Talk about serendipity. This evening me and evil rei meet for a China film festival show at GV Grand ( review below ). Upon reaching the ticketing booth, we meet our ex coursemates Dajie and Mak, who coincidentally were there for the same show too. But the fortuity didn’t end there. It was upon collecting of the tickets did we all realize that I had been the person who had phone ordered the tickets just before they did ( bearing consecutive order numbers ) and even more surprisely, that their seats were just next to ours. phew.

I must admit; I really had reservations about watching China films – granted all the propaganda shows that dealt with revolutionary ideas and insidious, subverting ideals of social echelon. Besides, other than the noted Zhang Yimou, my lexicon of China movies is incredibly limited, which may also be the cause of my bias. But all these seemed to have been erased overnight with the viewing of the stylistically filmed Spring Subway by Zhang Yibai. Not only was the plotline concerned with the most comtemporary of social issues, which immediately relates itself to the modern population and audience, but the most striking note was that it didn’t even feel like a China made movie : indeed; only when the narration of the protaganists starts, that unmistakable Beijing accent seeping in do you realize that hey, China films have a brand new look. Whilst the main storyline is simply enough – the plotline revolves around the strained relationship of a young couple whom first arrived on the shores of Beijing via the Subway ( which is also where many of the scenes will take place ), their isolated lifes are juxtaposed by the foibles of other subway denizens met by Jian Bin, the male lead, culmulating in a sorta haphazard, mosiac-styled visual narrative that is sometimes a little hard to follow, yet quaintly refreshing. What is ultimately more important ( and impressive ) is how this simple story is told by the most beautiful cinematic devices, with tight, unobtrusive editing, judiciously framed shots that accentuated the feel of each scene, plus extremely neat camera work and lighting. The memorable soundtrack wrapped up everything into a neat package that i’ve never once experienced in a China film. If this calibre of work is the look and feel of China movies, bring them on.

Spring Subway is still screening at the China film festival till the 19th of July. Go to http://www.chinafilmfest.com for screening dates.

Jul 14th 2002
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The Korean epic period film Musa was reputed to be the single most expensive domestic release ever made. It had just the right elements for a grand epic – the right settings; hauntingly beautiful expanses of pastel deserts and whirling sandstorms, stellar casts; ie Zhang Ziyi and dashing korean actors. However as the film progressed slowly it soon became clear that the massive budget seemed to have been split entirely on the gorgeously designed costumes worn by the cast, ( which the least to say seemed historically accurate and extremely pretty ), and the extraneous amounts of red dye shipped in for the excessive bloodletting that the camera somehow had an extreme predilection for. Sure, ancient battles were waged with metal against metal, and when the honed blades found raw flesh, bloodshedding inevitable occurs, but once past 20 minutes into the show you’ve seen it all, yet the camera relentlessly centres on severed limbs and gorged torsos that very much got in the way of decent story telling.

Not that there was much of a story to begin with. The plot stood so weak it could well have faded without trace into the sand dunes of the sets. A group of diplomatic envoys escorted by dozen Koryo warriors from Korea was dispatched to China to clear the misunderstanding when a Ming official was killed in korea, where the ramifications could be catastro…blah blah blah. However the envoys were very quickly decimated mistakenly by either marauding Yuan troops bent on reviving their dynasty or by equally unreasonable Mongolian tribes that had a clear disdain for the Han folks. Inconsequential so far ? Rope in a Han princess in distress saved by the remaining Koryo warriors bent on escorting her to safety and it crashes the already absymal plot. Far removed from her butt kicking moves in CTHD, Zhang barely irritates her assailants with rude stares and harsh language, with zero opportunity for any display of her laudable thespian skills. Coupled with the male Korean lead that maintains a deadpan expression throughout the entire movie ( albeit with a fanciful spear stance that fails completely to awe after 2 repetitions ), the only redeemable acting was by a veteran Koryo archer that mediated internal conflicts with tacit, wise words and took out enemies with his all powerful shooting. I hadn’t the foggies idea why Straits Times gave it four stars, to me it didn’t deserve any more than 2. This is one Korean movie that will be swept into obscurity as quickly as the countless warriors that lay motionless in the transient sands of the desert.

Jul 4th 2002
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One of these days I should make it a point to get myself the Godfather series and have a look at them. I have only recently watched Christopher Nolan’s Insomnia and found Pacino’s performance so natural and subtle I could have easily believed such a character existed in real life : a fundamentally good cop, treading treacherously in the grey areas of right and wrong and realizing there’s no easy way out once you placed your foot in. The plot was simple and straight forward though not cliche; and it proves even more so that the main character’s performances was riveting enough to keep one’s attention on screen at all times. On a side note, it was interesting to read from imdb that Veteran homicide detective Will Dormer’s last name is a play on the French and Spanish verb dormir, “to sleep”.

