Sunday, November 30, 2008



Call it a case of deliberately engineered deja-vu, that I consciously decided to sit through this American remake of the recently screened Spanish horror film [REC]. Well of course the purpose is to discover if what's essentially the same story and technique employed, could get screwed up in a remake, given that Hollywood more often than not, lets down the original brilliance which they think they can replicate easily to translate to box office dollars.

So what's the verdict? If you've already watched [REC], then this one just simply pales in comparison, because of the need to be verbatim, and somehow the filmmakers here found it necessary to tell you every now and then, that there's actually someone behind the camera. Scott the cameraman (Steve Harris) appears quite often in front of the camera, well, and actually does so from the onset. Also, to up the body count quotient, new characters were included (although supporting ones), and unlike the original which had an opening scene dedicated to the fire station filled with more meat, here it drones on and on at how the assigned firemen are getting the hots for reporter Angela Vidal (Jennifer Carpenter).

The storyline's almost the same, save for a few more extra scenes included to jazz up the gore department, and to incorporate some additional action elements. Otherwise, there's plenty of overacting here by everyone, so much so that instead of rooting for the characters to get out of their predicament, you're more likely to find yourself wishing that they meet their demise soon enough. Such is the original essence lost, and with that, what primarily works in [REC].

Between the two Angela Vidals, I'd confess that Jennifer Carpenter can't hold a candle to Manuela Velasco. The latter's the sweet damsel you'll risk life and limb to save, whereas the former, well, you'd just wish that she shuts the hell up and stop barking orders. I guess the direction of John Erick Dowdle will have take responsibility for that not-too-subtle difference between the Vidals. And through this film I'd learnt to appreciate how the shaky-cam was used to great effect in [REC], and how easy it is to lapse into pitfalls as in Quarantine. Same storyline and plot development, same technique, relatively the same type of characters, but totally different outcomes in terms of how it engages the audience, because there were crucial moments where it failed to understand the need for restraint.

Sure you can't expect rocket science to be coming out of this film, but unfortunately it joins the pile of "remakes that don't make it". Word is [REC]2 is currently in production, so I'll be looking forward to that, and hoping that there won't be a Quarantine 2 to embarrass itself.

Zack and Miri Make a Porno

I Need Help

If I may sound like a prude, it's been a while since I laughed so hard and so loud at and with a comedy, given that most have been relatively lacklustre flicks of late. And it took a Kevin Smith one to do just that, with its unadulterated, no holds barred treatment of material where anything and everything goes, where there's no such thing as taboos to be avoided, and somehow, the more vulgar the merrier, as this is definitely one unapologetic movie. You have been warned.

Yes, some may laud this beast as a travesty, but let's face it, sex sells. While it may be a tad shameless to make a downright porn film, Kevin Smith has injected some of the usual quirks found in his filmography, as well as paying homage to his fan boy roots. You can tell this by the numerous moments where pop culture comes into reference, as well as quite a significant time spent on bastardization of Star Wars (entitled Star Whores) that the characters dwell upon, to great comic effect. If you are a fan of George Lucas' galactic series, you may take offense, but might still credit Smith for his wild imagination. If you're not a fan, you'll whoop for joy as you'll probably agree with how it got ripped to shreds. Either way, one wonders of course if this is indeed Smith's secret fantasy (with Princess Lay-Her *ahem*), but I digress.

While it took a while for Zack (Set Rogen) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks) to conceive the titular plan to save their sorry state of cash flow problems, this movie is not about making a porn film for the sake of. It may have touched upon some moments of truth that one might venture into this somewhat considered lucrative business, but ultimately at its core, it's still a straightforward romance that reared its cliched head (pardon the pun) in building up to the finale, and one that talks about friendship in general. It follows a typical zero to hero storyline for all the characters involved, and through making this film, they discover new found friendships that can withstand some hard knocks (well, considering you have to bear your privates for everyone else to see) together with finding some great camaraderie amongst them misfits, and taking centerstage is the underlying, unsaid romance between two house mates who deny their affections for each other for the longest time.

Seth Rogens may be famous for playing roles such as these, with his lucky stint opposite Katherine Heigel in Knocked Up, as well as various Judd Apatow films, so some might consider that he could play Zack with his eyes closed. Truth is, he does, and I guess it will take some time before he could get out of this stereotype. Hopefully, his Green Hornet project would take off properly, and for detractors, I guess you'll need to watch this film to see him sans his beard to be convinced that he just might pull it off. Elizabeth Banks had a lot more to do here of course in fleshing our Miri, since she is primarily the yes-no-flip-flop character who refuses to listen to her heart, and her dalliance with such indecisiveness, puts a strain in the friendship with Zack.

There are plenty of scenes here that earned merit, but I particularly liked the out of place one in the first third of the story, where a school reunion is to get us chummy and comfortable with both Zack and Miri's characters, but contains enough laughs here to leave you in stitches. Look out for Justin Long playing Brandon, and Brandon Routh (the latest Superman) being Long, in what would probably be amongst the best jokes in the film, with Routh being the punching bag for Long's really flamboyant character with a deep voice.

Like I said, it's funny and it's no holds barred, so go in with an open mind and an attitude to just laugh at everyone's funny antics (right down to poop jokes if you will), and you just may leave with a nice smile at the end of it. Oh yeah, remember to stay tuned when the end credits roll for a look into the aftermath of Zack and Miri's film production company!

