/10
Tragedy about naïveté, idealism and love facing harsh reality
21 July 2002
WHY? (Za chto?) '99 POLISH/Russian, Dir Jerzy Kawalerowicz, based on a Tolstoy novel about naïveté, idealism and love facing harsh reality. Polish subtitles when Russian is spoken. Romantic tragedy is set in the 1830s when freedom from Russian rule was a faint hope of the Polish. Jozin Migurski (Artur Zmijewski) is a suitor for spirited Albina (Magdalena Wojcik), daughter of an aristocratic land-owner. He joins in on the attempted revolt in Warsaw, is captured and is sent to serve at a Siberian border outpost with no hope of returning. Naively, Albina chooses to go there and begin life with Jozin under wretched conditions. Clear subtitles.
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Biteu (1997)
8/10
Shocking tragedy of the drop-out generation in South Korea
6 April 2002
Constant/excessive physical violence mars this well-done/plausible story about three street-wise buddies who take different paths after deciding not to take college-entrance exams. In his bittersweet romance with Romi, Min with his beguiling smile reminded me of Tom Cruise. Indeed, I later found out from a young girl from Korea that Woo-sung Jung is known as the Tom Cruise of Korea.
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6/10
So silly that it is entertaining
29 March 2002
Ohmygod is the bumbling "hero" who meets some beautiful girls. From afar he admires pretty Yandy (Athene Chu) whom he calls Dkny. She is nurse to wealthy Mr. Go who has just found his daughter Sylvia. Ohmygod becomes a body-guard to protect Sylvia from her jealous brother and wife. The King of Tricks torments people with some fairly funny gimmicks, e.g., non-fading face paint, physiological poisons, lust-provoking smoke etc. Mandarin and English subtitles.
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8/10
Feisty young woman in Hong Kong's underworld
29 March 2002
Lively but somewhat implausible plot is about a petite/steel-nerved lesbian, named Thirteen or Teenie (Sandra Ng Kwan Yue), who thrives in Hong Kong's seamy/ violent underworld. Shielded by her powerful uncle, she can confront gangs; she and Yun (Christy Yang), one of her favorite "girls", get away with simple scams. Feisty Teenie then overcomes opposition and gains control over prostitution on Portland Street. Yun becomes a star on TV dramas. Oft-illegible white subtitles in Mandarin as well as in English.
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Liebe, Leben, Tod (1996 TV Movie)
8/10
Compassionate, artfully-portrayed interactions among some eccentric individuals
29 March 2002
Sensitive/reclusive Leyla, daughter of Turkish immigrants, slowly emerges from her "shell" after being contacted at random by Paul, a store manager, who has a weird-but-harmless fetish. Simon, the store's delivery-man, covets Paul's job and is cheating on his wife Lara. Angie is a lonely middle-aged apartment-neighbor of Paul. In the park-cemetery, ex-librarian Sophie befriends Garlei, a one-man anti-technology crusader. The episodes are simply-told and up-beat.
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Hong deng qu (1996)
5/10
Bloody, violent view of Hong Kong's Red Light District
28 March 2002
Interesting view of HK's underworld of unsavory characters is marred by mass-slayings, violence, graphic brutality/ torture, and R-rated dialogue. Walkie Pi, a hoodlum striving to be the most feared man in the Red Light District of Portland Street, commits a murder and flees to Holland. Beautiful/ bright Tung Yen, girlfriend of Walkie since she was 15, impresses wealthy Yi Sen Man ("Playboy"), owner of Number One Nightclub. She displaces Karen as Playboy's favorite and becomes the club's manager. Ming Ming is Tung Yen's close friend. Min is Yen's mother; Robert is Min's boyfriend as well as her pimp. Walkie's inevitable return creates a dilemma for Tung Yen. Faint white subtitles in Mandarin as well as in English.
