Monday, July 30, 2007

Jay Chou's Secret Singapore Gala

Welcome! Huan Ying!

Taiwanese pop superstar Jay Chou comes to Singapore today for the gala premiere of Secret, making his directorial debut after his big screen appearance in Initial D, Curse of the Golden Flower, and soon, Slam Dunk!
Picked this up at HK FILMART in March 2007

The crowd gathered early, and by the time I was there at 7pm, there were hordes of fans everywhere at The Cathay, and filled up every nook and cranny for that vintage snapshot of Jay for the photo album.
No Corner Too Acute!

The Crowd

Fans Unite!

The weather wasn't very kind to fans as the skies opened up, but of course as fans, they always come prepared, and I bet you even if there's a lightning storm, you can bet your last dollar those at the barricades will not move an inch, lest someone occupies their money-can't-be-bought space.
It's Only Rain

We Shall Not Be Moved!


The Crowd Continues to Build...

... and Build Some More!

Naturally, the bigger the star, the longer they take to arrive, and he only made an appearance at about 2010hrs, to the loud screams of fans along the red carpet.
Jay Touched Her (The Piano that is)

The Camera Brigade

The usual introductory comments and chit chat by the MC from radio, followed by Jay and co-star Kwai Lun-Mei playing a piece together on the piano.
Where's The Start Button?

You're Good But You're Not Me!

Some dude who can imitate Jay's singing voice (but not prowess mind you) managed to sing one of his songs with Jay accompanying on the piano, but those who believed the MC that Jay was there to perform a medley of 4 songs, were in for a rude shock. He did neither, no songs, no singing, and it was a quick chit chat followed by a wave, and he was whisked off to the theatre hall for the gala.

In all, an extremely long wait for fans, for what is possibly a short glimpse of their idol. Could have been longer for fans to have an opportunity to take pictures, sign some stuff, do some high-fives, and kiss some babies. OK, so maybe not the last bit, but you get the drift. The Red Carpet was long enough, but I guess not everyone's a Tom Cruise (he really did know how to work the crowd and feed off their energy).

Oh, there was an ambulance on standby too, lest someone fainted on site.

My pals from were also on site to bring to you this event and more, so click on the logo below for their exclusive content coverage!

Sunday, July 29, 2007

[DVD] Beautiful Boxer (2003)

I Need Some Mascara

I suppose many non-Thai action film fans have their first exposure to the Thai martial arts of Muay Thai through movies like Ong Bak or Tom Yum Goong, both starring Tony Jaa. But the Muay Thai scene in Thailand was set abuzz in the 90s when transvestite warrior Nong Toom took to the stage and battled it out with other gladiators, while at the same time battled the prejudice he faced because he was different. Nong Toom was big at one time, with many media around the world following his exploits, as he wore makeup into the ring, and planted kisses on his defeated opponents.

Beautiful Boxer is director Ekachai Uekrongtham's first feature film (he also did the movie about our Geylang scene with Pleasure Factory), and the movie is a biography of Nong Toom (played by real kickboxer Asanee Suwan) and his dream of being a woman. Born to poverty and without means to fulfill his dream, he takes on the sport of Muay Thai for its lucrative awards, in part to provide for his family, and also as a means to save up for his sex change operation. His coach Pi Chart (Sorapong Chatree) sees the potential of his protege, and while he doesn't chide Nong Toom for his feminine ways, had only one request, that he fights like a man in the ring.

Similar to various fight sports biopics like Rocky and Cinderella Man, Beautiful Boxer charts the ups and downs of the protagonist, except that it ups the ante with Nong Toom's personal struggles, which present themselves as a bigger challenge with prejudice and misconceptions to fight, instead of the usual fight-against-poverty storyline. And like the movies in the genre, the battle in the ring is a sight to behold, as they get choreographed expertly, yet maintain a romantic, sexy look at the form of the sport. While Nong Toom does battle with various exponents, the filmmakers took great pains to ensure the fights differ from battle to battle, to make it interesting to watch without being repetitive, and we do see certain ancient moves that we've yet to see with the Tony Jaa movies.

Asanee Suwan, a first time actor who auditioned for and gotten the role of Nong Toom, played the character with great earnestness, and was extremely convincing in his role as a man who struggles to find a way to bring the inner woman out in him. He made Nong Toom very humane, and you can really feel his pain and triumphs in and outside the ring. Nong Toom in any case was an interesting person to begin with, especially the way he handles discrimination. There were many poignant moments in his story from childhood, and what I thought was quite affecting was how he had to fend for himself in the ring especially - Fighters will find it a lost of face if they lose to someone "less than a man", and this led to fighting Nong Toom more intensely, which of course made Nong Toom fight back even harder. While he couldn't do much about people laughing at him, he had to learn to feed off these negative energy to spur him on to win.

It's a movie that works on both the emotional level and the physical side with its fight action sequence, and one of the better sports-fight biopics I have seen. Look out too for a cameo by the real Nong Toom (now known as Parinaya Charoemphol after his sex-change operation). It brought to mind an adage which I shall paraphrase - the person might be different, but the struggles faced are the same.

You can read more about Nong Toom from the Wikipedia site.

Code 1 DVD from TLA Releasing comes in anamorphic widescreen presentation, and the visual transfer looked to be relatively soft and less than sharp. You have a choice of either 5.1 or 2.0 stereo sound, both in the original Thai language track, with optional English subtitles which can be turned on. Scene selection is available in 14 chapters.

There are quite a bit of features packed into the DVD, but most of which could have been better presented. The Director's Message was a two page text which shared a little on the making of the movie, and there is a Theatrical Trailer (2:09) and two Teaser Trailers (1:00 each) included.

Interviews with Cast and Crew was subtitled in English, but the presentation was very segmented with many pauses in between to continuously inform you who was being interviewed. It's usually one statement, pause, another statement, pause, and repeat. Much of the 11:24 runtime was wasted on these unnecessary pauses which could have been done away with given proper editing of this feature. Interviewees include the director Ekachai Uekrongtham, lead actor Asanee Suwan, actors Sorapong Chatree, Sitiporn Niyom (who plays Nat), and Keagan Kang, whose segment had audio-visual synchronization problems. Fight Choreographer Sanae Tuptimtong also gets interviewed, and you'll find out more about Muay Thai from him.

Inside Beautiful Boxer is a making of documentary running 4:17, most of which covers the audition to find the appropriate actor to play Nong Toom, and how Asanee Suwan was tasked to practice ballet and traditional Thai dance to get in touch with his feminine side. Behind The Scenes Fight Footage was just a collection of on-set visuals for the various fight scenes with nary any explanation. Fights included are Nong Toom vs Yamada, Nong Toom vs Anaconda, Nong Toom vs Ramba (the fake girly fighter), Nong Toom vs Kyoko, Nong Toom and Boxing Coach, and Nong Toom vs Battlefield. There's nothing much to show in this 5:44 feature.

Two Music Videos are included. One is "The Girl I Knew" (the theme track you get to hear throughout the movie) performed by Asanee Chotikul (3:32) and the other is "Who's The Man Here" performed by Mai Charoenpura (4:24). Both comes with English subtitles so that you understand the lyrics sung, and more interestingly, comes with karaoke-styled presentation as well.

Rounding off the features are three Trailers for other gay, lesbian and transgender movies - Naked Flame (2:07), Straight-Jacket (2:17) and Sex, Politics and Cocktails (1:53).

The Dark Knight Teaser

Bruce Wayne: I knew the mob wouldn't go down without a fight. But this is different. They crossed the line.

Alfred Pennyworth: You crossed the line first, sir. You have and them, in their desperation, they turned to a man they didn't fully understand. Some men aren't looking for anything logical. They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.

Joker: Starting tonight, people will die. I'm a man of my word. HAHAHAHHAHAHA...

That bit by the Joker, reminded me of how Bob Kane introduced the Joker in a storyline all the way back in the comic book Batman #1.

I'm already creaming my pants.... summer 2008 can't come soon enough!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Flash Point (Dao Huo Xian)

Feel The Pain

In his black leather jacket and oozing plenty of charisma, Donnie Yen's Inspector Ma Jun quite resembled his other character in SPL, which was also directed by Wilson Yip, because at one point Flash Point was supposed to be an SPL sequel. But in any case, the character is slightly tweaked. Early in the movie, Ma Jun tells it straight to the camera that as a cop, his job is to apprehend criminals, and it's as simple as that. And the trailers would have you believe here's a man who's lightning quick with his punches, throws and kicks.

