New York Asian Film Festival 2012

Review: Bloody Fight in Iron Rock Valley

Mar 25 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]211117:38538[/embed] Bloody Fight in Iron Rock Valley (Cheolam Gyekokui Hyeoltu | 철암계곡의 혈투)Director: Ji Ha-JeanRating: NRCountry: Korea There are a lot of great elements at work in Bloody Fight in Iron Rock Valley, but it's that odd thing where sometimes a movie just doesn't hit you when you feel like it's trying to. Or maybe in this case, the elements are there, but the movie just doesn't stick for some reason. The villains are a rowdy bunch of cusses led by a sociopath named Ghostface, and one of his henchmen is a sniveling, buffoonish little toadie that you want to see dead. The hero is stylish and stern -- a stoic machine with a snappy wild west fashion sense. And did I mention he wields a nail gun? (Unfortunately this sounds much cooler than it is in the film, and, if I remember right, it's only used in three or four scenes.) Filmed on a shoestring budget, Bloody Fight in Iron Rock Valley is a modernized revenge western, with some shades of Once Upon a Time in the West. (The jazzy, smoky bass riff on the soundtrack even reminds me a bit of the harmonica melody from the Leone film.) It's stylish, there are some solid set pieces, there are moments of torture that carry some sense of poetic justice. An early kill turns the bad guy's weapon against him, a later one is a bit of karmic retribution for an offense against a Buddhist temple. The film follows a man with no name out to get some toughs for a wrong they committed in the past, but it winds up revealing a larger plot about dirty water. A fair amount of Bloody Fight in Iron Rock Valley is spent away from our nameless avenger with the nail gun. Some of that time is spent watching Ghostface and his crew do their misdeeds, which helps reveal their ruthlessness, but another portion is spent with a hooker with a heart of gold. She's being used by her boyfriend to help rustle people into the makeshift casinos in town, and she's just starting to get a conscience about it. It's not that this isn't interesting per se, especially given the whole set up. An entire town full of undrinkable water is a den of grift and gambling and nothing else; our gunslinger has a nail gun instead of a six-shooter; our lead killer is named Ghostface. But it's all sort of diffused save for sudden punctuations of stylish violence. In trying to upend the expectations of revenge movies (and specifically ultra-violent Korean revenge movies), director Ji Ha-Jean creates an uneven, meandering experience. It's a bit like having a soup where I like the individual ingredients but I just don't care for the broth. Maybe the taste is not as complex as it could be -- the revenge seems so one-note, the story of the town seems interesting but not fully integrated, the plot doesn't really punch. The result isn't something watery or something bland, but Bloody Fight in Iron Rock Valley does feel like it could be stronger or could have been prepared differently. With all the cool elements at work, I wouldn't mind seeing the unsubtle revenge film version of this without any genre dismantling; I also wouldn't mind seeing another take on all this with greater focus on the revenge and the nature of our nameless hero's pursuit. It's only been a few days since seeing Bloody Fight in Iron Rock Valley, and I'm struggling to remember things about it. I recall snippets -- some of the action scenes (particularly interesting given the low budget); the savvy, snappy, cowboy outfit from our hero; the music box he carries with a spinning ballerina, which is the only thing he has left from his past, wound up and played as trigger point for memories and vengeance. But the overall impression of the film is getting lost in the fog of other NYAFF films. And even then, I can recall those movies distinctly since since they affected me more (even if the experience was negative and/or frustrating). What I do remember I liked well enough, and I remember when the movie ended I felt it was okay -- not good, but just okay. I may give Bloody Fight in Iron Rock Valley another watch in the future just to see if I was experiencing movie fatigue at the time. Or maybe I'll watch another revenge film. Maybe both just to see how Bloody Fight works as a coolly detached palate cleanse. Alec Kubas-Meyer: One of the things I like about Korean movies, and Korean revenge movies in particular, is that you really never know who is going to survive. Maybe the love interest will live, maybe she won't. Maybe that cute child will run away, or maybe he'll take a shotgun blast to the face. You assume that the good guy will get revenge in the end (Bloody Fight in Iron Rock Valley is a modern take on a Western, after all), but revenge doesn't necessarily mean victory. That ratchets up the tension of action scenes quite a bit, and tense action scenes are a good thing. Bloody Fight has some really great action sequences, but they are marred by a story that really isn't very interesting, and none of the characters are really fleshed out. Frankly, though, I think it's worth watching for the action scenes alone. I just wish they'd gone on a bit longer. Ax's death in particular could have used a bit more oomph. Ah well. 70 - Good
Bloody Fight photo
An interesting but not entirely memorable Korean revenge tale
[This review was originally posted as part of our coverage of the 2012 New York Asian Film Festival. It is being reposted as a reminder that the film will be screening for free tomorrow evening at the Tribeca Cinemas in New Y...

Review: The King of Pigs

Jan 14 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]211160:38518[/embed] The King of Pigs (Dwaejiui Wang | 돼지의 왕)Director: Yeun Sang-Ho Rating: NRCountry: South Korea The King of Pigs is the antithesis of Starry Starry Night. Where that film acknowledges the terrors of middle school but looks optimistically at the future, The King of Pigs is consumed by it. Although it takes place years and years after middle school, Kyung-Min finds himself in a terrible position, having just killed his own wife, and he thinks back to his time and his friend Chul-Yi. He meets up with Jong-Suk, who he hasn't talked to since his first year of middle school. The two of them had been close with each other and with Chul-Yi. Kyung-Min needed someone to talk to, and he needed to talk about Chul-Yi. The film goes back and forth between the past and the present, showing the relationship between the three of them, how it grew and fell apart. Teachers play a minimal role in the film, existing mostly to dole out punishment to those they deem worthy of it. But the actions of the teachers don't hold a candle to those of the other students. If this is what Korean schools are like, I am very thankful for not having grown up there. Some of the lower status students (particularly Kyung-Min and Jong-Suk) are consistently harassed and frequently beaten by the upper class students. There are all kinds of cruel pranks that they play, and the fact that they are let off for what they do when the students attempting to fight back are punished just made me angry. Chul-Yi was an exception. Not only did he fight back, but he was capable of it, going so far as to put one of the upper class students in the hospital. It's never entirely clear why he's such a good fighter, but it doesn't really matter. His home life was terrible, and it was very clear that he was mentally unbalanced. His goal was to become a monster, a true evil being that would be the king of the pigs. Pigs, in this case, are the lower class, with dogs being the upper. This is what I gleaned from the film, but is not necessarily what happened. Almost all of that information comes from the visuals of the film, not from the language. As I mentioned, this translation is terrible. Absolutely awful. It seemed to me like the script was just run through Google Translate and then just put onto the film before calling it a day. I wish I could say that was an exaggeration. Most of the subtitled films I have seen (at NYAFF and otherwise) have imperfect translations. Some are worse than others, but they usually just seem like they needed another proofreader rather than an entirely different translator. I can't believe that an actual person who was hired to translate this film could have failed so thoroughly at understanding the English language. At least 95% of the sentences spoken/translated in The King of Pigs have some kind of glaring grammatical error. It could be more like 99%. Every once in a while, there would be a run of a couple sentences that all made sense, and it would be almost as shocking as the horribly poor language usually on display. But even in those rare cases where it did work, the translation was just boring. I can't say whether or not there was any kind of meaning behind the Korean script, but I have trouble believing that it was as soulless as the English (if you can even call it that) makes it out to be. I never found myself interested in the language, because there was nothing to be interested in. When words weren't being put in the wrong order or simply made up for the sake of some unknown, terrible reason, they were just words.  I want to reiterate what I said at the beginning: I hope the translator has been fired and blacklisted. That person is in every way incapable of doing their job, and director Yeun Sang-Ho should sue that person for lost ticket sales. I have already convinced at least one person already to not see the film because of the translation. It's quite possible this review will convince a few more. I probably sound like I'm exaggerating the problem, and that it couldn't honestly be this bad, but it is. It really, really is. And it's not funny either. Maybe if The King of Pigs were something else, I could laugh at its utter failure in the same way I can laugh at a poorly dubbed Kung Fu movie, but I can't here. The King of Pigs is a very serious film, and the events that take place all tend towards the horrific, and I'm sure the dialogue highlighted the gravity of some of the things. But in a key moment, when a character announces, "I will suicide myself," I couldn't just take it in stride. The translation actively works against the film every step of the way, goading the viewer into figuring out what it's trying to tell you while it's already gone onto something else.  But in those moments when I was able to get past the subtitles, I was struck by the The King of Pigs's visual style. It's strange, and it took me a little while to come to grips with its occasionally amateurish look. Fortunately, I got over that hump and didn't even think about it for the entire second half. The film was independently funded by the director, so the technology behind the film is less than stellar, and that was obvious. Muddy textures, weird uses of ugly 3D models, and other issues are abound, but all of that can be looked past, because what's onscreen is compelling (and occasionally difficult to watch). The movie is very violent, and the violence is viscous. The animated nature of the film means that creating disorienting environments or moments can happen more naturally and more easily within the film. That is taken full advantage of. If nothing else, it's definitely interesting. If you can understand Korean, I implore you to see The King of Pigs. From what I was able to gather, the story is compelling, and it goes to some pretty shocking places. If you can understand the story the way it should be, I think you will find a lot to like, even though I can't promise you will "enjoy" it. If you do see it that way, please come back and tell me what it's really like. I honestly want to know. But if you're like me and have to deal with the subtitles, don't waste your time. I had to see it through to the end, but you really won't want to. [Editor's note: I do not know for sure if the screening that is taking place in Tribeca has the same subtitles as the version I saw, so it is possible that you can disregard what I said. Due to the whole "free" thing, it may be worth seeing regardless.]
 photo
An interesting film destroyed by its subtitles
[This review was originally posted as part of our freaking awesome coverage of the New York Asian Film Festival. It is being reposted here to remind NYC residents that they can see it for free down in Tribeca on Tuesday, Janu...

Review: Dragon (Wu Xia)

Nov 29 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]210985:38537[/embed] Dragon (Wu Xia | Swordsman | 武俠)Director: Peter ChanRating: RCountry: China (Hong Kong)Release Date: November 30th, 2012 Dragon begins as a sort of Chinese pastoral, with a farmer named Jinxi (Yen). He leads a simple life with his family in a home without doors. He's a paper maker in a small village, and his business has brought prosperity to his people. Two thieves enter town and Jinxi barely stops them in a desperate struggle. There's no clean kung-fu about it. It's a brawl, and Jinxi fumbles and flails the entire time. Detective Xu Baiju (Takeshi Kaneshiro) is sent to investigate the case, and he starts to unravel a mystery about Jinxi's past. Kaneshiro does a lot of the heavy lifting during the first half of Dragon -- it's a detective story with a little CSI rather than a martial arts film. This is one of the twists on audience expectation. Something about Jinxi's fight doesn't add up for our detective. Xu Baiju is an obsessive guy, and he's torn by his devotion to objective facts and his moral obligation to people around him. It leads to a lot of high drama as well as some great comedy, though it's a creepy, paranoid kind of comedy. Kaneshiro is part Sherlock Holmes on opium, part Salieri, and part Lois Lane trying to prove Clark Kent is Superman. That's where having Yen play a common man like Jinxi is so important. The detective suspects something is up and the audience feels the same way. Why would an action superstar like Donnie Yen play a common country guy in a movie called Wu Xia? It's a bit like casting Arnold Schwarzenegger as a turnip farmer in a movie called 80s Action Film. Not only does Dragon play off its title, it's playing off its lead. Peter Chan's direction initially emphasizes pastoral life and family drama, which are the grounded aspects of the genre. By the end of an adventure, many heroes in wuxia pictures want to settle down and raise a family, just like the gunfighter in a western -- the martial artist trades his taijijian for a water buffalo, the cowboy gives up his six-gun for a steer or a mule. But you can never really escape the past. There's some talk between Xu Baiju and Jinxi about free will, fate, and karma. They have their own beliefs, or at least beliefs they're trying to make themselves believe. This fatalism, the idea of personal integrity vs. systems of law, and the way that the filmmakers play with an established genre are reminded me a little of Kill Zone (SPL: Sha Po Lang). To say what else reminded me of SPL might give too much of the mystery away. The second part of Dragon is where the Chinese pastoral turns into the kung-fu berserk. It was bound to happen. Just look at the title and who the star is. But even then, the film subverts certain expectations that you may have about how the action will play out. You think that certain beats will be met, but instead something happens that heightens the personal stakes. If there's a family of films that Dragon belongs to, it's movies like One Armed Swordsman, Shane, and A History of Violence. They're about the past catching up to people and whether or not a person can change. As Jinxi, Yen tests a lot of his acting muscles. He's essentially playing counter to his usual on-screen persona of Ip Man. If Yen's Guan Yu from The Lost Bladesman is defined by the strength and power of his weapon (the guan dao), Jinxi of Dragon is defined by his straw hat and his tools for making paper windows. But again, something doesn't add up. Yen adds layers to the mystery of Jinxi through some cryptic allusions to his past. He's convincingly troubled, and that goes for the Chinese pastoral half as well as the kung-fu berserk half. Which brings us to the action, because if you go to see a Donnie Yen movie, you expect action, especially in a Donnie Yen movie called Wu Xia. (I can't think of an English word that has as much weight, though the alternate English title Swordsman might be more meaningful than Dragon.) Yen doesn't reinvent the wuxia film here, though there's a great take on accidental fighting as Xu Baiju pieces together the events that kick off the film. There's no MMA or grappling, there's no infusion of new martial arts to the fighting styles. Instead we get some classic kung-fu, shot competently, and staged with great intensity. Yen even busts out the horse stance at one point, but it's like he's trying to find a fixed point amid the madness erupting around him. The choreography is really secondary to the drama, and the fights in Dragon are wholly in service to the story. They're intense because that's what the moment calls for, they're brutal because this is a story about Jinxi trying to save his family. It's not just about pretty movements on screen; it's about the emotion of the scene and how the fight can make it resonate. Even a surprising subversion of expectations carries major weight. There's one moment in particular that would have turned into a 10-minute action scene in any other martial arts picture. Instead it becomes a character moment in Dragon, a sign of dedication to a way of life -- an impassioned statement of intent by way of a wuxia in-joke. It's the merging of all of these things that made me enjoy Dragon so much. Nothing gets reinvented, but everything gets amplified. We get the family drama, we get the detective story, we get the fights. We get the genre in-jokes, we get subversions of the genre conventions. We thankfully don't get those precious winks to the audience that are the bane of many deconstructions, because Dragon is not about deconstruction -- it's a story about fate and who people are at their core. Most importantly, we get a film that fuses the emotional intensity of its drama to the brutal tenor of its action; we get one of Donnie Yen's best films.
Dragon (Wu Xia) Review photo
Peter Chan & Donnie Yen combine martial arts tropes with intense moral drama
[This review was originally posted as part of our coverage of the 2012 New York Asian Film Festival. It has been reposted to coincide with the theatrical release of the film.] During the NYAFF screening of Dragon, it was note...