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9/10
Modern romantic comedy and satire
27 March 2002
This is an enjoyable/romantic comedy as well as a caustic satire on the bureaucracy of the post-Glasnost era. Leonid, a high-ranking bureaucrat, faces a mid-life crisis when he becomes enthralled with Lida, a charming/spirited nurse. He makes awkward advances. She learns that his promising career as a concert flautist ended when his politically-powerful father-in-law hoisted him on the ladder of bureaucracy. He is flustered when Yelena, his architect wife, finds out his affair.
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Le cavaleur (1979)
7/10
Womanizer gets his comeuppance
26 February 2002
Droll romantic comedy. Edouard is an amiable-but-self-centered concert pianist who is infatuated with women of all ages. He leads a hectic life pursuing young Muriel, while deceiving his wife Marie-France and continuing his concert tours. Ex-wife Lucienne and daughter Pom Pom are knowing onlookers. He then turns to his first love, Madame Taylor, played by the still-beautiful Danielle Darrieux, who, 43 years earlier, was worshipped by the boys, including myself, in a French class in San Diego. Beethoven's 4th Piano Concerto is the suitable theme music.
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7/10
Charming rich-girl/poor-boy romantic comedy.
24 February 2002
Comely Stephenie ("Tap") lives in affluence with her mother Tina Wong (Joyce Chen?) and is driven to college classes. Happy-go-lucky Hong (Daniel Chen), who lives with his taxi-driver/father and kid sister, becomes self-conscious about his social status after he meets Tap. He and his father blunder repeatedly,trying to impress Tap and her mother. Mandarin and English subtitles.
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7/10
Romantic comedy-farce about a happy moron and his friends.
24 February 2002
Many plots are interwoven. Feeble-minded Fai-26 is pampered by Millie, his still-attractive mother. Little Ping and his sister-by-adoption, Minmin, are Fai's loyal friends. Their father Uncle Ying, who was once Millie's suitor, is reluctant to take Fai as a boarder so that Millie can marry Philip. Minmin is happy selling pirated tapes on Hong Kong's notorious Portland Street, but Little Ping, whom she loves, aims for a career in the performing arts. Mandarin as well as English subtitles.
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8/10
A Japanese greengrocer's warm relationship with Chinese students
23 February 2002
Adapted from a true story. A greengrocer and his wife befriend and aid Chinese college students over a period of years. Neglect of their business results in a financial crisis which is resolved with the aid of the grateful students. Later, the couple are guests of the ex-students who are now in Beijing. Has humor and warmth. To achieve a natural setting, The director often has several people talking at the same time and often on different subjects. When Chinese is spoken, there are vertical titles, accompanying the English subtitles.
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Koto (1963)
7/10
Gentle story of twins separated at birth
23 February 2002
A beautiful girl, treated as an only child by considerate adoptive parents, is shocked to meet her identical twin at a fair. She learns that she and her twin sister were separated immediately after birth because of superstitions. Her twin had an unhappy upbringing. An earnest suitor is confused as to which of the two he should pursue.
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8/10
Vengeance of a reincarnated beauty from ancient times.
17 February 2002
Joey Wong is incredibly lovely as a girl who grew up during the Cultural Revolution and was abused because of her beauty, e.g., being raped and then charged with seducing men. Eager to leave China, she marries a wealthy Hong Kong businessman. She is troubled by subliminal impulses, as well as vivid dreams, of an ancient time when, as the Golden Lotus, she was defiled and killed. She senses that, as the reincarnation of the courtesan in her dreams, she will exact revenge on the three men from the ancient past who reappear in her life in China and again in Hong Kong. One dilemma is the would-be hero who lacked the courage to save her in her visions and in her recent life in China.
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8/10
A film of warm interactions among different age groups
14 February 2002
"It is never too late to let tomorrow be the end of yesterday". These sensible words in the song at the end of the film summarizes a portion of a practical philosophy of living, demonstrated in the film. I believe it deserves a rating of 8.
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