However, you've got to wait until the hour mark for all that. For action junkies, your patience is severely tested, but the wait is well worth every minute you're put on hold. I've caught the trailer at this year's Hong Kong Filmart, and it was one that had action and more action, with nary a line of dialogue. But in the movie, much time is devoted to attempts in building characterization, until the story realizes it better give what the audiences are here for, to see Donnie Yen kick ass.

Having teamed with Wilson Yip in earlier action productions like SPL and Dragon Tiger Gate, Donnie Yen returns as action choreographer for Flash Point, and the cast adopts the fighting style called MMA - Mixed Martial Arts, which is something of a blend of various martial arts techniques, that audiences probably haven't seen before stylistically in close combat scenes. Flash Point boasts some incredible action sequences with explosive hard hitting fight combinations, and the sole complaint I have is I can't get enough of it! What more, as learnt from SPL having real martial arts exponents like Sammo Hung and Wu Jing fighting opposite himself, it made the sequences look more authentic, and the pace at which they can go at each other much more frantic. Collin Chou (Seraph from the Matrix movies) stars as one of the chief baddies, and watching the two awesome gladiators duke it out is nothing short of edge of your seat material - you'll feel their pain!

But as I mentioned, you'll have to be patient during the story's buildup. Writer Szeto Kam Yuen (SPL, Exiled, Dog Bite Dog) weaves in yet another undercover story into Flashpoint, with Louis Koo's Wilson as the mole within a gang of Vietnamese brothers Ja Ge (Ray Lui, in an over the top impersonation of Tony Leung's Big D in Johnny To's Election), Tony (Collin Chou) and Tiger (Xing Yu). A simple romance tale is worked into for Wilson with Fan Bing Bing as love interest Julie, but as expected, action movies seldom have much time devoted for love scenes.

Without a doubt, Ma Jun as a character overshadows them all with his motivations and drive. His temper is as quick as his reflexes, and he doesn't tolerate bullshit from the top brass, which resulted in rather muted (or negligible) action for about three quarters of the movie because his behavior is reined in by order. And there is a scene though which will make you question his excessiveness, and wonder if his doggedness in pursuit and apprehension actually clouds his ethical and moral judgment.

Flash Point is still an awesome action movie when the time came for it to deliver the goods, highlighting that Hong Kong action films still have what it takes to innovate within the genre. Oh, and stay tuned during the end credit roll for scenes of outtakes, which shows plenty of training that the cast had to undergo to perfect their MMA techniques. Sure packs quite a formidable punch in this compact 90 minute movie.


I'm Bringing Sexy Back

How can anyone miss the poster for Cashback? Featuring a beautiful blonde in a supermarket who's almost naked from the waist up, her modesty protected by the words of the title, I guess you're forgiven if you mistake this for some low brow sex movie. But Cashback is anything but low brow, and sex is just a small part of the equation. Based on a short film of the same name written and directed by Sean Ellis, this is easily one of my favourite movies this year. It's intelligent, sexy, and nothing as raunchy as the poster would suggest, but full of little elements of surprises that connected, some of which are wickedly naughty.

Cashback is a beautiful romantic comedy, filled with fantastical bits which elevated it to another plane altogether. There are some technically brilliant transitional and special effects that do make you go wild, but at its core, it's the story it had to tell that truly wowed me. Although it's a romantic film, it's firmly rooted in the pain of a breakup. Anyone who's gone through one, will know that feeling of despair, and hopelessness that life seem to have taken a turn into. And our protagonist Ben Willis (Sean Biggerstaff) is such, when we witness his (literally) painful split with his girl Suzy (Michelle Ryan).

For the first 10 minutes, I could totally identify with Ben, his thought processes, feelings, and his suffering. Ben suffered from insomnia, and is trying hard to find ways to pass the time. Since he couldn't sleep, he found the perfect win-win solution, and that is to utilize the time to earn some money, cashback, if you will, for services rendered. It's about finding our own space to pass time, to keep ourselves occupied, and to while away the idle moments instead of wasting time thinking about the what-ifs. Getting cashback of course is an incentive, but never the prime motivation. I could tell you all about the setting up of A Nutshell Review, but that's another story (along the same veins) for another day.

Like my other favourite British movie of this year (Hot Fuzz), Cashback has its primary setting in a supermarket, where Ben ends up in, working the graveyard hours of a 24hrs chain. Thanks to its quirky manager and madcap co-workers, there's no lack of shenanigans that they get themselves into, and we spend time with Ben as he explores and studies how each of them deals with the mundaneness of their lives. And a supermarket checkout girl, Sharon Pintey (Emilia Fox), catches his attention, but is he ready to embark on another round of relationship?

Cashback has plenty of keen observations of love and life in general, coupled with its witty dialogue and dark sense of humour. But it's not rapid-fire pacing all the way, as the quiet and contemplative moments far outweigh those scenes, and pave the way for some meditation within yourself. Like I said, I found the story easy to connect to, and these moments allowed some time to ponder and draw parallels. The last third of the movie is simply powerful, and coupled with Ben's imaginative ability (which I will not reveal just what), it totally moved me, and sounds out some sliver of hope.

And what of the nudity? Sure it was slightly edited here, but I thought there's nothing to fuss about. It's true that the female form is beautiful, and this film provides that sense of appreciation through Ben's artistic talent (and of course, the camera angles, the lingering moments, etc). It's lovely, but never in a pornographic way, Think of it as visiting a nude art gallery, and you get the drift of how nudity's treated in the movie.

With an excellent soundtrack to accompany the story, I felt that Cashback has all the ingredients of a hit movie, with a strong story, wonderful characterization (a mixture of key characters and caricatures) and absolutely lovely production values. For those who's fallen out of love, Ben is certainly someone whom you'll root for to pull himself out of the rut, and one whom you'll encourage to embark on another romantic journey in all earnestness with a person he fancies, contrary to the advice given by his best friend who seem to have a problem eating his own cooking, so to speak.

While it's a piece about the dread in relationships, of breaking up, what you do and how you handle the pain, it also comes with a picture of hope. It's a simple story, yet emotionally powerful without being overly sentimental, predictable or cheesy. I've so many favourite moments in this movie, that I'll be more than tempted to buy the DVD when it's out. And it certainly is a strong contender for my movie of the year 2007! Highly recommended, and you must watch this film before it disappears from our screens!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Simpsons Movie

It's Finally Here!

I'm a big, big fan of the Simpsons, and word that the movie version of the hit TV series would be made had been out for the longest time possible. Toying between trying to cast actors in a life-action movie (rumoured at one point to have Bruce Willis playing Homer because of the err, balding pate), and sticking to its 2D version of yellow skin and four fingers on each hand, I'm glad that the movie was done in the latter version, simply because casting will be a nightmare to flesh out the inhabitants of Springfield, and 2D allows for many insane jokes and situations to be played out without reliance on CGI and the likes.

And it paid off big time, and well worth the extremely long wait. While the movie version of the Simpsons might seem like an extended version of a typical animated episode on TV, this is everything you'd come to expect, and more! I won't spoil the movie's plot in my review, but suffice to say our favourite family is back for more madcap adventures, and being in a feature length movie allowed for the characters emote more than what we see on TV. There's some room here for some serious character development, especially Marge, Bart and even Lisa entering a new phase of her life, while Homer is, well, being just Homer.

With plenty of sight gags, inside jokes, not too subtle jabs at the big summer movies this year like Spider-Man and Harry Potter, it's incredibly hard not to laugh every few seconds for the keen eyed viewer, or guffaw at the dialogue or classic Simpsons styled comedy we've come to enjoy from the series. The fast and furious nature the laughs get delivered is bound to keep fans delighted, and win over those who are watching the family and the Springfield folks for the very first time. You just can't get enough of the voice talents of Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Harry Shearer and Hank Azaria, as well as a whole host of cameo voices as they embark on 90 minutes of pure entertainment. If you've just survived a hard day's work, The Simpsons Movie is almost guaranteed to chase those blues away.

Stay throughout the end credits, where you'll be entertained by more clips near the beginning, the middle, and right at the end of the credits roll, played to the tune of some of the most insane songs ever written.

This is the best Simpsons movie... so far! Bring on a sequel already, D'oh!