The Secret Life of Bees

I'm All Grown Up Now

It's been two years since we last saw Dakota Fanning on the big screen here, in a film which was a adaptation of the literary classic Charlotte's Web. And what a career it had been for this child actress, now an adolescent, to have grown from scream queen (no thanks to her stint under Spielberg's War of the Worlds) to one controversial role in Hounddogs, which I doubt would make it to our shores here.

Based on a novel by Sue Monk Kidd and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, The Secret Life of Bees is one powerful drama above love and the looking for love, as well as running along the theme of forgiveness and reconciliation. It's easy to dismiss this as a chick flick because of its predominantly female cast, but that would be a mistake to make in making it an excuse to miss this film altogether. For all its worth, it's chock full of extremely well delivered performances from veterans such as Fanning herself, together with Queen Latifah, Jennifer Hudson (proving that she's no flash in the pan), Sophie Okonedo, Paul Bettany and even Alicia Keys!

Set in the time of Summer in 1964 Southern USA where the Civil Rights Act was just signed and in effect, the sentiments amongst the racist bigots still run high in a charged environment still hanging onto their old segregated ways. Fanning's Lily Owens carries the weight of her guilt buried deep in her subconscious from a tragic event that happened when she was four, and ten years later, after receiving the last straw of punishment from her abusive dad (Bettany), runs away with her caretaker Rosaleen (Hudson).

As if led by an invisible hand, they soon find themselves under the extreme goodwill of the Boatwright sisters, who earn a living through the cultivation of bees for honey, and a series of incidents that bring about some tying of loose ends, and the discovery that these strangers do tie back to Lily's own quest to finding out the truth about her mom, to debunk the lies as told by her father. And of course this allows opportunity for some serious girl power bonding between the characters as they find that they have a lot more in common, as well as the sharing and spreading of love through their ranks. And for those interested, there's also some National Geographic moments to tie in with its title.

The trump card that this movie has, is the excellent performances by the ensemble cast. Fanning leads the pack and gives a wonderful moving performance as the gangling Lily, who thinks that she's quite a jinx with plenty of bad karma to go around, bringing about unfortunate happenings to her hosts which provide the dramatic twists and turns to what would otherwise be a flat movie. Jennifer Hudson had much to do in the first act, though her character got quite muted by the time the trio of the Boatwright sisters August (Latifah), June (Keys) and Okonedo (May) come along. Queen Latifah brings about some serious gravitas in her role as the eldest with the largest heart, and you cannot deny her chemistry with Fanning. Keys on the other hand plays the sister the exact opposite of August, being aloof and starting off with intense suspicion as to the intent of their guests. And Okonedo's role could probably be the most unorthodox of the lot, a fragile soul who has her own wailing wall to deal with the harsh realities of life.

The Secret Life of Bees is well worth the admission ticket, and you'll be hard pressed not to be touched by the film, or moved by the themes it explores, especially when the third act comes by leading to quite a number of powerful revelations and a solid conclusion. Set against its intended backdrop, it's a reminder of tolerance, which the world lacks these days, and of course it's not always hammering in such heavy themes as it has its fair share of romance as well, and for what it's worth, Fanning has her first on-screen romance in this movie, and if I'm right, has her first on-screen kiss as well.

You might be surprised when I say this, but this film has won me over enough for it to be considered as a contender when I shortlist my list of ten top films of the year. Definitely recommended!

Saturday, November 29, 2008


Reaching Out

Yasmin Ahmad's Muallaf finally hits the screens, and it scores a number of firsts from her filmography thus far. For starters, it's a departure from the Orked storyline which the last three (or four if you count Rabun) had centered around, and quite amazingly, it's predominantly in the English language. Save for the return of Sharifah Amani in one of the lead roles, and supporting roles with Tan Mei Ling and even Ho Yuhang, we see new faces here, with leads Brian Yap and Sharifah Amani's real sister Sharifah Aleysha also in this film as her onscreen one.

But first let's get the “controversies” out of the way. I guess by now the issue of Sharifah Amani's hair would have died down, and frankly this was generally lost in the audience here, except of course for its impact and relevance to the story. The other one would be its title which may allude to something about religious conversion, but the movie is about anything but that, even though some may find it near impossible not to dwell upon the issue of religion that were kept at arms length here, taking into account the title and connotations to its meaning.

As I gradually find richness in the Chinese language (I confess I disliked it as a subject in school) I thought the Chinese title of 《改心》, which literally translates to a “change of heart” was a more accurate depiction of what the story would be about. As with the themes of Yasmin's films, it's about the human condition and humanity, and the Family never being far behind. With Sepet, we had Orked's and Jason's family being in the thick of the action, and this continues into Gubra alongside the stories of the families in the muezzin's kampung. With Mukhsin, the neighbour's and the titular character's broken home got the spotlight, and a sneak preview of Talentime and synopsis of Wasurenagusa reaffirm that Family continues to play an important part in “a yasmin ahmad film”.

In Muallaf, the sisters Rohani (Sharifah Amani) and Rohana (Sharifah Aleysha) epitomizes forgiveness and are a nuclear family of sorts. They're left to their own devices after escaping from their father (played by Dato' Razali Rahim) and their stepmother (singer Ning Baizurah with big hair), and live in a big haunted house by the grace of their deceased mother's friend. They meet Brian (Brian Yap) a schoolteacher who has his own traumatizing skeletons in his closet and what he perceives were mind games by his mom in Penang (played by Tan Mei Ling), and through his attraction to the peaceful loving ways of the sisters, form a friendship with them.

