Monday, July 31, 2006

[DVD] Gubra (2006)

One of my favourite films this year from one of my favourite directors, you can read about Gubra from blog entries that I've put up on the right column, under the Yasmin Ahmad Spotlight.

Instead I'll touch solely on the DVD, which was highly anticipated until its release last week. The DVD will give fans another opportunity to watch the fantastic movie all over again, and to share the experience with friends too.

First up, I half expected the menus inside to be on a black background (since the poster and all are so dark mah), but it's a surprise that the menu's coloured in light pastel, with favourite scenes played out over songs featured in the movie. Subtitles are available, either in English or Chinese, and the visuals are crisply transferred. Damn clear ok?

The interactive scene selection also allows you to zoom straight into your favourite moments in the movie. Mine? Simple, it's scene 4!

But what's special in this DVD, is the treatment of the Making Of.

Combined with the theatrical trailer, this 25 minute Making Of contained interviews with almost all the main cast, and interviews with Yasmin herself, so sorely missed in the Sepet DVD. Here, you'll get to see footage from the sets, as well as those taken from the rehearsals too!

The DVD's available now at all good stores, so don't waste time, go get ya?

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Adam's Apples (Adams æbler)

The Motley Crew

The premise of this movie seemed simple enough, about Neo Nazi called Adam (Ulrich Thomsen) being sentenced to community service at a church. A priest, Ivan (Mads Mikkelsen), informs Adam that in order to complete his hours of service, he must have a goal in mind. And that goal actually turned out unexpectedly, as a passing remark, to be as banal as baking an apple pie, with apples found in the apple tree grown on the church's premises.

Written and directed by Danish filmmaker Anders Thomas Jensen, Adam's Apples is a black comedy about God and the mysterious ways in which He works. Sometimes He does things in an indirect manner, in order for you to explore and find out exactly what He wants you to do. Or He might intent to pose some challenges in order to shake you up, or have a sublime message in which you are to learn from.

Adam didn't have it easy, as in his opinion, it is as if God was punishing him by making things extremely difficult. Weird stuff kept happening with nary a warning, like having crows infest the tree and eating away at the apples, or by having worms invade from within. All these clue Adam that perhaps he wasn't meant to finish serving his time as soon as possible, but rather has to find meaning in the extended period of time of him being at the church.

The story actually got more interesting when the audience is introduced to the host of quirky characters who seek refuge at the grounds, such as Khalid (Ali Kazim) the Pakistani with a thing for robbing petrol kiosks, and Gunnar (Nicolas Bro), the fat kleptomaniac. And the plot actually allowed more to ponder upon, with the Bible playing a key plot device with its reference to the Book of Job - is there a modern biblical reference to Ivan, or is he living one himself?

But no worries about this portion of the plot getting too stifling for comfort. While it actually had a really dead serious mood throughout, there is plenty of comedy delivered, which came at times, fast and furious, but yet still maintained that deadpan feel, as if these comedic situations happened as "a matter of fact"-ly. Certain (violent) scenes stood out and made you think about how those shots were actually achieved.

Watching the movie actually made me wonder about the existence of an omnipotent being, and actually had this uncanny feel good factor about it at the end. If you're up for some unconventional fare, then this nominee for this year's Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film might just be your cup of tea.

Hard Candy

Stop Ogling At My ...

Hard candy is an internet slang for an under-aged girl. And this actually reminded me of a social experiment that a friend and I conducted in the internet chat rooms some 5 years back. There were always plenty of talk and reports about how dangerous the Internet is, with the chatrooms being a gold mine for pedophiles and perverts chatting up little boys and girls, and then doing dastardly deeds with them when they're enticed to meet up in real life.

So we decided to check it out ourselves. My friend and I posed as "sweetgal18" and entered a local popular chatroom. Even before you can say Hello, pop ups after pop ups of private messages come flooding the screen, some started innocently, others were more direct, asking for sexual favours. In this experiment however, we stopped short of arranging to meet these people, and turn up just to take their photos from afar and put it online. However, I recall of late some local blogsite actually started a crusade against these perverts, and went the extra mile which we couldn't. Bravo!

Now back to the movie. With a cast of essential 2 leads + 3 extras with extremely limited screen time, the story and dialogue pieces had to be extremely engaging to hold the audience's attention. And that was successfully done. It begins with a sexually charged tease over a chatroom conversation between Jeff Kohlver (Patrick Wilson), a 32 year old photographer, and Hayley Stark (Ellen Page), a 14 year old student whose level of maturity surpasses her age.

They decide to meet up, and we play witness to a seemingly innocent face to face introduction, before things start to become a little loaded with double entrees, and dialogues laced with innuendoes. Before long, Hayley decides to follow Jeff home, and there's where the "fun" begins, where little red riding hood goes up against a probably "coloured wolf".

It's in the same vein as Saw, except that the explicit violence is exchanged for psychological warfare, and throughout the entire movie, you're constantly wondering and changing positions of thought, as to who's possibly right, or wrong, doing the right thing (vigilantism?) - who's actions can be justified, or should you pity the victim caught in a tables about turned situation? You'll be second guessing a lot, as the psychological play gets stepped up and you wonder just who should you thrown your support to - could Hayley just be a crazed kid, and could Jeff possibly be maligned and actually is a harmless soul? The characters straddle both ends of the good-evil spectrum, until certain hints start to prod you in the right direction.

But as psychological play is concerned, this means plenty of dialogue, and thankfully the leads were credible in their delivery. However, it also means that not much happens, until the frantically paced set action pieces that never relents up till the end. There is however one major scene which will definitely make you squirm. I know I did, and my stomach actually churned, even without having the scene explicitly played out on screen as punishment is dished.

All's revealed at the finale, and despite so much drama-mama, it'll actually make you smile with (sick) satisfaction about the grandeur plot, which to some, is a loophole akin to a typical Bond villain's monologue. But one thing's for sure, you cannot fault Ellen Page's Hayley - while she's capable of doing what she did, there's still a scene in the movie I felt inserted purposefully, which highlights and reminds of her girly inexperience with being the grand schemer of things.

The movie serves as a timely reminder for anyone with children or young siblings, to warn them of the clear and present dangers of the dark side of the internet, that they should reveal any personal information about their personal lives, or in the first place, not to chat with strangers. On the net, everyone can be anyone. Then again, strangers should not talk to seemingly innocent children, lest they really turn out to be psychopaths. I wish these perverts ill fortune that something of his nature will befall them, and that they get their just desserts.

I smell a possible franchise that could happen.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

[3rd Singapore Short Cuts] 2nd Week

I missed the very first week of the 3rd Singapore Short Cuts, no thanks for being duty bound and got recalled back to camp for a silent mobilization exercise. As usual, there's the usual cock-up in the activation (will be activated advance notice given -> cancelled -> reactivated), then again, what's new?

So all I could do was to lament loss of not being able to watch Colin Goh and Woo Yen Yen's short 3Meals (the duo did Singapore Dreaming),

Then again, cock-ups also extended to the 2nd week of the showcase, as you can see for yourself in the pictures below, none of the shorts printed on the ticket, were screened, which led to a mini-confusion as to what the lineup was.

Printed on the left side of the ticket was actually next week's lineup, and on the right side, last week's (and I thought there will be a repeat of last week's shorts *grin*)

Anyway, I was a little irked by some of the nitty gritties, like how it would be preferred to have a short introduction by someone before the lights just suddenly dimmed and the shorts played, or the fact that walk-in folks were allowed into the darkened theatre to fill up the seats of those who did not turn up. At least get these guys to enter the theatrette before the shorts start, and when there is still light.

Logistical gripes aside, the collection of shorts shown today was quite disappointing in my opinion. Here's my quick take:

Heave - Gek Li San, Ngiam Shin Shin
Didn't really get what it was trying to put across, since it contained mini segments with characters bitching just about everything, until the culmination in a news reel about the Nicoll Highway collapse. Only the segment about the man and his kid on the rooftop sort of provided the link to the newsreel. Other segments included two office ladies complaining about the weather, a sperm-bank delivery man complaining about his work, a couple trying to conceive (boob shot from far to earn NC16 rating, but there were kids in the theatrette anyway). The synopsis mentioned something about being in a pressure cooker environment, but I felt the segments were too disparate to bring out the theme the filmmakers wanted to tell.

Di (Little Brother) - Michael Kam
Sibling rivalry at its keenest, with 2 brothers in all too familiar situations, and the fights looked quite real too.

Passenger - Green Zeng
Perhaps the most polished of them all, this film had basically two characters, a taxi driver and an old dialect-speaking lady, both played by familiar faces. It's about an old lady who wants the taxi driver to bring her to places of old where she frequents, or hold precious memories, to visit them for one last time before she departs for China. I could imagine the exhorbitant cab fare already, as she engages the driver in a dialogue of remembrance of her life with her deceased husband. It was a bit repetitive in its travelling shots, and shots of the old woman from the taxi cab window.

