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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While visiting my friend’s house for CNY today I passed the tempting game of Daidi to watch Stephen Chow’s Shaolin Soccer, of which I quickly realized I shouldn’t have missed when it was on show at the cinemas. Though still very much laden with trite Stephen Chow slapstick humour, the notable difference here was the impeccable use of CG and sfx which greatly accentuated the value and appeal of the story and action. Think the Avenging Fists or even Tsui Hark’s Legend of Zu and it becomes apparent that flashy SFX does not equate to good movies, but this instance proves that it can be done.

My favourite scene in the movie is where Zhao Wei, though sporting a rather dubious headshave, does a coup de grace on an offensive volley shot as she retaliates using a Tai-chi move, spinning the burning soccer ball on her finger. This composited shot is so beautifully done that for a split second I was almost convinced her kungfu skills are for real. Very very neat work.

Feb 3rd 2003
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The Journey of Man – a 2 part National Geographic documentary tracing the origins and subsequent geographic evolution of man is undoubtably the best documentary I’ve seen in years. In fact, it even tops my all my favourite documentary series of all times, David Attenborough’s The Living Planet. This might be largely attributed to the intrinsic nature of of the subject which so beautifully explains our biological history and inheritance as humans on the whole. Spencer Wells, the geneticist behind the journey gives incisive and lucid explanations of our genetical forefathers and how under extraordinary odds, ventured beyond Africa and evolved into every racial group around the world today. In short, this is the exact story of out past and origin. If you’re tuned in to the National Geographic Channel, you can’t miss this.

Jan 29th 2003
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I was perusing through a film magazine the other day when I came across an article on the movie Wings of Desire by Wim Wenders, on which I have watched sometime back last year. I remembered the film as been rather arthouse, abstract in parts and I found it difficult to follow the story. It didn’t help that it was shot during the 80s, a period that I always like to label as the “trashy years” with flashy clothes and bloomy, disheveled hairstyles in fashion. Anyway, it was a particular explanation regarding the plotline that caught my attention. In the movie, the scenes often intercut from colour to b&w footages, which I found disconcerting – but it actually had an important reason; for the angels, supernatural beings as they are, only saw the world in b&w; for they only see the truth and the “essence” of things, unhindered by the distractions of colour. Humans however, mortal beings as they are – saw the world in colour, ironically blinded by colours.

I thought that was wonderfully explained and used. It also reminded me why b&w photos are so strong in composition and form – for they too are unhindered by distracting colours, stripped to its simplest form and shape.

Granted that too, Angels must have a really tough job.

Jan 8th 2003
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TOP TEN FILMS OF 2002 POLL

okie…here goes me and my stupid antics about movies again. Choose – the top 10 films of 2002, although its hard to be objective and we all have our preferences…but i’m quite certain a few movies will still stand out with superior screenplay, cinematography, art direction and the like. To make it fair, i’ve only listed the movies that we’ve watched ( which should be pretty much the same, give or take a few ). For the whole list, refer to the comments box / click on the comments link.

This is my list : ( not in any order of merit )

1) Road to Perdition ( Mendes )

2) Minority Report ( Spielberg )

3) One Fine Spring Day ( Jinho )

4) Infernal Affairs ( Keung Lau/Fai Mak )

5) Insomnia ( Nolan )

6) The Man who wasn’t there ( Coen brothers )

7) Spring Subway ( Yibai )

8 ) No Man’s Land ( Tanovic )

9)-

X)-

Can’t seem to find any enough films to top the ten slots…to do so would have been a little forced. Asian movies still has quite a stand with 2 Chinese shows and 1 Korean, plus a foreign movie. Excellent cinematography for Man who wasn’t there, and Minority Report certainly boasts the best art direction in any movie i’ve seen this year, at least the most impressionable for me. Over to you guys.

Dec 30th 2002
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Running at 179 minutes, Lord of the Rings : The Two Towers is a long movie; but screentime is justly spend on the long and reasonably gritty battle at Helm’s Deep, although the Ents’ contemplation of an impending war with Saruman at Isengard was languid and unnecessary; nor was it in the original story. Discrepancies in the movie and book aside, I was particularly happy with Miranda Otto’s portrayal of Eowyn, handmaiden of Rohan and later part in the story, the only mortal capable of vanquishing the Nazgul, the 9 minions of Sauron. Imbued with zeal and energy, yet graceful and beautiful at the same time, she was the exact image of what would have been described in the book.