But of course there are moments which require some getting used to. The girls, in the director's own words, are weird, especially when Rohana begins to spout numbers and phrases, which to the character's own admission, she doesn't know what they actually mean and isn't aware that she gets on other people's nerves. So to some, the dialogue may be heavy or distant, unreal even, but it might just provide that spark of interest to go refer to some of the verses and quoted numbers, ranging from the Quran to the Bible and the Tao Te Ching, amongst others, to find out what they really mean, and in context whether they fit the scene.

Muallaf obviously centers on Brian, and Yasmin crafted quite a character here, with his stingy and calculative ways dictating how he leads life, and in summary the Chinese title more or less symbolizes the change that this person will undergo. Not religious of course (though some may disagree), but more significantly, changes to his attitude. Something which I believe most of us would have experienced from time to time, and even I am guilty of it, the treatment to our folks and the callousness in brushing them aside because we think they're naggy and getting in the way.

Unlike the films in the Orked Trilogy, I felt this one had a more uplifting finale full of hope. Those who have seen those films will likely understand what I mean. Instead of an ending that will move you to tears (at least I felt that way), like that in Sepet, Gubra (minus the end coda), and Mukhsin even, Muallaf concluded on a rather positive note that made me break out in a smile and cheer the protagonist on. Despite of course some scenes being a little choppy, and having things left open ended, and the sisters being devoid of screen time and stuck to quick resolutions instead.

It does seem like a serious film if not for Yasmin's signature sense of humour, and even then the laugh-out-loud moments got toned down a little in the limited moments where funny scenes do get injected. Look out too for Yeo Yann Yann as Cindy the bar girl, and Ho Yuhang as a private investigator continuing a dog joke, and in fact, I thought that Yuhang has some of the more colourful characters in Yasmin's film, from the neighbour in Rabun, to the repo-man in Mukhsin.

For those who have the preconceived notion that Yasmin's films only revolves around the Orked character, well this film has broken that mold, and looking at the lineup of her films including this one, they may be set in different countries, or may even feature some of her regular actors, but one thing's for sure - they come from the same storyteller's heart, with stories that capture the essence of human issues that you and I see, hear or probably experience personally from time to time, because that's this thing called life. Go watch Muallaf, need I say more?

Related Links
- Muallaf On Location Report.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Four Christmases


I can't help but to chuckle at how Brad (Vince Vaughn) and Kate (Reese Witherspoon) got busted on national television no less, for having everyone whom they have lied to, see exactly where they are - at the airport trying to get to their vacation destination rather than accepting the invitation from their families to spend the season's greetings with. After all, as far as Brad's mantra goes, you can't have families without "lies". Anyway it is a situation that I'm fairly familiar with, and his reaction when the television camera gets poked in his face, brought back the memory of my own busted moment many years back.

As the wafer thin story goes, here is a couple who have spent the last three years in their "honeymoon" period, where everything is fine and dandy, and they seem to be A-OK with their commitment-less agreement and enjoying life as it is with each other. But a fog-ruined holiday meant they have to spend their one-day delay in San Francisco, and play tote the politically correct line in visiting all their divorced parents - that makes it four pit stops to commemorate the festivities, and hence the title - and this led to various inevitable hilarious situations.

Such as revisiting the ghosts and skeletons hidden in the homes they each grew up in, and for the first time, for both Brad and Kate to really discover who they once were, and who they are now, warts and all, for the other party to see. In fact, the first two house visits did just that, in presenting their worst nightmares and their attempts to overcome them. Sounds cliche I know, but that's the gist you get from the entire movie, that it's nothing more than a generic holiday movie where things that can go awry, do.

Given that it's a compact under 90 minute film, you'd come to expect that the latter half of the visits suffered from haphazard editing in order to make a mad dash to the finale. And this tells from the way characters magically appear one moment, and disappear the next. Reese Whiterspoon just pales herself against the gigantic Vince Vaughn, and it's quite a curious case of what the filmmakers actually had in mind in casting a really tall Vaughn against a really short Witherspoon, that you can check out those heels she had to deck just to reach his erm, armpits. Vaughn definitely stole her thunder here (in what was reel reflecting real - you just got to love his rendition of Joseph) although some of the usual wisecracks did get toned down, and he seemed to be muted for the most parts, almost sleepwalking, instead of being able to run riot with the role. Perhaps the much publicized tiff with his co-star did take its toil after all?

Four Christmases doesn't offer any gifts to the audience, and you're likely to stay one step ahead of the characters all the time. Genuinely funny jokes are rare, and moments of contemplation on the greater good gets mentioned only fleetingly. It's still quite amazing though that the film managed to get on board as supporting characters, the likes of Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Jon Voight, Mary Steenburgen, Kristin Chenoweth, Tim McGraw (!) and even the director of Iron Man Jon Favreau! So it's enjoy the moment with the supporting characters (almost all of whom their characters seem a little sexed up), in what would be a rather plain film.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

What's Coming Up?

The Singapore film I rated as the best amongst the lot at this year's SIFF now has a regular theatrical screening at Sinema Old School! Granted that only one screening of 18 Grams of Love was available then, now there are multiple screenings for you to choose from. So there's no excuse not to experience what 136 people had that eventful night! Click on the flyer above for more details!

Also, writer-director of 18 Grams of Love, Han Yew Kwang, is running a contest on his blog right now, tying in with the upcoming theatrical screening. All you have to do of course is to write a love letter to your loved one. What do you stand to win? As far as Yew Kwang says, it will be a chance to read your winning love letter to your dearest in front of the movie audience. If you're shy, there's always me (*ahem*) you can count on to do it for you LOL since if all things turn out well, I'll be moderating the Q&A Session after the screening.


If you need extra motivation, take a look here: where Yew Kwang himself has posted his very first love letter on his blog.

