Wednesday, March 30, 2011

KINKS The Movie Contest!

Juliane Block, German, and Virginia Kennedy, Australian, both based in Asia, will soon have their new film KINKS shown in Singapore's Sinema Old School in July. KINKS is a feature mockumentary shot in Malaysia, trying to take the piss out of reality TV shows and racism. Check out the Trailer here:

As a run up to the screening, the filmmakers are running a Contest off its official movie webpage and runs from now until 30th April 2011. The winner will be announced no later than 15th May 2011, and will be paid either via bank transfer or cheque if he/she comes from Malaysia, or transferred via Paypal if you're from the rest of the world.

You can click here to see what you need to do to win RM$500 (US$160), and to understand the contest theme and regulations.

Meanwhile, for those who prefer to sit on the sidelines while others have fun, take a look at the Synopsis which goes:
Kinks is a mockumentary style feature film. The movie takes a cynical but nevertheless humorous look at two inter-racial sisters who appear far from alike. Inside and outside. One is white and one is dark.

Split up as children, because their parents divorced, the film starts when they finally meet again after years growing up on separate continents. On meeting it is obvious their agendas are as different as their looks. The fiercely competitive, western educated Caucasian looking Jay wants international success for her cross cultural dating show. She returns to Malaysia to produce her dream, a reality show for the American market. To succeed she needs it to be as outrageous as possible. Jay’s Malaysian sister, Joythi, the Indian looking darker one, happens to work for Ministry of Culture. She is more introverted and has to learn to stand up to her sister while desperately trying to keep her job, while in charge to establish some decency in Jay’s misguided production.

Clashes are inevitable!

The story of this mockumentary feature evolves during the two weeks production of the dating show pilot. Through the seemingly different sisters, Jay and Joythi the audience will witness first hand all the bruised egos, crazy accusations and extreme cultural clashes and misconceptions between East and West but also the similarities of two sisters being eventually just humans.

Watch for it!

Related Links
Official Movie Webpage
YouTube Channel
Facebook Page
Juliane Block's company Fat Kat Studios

Monday, March 28, 2011


Can You Smell What He's Cooking?

Dwayne Johnson is back to his ass-kicking best after venturing into family friendly fare like The Game Plan, Race to Witch Mountain and having a stint at being The Tooth Fairy, so it's a welcome change that he exploits that bulk of muscle of his in getting back to what he does best in WWE - pulverizing opponents without remorse. Here he adopts a no-nonsense approach as the man with no name, whom we know of as Driver, being involved in a heist a decade ago that went wrong because his crew got double-crossed, and now he's back out from jail to take revenge against those who did his team in.

It's like Taken, The Man from Nowhere and even Tarantino's Kill Bill, where the protagonist goes on a no holds barred rampage seeking out those he remembered and striking them off his checklist as he dispatches them one by one. Hot on his heels are Cop (Billy Bob Thornton) on the verge of retirement but taking a keen interest in this case, and what I felt was an unnecessary character called Killer (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) sent by the mysterious ringleader to stop Driver cold in his tracks. What's even more unnecessary is the romantic narrative thread between Killer and his moll Lily (Maggie Grace), if not only to up the female quotient in a testosterone filled movie.

Director George Tillman Jr delivered the action set pieces where they mattered under frantic pacing, and the story by Tony and Joe Gayton kept enough secrets under wraps to pull off some minor surprises especially in the final act, and had enough reserves in the tank when dealing with the dilemma of the Driver having some inherent good in him that waned in his propensity to kill in cold blood, even though they do fall susceptible to old school cliches and at times the audience is required to suspend disbelief for plot convenience.

Still, it's an entertaining action flick in its own right, and fans of Dwayne Johnson should get enough kicks from this before he joins Vin Diesel and Paul Walker for yet another franchise film involving souped up fast cars.

You can read my review of Faster at by clicking on the logo below.


and I can't get enough of this earworm - Short Change Hero by The Heavy - which played as the end credits rolled:

Sunday, March 27, 2011

[DVD] The Coverup (2008)

Based on a true story known as The Thacker Case, The Coverup tells of the fight for justice against those guilty of covering up what actually happened a fateful night when a man was found to be murdered in an alley behind the Marshalltown police station, when he was brought in for what would seem like a standard protocol to a DUI case. Kevin Thacker (Michael Welch) was a repeat drink driver picked up by police officer who together with an investigator had claimed to have fallen from a six storey building in an attempt to escape, and of course there are more than meets the eye to this case.

The Coverup chronicles the fight that lawyer Stu Pepper (Garbeil Mann), who also served as Executive Producer and provided the story, written by Robert Dean Klein and director Brian Jun, had undergone, as engaged by Kevin's parents Thomas and Beverly (John Savage and Lee Garlington) to seek the truth and sue the Marshalltown police on 15 counts, only for 14 to be thrown out the window before the trial started. It's an uphill climb from the get go with suspicions of cover up, evidence tamper, conflict of interests, and a fight against incredible odds especially when one goes up against those in power, who have within them the ability to make one's life miserable.

Stu's track record at the time wasn't impressive, and coming out from another losing suit against a cop, he has to guard against making a career out of being labelled as anti-police, and of course to handle a case that would obviously put a strain on his family life. But he serves as the moral compass for the story, in reminding ourselves that we have within our powers to always do the right thing and to speak up for those who can't, and we must. Gabriel Mann portrays Stu with fair gumption, and together with Eliza Dushku as his paralegal Monica Wright, we get put through the usual series of questions, fact gathering and of course, the courtroom saga that come as standard offerings in any legal thriller-drama.

Some may claim that this film seemed to be one sided because the defendants don't really get to feature much in the entire proceedings, but I suppose if you look at the facts of the case, there's little wonder what else could that have contributed to the film, unless you believe a man can fall 24 feet and land directly on his back with the only injury being the side of his head. It's what I would deem as an almost open and shut case with the arguments presented logically, but the real whammy comes from there being no investigations into the wrong doing of the police officers involved in the situation as a follow up to this case. As such, this film now speaks out against this, and has become somewhat of an activist effort to spread awareness, and for the right thing to be done.

It is a modest film with the obvious limited funds of an independent production, but tremendous efforts had been put into the film to make it look more than it's financed for. All members of the cast put in credible performances in their roles to tell this compelling, gripping tale that will likely cause you to seethe in anger and probably disappointment too, but a well made one nonetheless. You can find more details of the actual case here which is full of relevant facts and associated supporting documents, and of course for those who are on Comcast, The Coverup should already be available for Video on Demand viewing. Don't miss this!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

[Media Fiesta 2011] Dynamite Johnson

The Media Fiesta this year has a Singapore Movies under the Stars highlight where films get played in the open air outdoors at *scape, and although it's touted as "Singapore Movies", in all essence Dynamite Johnson, the oldest film on the lineup selected, and other films by the late Booby A. Suarez had ambition to be international films seeking to appeal to a much wider audience around the world, hence the concerted effort to dub all voices into English, and are filled with storylines that walk out of any James Bond film that era, coupled with the popular martial arts styled of action from this side of the world.

Dynamite Johnson, subtitled Bionic Boy II, is the third in a series of such action films, the first being Bionic Boy of course starring Johnny Yap as the titular character to cash in on the Million Dollar Man and Bionic Woman popularity in the West, then They Call Her... Cleopatra Wong which launched the film career of Doris Young aka Marrie Lee (as she was credited), and this one that combined both characters into one film in a collaborative effort of international crime solving, pitting their skills against a Nazi called Kuntx who had settled in the Philippines, ensnared and enslaved a village to mine for resources for building that Laser machine that probably inspired Dr Evil in the Mike Myers' film.

Don't forget that the film opens with a group of para-military personnel assaulting some factory before having the tables turned not by the scores of faceless gun totting goons appearing, but by that of a robotic dragon that spits fire and burns almost everyone. It surely looked like something out of a Chingay procession float, given an obvious mounting on a lorry, only this time decked with metal plates as armour, and dressed to the nines with offensive weapons, more of which will be seen in action in the climatic finale. A quick opening credits scene with Johnson Yap parading his skills, before we see how he got checked into hospital for some bionics implant, followed by getting himself in the way of the Dragon clan thanks to his bionic hearing.

We get introduced to the villains and their diabolical intentions of blowing up major cities with their experimental laser beam in order to rule the world (can't get any more dastardly than that, back in the 70s!) before a team of primarily made up of one ass-kicking heroine in Cleopatra Wong with her investigations shedding new light through an infiltration mission, then she gets caught, Bionic Boy comes to the rescue followed by the final assault on the villain's hideout in what would look like an unused mine/quarry in the heart of some indigenous village. All in a day's work actually.