Interview: Donnie Yen

Nov 28 // Hubert Vigilla
Acting isn't a form of putting a mask on. When you're done with a role, how do you usually get out of it? Is there a specific method? Actually, that's a very good question. I actually have a lot of discussion [about this] with my colleagues in Hong Kong, like Anthony Wong-- I don't know if you know his work. I focused a lot on crafting my acting in the last six years, and I go around trying to find different perspectives from everyone, including somebody like Anthony, well-regarded actors in Hong Kong. They tell me sometimes when you're acting-- You know, there are a lot of bits to acting, right? Where you have to be in the character, you can't get out of the character. To [Anthony], and I agree with him, you don't really have to be stuck in the character. At the end of the day you're acting. If you're playing a killer, you're really not going to pick up a knife and just kill somebody. For me, it's just having that control, knowing that this is my job. I want to focus into the character. Once [snaps] the cameras are off, I try to become myself again. And how do you do that? It's just years of practice, right. Like, I'll give you an example. When I did Painted Skin, I was prepping. I had all these films lined up. When I was doing Painted Skin, I was ready to go on to do Ip Man. Playing Ip Man was a tremendous amount of pressure on me, as you probably guess, right? So I was prepping in the middle of my film. So what I do is I try to be in that character for that particular film for the first half of the shoot, and then knowing that after the film I have to jump right into another character, I will get into that character on the second part of the previous film. So I remember there were a couple incidents where I was on the set of Painted Skin and I was getting into my wing chun practice in my Painted Skin outfit, right? [laughs] And the director caught me! We had a shot over a hill, a shot of me walking away from a hilltop or something, alone. And he spotted me with this camera on the monitor, and when I came back to him he was asking me, "What are you doing?" Well, I gotta do another film. [laughs] [laughs] You know, I can't do this film forever, so I'm prepping for my next film. That's how I usually do it, you know. I kind of pace myself. And speaking of pacing yourself, when you play different characters... Yip Man the character is very skinny, so I have to be on a constant "not-eating" diet. [laughs] Right, right. Really skinny. I probably ate a meal a day -- no carbs -- while Sammo Hung is cooking for everyone, you know? [laughs] Basically I'd sit in a corner. While everybody else was eating? Yeah, you know, just kind of not letting the scent of good food come this way, and just try to focus -- this is the job, you got to do this [kind of thing]. And then for example, doing The Lost Bladesman, I was constantly eating. I'm not really a heavy/stacked guy but to play that role I wanted to be as heavy as possible. Constantly trying to adapt to what are the character's requirements. It sounds really abnormal and difficult for someone not in the industry, but I've been doing it for many years; my mind tells my body how to turn into that role. I heard that you actually studied in the same school as Jet Li in Peking. What was the school like? Well that's a long-- I'll try to make a long story short. There's a lot of history to it, you know. Let's see how to break it down. Sorry to put you in-- No, no, it's okay. I think that's a good question. I would say in China, there's two forms of martial arts: the new form and the old form. The old form is traditional martial arts, you know, when you see the Shaolin temple and all that. The new form is the form that, during the Cultural Revolution, they kind of unified martial arts styles into more of a gymnastic form where people can compete with each other in a common scoring system. Jet Li was in the Beijing martial arts team. Each province represents each team. Jet Li was from Beijing, so he represented Beijing. You know, Shanghai represents Shanghai. The whole of China is made up of maybe over 30 teams and they compete on an annual basis. They try to promote that martial arts style, but it's gymnastic. The goal is to bring that into the Olympics eventually. I don't know if that can ever happen, but that's always been the aim and the goal. When I was a teenager, their team-- it was what, 1980... When China opened up a center, [or] demonstration team, to America, and Jet Li's team came to America. And my mother teaches martial arts in Boston and they visited the school. We had these conversations, and a couple coaches from the Beijing team saw-- I gave a little performance for them, basically. They thought I was really talented and wanted me to go back to Beijing and train, just out of courtesy. Back then, no one would allow it even though I was Chinese, but not Chinese-Chinese. But somehow, we broke the red tape, and my parents sent me back to China, and I was training there on and off for a year and a half. But when I was training there, [Jet Li] wasn't there. Oh, okay. I met him twice, he came back. He entered the entertainment business before me, maybe two years before me. He went to do Shaolin Temple during those two years while I was training there. And he came back and we met, took some pictures, and then after those two years I went to start my career in the film biz. Thank you. [nods] It's a long story but-- Long story short, but it's still very long. [laughs] [laughs] You're known to experiment a lot in your movies with your direction and action choreography, like Legend of the Wolf and Ballistic Kiss. You're also the first to integrate MMA into fighting scenes with SPL and Flash Point. For Wu Xia, what was your approach? Back to the basics. Back to the Shaw Brothers. You know, when I action direct, especially in the last six years, I pay a lot of attention to the acting. I've been doing these action films for what, 30 years, right? And I find that to truly elevate the level of action movies, the level of action actors, at the end of the day you still have to be a great actor. It's a proven fact, right, because there are a lot of great martial artists out there, a lot of great fighters, but that doesn't mean that if you put them in a film, the film can work, or that they can have that kind of magic within themselves and for the audience. So I said to myself, "Where do I go from there," you know, six years ago. All martial arts actors talk about bettering their acting, but once they start getting to the project, they go back to staying true to the martial arts. So you basically get all the martial arts that you learned and stay true to the acting. [Editor's note: Part of the recording was fuzzy/muffled, so parts of the last two sentences are reconstructed from memory and context.] So you kept martial arts choreography back to basics-- Well, you know, the key is whatever character you're playing, you link them to a particular martial arts style. Like I'll be playing a cop, an undercover cop, I wouldn't be posing in the middle of stopping a crime, right? [laughs] [laughs] I would be more hands-on combat, realistic. They all connect together, right? But if I'll be doing a period film, then the limit is a little bit more expanded, like in Crouching Tiger[, Hidden Dragon]. So basically the farther away from modern days, I think the physical possibilities are a lot greater. Like if I do Hero -- Hero was 2,000 years ago -- you can fly and you can't really challenge that. You understand what I'm saying? Yeah, yeah. So what I did when we shot Wu Xia, I said, "What am I going to do? I cannot do MMA, it wouldn't look like, so what should I do?" Let me go back to the basics because, number one, again, stay true to the character. I believe that character would be doing something of that genre, traditional, kung-fu, Shaw Brothers. At the same time, the audiences haven't seen that for a while. It's been a while, you know, I wanted to bring that, but with a couple of tricks here and there, maybe a little bit of-- one or two shots of CGI, like dissecting the body. I was inspired by watching Discovery Channel. [laughs] Really, I was inspired. [Director] Peter Chan asked me, "How are we going to shoot this stuff?" And I said, "You know, actually, let's try this." So that's how we did it. Is there anything you'd want to experiment with? For example, I know that you've done mocap before for [the game] Onimusha [3], are there any ideas that you want to try in your future films? I want to try anything, really. Of course, as a filmmaker, you constantly have to reinvent yourself. Always throwing things back and saying, "Okay, you did this pretty good in this movie, but it doesn't mean that you're going to continue to do good in your next movie." So you always have to be on your toes, you know. You have to be on top of the game and really try to stay grounded and really hear the audience, the majority of which is the younger generation. A younger audience will tell you what's going on, you know? I communicate a lot with my kids because children are the most direct. You know, they get things from TV, and they tell me. I don't want to be outdated because at the end of the day you're still making a movie. A movie is for entertainment, and entertainment evolves from a lot of pop culture -- pop culture influences. But as an actor, again, the past years six, I'll continue to craft-- I'll set a good example of what someone who started off as a martial arts actor can become. Again, at the end of the day, martial arts should be one of my advantages, packaging, but you are just an actor like any other actor. So last two years I've tried comedy. I just finished a romantic love movie with no action at all, you know. I will probably try more comedy -- comedy-action, or more comedy less action, or more action a little comedy; 3D movies, CGI. I want to shoot a black and white movie. Actually, when I shot Legend of the Fist, I insisted on trying to have the picture in black and white. I really wanted that whole look, right? But I never got my way. [laughs] [laughs] I told [screenwriter] Gordon Chan and director Andrew Lau. We had daily meetings, discussion of how the film's going to look like. In the beginning, it was more of just a remake of Fist of Fury. But then Gordon Chan came in and said he wanted to do something fresh. But then Andrew Lau said, "For marketing, you've got to do this." So we always have these big debates about how the film's going to turn out, so we kind of combined the two elements, which I thought at the end really didn't work as well as if we focused on just one element. Instead of two elements, you know. Just too many things going on in one film. But in the beginning with Gordon Chan-- Actually, no Andrew Lau and myself, we wanted to just have a remake of Fist of Fury and I wanted it black and white like Schindler's List. You know, let's make a classic, heavy-drama, Fist of Fury in black and white, but then Gordon came in and he wanted [something else]... But maybe in the future. Do you see a point where you give up action -- you were talking about comedies and stuff -- and say doing drama? I wouldn't call it giving up. I would do non-action for just the sake of having the opportunity. I mean, not many action actors are being offered to play in non-action movies. But just like watching you in Bodyguards and Assassins and Wu Xia... Right. The parts I remember are your scenes, you know, with your kids, not the fighting. One of the biggest parts in Bodyguards and Assassins is you breaking everybody's heart trying to do the right thing. Well, maybe what I did in the last six years was working. [laughs] [laughs] It's fantastic! Thank you. So I was wondering if you [had thoughts about purely dramatic roles]? You know, I would try, but at the end of the day, I don't forget the business model of making a movie. At the end of the day, you're talking about reaching out to as many people in the audience as possible. People come to see a Donnie Yen film, they want to see action. You know, I understand that, I accept it, I respect it. So, if I'm being offered to play a non-action movie, yes, I'd take the opportunity. Why not? I just finished a romantic movie, right? I get paid, I don't sweat. [laughs] [laughs] It was a good experience for me, right, but I will never forget my roots and will continue to make action movies. You mentioned shooting in 3D. I was wondering if you thought about how your action direction would be affected by 3D. You know, I shot Monkey King -- I finished Monkey King. We shot in 3D. There are a lot of restrictions shooting action, or movies themselves, in 3D because the camera is so humongous. Certain angles you can't really-- Because in action you want to have many possibilities with the angles, right? But with 3D, for example, you can't place the camera flat on the ground, so you can't shoot a person [from a low angle]. So if I want to shoot a low angle of a person, I have to set up a platform for the actor to stand on. So Chow Yun-Fat would jut be standing on top of a platform if I'm going to get a shot like this. Something like that. And the cameras are very heavy, so if you want to do a dead stop or fast cuts like The Bourne Identity [laughs], you know, kinda wild, it's very difficult. [laughs] But you have to understand what you're working with. I learned a lot doing Monkey King. We had a wonderful team. We hired 30 people from the Avatar team, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Really experienced experts coming [to the production], and we did that together. I learned a lot and yes, I certainly will explore doing 3D martial arts and kung-fu movies. We're talking about Ip Man 3... D! [laughs] They're talking about it, but we're in the stage of finding out what it needs, you know? Budget, etc. Wilson Yip, our director, is exploring that possibility. What is the most difficult role that you've ever tackled? I'd break it down to two. One, obviously, is the Monkey King because, one, the nature [of the role]. It's tough to put on that monkey make-up and outfit. You're talking about four hours a day to put the make-up on, another hour of taking the make-up off. I remember the first day of putting the make-up on, I said to myself, "How am I going to sit through the next three months?" Just sitting there, you know, you have to be a really patient person. And then, nevermind controlling your expression, because once you have all this prosthetic make-up on your face, you can't really move the way you [normally] move with your expressions, right? So you have to kind of learn [how to do] your facial movements for the first maybe two weeks. Then the outfit, it's very heavy. And that was the nature of carrying that role. Second, Monkey King has been played successfully by I recall at least two people. One is Stephen Chow. He attacked it in a comedy way, right? Right, right, right. You know, when I was doing Monkey King, I kind of understood why he attacked it in the form of a comedy way because there was another person before him. Older, Beijing Opera, like a TV series, very classic. [Editor's note: Yen might have been referring to Jinlai Zhang's portrayal here, but that's complete conjecture on my part.] So I studied both of them and said to myself, "How can I make a difference? How can I compete with these two established, great works?" I spent at least three weeks on daily shoots readjusting the way I move my body, the way I project my-- The gesture and expressions. You can be totally like an animal, like a monkey, or, like Planet of the Apes. You can be a monkey but at the same time you kind of have to retain the classical Beijing Opera because people are used to looking at the Monkey King. You can't just totally throw that away. I'll give you a good example. I remember when I was younger I watched Godzilla. Yeah. And then I was really disappointed because I wanted Godzilla to be that Godzilla using that [rubber suit]. Not to [take away credit from] the Hollywood way of making Godzilla, but I understand there will be lots of audience members coming to watch The Monkey King and they have certain expectations -- you know, they way he rolls the eyes, certain Beijing Opera [gestures]. He plays with the, they [pointing to his head]. Antlers? Right, the helmet and the two things sticking out. Certain things that I studied from the classics. Particularly I made sure that I would keep those elements and make sure when our Monkey King is presented, it's a least like the classic Monkey King. [Editor's note: The recording here is a bit muffled, so this is my best reconstruction from memory and context.] But at the same time, [I'm] adding new elements. Adding new elements was the biggest challenge, imitating the old [portrayals] wasn't as much because I had a lot of confidence in my body control. I was imitating how all those Monkey Kings, on stage, Beijing Opera, how they move. But adding something new, it was something completely out of my game. So at the end of the day I created four stages of the monkey performance. The beginning, totally monkey-like, animal. I was literally sucking my toes. [laughs] I was rolling around, I'd grab my toes, it was a lot of improvisation, plus I was the action direction, so I had a lot of freedom for acting. I didn't want to rehearse that much. Sometimes I didn't rehearse at all, and I would tell my director, I'd say, "Let's just roll it." I felt it in my heart, let's try it. And I was acting as I was experimenting, the way to project that moment of monkey. I don't get it every time when I watch the playback, but I was pretty much on cue. Every time I thought of an image in my head and I acted it out and we shot it, it usually turned out... It was pretty good, you know, it was pretty good. So in the beginning, I thought how would a monkey-- Because I did a lot of research, you know? Watched a lot of Animal Channel, Discovery Channel, studied that. What would a monkey do? What would a monkey do with a banana? So I was imitating all that stuff, recalling all my childhood memories watching monkeys, watching Bugs Bunny, a lot of cartoon characters would go through my head, and when the camera rolled, I just kind of let everything go. Just be free and act. [Editor's note: At this point the interview had to wrap up, though I still wonder what that second difficult role for Yen was.]
 photo
Hong Kong's biggest action star talks acting chops and fight choreography
[This interview was originally posted as part of our coverage of the 2012 New York Asian Film Festival. It has been reposted to coincide with the theatrical release of Dragon (Wu Xia).] Donnie Yen had a busy weekend. This yea...