So what are you waiting for? Get cracking!
P.S. If you need help, drop me an email and I'll craft you what I think is the mushiest love letter ever, guaranteed to raise your loved one's goosebumps. The fine print says results may vary of course :-)

Next, Bruce Lee fans take note! The Picturehouse is screening FOUR - no Big Boss :( - of his famous hit movies, where you can see him take on a dojo full of karateka in Fists of Fury, kick Chuck Norris' arse in The Way of the Dragon in Rome, battle Shek Kin in the infamous Hall of Mirrors in Enter The Dragon, and of course, the bit role of his in the unfortunate Death Game where he battles various exponents en route to the top of a pagoda. You can hit this link for details and for starters, I surely would like to see his movies again on the big screen. Ticketing is a little pricey, though it comes with a goodie bag.

However, the key question I will want to find out is, DVD or 35mm? If it's the former, my opinion is that it just might not be worth it. Stay tuned!

The Substation is organizing a one-off screening called Four Short Films by Woo Ming Jin, who is an acclaimed director from Malaysia. For those interested, here are the details:

The Substation Moving Images presents:
Four Short Films by Woo Ming Jin
20th Dec Saturday, 5pm
The Substation Theatre
Tickets at $6/4 (concession for students, NSFs, SFS members)
Available at The Substation box office
*Includes post-screening Q&A with writer/director Woo Ming Jin

Film Programme

1. BLUE ROOF / 13min / 2007 / PG
Albert, a security guard in an apartment complex, is a middle aged man who walks with a limp, and is obsessed with collecting news articles on car accidents. Each morning, during his rounds, he goes up to the rooftop, and contemplates suicide. Will he ever jump?

Festivals & Awards: Rotterdam International Film Festival 2008, 12th Pusan International Film Festival 2007

2. CATCHING THE SEA / 13min / 2005 / PG
Catching the Sea is a short film about the lives of several people in a village after a mysterious disease strikes and kills their loved ones. Set in a dilapidating fishing island, the film is about reconciling death and moving on with life.

3. LOVE FOR DOGS / 24min / 2003 / PG
Love for Dogs tells two parallel stories; A construction worker returns to his hometown and tries to reconnect with his daughter after abandoning his family to work in Cambodia. The second story follows Lily, an overweight girl living with her aunt and dealing with the absence of her immediate family.

Festivals & Awards: Bangkok Short Film Festival (Special Mention Award), Digital MOV Festival 2005, Manila (Best Asian Short Film), Rotterdam International Film Festival 2005, Hong Kong Asian Film Festival 2004, New York Asian American International Film Festival 2004, New Talents, Young Cinema Film Festival, Taiwan

It is Possible Your Heart Cannot Be Broken is a short film about the innocence and disintegration of love. It tells the story between two people, Apple and Ah Tat, told in two different perspectives. Ah Tat, a dreamy simpleton romantic meets the jaded but equally insecure Apple. Can these two people - obviously completely different yet yearning for the same thing- sustain their relationship?

“This is a big city, but sometimes it’s the loneliest place.”

Festivals & Awards: Rotterdam International Film Festival 2006, Los Angeles Asia Pacific Film Festival 2006, Singapore International Film Festival 2006, Hawaii International Film Festival 2006


The last short should be interesting, as it stars fellow indie filmmakers Tan Chui Mui and Liew Seng Tat!

Director’s Statement:

My films have focused on nature and its relationship with humanity. I have always been fascinated by the “beauty of ruins”. Nature is an element that man must live with, and that is something that plays out in my films. In these films, the characters struggle to reconcile their broken lives with their surroundings. Each character is flawed, and none of them has a solution to fix themselves.

Each film is framed and lit the way I intended, and in some ways, they reflect my thoughts and views of the world.

These four shorts best represent my work as an artist. The stories are small and intimate, but they are also powerful and poignant. They are also funny.

About Woo Ming Jin (Writer/Director)

Ipoh born Malaysian filmmaker, Woo Ming Jin, is an award-winning filmmaker who studied film and television at the San Diego State University after receiving a scholarship in 1999.

His feature film debut, Monday Morning Glory, premiered at the San Francisco International Film Festival, and was invited to the Berlin International Film Festival, the first Malaysian film selected in the last 10 years. It was also selected to the Pusan International Film Festival, Tokyo International Film Festival, and Locarno International Film Festival, among others.

His second feature film, The Elephant and the Sea, has five awards and has been selected to screen in more than 30 film festivals worldwide, including the Rotterdam, Los Angeles, Seattle, Hong Kong, Vancouver, Torino, and Karlovy Vary Film Festivals.

This year Ming Jin received a script grant from the Pusan Film Festival for his next feature, Woman on Fire Looks for Water.

Looks like it's gonna be a busy run up to the end of 2008!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

City of Ember

What Does The Box Say?

This film is strictly for kids. Not pimply teenagers though, but children whose parents will take comfort in knowing that this film is thoroughly family friendly fare, with nary a swear word, tame action sequences, no embarrassing physical romance they got to cook up an explanation for, and an inspiring theme that has to do with hope and working hard to achieve one's goals.

Based on the book by Jeanne Duprau, one can find plenty of parallels with the setting of the story, where a group of inhabitants get to live in an artificial colony because of the sins of the fathers (well, the human predecessors who find that their rape and plunder of the Earth have finally taken its toil), and find themselves living underground in an aptly dark world, lit by plenty of light bulbs powered by an aging generator. Stories like these are staple in Japanese manga/anime, and the recent one that I've watched was Freedom, but that involved the moon. Or think The Matrix even, but for kids and minus the kung-fu inspired fight scenes.

