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Flying Swords of Dragon Gate 3D January 4, 2012

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Flying Swords of Dragon Gate is the best looking 3D movie I have ever seen and while I don’t like 3D and think it’s a gimmick the Director Tsui Hark makes good use of the effect. With that said I still think that it has no impact on the overall enjoyment of the film nor does it change my feelings about the story. But on a purely 3D level it is a step above the rest. It’s better than ‘Avatar’. The only other 3D movie that moderately impressed me was ‘Tron Legacy’. The worst 3D movie I have ever seen was ‘Battle Royale 3D’ with cgi bullets and blood spatters. Awful. The post conversion 3D of Harry Potter and any other number of movies is frankly dull and adds nothing to the movie except to make it look darker and after a while I found my eyes adjusted to the use of 3D anyway. I got more annoyed by having to wear the 3D glasses through the entire movie. Now we have ‘Star Wars The Phantom Menace’ coming out in 3D this year (what genius..) and JJ Abrams has announced that the next Star Trek movie will be filmed in 2D and converted to 3D, which sucks, but I imagine that there might have been studio pressure to do that. I am both equally dismayed and attracted by the idea of seeing Space ships fly out of the movie screen but I doubt it will be as good as I could imagine.

Tsui Hark makes clever use of 3D by not making everything 3D just because it’s close to the screen but when we get a beautiful shot or big action scenes the 3D comes into effect making it very noticeable to the viewer. He doesn’t rely on the cheap tricks of having swords come out of the screen at the audience ala ‘Pirates of the Caribbean 4′ (you suck). He seems to use a deep focus shot in 3D.  Rather than having objects come out of the screen he has the foreground of the image layered thus making anything coming from the background of the image to the front have a lot more depth to it. If that makes no sense then let me just say “it’s different”.
I’m kinda excited that the 3D worked for once to impress me and I’m excited that it happened here in Hong Kong. It’s perfect for a movie like this that has WuXia action. Tsui Hark had ‘Avatar’s visual-effects supervisor, Chuck Comisky come onboard to work on this movie so no expense was spared here and it might hint at how good the 3D will get for the proposed ‘Avatar’ sequel.

Unfortunately Cinema goers in Hong Kong don’t have the choice of watching a 3D film in 2D. Everything that is filmed or converted to 3D is released in 3D only. The audience has no choice but to pay more to watch a film with this effect. The last 3D movie I watched before this was TinTin and I thought the 3D of that movie was really pointless to the point I didn’t even realize I was watching 3D anymore. A customer should only pay for what they want. They don’t have a choice as to how good or bad the movie will be but they should at least be able to choose how they see it. With 3D we are getting a weird perspective sometimes with the front of objects looking out of proportion and bigger than the rest of it. Hollywood calls 3D as “Cardboarding”and until it goes beyond that and until we don’t need to wear glasses to see it I’d rather not watch everything in 3D.

So the film itself? It’s good. Tsui Hark said it’s not a remake but more of a reimagining of the 92 version but there are some elements that seem to make this a sequel. There is little chemistry between the cast but the acting is impressive. Taiwanese actress Gwai Lun Mei has a stand out performance and is utterly seductive onscreen.

 Favorite Quote: “Better to live in the Jianghu World than the real world”. - Chow Wai On

White Vengeance December 21, 2011

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Written and Directed by Daniel Lee starring Leon Lai and Anthony Wong. ‘White Vengeance’ is based on the Historical events ‘The Feast at Hong Gate’ and ‘The Chu-Han Contention’ that took place between 206-202 BC.But not knowing the Historical events won’t spoil it. Perhaps it might be more disappointing for those that do know the history of it since the story isn’t an accurate depiction but not many movies are and with characters displaying unrealistic martial arts action it’s best to just enjoy the movie’s story instead.

The story depicts the Power struggle between two warring states, Western Chu and Han and of their military strategists whom advise the two main characters, Liu Bang (Leon Lai) and Zhang Liang (Hanyu Zhang). Their conflict is further deepened by their shared affections for Yu Ji (Yifei Liu).Yuji is a character I don’t really care for and seems to be thrown in there to get women into the cinema to see this movie. It’s very much a man’s film and the love triangle doesn’t really go anywhere. It’s never developed it’s just slapped on for the ‘pretty’ factor. If the character is going to be so under developed what is the point. 