Peter Ho - Yee Cheng Kang
The longest of them all, Peter Ho tells the story of a very angsty local tour guide, whose colleagues and boss are stereotypically amusing. It's part comedy, part art-house (!) as there were portions which showcased the loneliness that Peter Ho experienced. The best bits are those involving Peter Ho and Ah Neh, and the short at certain scenes, look like a tourism board's advertorial. Despite being the longest short today, this was also the most difficult to watch given the handheld-camera-without-the tripod-motion-sickness syndrome.

The directors were all on hand for the Q&A session, and here I'll try and reproduce faithfully, some of the questions asked, and answers given.

Q: What was the inspiration behind Passenger?
A: The director had a conversation with a friend about his grandmother who wanted to go back to China, and was combined with another idea of a man suffering from cancer, going around to certain places he wanted to go again before he dies.

Q: Who directed what in Heave?
A: Shin handed most of the art direction and the first part of the first segment, while Li Shan handled everything else.

Q: If there was anything you could change with the shorts, what would they be and why?
A (Heave): The whole thing as many people didn't understand what it meant. It has this pressure cooker metaphor of the environment we live in, and if you notice, the pressure was increasing with the different segments. There are 5 segments in which the pressure was progressively increeasing until the Nicole Highway collapse. There was plenty of experimenting with the pacing, and the technical aspects like increasing the run time as the segments progressed, as well as reducing the number of cut scenes to no cuts at all for the last segment with the man and the boy.
A (Passenger): To shoot it in fiom if they can, but no budget.
A (Peter Ho): Nothing will be changed, as the director was happy and had loads of fun with the cast and crew. One thing he noticed though, is with the shakiness of the shots. He will use a tripod for his subsequent shorts.

Q: In some of the shorts, was there a conscious decision to showcase Singapore?
A (Passenger): Singapore was the "third character", but there weren't any "touristy" places used. Done in 4 nights of shooting.
A (Peter Ho): If it's shot properly, perhaps it can be used by Singapore Tourism Board. The story accounts a love-hate relationship with Singapore. We might complain a lot, but we still love the country.

Q: It's common lore that the hardest to work with in film are with animals and children. Was that true for Di?
A: The director was actually surprised that the kids were quite mature, savvy city kids. They are brothers in real life.

Q: How was the dialogue done - improvised or scripted?
A (Passenger): The language used in the entire film is Teochew. The script was written in English, then sent to a translator to translate it to mandarin. The actors read the script in mandarin, then interpreted it in Teochew.
A (Peter Ho): The director shared an anecdote that he never had taken a grant from the Singapore Film Commission, because of the lack of a proper script. Peter Ho was done without a proper script. The short film was done towards the end of the year, after absorbing scenarios from daily life earlier in the year. The director knows about 70% of what he wants in the film, while the remaining 30% were ad-libbed with the actors. For example, the scene with the delivery man was ad-libbed by the actor (who incidentally, plays the bass in the director's band).
A (Heave): Relied on the actor's input during rehearsals.

Q: What about that toilet and the showing of the backside in Peter Ho?
A: My shorts, since poly days, always have a toilet scene!

Q: How much did the shorts cost, in terms of time and money spent?
A (Heave): From conception to delivery, about 1 year (non full time). Cost S$16K with the help of an earlier award and payment in kind from SIFF.
A (Di): S$8K, and 4 years (non full time)
A (Passenger): Got sponsorship for camera and editing system. Got a grant from Singapore Film Commission of less than S$10K. The taxi hired for the shoot was partially sponsored.
A (Peter Ho): It's not about the money. Get the story right, and get the right people.

Q: What was the significance of the dog scene in the expressway?
A: The director wanted the audience to work that out themselves. Usually when people watch a movie, they want things presented to them.

Then there was a comment about the subtitling of Passenger which didn't do justice to the short, as well as Cheng Kang explaining that the movie was made for himself as a showcase of his ability.

Next week's selection are shorts made in the 90s. Should be interesting. Stay tuned!

Dragon Tiger Gate

Plenty of Hairgel Required. Wind Not Included

Adapting comic book storylines into feature films is not new in Hong Kong, and adapting styles from how Hollywood does things, isn't new to the industry either. The opening credits of the comic-book flipping sequence seem to announce that this movie is aping the standards set on comic book films in the West, as well as to set expectations straight that whatever is played out is pure fantasy, not Oscar winning material.

Dragon Tiger Gate is sheer Hong Kong fantasy martial arts indulgence. Not every movie in this genre makes the grade though. Feng Yun (Stormriders) was probably the pioneer with its fusion of fantasy martial arts moves and special effects, but while it proved successful at the box office, purist condemned (don't they always)the storyline for bastardizing and summarizing its rich pulp history beyond recognition. It's tough to extract the essence into a 90 minute movie, and others like Zhong Hua Ying Xiong (A Man Called Hero) failed miserably, even with its effects which turned out laughable.

The effects in Dragon Tiger Gate has shown a lot of improvement where Hong Kong movies are concerned, with digitized landscapes blending perfectly in scenes. The fights were effectively enhanced with plenty of CG, as well as good old reliable wirework. But nothing beats having well choreographed fist fights (by Donnie Yen) or just unadulterated martial arts showcase of skills such as the use of the nunchakus. Jazzed up with a Japanese influenced soundtrack, the action bits are the highlight of the movie, as the rest of the dialogue laden scenes were insipid and unfortunately applied too much brakes on the pace of the movie.

Donnie Yen and Nicholas Tse play brothers Dragon and Tiger (in Chinese mythology, this combination is very fierce, ok?) and together with their friend Black Dragon (Shawn Yue), they make good commercial role models for hair gel. OK, so I can't help it but to poke some fun at their long hair in the movie, providing ample opportunity for the use of what I call the hair-dryer effect - Strike a killer pose, cue strong wind to blow their hair from their face.

Tiger belongs to an aged old martial arts school known as Dragon Tiger Gate, while Dragon, separated from Tiger when young, gets involved with triads work, against his principles. Black Dragon on the other hand, is a braggart who became humbled when he visits Dragon Tiger Gate to learn new skills. Together, they go up against a Japanese secret society headed by a formidable villain called Shibumi.

There are plenty of elements typical of a Hong Kong action movie, especially with the relationships with the opposite sex, like the token evil female character Luosha who falls in love with Dragon, in an uninspiring romance bit with a self-sacrificial theme, as well as the token goody-two-shoes female character Ma Xiaoling, the daughter of Dragon's triad benefactor who finds Tiger attractive.

The much touted Guiness Book of World Records sandbag, was much ado about nothing. All it had was a brief 10 second appearance, from a wide angled shot which does not do justice to its enormous size, and then quickly forgotten.

If given the opportunity, I won't mind watching this again just for the action bits and fast forwarding through the slow dialogue pieces. Also, watching it in its original Cantonese track will always be preferred, and in this one, Louis Koo actually provided the voiceover for the chief villain. Talk about unknowns providing the Mandarin voiceovers. Yuck.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Lady in the Water

To my daughters, I'll tell you this story one more time, but go to bed

I believe many around the world were raving and became M(anoj) Night Shyamalan's fans overnight with the release of The Sixth Sense, starring Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment. I too became a fan after that movie, and have been waiting in anticipation each time the writer-director announces a new project.

However, I feel that the overwhelming success of Sixth Sense raised the bar too high even for M Night himself to reach, as the subsequent movies, each with its own signature twist, which has become a trademark of the director, have elicited doubts as to whether he's just a one hit wonder. The subsequent films like Unbreakable, Signs, and The Village, seemed to have many distracted from the essence of the story, choosing instead to focus intensely on the quality of the twist, without putting everything into the context of the tale.

Well, I'd say blame it on Sixth Sense again. Personally, I have enjoyed Sixth Sense, Signs and The Village, twist or no twist. I felt that the surprise element was still there, even though for some I'd already have a vague idea what the ending will be. The only disappointment I had so far with M Night's films is Unbreakable, which ended rather blandly, without the sucker punch. On the whole it's not a bad movie, but one which was let down by the closing tremendously.

I wonder if M Night has become a victim of his own success, that everyone approaches his movie with some form of expectation, second guessing the ending, and boxing his films into preconceived genres. Everyone's expecting something other than what is played out on screen, than what the story is told by M Night, and hence, emerge from the darkened theatre, disappointed. I'd suggest to approach the movies without these notions and expectations, and allow the storyteller to present to you his tale. Don't judge the story whether it met your expectations, but allow the story to be told, and judge it by its merits, as a standalone.

The other thing about M Night's movies, is the cast. Starring established stars like Bruce Willis, Samuel L Jackson, and even Mel Gibson, flavours of the season like Joaquin Phoenix, Adrien Brody, and the likes of Bryce Dallas Howard and Paul Giamatti, also make his movies compelling to watch, especially for fans of the mentioned. And is it just me, but save for the break between Unbreakable and Signs, there's always a returning cast member in the succeeding movie - Bruce Willis from Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, Joaquin Phoenix from Signs and The Village, and Bryce Dallas Howard from The Village and Lady in the Water. M Night too gives himself cameo roles, and it turns out to be "spot the director" too in his movies.

So back to the verdict, did I enjoy Lady in the Water?

I love it. And in the spirit of all movies Shyamalan, I'll keep mum about the plot.