So the story goes that Lina Mayfleet (Saoirse Ronan, the kid from Atonement) has in her family's possession, an important piece of instruction leading to the salvation and exit of everyone from the city of Ember, given that it's been hundreds of years already and the infrastructure is crumbling. But that is if she knows that she has that information in the first place, and what exactly to do with it. So it's up to her and best friend Doon Harrow (Hary Treadaway) to figure things out, unravel the conspiracy involving their mayor Cole (Bill Murray, who's seriously in some need to snap out of sleepwalking in this role), and of course, make their way toward the clear blue skies of the surface.

But in the meantime, you can't help but to feel a little short-changed with how the story develops, or there lackof. Here's a world that's artificially built both in the story, and as well as for the film, and little time is devoted to delving into a more detailed exploration of this strange new world where people live in an environment devoid of the sun. They grow their food in greenhouses, and have in their societal system, a structure of deciding what their career path for life will be from a young age. Modern technology like the cellphone is gone, and replacing it is the good old human messenger system relying on fleet of foot, and accuracy of transmission, all for 20 coins per message.

All you get however are just very wafer thin highlights of this strange world, complete with strange creatures or their body parts, that I suspect if not for a relatively modest budget we'll see more of. At times too you do feel that scenes don't really gel and flow seamlessly from point to point, most likely getting trimmed to achieve a relatively palatable run time of just over 90 minutes. And you can tell from the modest budget too that the special effects did suffer a little in having them presented in raw terms in a major sequence involving a boat gushing down a mighty cavern river.

While there's nothing much to shout about on the performances of the two leads, the film tried to up its star factor having minute supporting roles for Tim Robbins, as well as Martin Landau, an aged pipeworks technician, who will undoubtedly get the most laughs out of his penchant to strictly stick to his job, and nothing more or less. I suppose everyone can identify with this aspect in their own working life from time to time, except perhaps for the fact that his Sul takes pride in thoroughly doing a fine job if it's something under his scope.

City of Ember is a very straight forward film with few bells and whistles to complicate matters. Coming from Walden Media, it's an extremely safe film to bring the whole family to, and kids will undoubtedly get a kick out of this action-adventure aimed squarely at them in the name of wholesome entertainment, and it succeeds on this aspect.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Happiness Is...

... falling in love with and getting to know an excellent song used in a vair nice movie, and with all due respect, it's not the film in this clip I'm referring to :-)

O RE PIYA (Rahat Fateh Ali Khan)

o re piyaa haaye o re piyaa...
(O beloved...)

uRne lagaa kyon man baawlaa re
(Oh, why did my crazy soul begin to fly?)
aayaa kahaa.n se yah ho.nslaa re
(Oh, where did this courage come from?)
o re piyaa o re piyaa haaye
(O beloved...)

taanaa-baanaa taanaa-baanaa buntii hawaa haaye buntii hawaa
(The breeze teases and taunts me, oh, the breeze plays havoc with me.)
buu.nde.n bhii to aaye nahii.n baaz yahaa.n
(Even the raindrops won't shower here again.)
saazish me.n shaamil saaraa jahaa.n hai
(The whole world is part of the intrigue.)
har zarre zarre ki yah intezaar hai
(I never stop waiting.)

o re piyaa
(O beloved!)
o re piyaa haaye o re piyaa haaye
(O beloved...)
o re piyaa
(O beloved!)

nazare.n bole.n duniyaa bole
(The glances are telling, the world is telling)
dil kii zabaan haaye dil kii zabaan
(the story of my heart, oh, the story of my heart.)
ishq maa.nge ishq chaahe koii tuufaan
(Love prays, love wishes for a hurricane.)
chalnaa aahiste ishq nayaa hai
(A new love slowly walks in.)
pahalaa yah waadaa ham ne kiyaa hai
(This is the first promise we gave.)

o re piyaa haaye o re piyaa haaye
(O beloved...)
o re piyaa piyaa
(O beloved, beloved.)
yah piyaa
(This beloved.)

na.nge pairo.n pe a.ngaro.n chaltii rahii haaye chaltii rahii
(You were stepping on burning charcoal barefoot, oh, you kept walking.)
lagtaa hai ke gairo.n me.n me.n paltii rahii haaye
(Oh, it seems that you were brought up among strangers.)
le chal wahaa.n jo mulk teraa hai
(Take me to your country.)
zaahil zamaanaa dushman meraa hai haaye
(Oh, the cruel world is my enemy.)

o re piyaa haaye o re piyaa haaye...
(O beloved...)

For Your Consideration


Sunday, November 23, 2008

[Anime Festival Asia 2008] Day Two

Anime Festival Asia 2008 concludes today, and the crowd just swelled because I guess you could find the latest bargains by this evening (noticed some toys at slashed prices), as well as coming to support the Cosplayers in their battle to gain supremacy on stage. Not to mention the appearances of Aniki Ichirou Mizuki, Studio 4C founder Koji Morimoto, as well as culminating in a concert performance by May'N, which is her first outside of Japan. Anime fans won't miss it for the world!

Waiting for May'N's appearance

But before that, here's a snapshot of what transpired, which was a lot more than what I was interested in of course:

Cosplayers Seen
Any anime festival will be incomplete without its fair share of Cosplayers walking its grounds. Given the plenty of open space within the halls, it was easy peasy for the Cosplayers to find room to get into character, and the plenty of fans finding glee in identifying with their heroes, take pictures, and of course, to strike a pose with them.

Does He Bite?