Grabbing the Balls of Stupidity

Gone Shopping

People Watching

Singaporeans are known for our passion for food, be it either great tasting humble hawker fare, or exquisite fine dining at various swanky restaurants. Food has been featured in a number of our local movies, with yellow flat noodles being the Mee Pok in Mee Pok Man, Chicken Rice in Chicken Rice War, and the ubiquitous coffeeshop locales in almost all of director Jack Neo's movies. The other passion we have is for shopping, no doubt with our most famous road being Orchard Road, for its malls and food of course, and the various generic shopping malls (with almost the same shops, that each mall seemed xeroxed from the preceding success story) that have sprung up in various neighbourhood heartland town centers all over the island.

It's only a matter of time that a movie like Gone Shopping will find its way to our cinematic screens, with its premise firmly set around our obsession with shopping, which some have said is one of our national pastimes. Writer-director Wee Li Lin, better known for her short films, makes her feature film debut with this movie, and it actually took her years to crystallize her ideas for the film. After all, if you want to incorporate a national pastime, you sure would want to do it right!

But what Li Lin did was a whole lot more. Gone Shopping, through its many characters, leading and supporting, all manage to touch on the psyche of Singapore. Having developed a keen eye in observing people, Li Lin managed to craft intricate characters for Gone Shopping, without the pitfalls of having caricature them into typical stereotypes. The first few minutes were pure genius, adding a subtle tracking of the evolution of our malls and its impact to our pop culture (remember the Centrepoint kids?) through the eyes of one of the protagonist, Clara (played by Kym Ng), a rich man's tai-tai (translated by the official website as "wealthy lady of leisure") who seem to have everything material, but yearning for a connection that is deep and emotional.

And starting with Clara, we get introduced to the various hopes and dreams of the characters in Gone Shopping, which I thought was interesting and intriguing enough to hold you attention, and want to make you find out more as the story unravels. Through three story arcs whose characters rarely interact with one another, they share a common thread, and that is the need to escape from the cold harsh realities of their unsatisfactory life, through, what else, their various periods of stay in malls, where they can enjoy some bliss in their respective fantasies.

Clara longs to be loved and run away from the superficiality of "tai-tai friendships", and bumping into an acquaintance, Valentine Pang (Adrian Pang), a sales person in a departmental store and old school classmate, may just provide that avenue. Aaron Ho (Aaron Kao), a young man stifled in his 9-to-5 job, seeks out friends in the mall, and slowly develops the hots for his best friend's sister Hui Hui (Magdalene Tan), a goth lolita. Renu (Sonya Nair), an 8 year old girl who finds herself abandoned and unloved by her parents, seeking out a new life in the world famous Mustafa Centre, a mall that does not sleep, enjoying the material goods she could possibly never possess, and being caught in a web of intrigue between a conman, and the store's security personnel.

Gone Shopping reveals a thick tapestry based on strengths of Li Lin's imaginative mind, and engages the audiences at different levels. Like a shopping mall itself, the movie is full of different components that will appeal to different demographics, but yet all coming together to make it a completely satisfying experience. Some scenes were just so cunningly full of wit, that you can't help but to crack up for its sheer brilliance and cheekiness. The actors too, from familiar TV faces past and present, flesh their roles with aplomb, and are a delight to watch. I only rue that the wonderful Adrian Pang didn't get a lot of screen time, and his moustache does make him look kinda serious, departing miles away from his funnyman persona.

What is superb too for a local film, are the cinematography and art direction. The colours are beautiful to look at, building upon those already available in the malls' surroundings, and scenes come alive with its many locations that audiences would find familiar. After all, we do visit these places from time to time for our dose of retail therapy. And for the overseas audience, you're in for a real visual treat as well, as Gone Shopping made the malls actually look sexy, and for those who have been here before, take a look if you can recall where they were. While it is obvious these places are touristy and would make Singapore Tourism Board beam with brimming pride, it doesn't, not for a minute, look like a huge "Come Visit Singapore / Come Shop in Singapore" commercial, which is great.

Retail therapy might pay off to chase those blues away, but Gone Shopping certainly is well worth the admission ticket, being able to straddle the arty film realm that most local movies seem to fall under, and having the commercial legs as well. If Singapore movies are growing from strength to strength with each output, then Gone Shopping has certainly stamped its mark on 2007! Highly recommended!


In attendance today was director Wee Li Lin and producer Fazila Zainol Abideen during the blog aloud session after the screening to share and discuss some items of interest with the audience. Both were in high spirits and in a chatty mood, so what's below were some of the things that were shared. Please take note of mild spoilers before you proceed.

  • The movie was shot in 31 days. It took 3 years to develop and 2 years to produce

  • This could be the start of a trilogy of Gone Shopping movies

  • The 1st script had several stories, and Li Lin had to whittle it down to what you see on screen. Several characters were also developed, and she had to zoom in on the characters she liked for this one

  • She might resurrect those characters omitted for the next movie

  • One of the editors of Gone Shopping also edited Eric Khoo's Be With Me

  • Li Lin was interested in the "tai tai" character, which she explored briefly in her short film - what do "tai tai"s really do, and to examine the space where their lives probably unfolds

  • She's also intrigued with the ecosystem of people found in shopping centres and decided to dwell into the background, drama of these characters

  • The drag queen character was based on a friend's SMS which mentioned there was a guy going around selling fake perfume, before drugging and robbing his victims

  • Initially the movie is supposed to be in English (ed: see the teaser trailers). Translators were used to translate the script into its respective language used by the characters. It also seemed more real to adopt parts of Kym's role in Mandarin

  • It was an opportunity to be different, to have the film with its many languages to reflect our society

  • The filmmakers fell in love with Mustafa the shopping centre, and the management was supportive of their making the film in their premises. Many extras were actually real staff of Mustafa

  • The filmmakers had an amazing time with the Indian actors, and "Uncle Menon" was actually related to Sonya Nair

  • The mannequin segment is totally open to interpretation, though the concept of it was a deity of sorts for the shopping centre

  • The movie is rated NC16 for the following reasons - The use of the Hokkien word "cib*i", and the scene which mentioned Ipoh, KL and JB, which worried the censorship board

  • That gossipy scene which mentioned the Malaysian cities was actually the only scene which survived from the initial script, and it was based on eavesdropping the gossips and cursing made by real salespeople

  • Li Lin had done a lot of research on the "tai tai"s by talking a lot to them (she grew up with them too), and jests that after the movie's released, they probably wouldn't want to talk to her again

  • The first cut of the movie was about 2 hours long, and the final version was structurally changed during editing, with some scenes dropped and others shifted around

  • The first scene shot was of Sonya crying, which was a nerve wrecking experience, and on hindsight, they shouldn't have gone ahead with the shooting of this scene first

  • Aaron with his sword in the carpark is a direct homage to The Highlander movie, which Li Lin is a fan of

  • Gone Shopping was made on a S$650K budget, and they had location sponsors like Marina Square

  • The crew did break some stuff during production - look out for a shattered glass panel which made it into the shot, when Kym is seen lying down in a shop

  • One of the filmmaker's favourite scenes was the bitch fight within an upmarket shop outlet, which a lot of retailers approached didn't allow them to use their shops

  • On 14th Feb 07 where they shot the love scene between Aaron and Magdalene at the Shaw Centre roof garden, there were a lot of couples who were taken by surprise that their favourite love making haunt was used by the production team, that they stared daggers at the cast and crew

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

[DVD] Bella Martha (Mostly Martha) (2001)

So You Think You Can Cook?

The kitchen makes for a good setting for movies. There's wonderful food, chefs with personality, and a rat... wait, that's Ratatouille, Pixar's latest offering which unfortunately won't be shown here until the end of next month. On the other hand, a trailer for a romantic comedy seemed to have caught my eye. Also set in a kitchen, it stars Catherine Zeta Jones and Aaron Eckhart opposite each other as chefs who don't get along but ultimately fall in love, you know, the usual opposites attract formula, in No Reservations.

But I was surprised that it was actually based on a German movie called Mostly Martha back in 2001, based on a pickup at the library, and reading through the synopsis, it just couldn't be more coincidental as that. Hollywood has been poaching remake rights to a host of movies in Asia, from horror like Shutter, to crime thrillers like Confession of Pain, to Korean romantic comedies like My Sassy Girl and the likes. And of course, remakes and adaptations of movies from the European continent too. I wonder how much more original stories can Tinseltown spin on its own, without resorting to cannibalizing from others.

