Korean director Kim Ji-Wun’s beautifully shot horror film A Tale of 2 Sisters is a compelling, albeit somewhat confusing tale of a dysfunctional family dealing with the return of 2 sisters upon recovering from a rare and unknown illness. The presence of any supernatural forces is quickly played down here, rather employing more implicit methods of intimidation that are by far the more scary and effective.

Whilst we seldom associate beauty with horror, the latter preferring subjects of grotesqueness and fear as bedfellas, A Tale of 2 Sisters succeeds in the cinematic marriage of the 2 with its elegantly staged camera work; often indulging in long, aptly paced shots of the largely vacant household interior as it takes relish in plunging the viewer headlong into the suffocating reek of the morbid tension, until the silence finally claws and screams for a release. The informed colour palette adds further strength to the mood and visual style with saturation jacked up to almost superfluous levels; blacks in the film are graded so intense they threaten to suck you into an endless, horrifying void, whilst the reds and ochre so vivid you can almost lean forward and smell the coppery reek of blood. At the end, the images will leave you fairly disturbed, but its intrinsic beauty will beckon for your attention more.

Certainly one of the more classy and calculated horror flicks I’ve watched of late, once again vindicating Korea as a filmmaking powerhouse.

Aug 26th 2003

The Medallion Sucks.

I haven’t seen such hogwash in a long long time. Now there was this HK movie couple years back starring Leon Lai called Bullets of Love that came close, but The Medallion sets a whole new record for traumatic cinematic experience.

This is so bad, its not funny.

Aug 21st 2003
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“Marriage is a Crazy Thing” is one interesting movie. There’s just something indescribably honest and introspective about Korean arthouse films ( notable are 2 other films, “One Fine Spring Day” and “Take Care of my Cat” ) that I am unable to describe lucidly with my limited vocabulary and lexicon but which I shall dub as the “korean aesthetic” for easier referencing in the future. Only this time, it takes on a more adult theme with some fairly explicit love scenes, but that hardly gets in the way of good storytelling.

Here’s an illuminating review : http://www.koreanfilm.org/kfilm02.html#marriage

and ditto : http://www.asiandb.com/browse/movie_detail.pfm?code=5293&mode=review&num=475

Go watch it before its gone.

Jul 27th 2003
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As much as I enjoyed Ang Lee’s treatment of the story and the movie itself, let’s leave the debate on the merit of the show and talk just about Mr Green himself.

ILM’s rendition of the Hulk has been nothing short of breathtaking. ( One writer in a local newspaper passed him off as been “rubbery”, and I’ve since dispatched David Banner’s mutant mouse after her, god bless. ) For the uninitiated, computer graphics are terribly afraid of a few things : close ups ( and we’re talking full, cinema resolution ), water/wet skin, green or not, and notably, bright scenes with lots of sunshine and daylight, because its excruciatingly hard to blend CG and make it believable in such conditions. But here, the Hulk is just flaunting it, plain. In the scene where he bursts out of the containment chamber, water spewing and hands raised in rage, I might as well have believed that he was a living, breathing Hulk. Let’s not even get started on the desert scenes.

Realism aside, my favourite scene has to be the electrifying shot of father and son, rocketing through the sky, their silhouettes etched onto passing clouds like giant impressionist paintings, coupled nicely with Elfman’s dramatic score.

Jun 22nd 2003
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I’m not entirely sure how the makers of the Japanese horror film Ju-on decided on the peerless tagline “The scariest movie ever made”; painfully it is anything but. Gimmicky publicity notwithstanding, no one still has the foggiest idea why folks are willing to spend good money to get spooked, myself a guilty party, albeit a terrible choice this time.

The premise and plot of the entire story, juxtaposed on a nonlinear timeline, escapes me completely so let’s just move on to the scare-o-meter. Woefully, this one barely registers a single hit, resorting so blantantly to cinematic devices already seen in more original films like Ringu and Dark Water, bordering on absolute banality and triteness. Developed photos getting wracked, ghastly figures peering into lifts, did I mention something wierd on TV ? In one particular memorable scene where the protaganist of the moment gets hunted down by her 3 dead friends, I was quite convinced that the filmmakers were on to a parody from Night of the Living Dead or the more recent Resident Evil, whichever one better.

“The scariest movie ever made ?” NOT ! Mr Nakata please, we’re still waiting anxiously.

Jun 16th 2003
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Pixar has outdone themselves once again with Finding Nemo, an animation feature so rich with overwhelming tapestries of colour and vibrancy its hard to appreciate with only one viewing, and where the words “computer generated imagery or CGI” seem to lose coherence with what the eyes actually see on screen. As animators ourselves, me and my friends have expressed both awe and disbelief at the level of complexity and depth of the character animation, which is only achievable by a marriage of immaculate animation techniques and self acting on the part of the animator to immerse himself/herself into the role. And of course, we were more than happy to see David Tart’s name ( http://www.tartamation.com/tartamation/ ) as the credits rolled, an animator from Pixar that taught us for 3 days during a short program back in school. Yes, Pixar ok, don’t play play.