The opening of the film is a bit confusing having flashbacks within flashbacks and it doesn’t seem to flash forward again after the second flash back or either it’s poor editing not to show that transition more clearly. Between all the machinations and plot twists instigated by each character you’ll need to keep attention till the very end. The action is mildly entertaining with fast paced fights and battles scenes. Some of the large scale army battles feature shaky cam movements making it hard to focus on the action properly. Probably making up for the budget. There is an overuse of the lens flare effect which has become the “in thing” with movies these days. This is even more distracting when it’s poorly used as an effect when a fake lens flare is placed into the middle of the screen in front of the characters face, I wondered “is this Dragon Ball with chi coming out of the guys face? or is is supposed to be a lens flare, in the middle of a guys face. The overly artistic filming style can be a bit off putting at times especially if it’s not in keeping with the style of the rest of the movie. The final scene of the movie is laughable showing two of the main characters meeting again in an overly romantic tone complete with falling cherry blossoms (wow how original!!!)  which is overly sentimental and adds nothing to the films story except to make it again look pretty. Why would I even care if it’s not central to the story or characters relationships. The most thrilling scenes in the film for me were not the large set action pieces but the game of Go which ramps up the tension and characterization and resonates as a symbolic theme of the movie until the very end. I’m sure there is deeper meaning to that overall game and I was missing something in cultural context and also due to translation of the movie with English subs.

While this movie isn’t as memorable as other big budget historical films it certainly is entertaining and worth watching, in no small part thanks to the acting of Leon Lai and Anthony (Awesome) Wong who give very touching performances that elevate this movie beyond the sub standard typical historical flick.

The Killer December 9, 2011

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The Killer is one of those landmark movies in Hong Kong cinema and especially important for introducing John Woo and Chow Yun Fat to international audiences. It cemented the theme of Heroic Bloodshed and gave rise to a whole slew of action movies in the same vein.  The influences are far reaching to hundreds of Movies from “The Matrix” to Robert Rodriguez’s “Desperado”. Even today there are action movies been released that still pay homage to Woo’s vision of what action should be. John Woo made gun violence beautiful.

While “The Killer” isn’t my favorite John Woo movie (my favorite been “Bullet in the Head“) it is an important movie by the Director and highly enjoyable.
In Hong Kong Cinema in the late 70s to early 80s Chivalry swordplay movies were highly popular, even Woo had made the sword play movie “Last Hurrah for Chivalry” in 1979. The role of the highly romanticized hero who sacrifices himself is deeply routed in Chinese literature. John woo modernized the Chiverlous hero in his gun toting action films by replacing the hero’s swords with guns. But the influences for this film and Woo’s character’s go deeper than that. In fact I think this might be Woo’s personal magnum opus.

The biggest influences on this film come from two movies that are favorites of John Woo. They are “Le Samourai” and “Narazumono” (An Outlaw). I can’t review “The Killer” without mentioning these movies such is there influence on the Director and his work. “Le Samourai” is a film by Woo’s Hero, Jean Pierre Melville and stars Alain Delon as a Hitman who adheres to the code of The Bushido. You’ll also find that this film inspired Jim Jarmusch’s “Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai”. In “Le Samurai” the hitman develops a relationship with a piano player of a club he has made a hit in. The player can identify him for the killing but chooses not to. Already we can see the influence on The Killer with the story set up taking place in a Music club except in “The Killer” Chow Yun Fat’s character accidentally blinds the singer in a shootout and overcome with guilt tries to take care of her and get enough money together to send her to Taiwan for an operation that would restore her eyesight. Some people people have criticized this plot point, that a hitman who blows away villainous criminals and innocent bystanders could care for this girl he blinded, but I think it’s missing the point to say that. The character has injured a woman and in the process of a hit, he has caused her to suffer each day because of his direct actions. Sure, he may be cold hearted to other innocent victims in shootouts but he hasn’t developed any emotional/romantic connection with them and it’s the incident with the singer that is the turning point for this character. The singer is seen as a symbolic get out card to save his soul. If he saves her sight maybe he could cleanse his own life by this good deed. To give Chow the vibe of Alain Delon Woo decided to have Chow dress in more period clothing. This angel white suit would make a later appearance with a similar romanticized Hitman in “Bullet in the Head“.