Flixclusive Interview: Director Grandmaster Y.K. Kim

Nov 01 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]211149:38559:0[/embed] Grandmaster Y.K. Kim: So what is your nationality? Filipino. Grandmaster Y.K. Kim: Ah, Filipino. Asian. Very. [laughs] Grandmaster Y.K. Kim: [laughs] So how was the screening for you last night? Grandmaster Y.K. Kim: I was shocked. That was fantastic! Oh, that was really good. When Miami Connection was released the first time around the reaction probably wasn't anywhere near as enthusiastic, I'd imagine. Grandmaster Y.K. Kim: I was much less overwhelmed when I watched this movie 25 years ago. [Editor's note: Recording was a bit muffled here, so this is an approximation of what was said based on context and memory.] Last night was just crazy, from beginning to finish. They're laughing, screaming, and claps, things like that. How did Drafthouse Films contact you about the re-release of Miami Connection? Grandmaster Y.K. Kim: I don't why. The last two years, TV stations and the media, they called and wanted to have interviews with me. I refused because I didn't want to be involved, because I was too busy in my business. But this guy [at Drafthouse Films] continued [to contact me] and it lasted for six months! That means it's something real, so we responded. I asked them, "Hey, why do you want to buy this garbage?" They were shocked! [They said,] "What do you mean by garbage?!" They had a test market, you know. I mean people were crazy. Between the 1980s and 2011 [when they contacted me], it's a big difference. So they wanted to have [the film]. Even when I came to New York this time, I asked them again, "Why?! Why do you want this?" Last night, I could tell why they chose this film. The public response was just unbelievable, remarkable, tremendous! And many, many people asked me if I'm going to make Miami Connection 2 right away. That was actually one of my questions. I'll save that one for later. But can you talk about where the story for Miami Connection came from? [Editor's note: I asked Joe Diamand to sit with Grandmaster Kim in case he had anything to add.] Grandmaster Y.K. Kim: I don't have to impress you or show off, but I think it will help. I am the most successful martial arts business leader in the US, and perhaps world. I went to Korea, and I was on a very, very popular talk show. They treat me like a hero, you know? And action film director [Richard Park], he watched that show. And he flew down to where I live in Central Florida -- in Orlando -- and he asked me, "Would you like to make a movie with us?" So I said sure, because I wanted to promote martial arts on the big screen, like Bruce Lee and what he did and Chuck Norris and what he did. That was the beginning. Can you talk about the development of the screenplay? Grandmaster Y.K. Kim: It was so funny. We didn't have a script. Storylines -- we developed from the storylines. First I said yes and announced it publicly. That was so strange. And when I said, "We are producing Miami Connection," I thought that Central Florida as a community would support me. But it was the opposite! Every single person -- all my friends and community leaders and media friends -- they came up to me [and said] don't do it. "You are a martial arts expert. You are not a movie maker." So, I was shocked! But I already I decided, my determination was so strong, so I started it. When I started-- Before [the move] I was 100% right because I was very successful. But this time, they were right. Physically, mentally, and financially, I was totally dried out. Exhausted. So next thing, how to handle bankruptcy. So I had to sit down and asked myself, "What should I do?" That moment, my heart told me, "Hey, Y.K. Kim, you do not have that specific work 'bankruptcy' in your dictionary or in your life." So I stand up. I was faced with tremendous obstacles and I overcame them and I finished this film. I heard that the original cut of Miami Connection was considerably different and you weren't pleased with it. Could you explain what you didn't care for? Grandmaster Y.K. Kim: Yeah, because Richard Park, the director -- he's a real great director -- and me had a partnership. Fifty-fifty, whatever. He had responsibility for Korea, he will promote, he will show. My responsibility was USA and world. So, after he finished the movie, he took the film and he left. So I went to Hollywood, major studios to small studios, to show them. Not even one studio said yes. Everybody said, "This is garbage, just throw it away, don't waste your time!" But I had hope, so I to the Cannes Film Festival, and we screened over there. Nobody wants.  But one guy from Manson International, a senior vice president, we had a couple of drinks, and he said, "Hey, I think there's one chance: if you reshoot and change it." So I come back [to Florida], but I didn't know what directing means! So, first I bought books: how to produce books, how to direct a movie. Page by page. And then I asked [Joe Diamand], he was one of my best students, and he's a co-producer, and a great writer too -- he can write. So he and I rewrite and reflimed and we mixed. The problem was that [in Richard Park's version], the white ninja, he's the bad guy, and he's alive! And, Maurice Smith's character is dead! So the public hated it! No one wants that one. And then finally, after [Richard Park finished his version of the movie], it was sent back to Hollywood to be edited. They work on it over there, but it's like nobody's over there! Because Richard Park could not understand English, and the editor too was a foreigner. So they missed a lot of things. It's not connected, the movie! The picture is connected but it's not connected! [laughs] Grandmaster Y.K. Kim: So we changed all of it, so it's connected. It's actually reborn, this [version of the] movie. Do you have any favorite scenes from the film, or any that you enjoyed filming a lot? Grandmaster Y.K. Kim: Filming, I really enjoyed. For example, [the scene that's] 30 feet [in the air]. Now I cannot. Then I was young. And everybody just falls down! Down, down, down! I was shocked myself! If just one person died, that's a bad movie, you know? But the director said, "DOWN!" And just 20, 30 feet people just fall down. I was just scared to death! I mean, that was how high? I don't know. You watched the movie? Yeah. [Editor's note: I think I've watched it about four times now. No lie.] Grandmaster Y.K. Kim: I mean, that's SO HIGH! [laughs] You'd at least break a bone or something-- Grandmaster Y.K. Kim: GOSH!!! But fortunately not one person-- We didn't experience an injury. That's too high, though -- 30 feet is too high! Just constantly fall down, fall down! I thought I'm gonna die. [laughs] Grandmaster Y.K. Kim: But, that kind of thing was what's... But what's most enjoyable is that in life, nothing is impossible. If say, "It's impossible," then that's impossible. If you say "Okay, I can handle it," you can do anything and everything you set your mind to. That's what I learned from this movie. How many cast members from the film do you still keep in contact with? Grandmaster Y.K. Kim: Oh, yeah, that's a lot. Most of them are my students because I had thousands and thousands of students. Yes, we're still in contact, yes. Now the obvious question about Miami Connection 2. In the back of your mind, have you ever thought of doing a second film? Grandmaster Y.K. Kim: We have an organization named Martial Arts World, which is traditional martial arts plus modern philosophy. It is totally different from all of the other martial arts. Most of the martial arts school teaches how to defend yourself physically. But we're teaching five different kinds of self-defense. For example, number one is physical self-defense. Most schools are teaching how to punch and how to block, but that's 1% of martial arts. How many people fight throughout their lives? Some people, they never fight. You know. But physical self-defense... What about insomnia? What about junk food? What about drugs? What about stress? That stress kills you! No schools are teaching how to negotiate stress, that's number one physical self-defense. Number two we call mental self-defense, which is... You know most people that are physically violent, it starts as vulgar violence. If you don't know how to defend yourself against vulgar violence, you cannot create the real happiness, because most of those personal remarks and things like that are from your family and friends. That way you have to fight all the time, so you must know how to defend yourself. So we teach vulgar self-defense, which is mental self-defense. And then third, you know, you can escape from physical attackers, if someone attacks you or criticizes you, discourages you, is cursing you -- you don't have to see them, you know? But self-attack!? Self-doubt, like a fear or anxiety, things like that. You cannot escape! You are in Europe, you go to Orlando, you go to Seoul -- it stays within you. Because of that many people minimize their lives. They don't have a successful life! So we teach people how to beat themselves; that's what we call moral self-defense. And after that, 85% of Americans live on checks by the month. Why? Because they don't have the financial self-defense. So we teach them how to become wealthier. And then it's one of the most important things that I need, you need, everybody needs. No one can live as an island, you know. We are social animals. So we're teaching how to concentrate destinies and create relationships so they can have personal freedom, personal power. That kind of self-defense we're teaching. So if they practice with Martial Arts World, they will create a winning future: to be healthier and wealthier and happier. The five self-defenses, we're teaching it. So Martial Arts World... You know, the best way to promote martial arts or anything, the screen is the best. So we will create an action movie once a year within five years. Oh wow. This makes me wonder, actually [since it seems related], how you got involved in motivational speaking. Grandmaster Y.K. Kim: Why? Because I question everything. I look at someone and ask, "Why does he wear that kind of clothes?" Why? "Why does he wear that hat?" I question and question and question. And at the same time, I'm looking for answers. Why? "Why does he wear this one? And why he does this one?" Questions, questions, you know? So first, I wrote in the last 35 years five kinds of fitness. First one we call physical fitness. Physical fitness... I'm a great martial artist. I can do anything and everything! But I was in the emergency room seven times. Almost life and death! For what reason? Grandmaster Y.K. Kim: Why?! Why?! So I wrote Health is the Foundation of Success. I want to dig out the answer. Why? So, I [had the idea] that physical fitness -- physical fitness as true success -- requires harmony and balance. Without harmony and balance, there is nothing worse in our lives, in the modern world. Physical fitness: you know, if you don't eat and drink wisely, you'll never have a healthy body. But water is not enough. We need to exercise, we need proper rest to recharge energy, and we need to think very positively. So then I create mental fitness. Why am I not like Bill Gates? Why am I not like Steve Jobs? Why?! Why?! And then I found the answer, so I created mental fitness. And then finally I achieved the American Dream! I'd become-- My town, actually, like 10 or 20 years ago, people they don't know the mayor's name, but everybody knows Y.K. Kim the name. I could not go to the mall, because too many people follow me! And everywhere I go it's Y.K. Kim, Y.K. Kim, Y.K. Kim. So I achieved the American Dream, financially very successful, but my pain never goes away. Never! Still I have fear, anxiety, guilt, and anger. Whole nine yards! I still have pain. Why? I dig out why. And then I found the answer. So that's how I create the moral fitness. And so I created five kinds of fitness. I'm still writing. I will finish this year. It will revolutionize America. We can make it a better place to live! Joe, how did you first encounter Grandmaster Kim? Joe Diamand: I was actually living in Orlando and going to martial arts school and there was a switch. One of the grandmasters had to go back and take care of his parents in New Jersey. Grandmaster Kim was actually living here in New York in 1977, I believe. Grandmaster Y.K. Kim: Yes, '77. Joe Diamand: He was living here in New York, teaching here. He came down to Orlando and he's been there ever since. It's kind of an interesting story. Maybe if you have a second I can tell you about it. So he was basically homeless, except for his school. He mentioned earlier living from week to week on a paycheck, [Grandmaster Kim] was living from minute to minute! Grandmaster Y.K. Kim: [laughs] [laughs] Joe Diamand: He was like, "Are they going to evict me?" He was cooking his food on a hot plate behind the school. He would have a hose that he would use to shower. I would drive up and help him do the laundry. Like we'd throw the clothes in the laundry and then go down to a drive-in and watch a martial arts film or something like that. And so that's how I met him. [embed]211149:38560:0[/embed] How did you first get involved with taekwondo? Was it just something you grew up with? Grandmaster Y.K. Kim: You know, in Korea, taekwondo is very, very popular. But at that time when I practiced, not too many young guys [were involved]. Was very few. Because I don't want people to pick on me. What happened, when I went to school, a teacher was writing something and he turned around because someone made a noise. I did not make the noise, but he gave me punishment! So I got so angry, but he's too big! [laughs] Grandmaster Y.K. Kim: I can't handle him, you know? Yeah. Grandmaster Y.K. Kim: He's teacher! So I was looking for justice. Why did he give me punishment when I didn't do anything wrong? But I said, "What? I didn't do anything wrong." But anyways, he gave me punishment. Actually, it was revenge -- I wanted to beat him up, so I started [taekwondo]. [laughs] Grandmaster Y.K. Kim: But that changed my life. [With taekwondo], I had more respect for my teachers, more respect for my parents, more respect for myself, more respect for other people. That is the reason I started the martial arts. Were there any other songs that were written for the movie that didn't make it to the movie? Because, I gotta say, I actually do, without irony, like "Against the Ninja" and "Friends Forever." [laughs] Grandmaster Y.K. Kim: "Against the Ninja" was-- That name was the first name the movie had. [laughs] That's awesome. [laughs] Grandmaster Y.K. Kim: We wrote that [as the title] once. And then Escape from Miami. We changed the name a couple times. And then finally, we did Miami Connection. [embed]211149:38561:0[/embed]
 photo
The man behind the cult film Miami Connection
[This interview was originally posted as part of our 2012 New York Asian Film Festival coverage. It has been reposted to coincide with the wider theatrical release of Miami Connection. Look for our review of the film tomorrow...