Think This One's Safer

Plenty of Death Around

Told You So

You can view more from the slideshow here:

COSPLAY Mania Competition
The highlight of the day, with throngs of supporters gathering around the stage area to cheer their favourites. And for the uninitiated (like myself), this event involves a lot more than just looking the part. You have to act the part out in short skits too, and be judged on that performance and the quality of the skit too. But looking at the way it goes, it's little wonder that those which draw the loudest laughter, walked away as winners. And while some were plain cheesy and fun, there were others which was a little schizophrenic, and I wondered if they'd had caught themselves in a genre warp as well, with a couple of teams belting out or dancing to quite-out-of-place pop songs? Lip synching is perfectly OK too! Hmm... take a look for yourself, and see which ones turn out to be your favourite!

Here's some pictures and videos of EVERY competitive group performance:

Team 1

I can't quite make out this trio's act, but of course that's not stopping them from prancing around the stage...

Team 2

Watch out for that illusion! Team 2 has up the ante with that trick in its skit performance. And what's with Pizza Hut?!

Team 3

Everyone loves Ultraman, and having do battle with a monster that had shown its ruthless streak by stomping on helpless cardboard buildings? Priceless! The concept's there, but I thought that the folks should have really worked on their choreography (like Team 8's) which will really blow the house down, if not only for its cheesy antics!

Team 4

For mouthing off the names of a few companies, I hope they really get reimbursed, since those statements really stood out (like a sore thumb variety) to mar their skit performance. Showing off the latest toys may have helped to reinforced the notion that they are Cosplayers with deep pockets though.

Team 5

While this group boasted a robot, its performance was somewhat very limited to a lip synch singing, and nothing much to showcase actually. Have a look:

But I guess what made everyone take note, is how this dude manage to turn Murphy's Law into an advantage, by hamming it up for the audience. Little things like these to engage the crowd, go a long way really! *V* as it's very easy to get all riled up when things don't go your way and your creation begins to unravel itself in front of hundreds!

Take a look!

Team 6

Errr... too many songs, and Disney's??

Team 7

I thought this duo had the most gorgeous and intricately designed costumes of the lot, and an OK performance tool. In case you do not know, they are both females, and the crowd just go wild when they start to get closer and closer to embrace...

Team 8

Seriously these guys can't wait to whup each other's ass to kingdom come, and they actually stayed in character all the way until after the interview segment at the end of their performance. Should have thought Team 3 a thing or two about fight choreography!

Team 9

I'd like to tell Team 9 that it's a job well done, but seriously, more variety would make it stand a better chance against the rest, other than repeated song and dance routines.

So who emerged the winners? There were personal favorites of Aniki Ichirou Mizuki, and those were awarded special prizes from the man himself!

For starters, he liked the robot from Team 5, which unfortunately was a little bit broken, and despite Aniki's goading to come on stage, the big dude just couldn't!

And the monster from Team 3 also took home an award for his kawaii antics - I guess the stomping of model houses was too much of a hoot not to award this dude something! And you can see that Aniki really likes this monster's costume design, and also the cherubic face of its wearer beneath its mask!

One for the Album

And the winning ensemble for the COSPLAY Mania came from Team 2, and I guess their mini magic show won the judges over for its ingenuity in the skit. Can't allow them to go empty handed, could you?

All in all, excellent effort to all the participants in bringing their favourite anime characters to life, and entertaining the crowd at the same time. It takes a lot of work to make those costumes, think of some skits, and a whole lot of courage to perform it in front of a live audience!

The Participants!

Ichirou Mizuki aka Aniki Performs 3 Songs For The Crowd!
For fans of Aniki, besides presiding as judge for the Cosplay Mania competition, he also belted out 1+2 songs (I guess given the positive reaction of all the fans present), and the crowd just went wild!

Genius Party Beyond and Koji Morimoto Appearance

Founder of Studio 4°C, Koji Morimoto was present to showcase his very own Dimension Bomb segment from the Genius Party Beyond omnibus, as well as to partake in a short Q&A after the screening. It was something that almost never happened given the shortage of time (The Cosplay Mania event overran the schedule), but the collective jeers of the fanboys made it known to the organizers that they would have none of that, and so everyone did manage to catch Dimension Bomb after all!

No, I don't have clips of the short, although there were a number of cellphone users out there who were recording the entire film. What gives? But anyhow, Dimension Bomb was classic Morimoto, and even though it came without subtitles, the animation itself spoke volumes, and you can't help but to gawk at its quality. I'm already more than psyched to watch Genius Party Beyond, though I suspect we might have to wait if any local festival would pick it up for mass screening here. Watching it on a dinghy television set, does the movie (and this short) no justice.

Speaking through an interpreter during the Q&A session, Morimoto-san shared that the inspiration for Dimension Bomb came from a drawing, which was a set piece that he did, and revealed that he gets inspired by music a lot, whereby he will usually match what he sees on the streets, to the music currently playing in his iPod. The first version of Dimension Bomb was conceived as a music video. When asked what reactions he would expect from an audience after watching this short, he believed that we should not limit our imagination, and through animation, we are able to suspend logic. He drew an analogy just like how a group of people were to touch an elephant in the dark, with each touching a different part, everyone would have different feedback and reactions to his film.

He also explained about the concept of zero-gravity motifs in his works, which was akin to the sense of futile helplessness in fighting against an established system. When asked about the themes of time and dimension, he talked about how he wanted to explicitly represent time and movement in the sense that we're living on a moving planet, and yet we don't feel its movement, and of dimension, that perhaps, without any religious connotations, that there may be someone else in a different space who are controlling our lives here.

