Monday, February 26, 2007

a battle of wits

Battle Of Wits (Chi Leung 'Jacob' Cheung, 2006) - 6/10

There hasn't been any costumed battle epics that I've really like. I've seen, Musa the Warrior, Seven Swords, The Myth, and that's all I can think of right now. I was sort of recommended Battle of Wits, based on using strategy and wit to outsmart one's opponent instead of sheer numbers and brute force. Andy Lau as Ge Li, a Mozi warrior protecting the small city of Liang plays the character with conviction. And those are the only things going for this film.

The battle sequences are typically seen in other films of the same genre (listed above). At times, the close up battles were shaky and choppy. It had some great shots though, like the panned and distant shots capturing the soldiers in formation.
The problems with these type of films, for me anyway is the lack of involvement I feel with the characters and the story. With the exception of Lau, the supporting actors fell flat (on their, they just weren't exciting).

Saturday, February 24, 2007

my boss my student

My Boss My Student (Dong-won Kim, 2006) - 7/10

The sequel to the 2001 Korean hit, My Boss My Hero, where 30-something gang leader Gae Do-Shik is forced to get his high school diploma by posing as a teenage student. In My Boss My Teacher, Gae Do-Shik continues his studies to get a college degree. He decides to become a student teacher at a high school. Coincidentally, Gae Do-Shik's boss is posing as a student himself to get his high school diploma.

Here, Gae Do-Shik tries to befriend a student, Yu Mi-jung, who lives with her grandmother and helps her run a food stall. Both her parents are dead. The school system is flawed and corrupted, where Yu Mi-jung and other students play victim to bribes and sexual harassment posed by the board of director. Away from the school, Gae Do-Shik and his gang try to work out a settlement between a gang in Hong Kong over territory ownership.

Part comedy, drama, and action, My Boss My Student is a descent follow up to the original, but the film feels a lot similar, not really bringing anything new. Although I'll say, it contains the most unexpected death I've seen. Shocking and sad. Since it was my second time seeing this movie, it was expected, but the impact still hits you.

Friday, February 23, 2007


Exiled (Johnnie To, 2006) - 8/10

A film by Johnnie To, soon to be or if he already isn't, a HK legendary filmmaker. His latest action thriller Exiled is reminiscent of the shoot-em-up genre of John Woo's The Killer, A Better Tomorrow, and Hard Boiled. Johnnie To has brought in some of the same casts in his other films, Election, Election 2, Breaking News.

Ordering hits, accepting missions, and all that good stuff presented in other triad films. Simon Yam, one of the best in the business, plays Boss Fay. The one who orders the hits. Complimenting all the hard-ass action, is friendship and loyalty amongst a group of friends. Among them is Anothony Wong, Francis Ng, Suet Lam, Nick Cheung, and Roy Cheung. They work together through different missions, protecting each other's backs. What we witness in the beginning is Nick Cheung's character (Wo), being a target and ordered (by Boss Fay) to be killed by the other four members of the group. Exiled is carefully constructed to create great action sequences set in close knit settings. From a small apartment setting to a hallway of a small hotel, the sounds of gunshots and bullet casings pelting the floor rings through your ears.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

the host

The Host (Joon-ho Bong, 2006) - 7.5/10

Like Steven Spielberg's film Jaws, about a creature terrorizing the ocean, the Korean film The Host treads on the same idea. Except The Host isn't about a shark, but a sewer monster that lives in the Han River of Seoul and terrorizes those that surround it.

The film opens with two doctors rummaging through bottles of toxic chemicals. One of the doctor is told to dump some of those chemicals rarely in use. Pouring toxic chemicals down the drain means having it flow into the Han River. A mutant creature emerges from the river, attacking those in its way.

After a little girl is grabbed by the mutant, her family attempts to hunt down the mutant and retrieve the little girl, Hyun-seo. Hee-bong, the owner of a small snack shop located along the Han River lives with his daughter (Nam-joo), grand-daughter (Hyun-seo), and two sons (Gang-du & Nam-il). Gang-du is the father of Hyun-seo.
The military arrives to evacuate the city and disinfect, for fear of a virus outbreak. Hyun-seo's family is placed under quarantine. Their belief in Hyun-seo's survival prompts them to escape. At this point, it is a chase between Hyun-seo's family versus mutant, and the law versus Hyun-seo's family.

A pretty good monster thriller with a mix of odd comedy you wouldn't expect, sometimes wondering if intentional or unintentional. You feel yourself pulling for Hyun-seo's father as he's stricken with grief and unfairly treated by the law. The character Hyun-seo herself evokes a great amount of believability that you feel compelled by her situation.