NYAFF and Japan Cuts 2012 Flixist Awards and roundup

Aug 01 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
Starry Starry Night is bound to draw comparisons to Moonrise Kingdom since both movies are about young love -- or, really, to riff on Harold Brodkey, first love and other sorrows. But Starry Starry Night delves deeper into those emotions of adolescent longing and connection, and it also takes a lot of visual risks in the process. Fantasy gets blended with reality to help show the interior life of Mei, which is all turmoil, fine art, fragility, and hope. Even simple gestures and the mere presence of someone you care about becomes the stuff that gives her the sense of flight. The result is a beautifully put together coming-of-age story that delves into what love means at an early age and how it clashes with the first taste of adult disenchantment. -- Hubert Vigilla (Read his full review here!) I almost didn't see You Are the Apple of My Eye. It didn't sound appealing to me, so I didn't put it on my already-too-large list of things to watch. But then I read this blog post by the brilliant and wonderful Grady Hendrix, who is the reason we were able to cover last year's NYAFF (and thus bring you this post). Grady said that he was iffy about You Are the Apple of My Eye for the same reason I was, but he gave it a try and it was brilliant. So I gave it a try, and I am incredibly glad that I did. Giddens Ko's semi-autobiographical directorial debut is one hell of a film, and one of the best examples of why someone should never judge a book by it's cover. -- Alec Kubas-Meyer (Read his full review here!) I don't know that I ever could have predicted this one. I knew that there was a chance that Ace Attorney could be good (or perhaps even great), but I was not prepared for how absolutely brilliant Takashi Miike's adaptation of the absolutely brilliant videogames series Phoenix Wright. If you have played the first game, there won't be too much new for you (although I'll think you'll like what new there is), but it's handled in such a way that it doesn't feel unnecessary. Those who haven't played the game(s) are unlikely to enjoy it quite as much, but put them in with a crowd and they're still have a blast. And then buy them a DS (they're quite cheap nowadays) and the rest of the games in the series. They will thank you. -- Alec Kubas-Meyer (Read his full review here!) It certainly makes sense that a film called Rent-a-Cat would make me feel warm and fuzzy inside, but that's not all Rent-a-Cat has going for it. Aside from the rampant cuteness, it has some enjoyable characters spouting even more enjoyable dialogue. The film runs a bit too long, which is why it's the runner-up (although Ace Attorney could have done with some trimming as well), but it ended before I got too angry about its length. And I'm really glad about that, because it's just so wonderful. I wish my cat didn't hate me. -- Alec Kubas-Meyer (Read his full review here!) Zombie Ass is about as good as a movie called Zombie Ass can be. Noboru Iguchi slathers on a heaping helping of filth, but at least has the decency to not show someone pinching a loaf on camera. There's still a fair amount of crap on screen, though it's not the worst thing to come out of people's butts in Zombie Ass. It's cheap junk, it's dirty junk, and it revels in gross-out humor and special effects. The finale is the stuff of a crazed 13-year-old's fever dream -- the kind of joke you'd tell in middle school brought to life in all its smelly glory. Whatever I say about the film is pretty much moot because if you want to see Zombie Ass you will see it regardless, and may the gods of good taste have mercy on our souls. -- Hubert Vigilla (Read his full review here!) In Gyo, smelly fish get robotic legs and overrun dry land, attacking anything in their path. But somehow, that's not weird enough. The fish are also rank and farty, filling the screen with stink lines like some sort of flatulent Van Gogh. But that's still not weird enough. In fact, Gyo goes to some very strange places, answering the rarely-asked question "What if H.P. Lovecraft was afraid of seafood and bad gas?" The film probably plays differently to those who've read the Junji Ito manga it's based on, but having not read it myself, I got a kick out of the unpredictable trip that story goes on. It'd make a nice double-feature with Zombie Ass, and by "nice" I mean "what the fuck-y." -- Hubert Vigilla (Read his full review here!) Like many great cult movies, Boxer's Omen is the sort of movie that renders criticism moot. Sure, it's not that well put together and the story is a mess, but it's full of enough crazy magic battles and bonkers imagery that traditional concerns of plot and storytelling don't matter. It's noteworthy for being a Shaw Brothers Studios sideshow from the 1980s. See a man eat entrails and puke them out! See an army of alligator skulls! See people eat other people's food they just spat out! Witness gallons of odd bodily secretions! And stay for the finale which is a weirdo exclamation point to a weirdo sentence! -- Hubert Vigilla (Read his full review here!) Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell is basically a message film rife with Cold War paranoia and fears of the nuclear age. It has a lot in common with films like Matango and Children of the Damned in that sense. But even with its dire conclusion, preachiness never becomes an issue in Goke (a la Children of the Damned). I think that's because it's a brisk and stylish yarn full of odd imagery and equally odd characters -- bombers, assassins, weasely politicians, and dumb American blondes. This is the sort of cult film that's slightly campy yet legitimately good rather than so-bad-its-good. The cult designation is all about its under-the-radar status and the evangelical devotees. Count me among the converted. -- Hubert Vigilla (Read his full review here!) Love Strikes! is a different kind of disappointment. Instead of falling short of any preconceived ideas of how the film might be, Love Strikes! fell short of how it made me think the film might be. The opening 30 minutes of Love Strikes! are fantastic, and they really pumped me up and had me excited. Then the rest of the film happened, and I was so angry with everybody involved in the production. There was so much promise in that 30 minutes, but the film does everything it can to undo the goodwill it gained from that, and it successfully undoes all of that goodwill. I still think those thirty minutes are worth watching, but I honestly don't know how nobody involved in the production didn't stop and say, "Hey wait a second... maybe we should make this terrible stuff more like that not-terrible stuff that we did before." But apparently that happened, and the world is worse off because of it. -- Alec Kubas-Meyer (Read his full review here!) Sometimes a documentary filmmaker needs to know when to get out of the way. In Golden Slumbers, director Davy Chou is always in the way. The subject matter is incredible: the 400 native films of Cambodia were wiped out by the Khmer Rouge, and the movie theaters of the country destroyed. Rather than showing us what survives of the country's lost cinema culture, Chou lingers on the idea of what this absence means. There's so much information that could have been shared, so many images that could have been shown, but instead we have a film all about the idea of Cambodian cinema rather than actual Cambodian cinema. It's well made but the aim is way off; like No Man's Zone, it's a cautionary tale of intellectual pursuits obscuring the subject matter. -- Hubert Vigilla (Read his full review here!) Let's Make the Teacher Have a Miscarriage Club's biggest crime is that it's boring. The basic premise, a group of young girls try to give their teacher a miscarriage, should be enough to give the filmmakers some kind of creative spark, but there's nothing there. Almost nothing happens, and the few things that do happen are laughable or completely nonsensical. Nobody is interesting, nobody is worth caring for, nothing matters. If a filmmaker can't feel bad for a legitimately blameless character who has a group of young girls trying to give her a miscarriage, then that person needs to find a different job. -- Alec Kubas-Meyer (Read his full review here!) Hard Romanticker is just bad. Some parts are terrible (its treatment of women is particularly unpleasant) and some parts are halfway decent (a lot of the violence is well-done), but as a whole there isn't a lot to redeem the film or make it worth watching. It's a throwback to an old style of film that needn't be thrown back to. I know that a lot of people enjoyed it, and I honestly have no idea how. As bad as it is, though, it's not dull, which is why it rests firmly as our runner-up. -- Alec Kubas-Meyer (Read his full review here!) ALL REVIEWS: LISTED IN REVERSE CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER JAPAN CUTS Ushijima the Loan Shark - 73 (Good) Rent-a-Cat - 87 (Exceptional) - Lonely Swallows - 65 (Decent) No Man's Zone - 40 (Sub-Par) Toad's Oil - 77 (Good) 9 Souls - 83 (Great) - Chronicle of My Mother - 79 (Good) Zombie Ass - 70 (Good) JAPAN CUTS/NYAFF CROSSOVER Tormented - 45 (Sub-par) Tokyo Playboy Club - 70 (Good) Hard Romanticker - 38 (Bad) The Big Gun/Henge - 69 (Decent) Let's Make the Teacher Have a Miscarriage Club - 35 (Bad) Smuggler - 50 (Average) Gyo - 80 (Great) Potechi (Chips) - 82 - Ace Attorney - 89 (Exceptional) - Monsters Club - 74 (Good) Love Strikes! - 67 (Decent) Asura - 60 (Decent) Scabbard Samurai - 82 (Great) - NEW YORK ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL Make Up - 70 (Good) Golden Slumbers - 50 (Average) Bloody Fight in Iron Rock Valley - 64 (Decent) Dragon (Wu Xia) - 85 (Exceptional) - The Lost Bladesman - 79 (Good) Doomsday Book - 79 (Good) All About My Wife - 84 (Great) - Secret Love - 63 (Decent) Sacrifice - 65 (Decent) Nasi Lemak 2.0 - 68 (Decent) Kill Zone (SPL: Sha Po Lang) - 82 (Great) - Starry Starry Night - 90 (Spectacular) - The King of Pigs - 50 (Average) Guns N' Roses - 81 (Great) - Honey Pupu - 40 (Sub-Par) The Swift Knight - 74 (Good) Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale - 78 (Good) Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell - 80 (Great) - Boxer's Omen - 70 (Good) - Couples - 86 (Exceptional) - Failan - 73 (Good) You Are the Apple of My Eye - 89 (Exceptional) - The Sword Identity - 61 (Decent) Nameless Gangster: Rules of the Time - 85 (Exceptional) - Vulgaria - 86 (Exceptional) - War of the Arrows - 78 INTERVIEWS Flixclusive Interview: Director Grandmaster Y.K. Kim Flixclusive Interview: Yeun Sang-ho, The King of Pigs Interview: Donnie Yen Flixclusive Interview: Director Chung Chang-Wha Flixclusive interview: Choi Min-sik VIDEOS Actress Michelle Chen's reception speech Director Giddens Ko's reception speech Actor Choi Min-sik's reception speech Director Chung Chang-Wha's reception speech NEWS Flixclusive details on King of Pigs director's next film Donnie Yen on Monkey King, action in 3D, and Ip Man 3D Choi Min-sik wants to work with, challenge Park Chan-wook Choi Min-sik's next film is like The Departed, he's a cop Choi Min-sik not seeing Spike Lee's Oldboy, would cameo NYAFF Midnight Movie: Miami Connection NYAFF Midnight Movie: Dead Bite NYAFF Special Screening: Iron Monkey NYAFF Midnight Movie: Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell NYAFF Midnight Movie: Boxer's Omen Hark again, for Japan Cuts 2012 likewise cometh Hark, the 2012 New York Asian Film Festival is upon us
 photo
We came. We saw. We conquered.
[For the month of July, we covered the New York Asian Film Festival and the (also New York-based) Japan Cuts Film Festival, which together form one of the largest showcases of Asian cinema in the world. For our specifically N...

