Sunday, May 11, 2008

Go. Speed Racer. Go

Speed Racer himself struggling to catch all the colors on screen

I always thought I would use this blog to champion smaller, independent films that need all the public attention I can give. Instead, I'm about to use this blog to push for the latest Hollywood blockbuster. Go figure.

If you're reading this, and The Wachowski Brothers' Speed Racer is still playing near you on the big screen, then go. Now. It's easily the most fun I've had this year at the theater that's actually intentional. And I really liked Iron Man.

Forget the serious-minded critics, who'll tell you that the plot makes no sense, the images are too much, or the acting was wooden. This is a true anti-thesis to the dark comic adaptations that believe that human in spandex flying around fighting monsters can actually have dark psychological issues worthy of years in therapy. The Wachowskis have created pure and - dare I say - shameless entertainment that must be enjoyed on the big screen.

I never watched any of the cartoon (at least I don't remember watching it), and I still had tons of fun waiting for the next dizzying, physics-defying race sequence to amaze me. Even the Wachowskis' technique of using flowing heads as wipes between shots worked. Hell, even the annoying chimp in the trailer worked. The kid, on the other hand, didn't, but that's another story.

However, enjoyment comes on one condition, especially for film students: Throw away any expectation for "meaningful filmmaking", i.e., symbolism, deeper issues beyond the flashy surface. This is unabashedly made to entertain the kids, and it works damn well as it is. Even the dialogue scenes, which I expected to be stilted and wooden like they were in the trailers, were competently directed.

I already paid to watch this once, but I'm going to pay for another ticket to watch this in digital projection in a theater with seats that rumble at low bass. But I'm not even going to complain, because it'll be worth it, and I haven't found a movie worth going to the theaters twice for since Batman Begins.

And just to keep this blog Asian-related: Rain was OK, and didn't ruin the movie. He even played a semi-important role, and he did it just fine.

Still, it was hard to not yell "RAAAAAAAAIIIIIIN" Colbert-style every time he appears on screen, though.

And when you're done decompressing from all the colors, maybe you can come back here and tell me what you thought.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

HKIFF: Day 6

I didn't write any report for my viewing of Once because I gave up the ticket to work some more. Life is busy. March life is busier.

Nevertheless, I made it to my two screenings yesterday, and I'll talk about my second movie of the day more in detail because I won't be reviewing it

Sitting 3 rows behind stars Karena Lam (!!!!) and Cyndi Wang, I watched the lesbian omnibus film Candy Rain. The film is made up of 4 stories, about 4 different lesbian couples that has their own respective problems. However, it doesn't really say anything profound about neither homo nor heterosexual relationships other than whatever the narrators tell you. In fact, it's like watching four very long and damn near incoherent music videos. The music are nice, and the art direction is beautiful in that "I wish my house look that tragically hip" sort of way, but it doesn't connect at all. Worst film I've seen at the festival so far.

I also saw Shinji Aoyama's Sad Vacation, though I might not be qualified to review it. Along with Eureka and Helpless, this film completes a so-called "Kita Kyushu" trilogy by the auteur. However, I couldn't help but wonder about these characters' backstories as I was watching the film. Turns out a few of the characters are from the previous films, which was a minor annoyance, though it didn't deter from my understanding of the film. Instead, it's the film's editing style that provided the deterrence. A work worth respecting, though I'm not entirely sure about liking it yet.

Next, the final film of my HKIFF experience: Bare-Assed Japan.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

HKIFF: Day 5

It's kind of sad, but I'm already halfway through my tickets at the Hong Kong International Film Festival. Today it's films 5 and 6: The Japanese wrestling comedy Gachi Boy Wrestling with a Memory and Naoko Ogigami's Megane.

Some people criticize that the HKIFF has been getting more and more commercial films, to the point of losing its purpose. The choice of Gachi Boy may be one of those commercial films they're talking about. From the people at Robot (including uber producer Chihiro Kameyama)and Fuji TV is another underdog sports comedy that features a protagonist trying to pick up pro wrestling, despite all the odds against him. This isn't a "film festival" movie by any means, but I'm happy that the HKIFF people brought a film that wouldn't be shown in Hong Kong otherwise (no big stars, no real attractive gimmick for a broad HK audience). It's a genuine crowdpleaser with an excellent lead performance, even if it is the usual emotionally manipulative stuff.

A similarly crowdpleasing film that didn't need to resort to melodramatic theatrics is Naoko Ogigami's Magane. A simple comedy about a woman escaping city life at an un-named island where everyone spend their days being lazy next to the ocean, it features eccentric characters and no real plot to speak of. Nevertheless, I think it left more of a smile on people's face than a hearty laugh. One audience even said that being in the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong, just seeing the film in therapeutic. I think that's the biggest compliment one can give to Ogigami-san (pictured above), and one that I wholeheartedly agree with.

Wednesday: The Irish film Once

Friday, March 21, 2008

HKIFF: Days 3 and 4

On the third night of the Hong Kong International Film Festival, I checked out the independent comedy-drama Sex Is No Laughing Matter, with it boy Kenichi Matsuyama starring as a college student who falls in love with an older woman. Not too much to say, though I can say it's the only screening so far where the audience did not applaud at the end of the film. However, the audience still reacted fairly well to it, especially to Yu Aoi's performance as a girl who expresses her frustrations in the cutest ways possible. However, it's the detached visual style of director Nami Iguchi will make this a film that won't travel far beyond film festivals.

By the way, anyone expecting any explicit content will be disappointed: It's definitely very tame in showing the sex.