Written and directed by Sandra Nettelbeck, Mostly Martha is not your typical romantic comedy, contrary to what the Hollywood remake would suggest (from the trailers so far). The premise is of course similar. Martha Klein (Martina Gedeck) is the head chef for a restaurant, a to the book, no nonsense, proud chef at that. She has a rigid lifestyle, and finds herself so high strung that on her employer's advice, reluctantly checks herself in for therapy. Her niece Lina (Maxime Foerste) drops into her life one day, and both find it difficult to adapt to one another, with Lina at first glance being your typical stubborn, bratty child. And things become worse when Martha has to face up to competition in her own kitchen, with the arrival of Italian chef Mario (Sergio Castellitto), a man whose laissez-faire style just drives her nuts.

If Hollywood were to take the script from here, it would make it a simple, expected romantic tangle between Martha and Mario, in which the trailer for No Reservations seem to suggest. But Mostly Martha is more than that. It's deeper, more subtle, has negligible snarky remarks passing off as comedy, and doesn't turn the kid into a precocious cutesy tot. It's steers towards powerful drama territory, with each scene beautifully shot, minimal dialogue which just catches your attention span, and subtle philosophical ideas tossed into the whole works. It examines the relationships between all characters in a very engaging manner, and doesn't neglect any of the main leads.

What emerges is a classy movie, with interesting reminders on life and living life. I particularly liked how fine dining gets weaved into the narrative, be it the preparation, or the properties, or just to decorate the set. Don't watch this on an empty stomach, please! What I found true is its account that unlike food, there is no recipe to life which you can follow step by step to a T, based on fixed parameters which if followed accurately, will bring out that flavour in the end result. Life can't be run that way, and certainly there is no recipe or formula on how to lead a successful life, having success defined by one's values.

My advise would be, given that Hollywood has adopted key scenes in its own release, and signs do seem to point No Reservations towards a true blue romantic comedy, if you'd like, watch the Hollywood version, but please come back to the original source material, and you'll understand why Hollywood wanted to remake this, and for you to experience the actual, rich storyline that Mostly Martha (or its German title Bella Martha) is actually all about.

The Code 1 DVD by Paramount Pictures is presented in anamorphic widescreen, and the visual transfer is just pristine, that the food looks so real you want to reach out and grab a bite. Audio is presented in the original German language track in 5.1 Dolby Digital, with optional English subtitles. Being a barebones DVD release, there is no extras, besides the ability to perform scene selections over 14 available chapters.

Monday, July 23, 2007

4th Singapore Short Cuts - Preview

This evening was the media preview of the upcoming Singapore Short Cuts, which is into its 4th edition, and if the selection of what was previewed today was any indication of what's to come, then I can safely say that audiences attending the showcase will be in for a real treat!

Presented by Zhang Wenjie, Assistant Manager of Programmes, National Museum of Singapore, and Kristin Saw, Programme Manager, Moving Images, The Substation, we were treated to 6 out of 19 shorts in this edition's showcase, and my verdict is that I've enjoyed them all, and can't wait to spend the coming Saturday afternoons soon enough to see the rest of them.

As Wenjie advocates, if anyone is interested to find out how Singapore films are like, then look no further than the talent in our local short films. I couldn't agree more, especially after today's preview. As he shared, the shorts for this year's edition includes topics which are not covered in the local feature films (with reasons on returns on investment and the likes) and is high on innovation, and not to mention, experimentation. As Kristen puts it, it's not about screening award winning works. Local short films deserve an audience, especially the radical ones that continue to push boundaries. And trust me, they do.

Boo Junfeng (Changi Murals), Jacen Tan (of TakGiu and Zo Peng fame) and Sun Koh (The Secret Heaven) are popular contemporary short film makers, but this edition of the Short Cuts features a week from the archives of 67 year old local filmmaker Rajendra Gour. I've always been a fan of any movie which features scenes of old Singapore, from Tan Pin Pin's Invisible City, to Bobby Suarez's They Call Her... Cleopatra Wong, and even Peter Bogdanovich's Saint Jack. In Rajendra's shorts (2 of which were featured this evening), despite the obvious aging of the film, the important gems are how lifestyles in those days were captured for posterity, touching on common themes of a mother's love and fears in My Child My Child, and in my opinion, a musical montage piece called Sunshine Singapore just deserves to be watched repeatedly for scenes that no longer are, and should be a visual treat for any historians or those born here in the last 20 years, to see how Singapore was once like.

LtoR: Sun Koh, Boo Junfeng and Jacen Tan

Boo Junfeng's featured short Katong Fugue (which won the Special Jury Prize in this year's Singapore International Film Festival) should be familiar to those who have watched Asian Boys Volume II, being an adaptation of the play, while Sun Koh's Bedroom Dancing is inspired by real life events, and one which I'd bet will definitely raise some eyebrows (eh, Singapore can do films like that?)! Jacen Tan, who has garnered a cult following on the Internet with his earlier two movies Tak Giu and Zo Peng, has his latest short Zo Gang (Go Work) showcased here, so online fans, it's time to journey outdoors to the Museum to catch this on the big screen - Zo Gang shows plenty of signs of a short filmmaker becoming comfortable with his craft, and is an entertaining one at that, dedicated to local filmmakers and musicians. I was surprised with how animation and live-action combined in Pok Yue Weng's superDONG, and you'll never look at toilet graffiti in the same light ever again!

Singapore Short Cuts is a celebration of local short films, so show your support by picking up the free tickets (and make sure you turn up at the door on the actual day - don't waste tickets!). I'll be there for the screenings, so see you all at the National Museum! And if you can't make it, stay tuned to yours truly for the weekly reviews and coverage of the Q&As!

Venue: National Museum, Gallery Theatre, Basement
Dates: Every Saturday from 11 August to 1 September 2007
Time: 2pm
Free admission
All screenings will be followed by discussions with the filmmakers.

Sat 11 Aug / From Mon 6 Aug
Sat 18 Aug / From Mon 13 Aug
Sat 25 Aug / From Mon 20 Aug
Sat 1 Sep / From Mon 27 Aug

Free tickets to the 4th Singapore Short Cuts can be collected at the National Museum of Singapore (Stamford Visitor Services Counter) on the Monday at the beginning of the week, before each weekend’s screening. Tickets are available on a first come, first served basis, and limited to four per person. Any remaining tickets will be given out at the door on the day of the screening.

Stamford Visitor Services Counter
National Museum of Singapore
93 Stamford Road
Singapore 178897
10 am till 8 pm


Sat 11 Aug, 2 pm

Flat Dreams by Eva Tang
Zo Gang by Jacen Tan
Bedroom Dancing by Sun Koh
Yesterday’s Play by Ryan Tan
A Suicide Symphony by Deng Kaile
(Films duration: 72 min. Rated R21)

Sat 18 Aug, 2 pm

Wrong Turn by Charles Lim
Tracks by Gavin Lim
superDONG by Pok Yue Weng
Fonzi by Kirsten Tan
Take Me Home A.K.A I saw jesus by Gözde and Russel Zehnder
(Films duration: 65 min. Rated M18)

Sat 25 Aug, 2 pm

A Labour of Love - The Housewife by Rajendra Gour
My Child My Child by Rajendra Gour
Eyes by Rajendra Gour
Sunshine Singapore by Rajendra Gour
(Film duration: 45 min. Rated PG)

Sat 1 Sept, 2 pm

Ah Ma by Anthony Chen
Embryo by Loo Zihan
Elefant by Willie Koh
5 Steps To Becoming An Actor by Kan Lume
Katong Fugue by Boo Junfeng
(Film duration: 64 min. Rated NC16)

Patrons are advised that a valid identity pass showing proof of age is required for all screenings.

Sunday, July 22, 2007


We're Both Hot

Disturbia played it smart in its release locally, by having pushed back its release date until almost every cinema goer had seen Michael Bay's Transformers, and become acquainted with the latest Hollywood "It" kid, Shia LaBeou, otherwise also better known as "the Transformers boy".

Being an uncredited remake of Hitchcock's classic Rear Window, Disturbia has our boy hero playing Kale, who's put on house arrest for having knocked the lights out of his teacher. So his home and front yard becomes his playground, but when mom (Carrie-Anne Moss, would you believe that?) cut off his XBox and ITunes subscription, he turns to voyeurism to beat the blues and occupy time. In a scene in Transformers, LaBeou had to look for something at home. Now he turns to looking for entertainment in other people's home. And that included spying on the hot chick new neighbour Ashley (Sarah Roemer), while keeping an eye on a possible serial killer staying next door, Mr Turner (David Morse).

