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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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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