I loved the pace, the control, and the development of how the plot unfolded. It had a whodunnit feel of a mystery that is carefully revealed layer by layer. The ensemble cast and characters were fantastic, with each character possessing usefulness to the story and to peer characters, and their eccentricities make them a joy to watch. You have the Korean mother and daughter, the Vietnam Vet, a father and son, a new neighbour, a group of cock-talkers, a guy who works out only his right side, and so on. Although most of them are one-dimensional, they are no less than endearing in their own way, like those in Cocoon or Batteries Not Included.

I love the superb acting by the main leads of Paul Giamatti, who's fast becoming one of my favourite character actors, and in here, provided his character Cleveland Heep with much emotional baggage, pain and that almost natural stammer when nervous, and Bryce Dallas Howard, her Lady in the Water, name Story, is so beautiful, yet so enchantingly vulnerable. Both anchor this movie well and brought about believable character development, or in the case of Story, that oracle air of wisdom, wit and fear of the unknown.

I love the special effects, done no less by Industrial Light and Magic. They're a pretty sight, even though some scenes were dark, literally and figuratively. Cinematography was done by Christopher Doyle, so those in Asia should already well be aware what he's capable of.

There's a major departure from his previous films, which I think is probably good to keep things refreshing for the moment. Some points and scenes in the movie are so deceptively simple that you will almost guess the outcome before the next scene transition. The movie ended the way it should, instead of relying on the "next big gimmick". And probably bad news of those who loathe directors cameo-ing in the own movies, well, this time round, Shyamalan has quite a significant role for himself.

And I know why many critics out there didn't give this movie the rating it deserves. They are surprised at Shyamalan's audacity in taking a huge swipe at critics in general, since they have been highly critical of almost all his past works. It's an obvious no-holds-barred jibe at their anal characters of being high and mighty and of imposing their thoughts and opinions on others, when little do they know that their opinions mean squat most of the time. There's another cheeky reference too at romances in the rain, which I thought perhaps cinematographer Doyle would have found it amusing given his work on Wong Kar-wai's In the Mood for Love and 2046 (citing these 2 as I've recently watched the former).

But those aside, thank you M Night, for sharing with us a wonderful bedtime story, which I think will be repeated at bedtime to many children around the world. It's beautiful, simple, easy to grasp, and allows for good shuteye fantasy.

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift

Too Fast, Too Many Accidents!

The Fast and the Furious franchise relies on the simpleness of 2 factors to attract an audience from boys to men - sexy cars and fast babelicious chicks, topped up with plenty of testosterone and adrenaline in overdrive. Racing cars of all makes, be they the European, American or Asian models, one thing's for sure, the stunt driving team deserves all the credit. The first movie made a huge star out of Vin Diesel, while the rest had relatively smaller shots at glory, from Paul Walker, who returned for the second, to babes like Eva Mendes, Michelle Rodriguez and Devon Aoki.

The third installment decided to insert refreshing elements, and set itself in the land of the rising sun. Presumably influenced by the driving technique called drifting, which made it to mainstream consciousness via the Japanese manga Initial D, it's just too bad that the Hong Kong movie by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak, adapted from the manga, got to it first, like almost a year ago. Perhaps if the latest shanannigans of racers from both sides of the Causeway were widely publicised, this film could even be made closer to home! (In case you're wondering, the Malaysian police had recently conducted a dragnet rounding up illegal racers on its North South Highway. Flashy cars with raunchy stakes - the winner gets to take home the loser's chick for a night's worth of lurve)

There will be no doubts, comparisons between the East's Initial D, and this one from the West. In my opinion, this one edged out Initial D. There are many aspects in which Tokyo Drift is superior, and naturally having a bigger budget means that the filmmakers can afford to put more cars on showcase, more cars involved in races, and more races in varied locations like a tight car park, on the streets of Tokyo, and as a homage too to the source, they couldn't miss the mountain range. Scenes were for both day and night, unlike Initial D's predominantly night scenes.

It's never about the acting, though Tokyo Drift will lose out in terms of having relative rookies helm the show throughout, unlike Initial D's stellar supporting cast of Chapman To, Anthony Wong, to established popular teeny-boppers like Edison Chen and Shawn Yue. But Tokyo Drift did have veterans like Sonny Chiba lend a hand, and the coup was the casting of Keiichi Tsuchiya, the original inspiration for the manga, in a cameo.

Taking over the lead role from Paul Walker and Vin Diesel is relative newcomer Lucas Black as Sean Boswell, a good for nothing troublemaker with the inborn need to speed. He comes from a broken home, and is the root cause of his and his mom's moving from city to city, because he cannot get out of trouble from the law. When the final straw broke the camel's back, he gets sent reluctantly to live with his father in Tokyo.

Thinking that the Asian city has nothing to offer, before you can say "drift", he finds himself drawn into the world of underground racing, with plenty of flashy cars, hot chicks and mean Yakuza-linked punks itching to challenge anyone to a race. As cliches rule over this movie, Sean falls for the Drift King's (Brian Tee) main squeeze Neela (Nathalie Kelly, thought she looked like a cross between Paula Abdul and Rosario Dawson), while unwittingly got brought under the wings of Han (Sung Kang), business partner of Drift King, who teaches him the true meaning and purpose of drifting (which is a no-brainer purpose of snagging hot chicks).

Anyway, to a gaijin, Sean is ignorance personified, from culture to racing, he takes these challenges head on, stupidly. And surprise! A movie like this offered some one-dimensional character development of troublemaker turned good, who learns the meaning of brotherhood, although fame did get into the way of course. But herein lies another strength against Initial D, the lead did not turn out to be "all powerful" - here he has to learn the basics of drifting in an incredible short period of time, and turn out well of course, at the expense of expensive tyres, and cars (always a pain to see them being wrecked).

Any racer worth his salt must pimp his ride or zhng his car, and this one offered no less. The star attraction in the franchise are the vehicles. From the Nissans to the Mustangs, it seemed that the Mitsubishi Evo will be a mainstay, and the hero always drives one. It's almost a no-brainer to film movies like these, having stunt drivers to do the actual stunt driving, then cut to actors looking as if they're driving, and insert multiple cuts of hands on steering, foot on pedal, looking mean, etc. Instead of just incessantly focusing on drifting, there are the standard zig-zagging car chases, and some usage of Nitro for that quick boost of horsepower, which the first two movies frequently used.

Given its ending by an uncredited cameo which will send fanboys of this franchise into highs, this movie still has potential to be relatively popular and the franchise can indeed continue. It wouldn't be far out if there's an announcement of The Fast and the Furious: North-South Highway, and yes, you heard it here first! So race away, and unabashedly indulge in this movie that makes no apologies for being fast and furious to the loud sounds of its contemporary soundtrack!

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Retail Therapy

It's been sometime since I splurged on stuff, but tonight, it has been a fantastic evening, after attending the press screening of local film S11 - review to come soon.

In the meantime, the long wait is OVER! Gubra DVD is now available!

You can read my review of the movie here and here, or check out the world gala here, or my friend's review at movieXclusive over here. Then again, refer to the right column of my blog, look for the Yasmin Ahmad Spotlight section, and click on everything there, including a link to the director's blog!

And what's more, since I'm so smitten by Wong Kar-wai's In the Mood for Love, I managed to hunt down the original motion picture soundtrack, and it's a beauty too, filled with loads of extras! Didn't expect that, for a mandarin movie OST...

Beautiful, ain't it?

To cap it off, I've lately been trying to catalogue local movies, and came across this DVD. It's a movie made in 2004 that's not been commercially released, and HMV's selling it for S$4.95 at its summer sale now on. How cool is that?

Have You Seen Singapore Dreaming's Theatrical Trailer?

This is amazing, and I'm still constantly picking up my jaw from the floor.

I know about the Singapore Dreaming website quoting this blog's review of their wonderful movie (Oei, no kelong ya? I never ask them to put ok? They put their ownselves one :-)

And I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the same, on the theatrical trailer no less, now playing in (GV) cinemas.

*Jaw Drop*
Right after Lianhe Wanbao's, Straits Times, President SR Nathan, and mr brown's comments.

Ok, enough tooting of my horn, must go see ok? The movie that is! I still stand by my review, and will watch it again when it opens on 7 September. Mark the date on your calendars people.

And stay tuned for an upcoming interview with the directors Colin Goh and Woo Yan Yan, akan datang!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Exclusive: Kan Lume's Solos

Remember this article I did for movieXclusive, where I had the privilege of interviewing up and coming local director Kan Lume, and I quote from the interview article

"The other is a lower budgeted (S$30K) independent film, made with the European festivals in mind. The subject matter deals with the exploration of human sexuality and chances are that it might be banned in Singapore. While not intended for the purpose of sensationalism, Kan felt that the European market might be more ready for it, and that they are hungry for material from South East Asia."

I got the rare opportunity to attend a closed-door screening of Kan Lume's Solos this evening at the Substation. However, it's a rough cut preview so to speak, thus don't expect a review of it here just yet. The sound's not done up, and the music's absent too. But from what I watched, it stays very true to the quote above.