It doesn't help that the trailer plays out almost the entire plot of the movie, and therefore you're pretty sure of what you're gonna get from it. The first half played on the teenage drama romance bit, with Kale figuring out how to woo the most attractive girl on the block, with the handicap of not being able to meet her in proper circumstances outside his home. But the movie banked heavily on Shia LaBeouf's boyish charisma, and that probably payed off loads. He's a lucky chap, as Sarah Roemer makes it two in a row (the other being Megan Fox) where his character gets up close and personal with hot chicks.

The second half of the movie turned the spotlight a bit on the mystery on hand to solve, and while it isn't naturally original, I'd say it still managed to pull off an above average thriller, thanks to David Morse's ability to send some chills with his build, and two-faced acting, being perturbed by his privacy being invaded (hey, serial killers need time alone to do their stuff), and yet wanting to be perceived as a gentle giant. Morse's one of the understated character actors today, and while his role is nothing groundbreaking, it still served its purpose.

Don't expect too much from this movie, and you might find it an enjoyable breeze. Just keep a look out for LaBeouf's name to marquee bigger projects in the near future, starting with the new Indiana Jones movie.

Knocked Up

Was I Good in Bed?

Writer-director Judd Apatow is probably best known for last year's sleeper hit comedy The 40 Year Old Virgin, where Steve Carrell played the titular character whose friends tried to get him laid. In Knocked Up, most of the familiar faces in Virgin returns for Apatow's latest offering, this time with Seth Rogen cast as one of the protagonists who has his hands full when he learns that he's going to be a father. But here's the catch - the pregnancy is totally unplanned, and was a result of a drunken one-night stand.

Knocked Up is fertile (pardon the pun) ground for comedy, and Apatow's script, while it doesn't have much slapstick, turns it on by having plenty of winning dialogue, as the film chronicles the entire 9 months of the pregnancy period. And at its core, it's a true blue romance movie, with some seriousness at the side as it takes a long hard look at modern relationships, and the challenges faced by the modern family. It's expectations versus sacrifice, and Apatow really nails it all in with aplomb. The entire film is witty and so spot on, it sometimes hurts when you see things happening on screen, happen so close to home.

Seth Rogen stars as Ben Stone, an unemployed man living off his insurance benefits for having been hit by a truck. He spends the day idling with his geek friends, who together, are setting up an Internet website which documents the exact moments when actresses appear nude in movies. Simply put, he's your undesirable plumb nerd who girls wouldn't want to go near. But opposites attract, and in a moment of brilliance, he manages to snog Alison Scott (Katherine Heigl), a beautiful executive for E! Entertainment, the It-girl with a bright future ahead of her, until their unprotected tryst. She seems to have this penchant for making love in her bra though...

So it's a tussle between the two who are poles apart, to try and learn more about each other, to see if they like each other enough to want to try and do something serious about their situation. To Alison, she's keeping the baby, and to Ben, he's in for the ride, if he can prove that he's serious about it. What I liked about the movie is the subtle reminder never to judge a book by its cover, that hey, geeks (rule) are just as fun to be with, despite their encyclopedia knowledge about totally random bits of trivia, and that they don't have model good looks.

But more importantly, as I mentioned, it takes a good hard look at modern relationships, and contrasts this perfectly by having Alison's married sister Debbie (Leslie Mann), sharing the spotlight as well, with Paul Rudd as Pete her husband. They seem like the perfect all-American family, but if you chip deeper into the psyche, you can see that all is not so well, and that is contributing to the fear factor our new couple are trying to grapple with. There was a particular incident in the movie which was a case of reel life mimicking real life, where a less than attractive, or non nubile lady tried to enter a hot club, and being rejected by the door. Looking at how it played in the movie, I guess it's pure business that hot girls get priority / VIP treatment to enter such clubs and enjoy other club benefits - the clubs need them to generate income, and in most cases, not likely to enjoy having unattractive people in their clubs - it's an image thing, not just because you have money means someone else doesn't. Image is something to upkeep, and reputation easily lost. But of course, it all played out in a rather comical way, in the show of course. Real life will have the person write scathing letters to the press.

Like The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up has its fair share of geek jokes, tons of movie references that movie fans can cheer about, and a number of uncredited cameos who just are a hoot to watch. And Ben's posse of geek buddies just about steal almost every scene they're in, despite being a little too predictable with their weed-smoking, free-loving, frequent-cursing ways.

Very rarely do comedies come with a lot of heart. Knocked Up balances fun and seriousness all too well, and as a result, with its feel good ending offering plenty of hope, makes this movie one of the best this year. Highly recommended!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

La Môme / La Vie En Rose

The Songstress

Of late, musical biographies make popular films especially when they dish out anecdotes on the various ups and downs in the lifestyles of the rich and famous, and especially so when the music they play and the songs they sing happen to be evergreen classics, or at least those which you've probably heard before at one point in time. In recent years, Walk the Line and Ray have also garnered popular film awards, and not to mention raised the profiles of the stars like Joaquin Phoenix and Jamie Foxx respectively who played the musical legends.

Unfortunately, La Vie En Rose was a little difficult to find a connection with, for shallow people like me. Edith Piaf was one of France's most famous singers, which no doubt counted towards the success of the movie when it premiered in France. But for the *ahem* younger generation that I belong to, the songs only sound remotely familiar. I'll be more in tune if you ask me about Alizee, but Edith Piaf, it's a different era altogether. However, that does not mean that the movie cannot be enjoyed, as it opens up your eyes (and ears) to a whole new musical world out there.

Played by Marion Cotillard, you might do a double take because gone is that va-va-vroom lover opposite Russell Crowe in A Good Year, and in place, a transformed figure as the legendary singer. The movie traces the life of Edith Piaf, as a young child abandoned by her parents to live in a brothel, to surviving in the streets performing with her dad, and to life as a singing busker until she's discovered, and makes the stage her world. And as we bear witness to her tumultuous life, Cotillard becomes surprisingly chameleon like, thanks to the wonderful makeup, and her nuance performance as a character who has her periodic mood swings, shooting insults off the cuff, while maintaining her feisty selfishness to have things go her way.

It's a biography that covered a wide spectrum, ambitiously wanting to cover all ground from her addiction to her career to her luckless in love romantic life, and at most times, seem scattered and all over the place. Characters get introduced and flit in and out of the narrative with nary a proper introduction, and those unfamiliar with her story, will find it a tad frustrating. Her brush with the Hollywood legends like Marlon Brando and Charlie Chaplin only gets mentioned in passing (no big name cameos here, unlike that which was found in Scorsese's The Aviator), and only Marlene Dietrich got a one minute screentime to whet what possibly could come (and not). The narrative structure too enhances your suffering by wanting to be unconventional and adopted the fractured timeline, but too much going backwards-forwards-sideways, sometimes opting to time stamp, while others tried feebly to fade in using artifacts, failed miserably. I believe that should it chose to be more conventional, and stuck to the boring chronological timeline in telling the story, it would have made even more fans for those unfamiliar with the legend.

However, one thing's for sure, the songs in those days are lovely, par none. No technical pyrotechnics to jazz up and disguise a weak singer voice so possessed by many wannabes these days, singers from the era have just the music, meaningful lyrics, a microphone and a powerful voice to please fans and win over new ones. For me however, I'll stick to Alizee, thank you very much.

For those who would like a primer of Edith Piaf before watching the movie, you can click on this Wikipedia link to find out more. Spoilers alert though as it details almost everything the movie covered as well, but my opinion is that for those who are unfamiliar with the legend, do yourself this favour and you might enjoy the movie a lot more as you can follow the major events through.

The Condemned

Involuntary Fight Club

At first glance, the storyline looks like a distant cousin to the Japanese movie Battle Royale. Instead of having sent unruly students to an island and see them finish off one another, The Condemned follows the same lines of having 10 death row prisoners from around the world being brought to an island, and given a simple rule to kill everyone else in order to earn their survival, and freedom. They are similarly rigged with an explosive device which if tampered, or if they choose not to participate, they too will be blown to bits.

But there's where the similarity stops. There's no PA system to tell the scattered involuntary participants just how many survivors there are (thus leading to a loophole), and there are multiple camera rigs installed on the island, for the purpose of entertainment. The Condemned plays on some of our intrinsic nature of wanting to watch gladiatorial styled violence, and given that such content will probably never get on the TV networks, the fairly sci-fi turned reality TV over IP concept gets its airtime here. What networks refuse to screen and produce, you can, given the right equipment and personnel, and plenty of computing power.

Pay-per-view IPTV using credit cards is the road to riches for the game producer Ian Breckel (Robert Mammone), who champions the thought of producing content that audiences around the world want to watch. His argument was that these handpicked participants are going to die anyway, and here, he's giving one of them the chance to live, a noble gesture to him. The Condemned mocks today's reality TV format, in that sometimes, the game can be manipulated to satisfy the producers' objectives, and we see that in abundance here.