The other influence comes from the excellent Narazumono starring Takakura Ken. John Woo has been quoted in interviews as loving this movie and that it gave him the spirit to make “The Killer”. In it Takakura Ken is a Hitman in Hong Kong who is tricked into killing an innocent man and at the same time becomes accidentally involved in a drug switch. Using that as leverage for information he decides to take revenge by tracking down the man who has deceived him and travels to Macau where he encounters a prostitute suffering from Consumption (Tuberculous). He offers to take her away from this life.

Again, as with The Killer the main character uses the fallen woman as a way of redeeming his own mistakes in life. This redmeption the main character seeks is found throughout the movie from the beginning as we find him in Church. Again the religious symbolism in Woo’s action is very blunt. A statue of the Mama Mary blowing up is seeming to represent the destruction of goodness and truth. The shootout in the church represents the final ending for these characters, the gateway between life and death and for their crimes they are all ultimately punished in the eyes of God and tricked by fate in the final scenes outside the church.

Favorite Quote:  The world has changed. Honor is now a dirty word.” - Joe

Kairo (Pulse) June 17, 2011

Posted by oldboy in : Asian Cinema, J-Horror , add a comment

Kairo is a film which for me is impressive visually and atmospherically. It’s a film that scares you by showing less and making you feel more. It’s of the same caliber as films like “Ring” or “Ju-on” for the fear it can bring about within you. But story-wise it’s dull and tedious. I didn’t know what the heck the film was about nor what the characters were talking about. Their little discussions about life, death and where the ghosts came from made little sense. Example: “the afterlife is full with ghosts so they must be falling out of it”. Right. That’s just a theory on behalf of a character. But really, where are they coming from?  Was it that computer at the university that had that screen saver with the little lights that wouldn’t touch each other? No, not that. The ghosts came from an Internet site streaming videos of them online. Cool but, where did that start? What’s the source? In “Ring” we had that explanation in Sadako. We had her motives and reasoning. Most Japanese ghost stories are like that, the ghost wants revenge, there is a point to it. Rather than ghosts just being as*holes for the sake of it.

No, none of these things are ever really explored in any detail, the reasoning behind why people sellotape doors shut is not explained. How people can become ghosts isn’t explained. What the significance of them becoming black ash and how it’s easy to be affected/infected by that is all just, well, a mystery.

Where as “Ring” was a mystery that built to a fascinating conclusion Kairo does nothing but try to scare you. It’s throws things at you but doesn’t tell you where it came from, it’s nonsensical and disappointing.

On the plus side the movie does feature ‘Koyuki’ who seems to be hot for one of the nerdiest most stupid characters in the film. I’ve noticed this trend in J-Horror movies, the attractive girl goes for the dumbest guy who in reality couldn’t get a girlfriend to save his life.

Norwegian Wood Movie December 31, 2010

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“I once had a girl, or should I say she once had me” is a line from the song Norwegian Wood by The Beatles which this Movie and Novel got it’s name from. The film haunts me in the way the novel does. At best it serves that purpose well and I tend to like what the director has done with this. Having watched all of his previous films I’m rather fond of his style and am always quite affected by them. Music plays a big factor in that and the music here reflects Naoko’s inner turmoil well. Suicide is a background theme of the movie and book. There’s a certain frustration because unlike some other forms of media the movie doesn’t really deal with it. It’s more about the people left behind, We aren’t given answers to why people kill themselves and true to life sometimes that is the case. It might be that thing that is most tormenting.

The film photography is exquisite, very beautiful. Tran has an impressive eye for detail in his films exploring the most encratite things that are often so tiny and unnoticeable in our every day lives. I feel it’s a return to form from his last film “I come with the Rain” where he shied away from that into something a little more mainstream.