Under all the monster action is an underlying moral of family relationships. Where Gang-du has been neglecting his role as a father, he realizes through the above circumstances his faults. The Host is entertaining for its genre, and quite on par with Jaws.

pan's labyrinth

Pan's Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro, 2006) - 7/10

A film set during the Spanish Civil War, Pan's Labyrinth is a dark tale of one girl trying to escape her violent reality into a fantasy world. When Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) steps into another world, a gorgeous display of creatures and visuals capture the imagination of a fairy tale -- a dark, grim fairy tale. A world of fairies, a faun, giant toads, and a pale creature with eyes on its palms.
Capitán Vidal is a sadistic man who only cares for himself. His pregnant wife along with her daughter Ofelia move from the city to the countryside. Strange things happen as Ofelia meets a faun that puts her through numerous tasks to see if she has what it takes to belong in the kingdom as princess.
A dark film, not only fitting as a dark fairy tale, but the reality of brutal violence and war.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

stranger than fiction

Stranger Than Fiction (Marc Forster, 2006) - 9/10

"Who just said that I was counting brush strokes?"

Harold Crick (Will Ferrell), an IRS agent lives his life counting. From counting brush strokes, to counting his steps, Harold Crick lives a routine life. Until one morning he begins to hear a woman's voice narrating his life. That voice is Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson), an author who has written a number of tragedies that end in her characters death. Her latest novel happens to involve the story of Harold Crick. Of course like all her stories, she must find a way to kill off Harold Crick. With the help of her assistant, Penny Escher (Queen Latifah), they go to unordinary settings for ideas.

Harold Crick seeks the help a literary professor, Professor Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman), in determining if his life is written as a comedy or tragedy. Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is Harold's love interest, and a baker with her own shop. She despises Harold, learning Harold is assigned to audit her taxes. As days go by, they grow fond of each other. And as days go by, Harold must conform to his destined death.

Great performances all around, from the supporting roles of Dustin Hoffman and Maggie Gyllenhaal (whose character brightens up the screen). The leading performance from Emma Thompson, who portrays a bogged down author searching for the perfect ending. She does this with conviction, from her worn down facial expressions and moody personality. And Will Ferrell, playing opposite his usual frantic and outburst roles. A simmered down (although he kinda goes crazy in one scene, for good reason) Will Ferrell displaying emotion. We feel what it is to live the life of Harold, and we get sucked into his world, and we start thinking how we live our lives. Do we want to live in a comedy or tragedy, or is it not in our control? A well crafted film providing subtle humour an some great shots. I like the minimalistic visuals in some scenes, almost in comparison to Harold's minimalistic world.

Monday, February 19, 2007


Babel (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2006) - 7.5/10

Three different stories, three different settings, and all manage to somehow connect together in the least spectacular way.

Brad Pitt (Richard) and Cate Blanchett (Susan) play a married American couple/tourist in Morocco. Their rocky relationship unfolds off the top -- seeing them scuffle over ice -- and as tragic circumstances happen, we get a deeper look into their relationship. Within the same storyline, two Moroccan boys are handed a rifle with the task of protecting a flock of goats. As these two boys go about experimenting with the rifle, a shot causes serious repercussions.

Tokyo, Japan. Chieko (played by Rinko Kikuchi) is a deaf-mute teen (living with her single father) who feels rejection. Inside her is a passion of love and desire she is unable to experience. Desire and lust slowly build up in desperation to seek that one guy who can love her.

A third story revolves around a nanny named Amelia who takes care of two kids in America. In an attempt to attend her son's wedding in Mexico, she has no choice but to bring along the two children. They find themselves in a dire situation attempting to get back to America.

The way these three stories connect is rather tame (lack of better word) as compared to 2004's Crash, where the stories' interconnectivity had an in-your-face approach, and each one relied on the other. In Babel, each story could've been told without being connected to each other. Connecting for the sake of connecting, it seemed. The two kids happen to be the son and daughter of Pitt and Blanchett's characters, and the rifle, which was given by Chieko's father (who was a hunter) to a Moroccan villager as a gift.

The different settings and backdrops provides a diverse setting that keeps the film alive. The rocky terrains and mountains of Morocco gives a portrayal of how the Moroccan villagers live their lives. The gritty look and feel of these people in what seems to be a harsh environment creates a realistic portrayal.
The glimpse into the different cultures pulls you into each one. In a couple scenes of Amelia's story, the two children experience firsthand life in Mexico. From the twisting off of a chicken's head to the sound of gunfire, they fear and learn to cope with their surroundings.