Watching this film now is a lot of fun, and you've got to put it in context because it just cannot compare with the slick computer generated action flicks that you'll probably be accustomed to today. Helicopters being the big thing that they are, get significant screen time either landing, taking off, or in flight. Villains wear hoods, so that extras can be reused in this modestly budgeted film. Fights are a combination of slow motion goodness and moments of speeding up, much like how Zack Snyder would be inspired to mimic. Bionic Boy gets enough scenes to show how fast, agile and strong he is, through a combination of practical and visual effects, while Cleopatra Wong holds her own in martial arts, with plenty of screen time devoted to many one on one battles with various larger than life villains.

Doris Young herself was present during the screening, and I had a brief chat with her where she reminded me this was done after her appendix operation, hence her fight scenes were somewhat limited. Even Johnson Yap had to work within his available time during the school holidays. But for what it's worth, there are some cool moments in the film, much like They Call Her... Cleopatra Wong, in that her character trades the trademarked bow and arrow seen in that film for an upgraded crossbow cum rocket launcher in this one. You just have to see that in action, as it comes fully equipped with its own ammo pouch too. How's that for compact?

The quality of the print undoubtedly need cleaning up, and it's a pity that the aspect ratio isn't quite right since there are always shots of people at the sides not getting caught in the same frame properly, resulting in half heads, or sometimes action being unseen, which are really obvious during fight sequences. It's never cheap to restore a film, but let's hope that this film does get on a queue for some sprucing up.

The Lincoln Lawyer

Pimping My Ride

Matthew McConaughey's roles have usually been the action adventurer or the romantic comedy lead these days, but it has always been his breakout role in Joel Schumacher's A Time to Kill, based upon what would be my favourite amongst the John Grisham books, that still remained one of his best, until his second outing now in a role as a criminal defense lawyer in Michael Connelly's bestseller of the same name. I suppose McConaguhey can convincingly project the savvy and wily minds of what it takes to be a legal eagle, given that after all he had swapped law school for film school.

As Mick Haller, McConaughey shows how slick his character can be in glib talking his way through his myriad of contacts and networks built up over the course of his career, from ex clients to current ones, from beat cops to opposing lawyers. At times you may suddenly think of it as being a bastardization of justice, since Law Abiding Citizen reminded one and all that it's all boiled down to what you can actually prove in the court of law. So we actually cheer Haller on as the unorthodox lawyer who gets the job done, guided by a moral compass not to put an innocent man behind bars. He operates out of the Lincoln sedan, which is where the title got its name from, though a scene in the trailer that affirmed his choice of office got left out.

And as far as the trailer goes, it probably hinted at all the narrative sequence to come - with Ryan Phillippe's Louis Roulet, a rich playboy realtor who got accused of bashing up a prostitute, and for Haller to defend him only to find that his client is more than meets the eye and may not be the innocent man he incessantly proclaims to be, and ultimately finding room to threaten Haller and his family. Well, thankfully that only scratched the surface of the story, which with its rich characterization is one of the key reasons why this film should be watched, since it's not your typical Matlock episode.

I may say I've seen a number of courtroom movies and it does take something extra to provide that boost to its story, and here's where Michael Connelly aces it, by constantly highlighting a sense of danger in Haller's way that strikes very close to friends and family, never fearful of getting things out of the equation. More interestingly he presents a moral and professional dilemma for Haller who finds himself stuck between a rock and a hard place, and has to utilize the full extent of his savvies to bail himself out of the situation, have justice served, lock the bad guys up and ultimately, making sure his family remains safe from the very real threats coming his way.

While lacking very big name stars, this film is full of character actors that make The Lincoln Lawyer a compelling watch. There's Marisa Tomei as Haller's ex-wife and co-prosecutor, William H. Macy as the investigator for Haller's camp, spotting some great hippie hairdo unseen in his films before, John Leguizamo, Michael Pena and Josh Lucas who plays a relatively green prosecutor. But of course McConaughey and Ryan Phillippe (always bearing a sense of having something to hide) were great opposite each other, on the surface standing on the same side of the law, but beneath there's trouble brewing with a capital T as the client-attorney privilege boundaries get close to being violated on moral grounds.

Michael Connelly is probably better known for his detective Harry Bosch series of books, but looking at how this turned out I'm secreting hoping the other films in the Mick Haller series get made as well. A great legal thriller on manipulation with a good twist at the end, perhaps the cinematography could have been improved somewhat if all shaky cam moments got converted and done the more conventional way of putting the camera on a tripod.

Cyrano Agency: The Dating Guru (시라노;연애조작단 / Si-Ra-No;Yeon-Ae-Jo-Jak-Do)

It's In His Kiss

Outsourcing, as one of the characters puts it, frees up one's time from doing something you're not good at, and leaving it to the paid professionals to deliver some quality service on your behalf. The Cyrano Agency is not your typical matchmaking agency, where dates get set up and you turn up, crossing your fingers on compatibility, conversation and so on. Its selling point is confidentiality since it involves a great deal of social engineering on the part of the Agency staff, crafting meticulous details from seemingly chanced scenarios to operate in right down to the minutest of things to say and do.

The brainchild of the agency is Byung-Hoon (Uhm Tae-Woong), who together with his failed troupe of actors and crew Min-Young (Park Shin-Hye), Jae-Pil (Jun A-Min) and Chul-Bin (Park Cheol-Min) form the core of Cyrano Agency, where like its namesake, become Cyrano de Bergerac equivalents through the adoption of the stage play for a larger playing field in real world dating, in order to keep afloat, pay the bills and one day reopen and get back to their original theatre business. It's a temporary set up that employ the widest range of their skill sets combined, where we spend a significant portion of the first act understanding the lengths they will go to for their clients to be successfully hooked up with the woman of their dreams - yes, it does seem like a predominantly male clientèle they attract.

The story picks up when a nerdy fund manager Sang-Yong (David Choi) walks in, and Byung-Hoon discovers that the target the agency is engaged to snag is none other than his ex-girlfriend Hee Joong (Lee Min-Jung). Talk about dilemmas here especially when there's still that lingering affection, and of course given the amount of manipulation that goes behind the scenes, there's this level of deception that one probably won't even want to put an ex through, and it also tosses up questions involving sincerity whether to attempt a pursuit on your own, given flaws, warts and all or to rely on others, since the pursuer obviously is having no qualms about getting everything engineered to seal the deal.

Like a typical Korean film, there's room for comedy as well as melodrama in a bloated film adamant in covering a lot of ground. There's the exploits of Sang Yong in getting to be within Hee Joong's attention radar which the Agency crafts, with laughs coming from the former's penchant to drift beyond his prepared script, and the various rib-tickling efforts from members of the agency who pride themselves in their work, sometimes not going according to plan when their thinking on their feet fails. Then there's Byung-Hoon's inevitable meddling when not being able to separate business and personal, seeing it as an opportunity once again to work his issues with his ex when the cards fall into the right places.

And Uhm Tae-Woong has that charisma to play the flawed Cyrano, bringing in the melodramatic elements as the story unfolded given the back story of the romance between him and Min-Jeong and how it sparked and eventually deteriorated, so in effect you get two stories for the price of one, with a twist in perception of this relationship put on the back burner. Exploration of the themes of Trust and Love, and the prioritization and importance of these two elements in a relationship got pushed to the forefront instead as the narrative builds toward its finale with both Sang-Yong and Hee Joong vying for Hee Joong, with one obviously not in the know of the other who's operating in the shadows, providing avenues for heart warming, and wrenching emotional outpouring in one combined, pivotal scene.

Then of course there's the performance of Lee Min-Jung, the central object of affection with those anime large and saucer shaped eyes you probably cannot keep your attention off since they speak volumes for her character, whether rolling them in exasperation, or connecting and communicating with her beaus through one key element of non-verbal expression of emotion. It's no wonder her performance here had snagged her a number of Best New Actress awards in Korea last year (enhancement notwithstanding!) as the Roxanne equivalent caught up with conflicting emotions. There was a recent local poll commissioned by Johnson and Johnson Vision Care Singapore (helps that the actress is a brand advocate too) about local perceptions of dialogues using the eyes, and it's no surprise on the affirmation on this technique used to express feelings and innermost thoughts. I would like to tell you to pay close attention, but writer-director Kim Hyeon-Seok had that in mind already to accentuate and exploited that into his storytelling technique.

