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The Little Princess in the Real World
What kind of story would attract the acclaimed South Korean director Lee Chang-Dong's support and serving as a producer? (So far he has only served as a producer of two films. He was even only an executive producer of his own work "Secret Sunshine." I have to also mention that the film's French producer Laurent Lavolé was the guest who I honorably hosted in the Taipei Film Festival in 2008.) "A Brand New Life" is such a simple but moving film from the new French Korean filmmaker Ounie Lecomte. Based on her personal experience as a child, she sincerely shares this poignant but very inspiring childhood memories to the audience around the world.
Jinhee was taken out on a trip by her father. Her father bought a wide range of gifts, they ate lots of delicious food, and he even gave her a big cake, but it all turned to a different direction once they set their feet into a children's monastery shelter. It turned out that Jinhee's life will never be the same ever since. This has a similar premise as the famous fairy tale "The Little Princess" by the British writer Frances Hodgson Burnett. Though we think that there would be another harsh supervisor and several kids who try to bully her here through Jinhee's eyes, fortunately, the reality is not entirely so tragic.
The supervisor seems harsh, but in fact, she has a loving heart under her icy face; the crippled sister, who's the oldest among the children, sadly took her fate after the unsuccessful struggle; Sookhee is already an older child than most, she seems capricious at first, but she's very sympathetic underneath. She and Jinhee soon to become inseparable friends. But they still have total different perspectives toward the future. Sookhee, who has watched many of the adopted children left, wish that she would find a good home before she becomes too old, so she tried her best to promote herself once she gets the chance. But Jinhee, who's still waiting for her father to fulfill his promise and come back to pick her up, but the wait seems to be increasingly long and increasingly remote.
Lecomte showed her great talent in this film she wrote and directed for the first time. She presented the very personal story in a very modest and earthy way, but it's even more effective and moving than letting the sentiments taking over. Take the part where Jinhee and Sookhee secretly took care of a dying bird after they found it as an example, it simply conveys the profound meaning of the fine line between life and death. Kin Sae Ron, who was casted as Jinhee, successfully performed as the crucial key to make the film work, whether it's the look when being helpless, or the fake smile when she has learned to be sophisticated, they are all hard to make the audience not be moved.
After Sookhee was gone, Jinhee, who had hope once again in her heart, had lost someone she could rely on. In the meantime, she learned that her father and the family had moved to somewhere no one knows from the headmaster of the monastery. It was the first time in her life that she felt all alone and was left in helplessness and despair. but she eventually learned to face the difficulties of life with strengths. She quickly got a new hope that might become a turning point in her life with her adorable looks. When on her way towards the unknown destination, the warmth when leaning on her father's back on the back seat of the bike suddenly appeared in her heart, but it may only be deeply buried in the memory as the song she sang from her heart.
You yi tian (2010)
A Huge First Step of Taiwanese Cinema
It was delightful to see the revival of Taiwanese Cinema in these couple of years, but I have to say regretfully that there weren't many which still left me strong aftertastes a few months later. The problem is that I can't recall if there was any sincerity in the storytelling. Mostly, they felt like products which tended to arouse the sympathy of the audience through demonstrating the tragedies in the present society. They probably needed to be known, but the intentional purpose itself sadly made the products feel cheesy. I really hate to judge films from my own country, especially as a heavy movie buff, but I feel that I should express how I truly feel instead of only telling the good sides.
However, this debut by the new filmmaker Hou Chi-Jan feels a lot different. The producer Zoë Chun-Jung Chen, the screenwriters Hou and Kelly Yuan-Ling Yang are all first-timers. Only the film editor Liao Ching-Song and the sound engineer Tu Du-Che are the veterans from the Taiwanese Cinema New Wave in the 80's. So this is a nearly new-blood creativity that I was happy to see, and it was even beyond my expectations.
The story is about a girl meets a boy on a ship to the satellite island of Taiwan called Jin- Men(means Golden Gate literally), but it's not just a love story as it appears to be. When something strange happens, the girl was left along with the boy and an Indian who comes out of nowhere in the ship. As she feels like being stuck in a nightmare, the boy confirmed it. So what happened beforehand or will happen afterward start to be revealed interactively.