The subject matter is indeed an exploration of sexuality, and in my opinion, if it is screened here, an R21 rating would be the minimum, given (and I hate to use this word) provocative scenes which will raise eyebrows. There's an easily recognizable star in one of the leading roles, and this film, if it gets to be screened here, will probably create a new buzz in the local filmmaking scene.

Keep you eyes and ears peeled!

The Lake House

Hi, It's Your Future Lover

I haven't watched Il Mare, the Korean original starring Jeon Ji-hyun, in which this Hollywood remake is based upon. I refuse to watch the original on VCD, and had no luck in tracking down a DVD copy. I guess it's just a matter of time before I order it online, some box-set no less.

In any case, what probably excited audiences to the remake, is the pairing of Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock, one which has been long overdue since their very first pairing which sizzled with chemistry, and that being on an action movie no less - Speed. While both had moved on to star in various romances with other counterparts such as Charlize Theron, Cameron Diaz, Bill Pullman, Ben Affleck and Harry Connick Jr., the wait is over as they now reunite on screen in The Lake House.

But throughout the 100 minutes movie, they share not more than 15 minutes of screen time together, and those are precious minutes which will have the audience inevitably rooting for something to happen. Especially so with the time-travel note-in-the-letterbox plot device where comedic, smart alecky words slowly turn into mushy terms of endearment. Reeves and Bullock, considerably aged from their first outing together, are perfectly cast as the unlikely lovers separated by time.

However, to fit into the typical Hollywood finale, there's a huge plot loophole in the time travelling piece, which I find a pity, then again, it's probably an ending that most people would expect, and crave for? As the story progressed, there were no issues with time travelling being in the way of the narrative. Keanu's Alex is an architect in the year 2004, and Sandra's Kate is a doctor in the year 2006. They are occupants of a house on a lake in Chicago, and slowly find that through a strange twist of Fate, they are communicating with each other through an old fashioned mailbox.

And because one person is ahead of the other in time, Alex is able to see and come to know the Kate of year 2004, except that at that point in time, she doesn't know him yet. It's one of the usual story techniques used to work an emotional reaction from an audience, and here, it's executed perfectly too, as they work towards a reunion meeting in the year 2006, then 2008. Good things, ought to wait, no?

Eagle eyed viewers though, will spot a key plot revelation early in the movie, and will be able to unravel the entire plot thereafter. However this probably wouldn't mar the enjoyment of the film, as the focus will be on how the story gets told, and admittedly, that's the draw which turned out fine, until the end where the film decides to go heck with the time travel crutch it has to rely on.

Modern day stuff and devices are not included, like email and cameras, as modes of communication between the lovers, which will obviously remove a lot of romanticism from the movie, and shorten the duration too. To fill time in what could essentially be a short movie, and to vary the kind of scenes instead of the usual voiceover communications and reading of letters, there is a subplot involving Alex's dad (played by veteran Christopher Plummer).

The Lake House, in my opinion, is a reasonably wonderful romance movie to take a date too. It's full of cliches, warm moments, and enough tension built up towards the end to satisfy, and with that plot loophole, provide enough material for you and your date to discuss it over.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Helen the Baby Fox

Dances with Japanese Fox

This review brought to you courtesy of

Helen the Baby Fox belongs to the family of movies which feature cutesy animals and the relationship with their human protectors, along the lines of movies such as Lassie and Free Willy. Interesting enough, the subject of a fox (besides fox vixens in many Chinese folk tales) actually is a novelty in itself, and having bestowed upon him disabilities adequately fueled plenty of heartwrenching moments.

A young schoolboy, Taichi (Arashi Fukasawa), is a social outcast in school, with his vivid imagination he uses to spins incredible tales from. But these are the exact same fairytale-like stories which his mother (Yasuko Matsuyuki) spins for him, as she gallivants to far out locations for her photography fix, leaving the boy alone for most times. Fate would have him chance upon a baby fox, which utters nary a sound, which he likens to be in a similar situation as himself - abandoned.

Again by chance, Taichi and his new found friend encounters a veterinarian (Takao Osawa) and her daughter (Ryoko Kobayashi), the former quite reluctant to accept the baby fox for treatment, constantly reminded that he should not allow his kind heart to rule over their need for some serious dough to keep his business from folding. Convincing the vet to allow Helen the baby fox to stay and receive treatment, Taichi works on the farm to pay off his dues. And thus began a friendship amongst the clinic, and with the many other adorable animals living on the clinic grounds.

The movie seemed to have two contrasting facades, and employed different techniques to highlight the different phases, as the relationship between animal and boy strengthened. The imaginary world from Taichi's mind, enhanced by special effects, gets transitioned (and conveniently forgotten) as the story moved towards a more serious "real-world" and the issues at hand with regards to the fox. Things change as the boy becomes more assertive and responsible as he takes on the surrogate guardian role, and the fox, being given a new lease of life from one without hope.

Fans of Crying Out Loud in the Center of the World, would come to recognize Takao Osawa, who plays the vet here. You got to give it to the Japanese for the many picturesque landscape shots which provided beautiful dreamworld like scenarios in making the countryside so enticing. And trust them too in activating the tear ducts of those with gentle hearts.

There are veiled attempts to subtly add in messages like thou-shalt-not-abandon-animals-or-your-kids, etc, but I guess if you don't buy in, you just don't. The pacing of the movie is relatively slow, perhaps deliberately too, but the ending just dragged, unfortunately. A victim of the multiple ending syndrome, I suppose it got worse as character relationships are suddenly revealed too little too soon without a warning in sight, which probably could have distracted the audience as it was disjointed and too convenient to be plausible.

Oh well. All in all, it's a movie suitable for the whole family. One without the summer blockbuster violence, scary images, swearing and the likes. Just plain wholesome.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

[DVD] The Insider (1999)

This Isn't a Joyride

Directed by Michael Mann, The Insider belonged to the category of movies with a number of nominations for an Academy Award, but won none. Based on a true story (of course with some dramatic license taken) involving the CBS hit television documentary series 60 Minutes, this is a rare insight into the time when the acclaimed series faltered in its editorial stand.

WIth whistle-blowing having the local spotlight in recent months, no thanks to the NKF fiasco, this movie tells the tale of integrity in investigative journalism, and how two men rose to overcome personal challenges, to put out a story with damning evidence against the tobacco industry.

Russell Crowe plays Dr Jeffrey Wigand, an R&D vice president at Brown & WIlliamson, recently fired for reasons unknown. As he holds an important role in the company, his severance package requires him, and I suppose like all leadership positions in Fortune 500 companies do, to sign a confidentiality agreement. However, he's holding onto something big that could damage the industry, and with these companies, having their reputations and industry survival put on the line, is never cowering to non-conformists.

Herein lies the dilemma about moral obligation - if you're privy to industry information that is sensitive to the company, yet in the public's eye can help save lives, and put things into perspective, would you go public with the information? Wigand was undecided, but hearsay of horror stories, and being compelled to believe that he and his family were being watched, and threatened, he made up his mind that enough was enough, and did what a man would have done, even though it was against his wife's wishes, and didn't the guarantee safety of his family.

Besides Wigand, the other protagonist is Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino), who is a producer at the famed 60 Minutes. Fighting to get Wigand's story told, he too runs into opposition from all angles, including internal ones at CBS News. To survive, he had to rely on personal wit and contact to establish and swing things around in his favour, even resorting to giving unauthorized scoops into the inside happenings at 60 Minutes when they decided to air an abridged version of the story.

The movie raises a number of interesting questions about the wheelings and dealings of the supposedly free press in the USA, and how when you're under media scrutiny, every little dirty detail you have hidden about your past, will be brought up and blown out of proportion. Grim reminder, but true.

The acting by the two leads will keep you riveted as you watch the entire proceedings unfold, until Massive Attack's Safe From Harm (just the remixed instrumental) closes the curtain.

Code 1 DVD contains the theatrical trailer, a 7min production making-of featurette where you'll see the real Lowell Bergman and Dr Jeffrey Wigand, and a relatively useless Inside A Scene segment where you'll see a partial notes to the actors, script, and the actual scene again, how it played out according to paper.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

[DVD] In the Mood for Love (2000)

I Need Some Lovin' Tonight

It's beautifully depressing.

How someone you come to love, in a relationship that's forbidden and socially frowned upon from the onset, has decidedly moved on, while you cling onto and yet distract yourself from it, until the day you finally choose to call it quits, by trying hard to forget the bittersweet memories.

That basically summed up the storyline in Wong Kar-wai's movie, with the title from a song of the same name, it's all about the mood. And key to bringing this mood to life, is the excellent production sets, art direction and costumes. Accurate to the littlest detail of how a 60s Shanghainese community in Hong Kong lived, I couldn't help but smile at the presence of an "amah", because I grew up as a toddler with one, kind of. And the language adds that bit of authenticity too. This movie did wonders for the cheong-sam, having Maggie Cheung appearing in different ones in most scenes to highlight time progression.

