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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Just had a viewing of Night Shymalan’s movie “Signs”. To avoid divulging any potential spoilers in the plot, all I can say is that the movie is scientifically subversive at best. ( or should I say worst ? ) This is indeed a waste of production talent with major names like Shymalan himself, ( whose Sixth Sense still ranks as one of the best supernatural thrillers i’ve watched ), DP Tak Fujimoto ( who shot Silence of the Lambs ), and James Newton Howard who wrote the score. In short, they should have chosen a better story.

Still believe that crop circles are created by aliens ? Go here for an enlightening article :

http://www.space.com/searchforlife/seti_shostak_signs_020808.html

Aug 9th 2002
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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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