Easily, the mysterious and tense scene in the ship reminded me of David Lynch, and it makes perfect sense since this is a story intensively related to dreams. The sudden cuts and distant shots also reminded me of the new Palme d'Or Thai director Weerasethakul. Thankfully, it's not a rough imitating which it could easily turn out to be, but an idea that borrowed from the skills and still kept the filmmakers' creativity. Most of all, I was very glad to feel the earnestness I could hardly get from the new films of my own country. Even it has no big scales like a few other big hits do, it simply surpasses them with this important fact.
Dreams have always been something filmmakers are fascinated about but not really often seen in Taiwanese films. After being highly noted by the realism built up by veterans such as Edward Yang and Hou Hsiou-Hsien, who notably is the executive producer of the film, that inherited the Italian masters like De Sica and Rossellini, I believe it's about time to transfer the homage to the other equally divine Italian masters like Fellini and Antonioni and show the world the diversity of Taiwanese Cinema. It's neither the best Taiwanese film nor a perfect film having said that, but it's surely a huge first step.
Inception, simply as its idea, is what dreams are made of. Nolan's undeniably masterful mind triumphs once again and reaches the high expectations and even beyond. It's his most complicated and arguably best work to date. Maybe many people would find this dream theme very uninteresting, but looking back at the film history, many brilliant classics are all tightly related to dreams.
Cobb is a brilliant criminal in dreams. But in his subconscious, there's always a woman who is his biggest weakness that gets in his tasks. Even his closest partner Arthur doesn't know this secret which no one knows. Until one day, this huge client Saito came to them and offered him a reward beyond any price, he finally had to face his deepest fear in his subconscious gradually. Ariadne, a genius dream architect, is the one who turned on this turning point. But Cobb has to complete an extremely difficult mission. This time it's not extortion. It's inception.
During seeing the film, many films which might inspired it or similar to it popped up in my mind. Talking about dreams, David Lynch is best known for being the master of the territory, I believe anyone who has seen "Mulholland Drive" may find the dream sequence in the first half is simply unforgettable. Alejandro Amenábar's "Open Your Eyes" has the same idea. Spike Jonze's "Being John Malkovich" has got the same excitement of entering and taking over someone else's mind. The plot of peeping into the private world of a tycoon seems to be a homage to Orson Welles's "Citizen Kane." But what didn't occur to me was the unknown woman who made the leading role fall for in Hitchcock's "Vertigo." There're also parts with strong Hitchcock atmosphere in the yet another great score Hans Zimmer handed out. Instead, the Wachowski Brothers's (or should be called brother and sister now) "The Matrix" which may remind many people of only has a similar style on the surface.
The unstable and haunting essence of memories has shown in Nolan's "Memento," "Insomnia," "Batman Begins," and "The Prestige." This time he took a further step and made his character confront the memories he can't face but can neither get rid of through the plot setting. This is what makes the film so haunting and has a heart that touches the audience besides of being a well-deserved entertaining summer blockbuster. This has always been Nolan's advantage and gift as both a British and an American.
In fact, there are three actors who were not Nolan's first candidates. Arthur, who was played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, favored James Franco. Ariadne, who was played by Ellen Page, favored Evan Rachel Wood. And Mal, who was played by Marion Cotillard, had Aishwarya Rai in Nolan's mind. But this final ensemble is even more outshining, especially the unstoppably brilliant Cotillard who wasn't limited by the limited role at all.
Just like the fairy tales we knew in childhood such as "Rip van Winkle," "Urashima Tarō," and the unmissable "Alice in Wonderland," Nolan continued our longings for dream that have never stopped. The tangled mystery of truth and fiction, its reflection of the reality, and its magic of curing minds. This was why the maestros, such as Fellini, Antonioni, Buñuel and Resnais etc., always had favored it. Nolan inherited the will of these great filmmakers and took dreams to another different level through films.