And what is mood without the necessary music to punctuate the visually beautiful shots, by long time cinematographer and collaborator Christopher Doyle, and Lee Pin Bing? It's half the battle won in my opinion, that the musical pieces fill the gaps which lack dialogue and compliments the slow cinematic shots, and I'm addicted to the waltz of the main love theme by Shigeru Umegayash. But it's one thing to have excellent music, and another when the music, effects and ambient noise are able to carry the entire movie on its own (you can select this audio track option from the Criterion Collection DVD).

Now that the obvious statements about music, sets, costumes are out of the way, all these come to naught without a story. I'm glad that most of the scenes which were cut off, were done so, as they were quite cheesy, though humourous, and what remained from the 15 months production, tells a very mature, measured story on forbidden love in society's eyes, friendship and then more.

There are plenty of material here which 2046, another movie which I enjoyed, had referenced, adapted and complimented, such as the hotel room, the writer in Chow Mo-wan (Tony Leung), and his attitude in the sequel. One of my earlier Wong Kar-wai movies which I watched as a teen in the cinemas is Days of Being WIld, starring an ensemble cast which included Maggie Cheung, here as Mrs Chan, though I'd like to think of her movie's character here, as an extension of Su Li-zhen in Days (actually Wong provided her that character as a reference point when Maggie was asking incessantly questions about her character). And Tony's character in Days, a last moment cameo like appearance supposedly about a gambler in a never-made sequel, I'd liken it to Chow here, so in my own way, these movies form a loose trilogy.

For those who have already watched the Korean movie April Snow, you would already realize that it borrows from the same theme of two characters, chancing upon each other by Fate, and learning that their respective spouses were having an affair with each other. While April Snow went for the common jugular in having the cheated upon spouses go head on with each other, In the Mood tackles it way too differently, providing loads of tension, and subtle teases, negating your want of the leads to develop their friendship into something more.

And therein lies the strength of the movie. How Chow and Mrs Chan develop an unlikely friendship, which hints strongly at how it all could have been, under a 60s conservative environment, where they have to restrain their feelings for each other under society's judging eyes. Living in a communal environment too doesn't help their cause, even though it is pure to begin with - 2 lonely people, betrayed, and at times, tempted to take that leap of faith to challenge societal norms about love.

Thankfully, potentially confusing ideas were not fully developed or made the final cut. There were thoughts to have the respective cheating spouses played by the same actors, but that would truly add to the confusion, The idea was developed separately into the "what could have been" and played out as various "rehearsals" as Chow and Mrs Chan try in their earlier quest to find out the whys and the hows their spouses could have gotten together, known each other, and started off the affair, but themselves vowing that they will never go down the same path.

So in this vow already laid the foundations of how their friendship would be, and set a line in which their friendship could not cross nor develop into something more. And it's sometimes ironic too, that Mrs Chan, in her job, assists her boss in covering up his affairs. Kinda like a what-goes-around-comes-around.

There are plenty of imagery throughout the movie that one could look into and try and interpret, and plenty of how society in those days have a deep impact on human behaviour. I'd take forever in trying to list down all of mine, perhaps I'll do so one day when I own the DVD (saving to get my copy!), but I particularly liked the one at the restaurant where they finally learnt about their spouse's affair, and that long walk back home, where they walk, from out of step, into tandem. It's a becoming of 2 to 1, where lonely persons find solace in each other's company, especially in the scenes after.

Anyway, all said, I love the movie, and it ranks up there with my all time favourites. If you were to watch it, make it none other than the Criterion Collection. (I'm not advertising for them, but I feel that this edition would help the viewer to appreciate the many rich layers more).

Given that this DVD edition is the Criterion Collection Special Edition Double Disc (whew), the extras alone have piqued my curiosity

Disc 1 Extras
Audio Options allows Dolby Surround 2.0, Dolby Digital Surround 5.0, and an isolated music and effects track which you can let it rip through the movie, if you dig the soundtrack. Other features include the usual chapter by chapter scene selection and default subtitles in English (which you can turn off), given the original Cantonese and Shanghainese soundtrack. I'm Shanghainese by dialect group, but I can only speak a line or two (yeah it's embarrassing). Time to learn from parents!

3 of 4 Deleted Scenes with director's commentary, which you must turn on.

Room 2046 (8 mins) - This scene was supposed to begin the movie, which I thought could probably also be a brilliant introduction which jumps right into the scheme of things. And I don't think I need to emphasize the significance of this room and its number, which could have been Room 307 instead.

Postcards (8m 20s) - The Singapore connection, set predominantly here, and durians too. The thought of being able to glimpse at a loved one, and not wanting them to know about your presence, is so commonly true. Director's commentary here is minimal though.

The '70s (8m 52s) - Am quite amazed that quite a bit of the 70s scenes were shot, but WFW decided not to stretch the time line of the movie to the 70s because of budgetary and time constraints. The beginning of this scene quite bitchy though, but that's expected when you put 2 women who love the same man together. And probably there's no need to introduce a new character into the movie too

A Lost Encounter (7m 45s) - The much touted alternate ending at Angkor Wat where Maggie Cheung's Mrs Chan also makes an appearance. An equally sad ending, but I felt the hurt one can dish out, especially if through the body language, you can interpret that she's lying, but with a will of steel, has inevitably moved on, with or without you. In my humble opinion, this scene is like twisting the knife already stabbed into your heart, but given the actual scene used for Maggie's character earlier, then probably there was no need to bring her back into the movie again.

The music of the movie gets a section too, presented in an essay by a Joanna Lee, with statements by "Angkor Wat Theme" composer Michael Galasso about how he became involved in the project and how the theme was created, and director Wong Kar-wai, where you learn that the main love theme is obtained from a 1991 film Yumeji

Last but not least, a short film "Hua1 Yang4 De4 Nian2 Hua1" by Wong Kar-wai, consisting of a montage of images from old Chinese cinema films found in a warehouse. Accompanied with press notes.

Disc Two
Disc Two contains plenty more background and information of the movie, one which will help the casual viewer appreciate the movie more, and one which fans will definitely enjoy.

@ In the Mood for Love is a documentary that traces the entire production process from inspiration to final product, with the option to view it in easily digestible chapters. For those who like to have a glimpse of how Wong directs, the making of will shed some light, for example, how he will describe a scene to the actors, and then they act it out, all without script. Some deleted scenes are included, and it ends off with a showcase of the worldwide adulation Wong and the two leads receive when they travel worldwide to promote the movie.

There's the usual cast and crew biographies, a 3 section photo gallery, two interviews with director Wong Kar-wai, done during Cannes Film Festival 2001, the first which is jointly conducted by critics Michel Ciment and Hubert Niogret, lasting 20 minutes, where Wong shares plenty on his creative process, and you'd come to realize and understand the richness of this movie. The second one lasts 15 minutes, conducted by Gilles Ciment, and goes more into the technicalities and techniques of a Wong Kar-wai movie, as well as his experience in Hollywood (the BMW films). Naturally there are some details which are repeated in both interviews, like how the inspiration for 2046 arose during the making of.

The Searcher: Wong Kar-wai, is a neat summarized biography of the director's past works, including posters, pictures and trailers from movies like Ashes of Time (damn stylo), Fallen Angels, Happy Together, and In The Mood For Love, which had posters (used, and unused) and pictures from deleted scenes too, from a time where the movie actually had adopted a different look and feel, which ended up at the cutting room floor.

A rich Promotional Material section, containing used and unused art and concepts, posters from various countries, TV spots and trailers from Hong Kong, US and France, and an 18 minute long "electronic press kit" consisting of scenes and comments from the director and the two leads. You can listen to why Wong Kar-wai refuses to use a script, and how the length of the movie took its toil, yet did wonders for Tony and Maggie.

An essay on 1960s Hong Kong and its influences on the film, from important events in history, to the cities like Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Singapore, to even renowned martial arts novelist Jin Yong and beautiful cheong-sams, which included a brief clip on the making of one.

The 40 minute press conference, with the option of watching it at logical intervals, at the 2000 Toronto International Film Festival with Maggie and Tony in attendance fielding questions from journalists, where you can learn precious nuggets on what went on through the arduous shoot. Maggie actually had more questions directed at her, and answered most of them, given Tony's rather laidback character.

Also included in the Criterion Collection package is a booklet containing a short story "Intersection" by Liu Yi-chang, which is one of the key influences for this movie.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

[Cine.SG] Happily, Even After

Life Isn't Beautiful

Happily. Even After is a tale directed by Singapore born director Unsu Lee, a neat little sibling drama, with a surreal fairy tale inject into the narrative. It's pretty amazing I suppose for any Singaporean director to have had his hands at making a movie in the USofA, and one which stars Jason Behr, of Roswell the television series fame too.

With their parents' unfortunate demise, siblings Elizabeth (Fay Masterson) and Jake (Behr) are left to fend for themselves. Taking upon herself to look after her brother, she falls for an all too familiar role of being the naggy, overly concerned big sister role, a relatively successful career woman, with quite a pathetic love life. Jake, on the other hand, is a character who seemed to have everything going his way as a kid, until he decided to clam up and shut himself to the outside world - the quintessential under-achieving slacker, the disdained anti-social with a mission to bust his liver with alcohol.