Rinko Kikuchi as Naoko was perfect, she resembles the image of Naoko that formed in my mind when reading the book, Midori too is also close to the image I have of the character and both actresses give a great performance.  Kenichi Matsuyama as Watanabe I was less thrilled with, the unsure and young Toru doesn’t really come across in Matsuyama’s performance. There is a vulnerability with the character that is missing here, unfortunately casting a more geeky, less manly type of actor won’t cut it for audiences.

This film might have problems finding an audience. To appreciate it I think having read the novel or being familiar with Murakami’s works will be of benefit. However as a fan of the novel you may also dislike the adaptation of the material as is typical with such things. But scripts are far shorter than novels. Before I had imagined a director like Wong Kar Wai making this thinking his style suits Murakami’s world. For me I like both Murakami’s work and also Tran Hung’s work so I felt I got the best of both worlds and was given the Director’s personal interpretation of the material.

Kurosawa Exhibition

Posted by oldboy in : Unproduced Scripts, Asian Cinema , add a comment

This years marks the 100th anniversary of kurosawa’s birth. Throughout the year Japan has been celebrating his centenary through exhibitions and attractions featuring his art work and international posters of his movies as well as screenings of his most celebrated and important films in his long career.

A while back I had the privilege of attending an Exhibition in Ebisu, Tokyo which featured paintings from the master himself. It’s beyond a delight to get up close to something the great artist has laid his creative hands on. It’s a wonderful exhibition to mark his centenary and gives a greater insight into his method and process of film making.

From what I’ve read Kurosawa was a meticulous filmmaker, when he wrote the scripts for his movies such as the Seven Samurai, he even went into such great detail to note what each character ate for breakfast.

Kurosawa also enjoyed painting but burned a large portion of the work he created. A lot of his paintings that exist today are based on his film projects, for some projects such as Kagemusha Kurosawa was unsure he would be able to secure financing for such a large scale film and thus wanted to release his artistic vision to the world in some form if film was not possible. So presented were paintings for ‘Ran’, ‘Kagemusha’, ‘Dreams’, ‘Mādadayo’, and ‘The Sea is Watching’

It was really interesting to see paintings from scripted scenes that were cut out of his films, for example the declaration of world peace segment that was written for ‘Kurosawa’s Dreams’, the main character being woken up by artillery shells only to discover they are being fired in celebration of world peace.

A large portion of these sketches and paintings were donated by Martin scorsese who was given them as a gift by Kurosawa. Scorsese himself appeared in Kurosawa’s “Dreams” as Vincent Van Gogh. Kurosawa cast him after meeting him and seeing how passionate Scorsese was about the art of filmmaking, so much so that it reminded Kurosawa of Van Gogh’s passion in his letters to his brother Theo.

The most interesting Painting in the exhibition for me was a painting from “Dreams” of the old wise man by the water mill. Why I adored it so much was because the brush strokes were so vivid like those of Van Gogh himself. I couldn’t help but smile inside.

Favorite Quote: “Everybody, find something you really love. I advise you to look for something that is truly important to you, something that matters and has most significance to you. Once you find it, try to channel all your energy into it.” - Akira Kurosawa

Godzilla: Final Wars

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What in the name of holy blue F**k is this? I’ve seen some bad movies in my time and this ranks high among them. A 50th anniversary film for Godzilla in 2004 and this is how Toho decided to send off the big G? Seriously? I kept watching it wondering if this really was the actual movie and not some cheaply made piece of trash knock off, but to my horror I find that no, this is the last Godzilla film made in all it’s in-finiteness to retire the character.

I mean, what the….

Words fail me. The effects are dreadful, absolutely dreadful. The cheapest episode of power rangers has better effects than this movie. It’s astonishing to me that such a low quality level of film making was allowed to be screened at cinemas and people were made to pay for it. Did the director think “yeah, these effects look cheaper than any other Godzilla movie before. That will do”.This movie had the largest budget of any Godzilla movie! Even fan movies created for the likes of youtube have better effects than this movie.Shame on you Ryuhei Kitamura and anyone else who let this out on the general public.