The film had probably presented its arguments to try and swing the audience's sympathy toward the Christian character here rather than for Cyrano, but unfortunately cannot let go from its need to have an uplifting factor since this is a romantic comedy after all, with a minor romantic subplot kept brewing that you'll probably see it coming from the start. Personally, the story of Sang-Yong's pursuit of Hee Joong actually took a backseat as being the weaker of the two broad romances here and is a tad unconvincing, since after all, it's engineered, to perfection even. Still, there are plenty of stories out there about others attempting to hijack the mark they're employed to cover - coming to mind is Hollywood's own zany comedy There's Something About Mary - but for a more Asian spin coming from an adaptation of a well known classic, Cyrano Agency scores big marks.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Blue Mansion DVD Box Set is Out!

The Limited Edition Blue Mansion DVD Box Set (packaged with Forever Fever) is now on sale exclusively online at (Click on Shop) for S$50 each, which will go into the funding of Glen Goei's next film. Those overseas who are keen to get your hands on a copy, send an enquiry to sales[at]

It's handsomely Zen packaged in white, with a slip case to contain the individually packed films, each containing a 29 page full coloured booklet featuring essays on the respective movies, and new photographs.

Slip Case Design - The Blue Mansion (Front)

Slip Case Design - Forever Fever (Back)

Booklets and DVD Casing

Discs and Casing Interior Design

You can read my review of The Blue Mansion here, with coverage of the film's Tokyo premiere at the Tokyo International Film Festival and the Singapore Blog Aloud Session.

DVD Technical Specification:

The Blue Mansion
Feature Length: 102mins
Video:25fps, 16:9 PAL
Subtitles: Mandarin
Special Features-
Trailer: 1min 56sec, 16:9 PAL
Making Of: 10mins, 4:3 PAL

Forever Fever
Feature length: 94mins
Video:25fps, 4:3 PAL
Special Features-
Making Of: 21mins, 4:3 PAL

Both DVDs play on ALL regions and are mastered with Dolby Digital.

You can click on the image below for additional details from Tiger Tiger Pictures:

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Ghost: In Your Arms Again (ゴースト もういちど抱きしめたい / Gōsuto Mouichido Dakishimetai)

No Heart

The first question to pop into mind is, is there a necessity to remake Jerry Zucker's Ghost, which starred Demi Moore and the late Patrick Swayze, setting the box office ablaze to the tune of half a billion dollars worldwide, propelling clay pottery into the stratosphere of sensuousness boosted by Unchained Melody. It's the image that comes to mind when one remembers this film, and it's a tremendous hard act to beat for any remake. One may think that the Japanese may fuse their own romantic sensibilities into this one, but the end result is sucking all romanticism out of it, and becoming the parody that Zucker is also famed for.

Narratively it's almost the same as the Hollywood version, with young CEO Nanami (Nanako Matsushima) falling in love with Korean potter Jun-Ho (Song Seung-Heon) and having their romance cut short when one of them has to depart from this world because of a crime committed that was disguised like a petty theft, only for the story to unravel itself and provide that more than meets the eye touch, with the plot thickened to include a threat to the life of the still living partner. And to bridge between the lovers, they communicate via hack medium Unten (Kirin Kiri) who provides comic relief as the proxy between the two worlds since she's the only party who can hear the undead. And she's the best part of the movie.

So what went wrong? Well, everything unfortunately. There's a distinct lack of chemistry between the two leads, and their romance was very forced, like fitting square pegs to round holes. The direction by Taro Otani also came up short, and the alarm bells rang out when he allowed Nanami to give Jun-Ho a slap thinking that he had seduced her into a one night stand, but that slap was a meek, laughable brush of the cheek, with Jun-Ho reacting like a good one had been smacked right across his face. Making things worse, having a whiny male also made it unbearable, with Jun-Ho lamenting why Nanami refuses to say those three words that he spouts so freely. To think it's usually the other way round.

One of the highlights of the Hollywood film is, for its time, the painstaking level of detail gone into making Swayze's character ghostly, and that means removing every frame of shadow and reflection because well, spirits don't have them. Here, you can detect attempts to do something similar, but not as meticulous, which is a pity, though the effects of passing through humans and walls were still nicely done. Like a typical Japanese film, there must be Kawaii moments and this come courtesy of a ghostly, friendly child almost like Casper in manner, to milk some expired emotions in the last act when you know the two main leads cannot deliver at the emotional level.

To make matters worse, the romance here was cold and void of feelings. The bed scene made Mediacorp attempts look like vulgar hardcore porn, and Unchained Melody was covered by a really weak rendition, coming on at such a wrong time that demonstrated impotency at delivering when it mattered. This remake is ghastly cold, and tried too hard to evoke a sense of sincere warmth that usually comes automatically with the territory of the genre. If you want to watch Ghost, then watch the original Hollywood version as this remake pales in comparison, offering nothing new nor matching up to the bar already set.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Sucker Punch

Chicks With Guns

Girls, girls and more girls, decked out in cleavage bearing, tight fitting outfits wielding assault rifles and swords, slaughtering enemies in their way without batting an eyelid, false eyelashes and hairdo all in place, with nary a sweat broken in the process. Welcome to Zack Snyder's Sucker Punch, which played out like a typical Otaku's wet dream chock full of loud action sequences, sizzling sensuality and a narrative that's an action oriented, narratively poorer cousin to Christopher Nolan's Inception.

Yes boys and girls, it's back to imaginary worlds and landscapes all coming from the depths of one's mind and imagination, where these environments are shared with those in the same boat, with the dreamer wielding ultimate power to do almost the impossible within, in a quest to seek that elusive escape back to the real world. Only that it comes with easier kicks based on the end of some pulsating music, and filled with 4 distinct missions to fulfill in order to impact their real world flee from the mental institution they find themselves confined in, with the usual corrupt caretakers at the helm making it more like a prison than to help in rehabilitation.

If you've seen Zack Snyder's live action films, then you'd just about know what to expect from him, with slow-mo signature sequences and an eclectic selection of pop music peppering the background, with Emily Browning doing an excellent cover of Eurythmics' Sweet Dreams, which becomes the film's prologue introducing Browning's Baby Doll, a girl who thwarted her stepfather's attempted rape of her and her sister, but an intervention resulting in her sister's injury meant having the tables turned and thrown into a mental institution, with the warden Blue Jones (Oscar Isaac) bribed to keep her inside long enough to get an unsanctioned lobotomy to keep her quiet, permanently.

So begins a plan to escape from her unlawful detention before the High Roller / Doctor (Jon Hamm) arrives in a few days for the procedure, and we begin that descend into Baby Doll's mind, imagining and painting a landscape that makes it a lot more interesting to look at, since it's a brothel rather than a madhouse, with its predominantly female inmates being exotic dancers with exotic identities trained to gyrate by Dr Vera Gorski (Carla Gugino), who finds a gem in the raw newcomer, and Baby Doll soon hatches a plan to escape based on the retrieval of 4 items to aid in her escape mission as guided and introduced by Wise Man (Scott Glenn), with peer collaborators in tow such as Abbie Cornish's Sweet Pea, Jena Malone's Rocket, Vanessa Hudgens' Blondie and Jamie Chung's Amber.

If this is done by a sleazy director, then you'd have plenty of sexy gyrating sequences with the characters decked in various states of undress, but under the hands of Zack Snyder, this spells opportunity for some heavy and very detailed set action sequences, sort of like a Charlie's Angel episode with plenty of amped up ass-kicking and attitude. Despite everyone fawning over Baby Doll's incredible dance moves, they get translated to action, set against various dreamscapes as we descent into yet another layer of the imagination (told you this was a poor cousin to Nolan's Inception), filled with giant Samurais, steam-punked and clock-worked soldiers in war torn Europe with Zeppelins decorating the gloomy skies, Orcs and dragons from Middle Earth and a race against time mission set in a speeding train. Thematically, it advises females to seek and allow that inner self of strength to take charge, but frankly we rather see the visual manifestation of that.

They are all played out like an exaggerated video game, with Snyder at the game controls as he moves the characters like those you see in any typical anime, slicing, dicing and shooting their way through enemies. In fact he fills up the screen with so much details, it deserves a second look just to allow your eyes to roam the background, as the camera moves about in dizzying fashion, usually making the heroines look good as they dispatch the usually faceless villains. While Snyder always speeds up and slows down motion in alternating fashion, at least it's less of that shaky cam BS that's becoming a bad unhealthy trend, allowing you to gawk at (ahem) the intricately designed action piece at hand.