Japan Cuts Review: Tormented

Jul 27 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]211375:38588[/embed] Tormented (Rabito Hora 3D /  ラビット・ホラー 3D)Director: Takashi ShimizuRating: NRCountry: Japan  Kiriko (Hikari Mitsushima) is a mute young woman who works as the librarian at the school her younger brother, Daigo (Takeru Shibuya), attends. After an incident in which Daigo mercy-kills a young rabbit, he is ostracized from his classmates and stops going to school. He soon starts being haunted in the night by a person in a rabbit costume, who brings him to carnivals and shows him all sorts of weird things. Kiriko, meanwhile, is constantly woken up by her brother's screams as he finds himself in the clutches of the rabbit-person. Their father (Teruyuki Kagawa) is a picture book artist who appears to be too busy to pay attention to the plight of his young son. All of that sounds fine, right? Kinda weird, but it's a Japanese horror film, so whatever. But not all is as it seems, and when I say that, I mean to say that none of that actually makes any sense. Now, I'm going to have to spoil the biggest (although not only) reveal of the film, because I need to talk about why the movie doesn't work. The twist, which is revealed between half about two-thirds of the way through, doesn't just change everything that has come before it, the way a good twist would, it completely negates everything that came before it. What do I mean? Well... spoilers for the paragraphs in between the next two images. Daigo does not exist. He is the figment of Kiriko's psychotic imagination. After (unintentionally) doing something terrible in her youth, Kiriko's mind split from reality. She imagined the birth of a younger brother as well as his childhood and schooling up through the mercy-killing of the rabbit and whatnot. It's all one big crazy hallucination. As a plot point, there's nothing wrong with that. It can definitely be used effectively, and act as some mindblowing moment of revelation. In fact, I wasn't actually surprised by the revelation, because of a few things that happened earlier that didn't quite add up. So for the moment I was just being proud of myself, because I never pick up on things like that. But then, as I thought about it, I realized how completely bullshit that twist was. You see, the problem is that the majority of the time leading up to the reveal, Daigo is the main character. The film follows him through his night terrors, and we see the rabbit and the creepy things it does through his eyes. Now remember that Daigo is not real, and you will quickly realize what that means: none of it happened. It's not even it was a dream that the character woke up from. Those are irritating enough on their own. No, these were the actions and dreams of a hallucination, a character that does not exist outside of the realm of Kiriko's head. Even though Kiriko has the occasional VO, her lack of presence during Daigo's antics means that there is no justifiable way any of that could have happened. It was impossible, and the audience was watching something impossible. Even if the sequences themselves are interesting, they absolutely destroy the narrative of the film. You don't follow Tyler Durden in Fight Club, because you can't follow him. He's not real. (Spoilers for a movie you should have seen 13 years ago, by the way). You certainly couldn't go into his dreams. Whatever they were, no matter how cool they were to watch, they would have destroyed the integrity of Fight Club's story. And that's what happens here. A story that is already kind of strange completely and utterly ruins itself. (Spoilers are over). Outside of that major issue, though, things just don't make a lot of sense. In an attempt to keep things interesting, the film throws out more and more twists, and they make less and less sense. When the credits rolled, the man beside me said, "What?", a fitting reference to the audience reaction to Gyo. And then the credits finished rolling, and another few moments of footage played. And then it was my turn, but with a bit of added color: What the fuck? If you expect to come out of Tormented with even the vaguest sense of what just happened, prepare to be very unhappy. Everything that seems true is questioned, questioned again, and then questioned a third time. Then another thing comes and make it all even more confusing. Horror films can get away with making less sense than other types of films, because frequently their aim is not to tell an incredibly compelling story, but they can't get away with something this completely ridiculous. They really can't.  As far as something scary, I think that I found Tormented more effective than most people will. I'm kind of a wimp, and loud noises made me jump pretty badly (I actually left my seat when that first gunshot in Drive happened). There are a lot of loud noises here. As far as sound goes, though, Tormented has a really good soundtrack. Seriously good. It's the soundtrack of a far better horror film, and it ups the tension in a way that the rest of the film never could. Not even the woman with the long, black hair with the life of its own (this was done by the guy who made Ju-On/The Grudge after all) really does all that much. I wish I'd seen the movie in 3D. Not because I think it would have been good, but because it would have made things more interesting. It would have given me something to pay attention to other than the ridiculous narrative. Visually, the film is completely fine, perhaps even good (although the color is a bit much), but it was clearly designed for 3D. In fact, there is a scene within the movie of a 3D movie, and I wanted to watch it that way too. I don't actually like 3D, but it would have been a cool effect to put on my 3D glasses with the people in the movie. It would have gotten me involved in a meaningful way. Sure, it would have been a gimmick, but so what? It would have been a cool gimmick. A lot of the other people in the theater hated Tormented. I didn't. In fact, I kind of liked it. There were aspects of it I thought were interesting, and I mostly enjoyed everything leading up to that big twist. As it went crazy, I still found some things to like (the soundtrack), but the narrative missteps were too great. I don't think anybody could pull off a movie with such a stupid plot. And if it is possible, Takashi Shimizu certainly isn't the one to prove it.
 photo

[For the month of July, we will be covering the New York Asian Film Festival and the (also New York-based) Japan Cuts Film Festival, which together form one of the largest showcases of Asian cinema in the world. For our NYAFF...

Japan Cuts Review: Tokyo Playboy Club

Jul 27 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]211359:38587[/embed] Tokyo Playboy Club (Tokyo Pureiboi Kurabu | 東京プレイボーイクラブ)Director: Yosuke OkudaRating: NRCountry: Japan  Seikichi (Ken Mitsuishi) is the head honcho of the Tokyo Playboy Club, a rather pathetic dance club with a seemingly nonexistent client base. Everything is pretty quiet until his old friend/something Katsutoshi (Nao Omori) comes to town seeking refuge in Tokyo. He did something bad at the place he used to be at, and he looks to Seikichi for help. Seikichi, who owes Katsutoshi for some reason or another, accepts the responsibility. Unfortunately for him, Katsutoshi quite the hothead, and he soon gets both himself and Seikichi in trouble by performing acts of violence on some pretty powerful people. It seemed to me like not a lot happened in Tokyo Playboy Club. I honestly don't know why I felt that way, because it's not like the events were so paltry that they could have been considered nothing. Some pretty major things happened. People got stolen from, sexed, beaten up, and all sorts of other things, and it all happened very overtly. Nothing was hidden from view. Even so, the whole thing seemed kind of irrelevant. I think a part of that could be that so much of it took place in confined spaces, specifically all of the intense things (with the opening being an exception). The film has a very closed off feel (much like the club itself), and the lighting is not very good on most of the sets. By compartmentalizing everything, it loses any sort of grand importance.   It's also because the film is very slow-moving. There are a lot of longer takes (something which has been true about many of the films I've seen at Japan Cuts), and most of them are pretty static. Time in real time is only interesting for so long, and it makes everything seem like it's going more slowly than it is. Because film time is usually compressed, watching things play out more closely to how they actually would seems kind of boring. Even though I can't say I was every really "bored" with Tokyo Playboy Club, there were definitely some moments that went on a bit too long, even if they were enjoyable for the most part.  According to the programmer who introduced Tokyo Playboy Club, people have been comparing Yosuke Okuda to Takashi Miike, but he made a point that it was an unfavorable comparison. I think he's right, because Okuda is definitely not Takashi Miike, but I could see how a better version of the film could fit into Miike's repertoire. That being said, Miike's rather eclectic catalog means most things could probably be shoehorned under his name, but regardless. That being said, maybe part of that comes from the fact that star Nao Omori played the eponymous Ichi in Miike's Ichi the Killer. I don't know. Regardless, I think it's unfair for people to compare Okuda to Miike, given that Okuda only has a couple of films under his belt. Maybe someday the comparison will be justified, but for the moment people should just let Okuda be Okuda. It'll be for the best. On the note of Nao Omori, as much as I love him as an actor (his face was one of the best things about Potechi (Chips)), I had a lot of problems with his character. Katsutoshi's first appearance is as a calm, collected man who is intensely violent. That was cool. I liked it. He walked up to a dude and smashed his head in. There was no fanfare or anything of the sort. It was creepy. Then he started yelling at everybody. The outbursts matched his violence, but that's not particularly interesting to watch. Now that I think about it, I wanted something more like his character from Ichi the Killer (although perhaps a bit more confident). My opinion of the movie changed drastically with Katsutoshi's mood. When he was angry, it didn't ruin things by any means. It was really a matter of disappointment. But once I got over that and the fact that there were not going to be any bizarrely disorienting Playboy bunnies, I definitely enjoyed Tokyo Playboy Club. There's a lot to like, and really there aren't too many things to dislike. It's quite funny (I'm not sure why I haven't mentioned that yet), and it gets pretty crazy at times. Sure, it may not blow you away, but I think you'll have some fun with this one. As something of an addendum, I feel like I should mention that I saw Tokyo Playboy Club immediately before watching the complete and total mind-fuck that is Gyo. Upon leaving Gyo, I had forgotten everything about Tokyo Playboy Club. Seriously. I had actually forgotten I had seen another movie that day. Only when I was discussing it with some other people after the fact did it hit me that I had been there for two films, but then it took someone actually naming the film before my memory came back properly. Obviously that says something about the brain-melting nature of Gyo, but I think it also reflects negatively on the lasting impact of Tokyo Playboy Club. I don't know how different this review would be if it had been the only movie I had watched that day, but everything that was weird about it (and there were definitely weird things about it) just seemed kind of normal afterwards.
 photo

[For the month of July, we will be covering the New York Asian Film Festival and the (also New York-based) Japan Cuts Film Festival, which together form one of the largest showcases of Asian cinema in the world. For our NYAFF...