And to wrap up, while he was coy about sharing more details about his upcoming works, he did reveal that it would be a story set some 3000 years in the future, which is about daily life on earth. And if he were to make an anime set in Singapore, he would take advantage of our unique race and cultural mix to dwell upon the theme of communication. Needless to say all the local fans went wild and hoped that sometime in the future, that this would somehow come true. Or perhaps, in another dimension!

Educational Industry Seminar with Marimi Sakurai, Studio 4°C
Left: Translator, Right: Marimi Sakurai

Marimi Sakurai is currently a Project Manager with Studio 4°C, and in this afternoon's seminar, she had showcased a slew of Studio 4°C's past, present and future projects, and talked a bit on the anime industry and Studio 4°C in general. Did you know that 80% of the anime studios located in Japan are in the Kanto/Tokyo area? At any one time, Studio 4°C typically has about 50-60 staff members in 3 departments - Production, CG and Drawing. And I guess everyone would know by now about its diverse styles adopted in its projects.

With each new project, the director will work with the main staff of the Studio, and build up a team from there. Depending on the project size, sometimes the headcount would increase to some 80-100 staff in total. Usually, their new projects would generate some buzz in the community, and people would get interested to work on them, hopping on board the team. Originally, Studio 4°C had started off with a group of 5, and gradually after projects, there would be those who decide that Studio 4°C would be the place they want to further their careers. She also revealed the "genetic makeup" of the animators in the company, who are mostly in their early 30s i a young company, and they do hire fresh graduates as well.

To survive and work in the anime industry, she highlighted 3 key traits that one should preferably possess - 1. the love for animation, since you're going to spend long hours on it, 2. good personal discipline especially in time management, and 3. communication skills with others as teamwork is crucial in understand what your team, and the director, want.

Speaking through an interpreter, she jokingly shared that as a studio, they have no sense of doing business! This was in response to a question about how they managed to find balance between doing animation work for others, and doing the same for their own. She explained that the studio only knows that they want to do the best in their work, even though without budget at times, and to push their constraints to the extreme, and that's why perhaps they have so far remained small.

When asked about whether it was difficult in managing the output of rookies versus an experienced animator's, she explained that it was easy to get new blood to come on board and learn, and it takes about 3 months before the fresh animator will be able to work independently on a commercial project.

And I thought she signed off with a peculiar remark, which was true nonetheless, that Animation is timeless and one can go to any work without restriction. The sky's truly the limit (or for mecha fans, that ceiling would of course extend to outer space)!

May'N Concert

May'N's concert wrapped up what was two days of festivities, and too bad since the event is a no-photography/videography one, you won't find any pictures or videos of May'N's performance. But of course I can't vouch for the other blogs out there...

All in all, I thought Anime Festival Asia was a tremendous effort that was pulled off, and looking at the happy faces everywhere around me, I believe it was staged to success, especially when you have some of the big guns of the industry in town and participating in activities these two days in every capacity from seminars, talk shows, games and all things anime. If there's a second edition next year, you can bet I'd surely would very much like to pay a visit again!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Cape No. 7 (Hai Jiao Qi Hao / 海角七號)

We Did What?

Based on the skimming of the synopsis alone, I thought Cape No. 7 bore some resemblance to an upcoming Japanese film The Shonen Merikensack which was featured in the recent Tokyo International Film Festival. Well, at least the characters have to come together to form a band, and are managed by a lady. And that this film had Japanese elements in it too. But this is a Taiwanese movie, and its success back at home, being its #1 film of all time, has undoubtedly raised the curiosity level as to what actually made this movie tick, so much so as to garner numerous nominations in this year's Golden Horse awards.

Being Taiwan's submission to next year's Academy Awards to compete in the Foreign-Language category, this film got no love by the distributors/censors here as it was deemed that the PG rating, with 2 badly butchered cuts for coarse language, overruled the NC16 version. Granted they would want this to be accessible by most, it was nonetheless badly edited, and the cuts were quite jarring to say the least. Though the word "kan" (F-word equivalent) was uttered loudly, it seemed to be OK and passed with no issues. Yes, it's in local dialect, and even for me, the Hokkien language used was unfamiliar, and I had to rely on the subtitles to understand the meaning of what was said by various characters from time to time.

There are two stories here in Cape No. 7. One involves a case of forbidden love between a Japanese man and a Taiwanese woman, and his forced separation to return to Japan. On the sea journey, he confesses his love through 7 letters (hence the title) which he never found the courage to deliver them, and had them locked away, both the letters, and emotionally his heart. It was until his demise that his daughter discovered the truth, and decided to mail them back to the known address, which of course since WWII, no longer exists.

So the letters get into the hands of main protagonist Aga (Van Fan), who was a rock band singer in Taipei who failed to make good, and returned to his village of Hangchun to become a part time postman. Not knowing where to send those letters to, he eventually brings them back (with stacks of other letters due to his nonchalant work attitude), and got to read the big romantic story contained within. Meanwhile, he has to juggle with a band put together by the Mayor/Representative of the town, as well as Tomoko (Tanaka Chie) who is the local coordinator for a big Japanese singer coming to Hengchun, and the motley band is to be the opening act.

I didn't find much to celebrate in the romantic story as told from within those letters, ala The Notebook style. For some reason it failed to move me, and I can't see past the cliches within, though it got framed from within very luscious cinematography. However, it served as an ample backdrop on which to evaluate the relationship between Van and Tomoko, now being a Taiwanese man and a Japanese woman, the former a struggling musician, while the latter, after her Taiwan stint, has a cushy job waiting for her back in Japan. Given that they started off as loggerheads and slowly developing a liking for each other, it doesn't take rocket science to figure out what will happen eventually.