Violence it seems is high on the agenda here - how much can an audience stomach, especially if say hypothetically, Big Brother type of series allow violence to be met out live, unedited and raw. Or are you going to play to those who pay, and give in to the demand? There's a constant argument being played out early in the movie about dignity and decency, but that gets forgotten fairly easily in a film like this one, falling victim to its own preachy statements.

Especially so when Sports Entertainment companies like WWE are involved in this one. WWE had its fair share of stars lending their "acting talent" to Hollywood, and I can go as far back as the late Andre the Giant lending his physical presence in The Princess Bride. Then you have Hulk Hogan in various forgettable flicks, The Rock in some charismatic roles (though some are as cheesy as that in Be Cool), and Kane in the horrid See No Evil. Here, Stone Cold Steve Austin plays the lead role of Jack Conrad, an inmate with an unspecified past, who becomes someone more than anyone had bargained for.

But the star unfortunately is not Austin, as much as he plays the anti-hero. Vinny Jones, as British prisoner Ewan McStarley, clearly stole his thunder, and injected more personality into his maniacal character. While the format of the game had the prisoners from different parts of the world to allow everyone a chance to root for their home players, it was at times ironic that USA had to battle UK so prominently in the movie, and that the "with me or against me" line just brings to mind the many scenarios as played out ever so often. It's ra-ra for the USA in an in-your-face fashion, with eye-for-an-eye violence dished out for avenging the weak and wounded, and the showing of compassion to those who needs it.

The make up of the team of players too is interesting on purpose, with female players up against male ones (and what happens is such an easy guess), and Survivor styled formation of alliances, outwitting, outlasting, outplaying all being key to survival, but the story, with so many characters, dictate that you cannot go beyond what is superficially shown. Of course the leads got a little more background to show for, but you find that these happen to be just cosmetics, unnecessarily inflating the screening duration.

The Condemned tried to be a little deep, but ended up tossing its attempts aside to settle for an all out action movie towards the end, and what I thought was bordering on the ridiculous at Austin's ability. For action junkies, the sequences here might be a little repetitive with its usual big explosions, and the extreme closeups of violence using the shaky handheld camera technique just irritates. If the premise still excites you after all the mentioned flaws, then The Condemned managed to appeal to you with its in-movie concept - I think you'll pay US$49.95 should there be a channel like this on the internet.

Black Sheep

Mutton Chops

I haven't the opportunity to follow many New Zealand movies, besides the recent memory of Sione's Wedding and In My Father's Den, both of which were of different genres, and mighty enjoyable. Written and directed by Jonathan King (who is also writing the Raintree produced movie The Tattooist), Black Sheep takes the well-established genre of zombie movies, and with its fusion of local flavour, presents its own worthy take in giving us the attack of the killer sheep.


It's a crazy idea, but heck, I admit it was sheer wicked and twisted fun watching the usually docile (and may I say dumb?) animals turn the tables on us humans, and start going on a berserk rampage to munch on our flesh. Watching them hunt in packs was surreal, and happens to be one of the nightmares of Henry Oldfield (Nathan Meister), who develops a phobia of our woolly friends after his brother Angus (Peter Feeney) played a cruel joke on him. The film fast forwards to the adult brothers, where the latter is planning to unveil his new "perfect" Oldfield sheep, and selling off the farm - why need the space when you can genetically engineer them?

Before you say, oh this is yet another movie which warns about the dangers and questions the ethics behind tinkering with genetics, you would probably think again when it made the environmental activists folks look like social outcasts, and totally bumbling, indirectly contributing to the zombie sheep phenomenon. I liked how the problem became two-pronged, in that the sheep became infected of course, and how its bite is now its worst weapon. And I'd bet you'll never look at another sheep, especially the baby ones, in the same light again, ha!

The plot's fairly straightforward to follow, with its villains (the scientists and of course, the raging sheep) and its heroes clearly spelt out - Henry, his farm hand Tucker (Tammy Davis), housekeeper Mrs Mac (Glenis Levestam), and an activist with an interest in Asian fengshui and zen sayings, called, check this out - Experience (Danielle Mason), who together actually form quite a lovable team whom you'll root for to get out of this mess.

With the animatronics and special effects done by Weta Workshop, you can expect some top notch gore, though I thought that despite it being a zombie flick, it lacked copious amounts of blood splatter. Chewing raw flesh may be stomach curling, especially when the details of such dastardly deeds are not spared, and the camera lingers. Transformational scenes were also fun yet eerie to watch, and if you think you've seen the best of these scenes from various werewolf movies, wait till you get a load from this one!

Black Sheep makes no apology to its violence, sexual innuendoes or toilet humour. In fact, it celebrates them, to tragic-comedic effect. However it knew how to rein itself in, and the farting-sheep-shagging jokes never goes into overdrive. The acts of violence too had a fair share left to the imagination, though I thought there probably was some scrimping in expected chase and attack sequences. If you're in for some light entertainment, then Black Sheep is probaaably your wicked choice for the week.

Friday, July 20, 2007


You Are Not Alone

Thai writer-directors Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom have shot to prominence in the horror genre with their debut movie Shutter, which I had regrettably missed its theatrical run here, but more than made up for it by being the proud owner of the (now autographed) DVD.

In my opinion, having mustered up enough courage to sit through horror movies now (and find them really enjoyable, at times comedic though), I've shuddered at some of this genre's movies which keep on harping on the same thing, and got dumbed down by weak execution. Some Thai horror movies too turned out rather horribly. But not Shutter, and definitely not Alone.

If you think Banjong and Parkpoom are one hit wonders with their debut movie, then Alone will prove you wrong. Despite having counted on the usual lighting and shadow techniques, quick cut surprises and scares, and the pristine, well-crafted sound effects, it demonstrated that as long as you deliver the product with great technical skill and respect for the medium, it'll still be as enjoyable as watching it all for the very first time. Having a storyline which engages helps as well, and here the duo still seemed to have a thing or two for old photographs, this time showing the subject material of siamese twins, although not as grotesque as those shown in the Alone trailers.

While the storyline isn't really that original, with the surviving siamese twin having to encounter the supernatural return of her deceased other, and if you look closely enough there are adequate hints of the revelatory twist to come, what mattered was how the subject again was being introduced and crafted, how tension and suspense were met out, and how easy it is to spook audiences when all the ingredients turn out right. Despite having some premise set up for the obvious, I was still taken aback at one of the scenes, and it is this constant sense of what's coming, and the expected delivery, which will easily make this a successful spook film for the mass audience.

The duo had got the male heartthrob Ananda Everingham lead in their previous movie, and now the opportunity is given to the female gender - the beautiful and very photogenic Masha Wattanapanich, who plays the siamese twins Pim and Ploy. Starring opposite them in a Natthaweeranuch Thongmee kinda role, is Vittaya Wasukraipaisan as Wee, Pim's boyfriend. As Pim's mother (Ratchanoo Bunchootwong) is suddenly taken ill back in Thailand, the duo have to leave their careers in Korea, and journey back to the homeland, where the unexpected starts to happen. Pim's encounters with who she presumes is Ploy led to Wee thinking that she needs psychiatric help, but slowly, he too gets drawn into the web of supernatural intrigue.

And in all earnestness, I'd say Masha had nailed her role to a fitting T. Given that Pim and Ploy's characters are key to the movie, she managed to bring out the vast differences in the character of the two sisters (of course the teenage actresses who played the younger versions also helped loads). In shedding light onto the ongoing mystery, the expected blast from the past recollection and flashback helped provide a certain richness to the entire backstory for all the characters, and in doing so, played on a common theme, one that at times I like to ponder upon - which I cannot elaborate further other than saying, is ignorance sometimes bliss, and can you live a lie?

Alone is excellent stuff, even though the horrific moments might come few and far between, and there possibly was a sub-genre shift in the last 10 minutes or so. Nonetheless its numerous strengths easily outweigh the minute weaknesses, and in having delivered a superbly crafted tried-and-tested story, this could easily be a hit at the box office. Recommended for all you people out there who are itching for a good scare!


On this day of the screening, it was quite uncanny, creepy even, to have experienced during lunch time, my order of stewed hard boiled egg having two egg yolks in them. As if that wasn't enough, just before I left for the screening venue, a large cricket was found clinging onto my shirt, which was just amazing as I have absolutely no idea how it got there in the first place - within a minute when I last looked, and in an urban environment too.