Japan Cuts Review: Hard Romanticker

Jul 20 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]211354:38583[/embed] Hard Romanticker (Hadoromanchika | ハードロマンチッカー)Director: Su-Yeon GuRating: NRCountry: Japan  I couldn't really tell you what the story of Hard Romanticker is, because it's both irrelevant and uninteresting. Gu (Shota Matsuda) has done various things to make various people unhappy, so pretty much everyone wants his head on a pike. I know that one particular group hates him because he beat someone up, and I think another group hates him because he beat other people up, but I don't really know. Beyond that, there is a very nosy police officer who fits into the whole thing somewhere, and I have no idea why. There is probably something more there, but I never figured out what it was, nor did I really care enough to try. Normally I'm not one to criticize a film for its representation of a gender, but I have to make an exception for Hard Romanticker. It's kind of amazing, actually, how terribly women are treated in the film. None of them have anything close to a personality (with one exception I will talk about later), and basically all of them exist as nothing more than sexual objects. In fact, more than a few of the women spend their entire time onscreen naked and unconscious, being groped by some paint-thinner addicts. If you want to talk about the objectification of women in films, Hard Romanticker is an excellent place to start. But even though women are sexually brutalized, the men are still the victims of some pretty merciless violence. In fact, Hard Romanticker has some of the best violence I've seen in a while. It's not because it's particularly well choreographed or anything, but because it looks so real. If I had to guess, I'd say that 75% of the hits in the film were real. And I'm not talking about major, damage-causing strikes, I mean just smacks and slaps and small hits. There are a lot of them, and there's no way they didn't actually connect. Even if sound was used to amplify the effect, the amount of onscreen violence meant that what was put offscreen (or obscured the way movies usually do it) stood out. There are two moments of violence in particular that shocked/impressed me. The first was a kick to the stomach that pulled a collective groan from the audience. It was quick, intense, and right in the center of the screen. I imagine there was some speeding up involved, perhaps the victim was wearing some protective padding, and a few extra effects made the whole thing seem worse than it was, but I wasn't thinking about it then. I was thinking about the second one though, because it shocked me and by that point I had no interest in the events of the film. Gu hits somebody in the head with a pipe. Simple enough? Absolutely, fake pipe. No problem. Except for the fact that Gu spun around and hit the wall with it, taking out a chunk of the wood. Then he hit it two more times, each leaving a (completely different) kind of gash. Maybe there was a cut I missed, but it was pretty damn impressive from where I was sitting. Generally speaking, Hard Romanticker spends a lot of time with each moment. There are numerous long takes, and most of them are static shots. Static shots tend to be pretty boring, which is why I found it interesting that the filmmakers used them as a way to frame violence. Single-take static-shots do a lot to remove the intensity of action sequences, but Hard Romanticker still manages to pull some pretty harsh moments out of them. If there's one good thing that I cold pull out of the film, it's that, and I don't really know how good that is. The character themselves, when not being abused and beaten, range from boring to downright awful. Taking aside the fact that a lot of the characters (Gu included) are rapists, there's just nothing redeeming about any of the characters. I couldn't even feel sympathy for the majority of the girls because they weren't actual people. The were just things. The only person I really liked was Gu's grandmother, and that was because her generic identity was that of a bitter old grandmother, and bitter old grandmothers are funny. Even with her though, I never felt any kind of affinity to anybody, so I had nothing invested in the little story that was there. I understand that I'm missing the point. Hard Romanticker is about going back to the ultra-violent, ultra-sexual Japanese crime movies of old, but the film can't survive on nostalgia alone. I can see Hard Romanticker having a market in Japan, and I can also see it having a market over here as well, but I don't know why I can see it. Many of the other people at the theater I talked to did seem to enjoy the film (although the sentiment about misogyny was widely felt), although a lot of them had fond memories of the good old days. But it's not the good old days anymore. We've moved beyond films like Hard Romanticker, and we're better for it. The Japanese film industry is better for it. It's all well and good to look to the past, but if this is what the past was like, then good riddance.
 photo

[For the month of July, we will be covering the New York Asian Film Festival and the (also New York-based) Japan Cuts Film Festival, which together form one of the largest showcases of Asian cinema in the world. For our NYAFF...

Japan Cuts Review: The Big Gun/Metamorphosis (Henge)

Jul 18 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]211358:38574[/embed] The Atrocity Exhibition: The Big Gun / Metamorphosis (Dai Kenju | 大拳銃 / Henge | へんげ)Directors: Hajime OhataRating: NRCountry: Japan  The Big Gun revolves around two brothers who own a metal-shop are commissioned to make a number of handguns from scratch by a shady character who keeps postponing his payment. He continues to request larger orders, but let's think about this logically. Shady business is shady business, and asking people to make guns for you and then not paying them seems like a bad idea, doesn't it? Well, it is. And that's where the big gun comes into play. Henge tells the story of Yoshiaki Kadota (Kazunari Aizawa) and his wife, Keiko (Aki Morita). Yoshiaki has been having strange things happen to him for quite a while, night terrors and bizarre seizures/spasms which have forced him into the hospital at various points. It's not entirely clear what the timeline for the issues have been, but eventually it comes to a head when Yoshiaki begins to transform into a flesh-eating monster. Things escalate from there, and all kinds of crazy things start happening to the couple. People start dying, then more people die, and it goes completely insane by the end. Both of the films have a similar sort of progression. Things start off relatively slow (The Big Gun much moreso than Henge), then they start to ramp up and up, and then things start exploding. When things start exploding, everything becomes awesome, and then they end. They're short, sweet, and mostly to the point. Had either of them been any longer, I think everything would have completely fallen apart, but as it stands they can thrive due to their length. There is no question that things don't always make sense. Nobody really has any kind of backstory, and the motivations are simplistic at best, but it doesn't matter. Something interesting is never more than a few minutes away, so you don't have time to get bogged down with those kinds of thoughts. Technically speaking, the films are a mixed bag. The Big Gun looks like a student film, but as far as I can tell, it actually was. The only company named in the credits is the Film School of Tokyo, so that's my logical conclusion. But it's really ugly, and not even presented in widescreen. That being said, I am more willing to accept its ugliness than I was with Let's Make the Teacher Have a Miscarriage Club because it's older. The Big Gun is from 2008, which was before the low-budget digital revolution really took hold. I always find it interesting to see what filmmakers on a budget come up with when they try to do grand special effects like explosions and decapitated heads. The Big Gun certainly wouldn't win any awards for its effects, but they're enjoyable to watch nonetheless.  Henge is much higher quality. In fact, most of the time it looks pretty decent. Perhaps that is a function of watching it after two very poor looking bits, but I didn't really have a problem with the general look of Henge. What I did have a problem with was its use of CGI. For the most part, instead of using blood packets and the like, the blood splatters are made up from the most generic and terrible looking CG splatters I have ever seen. There was no attempt to make them actually fit inside the universe, and that's a real shame. I imagine most of the budget went to making Yoshiaki's monster suit, which is gloriously rubbery and got more than a couple of laughs from the audience, as well as the miniatures used in the final scene. If I had to choose between quality  blood and those miniatures, though, I would undoubtedly choose the miniatures. What sets Henge apart from other monster movies is the fact that it plays out, for the most part, like an exorcism film. The seizures that Yoshiaki has have him contorting his body in strange ways and speaking in dead languages, and there is even an attempt at excising the demon/monster/whatever from his body. I don't know if this was intended to throw people off track and make them think they were watching one kind of thing before bringing out the big rubber monster, but it definitely gives the whole thing a unique feel that I enjoyed. It's interesting to watch The Big Gun and Henge back to back, because it allows you to see the growth of Hajime Ohata as a director. Although The Big Gun has a really amazing ending, Henge is a better production (and has an even better one). Some better camera equipment does a lot to make something seem more professional, but it goes beyond that. The man clearly has some interesting ideas, and he is not afraid to make things that look a little silly in order to get them across. The fact that Henge turns a bit away from real effects for something that should be pretty simple (blood) makes me sad and has me worried for a time when his budget would allow him to go more heavily CG, but the ending gives me hope that there is still more he can and will do with practical effects. I definitely think that, despite their many flaws, both The Big Gun and Henge are worth watching if you can get your hands on them, if for no other reason than to see their crazy endings. They are awesome, and the ending of Henge made pulled me out of the funk that I was in thanks to Let's Make the Teacher Have a Miscarriage Club, which The Big Gun wasn't quite able to do (but it got me part of the way there). Even if you don't watch either of these films, though, you should keep an eye on Hajime Ohata. I don't know that he'll ever make a legitimately "great" movie, but I can definitely see him developing a devoted cult following, and if his filmmaking continues to improve (as it should), that following will be well deserved.
 photo

[For the month of July, we will be covering the New York Asian Film Festival and the (also New York-based) Japan Cuts Film Festival, which together form one of the largest showcases of Asian cinema in the world. For our NYAFF...

Review: Let's Make the Teacher Have a Miscarriage Club

Jul 18 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]211355:38563[/embed] The Atrocity Exhibition: Let’s Make the Teacher Have a Miscarriage Club (Sensei o Ryuzan saseru Ka | 先生を流産させる会)Directors: Eisuke NaitoRating: NRCountry: Japan  There's nothing misleading about the title of Let's Make the Teacher Have a Miscarriage Club. It is about a group of five schoolgirls who, upon finding out their teacher is pregnant, make a pact to give her a miscarriage by any means necessary. Given that they are young girls and not particularly clever, they don't make a cutesy name for themselves (like "The Abortionators" or "The Miscarriage Misfits"). Instead, they write on the wall of their abandoned hideout, "Let's Make the Teacher Have a Miscarriage Club." Cute. This club of five girls is led by a psychopath named Mizuki (Kaori Kobayashi), and when I say psychopath I mean it. The film opens with her grabbing a rabbit, climbing up some steps, and throwing the rabbit onto the ground below. While all of her friends laugh, she shouts at them, because she doesn't understand the joke. It's clear from the outset she has no emotions, no empathy, and no traits that make her even the slightest bit human. The other girls follow along with her, although it's not clear exactly what they think they're doing. They're all young, far too young to understand the ramifications of something like giving someone a miscarriage. They're just going along with what Mizuki wants, and whether that is out of fear or something else I don't really know. The reason why I don't know is because there is absolutely no characterization. The teacher in question (Aki Miyata) is is just a regular teacher, and basically everything about her comes from her (completely understandable) anger about the children who are trying to give her a miscarriage. The children don't have any personalities other than "Haha, Mizuki just did something that hurt somebody/something, how hilarious," which is to say they have no personalities whatsoever. Everybody is completely one-tone for the entire film, and the one sudden change by the teacher and also kind of Mizuki at the end makes absolutely no sense. What should have been some kind of disturbing catharsis ended up being a stupid, terrible moment. Let's Make the Teacher Have a Miscarriage Club's biggest problem is that it is boring. So incredibly boring. It's kind of amazing that a story about little girls trying to end their teacher's pregnancy can be so uninteresting. The premise alone should be enough to carry a story like this, but it isn't, because nothing happens. Because nobody is interesting, seeing them do things is never interesting. Watching the girls concoct their plans isn't enjoyable or anything of the sort, but it's also not reprehensible. Even with the knowledge that the film is inspired by true events, I just didn't care and I wanted something to happen. It could be her miscarriage or it could be the brats getting some comeuppance, but it needed to be something. And it never was, ever. Even when things happened, nothing really happened. The programmer who introduced The Atrocity Exhibition made a point of the cheapness of the films in question, and it is incredibly obvious that Let's Make the Teacher Have a Miscarriage Club was created using borrowed equipment from the 1930s. Honestly, in 2012 (or 2011 when the film was made), it's no longer acceptable to have movies that look that bad. If cheap(ish) DSLRs are good enough for major Hollywood productions, then nobody else really has an excuse to look bad anymore, especially since there are much cheaper DSLRs that still put out great video quality. If something is really pretty, it can distract from a lot of narrative flaws (just look at Avatar), but if something looks ugly, there's no crutch for a bad story to fall back on. Let's Make the Teacher Have a Miscarriage Club needed that crutch. Hell, it needed a wheelchair. And on that note, they should have used a wheelchair for all of the moving shots, because whatever they were using was incredibly unstable. In fact, those were the kinds of things that were the most interesting to see, because of how poor everything was. I like to believe that somebody really cared about this project and that director Eisuke Naito made himself a tripod with wheels or something like that. I imagine that there were a lot of blood, sweat, and tears poured into Let's Make the Teacher Have a Miscarriage Club. But I don't care, and I can't care. Because it's boring. The movie is bad, unquestionably, but a bad movie can at least be interesting (or maybe funny). But a bad movie that is boring? Ugh. The film's only saving grace is its 60-minute runtime. As much as I didn't like it, I can't bring myself to actually hate it in the way I hate something like Cut. And that's really the only good thing I can say about it.
 photo

[For the month of July, we will be covering the New York Asian Film Festival and the (also New York-based) Japan Cuts Film Festival, which together form one of the largest showcases of Asian cinema in the world. For our NYAFF...