Lots of in depth write ups and production notes at the official site : insomnia

Jun 29th 2002
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Just watched the movie the eye . I must say its quite a commendable effort for a Singapore/HK joint effort although i’m not too sure how much local talent was actually involved in the production. The movie kicked off with some pretty interesting Braille symbols that told us of what was to be expected in the movie ahead, but those hands running behind that fabric effect wasn’t too original ( remember the Beast within, or Videodrome ) or scary. I personally though it was sorta sensual ! Ha ! But that’s just for me. Mostly I felt the editing and sfx was pretty well done, although as the story progressed it got more and more cliche and sorta languished to a slow and predictable end. However the Malaysia actress had a really laudable performance, with really believable acting.

Gatchaman told me about the lift scene and it really did built up to quite a scare but my mind immediately switched off as that old man’s missing face was revealed. Once again i’m convinced that in the face scares just don’t work for me, as would sadako climbing out of that tv wouldn’t. There is one notable point that I would like to point out though – much of the show’s better scares and mood was attributed to its somewhat eerie sfx and music that build up slowly and carried the audience’s attention as it flowed and ebbed. Unfortunately, the sfx and music wasn’t quite original at all – if you are a fan of Kenji Kawai’s music – they were mostly lifted from the Ring soundtrack with its screechy distorted sounds and pounding bassbeats. Take one listen to the Ring soundtrack and you will immediately recognize the unmistakable similarity in the music and sfx. One segment near the end of the show was so strikingly similar I wondered if they credited kenji Kawai for the music.

Jun 28th 2002
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Just this evening I was tidying up one of my neglected cabinets when to my pleasant surprise I struck treasure. Its always funny how some very old things kept away for a long time can elicit memories drawn from that period of time. I’ve always had this foible of collecting movie ticket stubs and what I found predated my existing collection for a good three years. Its akin to an archaelogist finding some significant artifact that predates the existing ones. Hard to describe that feeling. Anyway it was this ticket stub of the closing film for the 9th Singapore Film Festival, held in 1996, titled Memories by the famed animator Otomo Katsuhiro that gave us Akira. It was an excellent film, but the memories associated with it was not least because of that but of a very memorable experience I had just before the show started…

Me and my friend had arrived early at the now defunct Capitol theatre and was making our way up the main entrance, and as we were walking up the steps we suddenly realized a huge group of people beside us also moving into the theatre lobby. With a little curiosity I took a casual glance at that group of people and saw that they were actually herded round this slightly plump, bearded man of about 50 years of age. My friend, ever in a mood for witty remarks, said : “That’s gotta be Otomo himself.” I laughed out loud, saying that it was a ridiculous thought, for he had better things to do than to come down to Singapore for just a screening of his movie. As we settled down in the theatre just before the show started, a commentator appeared on the stage and announced :”Here today we are indeed honoured to have the creator of the animation, Mr Katsuhiro Otomo, to say a few words…”

Jun 13th 2002
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I’ve been getting relatively negative reviews about the movie Dark Water whilst I was in camp. No one seems to appreciate the movie for the very cinematic elements ( set design, camera work, editing and music, sfx ) that contribute to its moody and dark atmosphere. All my campmate’s attention were pretty much centered on “only the last part was scary” or “i was only scared when those bumbs appeared on the watertank” and in the worse case, “its a lousy show !”. Suddenly I found myself a self appointed defender of the movie as I argued for its worth, as I would argue for a thousand other movies my friends all deem to be bad. Yes, i agree its a horror movie, scares are necessary, but those few scenes are what I would label as “in your face” scares and had the least impact on me.

Which brings me to the debatable point here : Are movies in general, esoteric ? That means to say that they are only intelligible to those who have special knowledge, and in this context those who have a slightly better understanding of film aesthetics. Shouldn’t a movie be crafted in such a way that the majority of the audience would be able to appreciate its elements without prior acquired knowledge ? It certainly didn’t seem to be the case here. Or perhaps movie audiences here are just so awashed by mainstream hollywood movies that their acquired tastes are conformed to certain treatment, and they quickly reject alternate or different styles of work when they see one ?

I can’t help but relate this to the art scene in the early 20th century where the Paris Salon, the most established academy that exhibits and showcases art pieces, judges entry works by a certain predetermined standard and those not conformed to those are labelled as bad or unorthodox, unrefined. It was also here that the Impressionist painters, Cezzance, Renoir and the like bear the full brunt of the criticism by been different and it was not until much later when they recieved full acclaim for the pieces.

Jun 12th 2002
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The Japanese film Dark Water is of the more satisfying horror films i’ve seen in a long while, far surpassing its Hollywood counterparts with their cliche, cheap scares consisting of little more than its fair share of blood and gore, incessant loud and in your face special effects. Dark water succeeds with its intensely eerie combination of dank, superbly lit sets and subtle, almost unbearable camera movement that beckons your eye to follow in anticipation. I was most impressed and petrified by its well lit, or rather under lit corridors, those long arches shrouded in a dark, perpetual gloom that seem to lead to a void of indescribable horror. No one is making me walk down one of those corridors. Though in my opinion the scare factor is still below that of the Ring , Dark water have like what my friend Gatchaman has mentioned, an added dimension of emotional depth that carries the film as more than just a simple horror show, plus at the same time a more subtle social lesson in order : neglect your children, and the worst nightmares that may come to bear will surface will terrifying results.