As a guilt trip, Sucker Punch delivers that knock out blow in having found the right mix of eye candy cast after some musical chairs casting with actresses dropping out and others back filling, and ultimately it's a job well done. This marks something original that Snyder has done for the first time in his career - his other film projects have always been adaptations of sorts - and while he had created an imaginary world, it's the stunningly beautiful flowing visuals that create more of an impact than the strength of the story, but kudos though that he had the guts to turn things around in the final act which does surprise a little instead of being the all protective creator unwilling to let go.

Just as a side, for some reason I'm seeing a lot of Superman potential in this one that reminisces of the Max Fleischer animated series, with the kinda kinetic energy that Snyder is known to pump up his action sequences, and the narrative design to tell the story of the Last Son of Krypton and frankly I'm a tad bit excited to see Snyder's print over a Christopher Nolan-David Goyer story idea.

Monday, March 21, 2011

[DVD Launch] Sandcastle

The DVD launch of Boo Junfeng's Sandcastle happened over the weekend with launches at Kinokuniya on Saturday, and on Sunday at the Esplanade library, the latter session with the director joined by historians Hong Lysa and Lim Cheng Tju in the talk “The Shifting Sands of Time: SANDCASTLE as Filmic History”.

You can view that session below, where they're joined by some members of the cast in the second half of the talk, and you can of course read my review of the film here.

The DVD is out now at all good DVD shops.

Part 1 of 5

Part 2 of 5

Part 3 of 5

Part 4 of 5

Part 5 of 5

I know the final part may seem to have ended abruptly, but I was not about to pirate the DVD extra here, which you can watch if you purchase a copy, and after that it was the wrap up of the session anyway, so there you go.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules

Eye Power

About a year ago I was tickled pink with Diary of a Wimpy Kid, a film adapted from the first book of a successful series by Jeff Kinney. I suppose it did decent business worldwide to warrant a follow up film, adapting from the second book in the series called Rodrick Rules, where the premise is focused more on within the Heffley family, in particular between Greg (Zachary Gordon), now in seventh grade, and his older brother Rodrick (Devon Bostick), while yet still holding onto its quirky comedy and shenanigans set in school.

David Bowers, who did Flushed Away and Astro Boy, takes over from Thor Freudenthal to direct this installment of the wimpy kid, though still retaining some signature elements such as the animation design which come directly from the books. We're reintroduced to the Heffley family, and it's pretty amazing how the sheer amount of incidents and subplots start to take their own life, providing slices of life moments from puppy love to sibling rivalry. There's Greg's infatuation with new student Holly Hills (Peyton List) with whom he tries too hard to get acquainted with, his friendship with best friend Rowley (Rober Capron) taking a hit because he refuses to be Rowley's sidekick for a magic show in the town's talent contest, and the continuing bullying of Rodrick on Greg, one which culminated in the latter running around in his underwear at an old folks home.

Those are but three of the many comical situations found in this installment, coupled with a house party that cannot be mentioned, but of course there's no smoke without fire, and what worked here is that most times things get set up for the fall only much later, coming in as sucker punches complete with rip tickling delivery. There's no wasted scene in the film, and everything sprawls out and collapses back nicely, in part I guess having a source material laying out a roadmap for the narrative to follow, with nice little easter egg touches that connects this film to its predecessor, such as the remnants of the Cheese Touch.

Don't expect very sophisticated direction here, as it may look and feel like an extended sitcom episode. But in all honesty the little tales that make up this film are nothing to scoff at, made all the more fun by the myriad of side characters / caricatures. There are still three more books to go, and I'm unsure if they will be turned into movies, though if they do, it better be fast before the child actors all grow up. Definitely recommended, and for its targeted demographics, I'm sure this will speak volumes to them, especially on its message of blood being thicker than water, and how siblings, no matter the rivalry, will always be subject to a quick patch up.

Perfect Rivals (美好冤家)

Saving Graces

Han Yew Kwang is a busy man these days, where in recent months we have seen the release of his independent film When Hainan Meets Teochew, a telemovie Love in a Cab, and now his first commercial film Perfect Rivals in a Singapore-Malaysia co-production, which sees talent from both sides of the Causeway and the region coming together and pooling resources to make films, a trend that we'll see continue into the near future since it opens up a combined market with large appetites for horror and comedy genres. I had hopes for this being quite the entertaining film knowing what Yew Kwang can bring to the table with his brand of comedy, but alas the effort shown here is uneven at best.

I've mentioned before that Yew Kwang has a flair for making comedic films with an eye for the unconventional, but somehow I've felt that something got compromised here, starting with a story that he co-wrote the screenplay for hat spells formula with a capital F. This story about rival eateries under intense competition has been done to death by many films out there both overseas and locally, and amongst the relatively modest Singapore filmography, who can not forget CheeK's Chicken Rice War, which had fueding heads of families with offspring that fall for each other romantically. Two scenes which had me shaking my head was that of the health inspector's presence to audit the older of the two premises when inexplicable pests come raining down, and this was lifted off Hong Kong's Chicken and Duck Talk starring two of the three Hui brothers, which remained one of my favourite comedies, and the other being Michelle Yim's cameo that mirrored something off Forgetting Sarah Marshall in spirit.

Knowing the director's works, his narratives have always been kept compact and tight, but this one sprawled especially with the countless number of flashbacks, some necessary to set the current context based on a series of events some 28 years ago, with others to serve little purpose other than to milk some melodrama. It's a pity, because there is so much potential here if I suppose the director was left to his own devices to tell a stronger story, Perfect Rivals could have amped up the rivalry perfectly, from the director's experience with this plot device seen from his series of feature films such as Unarmed Combat and When Hainan Meets Teochew.

But we have the rivalry of Chen Hao (Ha Yu) and Mei Mei (Irene Ang), two loggerheads with their respective Bak Kwa (barbecued pork) shops adjacent to each other, with the stark distinction being the latter's Mei Mei brand the most technologically advanced, and the former's Hao Han branding being a quaint traditional shop touting itself as the best, self-proclaimed of course. The roasted meat here doesn't hold anything significance - at least Chicken and Duck talk had moments emphasizing significance of the food in question - and you can replace Bak Kwa with anything else and still the story would live on, unscathed.

In any case the rivalry got more intense when the King of Bak Kwa title is up for grabs in a contest organized by Evergreen Integrated Resorts, only for what I thought would be a crucial scene to be unceremoniously omitted as a finale, opting for a restraint that would be friendlier to tight budgets. Mei Mei uses her daughter Yuan Yuan (Mindee Ong) who had recently returned from overseas study to spy on her rival and his plan on what to concoct for the competition, and does so by pretending to be a male worker kicked out of Mei Mei joining the Hao Han company. Her androgynous looks plus layers of baggy clothing, often getting stuck in awkward Mu Lan type of situations, surprisingly turn out to be one of the few plus points in the film.

Characterization isn't strong here, and making things worse are the deadpan performances by Josh Lai and Stanlyn Hsu as Chen Hao's sons, the former in a role requiring to be perpetually drunk all the time given that he's non appreciated by his father in anything he does, while the latter is a man-child who thinks he is Superman in very tired scenes that were more immature than funny, especially when it went on for longer than welcomed, though necessary for a turn of events later on in the film. Irene Ang departs from her usual loud and comedic stereotype from her Phua Chu Kang days to be quite serious as the efficiently ruthless matriarch of her family and business, while Pamelyn Chee plays her icy cool daughter perfectly, though again put in situations (such as the restaurant blind date) that was rather uneventful other than to highlight an inner mean streak running in the family. Amongst the ensemble, only Ha Yu and Mindee Ong shone in their roles and had good comic timing.

Call it the War of the Sexes, or Food Wars, its premise never really took off, and languished with very frenzied scenes plastered together to try and move the story forward with little focus, what with the haphazard treatment of the chief villain in the film, and a structure that kept going backwards, although Alaric Tay and Adele Wong. playing the younger versions of Chen Hao and Mei Mei, together with Marcus Chin whose blind master chef provided the seed that destroyed the romance between the two, and instigated the rivalry of today.