NYAFF Review: Make Up

Jul 17 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
Make Up (Ming Yun Hua Zhuang Shi | 命运化妆师)Director: Yi-chi LienRating: NRCountry: Taiwan  Min-Hsiu (Nikki Hsin-Ying Hsieh) is a mortician who specializes in doing the presentation make up for corpses. When someone wants an open casket funeral, the body needs to be in some kind of presentable shape. Min-Hsiu is very good at her job, closing up giant gashes in faces, recreating prosthetic limbs, and basically doing whatever is necessary to give the family some kind of closure. She wants the family to remember the deceased in the best way possible. I've only been to a handful of funerals, but I have always wondered what kind of work went into making a body "look like she's sleeping." I have also wondered what kind of people would want to do that. But Min-Hsiu isn't some sick, depraved person. She's just someone doing a job. Since she doesn't know the people she is making up, it's not too difficult to disassociate the act from the former person. Until one day, when Min-Hsiu's former music teacher, Miss Chen Ting (Sonia Sui), appears on her table. This alone would be cause for some discomfort, but it turns out that Min-Hsiu and Miss Chen Ting had been in some kind of relationship back when she was in high school. It's really quite strange. Lesbian pederasty is hardly the kind of thing that most people can relate to, and it's also something that the vast majority of people likely have no interest in relating to. Min-Hsui's job does little to help anyone identify with her as well. It's as though the director was trying to take characters that nobody could understand and then make them understandable. It's a strange goal, but a noble one. Movies are interesting because they allow you to see the world through another person's eyes. Sometimes they are the eyes of a serial killer, or maybe they're the eyes of a young boy (who is not a serial killer). Ideally, every movie does something to humanize its characters. I've been thinking about it a lot, and I've figured out the reason that it works, and that's because it's from Min-Hsiu's point of view. Although it's never clear how old she is, she can't be more than 25, and she played the role of the student in that relationship. Seeing the story through her eyes has something of a cleansing effect, because it seems sweet and almost innocent. The age gap is never forgotten, and it definitely plays a role in the public perception of their relationship, but its creepiness factor is mitigated somewhat. Min-Hsui is the prey rather than the predator, so seeing the relationship as she did is kind of reassuring. Had Miss Chen been the protagonist, she would have come across as nothing more than a pederast. It would be far harder to stomach the relationship, even if everything else was exactly the same. Make Up is about more than just the relationship between Min-Hsiu and Miss Chen, though. The plot mostly follows a young detective-or-something-like-that (Bryant Chang) who is convinced that Miss Chen's husband (Chung-tien Wu) killed her. Miss Chen told her husband very little about her past (for pretty obvious reasons), and upon finding out that Min-Hsiu knew her back then, he starts to hound her for information. At the same time, the detective/whatever tries to use Min-Hsiu's new relationship with the husband to get enough evidence to have him arrested/convicted/whatever.  The plot, while for the most part interesting, is occasionally difficult to follow. Make Up has a lot of side-plots and ideas that are brought up but never adequately resolved. Sometimes they're just minor things, but all of them seem important at the time and then just disappear. A one off speech about how sometimes you just have to let bad things happen doesn't count as a resolution. If anything, it's a primer for a followup thread about trying to overcome those bad things. Fortunately, the main storyline is closed off well, although some strange cutting made it appear like a dead character was alive for a few moments, and I was honestly shocked by one particular revelation, but I needed more closure than the film was willing to provide. Visually, Make Up is absolutely gorgeous. There is just something it that beautifully captures the environment. What really distinguishes the film is its use of long takes. These aren't Children of Men-style shots that took weeks of preparation. They're much simpler, subtler. Particularly noteworthy is a long shot involving a car mirror, which is absolutely fascinating. Unfortunately, the film's editor went a bit overboard with the use of color correction. The scenes where contrasting lighting is used to set the tone are a sight to behold, but Make Up turns a bit too often towards computer-generated color. It's a fine line between good color correction and bad color correction, and Make Up straddles the line a bit too finely. That's not necessarily a bad thing, nor is it always a bad thing in this case, but at times it just becomes unnatural. Instead of being cinematic or hyper-real, it just looks out of place. Also strange is the appearance of a jacked up shutter speed. Faster shutter speeds result in less motion blur within frames, and it gives everything an unnatural jitter, one that Make Up definitely seemed to have. I didn't really like or dislike the effect, and maybe it was all in my head, but it was definitely strange. I should have realized that, to some extent, the ending of Make Up could never be completely satisfying. Even if the cause of death is resolved, Miss Chen is still dead. There is no chance for Min Hsiu to rekindle the lost love. Even so, some extra clarity would have been appreciated. I have no idea what happens to any of the characters after the credits roll, and I don't have any sense of how the events of the film impacted the characters. Maybe I don't need to know, the filmmakers clearly think I don't, but I wanted (and still want) to. Still, it's impressive that I cared at all. Even seen through the younger party's eyes, the relationship shouldn't have worked on any level. Senior high or not, the age gap between Min-Hsui and Miss Chen Ting was too great (half your age plus seven is the rule, if you're unaware). It was completely not okay, and watching it should have made me angry. Even so, I mourned Min Hsiu's loss. I wished things had worked out for them. I really shouldn't have, but I absolutely did.
 photo

[For the month of July, we will be covering the New York Asian Film Festival and the (also New York-based) Japan Cuts Film Festival, which together form one of the largest showcases of Asian cinema in the world. For our NYAFF...

Japan Cuts Review: Smuggler

Jul 17 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]211336:38572[/embed] Smuggler (Sumagura | スマグラー おまえの未来を運べ)Director: Katsuhito IshiiRating: RCountry: Japan  Ryosuke Kinuta (Satoshi Tsumabuki) owes some money to some people who you don't want to owe money to. It's an unfortunate circumstance to be in, and it means that Ryosuke has to start doing things that are less than legal to come up with the cash. He is put under the watchful eye of Jo (Masatoshi Nagase) and his assistant, Jijii (Tatsuya Gashuin). They are smugglers, and they're very good at their jobs. As far as the film is concerned, they seem to mostly smuggle corpses, but it's possible their repertoire extends beyond that. Either way, they're given the task of smuggling a live on, an assassin named Vertebrae, who killed a major crime boss. And, like you would expect, things don't go so well. Unfortunately, I don't know what kind of movie Smuggler is supposed to be, and I'm not sure it does either. It's based on a manga which the Anime News Network categorizes as "Drama," but it's really not that simple. Sometimes it seems like the film is some zany, verging-on-supernatural action comedy with ridiculous characters and events, but at other times it comes off as a barely humorous dark tale full of misery and woe. Usually whenThe reason I don't know is because it completely stops making sense around two-thirds of the way in, and a lot of that has to do with Vertebrae. It's clear from the beginning that Vertebrae is strong. The opening scene, which makes effective (if a bit excessive) use of slow-mo, definitively shows that he is a force to be reckoned with. That's fine. He's an assassin, and an assassin should be able to move faster than some bumbling bodyguards. That makes complete and perfect sense. And it made sense that the smugglers attempting to transport him would have him intensely bound up, because he's dangerous. But the bindings were no more intense than those given to Hannibal Lector, and he's not a superhuman. But then Vetebrae leaps from a truck and runs into the tall grass. In the blink of an eye, he is gone. That was weird and off-putting. Things stopped being quite so clear. But then it went completely insane. While being shot at with by a man weilding an Uzi, Vertebrae begins climbing walls and contorting his body in impossible ways (as evidenced by some terrible CG). I was completely incredulous. What the hell was going on? At the same time, I was bearing witness to some horrific torture and brutality. Put in the place of Vertebrae, Ryosuke silences and steels himself for some really messed up stuff. It's mostly the promise of violence rather than the violence itself, but the horrors of the imagination vs. the horrors of reality are well documented, so I don't feel the need to say anything more about that. In the place of visuals, Smuggler relies on its excellent sound design. I don't know for sure what a burning hot needle sounds like when it's being stuck through the space between someone's toes, but now I feel like I have a pretty good idea. The scene also has the dubious honor of featuring the single most unpleasant use of a hammer I have ever seen (or, in this case, heard). It's not big and grotesque, nor is it any kind of killing blow; it's a little "tink" sound that made the entire theater groan. What makes the whole thing worse is the demeanor of the man performing the torture. He is a "crazy person," no doubt about it. He leaves the torture room whistling and returns wearing a naval jacket and a diaper. I laughed because it was ridiculous, but nothing about it was actually funny. And that's part of the problem. The first part of the film is funny. The opening scene is really funny, including the crazy slow-mo violence. It's all played for comedic effect. In fact, there's an entire character who exists for comedic relief. But at some point it just stops being funny. Maybe it's when that first needle goes in, or maybe it's after the twelfth. I can't say for sure, but when things too that took for the dark, everything leading up to that seemed really inappropriate. The film got everyone in the mood to laugh, and then it dove headfirst into an empty pool.  But before things went full retard, as Robert Downey Jr. would say, I was finally starting to like Smuggler. Beyond the violence in the opening and the occasional good joke, the film was pretty boring for a while. I was waiting for the various storylines that had been opened up to start to come together. Then things picked up around the halfway mark, when everybody started meeting everybody else. At that point, I like what I was seeing. I was getting myself invested in the story and the characters. But as the film slowly left reality, it became harder and harder for me to enjoy the film. I began to question everything I had seen, and that's never a good sign. I was trying to find some kind of clue that would have allowed me to see the insanity coming, but I couldn't think of it. Instead, I was watching a trainwreck. If you can accept from the beginning that Smuggler does not take place in reality, you won't have as many issues with the film that I did. Even knowing that wouldn't really have justified the ridiculous turn it took, but at least I would have had some expectations of insanity. As it was, I was watching a movie that had no idea what it wanted to be, and I wasn't really sure I wanted to be watching it.
 photo

[For the month of July, we will be covering the New York Asian Film Festival and the (also New York-based) Japan Cuts Film Festival, which together form one of the largest showcases of Asian cinema in the world. For our NYAFF...

Japan Cuts Review: Gyo

Jul 16 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]211119:38566[/embed] Gyo (ギョ)Director: Takayuki HiraoRating: NRCountry: Japan The story begins in Okinawa with three friends: Kaori, the pure-at-heart hero of the story; Erika, the slutty and self-absorbed; and Aki, the frumpy third wheel. It's the sort of set-up you'd expect for a slasher movie, and it initially plays out that way. Someone or something watches them in the dark through bushes and trees. All Erika can think of is getting laid, all Kaori can think of is her boyfriend, and all Aki can think of is being miserable. It's in this slasher-like moment that they first notice a foul stench. It's like rotting flesh, one of them says. The smell of death will only get worse as the movie progresses. When the smell is especially strong, it's rendered as caramel-colored stink lines, like thousands of paramecium filling the air -- the olfactory equivalent of Kirby krackle. Some scenes use this visual representation of stench to remarkable effect. As the movie gets permeated with bad gas, the film resembles a flatulent Van Gogh; even the night skies are overcome by an undulating, colorful stink. It would almost be beautiful, this rancid aurora borealis, if it weren't for the chaos on the ground. The source of the stench is millions of mutant fish that have invaded dry land. They're able to walk around on these robotic insect legs of unknown origin. It's the stuff of nightmares: it doesn't go together, but when joined together, it's hard to keep the image out of your head. The first encounter the friends have with these mutant fish is rabbit-sized and harmless. It's dispensed of easily, though maybe not in the most sanitary way. The second encounter: land shark. Much more harrowing. It makes Kaori want to return to Tokyo to be with her boyfriend Tadashi. Erika though? You guessed it: she still just wants to get laid. Gyo is adapted from the manga of the same name by Junji Ito. I've only read one Ito story in full, and it happens to be "The Enigma of Amigara Fault," one of the bonus stories in Gyo; I also saw the film adaptation of Ito's Spiral (Uzumaki) years and years ago and remember enjoying it. In some ways I'm glad I haven't read the manga. Adaptations tend to pale in comparison to their source material. You expect certain moments to be recreated, or in this case a certain look. Ito's visual style in particular is scratchier and much eerier than the clean art of the anime, but that was bound to get lost in translation. So not knowing the story, Gyo wound up being a strange and unpredictable journey through absolute madness. Since the mutant fish infect their victims during an attack, you'd expect the story to become just another zombie film, but thankfully that's not where it goes. (It's depressing to write "just another zombie film" these days, by the way.) Why would a movie full of mutant sharks on robot legs go somewhere predictable? I mentioned bafflement at the beginning of the review, and sometimes the feeling of shock and confusion can unhook your brain. That might be the ultimate power of WTF-moments. You're forced to stop, reorient yourself and your way of thinking, and consider what just happened while you're catching up to what's happening. There's a sense of danger to it all since your mind can't find the pattern or complete the sentence, so your attention is held by that unpredictability. Watching Gyo, there were a couple of moments where I thought, "Is this happening?" And it happened, and I laughed because of the incredulity. Anything goes in this surreal and stinky movie, and that's where so much of the revolting pleasure comes from. The only thing you can predict with any certainty is that Kaori will wander Tokyo in search of Tadashi, and she does this with the help of a freelance photojournalist named Shirakawa. He's on the trail of the truth behind these mutant fish. He even expounds on truth and subjectivity during one scene in the film. It's plopped in there and then dropped as a thread, but maybe the idea of truth is all over Gyo, not overtly but lingering like that sour human odor in cheap hotel rooms. The truth behind all of this mutant fish business gets obscured -- covered up by stink lines, buried under the mass of bodies. No one's going to figure this one out, or at least not easily. The end of the film is irresolvable, so much so that someone in the audience yelled "What?!" at the screen. Part of it was angry -- "What the fuck did I just watch!?" -- and part of it was confused -- "What the fuck did I just watch?" -- but I think a lot of it was also in the surreal spirit of the movie -- "What the fuck did I just watch!?" The crowd burst out laughing and then applauded, as if to say, "I know, man. We're all in the same boat." What the fuck did I just watch? Alec Kubas-Meyer: Gyo is one hell of an experience. I found out the basic premise of the film about three minutes before it started, but that did nothing to prepare me for its absolutely insanity. It's basically the equivalent of being smashed in the head with a walking hammerhead shark, to the point where I had literally forgotten about the movie I had seen less than two hours prior. I didn't even remember that I had seen another movie. And that's because there is no room for anything in your head other than Gyo. It's like the flatulent gas that powers the walking machines, which fills up their hosts and then makes them explode. Yeah, Gyo is kind of like that. And it's one hell of a trip. 80 - Great
 photo

[For the month of July, we will be covering the New York Asian Film Festival and the (also New York-based) Japan Cuts Film Festival, which together form one of the largest showcases of Asian cinema in the world. For our NYAFF...