Anyway nothing untoward happened, the screening went on without a hitch, and the directors Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom were on hand for a brief discussion session with the audience. Too bad Marsha Wattanapanich wasn't around to grace the occasion.

Some points on what was discussed:

  • Unlike Shutter, there were no supernatural happenings on the set of Alone (watch the DVD extras of Shutter to find out what exactly

  • The directors were lucky to have Marsha on board as she was looking into making a movie comeback

  • I actually asked how they collaborate in the production, given that they're sharing the writer-director credit. And the usual reply (from the translator, which I thought was amazing given the few words that they said) explained that they collaborated a lot behind the scenes to iron out everything before filming began, thus they knew what results they were after.

  • This is a US$2.5 million production (no wonder it looked so good!)

  • The house featured was purpose-built

  • The CGI was done by the same team who did the effects in Black Hawk Down

  • No animals were harmed in the movie

  • The US remake of Shutter stars Rachael Taylor, who starred as the blonde hacker in Michael Bay's Transformers, and is due for a 2008 release

One for the Album

Thursday, July 19, 2007


Help Me, I'm Hot!

I'm a fan of the Torture Porn genre, not that I'm a sicko, but there was once a time when it had interesting twists, and deranged characters wielding their own brand of justice against society. There are the hills have eyes in which turistas and hitchhikers stay at hostels in Wolf Creek only to encounter some Saw Styled torture. The formula worked, but gets milked every so often, it now becomes so cliche and passe, that flicks like these pop out only to be ridiculed for trying to earn that quick and easy buck, all without paying attention to the development of a proper storyline, or to have at least some engaging characters.

To read my review of Captivity at, click on the logo below:

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

4th Singapore Short Cuts

Friends, in case you haven't realize, the 4th Singapore Short Cuts will soon be coming our way every Saturday afternoons, on the 11th, 18th, 25th of August and the 1st of September.

Co-presented by the National Museum of Singapore, The Substation and the Singapore Film Commission, get ready for another series of eclectic local short films, presented in similar fashion as the edition last year (you can read about them here, here and here), with the presence of the filmmakers (whose shorts are screened that particular week) to partake in a round of Q&A with the audience!

Click on the poster above for the dates, and you can check out the National Museum website for more details. Head on to, and go to What's On -> Cinematheque -> 4th Singapore Short Cuts for more details. Alternatively you can stay tuned to yours truly to bring to you the confirmed lineup and ticketing details once it's announced.

Oh yes, like the previous edition, the screenings are free! So don't be lazy, I'll see you at the Gallery Theatre soon enough!


Perfect Mimes

For starters, if I own a BMW, I'll make sure I have a baseball bat handy and near enough for that occasional road rage, and am sure as hell gonna bring it along with me if my car stalls and I need to journey into the night. And to remember never to bicker incessantly with my wife because she's always right, and everyone else deserves to have their heads bash in because otherwise, they'll snuff us.

Clocking in at a mere 80 minutes thereabout, Vacancy seemed like a decent thrill-a-minute ride, with Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale playing an estranged Fox couple, spending the first 20 of those precious minutes arguing for the most parts inside their BMW. They take their time to set themselves up for the fall, and in the process fail to heed the warning signs which you can learn all about in the movie Scream. The person who's helping you has ulterior motives usually designed to get you in harm's way, and everything that is too conveniently true, well, surely is.

You can't help but to feel that director Nimrod Antal (who directed the excellent Kontroll) was somewhat hampered by the formulaic script written by Mark L Smith. Instead of having the perpetrators stay one step ahead and in turn keeping our victims on their toes, what you experience is yourself predicting how the movie will turn out, every single step of the way, right down to pointing out where shadows will appear, and which scene will have that throwaway jump shot to elicit some cheap screams. Not surprisingly, nobody in the theatre I was watching this in felt any adrenaline rush, as they reeked of a sense of familiarity - you know who the villains are, you know what will happen to cops, and worse, Vacancy followed recent peer flicks like Wolf Creek and the likes to exhibit some girl power.

Perhaps the only scenes which will get your heart pumping, are the snuff films on display, albeit at times strategically cut away. Watching those aged films did bring on some pity at the least, that there are sickos out there who make these films for sheer pleasure and profit. And having realize that they are in dire straits, the Foxes begin figuring out in double quick time just how to survive the horrendous (in both sense of the word) night.

But it's not all hopeless though, if you haven't experienced much of the movies from the same genre, then you might find Vacancy entertaining. There was something I enjoyed watching though (no, it's not Beckinsale, who still looked stunning despite having to exhibit fear throughout), and that's the beautiful main and end titles. They're wonderfully designed, and they just work. Those who have a font fetish, will most likely go ga-ga over them.

Vacancy showed promise, but as you soon realize, it's nothing much other than a rehash of familiar plots and situations. Oh Beckinsale should go all vampirish on her hunters!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Invisible Target (Nan Er Ben Se)

Band of Angry Men

There's nothing invisible about the target in Benny Chan's latest movie Invisible Target. And in actuality, it seems that the constant target for everyone in the movie here, be they the bad guys or the good cops, are the plenty of glass lying around, getting smashed into smithereens by hurled projectiles, or more frequently, human bodies. See that nice looking glass window? It'll be smashed soon. Or that double panel glass facade? Yup, as soon as you notice it, the next scene will show it in a million bits on the floor with a writhing body. It could be aptly titled Glass Target.

But don't get me wrong. Invisible Target is still enjoyable, in that it brings to you the flavour of a typical Hong Kong action movie, with Benny Chan at the helm. As we slowly get nauseated by the frequent mole versus mole plots that Hong Kong crime thrillers formula usually adopted (no thanks to the success of you know what), I thought Invisible Target was reminiscent about an old John Woo movie Hard Boiled, except that it's minus the guns, and instead you get plenty of fisticuffs. A similarly long drawn out ending was a little too tedious to sit through, though it had its fair share of big bangs and segmented action sequences which tried hard to hold your attention. Teahouses remain perfect locales for fights to break out (as in Hard Boiled), and here, it serves as a male bonding moment for our three heroic cops Chan Chun (Nicholas Tse), Fong Yik-wei (Shawn Yue) and Jaycee Chan's Wai King-ho.

But in between the action, are the woefully painful monologues that the villain Tien Yeng-seng (Wu Jing) and his merry gang of 7 (which includes Andy On as brother Yeng-yee) dish out, trying to philosophize their actions as "I'm a villain so I kill", and about justice-injustice in the world. Wu Jing again never disappoints, as he has this charismatic aura around him which doesn't dissipate when he whups everyone's rear, hard! We've seen what he can do in SPL, now watch him do that with double the speed and intensity, and on thrice the number of victims. If anything, Invisible Target is a Wu Jing movie, and one in which I'm not surprised if many actually throw their weight of support behind him. It's a movie that the villain outshines the heroes easily.

With three distinct cops, Invisible Target actually spends a considerable amount of time introducing them one by one. Nicholas' Chan is always brooding, and a reckless one in that he's mourning the loss of his fiancee. He's out to get Tien because she happened to be collateral damage. Shawn's Fong is arrogant, until he's made to eat lead (in a scene you have to see to believe) by Tien, and his bruised ego says he must take the villain down. And Jacycee's Wai is probably the wimpiest of the lot, being a by-the-books street cop who's investigating the disappearance of his brother (do a double take on that cameo!), who might have fallen into Tien's hands. It's no doubt too that all of them are skilled in martial arts, and at any time would prefer to holster their weapons.

Nicholas and Shawn are no newcomers to action, having starred together in recent movies like Dragon Tiger Gate, and thank goodness they've ditched their long locks in that movie for contemporary shorter crop here. And while the two of them are relatively old hands in the industry, I can't help but wince each time Jaycee is on screen. For starters, he's the son of the legendary Jackie Chan, and in Invisible Target, I can't help picture it's a younger Jackie being beaten, battered and bruised. It didn't help that his character, the most naive and innocent of the lot, is in total contrast to the classic cop characters his father portrayed, and I surely think it was deliberate that he remains the least buff of the lot, with many goody-two-shoes scenes occasionally played out for comedy, or to reinforce that he's basically a cut above the rest of the good cops in terms of having a good natured character. Characters like his are hard to come by in an age where grittier cinematic cops roam the street.