With the story of Chieko, here, we are transferred into the realm of Tokyo, Japan. We follow the teenage life of Chieko who struggles to fit in, aside from her other deaf-mute friends. In "typical" teenage angst, the conforming to alcohol, drugs, and partying is portrayed. The story has a calm and ambiance feel in some scenes. The park scene with a serene feel -- leading up to the club scene -- is a beautiful thing to watch. In this moment, Chieko is able to free herself from "reality" and experience what it means to be accepted. Then there is the seizure-inducing club scene. The sound shifts from a club induced pulsating vibe to sheer silence, giving us the experience from Chieko's point of view (or lack of hearing, lol).

Where the score and actions dictate the flow of the story -- including the ending -- it provides a longer and stronger impression. Fitting that it ends with the strongest story.

Monday, February 12, 2007

re-cycled baby

Worst blog title ever. I'll be reviewing two films, Re-Cycle and Rob-B-Hood.

Re-Cycle (Oxide Pang & Danny Pang, 2006) - 8.5/10

Ting-Yin (Angelica Lee - The Eye) is an author who writes from her own life experiences. After finishing writing a novel of love stories, she titles her new book "Recycle", about the supernatural world.

The film starts off as a typical horror film with strange figures, strange phone calls, and scenes that try for jump scares. But the film steers and pulls you into a strange fantasy world quickly. A world created by Ting-Yin. A world filled with abandonment. A world filled with amazing visuals and effects.

In an abandoned amusement park, Ting Yin meets a man who tells her that everything which gets abandoned is discarded in that world, and recycled. The opening scene where Ting-Yin enters the amusement park contains one of the most striking piece of work I've seen. The gigantic viking ship swinging over top the giant ferris wheel, while confetti-like paper falling and scattering adds to this breath-taking scene.

In a journey (resembling Neil Gaiman's MirrorMask) to escape that world, Ting-Yin is aided by a little girl. In their journey, they stumble across abandoned toys from Ting-Yin's childhood -- another scene filled with vibrant images and colours -- aborted fetuses, and the forgotten dead. Along the structure of MirrorMask, I thought it grabbed some ideas from Spirited Away as well. Not only the fantasy world, but the scenes where Ting-Yin holds her breath while crossing the bridge. Another involves Ting-Yin's hands slightly diminishing. We see the relationship between Ting-Yin and the little girl unfold like a mother-daughter relationship.

This film works in showing symbolically through visuals, the idea and theme of abandonment -- although lacking a deep narrative. The final moments provides an emotional affect between Ting-Yin and that little girl. Another scene that left me in awe. Emotional and breath-taking in view of the visual artistry encircling their final moments.

Rob-B-Hood (Benny Chan, 2006) - 7/10

In Jackie Chan's latest HK film Rob-B-Hood, Chan plays "Thongs", a member of a trio of professional thieves. Louis Koo (Throw Down, Election 1 & 2) and Michael Hui, play "Octopus" and "Landlord" respectively, to round up the trio.

Aside from their conniving ways, all three face their own set of problems. "Thongs", a victim of a gambling addiction also has family issues. "Octopus", a womanizer, has relationship issues with his wife, played by Charlene Choi (House Of Fury). And "Landlord", the mastermind behind their thieving plots, whose wife becomes mentally ill after the loss of their child. Other famous HK actors to make (cameo)appearances (ones I recognized) include Yuen Biao, Nicholas Tse, Daniel Wu, Ken Lo).

In the trio's latest ploy, they have been ordered (paid) to kidnap a triad boss' grandson and deliver it to him. Unforeseen events occur that forces "Thongs" and "Octopus" to keep the baby longer than expected. Here, they learn to take care of the baby and a bond builds between them.

Directed by Benny Chan (New Police Story), this Chan flick follows New Police Story as a reason why Jacky Chan should stick with HK cinema. Expect laughs, Jacky Chan choreography, and stunts. A couple stunts in particular has Chan leaping from one apartment ventilator down to another, and another where he maneuvers along roller coaster tracks with oncoming carts.

Monday, February 5, 2007

no. 3 "stray cat"

Really short review:

Pistol Opera (Seijun Suzuki, 2001) - 8/10

A visual masterpiece from director Seijun Suzuki. A remake/sequel to his 1967 film, Branded to Kill. This film is filled with awesome visual imagery. Vivid colours, costumes, set designs. As the title suggests, the film plays out mostly like a stage play (Japanese opera).
The story plays out more intricately than a straight narrative -- an assassin named "Stray Cat" (Makiko Esumi) tries to climb the ranks as No. 1 assassin (she begins at No. 3) -- with a ton of visual connotations. Visual connotations which confused me at times.
Putting my confusions aside, Suzuki's visual style and imagination amazes me. His latest film, Princess Raccoon is one I'll have to check out.