On the other hand, the deadpan comedy Fine, Totally Fine should have little trouble reaching a wider audience that's looking for laughs more than attractive stars. In Japan, this is more well-known as comedian Yoshiyoshi Arakawa's first starring role, but for the audiences, it'll just be known as the funniest Japanese comedy so far in 2008. This is one where I would recommend everyone to not watch any trailers for. Just go in and prepared to be surprised.

After 4 movies, this is how I would rank my experience at the festival so far:

1) I Just Didn't Do It - 9.0/10, or A-
2) Fine, Totally Fine - 8.5/10, or B+
3) God Man Dog - 8/10, or B
4) Sex is No Laughing Matter - 7.5/10, or B-

Tomorrow: Wrestling With a Memory (Gachi Boy) and Glasses.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

HKIFF: Day 2

My second film of the festival is Taiwanese director Singing Chen's God Man Dog. The director herself and star Jack Kao were in attendance for a Q&A session (both autographs on ticket above), where I got a commemorative lucky charm for asking a question.

As for the film, it's an ensemble film, where three seemingly unrelated stories somehow come together in the end and say something profound about our lives. Chen first set up at least two emotionally heavy stories, but doesn't really do enough with them for us to look forward to when they come together. However, when the tragicomedy aspect begins to set in, it also began to be more enjoyable. It has enough great music, cinematography, and performances to make it a good film. However, Chen's broad scope includes too much, with the plots not really going anywhere at points.

Still, I'm a sucker for these types of stories (me being a fan of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and all), so I would recommend God Man Dog to those who know what they're going into.

It opens in Taiwan on March 28th.

Tomorrow: Sex Is No Laughing Matter (or Don't Laugh At My Romance).

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

HKIFF: Day 1

This is my first year as a festival goer at the Hong Kong International Film Festival (I went to a screening of Hotel Rwanda 3 years ago, but that just makes me a guy going to a movie). I originally have 12 movies lined up, though now it is 11, because the screening of United Red Army I got a ticket for got canceled. 11 is considered quite minor, especially when there are people out there with 20-30 tickets. Nevertheless, on my limited budget and time (both due to me being a student), this is the best I can do this year.

Anyway, over the next 2 weeks, I'll be recapping the films I watch at the festival, though I'll leave the full-length reviews to Lovehkfilm.

My first film of the festival is Masayuki Suo's multiple-award-winning legal drama I Just Didn't Do It. Only a film geek like me would be excited that I got to see the director of Shall We Dance and the guy who acted under Clint Eastwood in person.

And there's Kantoku Suo taking a picture of the audience. I wonder if he has a blog.

Anyway, the film can be described as the long and arduous fight of a man falsely accused of groping a high school girl on the train. It's a painstakingly researched and even infuriating film that exposes the Japanese legal system for all its bureaucratic inefficiencies.

Unlike the Death Note movies, which was knee-deep in so-called moral debates about the inefficiencies of the Japanese legal system, the filmmakers know what they were doing, peeling each process layer by layer. They actually know what they're talking about, and they stick by it. Meanwhile, Death Note pretends to be making a challenging point, but really only to make one of its characters more likable.

I Just Didn't Do It is a powerful film that's also quietly intense and one of the best "message" films to come along in a while. Like I previously have written, I'll leave the bulk of my opinion for the full-length review, but it's even better than Tokyo Tower, which beat Suo's film's at the Japanese Academy Awards. It's no surprise, though: Partially quoting the film, a win for a film against the system is like a blow against the system, so how can it wn?

Tomorrow: Taiwan's God Man Dog

Sunday, January 6, 2008

SImply Pop: Dreams Come True and their Map of the Future

I picked these songs as my Song of the Day before over at the Golden Rock, but seeing them perform again after lead singer Miwa Yoshida's hiatus from performing and reading this blog post (in Chinese) made these songs leave a bit of an impact on me.

I'm talking about the three Mirai Yosouzu songs by the Japanese pop group Dreams Come True. I was first introduced to the second song by my girlfriend, who still sees it as one of her favorite songs. The first two songs were released two years apart, telling the story of a couple who uses five flashes of a scooter's break light to signal the words "I love you" in Japanese (or its five syllables: A-I-SHI-TE-RU. I first thought it was morse code, but it's not). The third song (called The Sign of A-i-shi-te-ru ~ Our Map of the Future) came out to coincide with the release with the film The Sign of Love, based on the two songs.

Written by lead singer Miwa Yoshida, the song wraps up the story by taking place during the "happily ever after" part of their story. It contains lyrics such as "Can the words 'I love you" be expressed to you?" , "Being with you brought me to where I am today", and of course, the first line: "Is (my love) being expressed to you correctly?" (I assure you, it sounds a lot better in Japanese).

The single was released days after the death of Yoshida's husband, which came days after they had just wrapped up their tour. This means they never got to publicly perform this song on TV (they probably performed it on their tour, though) until these last few weeks. The one I saw, and can easily be found on Youtube, is the performance during the annual Kohaku show on New Year's Eve. Reports indicated that Yoshida is still trying to come to terms with his death, and was even seen being consoled during the show's rehearsal.

These songs are great pop ballads in their own right, and Yoshida performs them exceptionally every time, but seeing her deliver lyrics so close to her heart after all that's happened without fail has to melt your heart to some degree. Forget Gackt and his band of warriors, this was the best performance during this year's Kohaku.

Tracking back, here's part 1:

and the more popular part II:

Here's the translated lyrics for part II:

And the Japanese lyrics:

Part I

Part II

Part III