There are shades of Han Yew Kwang's signature style in this film, though they are few and far between which is a pity, since everything that's not, could have been led by an invisible hand anyway. Hopefully this would be one of the rare blips that he experiences in his filmmaking journey, and from this make a comeback with a much stronger film. As always, look out for his cameo, seen after a beautifully crafted opening credits scene.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Battle: Los Angeles

Go Go Go

This is probably the last of the slew of alien invasion films that we've seen over the last couple of months, the other two being the relatively lower budgeted Skyline and Monsters, before Battle: Los Angeles, whose title seems to suggest a franchise of sorts on the way. It surely wouldn't look out of place with its big budgeted treatment and being a special effects extravaganza, and for action junkies who enjoy multiple explosions happening over a short span of time, then this film is for you.

Set a few months from now in August, the premise has a series of meteorites all bounded to hit Earth, whose appearance and phenomenon have so far eluded the best of observatories around the world. And to await their impact, director Jonathan Liebesman sets aside enough time to introduce in brief terms, the group of soldiers who will be bandied together in a hell on Earth, allowing us to recognize some before all hell breaks loose. Amongst the protagonist is Aaron Eckhart's Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz, a dogged and highly decorated soldier with his own whispers to his reputation, on the brink of retirement, but being recalled for what would be a simple evacuation operation when the meteorites touched down, and turn out to be mode of transportation to blood thirsty aliens decked out in gun totting exo-skeleton suits.

So begins what would be a high octane, shaky cam version of an alien invasion adventure, where you're made to see events unfold as if through the eyes of an embedded journalist as we follow the crew of Staff Sergeant Nanz and his men under the rookie leadership of 2nd Lt William Martinez (Ramon Rodriguez), a platoon commander who had topped his class, but lacking in real world combat experience, forming quite the testy superior-subordinate relationship with SSG Nantz. Some relationship and leadership issues get brought to the forefront especially between the SSG and his men, and allows for some dramatic pregnant pauses as some relief from the visual and aural assault of the senses.

For war film junkies, the enemy may not be from around here, but this allows for some war action nonetheless, with military hardware given some exposure, though not as much as say, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, which had a broad spectrum of the US military participate in that film. Here it's mostly our ground platoon of US Marines, armed to the teeth with their primary and secondary weapons, but sans any direct air superiority, nor involvement by naval forces even if the aliens did a splash down around the world.

There are plenty of moments in the film that makes it look like a US Marines recruitment drive video, painting the spirit of the unit in excellent light in their not wanting to leave anyone behind, going all out to fulfill missions placed in the unit's way, and frankly being the heroes to save the day. In some ways the narrative unfolded like a computer game, with sub-missions such as an evacuation, protecting the civilians, an escape to an army base that took a leaf out of Jan de Bont's Speed complete with a bus and a hole in a freeway, and standing and holding ground for a last hurrah, amongst other scenarios and missions put in the film, with such makeshift objectives leading to an inevitable stand off finale.

Like Independence Day, the aliens here have inherent weaknesses so easy to exploit, and the finale was quite the insult to intelligence, with the aliens having the technical know how to travel those light years here, but doing little to fortify their single point of failure that made it seem a little ludicrous, other than for the filmmakers to come to a positive conclusion, instead of the darker ones in Skyline and Monsters. A significant portion of time also got down to finding out the anatomy of the alien forces, but alas precision killing gave way to the more random, panicked spray that made you wonder about the various inconsistencies on the alien foot soldiers.

Still, Battle: Los Angeles is a guilt trip that I found myself enjoying, coupled with Aaron Eckhart making it believable that here's someone you would fight tooth and nail with to repel back enemy forces here to colonize and massacre. It never had the objective in being the perfect movie, but in terms of sheer entertainment, this one succeeded tremendously. Inner fanboy says recommended.

The Man From Nowhere (Ajeossi / 아저씨)

Man on Fire

You may want to compare this with, or see shades of the film from the likes of Luc Besson's The Professional, Pierre Morel's Taken and Tony Scott's Man on Fire, with the common running theme of a highly skilled operative taking it upon himself to rescue someone they love from the clutches of devious villains, and executing a brand of vengeance without remorse as he ploughs through and single-handedly demolishes all who stand in his way. The Man From Nowhere is South Korea's answer to this sub-genre, and does so with aplomb both in providing that emotional punch to the highly choreographed set action pieces.

The heartthrob Won Bin buffs up to become that titular character Cha Tae-Sik, a man with a secret past who now lives his life incognito in a shady pawnshop trade, striking up his only friendship with the outside world through Jeong So-Mi (Kim Sae Ron from A Brand New Life doing an excellent job once again), the kid from next door whose mom happened to offend drug traders who are also in the business of dealing with the lucrative body organs black market. In fact, the villains are portrayed in such negative light for the multitude of vices they get involved in, including kidnapping children for an Oliver Twist type of artful dodging profession as couriers, that you just cant' wait for them to get their just desserts.

So-Mi's capture and her mom's demise moves the plot forward with Cha having to rely on skills from his past to reclaim the only life of normalcy he knows, as he goes on a one man rampage trying to piece together how deep the rabbit hole of villainy goes, while on the chase by both the cops, led by Detective Kim Chi-Gon (Kim Tae-Hun) and the villains all out to put a stop to his series of destruction to their business. Like any Korean film, there is ample time given to deal with Cha's backstory, as well as to showcase Won Bin's good looks sans scruffy long hair and a perpetual scowl on the face. His previous film Mother and this one put together would already prove that Won Bin has a wide range of emotions to play unorthodox characters rather than just being another pretty boy on the block.

Now for all the action junkies who think they may have seen it all, this Korean flick ups the ante in at least two scenes which makes you sit up and take notice that the stunt coordinators are no pushovers and can offer something refreshingly different. There's that iconic leap from the balcony in The Bourne Ultimatum that had Jason Bourne chase someone through the balcony window in a leap that's followed by a camera. Here, the same got pulled off with the major difference being knowing it is precisely the actor Won Bin himself executing the move from a second storey leap through the window followed by a roll on the ground to break fall, all done in one swift motion, and unless some devious trick is used, that's the actor alright.

The other is the much lauded close quarters knife fight. It may be inspired by the likes of Oldboy or even Repo Men, but this one held it's own ground through its beautiful (yes it's a little weird using this to describe bloody violence) choreography striking up that sense of all round danger, with Cha going for the jugular with a lesson on anatomy with respect to where major arteries are located, paralyzing his opponents before fatally dealing with some. This culminates in Part B that moved from many to one, to a one on one battle that occasionally puts you in the first person's perspective.

Those scenes alone will be reason enough to watch this for a second time, and for fans of the revenge thriller flicks, The Man From Nowhere sets to deliver the no BS, dead serious treatment that will leave you applauding each time any bad guy bites the dust. Recommended!

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Illusionist (L'illusionniste)

Magic Man

Being one of the three finalists in the Best Animated Film category in this year's Oscars will already say something about its pedigree, but alas this happened to be the last hurrah for Toy Story, and an expected win which doesn't really do justice to those it deposed of, especially when they really have qualities to justify snagging that trophy. Still this Sylvain Chomet directed film adaptation off the original screenplay of the famed Jacques Tati is nothing to scoff at, with plenty of heart put into both its storytelling and art that makes this a must watch.

The Illusionist tells of the story of a French magician who travels around performing at various venues in Europe, not very popular but always being able to obtain a gig or two to keep himself going. A chance meeting with a Scottish pub owner meant travelling to Scotland to perform there, and during his stay, a meeting with a young woman will become quite the adventure of a lifetime for him, as they move in together, and seriously, I had thought it had a romantic kind of relationship brewing until it unravelled itself to be more paternal, after all he spends a lot of his money on gifts for her, even taking up secondary jobs to sustain the family income as gifts become more elaborate, and his magician gigs becoming less lucrative since venues and a wider demographics have a preference for boy band musicians.

Much has been said how this film was Jacques Tati's ode to one of his daughters, and the final scene in the film probably references this more directly. And given such a personal connection put into a story, Sylvain Chomet managed to translate the feelings and emotions successfully to the big screen, even more impressively done without lines of dialogue, opting to reach out more universally through the power of music and moving image, all beautifully drawn with rich details that will serve as a feast for the eyes. You'll be really awestruck at the film's animated recreation of 50s Europe, and the various characters that come to pepper the story both in terms of design and characterization.

Only a smattering of words make it, and even then you'll have to get by the various languages and accents used, with Jean-Claude Donda becoming the voice of the French titular character, and Eilidh Rankin voicing the Gaelic Alice whose spoken words in all frankness is difficult to understand. Still, don't let that detract you because the music is set to orchestrate the narrative flow, and the scenes all designed to be emotionally powerful, that you feel for this film more than you need to overtly listen attentive to the sparse words spoken.