The acting. I don’t even need to go there. Horrible. Even a great script couldn’t have stopped such clunky delivered dialogue. We’ve got this guy who looks like Haggar from the arcade game “Final Fight” (great game) as a captain of a crew of mutants that look like boyband rejects who have to face off against evil aliens that also look like boyband rejects. These aliens control all the world’s monsters except Godzilla. Godzilla goes around the world and beats the crap out of them all. The Godzilla scenes aren’t too bad, but I feel the movement of the monster has become too human.

This is not the Godzilla I grew up with in my youth. I first encountered the big G late on Friday night on Channel 4 after eating a midnight snack in my kitchen and was glued to it. The first movie of Godzilla’s I saw was called “Destroy All Monsters”, followed weekly by “Godzilla Vs Gigan” “Godzilla Vs Mechagodzilla” etc. The Shōwa series. In later years I was able to see the far darker and mature original from 1954. What.A.Movie. The Godzilla remake by the US in 98 wasn’t great nor wasn’t really Godzilla but as a disaster movie of a monster tearing up a city it wasn’t so bad.

This Final Wars Godzilla is a joke though and the apple has fallen far from the tree. The last great Godzilla scene was in the film “Always” which had a brief opening scene of Godzilla. What might save Godzilla now is the planned US reboot of the remake of Godzilla, this time getting the formula right, having a monster that looks like Godzilla and foes to match.

Least Favorite Quote: “Listen kid, there are two things you didn’t know about the Earth. One is me. And the other is… Godzilla” - The guy that looks like Hagger

Space Battleship Yamato Live action Movie December 16, 2010

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I was pretty excited to see this as I enjoyed the series quite a bit. Unfortunately it’s more of a typical Generic Sci-fi movie.
It looks like Yamato, everything is there. Beautiful effects, wave motion Canon, the Yamato lifting off from Earth. Analyser at first only appears as a tricorder type object used by Kodai but surprisingly turns up later in full robot mode and kicks some serious ass. In many ways the movie stays close to the series story and visuals. The voices of Dessler, Analyser and Starsha sound the same as the series. The music captures the spirit of  Hiroshi Miyagawa. The costumes and sets are great (although the bridge could have been bigger).

But it’s lacking spirit. The cast aren’t great. Kimura Takuya who plays Kodai is pretty much acting as himself in the movie. In this movie I feel it’s less about Kodai the Hero and more about Kimura the hero. Too much time is spent talking in this movie. It doesn’t move forward enough and is a bit dragged out at over 2 hours.
Meisa Kuroki plays Yuki who is more like a Starbuck type figure from the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica, she is an ace fighter pilot and she likes to act tough and punch people’s lights out. I’m all for 21st Century chicks been more bad ass and less girlish making tea for the crew etc but the character is uninspiring and just seems like a rip on Galactica.

The space battles. Gods damn it, the makers of this movie just didn’t get it right. They are your typical affair nothing inspiring, space battles that are pretty much the norm for sci-fi movies, fast and furious. Nothing dynamic about them. Even the opening looks like it copied the opening of the new Star Trek movie. There is also a scene where Kodai has to save Yuki who is stuck out in space before the enemy reaches them and before Yamato warps which is a copy of the miniseries episode of nBSG which had Kara saving Lee in his Viper before the enemy reached them and Galactica Jumped away. In the original animated series they based the battles on World War II movies and had the attack fighters move like fighter planes. Here it’s just ships buzzing around. Where’s the beauty gone in space battles these days?

Gamilus. Are now a bunch of bug type aliens. In the animated series they looked human which was shocking to the Yamato crew and made it far more complex an enemy for it’s a lot harder to kill an enemy that looks like you rather than bug creatures that jump around. Here there is no tactical battles of miltary minds between Gamilus and the Yamato. It’s just a free for all. And Dessler is as disappointing as galactus was in ” Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer” here he is just a blue humanoid squiggly light.

The Ending is a bit heartbreaking and a tiny bit cheesy in a good way. Unfortunately though it looks like we are only getting one Yamato movie.  After watching this ending I realised it’s a bit like Armageddon. Meteorites attack the earth, a ship leaves earth to stop them.  At the end the hero dies saving the earth and the song ends with a song by Steven Tyler (from Aerosmith) Coincidence? I don’t think so.