But the crux of the movie rested on the shoulders of a typical Japanese Zero-To-Hero formula, and here we have a bunch of misfits who can't play together, being forced to team up. Each comes with emotional baggage and plenty of background pathos, and here's where the strength of the movie resided in, as written and directed by Wei Te-Sheng, They are all likable characters, even though they are, like everyone else, flawed to begin with, which makes them easy to identify, and sympathize with.

We have the drummer Frog (Ying Wei-min) who is a mechanic, and harbours an unrequited love for his boss' buxomy wife, Rauma (Min-Hsiung) an ex-SWAT Taipei cop now being demoted to a traffic cop in a small town because of his ill-temper, Malasun (Ma Nien-hsien) who started off as a street smart rice wine salesman before being recruited as bassist, a ten year old keyboardist in Dada (Joanne) who has been kicked out from providing her service in church because of her failure to conform to playing for a (boring) congregation, and last but not least, an elderly "Gem" of the town Old Mao (Johnny Lin) who struggles to keep up with the rest, and having to insist that he gets to play a part in their performance. In fact, Johnny Lin steals almost every scene with his fast talking uncouth mouth, that you just wait look forward to each of his screen appearances, and anticipate with glee when the punchline will be delivered.

It's a slice of life of a small Taiwanese town where everyone almost knows everyone else, and you can see how certain dynamics between the private and public sector comes into play. In its human story, the themes of love and cooperation, respect and understanding all come into play and get expressed, and it is unlikely anyone will not get swayed by the sincerity and small town charm it exudes throughout. And as for building up to the final act, it's something that doesn't disappoint, or find a need to summarize or opting for a cop out. It delivered where it mattered, and finished off very strongly.

Cape No. 7 earns a "recommended" tag from me, and it's as feel good as you can get about a film and its wonderful themes. It's no wonder already why and how this film would make Taiwan, and of course the town of Hengchun, a tourist attraction already.

[Anime Festival Asia 2008] Day One

Naturally there was a lot of ground to cover despite occupying just two halls, but the activities for the entire day ran non-stop, with every corner of the halls having something that will appeal to you, from previews to games at the main stage, to conferences at the seminar room, and plenty of toys laid out in showcases that will induce you to make a beeline for the numerous shops selling the latest pop culture anime figurines.

Looking at the bags of merchandize that attendees lugged around, who said we're in recession?

Studio 4°C
Studio 4°C had a booth in this year's Anime Festival Asia to showcase two of their projects - Genius Party, and the new Genius Party Beyond. Needless to say their booth was decorated with plenty of stills from both movies...


... with Koji Morimoto's own Dimension Bomb from Genius Party Beyond having a preview screening tomorrow!

You can read my review of Genius Party here.

Sky Crawlers
Having watched Sky crawlers a few days back, I can't resist the opportunity to check out what the organizers had in stored for a booth dedicated to the movies. Inside, you can find panels on character bios, film synopsis, a television showcasing some clips and recorded interviews with director Mamoru Oshii...

but of course the jewel here is the showcase containing models of the fighter plans featured in the film:

No price lists however, though if there was and if it's affordable, I'll likely get myself this baby:

You can read my review of Sky Crawlers here.

What's On Display
There were showcases and more showcases, from classic characters like Doraemon, to Gundam, and even Western heroes from Marvel and DC were included as well. It was a field day trying to gawk and admire the countless of intricately designed Gundam models, and some of which are award winning ones to boot.

In Battle

Limited Editions

Ambassador Doraemon

Mickey With Rabies!!! :-O

See You In A Movie Soon

Death Note

The Dark Knight

You can view more pictures from the slideshow here:

Opening Ceremony
The Japanese Ambassador himself was present to grace the occasion and to officiate the opening ceremony to the first ever Anime Festival Asia.

Opening Ceremony

Then "Aniki" (big bro) Ichirou Mizuki popped on stage to deliver one of his signature tunes (from thousands that he has done throughout his career). You can't help but to feel the energy he delivers from his anime songs, and undoubtedly, all the fanboys went wild! Need proof? See the clip below:

Ichirou "Aniki" Mizuki Special Appearance at Opening Ceremony

5 Second Man
Trust the Japanese to come up with yet another idea that's so simple, but yet able to sustain a creation of a new toy at that. Adopted from a typical stopwatch, the goal here is to see who can achieve the closest time to "5 seconds" as possible. In fact it really looks like an over-glorified stopwatch where one presses a button, and then count in your heart up to what you deem as 5 seconds, then press the button to stop. Winner is the one who gets it closest.
And Thus A Hero In Tights Is Created

Yes, the Cosplayers are out in full force today as there's actually a competition running during the festival. My dress-up days are over anyway, so I didn't really bat an eyelid at the many characters roaming around the halls, until I stepped outside, and saw this very impressive effort. I guess you don't get to see how one would want to dress up as a huge robot, and a Gundam one in fact!

Which Came First?

Need Height

Hope My Bladder Holds

Rear Plates Up

Weapons At The Hip

The Helmet

All Your Cosplay Are Belong To Gundam!

Check out the Video below, a definite crowd favourite! And it took no less than 30 minutes to get all the parts together!

This is without a doubt, hands down a champion already! Guess we'll only know when the official results are out tomorrow!

Anime Festival Asia 2008 ticketing details can be found here and tomorrow is the last day, so head on down to Suntec City Convention Centre!
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