There's a running subplot that I felt benefitted from the subtleness throughout the film, and that's got to do with dying trades that practitioners have to cope with, since their traditional trade is suffering from decreasing popularity, versus the tide of pop culture. There are the singing acrobats and especially heartfelt is that of a ventriloquist who struck up a friendship with Alice, and progressively the tinge of sadness permeates through to the last frame, in tandem with the theme of being neglectful of what we have when something new comes along, as in Alice's attention when a new beau enters her life.

Definitely recommended stuff, and do stay tune until the end of the credits for one final coda.

The Way Back

Which Way From Here?

Once in a while a film comes along to reinforce the point of Man's propensity to survive against near impossible odds, where if we put our minds to something it's usually mind over matter to get to where we want to despite that of naysayers. It's also a tale of conflict between being trapped and free, where the flight to freedom comes with insurmountable risks, that it may make better sense to survive under captivity than to die free men. If given a choice, which option will you opt for?

The opening scene is chilling, where a Soviet interrogator gains the upper hand in his session with Pole Janusz (Jim Sturgess), accused of being anti-Communist, speaking bad about then leader of the Soviet Union Josef Stalin, and being a spy. Worse, intelligence and accusations gathered come directly from the confessions of one's wife, whether coerced or under threat and duress, and becomes the death knell of a sentence being sent to Siberia for decades of hard labour. And as a reminder, the camp commandant advises that it is Mother Nature who will prevent any inmate from escaping.

This will deter all except for the most determined, and assembling a rag tag crew of men desperate and hopeful enough to get out of their predicament, many there because of being in similar boats, each with varied skills to count on from somebody lighting up the mood, to gatherers and hunters, to cooks and painters, and so on, who also add as the unceremonious fodder in biting the dust when the time comes. Amongst the crew are Ed Harris as the American prisoner Mr Smith who got jailed by the Russians, and Colin Farell's Russian Valka, a gangster who's in jail to maintain "law and order" and who is tired of being stuck in this sole mission in life. Saoirse Ronan shows up midway through the film to stir up team dynamics as being the only female in the group, and outside of the age demographics being the youngest of the lot.

It's been a long time - some 7 years - since Peter Weir last helmed a film, and in some ways this celebration of the triumph of man's spirit is quite in line with his The Truman Show starring Ed Harris too, where a man journeys beyond his comfort zone to seek true freedom from the clutches of an engineered life brought about by a television producer. Here he puts you right into the thick of the action, as if you're constantly alongside the group of escapees, and having to feel every predicament, and highs and lows in thier quest for freedom, feeling every bit of elation as they overcome small obstacles, and feel their despair when the whole world seem to conspire against their escape.

From the icy cold winds and snow storms in Siberia to the ultra dry Mongolian desert, the special effects and makeup departments deserve every bit of respect for the realistic recreation of the external human condition under such extreme weather circumstances. Cinematography is also top notch be it to enable the freezing cold temperatures to be felt, or the heat wave across sandy landscapes, and the rich greenery of the mountains in India. You'd come to expect plenty of food rationing, sourcing, hunting, and perhaps it is this outdoor survival instinct that makes the film a little more interesting, yet also sticking to expectations without surpassing it.

And the best of Man get brought out, rather than to focus of negatives that would usually plague escape films like these. Sure a bunch of relative strangers put together have their differences, but I believe like them, everyone understands the power of sticking together, pulling resources and contributiing to their strengths, and in doing so increases the odds of survival. It's like Survivor the reality show, only that everyone belongs to the same team in the building of shelters and food contribution. A reminder that unity comes strength, with a poignant finale brought about by a haunting score. Definitely recommended!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Space Battleship Yamato (Uchu Senkan Yamato / Space Battleship ヤマト)

Space, The Final Frontier

Also known as Star Blazers in the Western World, Space Battleship Yamato remains one of my favourite childhood animated series, and I still proudly own a translated graphic novel that chronicled the crew's long voyage that serious fans never wanted to end. I was jumping for joy just to be able to watch the latest animated film installment Space Battleship Yamato: Resurrection in Hong Kong last year at the Hong Kong Filmart, and had eagerly anticipated this live action version to hit our shores after its debut in Japan last December. Space Battleship Yamato has arrived, and boy is it one heck of a ride that surpassed expectations, and had the guts to do a lot more with the beloved battleship and its crew.

While it is its own film with material drawn from its rich source content (the film is mostly based on its 1974 series), one cannot help but to see shades of JJ Abram's reboot of the Star Trek film franchise here. Granted there are many parallels between Star Trek and Yamato, for starters the legendary space ships are named after their equally legendary real world counterparts, and are the best of their fleet and make in the reel world (though one comes with seat belts that got seldom used), manned by the best crew that an ideology can supply, which the story takes some pains to introduce at least their core duties on board. It's also the story of the coming of age of a young captain, where in this case Takuya Kimura's Susumu Kodai is the equivalent of James Tiberius Kirk, possessing qualities befitting a captain that he needs to realize and grow into, with that level of hot headedness and past famed exploits to allow him some gravitas and stature amongst peers and crew members.

Then of course this film went for broke in its action sequences, beginning much like Star Trek putting the audience right into the thick of a big set action piece which culminates in a loss that will shape the events of things to come, and seriously, the way the space voyagers attempted to disable an enemy planet's defenses, was uncannily similar to the Star Trek one in its approach. I suppose if Yamato had beaming technology, then this would complete its Trekkie influence, but thankfully it held back on that temptation, making it a little more challenging each time it had to reign in crew outside of its hull.

Fans of the long running series will have to accept the fact that this is not something from our generation, since a translation to film means a huge amount of compression having to take place to tell something worthwhile, creating in a sense its own version of events. It's Year 2199, and Earth is plague by radioactive attacks by the alien race Gamilas, who are adamant in creating an atmosphere suitable for their race for a total takeover. Gone are Earth's greens, and it's up to the crew of Yamato, hastily assembled may I add, to travel to the planet of Iscandar to retrieve what could possibly be Earth's last hope to restore its environment. This sets off a round trip for Yamato's voyage, and along the way the crew will face various hostilities always threatening the ship or to extinguish the hopes of Earth.

The special effects are all detailed and intricately done, so much so that they really look like something to scale and real, making space dogfights in the various Star Wars films seem like a walk in the park. It's incredibly edge of your seat stuff as ships of different sizes battling it out, and if watched in a good theatre with excellent sound system, you can bet your last dollar of feeling every laser, cannon and even the trademark of the Wave Motion Gun round that goes off. Best part is, and I think some films and filmmakers need to learn from this, is that it's never shy of utilizing its best weapon in its arsenal whenever it can, avoiding plenty of the usual cliche pitfalls of saving the best for the last. Really, whatever for, when you have a threat in front of you that you need to neutralize, why not deploy the best you have on board?

Don't expect too much character development here though, because there isn't much time to jam pack so much into what's already close to 2 hours and 20 minutes. As such the first act suffered a little from the lack of a proper introduction on characters and their motivations, preferring to keep you in suspense as it slowly unravelled them, sometimes just through a one liner in passing. You'll soon acquaint yourself with the crew enough to know their core function, and most of them time everyone sticks to their one single function on board the ship. The end result is a rather choppy beginning just as Yamato finds its feet in its maiden voyage, before things smoothen out as the voyage progressed. With a new crew in a new ship also come the avenues for mistakes to be made, and one of the more telling one is how everyone let their guard down en route to base (common pitfall in the military), where one's guard should be up until you actually reach paradise.

The other issue I found wanting in a minor way, though it still worked, was Takuya Kimura's presence. He's such a big star, and is really charismatic on screen that my memory of the Kodai character pales in comparison, but like how Tom Cruise's Mission: Impossible was, my memory of Yamato was that this was a group attempt and mission, which Kimura's star power inevitably made him prominent in every step of the way through the story as if it's solely a one man show, often overshadowing that of his co-stars such as Meisa Kuroki (who is a big name herself), Toshiro Yanagiba and Tsutomu Yamazaki, who plays the ship's Captain Okita, responsible for crafting the mission of hope that Yamato finds itself in. Throwing in a romantic subplot for good measure that was expected though hurried, and side characters such as Analyzer the robot was fun, but could have been better executed rather than a short supporting appearance.