Jun 1st 2003
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With my last film Dolls by Takeshi Kitano showing this coming Saturday, the film festival have once again come to and end for another year. Having caught 9 films altogether ( the biggest number since my first film fest ), many of which were packed on consecutive evenings, I must say its has been quite a chore ( I dozed off in the early part of Russian Ark ). As much as I enjoy watching movies, I don’t believe in movie marathons for I feel to fully appreciate and “digest” the gist of the films you need to cater time for recovery from all the visuals and ideas still swirling inside your head, arty film festival movies more so.

On a sidenote, I’ve become increasing annoyed and resentful of a few individuals who dwell within the Singapore International film festival forum, criticizing any and every directors’ ( including Royston Tan’s 15, which won a FIPRESCI award ) work as been weak, undeserving, sucky, and whatever detracting word they can find. Its amusing how they could spend all their time in the forum writing lengthy reviews discrediting works when they’ve never so much as written a single line of script or shot a single take of film. What even made them think they are in a position to judge a piece of film work ? To quote Al Pacino in the movie Insomnia, where he was chastising an inept superior who never took part in any real action : “You, and all the assholes like you, risk nothing, spend the whole day sucking the marrow out of real cops when you just don’t have the balls to be one yourself. ”

Its at least comforting to realize that the filmmakers themselves are probably too wrapped up in some future work that they never have time to visit any of these forums filled with self consumed film critics.

May 1st 2003
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Director Choi Ho’s modern romance, Who Are U ?, tries to capture the essence of the N (Network) generation, Korea’s young people who grew up with e-mail, instant messaging, cell phones, and the Internet in one of the most wired nations of the world. The film centers on an Internet game called “Who Are You” a sort of ultimate dating game where players pick partners and interact in a simulation of the real world. As far as romance movies go, the plot is nothing new. The role of new technology in the realm of dating is a subject that was explored in 1995’s The Contact, with actor Han Seok-Gyu and actress Jeon Do-Yeon, and again in the 1998 Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks film “You’ve Got Mail”. Who Are You? is simply the latest version, a technological update of this genre.

However, as a snapshot of today’s youth, this film is highly relevant and asks some hard questions. In one scene, Hyung-tae outlines the Seoul skyline with his fingers and says that from that angle, it looks like a scene from a game, an interesting commentary on the increasingly blurred line between the real world and virtual reality.

Although the film’s ending was not really to my liking, finding it lacking in a certain satisfying, emotional impact, I was nonetheless enamoured by the overall youthful and energetic feel of the story, something perhaps lacking in an essentially stolid and mundane real working world, not to mention the wonderful and romantic possibilities existing only within the walls of a deftly crafted film world. For that 100 minutes as I sat in the theatre, I wish I was living it.

Apr 5th 2003
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In 1971, Mao’s Cultural Revolution swept over China, shutting down universities and banishing “reactionary intellectuals”, boys and girls who had graduated from high school, to the countryside to be “re-educated” by the poor peasants. This is the backdrop for Dai Sijie’s Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, a beautifully shot movie depicting the experiences of Ma ( who is actually a depiction of Dai Sijie himself ) and Luo sent to a remote mountain village The Phoenix, where they met a local tailor’s daughter known only as the little seamstress. Caught in the daily, menial routines of labor and re-education, the trio sought little escapades and delight in reading the literary works of western authors like Balzac and Gogol, plus playing music on Ma’s violin, calling sonata names like “Mozart is Thinking of Mao” to convince the local authorities that the merrymaking is Mao-worthy. One can argue that while the potential for underlying political or satirical messages can be numerous and varied, I was more obsessed ( and contented ) to simply indulge myself in the richly filmed scenery of the mountains and textures of the villages, the soothing music, both of local taste as well as western, the tunes of the violin forming a strange, yet binding aural dichotomy in the face of a complete asian setting.

Mar 29th 2003
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I was earnestly happy today when I heard on the radio that Miyazaki’s Spirited Away has won the Oscars for best animation feature. Whilst its nice to get some decent recognition from western audiences, Miyazaki’s films have simply transcended the need for any awards to justify its merit, and I would support it, Oscars or none. I eagerly await their next animation feature, and hopefully, with Miyazaki himself at the helm again.

Mar 24th 2003
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Roman Polanski’s The Pianist gives jarring and near hallucinatory realism to life within the Ghetto, where captive Jews were held before many of them sent for extermination during the Holocaust. The absolute conviction of its detail, notably the superbly convincing set design certainly adds to the lucid quality of the horrors happening within. Seeing through the eyes of the protanganist, it quickly becomes clear that surivival in such a genocide is strictly a matter of single minded determination and often sheer luck, for death takes on a near arbitrary nature.

Sparing my lacklustre rhetoric, I quote, from the review in Sight and Sound Magazine :

” The power of The Pianist derives largely from its dogged adherence to fact as well as it grim humour and restrain. Music is very sparingly applied, so that even a soaring crane shot over the devastated city of Warsaw is denied a swelling John Williams score of Spielbergian dimensions, but simply comes to rest with a plaintive clarinet solo. When Szpilman finally is allowed to play a Chopin ballade in order to prove his identity, music has been such a “lost” sound that the performance has a rare emotional clarity. “

Nicely put.

Feb 26th 2003
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I completed my National Service today. Oddly enough, I had no rush of excitement, no bursts of elation at this moment of emancipation. The feeling can be best likened to chewing a piece of tasty gum that you’ve kept for too long in your pocket that when you do start to eat it, realize that it has long lost its flavour.

Feb 24th 2003
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