Skavabölen pojat (2009)
A Very Subtle Storytelling from a Promising New Talent
A teenager who seems sad is on a bus back home to celebrate his younger brothers birthday. They went out to hang out with the crowd in the evening, but a little boy who doesn't belong to the occasion suddenly appears, so the memories and secrets behind the boy's sorrow face start to get revealed.
This first feature by the Finnish female director Zaida Bergroth is based on a play by Antti Raivio. It's Raivio's semi-autobiography, so it would never be easy for anyone to interpret his own very personal story, but Ms Bergroth proved herself a good storyteller and told the story very subtly.
It was a family full of Joy, until one day the older brother Rupert found a letter left on the floor, and everything would never be the same. It's not a very special story to tell, but it's a story which everyone would feel connected to in each their own perspective. Personally, I felt deeply connected to the situation and profoundly moved by the feelings that couldn't be shown in the characters.
Ms Bergroth not only fully transformed the play into a cinematic experience but also brilliantly used a few very imaginative metaphors to lead the audience to get into the story deeper and deeper, but it still maintains a clear view when the memories and the present shuffle through back and forth. It also has some funny scenes that decrease the heavy tone.
The ensemble cast is impressive. especially the two young actors who played the brothers are amazingly good. They reminded me of the equally good sisters in "In America." The use of the song "Sugar Baby Love" and a cover of "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me" fit the scenes perfectly and make the film more unforgettable.
Kick Off (2009)
One of the Most Sincere Film Experiences
Iraq still remains an unstable country for its people even after the overthrowing of Hussein's government. But without being noticed by the press, people would never know the following story on news. Mr Korki inherited the neorealism of the acclaimed directors such as Kiarostami, Panahi and Majidi during his time living in Iran and made this powerful second feature film.
The story starts with a delightful scene in a deserted stadium which has become a village for refugees of different ethnicities. A guy is trying to hold a soccer game not only for the wealth of the people but also to encourage his little brother who lost his leg in an terrifyingly common accident.
There's also a girl from the next door who cares for the guy and his family. They have an affection towards to each other, but they both had to hold it back because of the difference of their ethnicity, so the tragic side of the story starts to appeal.
Despite of the well-going of the preparation, they had all sorts of problems coming along. Though the troubles didn't haunt them continuously, there's an inevitable fate coming right at them that they couldn't ever see. Life is just as unpredicted as the outcome of the story to the audience.
Mr Korki bravely made this film under a very difficult situation. and the result is very effective and accessible. The color and the shots were beautifully designed. But besides being a part of the neorealism wave, he put in the metaphors that were greatly used such as the films are seen early on and a horse in the end, and this is how his film appears so unique among the Iranian or Kurdish films that we are familiar with. He's talented for sure, but most of all, his sincerity can be felt every second in the film, and this is simply what a film needs eventually.
Welcome to the Nightmare of a Perfect World
Isolation is definitely a modern syndrome. In this internet era, everyone can do almost everything at home without walking out of the house one single bit
except for the REAL interactions. This film debut by the talented Paz brothers from Israel is based on a novel under the same name by Izhar Harlev about this whole globalization impact on individuals.
Our hero here is a young guy with some kind of mental disorder in public places, so he had to build up a world of his own detached with outside world completely. This would seem like a perfect life style for many people living in the modern world, but if you think the carefree would last forever, think twice.
When the old housekeeper Grumps gave him an limited time notice to move out, the obstacles of his perfect life came along one after another. Under the pressure of not being able to keep the house, his life was also interrupted by a cable company saleswoman Daniela. But the once-seemed obstacles gradually became a cure for his anxiety of making contacts with real human beings.
On the other hand, after being disturbed, his affection towards to the lovely web-cam girl Jessica also turned into paranoia and denial. He started to aware of the emptiness of the world he lives in and let Daniela invade his heart. Surprisingly, instead of being threatened, he felt a refreshing liberation.