Still, Space Battleship Yamato is one nostalgic guilty pleasure. It helps if you have a little bit of a background on characters and motivations, as the story hits the ground running at breakneck speed from the get go, and is a special effects romp that will wow even the most jaded of audiences who have seen one space battle too many. Space Battleship Yamato takes flight in Singapore on 24 March 2011, so don't miss this awesome deep space adventure!

Monday, March 14, 2011


Follow Me

James Cameron lending producer cred to this film would probably pique your interest in it, but truly this film, loosely based on writer Andrew Wight's experience in cave diving and finding himself and others trapped in a cave, is nothing more than an average action adventure that aspired to be an edge of your seat thriller like Neil Marshall's The Descent, but minus the horror elements, trading that for more realistic Mother Nature type of disaster that threatens to drown out the adventurers.

As with most kinds of disaster films, a myriad of characters, often disposable, is requisite for that respectable body count. We have the billionaire Carl, played by Ioan Gruffudd, whose money funds the entire expedition in Papua New Guinea to explore one of the few unexplored deep caves for that bragging rights, as well as for that playground that he can use to bring chicks to for that big time impression. Alice Parkinson plays his moll Victoria, good looking and whiny, there as a thrill seeker. Technical experts are required, and the expedition is led by the seasoned deep cave explorer Frank (Richard Roxburgh) who possesses a no nonsense, pragmatic attitude toward one and all, and his estranged son Josh (Rhys Wakefield) who forms more of a bond with Carl than his own dad.

The danger comes in the form of nature pissing itself over the cave's large opening on the crust of the earth, and because the exploration is kilometers down and yet to be completed, this heavy rainfall no thanks to a typhoon means plenty of water come gushing through all orifices down the hole, trapping our adventurers deep down, and needing an exit before the waters rise and it becomes too late. This provides for plenty of set action pieces largely centered around slippery walls, deep water diving with limited gear, and claustrophobic caverns, coupled with enough gory moments like, of all things, clumped wet hair being trapped in gears, and more than one bloated water logged body.

You can expect the usual character development formed through plenty of bickering, especially when this becomes more like The Poseidon Adventure type of narrative as the characters constantly debate what's the next step of action to take, with Frank never being popular with his action plan, though they work most of the time. Throw a couple of moral issues into the story, such as euthanasia, yes really, where it's not about not leaving anyone behind, but rather sending them off in quite a painful manner so that their suffering from various extensive injuries, will not be prolonged. And this happens more than once in the film, which in my opinion will make you wince more than any other gory filled moments in the film will. And of course to make you examine if that option is something you would excise as well should you be in the same boat.

There's also a 3D version available, but this GV surprise screening was shown only in 2D, and that had clearly exposed very little, or no scenes designed that would have exploited its 3D depth of field, and none of those gimmicky moments with things shooting toward the audience. Cinematography was nicely done considering the nightmare water can bring to the table, and the deep water ones with contrasting light and shadows, though production sets do sometimes look a little cheap as if reshot quickly on the set in a studio backlot. Rhys Wakefield also puts in sufficient alpha-male moments that his role allowed (being the best climber in the group) which will likely propel him into meatier roles to come.

Sanctum is one of those films that remind you of a crucial element in handling emergencies, and that is to stay calm and not panic. A panic wreck becomes a nuisance and a threat, and in all likelihood won't make it through situations that require a level head to critically measure options available as solutions. A pity though that this film didn't live up to its promise and followed every conceivable rule in the formula book and had to rely on Cameron's big name as a crutch to keep itself afloat.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

[In His Time: The Films of Edward Yang] The Wind (追风 / Zui Feng) / Yi Yi aka A One and a Two (一一 / Yi Yi)

My Kinda Guy

Edward Yang's wife Peng Kaili was in attendance today to introduce The Wind and Yi Yi, the former the animated feature film project that Edward was working on before he passed away, and the latter the film that won him the Best Director accolades at the Cannes Film Festival. I'll probably have the discussion session transcribed soon enough, so check back real soon.

Meanwhile, The Wind was what looked like a promotional reel consisting of some completed clips of the film, since what more a better way to present a concept than to have snippets of it developed, to introduce the premise and the background of a genius pugilist kid in a martial arts world, and bringing on many character designs, and of course inputs by a star none other than Jackie Chan himself. It's nowhere near completion, but you can feel for that tinge of loss should this project not be continued and get left off midway, though the fear of somebody having to continue off tangent from Edward Yang's vision is something quite unforgivable.

The animation may seem dated given that this has been stuck in development limbo with Edward's passing, but I suppose that's the style imposed on the look and feel as if leaping off from a traditional Chinese painting, and going by Edward Yang's track record for telling a good story, I'm pretty sure The Wind has what it takes to grab everyone's attention should it one day make it to fruition and having itself based faithfully on the director's intent. One can only hope, and dutifully wait for that day to arrive.


I have found another film to put into my all time greatest list, and that is Edward Yang's Yi Yi. After watching all his earlier works, this one marks that epitome of perfection, of a craftsman's finest after honing his skill through time, that most outside of Taiwan will probably remember the great director by, if not for it being easily available on DVD compared to the rest of the early ones. While those are no pushovers themselves, Yi Yi is perhaps something that can be said as complete, covering like most of Edward Yang's films, a spectrum of human emotions, here centered on an upper middle class family and unravelling its close to three hour runtime through three broad narrative threads intertwining together perfectly, with sensitivity, humanity, and poignancy even.

Bookended by a wedding and a funeral, Yi Yi follows a family where each member struggles with their own personal demons, with their respective story arc taking place to address just that, and providing that slice of life from their respective perspectives. There's the father NJ (Wu Nien-Jen) who battles two fronts involving work, where his fellow company directors are seeking a new line of business through a partnership with a famed Japanese game maker but with conflicting business ethics and ideology with himself, and that of his personal life, with his family put on a thin line as he spends considerable time away in Tokyo with his first love Sherry (Ko Su-Yun), reminiscing the good old days with that hint of a temptation whether he's about to throw everything away, for one old flame.

Then there's the budding first brush of love and a love triangle between his daughter Ting Tin (Kelly Lee), and their neighbour Li Li (Adriene Lin) and her boyfriend Fatty (Yu Pang Chang), where complication arise from being best of friends with Li Li, and yet filled with the dilemmas stemming from the indecision of others, offering a good contrast between two teenage girls who deal with their emotions in vastly different manners, leading to a tragic outcome. Then there's the scene stealer with Jonathan Chang's Yang Yang, the youngest son in the family who's having a horrid time in school, being the thorn in the eye of a female prefect hell bent on making his life miserable. His story arc is perhaps one that brings us back to our own childhood, with nary a care in the world, and living life in quite cavalier terms with various shenanigans, some comical of course, and like most children, live in their own world through the picking up of a hobby, and yet having lessons to impart to adults.

There are minor subplots galore in this film, with support characters providing that rich tapestry for Yi Yi, which is also subtitled A One and a Two, strokes in the Chinese language that identical strokes horizontally turns the character One into a Two, sequentially one after another, like a musical beat promising a grand oeuvre to come from Edward Yang the conductor. There's the comatose grandmother whose recuperation of sorts at home brings about some stress to Ting Ting because of her guilt conscious, and that of NJ's wife Min Min (Elaine Jen), who disappears mid way into the film from a depressive breakdown. And Yang Yang's uncle Ah Di (Chen Hsi Sheng) who has to juggle placating his wife Xiao Yan (Xiao Shu Shen) toward the presence of his ex Yun Yun (Zeng Xin Yi) whom he gravitates to given the ups and downs in his financial status.

In some ways Yi Yi is a film that puts the spotlight on the various aspects of romance, about the first love who had proven elusive, of past romances and the examination of What Ifs. There's a scene which was expertly and brilliantly edited and intertwined between NJ's arc and his daughter's relationship, hinting at a possible repeat of events that happened one generation earlier, that really hammered home the eventual outcome from a parallel under very uncanny circumstances. This theme may not be new in Edward's repertoire of films, but the way it was handled here just made it very much heartfelt, inevitably allowing us to pass judgement on the characters involved, though in no ways objectively done.

It's three hours long, but it's the three hours you will not want to end as you get pulled into the family issues, and find yourself engaged on the emotional level and feel that sense of belonging with the central family, brought to life through wonderful performances all round, from the little Jonathan Chang to the veteran Wu Nien-Jen. Edward Yang's voice cannot be more pronounced through each of the characters put into the film, revisiting themes and issues discussed in earlier films, or in this one, I really liked how he crafted Ota (Issei Ogata) the Japanese game maker, with dialogue that really made plenty of sense, dispensing keen observations and life lessons to impart from the filmmaker.

