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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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
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