However, everything changes (as always) when Katie (Marina Black) enters their lives. Knowing Elizabeth through a roof top encounter, having Katie offer her services as a nanny-fairy-godmother of sorts, to look after Jake and get his life back on track, it seems like it's one of many films with similar plots, of having a girl teaching a guy how to live life. Katie and Jake don't hit it off from the start, given their bad encounter with each other at a laundromat at the start of the movie, but it falls into predictability as our guy falls in love with the girl, sending Jason Behr's groupie fans amongst the audience into ecstasy.

Predictability though, is not on the menu, so some twists are expected towards the end. It might be contrived to some, in the vein that it had to go down the course it was chosen, to be different. But it is indeed this difference that makes this movie truly unique, and having it open ended, allows for various interpretations of what could be, or could have been.

Set in San Francisco, the movie has superb music done by Kid Galahad, which adds an excellent layer accompanying the pleasing visuals. The cast, includinng those in supporting roles, did an adequate job in fleshing out their characters, and allows you to easily identify the struggles that each of them go through, to overcome doubt, gain confidence, and more importantly, to live life.

Nacho Libre

Hear My War Cry: NACHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOoooooooooooooooo............

In the day, I'm a lowly friar condemned to the impoverished monastery kitchen to serve up gruel for my beloved orphans, or otherwise being assigned to perform uninteresting churchy things. At night, I'm Nacho Libre, moonlighting masked Luchador (mexican wrestler), cannon fodder in the amateur wrestling ring!

Jack Black plays me, Ignacio, and he looks the part too, after undergoing the pain of ripping off his chest hair to look like a mean wrestler (see the confessionals, available online at the official website). Alas, the sport is frowned upon by my religion, and it's a Sin to compete in this violent sport where the motivation is fueled by greed for money, women and fame.

You see, I'm smitten with my sister in God, Sister Encarnación, who's here on attachment, whom I think looks like Wynonna Rider and Penelope Cruz combined. Her eyes can speak wonders... oops, I think I've crossed the line into lust, and cannot break my vow of celibacy (unless she breaks hers too, then we can elope! Oops, forgive me dear Lord for the lecherous thought). But I honour and respect her, going as far to only eating bread in her quarters, though I want her to know how strong I am, with the muscles developed hidden underneath my modest friar robes. But my wrestling tights is a sight to behold, with cool stretchy pants I designed since I was little.

It's not easy being a wrestler, and I hope you find my antics funny. It's not laugh-a-minute, as there's a message in my madness - that we should do things for the greater good of mankind, rather than for our own selfish desires. Some have compared the technique and style here to old Hong Kong comedies from Stephen Chow, yes, there are moments where the dialogue might be contrived in attempts to bring in the laughs, but if you think about it, they're witty in their own right. The wrestling moves are nothing different from what's available at WWE, but you know, it's me in the ring and I occasionally do truly funny stuff like wedgies.

I'm not alone in the movie, in case you're wondering. I team up with a man of science called Esqueleto, and that's probably why we're not performing well, since he's so skinny and lacks faith. But he's my best friend in my moonlighting career. I have a favourite orphan too, a fellow fuddly duddly boy called Chancho. He's my inspiration, a beacon and reminder of the kids I want to make lives better for. And guess what, I sing! The singing wrestling friar, how's that!

In any case, it's not a bad movie, with a little something for everyone. It's an underdog making it good, rags to riches type of story. Pardon me for my excessive farts though, sometimes I can't control my low browed toilet humour.


Monday, July 17, 2006

[DVD] The Last Communist

Finally, I got to watch Amir Muhammad's banned (in Malaysia) documentary on DVD, since I didn't utilize my bought ticket for its premiere in this year's SIFF, missed another opportunity when Amir was in town for a screening-cum-talk (was at Yasmin's set), and plenty of times when it was screened at unearthly hours at the Picturehouse.

Anyway, the DVD is available at all good stores now, so you can watch it in the comfort of your own home. It's a pretty fun road movie by the way, which at the end you'll probably wonder what the fuss was all about, with the ban.

You can read my review at movieXclusive by clicking on the logo below

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Where The Hell Is Matt?

This is one of the rare postings I put up which has no relation to movies showing in Singapore.

Rather, this is an internet clip(s) / website which features the travels for a certain Matt Harding from Connecticut, who has travelled most parts of the world, and doing his madcap dances in places a widely travelled person would find familiar.

I've always enjoyed travelling, but budget and a social lifestyle are the easy excuses I can give my lack thereof. Here, Matt shows us how to "dance alone with one hand waving free" (Claire Colburn, Elizabethtown), be it in bustling metropolitan cities, or perched on a rock 1000 mile above the ground.

Either it is in envy, or in awe, the clips that he posted featuring his travels and dance, to the tune of Deep Forest's Sweet Lullaby, is profoundly inspiring to say the least. It has brought smiles and I've already have the clips on repeat. I salute the spirit! Impossible is nothing!

Clip 1

Clip 2

[DVD] Tears of the Black Tiger (2000)

High Noon Showdown

I've borrowed this DVD from the library twice before, but never had the chance to watch it, until now. The appeal is actually to see some of Thai director Wisit Sasanatieng's past works, before his up and coming made-in-Singapore flick called Armful. And I've heard some good things about this movie too.

The story combines two different genres into one, the first being a cowboy western, (set in Thailand no less!) and the usual star-crossed lover romance. Perhaps the novelty of the first genre type is having Thai folks dress up as cowboys, riding on their steed and somehow, becoming the villains as they plunder and kill. Yup, they're not the good guys, against the usual stereotype. Here, the cowboys are bandits, and the good folks are naturally, the cops.

But amongst all the bad hats (pardon the pun), there's always the hero who's forced by circumstances to join the group. Dum (Chartchai Ngamsan), also known as the notorious Black Tiger, renowned fastest and deadliest draw in all of Thailand, has a childhood sweetheart in Rumpoey (Sttella Malucchi). However, their difference in status (he's the son of a servant, while she, the daughter of the governor) meant that it's a forbidden romance to begin with. Knowing his place in her world, he could only admire from afar, becoming her protector, shielding her from harm (like numerous approaches by lechers and bandits).

A man gotta do what a man gotta do, and during one of his missions, he failed to meet up with Rumpoey presumably to elope, while she took it as a sign that he didn't want to. Like Romeo and Juliet, she's betrothed to Kumjorn (Arawat Ruangyuth), a police captain captured by Dum's notorious gangster boss Fai (Sombat Metanee). And like all star crossed lovers whose lives are played by Fate, these events start to spin and take on a life of its own, changing the course of our characters lives forever.

It's a beautifully shot movie, with plenty of pastel colours draping the sets, which at times make you cringe and beg for it to stop. As if to complement its saccharine sweet and sentimental love story, it elevates the movie to a surreal dream like level. The action sequences can be quite cheesy, with the reminiscence of old spaghetti cowboy western gun fights. But the best bits about the film, are the songs. I don't understand Thai, but even if without the subtitles interpreting the lyrics, I thought that they were beautiful enough to accentuate scenes in the movie.

Perhaps my only gripe about the movie in this version of the DVD, is that the bloody violence had been censored, depriving me the bloody glee of watching the Black Tiger dispatch his opponents with his accuracy. There were scenes where footsoldiers bled by the bucketloads of ketchup, but the crucial one-on-ones were totally censored, and you wouldn't know the nitty gritty details of the death. Truly marred my enjoyment of the movie. What gives?

Code 3 DVD contains some extras, like Extracts from the Book - Black Tiger's Philosophy and Rumpoey's Guilt, explaining a bit more about the lead characters, Insights into the Film Aesthetic takes a look at the Sala Raw Nang, or "Awaiting the Maiden", the quintessential Thai shelter, and how Rattana Pestonji (indie Thai filmmaker) had influenced the set design, especially the colours. The extras is topped off with a one static screen Director's Inspiration, and the list of awards which this film has won.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

How Much Do You Love Me? (Combien tu m'aimes?)

Get Jiggy With It

We interrupt this review to recount an anecdote

With a title like that, imagine the slight embarrassment when you go up to the box office to buy a ticket...

You: "How much do you love me? (inaudible "at 515pm")"
Cute Chick at Counter: "??!! (thinking: KNN what a lame pick up line...)"

Of course that didn't happen in materialistic Singapore. What happened was this:

Me: "How much...."
Old Auntie at Counter: "Today weekend, so all movies S$9.50!!!" (proceeds to point to the damn pricing schedule which everyone should know by now)
Me: ...

We now bring you back to your regular review...

How Much Do You Love Me? examines that emotion called Love, or what it's perceived to be. Will you make pretend and move in with someone? Are you loving someone because of his riches? Or because of his huge wiener or her hot body? Is it purely lust or love? And how in the world do fugly people snag all the hot chicks too? Between money and love, which would you choose (and taking too long to decide doesn't earn you brownie points)? Like Pretty Woman, only with less candy fluff, how can someone fall in love with a whore? (Ok, so it might sound politically incorrect, but that's how the movie plays it out)

A regular joe, Francois, falls for a prostitute at a bar. Played by Monica Belluci, Daniela is the obsession of Francois, as he engages her services for 100,000 Euros to live with him for a month (she charges 150 Euros a night, so work out the math) until he runs out of cash. A balding man who just won the lottery of 4 million Euros and some, he sure knows how to pick up and select his women.