Jun 8th 2002
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Time and again Korean films have swept me off my feet, engulfing me in megalomania, putting me back in love. The latest addition to the family is the movie “One Fine Spring Day”.

I think my emotions are most easily roused, as far as movie watching is concerned. So if a laudable movie that is imbued with all the right qualities of beauty, subtlety and emotiveness comes my way, I will break down like melting ice awashed in sunlight. One Fine Spring Day are all these qualities and more. I saw it at the SIFF, and now as i listen to the music and the visuals, hauntingly beautiful and memorable, I cannot help but express my praise for this movie through this channel.

http://www.springday.co.kr/

This review explains most of the movie expressively –

http://www.subwaycinema.com/frames/archives/nyaff02/finespringday.htm

The rest is watching it.

May 15th 2002
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My Sassy Girl ( Yeopgijeogin geunyeo ) stars the devastatingly beautiful girl Jeong Ji Hyun of Il Mare, which by and large is one of my favourite Korean movies of all time. By virtue of this alone I was bent on watching my Sassy Girl, and although it lacks the melancholic sentimentality of Il Mare, is still one heck of a funny and at times romantic movie.

The Korean word `Yupgi’ means ”to be curious about and search for creepy and uncanny things or events.” But it has become a most fashionable pop culture code word, meaning anything nonsensical and implying something creepy but cool and funny. It’s become a buzzword in Korea in recent years, especially in cyberspace. Kim Ho-Sik’s hit serial story on the Internet, [Yupgi Girl], surely played a critical role in spreading and wedging the word “yupgi” into the collective consciousness as the hippest culture code. Yupgi Girl, starring Cha Tae-Hyeon and Jeon Ji-Hyeon, is a film adaptation of Kim’s Internet serial of the same title. The movie follows Kyon-wu (Cha’s) narration, in which Jun Ji-Hyeon is called “the girl.” (This presumably lovely female principal, strangely, doesn’t even have a name, although she is the person who commits herself to all those yupgi demeanors.) Kyon-wu saves a girl who was apparently about to be crushed by an oncoming subway train. What made that sleek girl with glowing long hair and white face almost throw her life away in front of a subway train? Alcohol. As a complement to for this yupgi girl who throws up, dead drunk, on the wig and then on the very bald head of an elderly man in the subway, who becomes angry, hits him with her fists and shouts abusive words at him, Kyon-wu is a light-as-air character who is ready to serve this too high- spirited but pretty girl. The lively, sprightly, refreshingly charming actors, Cha and Jun, are the reasons to go to see this film, which is full of light-hearted laughter for the first 100 minutes before jumping ahead three years into a farfetched leap of plot for the last 20 minutes.

Just to let you in a little on the details of this movie; many of the scenes, costumes, lines were borrowed heavily from a few other korean movies, Il Mare itself included, as sort of comedic parodies. If you pay close attention to what’s actually happening throughout the movie, you’d be sure to spot one many spoofs, connections and hints that would allow you to better understand the somewhat ambiguous ending. There’s a 2 disc dvd set on sale at dvdasian.com, which promises more secrets and easter eggs, and I’m going weak at the knees already.

Apr 15th 2002
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The movie No Man’s Land was a smorgasbord of various debatable issues and human emotions. At the height of the Bosnian war, Ciki, a Bosnian soldier, hides in a trench in No Man?s Land. Nino, a Serb, is wounded in the same trench, while Cera, a Bosnian soldier, lies unconscious on a spring mine. Both men attract the attention of their respective sides in an attempt to survive their predicament. Soon, the UN troops are called in… This movie is about the casualties of war, for right from the start of the show displays a massacre of troops as they battle at the bloody frontline. This movie is about satire, mocking the stiff and dogmatic bureaucracy of the UN as they stood and gaze in brazen shame as the wounded lay unaided. This movie is about deep poignancy, for as the last shot in the movie slowly tracks out you feel the disconcerting solitude and despair of the wounded as he lies helpless, bereft of any aid. To have envisioned all this ideas and presented them in such a witty, humourous and yet sad movie, I for once agree with the Oscar nomination panel that it truely deserves the award of best foreign film.

( apologies for those who haven’t watched the film ) My favourite shot in the film must be where the Serbian commander decided that to “play safe”, had the entire trench area bombarded by artillery and at this juncture, the two wounded soldiers taking cover in a shelter. The framing was such that each of them were leaning on either side of the entrance of the shelter and henced divided on the left and right of the screen, with the entrance in the middle of the shot and artillery bombing away ouside as they argued on the fault of the party who started the war first. I personally interpretated the framing of the shot with them been divided in the middle as the separation of the Serb and Bosnian people as war wages outside ( the artillery bombing ). Within, the conflict can only be solved by whoever possessing the weapon, as in the case of the Serbian soldier. Cool art direction and photography.

Apr 13th 2002
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