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Il Mare (2000) May 9, 2009

Posted by Cal in : Drama, Fantasy, Romance, 2000s films , add a comment

Director: Lee Hyun-seung  Main cast: Lee Jung-Jae; Jun Ji-hyun  Territory: South Korea

Architect Sung-hyun (Lee Jung-Jae) moves into a house on the beachfront and is surprised to receive post from the previous tenant, especially when he’s told that he’s the first person to live there.  It turns out that the mailbox at the bottom of the house’s path is a time-travel device and that he can exchange post with the house’s future tenant Eun-joo (Jun Ji-hyun), a pretty voice actor living two years in the future.  The two begin a romance by post, daydreaming about each other and hoping to meet when they can sort out the time difference problem.

I’m quite aware that there have been a lot of romantic films on Heroes of the East of late (something that will probably continue a little while longer at least) and I’ve no idea why.  Maybe I’m sickening for something.  Anyhow, Il Mare (which means The Sea, incidentally) is a light bit of fluff that nevertheless has a tendency to do your head in when you try to follow the film’s needfully convoluted logic.  It’s true of a lot of time travel movies, or movies that have a non-linear narrative – you can often find yourself concentrating so hard on “when” things are taking place that you miss important details.

Il Mare 

The would-be loving couple are your usual pretty young twenty-somethings, but are likeable enough.  It sounds to me that their romance (which generally consists of giving each other playful activities to do) is pretty much ideal.  They never meet, hence never quarrel, get bored or find themselves woefully incompatible with each other, which tends to happen when people actually have to see each other face to face on a regular basis.

The film’s structure is familiar in that there’s a last minute hurdle for the couple to overcome so that they can spend eternity in each other’s arms, although admittedly this one’s a doozy.  Telling you what it is would give the whole game away, but suffice to say the pair want to ruin their idyllic relationship by actually seeing each other in the flesh, and that turns out to be more difficult than they’d bargained for.

The light and fluffy tone of the film is enhanced considerably by a gorgeous jazzy soundtrack and great use of scenery and lighting.  Overall, the film is pleasant, entertaining and occasionally mildly touching, but I suspect it won’t leave you itching to watch it again and again.  I was surprised to discover this was later remade in the US as The Lake House with none other than Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock in the lead roles, which seemed unlikely to me given the relatively placid nature of the film. 

One thing that really did spoil the film for me was the Hong Kong “Edko” DVD.  The subtitles are great and are pretty much spot on, but unfortunately cut off the end of the screen if placed only on one line in a lengthy sentence.  This means some lines of dialogue can end up unseen, and this can happen in pivotal moments of the film.  I am unaware of the alternatives, but if you want to see this enjoyable time-passer, I would suggest looking elsewhere.

Twins Effect II (2004) October 25, 2008

Posted by Cal in : Action, Fantasy, 2000s films , add a comment

Director: Corey Yuen; Patrick Leung  Main cast: Charlene Choi; Gillian Chung; Jaycee Chan; Wilson Chen  Territory: Hong Kong

Men are “dumbbells”: slaves to women to be bought and sold and used by the superior sex as they see fit.  However, a plaque exists that can release men from slavery and banish the evil Queen who forbids love.

The first Twins Effect movie was a decent enough romp with a few enjoyable touches.  The sequel, though, is a sequel in name only, and has absolutely nothing at all to do with the first film.  This is a shame, as I was up for revisiting more lightweight vampire-bashing fun.  Instead, the action shifts to an ancient fantasy setting with a frankly preposterous premise.

One thing that strikes the viewer right away is the lavish production.  Quite simply, the film looks fantastic, and it’s obvious quite a bit of money was spent on it.  It does feel as though the budget all went on the visuals, as the script is somewhat limp at times.  As you would expect, there is an emphasis on special effects, and for the most part, they don’t disappoint, but the fight scenes are CGI’ed to death in what is now becoming as common a practice in Hong Kong cinema as it is in the west.

Laundry time at the Twins' abode could be troublesome 

The leads, apart from the Twins themselves, are mostly unremarkable: Wilson Chen is entirely forgettable and Jaycee Chan plays the kind of overly earnest hero that begins to grate after a while, and both seem far too gawky to be given such prominent roles.  As for the Twins, Charlene is intermittently irritating and Gillian is obviously stronger on the more physical aspects, but neither is pushed into unfamiliar territory.  It’s only Tony Leung Ka-Fai, as a truly oddball sex-shifting character, who really stays in the memory for longer than five minutes.  Donnie Yen doesn’t do anything particularly memorable and Daniel Wu’s eunuch to the dark Queen will probably only be remembered for his massive (and I mean massive) hat. 

And that’s really the problem with Twins Effect II – it’s not bad at any point; it’s just really, really forgettable.  Again, Jackie Chan is wheeled out to give a brief action cameo and again he actually distracts the viewer away from the rest of the material in his duel with Donnie Yen.  The fight is enjoyable enough for fans of fantasy CGI, but when the action shifts back to the stars of the film, you do get the impression that the scene was shoehorned in to get more of an audience. 

It’s ironic that a genre that’s supposed to be so imaginative usually ends up with so many samey devices like “chosen ones” and generic prophesies to be fulfilled, and Twins Effect II falls into just about every cliched trap it can.  Like so many blockbusters, it passes the time but is so lightweight it would fly up to the heavens with the slightest breeze.

It contains a few laughs, a couple of good effects, a bit of (slightly) post-teenage romance and angst and some lovely visuals.  Apart from that, it’s sadly empty.  Now, I never expected to ever write this, but I was really hoping for something like the Twins had done before.

Lam Suet-o-meter: He wrote the screenplay!  He wrote the screenplay!  Is there no limit to his capabilities?  Oh, wait.  It’s a different Lam Suet.  Bah!  When Mr Lam finally becomes supreme ruler of the universe, it will be an offence to carry the same name as the great one.  Incidentally, I notice there’s a group dedicated to him on Facebook.  See you there!

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