Soon after, Francois becomes the envy of everyone (so is Vincent Cassell, but I digress), as friends like his personal doctor advises him to go easy on his escapades because of his weak heart. But in this black comedy, unfortunate events befall upon those who try to keep the couple apart. It's a tad interesting too as the movie plays out the fantasies of these nay-sayers, as they too lust after Daniela in secret.

There's a twist to all the madness, and the final revelation will make you go "ahh!" as the scheme is unveiled to a whacked out near ending sequence (do I love that sexy dance move). However, as do most art movies go, the ending leaves much to be interpreted in many ways. The visuals are beautiful to look at, and no, I'm not just talking about Bellucci here, although I'd rather watch her in action than the other old babe Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct 2. Blended with a lot of jazz, it has a bluesy feel to it all, punctuating melancholic mood throughout as felt by the characters.

And it's the three key characters who keep the storyline interesting. A regular bloke buying his way to a woman's heart. A woman who whores because she wants to (and probably satisfying her insatiable appetite for sex), and her gangster husband Charly (Gerard Depardieu) who allows her to do what she wants to, as his interpretation of love is the cliched "if you love her set her free. If she returns she's yours" belief. In the end, love is also about respect, and that's the lesson Charly needed to learn.

It's plenty talk about love, sex and even orgasms, and the highlight is probably the three way negotiation on the table as Francois and Charly haggle the price over Daniela. Can love be attached with a price? How much is it worth? The plenty of ah-peks in the audience will probably have an answer to this question, and no doubt, ensure this movie's longevity in local screens.


one of my thoughts is that the whacked out ending which seemed to tangent off to many plausabilities, with Daniela seen making out with Francois' colleague, and the return of her husband, is a manifestation of Francois' fears and insecurity, because he isn't rich (as exposed), nor good looking if compared to his colleague

He still got the va-va-vrrooom babe in the end no doubt. However, his insecurities still show, and that's what we see towards the end. Probably that's what probably an ordinary bloke will feel, if he has a hot chick in tow (the constant questioning of what does she see in me?).


America! F*** YEAH!

Murderball is a sport otherwise known as Wheelchair / Quad Rugby. Played by quadriplegics, it is a 4 on 4 rugby game on wheels, which requires plenty of strength, speed, and that armoured wheelchair which almost doubles as a kind of bumper car as the sportsmen battle it out for supremacy on a regular basketball court.

This documentary showcases the game from both the points of view of Team USA and Team Canada, highlighting the intense rivalry between them, with Team Canada inheriting a disgruntled ex-Team USA star player Joe Soares, who's now their head coach. Naturally when you have someone who knows your team strategy and know it inside out, is a cause for concern, as Team USA seeks to continue its winning streak, with new star player Mark Zupan in its fold.

But it's not just about the game, or just the preparation for the Paralympic Games in Athens 2004. In its compact 85 minutes, we get introduced to the key players like Zupan, and go behind the scenes to see what makes them tick, as well as their backstories on how they have become confined to a wheelchair. Not everyone is born without limbs, and for most, it's usually an accident, or a disease. Family ties are given equally adequate screen time, as support for these folks, as do any other sporting professional, is as important, especially after facing a huge loss while representing the country.

It's a bit hilarious as they account for the stares and innocent requests of help extended to by strangers, and you've got to salute these guys' strength, independence and confidence that comes with the sport. Besides the game, they do go around the country to inspire others who have recently suffered the same predicament of being in a wheelchair, to advise that it's not a lost cause.

And while they reminisce about how they had to adjust to their condition, I suppose the common question they all had was, does their woody still work. And surprisingly, it's this curiosity amongst chicks that actually assist them in snagging them, ha! But light hearted moments aside, it's almost always never easy in picking life back up again, as everyone harbours the dream that one day, they will walk again.

For those who have followed the team's exploits in the previous Athens Olympic Games, will already know the outcome of the game. Done in MTV styled quick cuts with adrenaline pumping music, the games shown in the documentary don't bore. But as the cliche goes, it's never about the destination, but about the journey. Best wishes to all the athletes competing in Beijing 2008!

For more information about Quad Rugby, you might want to click on this website by tge US Quad Rugby Association:

Thursday, July 13, 2006

[DVD] Tokyo Eyes (1998)

Manga Looking Poster

Somehow I had thoughts about Leon The Professional when I watched this film. Just the bit parts about how a girl chances upon the professional killer and struck a friendship with him. Here, a girl chances upon a press-hyped hitman, and begins a romantic relationship.

There's something peculiar about the modus operandus of the hitman, K (Shinji Takeda), in this movie. He'll don a pair of Ultraman inspired spectacles to blur his own vision deliberately, before whipping out his specially crafted pistol (ok, no naughty thoughts here), and dispatches his prey. He doesn't make money for performing his hits, but rather rewards his own ego by shooting at anyone who pisses him off at that point. Which makes him rather hard for the cops to predict where and who he'll strike next, and this frustrates the authorities. It doesn't help that the press builds up the hype of this crazy, masked "four-eyed" vigilante, and despite having a photo-kit of his face plastered on the front page, this anti-hero eludes the cops and remains an enigma.

Cue cute Japanese schoolgirl with huge expressive eyes (drool) Hinano (Hinano Yoshikawa), whose brother happened to be a cop taking on the case. On one hand, she's attracted to him, though she does not condone his violent acts, and on the other hand, wonders if she should follow her civic duty and report him to the police, or her brother. Bad boys almost always get the cute chicks I'd say.

The movie has the look and feel of a classy indie, and being a French-Japanese production, it has this Euro-techno soundtrack infused, which I enjoy. Oh, and legendary Takeshi Kitano has a cameo as well, as what else, a Yakuza member. But don't hold your breaths as he only appears towards the end, and doesn't do much in his scene. The best scene in the entire movie will probably belong to the tense moment between K and Hinano as they square off and a piece of trivia gets unveiled. That one will make you go "ahhh...", while other scenes which you will probably enjoy are those scenes where K goes on his spree. Other than that, it's most plain lovey-dovey talk between lovers.

Code 3 DVD contains no extra features, except for the usual English subtitles, a photo still gallery and the interactive scene selection. There are also some trailers (its own and other kinky films) included, but nothing worth a closer look.

Ask the Dust

Put 2 sexy leads together and you get an instant successful romantic flick? Wrong.

Colin Farrell and Selma Hayek fail to sizzle the screen in uninspiring performances. Lacking chemistry to pull off a movie essentially about the two characters, perhaps what would draw folks to the movie is the nudity? Farrell included of course.

You can read my review at movieXclusive by clicking on the logo below

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

One for All, and All for One!

It was peculiar, but it might be signs of things to come. When I entered the theatre this evening for the Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest gala premiere today at Cathay, on screen was this static frame of the PoTC logo, with the words: "Singapore, Home of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, May 2007". If I may read too much into it, does it mean that there will be no effort spared in having the World Gala of PoTC3 right here on our shores, since Singapore was mentioned in both PoTC1 and PoTC2? And with Chow Yun-Fatt's wife being from here, does it mean we got an additional boost? One can only dream, but you heard it here first.

Anyway, our favourite characters from the high seas are back! From perennial favourite Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow, to fan girl groupie idol Orlando Bloom as Will Turner, it's no wonder why the movie has sailed its way comfortably into the record books for the highest grossing opening weekend. Familiar elements that made the first movie a success are continued here to ensure the sequel's appeal and probably longevity in holding high box office spots in weeks to come.

While I shall avoid the specifics of the plot, it meanders around the title's Dead Man's Chest, a box containing an artefact so powerful, that everyone, ranging from our pirates, to new villain Davy Jones, to the British East India Company, are actively seeking so as to rule the seven seas. The usual lead characters are back, with an expanded cast made up by some supporting characters from the first movie, and new ones developed, especially the villains.

But bugger, a big budgeted crowd pleasing summer popcorn flick comes with certain flaws though, but easily overlooked and forgiven. The plot doesn't seem to stand still, and there are many subplots thrown all over, no doubt made complicated by Jack Sparrow's seemingly scheming ideas. The first half, widely used in the trailers, seemed to drag on forever with slapstick comedy included which lost steam halfway through. Not to mention with plot holes so big you wonder how certain characters can actually survive.

The sets still looked as spectacular, though already tinged with a sense of familiarity. Jack Sparrow's Black Pearl now has been overshadowed by Davy Jones' Flying Dutchman, which is an awesome eery looking ship that comes with submerging properties. There are plenty of special effects and makeup done, and Sparrow's and Barbossa's jolly crew from the first are now given the one-up by Jones' merman sea-creature like pirates. Even Jones' himself consisted of medusa-like squid tentacles on his squishy wet face, and has a humongous crab claw for a hand.