Though there're subplots about the past which caused his syndrome and a hint of the holocaust shadows that are hard to get rid of from Grumps, this is more of a new Israeli cinema that concerns about the younger generations not only in Israel but worldwide. It has the vitality that we couldn't find in other Israeli films with serious themes. Does this mean a whole new Israeli direction has begun? At least we know the great film-making of the country has widely attracted our attentions.
Another Taiwanese Cinema New Wave has officially been set off
After the stunning "What On Earth Have I Done Wrong?," the second film by the persistent director/actor Niu Cheng-Ze(aka Doze Niu) has finally been released under expectations. Besides the attractions of the new generation actors/idols Juan Ching-Tien and Zhao You-Ting(aka Mark Zhao), everyone was also expecting, if this will be better than "Cape No. 7," the Taiwanese box office miracle back in 2008. From the first day box office record, it was helped by the success of "Cape." As for the film itself, it's so much better than "Cape." The story begins from a non-Minnanese teenager, who was raised in a single parent family and had no friends, faced the embrace of the "Prince Gang," an inheritor of a major local gang, he of course couldn't resist the eagerness of getting recognized. But the best of youth also came to the inevitable testament of humanity.
Before I saw the film, I couldn't help wondering, if this will have the shadow of "I Vitelloni" by Fellini, or the look of "Goodfellas" by Fellini's follower Scorsese, or even the glamour of "City of God," by the Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles. When it comes to the violent scenes, the way Niu used the slow motions and soft instrumental score reminds me of Scorsese's romantic sentiment. I could also tell he was trying to avoid any too artistic presentation. With the outstanding editing, it was very intense with the length of 140min. It inherited the deep observation of Taiwanese gangsters by Hou Hsiou-Hsien and Chang Tso-Chi but also gives it a new look for the audience to get close to more easily.
Though it's not perfect, the plot came out of Niu's thinking direction makes it more reasonable than any other new Taiwanese films. The desire for friendships of the accepted boy, Mosquito, led him to be the most loyal member in the gang. He was too innocent to see the fragility of humanity. Monk, who was considered the smartest one, could only be trapped in a fate of religious superstitions. His value of loyalty, due to one single false judgment and the raised anger of vengeance, has been pushed to the edge of his reason with the paradox in his heart. To decrease the strong masculine of a gangster piece, Niu added the young prostitute who made Mosquito know what love is. This blended a sense of tenderness into the film smartly.
Comparing to saying it has the romanticism of "Goodfellas," it's in fact closer to the tragedy of the conflict between idealism and realism we see in "Infernal Affairs" and the remake "The Departed." It's not told from a first person, unlike most Scorsese works, but from the upgraded multiple point of views such as "The Departed." More strictly defined, Mosquito and Monk, like Tony Leung and Andy Lau, DiCaprio and Damon, are the two narrators of the story. But shamefully, the characters lack of the quality of more vivid or heartfelt which they could've been, despite of the enough backgrounds and motivations and the natural twists and truths. While being so, it's still a film that represents the period and culture in Taiwan truthfully. It is unique and has the unique feeling that only Taiwanese audience can connect to.
Sandee Chan's music leads the atmosphere successfully. It even has a slight epic feeling of "The Godfather" and a slight sharpness of "City of God." With also the quality guaranteed sound processing by the national treasure Tu Du-Che, the performance of sound in the film really reached an international standard. Niu selected a hit at the time "Making Love Out of Nothing At All" by Air Supply especially to describe the time Mosquito and the young prostitute spent together. It also added up a bit of cute and retro cheesiness. The big space for the two leading actors to interpret also made them the promising candidates for the year-end's Golden Horse Awards. This film can also be seen as the unity of Taiwanese filmmakers, such as an award-winning actor from "Cape No. 7," the producer of "Orz Boyz" and even the director of "Winds of September" who joined as an assistant director with his crew. It all shows another Taiwanese Cinema New Wave has officially been set off.
In the Valley of Elah (2007)
There should not only be bravery but also compassion in the valley of Elah
As many films with the Iraq war theme come out one after another in the past two years, this latest work by the Academy Award winning writer-director Paul Haggis, which is inspired by a true short story "Death and Dishonor" published in installments on Playboy magazine, tells a story of a father who tries to find out the truth of his son's death with the help of a female officer.