Dec 18th 2002
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Undoubtably the best Hong Kong film I’ve watched in a long time, Infernal Affairs sees veteran actors Andy Lau and Tony Leung square off as opposite undercover agents both in the police and drug syndicate. Wasting little time in establishing the plotline seeing the both of them embarking on their incognito missions, the story jumps forward to the present day with each of them working ever more feverishly as they try to take each other out before any of their true identity is exposed. The battle that rages on is two-fold; the physical, tangible need to remain undiscovered while remaining useful to their original cause, and the internal, psychic wrestle to remain true to their identity and shrug off the embattled weariness. In the end, no one escapes unscathed and the victory that is claimed is not without a sinister twist of irony. I especially enjoyed the conundrum exchange of words and battle of wits between the two protanganist excellently played by Andy Lau and Tony Leung. A masterful piece not to be missed.

Dec 14th 2002
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Red Dragon, the premise plot setup for what is to become the Silence of the Lambs and later on Hannibal, is a handsomely made film that righfully earns it place as a respectable prequel to the other two highly acclaimed pieces. Once again, Anthony Hopkins and Edward Norton gives dependable performances together with Ralph Fiennes ( The English patient ) whose role as the highly unstable “Toothfairy” killer earns laudable respect as well. Alluding though not explicitly to the main character of the sequel Clarice Starling at the end of the film makes one want to watch Silence of the Lambs all over again. A neat device indeed. I had to admit my preconcieved notions that Brett Ratner, who previously directed Rush Hour and not exactly to my liking, was not capable of carrying a heavy weight that has such fantastic sequels as benchmarks, but I was pleasantly surprised. In fact, this one makes it to my DVD list.

Oct 29th 2002
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“The Way Home”, directed by Lee Jung Hyang, is a neat little Korean movie. Sang Woo, a spoonfed kid born in the city of Seoul, makes a reluctant short stint at his grandmother’s rural home when his mother departs on an errand. Used to the high life of the city, he dispises his grandmother’s “lowly” version of rural life, and one many hilarious and disastrous mini adventures soon follow. While the plot itself is quintessentially simple and linear, plus running at only a little short of 1.5 hours, it nontheless speaks volumes about the unique relationship that is to form between the city bred spoilt brat and his patient, tacit grandmother. Many themes and ideas were alluded though not spoken loudly, this effect accentuated nicely by the non-speaking role of the grandmother whose body language acted as the only narrative device, creating a quiet, unassuming storytelling approach neatly matched by the peaceful rural landscape. No doubt the road to their mutual understanding was a tumultuous one, but what the little boy had reaped in return at the end of his stay I envy for it is something I feel, on a more personal note, I have never achieved with my own grandmother.

http://www.thewayhome.co.kr/

Sep 29th 2002

Watching 2 unsettling shows in one evening is no joke. Wim Wenders Wings of Desire wasn’t exactly easy to understand in parts with its poetic lines and in Tsai Ming Liang’s What Time is it there ? with its adamant treatment of static shots, had me screaming in my mind just waiting for something to happen on screen. After the show I struggled to convince my mind and eyes that things really do move more often and hope that the show hadn’t burned an after image in my brain like a static screen on a monitor left on for too long.

But latter show still had its fair share of interesting parts to balance up its visual rigidity. Here is an excerpt from the review in Sight and Sound :

What Time is it there ? is a perfect paradox : hermetic but open, blank but expressive, grim but droll. Focusing on grungy daily routines and another intricate pattern of cross-cutting which suggests ‘mystical’ links between seemingly unrelated events. The emphasis in this film is on bereavement and mourning, and the splitting of the action between two continents. As usual in his later films, Tsai sets out the terms of his conundrum with deadpan wit and undercurrents of dark humour. The notion of ‘time difference’ – the seven hours that separate Taipei and Paris in winter – yields the string of sight gags in which Tsai’s fetish actor Li Kang Sheng roams Taipei resettling clocks to Paris time. ( since there is no plot as such, the escalating risk and absurdity of this quest provides the momentum needed to carry the film through its entire central section. ) But the film also proposes at least two other ways of thinking about ‘time difference’. One is the gap between youth and old age, embodied here by Jean-Pierre Leaud, who appears as the young Antoine Doniel in a Truffaut clip and as ‘dubious old man in cemetery’ when he gives his phone numner to the defenceless Shiang Chyi. The other is the gap between the living and the dead, embodied in the mother’s batty idea that her late husband’s spirit has come home in a different time zone – and idea obliquely confirmed by the film’s enigmatic ending.

The only material link between Hsiao kang in Taipei and Shiang Chyi in Paris is a wristwatch that shows two time zones; it may or may not also house the wandering spirit of Hsiao Kang’s father. From this one small object, Tsai extrapolates both the parallels which structure the cross-cutting ( a modern columbarium in Taipei, a 19th century cemetery in Paris, a road killed dog in Taipei, steak Tartare in Paris, and so on ) and the Big Idea which permeates the film : the possibility that reincarnation maybe (a) literally true (b) poetically credible or (c) a valid metaphor for the process of coming to terms with bereavement. By design, the film ends with a symmetrical shot of a perfect circle – actually the millenium ferries wheel by the Tuileries – connoting both narrative closure and the wished for fantasy of cyclical return.