The usual comedic elements are not forgotten, but somehow lacked as much fun and punch which audiences experienced in the original. It's one of those you-know-it's-suppose-to-be-funny-but-why-aren't-I-laughing-out-loud moments. The action sequences are also bigger and louder, but that made it a tad overdrawn at certain times. Though visually pleasing, it's as if the sequences had to justify the many cool special effects shots and stunts designed for the movie, and so had to extend its runtime for that purpose.

The clincher for this movie is perhaps the characterization and relationships. It reminded the audience of several character motivations, and provided new ones as well. Unexpected character changes and shifts will make you go "Hmm!" and provide additional fuel to power the trilogy into its final film.

This movie, being the second part of the trilogy, suffered from being the "bridging" tale. While it has some kind of a standalone story, it's still part of a bigger picture not fully explained in itself. I likened the movie to being the equivalent of the Matrix Reloaded in the Wachowski Bros' Matrix Trilogy, with plenty of ideas, characters, sub plots, character shifts thrown into the mix, in a plot that goes around, before hanging with a cliffhanger.

***** SPOILERS START *****

Come to think of it, it's gonna be much like the Revolution's (and even Star War's Return of the Jedi) first act, where our heroes have to seek out and redeem their charismatic messiah.

***** SPOILERS END *****

So ahoy mates! It's nonetheless a stormy ride, but one which will lead us to anticipate the story to sail over to the Orient, passing through Singapore (finally get to see exactly what Jack's been boasting about all this while), and meeting up with their Asian counterparts. It's gonna be one heck of a multi-way fight at world's end!

And oh, stay tuned until after the end credits for a small scene, but one which probably doesn't contain any clues, or directly influencing the final movie.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Mistress of Spices

Those Eyes Can Speak!

The number one appeal that this film had for me, is to see Aishwarya Rai in action. I've never seen the movies of Miss World '94, and missed out on Bride and Prejudice. Written by the same team, Mistress of Spices is a mythical tale which makes the Indian spices the star of the movie, set in a medicinal store, with Rai as the conjurer and mixer of modern day "bomoh" like medicine to cure mankind of their ills.

Some might not like the way the movie presented itself, with its cheesy focus and voiceover on the qualities of the various spices. Granted, it's like going to your medicinal hall, or clinic, and doing a closeup feature on the medicines and roots, characterizing them. And with the obvious red chili being the signal of danger, it's a tad simplistic. However, the way that the spices are shot, made them look beautiful in their sacks or glass bottles.

Hidden behind these herbs is the mistress Tilo (Rai, meaning sesame seed), whose precognitive powers are granted to her by the spices. Ok, so I had a corny joke running each time Tilo asked the spices to speak to her - isn't she doing a Muad'Dib thingy like Dune's Paul Atreides? Anyway besides the mistress helping her customers with their daily troubles by selling them wonderfully nice sounding concoctions, in comes Dylan McDermott's Doug. Better known for his leading role in the television series The Practice, he's the man unknowingly seducing Tilo from her mission in life. You see, being a mistress has its rules, and they are to never let another skin touch yours (ooh, touchy), to never step out of the shop (that's pretty restrictive and a possible loop hole) and not to concoct anything for one's own benefit.

So while trying her best to stay away from the good looking man, the movie spins into a tale of forbidden love, with punishment meted out by the powers that be dwelling within those spices - I tell you, they're quite vengeful. And as if it couldn't decide, there's an underlying reminder for Indians based overseas about never forgetting their roots and culture, to never fall for the enticing decadent lifestyle of the foreigners.

But screw all that, the real star of the show is Rai. I'm already smitten by her huge twin green-blue expressive eyes with lives of their own. You could just focus on them, and they could tell you a story already. And yes, that chili-red sari, is uber hot!

Guess my to-watch movies is piling up already, with Bollywood added to the list. Rai fans probably won't want to miss this, despite the movie's relatively weak and fluffy plot.

Basic Instinct 2

So you're Michael Douglas' Replacement?

I was still underaged when the original Basic Instinct made its debut in the local theatres under the relatively new R rating system, but suffice to say many already know of the kinky scenes, especially the infamous crossing and uncrossing of legs sans panties which sealed Sharon Stone's status as a Hollywood femme fatale.

It's been 14 years since, and the sequel is just released here. Which makes one wonder why, given the question would anyone still be interested to see an aging body doing her thing again? It's no wonder that the preview crowd was mainly elderly uncles and aunties, who apparently had a good time dissecting whatever plot there is to this movie, and of the occupational hazards of being a mental doctor if your mental strength is found wanting.

Not that it's not entertaining (I think my week of work work and more work made me easy to please), but elements which were associated with the original psycho sex thriller, save for Sharon Stone's returning novelist cum serial killer Catherine Tramell, are gapingly missing. Gone is the icepick, and the graphic violence and killing. In place is a series of murder scenes which happen almost after the deed. The sex scenes here are so reduced, they're negligible, if compared to the original.

And perhaps to balance the lack of sex, this movie migrates to a more mind-numbing psycho-babble flick, since the mind is the greatest sex organ, as Stone's character Tramell, mind-tangos London psychiatrist Dr. Michael Glass (David Morrissey), and detective Roy Washburn (David Thewlis), investigating her for an apparent murder-suicide of famed footballer Kevin Franks, in a cameo played by Stan Collymore, yes, THAT Stan Collymore. All he had to do in his movie debut was to act stone (pun intended) and finger Tramell. How hard is that?

In dialogues filled with double entrées and sexual innuendoes, Tramell basically waltzes through England in her see-throughs, having fun running rings around the two male leads, in a carefully crafted game of cat and mouse with Glass. In her psychosis sessions with Glass on her "risk addiction", there was mention of Nick Curran (played by Michael Douglas in the first movie), but that was just about the link to the original. Basically as the movie wore on, bodies associated with Glass turned out murdered, and naturally Tramell, Glass and even the detective Washburn all become plausible suspects.

Being the master manipulator, the audience might even be seduced by her ideas on the plausibility of certain events, and this swung the narrative into varying directions if you'd allow it. If you do, you'll probably give the possibilities the nod, despite some plot holes and an ending tense sense bordering close to absurdity.

What's the motivation for the sequel? One wonders if it's just to revitalize Stone's sagging career by putting her back in one of her more iconic villain roles in cinematic history. Then again, she should have gone back to basics and not stain the original with a relatively lacklustre sequel.


Our Jolly Shenaniganz Crew

If you had enjoyed Empire Records, which snapshots the exaggerated life of employees in a record store, then you'll probably enjoy Waiting..., which adopts the same formula, but for employees in a restaurant called the Shenaniganz. Either that, or you've worked in a restaurant before that you can identify easily with some of those nasty or nice customers you've encountered before. You are the folks that have inspired this movie.

Waiting... refers to waiting on tables, i.e. the job of a waiter, and in this movie, there is a kaleidoscope of caricatures, like the newbie initiate, the resident cool guy hunk, someone at the crossroads of his life, wondering if this is a job that he'll be stuck to for the rest of his life, two cleaner junkie Eminem rapboys wannabe, a foul mouthed middle aged waitress, the hot chicks, someone whiny and have problems with his piss, an anal retentive manager, lesbian bar attendants, and even a washerman who's everyone's shrink.

And what makes the movie interesting, if it doesn't have its fair variety of customers, who provide an excuse for our jolly staff to demonstrate their shenanigan ways? It's a prompt reminder too, that everything that happens in the kitchen when your food is being prepared, trust me, you won't want to know. And please be courteous to the person serving your food too!

The movie starts and ends with a party, with the various personalities coming together and chilling out after a hard day's work. And the highlight here, is probably the running prank known as "The Penis and Balls Game". You got to watch the show if you're interested to find out more.

The version shown locally is the unrated cut, so be prepared for plenty of swearing, close up and grossed out shots of genitalia, and a vulgarity filled end credit rap video which ends off by telling you to F-off from the theatre.

Pretty fun movie, considering I'm just back from one heck of a hectic week.... cool movie to just unwind and laugh it all off.

Friday, July 07, 2006

The Week in Malaysia

Was up in KL again the entire week, actually thought that I would have the chance to catch some movies while I was there on business, but no, I was so wrong.

Hit the ground running when I arrived, and hardly had much breathing space as work started early, and ended real late, especially towards the latter part of the week. However, I managed to squeeze some time on Monday night to meet up with Yasmin as she was staying nearby the hotel I was bunking in.

It gets a tad creepy walking pass this room in the wee hours of the morning. I stay next door at Room 667 :P

Met up with her and composer Hardesh Singh, who has an upcoming soundtrack compilation coming out in stores soon. I didn't have the time to look for it in stores as my work day was essentially 7am to 2-3am the next day, almost everyday. Slight chance that I might visit KL again the next week, so probably can try my luck when I do find the time for some shopping. Otherwise would have to ask The Visitor to get for me LOL!

Anyway, it was quite late when we met up, and given that she was also travelling overseas the next day, we didn't stay too long for a quick chat, and one of my intentions was to pass her the CD of photos we took on the set on the first day of Mukhsin's production.

Met up with a friend on Tue too, and he has an article out on Mukhsin, published on Friday's The Star newspaper.

Oh yeah, unless of course you can read the fine print, just click on both pictures above to read the articles online.

Enjoy! Can't wait already!
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