Of course, it sounds like many movies that have been made. But with the point of view from a different director, it surely feels quite different from others. Unlike the intensity and dramatization of "Crash," Haggis managed this story in a very calm and objective way despite of a few tear-jerking scenes.
Deerfield, the retired officer of the Army, got his both sons joined as well. With the trust and loyalty to his own country, there has never been anything that occurs to him his faith could be out-of-date someday. The value of the military during the Vietnam War is seen clearly very different from the Iraq one here.
Det. Sanders is one of the few female officers in the police. But after many years on the duty, she turns out to be like the other male colleagues who are tired of the minor problems of the complainants. This case which is related to the homicide of Deerfield's son who just got back from the war zone reminds her of the meaning of being a police officer.
The Academy Award winner Tommy Lee Jones brought out another excellent performance which hasn't been seen in years as a father who deals with the conflict of keeping trusting or starting to question the country. According to the strength and persistence, this is just the perfect role for him.
Charlize Theron, who also won an Oscar for an extremely brutal role, revisited the similar Oscar-nominated role in "North Country" which both show the strength of a single mother who tries to overcome the environment and discrimination. She has been very skillful with this kind of a role.
The third Oscar-winning actor of the movie Susan Sarandon plays a very small part as Deerfield's wife. But she still has the appeal of moving people and makes the movie more seeing-worthy.
Because of his first born son's and Sanders' son's names are both David and as a religious Christian, Deerfield tells the origin of the name from the Bible which a boy called David stood out against a giant, Goliath. Just like what Deerfield has been through, he must conquer his fear before fighting the evil. It might work at his time in the Army which right and wrong was very simple at least to him.
As the clues uncovered one by one, Deerfield finally finds out that the truth is far from what he thought it should be and neither is the country that he had never had doubt in. In the process of the investigation, he gradually realizes this is no longer a country with people who are willing to help each other and take everything for granted without knowing there have already been many hidden domestic crisis due to the war. Sanders is also deeply suffered by the consequence of once ignoring this.
Haggis didn't win the juries' favor like Brian De Palma who also made an Iraq War theme work "Redacted" and won the Best Director at Venice Film Festival. But domestically, he still wins more praises from both critics and audiences. It definitely got to do with his talent in film-making. Furthermore, it proves that the Americans are more capable to introspect themselves.
At the beginning when Deerfield sees an upside down national flag, he corrects it immediately because he still thinks he lives in a safe country. But at the end after the truth is revealed, he figures out there has been a huge wound in the country, and it needs help desperately. With the compassion for each other besides the bravery of an individual, the whole world will conquer fear one day and be braver than ever.
Michael Clayton (2007)
A realization of the possible justice
With previous works on similar subjects such as "The Firm," "A Civil Action" and "Erin Brockovich," how can this one pull it off better? No one would ever believe it can until they see it themselves. Tony Gilroy, the screenwriter of "The Bourne" trilogy, revisits the saint-or-sinner theme in "The Devil's Advocate" and brings an excellent script that is full of precise dialog and intense sequences.
Michael Clayton, the senior lawyer in his firm, has fixed up many troubling cases which might not be considered as justice methods. Until another senior partner of the firm, Arthur Edens, freaked out at a hearing, the turning point of his life comes along with it unexpectedly.
Just like any of us, Clayton has to deal with many difficulties in life. Besides the handful works, there are also the child support and the dept owed by his brother. His son, Henry, is a smart kid and fully realizes the way life is. On the contrary, Timmy, his younger brother, just couldn't know how to stay out of trouble despite of having an older brother, Gene, who happens to be an officer.
The case which makes Edens freak out or just pretend to is a lawsuit involves with billions of dollars and hundreds of lives. It's not a rare affair in the U.S. and also one of the bigger ones that makes law firms make profits by helping big industries. But do the lawyers can all manage the deals without their conscience? Yes is the more likely answer.