Sep 22nd 2002
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The ten most influential films poll

Recently I was reading up BFI’s Sight and Sound magazine special issue on the most influential films in cinematic history. There were a few regular contenders like Welles Citizen Kane, Hitchcock’s Vertigo, and Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. That got me thinking quite a bit, and interestingly too : What then, are the ten most influential films for me, as an animation/media student ? By influential I do not just mean favourite movies but in the sense that the movie have had a certain impact in changing the way you look at films, the way you would create a treatment should you be making an animation or film, maybe even the way you look at life. It doesn’t even have to be an award winner or anything. And so on. Inspirational stuff. I sorted through my memories archives and came with this ten : ( not in any order of importance )

1) Love Letter ( Iwai )

2) Akira ( Katsuhiro )

3) Ghost in the Shell ( Oshii )

4) Amelie ( Jeunet )

5) Mononoke Hime ( Miyazaki )

6) Gattaca ( Niccol )

7) Il Mare ( Seung )

8) Hackers ( Softley )

9) Contact ( Zemeckis )

x) One Fine Spring Day ( Jinho )

Introspective : Starting out as an animation student, the earliest and biggest influences were obviously animation works, but Akira in itself I percieve more as a sophisticated, stylized work of film art for its unprecented use of avante garde camera works and framing, superb cinematic devices and grand scale of motion. Its also worth noting that other for 3 english shows and 1 french, the rest of the list is dominated by Asian movies/animation for which I feel still exert a very significant influence over the way I look and treat films.

Perhaps evil rei and Gatchaman ( or anyone else that view this blog ) might be interested to cast their own poll for a wider demographic.

Sep 1st 2002
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With much reluctance, me and my friends were dragged to the cinema this morning to watch the spy action movie XXX by order of our section commander. With the previous night’s fatigue still weighing down on me like a heavy stone, I nontheless tried to make my $6.50 worth by diligently paying attention to the movie. Suspending my disbelief completely to the point of non-existence, this must still be the most “tao xiao” action movie for the whole of this year. XXX or Xander Cage, played by Vin Diesel, is like 10 James Bond rolled into a beefy package. If you are going to catch the movie you might want to skip the spoilers below, but they were so amusing I really had to write this. Let me called this list the “stupendously spectacular tao xiao action moves of 2002 ”

1) As a test to prove his worth as the ultimate secret agent, XXX had to infiltrate a mexican drug lord’s den, bust all the baddies, create superfluous pyrotechnics, save an injured partner whilst maintaining his cool. No sweat. Whilst evading fire from a helicoptor, he rides up a ramp on a scrambler in a bid to scale over an impossibly high confire fence. In a move of miraculous skill, he spins the scrambler at an angle, flying through an opening in the fence, but not before shooting dead two more baddies as he lands. Tao xiao factor : *****

2)Still at the same scene but with considerably more explosions and helicoptors, XXX continues to out manoeuvre everything. A particular huge explosion rockets him and his scrambler to impossible heights, and he grasps the scrambler by the back seat, guns blazing. Uncountable number of baddies dies. ( This is almost, but not as good as Tom cruise’s move in MI2 where he looks in the bike’s mirrors, points his pistol to his back and takes out 2 baddies, all done while speeding at breakneck speed and with shades on. ) Tao xiao factor : ***

3)The usual inard local police, unable to infiltrate the king pin’s liar because of surveillance cameras located all around the place, requires XXX to take down the communications tower located on the top of a glazier mountain. Taking off from a bomber plane, XXX takes a walk or rather fly in the park as he sky dives to the exact location, setting of an avalanche with explosives that while was able to completely obliterate the tower and all its inhabitants trying to escape on snow-jets, was hardly fast enough to even touch Diesel who was cruising on a normal snow ski. Tao xiao factor ****

Having said all this, the movie is not without its moments. No, really. This is also another reason why you should always try to stay for a movie’s end credits , because you never know what might come up, esp for movies with sfx. Just before the main credits were about to roll there was this short segment, about 2 minutes worth of dizzying, fast actioned blend of cgi and beautifully compositioned live action sequences ( all specially created just for the ending sequence ) that played on the many motifs featured in the movie, ending and finishing with XXX’s wordings. Very beautifully done, especially to the tune of the pounding music. Look out for it if you ever watch the dvd. Its worth more than the show itself.

Aug 27th 2002
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