Battle Royale 3-D December 6, 2010

Posted by oldboy in : Asian Cinema, Book to Film , add a comment

New opening and ending credits with a techno version of Verdi’s Requiem adding an extra umf to the movie, a lot of the most noticeable 3D consists of CGI blood splatters and bullets firing out of the screen which look a bit too CGI, the blood in particular works well in 3D as it gives the impression of landing on the 3D glasses but it looks a bit unreal and reminds me of a horrible scene from the 1973 film Earthquake, (if you seen it you’ll know right away what I mean).

Having Takashi Kitano in the film changes the plot of the film somewhat from the novel. sticking in a well known actor is bound to do that. But some scenes are out of place making it a little less realistic, having Kitano walk out onto to the island to Noriko while the game is still going on. The relationship between Noriko and Kitano I don’t really get and neither does she it seems.

However Kitano plays up his character well and is quite menacing at the beginning. In fact i’m on his side in this movie. When he set of Yoshitoki’s collar I was glad. Thing is, I don’t like this punk kid, we see near the beginning of the movie Yoshitoki stab Kitano. I have no sympathy for a kid who performs a random act of violence for pleasure. This might be a failure in the film since we are supposed to sympathize over his death and this is the driving force behind Shuya, to get some revenge for his best friend’s death.

While the film is controversial it’s a mild commentary on teen killings in my opinion. These people who are trapped on the island don’t show too much hesitation to kill each other off unlike the novel where they show a bit more restraint. It might have to do with the number youth killings in Japan and the laws which do not punish youth crime as much as they do to Adults. Often I have read reports of youth crime of youths attacking Teachers and parents because they “felt like it” and wanted to experience something before entering adulthood.
Shuya is a bit whiny and idiotic. Shogo and Kazuo are pretty close to their novel counterparts. What we missed out in the novel we get here. Mitsuko Vs Kazuo. Kazuo vs Shogo. However, after reading the novel (which is 615 pages long) this movie feels very condensed and quick. Missing are the elements of mistrust between characters, the relationships between them, the basketball team, Shuya, the Third man and Kotohiki are guys whom are depended upon by their classmates and are the most skilled of their class. We only get a glimps of their relationship here through flashbacks of them playing basketball. The novel is well worth a read to appreciate these characters more and what these scenes are all about. They didn’t hold much meaning for me when I first saw the film almost 10 years ago.

What really goes well with this movie is the classical music score. I think it’s pretty perfect.

Lastly those Collars. A great idea that’s been used before in Films such as “The Running Man” and one of my favorite Anime’s “Cyber City Oedo”. A great concept.
Unfortunately and expectingly so the 3D CGi blood and bullets detract from this film. The only good reason to see it is the oportunity to watch a Cult Asian Extreme movie on the big screen and get all teary eyed with nostalgia.

Favorite Quote: And then - I’m glad I found true friends.” - Shogo Kawada - student # 5

Battle Royale Novel

Posted by oldboy in : Books, Asian Cinema, Book to Film , add a comment

The most violent novel I have ever read I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel like this that has made me squince at the detailed description of violent acts and murder preformed by the students.

The message of the novel,  well it deals with dictator ship, bad people who come to power and societies attitude towards it. Basically comments on people’s passiveness and collective thinking allowing dictators to govern and bad things to happen while the general public concern only themselves and thus evil succeeds because good people do nothing. The issue of trust is explored too, can anyone really trust each other if they are told they will be killed if they don’t kill. It’s a rip situation for paranoia bordering on the orwellian.

Shogo is the Hero of the story in my mind. He wants to tear down the fucking country even though he knows at heart what he can do is very little.

Unlike the movie when The third man’s plan falls it’s pretty horrid as it almost all came together. The movie shows this but it’s over all too quickly and the tense dramatic buildup is completely missing from the movie.
Kazuo Kiriyama, is this guy ‘The Flash’? He practically can dodges the speeding bullets of anyone that shoots at him yet others are falling into the line of bullets often. When Kazuo gets a bullet proof vest he is pretty much Superman and how he is killed at the end is just unbelievable after all his beyond lucky escapes.

Favorite Quote: “I’ll Tear this fucking country down” - Shogo

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