Unlike the conscience Edens discovers within himself, the executive spokesman, Karen Crowder, doesn't care anything else but the welfare of the firm and, of course, of herself. But she is in fact very diffident due to her position and her sex. The only way she can breakthrough these odds is to make her bosses impressive.
As many have said in their reviews, George Clooney gave his best performance to date. He portrayed this role which is the key to the success of the movie brilliantly with every look, every move and every line that he has to as also an executive producer. He's a strong Oscar contender already.
The acclaimed but overlooked actor Tom Wilkinson does another great job as Edens. The reason and insanity of the role can both be seen through his limited but powerful interpretation.
It's even more thrilling to see Tilda Swinton in the cast. Very different from her previous roles which are well-known as authoritative and neuter, she dealt with a feminine role which tries to act strong but actually weak this time.
Another executive producer and the director of "The firm," Sydney Pollack, took the part which is only bigger than a cameo, shows his interest in this genre once more and being an actor besides already an acclaimed film director. Along side is Steven Soderbergh, the old pal of Clooney and the director of "Erin Brokovich."
With the constant dialog, it might fail to satisfy action-flick fans easily which it seems like one in the trailer. But as a suspense thriller, it's possibly the best one of the year or even in years. The important topic of the downfall sense of justice is a very present message to the society which is filled with the value that measured by money and power. And the gripping storytelling and the dream-alike ensemble cast shows what a good movie is made of.
As the credit shows on the right, the face of Clayton is still shown on screen which tells more about his feeling after the immense scenes he has just been through. Gilroy added a touch of realism to the ending after the metaphor sequence with the horses in the mist.
Se, jie (2007)
A Rare Pure Cinematic Experience
A wolfhound brings out what Ang Lee so called "amuck atmosphere." This might not necessarily be Eileen Chang's intention, but Lee achieved his practical "masterpiece" through expressing his feel for this short story.
Just right before the task seems about going to end, Wang Jiazhi memorized, from an innocent college girl to a highly skilled actress and patriot, this extremely dangerous ambition kept circling around her mind and couldn't possibly go away may because of her ideal of doing something big and important, may because of proving that she's not only a puppet, or may because of a man that she can't get him out of her head.
A terrific ensemble cast. Tang Wei, who played the soul of the film, transformed herself into the leading character successfully through an unfamiliar face to audiences and has the acting of unattached perfection just like Zhang Ziyi. Though she got set up to get involved with this role by Lee, the result shows that her efforts worth every second.
The best performance of Tony Leung by far, every look and movement is very precise. Though it's also postmodern and the same kind of costumes, the effect is totally different from the images in Wong Kar Wai movies. Even he has been through several villain characters, the devotion and outcome that he put in this role is never been seen before.
As for the controversial sex scenes that gather all the spotlights, they all take important places in the film just as Lee said. Even there's no sign of sex in Chang's story. Except the power demonstration of the leading male role, Mr. Yee, Wang learned to use her sex power, the abreaction from the huge frustration of both their occupations and the struggle and joy they soaked in the functioning sex. They could very likely be the perfect match for each other that they can never find another one in this lifetime.
The second-time Mexican cinematographer for Lee, Rodrigo Prieto, French musician Alexandre Desplat, the senior Korean designer Lai Pan, and Lee's longtime partner editor Tim Squyres. The global combination achieved the great technical support besides the compelling story and the feast of performances.
The funny part is Lee chose short stories back to back for his film. The time line of the previous one goes across over 20 years. As for the latter one is just an afternoon. Sure it seems like a story in a decade, but after all they are the flashbacks of the leading female role.
This movie definitely goes beyond the achievement of "Brokeback Mountain," which is already very brilliant. While showing the conflict of sense and sensibility, it also pays tribute to a bunch of classics and the master creators which reflect the mind of the roles and are inherited such as "Casablanca," "The Godfather," "Suspicion," "Penny Serenade," "Last Tango in Paris" and "In the Realm of the Senses." This is not only the best screen adaptation of Chang to date but also a must-see of all time.