So while big brothers Nicholas and Shawn get some fantastical set action pieces to show off their mettle, Jaycee got the shorter end of the stick by being quite a deadweight at times. Oh, and what of Elanne Kwong's role? Sadly there isn't too much for a pretty lass to do since her character Leung works in the Police Intelligence department, and doesn't get directly involved when the going gets tough. A typical flower vase role unfortunately, for a combined screen time of less than 5 minutes.

Pretty Lass Elanne Kwong, I Still Support You!

Despite its reliance on hard hitting action dished out by the actors themselves, and in all purpose are as realistic as they look with the obvious wire work seen in the trailers drastically reduced, a few noticeable continuity errors marred the enjoyment of the movie at times. Invisible Target had all the ingredients for a classic action movie, but the run time of more than 2 hours was due to an overindulgence with the slower moments which were fused with a couple of "I'm a cop" moments, and feel good messages rammed down your throat.

And what do you know, Invisible Target still can't shake off the mole versus mole type plotline, unfortunately. If it could have been a little more compact, and gotten to the point faster than it did, it would have been a tad more enjoyable, given the wealth of cameo/supporting talent at its disposal, like Sam Lee (Dog Bite Dog) and the evergreen Lam Suet, rather than feel the need to tie up all the loose subplots it introduced, and exposing some technical loopholes in some action sequences.

P.S. I attended the press junket for Invisible Target way back in March 21 this year as part of the HK Film Art. You can read about the proceedings of that junket by clicking on the logo below:

Sunday, July 15, 2007

[DVD] 300 (2007) (Exclusive Two Disc Limited Edition)

For a review of the movie 300 and without me repeating myself twice, you can click here.

This DVD review is based on the Warner Home Video Code 3 Exclusive 2 Disc Limited Edition (with Spartan Helmet). The actual DVD of course is the 2 Disc widescreen special edition which can be bought separately, and comes with a miniaturized 300 art book, which unfortunately is not included in this Limited Edition.

Disc 1 contains the movie. The visual transfer is nothing less than stunning, pristine and clear just as how I remembered watching the digital version of it on the big screen. Presented in Anamorphic Widescreen with its aspect ratio of 2.40:1 kept intact, relive the cinematic experience if you have your home theatre system set up. With the audio in Dolby Digital in the original English track, or the dubbed Thai one, you'll feel like having dropped right into the thick of the action in battle sequences.

Subtitles are available in English, Chinese, Bahasa Indonesia, Korean and Thai, with selectable menu options being in the same language. Scene selection is spread over 30 chapters, and for action junkies who just want to get straight to the battle scenes, then you'll want to go to Chapters 12, 14, 15, 18, 19, 20, 21 and 27.

The only irritating aspect is that the trailer for The Reaping will play once you select your menu language, but thankfully, it can be skipped and you can dive straight into the main menu.

Only the commentary is included in Disc 1, which is done by director Zack Synder (who turned out to be the more talkative of the lot), writer Kurt Johnstad and director of photography Larry Fong. The commentary comes in Chinese and Korean subtitles only, and somehow ends quite abruptly when the end titles start to roll. Keep the commentary on during your second viewing, especially when you want to learn little nuggets of production information, such as the Oracle scenes were shot in a small water tank, how the mock weapons actually work, or technical bits like the visual effects for Leonidas' "Crazy Horse" sequence, with its 3 simultaneous cameras shooting as close to one another at the same time to achieve the special zoom-in-out shots.

Otherwise, most of the commentary dwelled on which shots were CG-ed, or mechanical, or shot on set etc. Listening through it, you'll get to learn what's real and what's not, what's in addition and not in the graphic novel, which parts are historically based, which sets are real, and plenty of reminders on how small a soundstage they have to work on, despite its epic scale. Quite informative, but ultimately, strips off some of the fun and movie magic.

Disc 2 is the special features disc with approximately 95 minutes of extras. The most frequent message being played throughout, and by the time you get through it all, you'll understand, if you have not, that this is not a historical account of the epic battle, never was, but a stylized retelling based on Frank Miller's vision in his graphic novel. Disc 2 is in English, with subtitles available in Portuguese, Spanish, Chinese, Korean and Thai. Presentation of the various feature was inconsistent, some in anamorphic widescreen, some in letterbox.

The first featurette, presented in anamorphic widescreen, is The 300 - Fact or Fiction (24:35), which debates which is fictionalized, and which have been dramatically ramped up for the most parts, touching on the state of Greece at the time, being made of city states, of Persia, of the Spartan women, society and expectations of society in general. Interspersed with scenes from the movie, and interviews with Frank Miller (who revealed which parts were made up), director Zack Snyder and historians from whom we learn a lot more from their discussions.

Who were the Spartans?: The Warriors of 300 (4:24) was presented in the letterbox format, and talks about Spartan society and about the warrior profession, which revealed quite surprisingly how free and yet unfree their society is, with equality for their citizens, and yet condoning slavery, with 15 slaves for each citizen. A little pity that for the most parts, it repeated some of the discussion items from the earlier feature, and runs a little short here.

Frank Miller Tapes - Unfiltered Conversations with Frank & Friends (14:34) contained interviews with comic industry folks like Frank's mentor Neal Adams (the other mentor being the late legendary Will Eisner), and editors and publishers like Bob Schreck and Paul Levitz. It talked about Frank's early life and his experience on his mentorship under Neal and Will. Discussion on the convergence of mediums (graphic novel and film) was touched upon, as was how graphic novels are fertile ground for Hollywood storytelling and adaptations. Segment ended with Zack Snyder revealing quite coyly how he will approach Watchmen.

Making of 300 (5:50) was presented in letterbox format, and I thought that this segment would be at least 20-something minutes long, as is standard length for the usual making of documentaries. What I thought was interesting was how unpolished the entire production looked, without the CG enhanced effects, the blue and green screens all over, and the colours not touched up. The actors playing the 300 chosen Spartans spent 8 weeks in pure training, and their buffed bodies show, except that it's not as bronzed as the final product.

Making 300 in Images (3:39) was an interesting concept, a featurette which comprises of still photography images being jointed together to tell the entire making of. Doesn't add much value to the explanation of the production process, and most likely is included here as a vanity project.

The Deleted Scenes with Introduction by Director Zack Snyder (3:21) was presented in Letterbox format, with just woefully 3 of such scenes. Two of them involve the traitor Ephialtes, and the last one involved the Persian giants and the midget archers on top of them. Sadly though, each deleted scene was just too short, and you'll be disappointed with the last one especially if you're expecting some large scaled battle with them.

Lastly, the special features contained all the Webisodes which were made available from time to time during the production process. Presented in letterbox format, you're given the opportunity to play them all, or segment by segment. By the time you reach here though, you might find some of the material presented being repeated from elsewhere. Here, I shall break them down as per the presentation order on the DVD:

  • Production Design (3:50), which contains pretty amazing stuff on how a single rock set was able to be recycled and shot differently for different scenes.

  • Wardrobe (3:38), with a team of 60 costumers on hand to design all the intricate costumes, and for Leonidas alone, he has 17 helmets for various stages of the movie.

  • Stunt Work (4:07) which highlights the different fight styles incorporated for the 300 Spartans.

  • Lena Headey (1:45), an interview with the actress who plays Queen Gorgo.

  • Adapting The Graphic Novel (3:45)

  • Gerard Butler (4:05), an interview with the actor who plays King Leonidas, where he talks about his role and exclaims "it's a kick ass story".

  • Rodrigo Santoro (2:27), an interview with the actor who plays the Persian God-King Xerxes.

  • Training the Actors (2:31), for those who want to get those pectoral muscles, to get a lowdown on what the actors have to go through in terms of the grueling routine of gym, metabolic and lifting / throwing exercises.

  • Culture of the Sparta City State (2:10) which explains the war culture.

  • A Glimpse from the Set: Making 300 The Movie (3:25), which includes more of director Zack Snyder speaking about the movie.

  • Scene Studies from 300 (3:15) which specifically explains the consideration of the height differential between Xerxes and Leonidas, how that was handled, as well as how the wall of bodies were made to fall as realistically as it could.

  • Fantastic Characters of 300 (3:05), which was a detailed look at how some of the creatures and monsters, like Ephialtes, were designed and made up.

Final Word
I had expected a little more from the special features, given that they are on a separate disc, and listening through the commentary revealed a little more about some deleted scenes which were not included. Most of the Making Of features could have been extended a little, instead what you got were short teases of the entire process.

However, for action junkies who can't wait to relive some of the stylized action sequences, then pick up the DVD and you can zoom specifically into those without having the need to sit through all the verbal mumbo jumbo.
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