For a film about life and its struggles in general, Yi Yi comes up tops, and I felt it had inspired other similar films that attempted to examine urban family life across a full spectrum of emotions, such as that in Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Tokyo Sonata very recently. Yi Yi is without a doubt one of Edward Yang's greatest and one of my personal favourites to date, and is a film that has to be experienced at least once by any film buff, and be prepared to be emotionally blown away by a filmic masterpiece. A must watch!

[In His Time: The Films of Edward Yang] Farewell Edward Yang (再见,杨德昌) / Yi Yi – One on One with Edward Yang (一时无两:一一现场实录) (World Premiere)

This morning's retrospective screening welcomes two documentaries which paint completely different pictures of Edward Yang, and they make great companion pieces because one gives the viewer a glimpse of Edward Yang through the eyes of his collaborators, from cast and crew alike, while the other allows you to form your own opinion, and see first hand the director in action, which is extremely rare. I suppose any Edward Yang film retrospect will have to come complete with the second film screened today, after all, today is its world premiere, and provides some wonderful insights as told by the late director himself.

Farewell Edward Yang by Hsiao Chu-Chen is a documentary that rounds up past collaborators of the director's to talk about personal anecdotes in which they fondly remember the director by, and for those who have read through the wonderful interviews and articles in the festival booklet, the talking head interviews here provide additional material in which to understand the director's work ethics, and frankly, a lot of the cast from Sylvia Chang (a pity the subtitle introduced someone else!) to Chang Chen all recalled how strict it can all be on set, while to cast members, it's usually a portrait painted on how Edward Yang revolutionized the Taiwan film industry, as well as the constant struggle for funding, and the overcoming of various challenges presented in filmmaking then.

There's even a rare clip of a television interview between Edward Yang and Hsiao Yeh talking about the making of That Day, on the Beach, and clips from the unfinished animated film The Wind ((追风) that Edward Yang was working on.

But I kid you not if I say most of the audience were waiting with bated breaths for the world premiere of Yi Yi – One on One with Edward Yang (一时无两:一一现场实录), directed by James Leong many years ago on the set of Yi Yi, where he was fortunate enough to get on it because of a personal favour Edward Yang had given to James' dad Leong Po-Chih. His first foray into filmmaking, and a documentary one at that, James puts the camera on Edward as the latter went about the making of Yi Yi, and certainly this treasure trove edited from James Leong's archives allowed many glimpses of the director in action, which is probably never seen before.

In between working on sets, quick interviews also got conducted with the director who shares his philosophies in both filmmaking and life, and shows first hand the diligence and detail that went on set which included various crew members in picking out children for Yi Yi's school scenes. If it's anything to go by, your impression of Yang being quite authoritarian and demanding, from articles in the festival booklet and the earlier documentary, will get thrown out the window as this film paints him in a very different light altogether, as a genius of a director who's at ease with himself, quite affable and very effectively bilingual.

I only hope there may be a longer cut in time to come, and this should be a staple now for any Edward Yang Film Retrospective, which fans of the filmmaker will very much welcome.


A post screening dialogue was conducted with the father and son team of Leong Po-Chih, a renowned filmmaker in his own right and James Leong of LIANAIN Films and director of Yi Yi – One on One with Edward Yang, moderated by Maggie Lee, and you can view most of the excerpts from the session in the video clips below:

Part 1 of 2

Part 2 of 2

Saturday, March 12, 2011

[In His Time: The Films of Edward Yang] Mahjong (麻将 / Ma Jiang)

No Problem

The Edward Yang retrospective continues into its final weekend, culminating with his famous works Yi Yi and A Brighter Summer Day tomorrow with a world oremiere of James Leong's documentary on the master filmmaker on the set of his last completed film, and a look at the animation that's The Wind which was what Edward Yang was working on before he passed away. Quite the impressive lineup, and not to forget the attendance of his wife to introduce The Wind/Yi Yi.

But before we go to his more famous works, Mahjong is one of his overlooked gems, and the first in which he has Westerners in key roles, examining the city of Taipei and its inhabitants, their issues and concerns through their eyes as well, in addition to more of those who are downtrodden, and looking to play catch up to get their hands on a slice of the city's economic wealth through whatever means possible whether unorthodox or immoral, as long as it made financial sense.

Essentially the story follows the rag tag adventures of a quartet forming a loose gang of sorts, each relying on their individual skills brought to the table for everyone to enjoy the fruits of what their combined abilities can bring. Unofficial leader of the gang is Red Fish (Tang Tsung-Sheng), the brains who designs the various scams from fortune telling to gigolo pimping (of his friend no less), and one who is quite central to many of the subplots in the film, especially since he has father issues, with the rags to riches to rags father wrecking havoc on his family's life, yet being imparted some life skills from the businessman dad that you can say is in the genes to succesd in life, only for the son to exploit these skills on illegal businesses.

Key to the group's scam is Little Buddha (Wang Qizan), a bald punk who's the foulest mouth of them all, posing as a fortune teller whose interest lies only in the boosting of his and his friends' coffers, and who is probably the most superstitious of the lot, adamant that kissing on the lips bring about bad luck, something that influenced Hong Kong (Chang Chen), the gigolo of the group who uses his charms to seduce rich or beautiful women, and string them around his finger. Rounding up the quartet is the newcomer Luen Luen (Ko Yu-Lun), the designated driver of the group as well as the one with the most heart, struggling to reconcile with the immorality that surrounds him, though it may be suggested his lack of smarts and skills as compared to the rest, meant taking orders and being unable to break out of his economic rut.

There are three major scams in the film that unravel with varying degrees of success, one involving that of the telling of misfortune to befall their victim's car, whiich of course is engineered without their victim's knowing. Then there's the befriending of Virginie Ledoyen's Marthe only for the motive of trying to gain her trust enough to ultimately pimp her out, and then the largest running scam of them all which involves revenge on a father who had returned after a long period of disappearance, and that of a lady who had once cheated the Red Fish's dad, in order to teach both a lesson. Running alongside this are two bumbling gangsters tasked to kidnap Red Fish, ordered by an unseen creditor of Red Fish's father.

There are so many interesting arallels that can be drawn from this film, made in the mid 90s, with the Singapore that is today, especially in its opening commentary with a number of characters in full discussion stating their disdain about the foreigners in their midst, knowing that they flock to the country to enjoy the fruits that are to come, wooing their women, adopting the holier than thou White Man Supremacy attitude, establishing contacts for business, and as a matter of fact some being the rejects from their own home country that had made them uproot and go over to a new land where they cannot speak the language, since there is absolutely nothiing left to lose.

These are similar grouses you hear from time to time from various grapevines online or otherwise, so in fact these are social problems, perceived or otherwise, that aren't really new to other parts of the world already. Then how about the mantra preached by Red Fish, and probably most of the businessmen portrayed in the film, as being in positions to influence others, understanding the human psyche of not knowing what we want, and waiting for others to tell us so, and lead us. Can someone say Nanny State to this?

And while some are here for honest businesses, there are those who are here to set up vice activities, as seen in one trying to befriend Marthe and offering her a job in what would be the world's oldest profession since her idealism for romance had brought her an unexpected surprise, and a revenue generating activity is priority to allow her to continue living in the growingly expensive city, if not for her friendship with the quartet, especially Luen Luen, which presents in itself the romantic subplot that Edward Yang, for now based on what I've seen, seemed to be unable to steer clear of, especially with the opportunity to present a cross cultural romance.

For so much that is going on, this film is the least convoluted, and showcases the brilliance of Edward Yang's knack for great dialogue for banter by his characters, switching effortlessly between Mandarin and Hokkien, and now with English as well, and of course the nice comical touches that come every other minute though not as much as A Confucian Confusion, but close. There are plenty of long takes that will always poses a challenge for scenes that boast complex lines, which of course bring out some of the best from his actors, and it shows.

The final act of the film is extremely intense as things do not really go as planned for one of the arcs, which come complete with a powerful revelation that hammers home the fact of how easily we can mislead ourselves when we rely on gut or the heart to live our lives, more heartwrenching when you realize the mantra that the central character preaches consistently. If you have the opportunity to chance upon Edward Yang's Mahjong, don't let it slip by!
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