NYAFF Review: Potechi (Chips)

Jul 13 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
Chips (Potechi | ポテチ)Director: Yoshihiro NakamuraRating: NRCountry: Japan  Although the story itself really has nothing to do with thievery, Chips is a story about thieves. Tadashi Imamura (Gaku Hamada) is a thief, but he's not a very good one. He breaks into houses and gets ready to steal things, but an important phone call of some kind always seems to stop him. Before too long, he seems to give up on the whole thing. Perhaps when the film is over, and this particular story sees itself to completion, he'll go back to a life of crime, but I don't really know. There are some pretty life-changing things that happen, and it's impossible to say what anyone would do in those circumstances, and it's far more difficult to predict Tadashi's actions.  I don't know what Tadashi's issues are, but it's clear he has some. It could just be that he's kind of dumb, but it seems like it goes beyond that. When he wakes up and finds he has extra time, he decides to get out a protractor and draw triangles. Did you know that no matter what kind of triangle you draw, all of the interior angles will add up to 180 degrees? Of course you do, unless you're a fan of non-Euclidean geometry, and if you are I don't want to start some kind of ridiculous mathematical debate. But Tadashi didn't know that, and he counted it as some kind of major revelation. He's definitely not the social failure that the autistic son from Ocean Heaven is, but he's definitely a bit off-kilter. Fortunately, it's not a bad thing. In fact, it's really kind of cute. The off-kilter disposition of Kurosawa (Nao Omori) is also cute, but in kind of a scary way. Kurosawa is also a thief, but he is one who is good at what he does. He seems to act as something of a mentor for Tadashi, although their relationship is never made entirely clear. He seems like a good guy, but there's no question that he's a psychopath. He is completely incapable of empathizing with human emotion, and this makes him a very dangerous person. That danger is used to great effect, and the scenes where he is put at the forefront are uniformly brilliant. And it's not just the scenes themselves, which are funny, dramatic, and excellently staged, but it's also Nao Omori's amazing malleable face. I tend to gloss over the acting in my reviews. I don't really know why, because obviously acting is really important to the film, but it would be very difficult for a movie to be good (and not so-bad-it's-good) with poor acting, so the quality of the acting is kind of implicit in my feelings about everything else. But I have to mention it here, because it's wonderful. It's not even really the acting, though, as much as it is the facial expressions that the actors make. I think that Nao Omori's expressions are the best, but the others are still fantastic. If I had watched Chips with the sound turned off, I think I would have been affected just as much by some of the film's more poignant moments, both the dramatic and the comedic ones. Everybody's face is brilliantly molded to suit every situation, and watching the movie three times (allowing a chance to see actually see how everybody reacted to a conversation) would actually give some kind of brilliant payoff each time. I very rarely complain that movies are too short, but I think Chips would fit the bill. The film clocks in at only 68 minutes, meaning it would be almost impossible to overstay its welcome. If segments of longer films and Pang Ho-Cheung's First Attempt are discounted, I believe it's the shortest film in the entire festival, and I think that's a shame. There is definitely room for expansion in a lot of the storylines, and I would simply wish I could have spent more time with the characters. I wanted to see more of Kurosawa's tricks and Tadashi's silly realizations. I wanted to witness more of the reactions that Tadashi's girlfriend, Wakaba Onishi (Fumino Kimura), makes. I wanted to see how what would happen with Tadashi's mother (Eri Ishida) after the film's final moments. Perhaps that final one wouldn't have worked in the context of the story, but I want to know. I would totally be okay with a sequel where they explored the ramifications of the ending. But short lengths can also be a blessing in disguise. I would rather yearn for more of a film than despair at its excess. There is no question in my mind that Chips could be longer and be made even better by taking advantage of extra length, but I couldn't say how much longer it could go before becoming too much. Maybe there was a 90 minute cut that director Yoshihiro Nakamura felt was too long. If that cut exists, I'd like to see it. But if it doesn't, I understand. Perhaps some things are best left secret. A lot of questions may have been raised without a lot of answers, but they didn't make me angry. I didn't expect the film to go where it did, nor did I expect it to end where it did. There's a lot about the movie that is entirely surprising. So I'm going to stop talking now, lest I ruin the surprise for you.  On a side note: stay after the credits. If the rest of the movie hasn't warmed your dead, cold heart, I think that may be the thing to push it over the edge. It's a nice moment, one that I was sad to see wasn't in the film when the credits rolled. If it hadn't been there at all, it absolutely would have hurt the film as a whole. [Potechi (Chips) will be playing at the Japan Society this Sunday, July 15th at 8:00 PM.]
 photo

[For the month of July, we will be covering the New York Asian Film Festival and the (also New York-based) Japan Cuts Film Festival, which together form one of the largest showcases of Asian cinema in the world. For our NYAFF...

Japan Cuts Review: Ace Attorney

Jul 13 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]205525:37371[/embed] Ace Attorney (Gyakuten Saiban | 逆転裁判)Director: Takashi MiikeRating: NRCountry: Japan In a lot of ways, this review is primarily for people who have played the Ace Attorney games. I will be talking about it within its context as an adaptation because it's important as an adaptation. Fortunately, Hubert has not played the games, so our second opinion (found at the bottom of the review) will not be looking at the film the same way I am. Hopefully the review will give you a sense of what the film is like even if you don't necessarily know what I'm talking about, but I can't really promise that will be the case. I will try though. Ace Attorney follows the exploits of Phoenix Wright (Hiroki Narimiya), a defense attorney who is immediately thrown in way over his head. He is put up against some of the best prosecutors in the business who use some of the dirtiest tactics. He also stands before a wonderfully ignorant judge, one who allows for all kinds of shenanigans to take place in his courtroom. Sometimes those shenanigans allow for justice to be served, and other times it means that corruption comes out on top. Either way, it's all open to the public, so there's definitely entertainment to be had. If you've played the first Ace Attorney recently, you will recognize all of the story beats, because they are exactly the same. For those of you who haven't, good! The story goes to some really crazy places, and you are lucky to get to experience it for the first time. I think that seeing the movie would diminish your enjoyment of the game afterwards, but having played the game will only make your experience of the movie better. At times, I felt like I was watching the game being played and waiting for it to relinquish control. Every time Phoenix made some kind of grand realization, I felt like the screen was going to pause so I could be the one to shout "HOLD IT!" or "OBJECTION!" But it went along without me. This time, I was just along for the ride. Honestly, though, that's not such a bad thing. Although there were times that I wanted to be the one to make the call, I was generally content to sit back and let Hiroki Narimiya do the shouting for me. In fact, the film reminded me about how frustrating the games could be at times, and when he was able to make the conclusions that took me 30 minutes in 15 seconds in order to progress the narrative, I was happy that I was watching a movie. Seeing Ace Attorney with a crowd was a surprisingly pleasant experience, and if you can, it's probably the best way to see it, especially if you are unfamiliar with the source material. When the film was introduced, the programmer asked who was there because of Takashi Miike. About 20 people raised their hands. When he asked who was there because of Phoenix Wright, at least 3/4 of the people in the fully packed theater raised their hands. I certainly wasn't surprised, though. The person sitting in front of me was wearing a Giant Bomb t-shirt, the theater was packed with young girls, and a general air of "OH MY GOD PHOENIX WRIGHT" hung in the air. I was right there with them, but I was worried that it would turn into a running commentary, as is wont to happen during horror movies. Fortunately, everyone seemed too gripped by the film to actually talk, and the numerous cheers were expected and not drawn out. Obviously people were going to scream when characters show up onscreen for the first time, or key phrases are first uttered, but it could very easily become too much. But I realized something forunate: with subtitles, I didn't need to actually hear what was being said. Because of this, I never felt like I was missing anything because of the audience. In fact, even I cheered a few times. How couldn't I? It was infectious, and so was the laughter. If you haven't played the games, you won't understand all of the cheers and the loves, but that doesn't mean you won't feel the urge to join in. Even though the film deals with some very serious topics (and they are handled seriously when they need to be), it's still set in a very silly universe. You need only look at Phoenix Wright's hair to know you're in for something ridiculous. And ridiculous is a great word to describe the film. In some ways, I think the film even tops the games at times, and that's saying quite a lot. If you have not played the games, you need to understand just how strange everything in the Ace Attorney world is. It's really strange. Things don't work like they do in real life. The court system makes absolutely no sense, even discounting the judge and his oddities. Trials are forced to three days at max, lawyers have ridiculous amounts of control over their clients and their speech (speaking for the clients is completely allowed). The evidence system is brilliant, with enormous laser screens that can be "thrown" around the room at will (usually accompanied by some iconic shout). The majority of the back and forth doesn't even involve the clients. It's mostly down to the lawyers arguing at each other. But it's all game logic and it all works. But if you do not understand how bizarre everything will be, you will come out the other side very unhappy. Part of what makes it so strange is simply due to its live action nature. It's a live action film with the sensibilities of an animated one (which is why the hair is the way it is), and seeing real people do the things that you expect cartoons to do is inherently laughable. There's not really any way to make this not sound offensive, but the fact that the film features Japanese actors was a bit off-putting, at least initially. I am used to Phoenix Wright being even whiter than I am, and the rest of the cast as well. The clothing styles and haircuts were designed around completely pale skin, but that's not what the actors have. Visually, the film stays so true to the games, that something like skin color really does a lot to stick out. That being said, I'm glad it's a Japanese movie. I can't imagine an American version of Ace Attorney could do the material justice in the way a Japanese one could. It's not that this movie couldn't be made in America (there's nothing offensive or anything like that), it just wouldn't. The kind of wackiness that defines Ace Attorney is far more present in Asian cinema (and Japanese cinema especially), and if I had to choose a Japanese director over white actors, I would absolutely go with the Japanese director. Putting Miike behind the camera was absolutely the right move. I don't know if I've made it clear or not, but I really loved Ace Attorney. I think pretty much everything about it is absolutely brilliant. In fact, my only real issue with the film is its length, and even that isn't too egregious. It clocks in at 135 minutes, and that's just a bit too long. It's possible that I was (and probably still am) suffering from a bit of festival fatigue, and that if I had seen it outside of NYAFF with no commitment to review it I wouldn't feel that way, but I wish that it had been shorter. Not by much, certainly, and I don't know what I'd want to have cut, but like All About My Wife, eventually I just wanted it to end. Nonetheless, Ace Attorney is a huge accomplishment. Takashi Miike has done the impossible and made a videogame movie that is worth everybody's time and money. Fans of the videogame will undoubtedly get more out of the film than those who have never heard the name Phoenix Wright, but everyone will have a real chance to enjoy themselves, as long as they give themselves room to do so. I no longer fear the existence of videogame adaptations. I will look to all future projects with hope, knowing for sure that they could be done well. Some franchises lend themselves to films better than others, and Ace Attorney definitely makes more sense as a movie than some, but the bad streak has officially been broken. In its place is a shining beacon of brilliance. And that beacon is called Ace Attorney. Dear videogame publishers: The bar has officially been set. And it's been set really goddamn high. Hubert Vigilla: As someone who hasn't played any of the Ace Attorney games (and is mostly familiar with the series as an internet meme), I went into the film Ace Attorney more as a fan of Takashi Miike than anything else. While Ace Attorney isn't Miike's best (for me, probably nothing will dethrone his demented musical comedy The Happiness of the Katakuris), it's an extremely fun excursion into absurdity, goofy hairdos, and litigious zaniness. Watching in a crowd of gamers helped clue me into the in-jokes from the videogame and the delight in seeing all of the characters realized in live-action; and even those in-jokes I found funny without knowing the context. (Maybe it's the persuasive, hypnotic effect of laughter in packed theaters.) This is just sheer madcap oddness, with a story that twists, turns, and goes to strange places, including a moody flashback that wouldn't feel out of place in one of Miike's horror films or dramas. At 135 minutes, Ace Attorney does overstay its welcome, however. You could shave 15 to 20 minutes, losing nothing and gaining lots of narrative momentum. Even when it does drag, it makes up for it with its anarchic sense of humor. 83 - Great [Ace Attorney will be screening at the Japan Society on Sunday, July 15th at 1:30 PM. If you have a chance to see it and don't, you are dead to me.]
 photo

[For the month of July, we will be covering the New York Asian Film Festival and the (also New York-based) Japan Cuts Film Festival, which together form one of the largest showcases of Asian cinema in the world. For our NYAFF...

 photo

[For the month of July, we will be covering the New York Asian Film Festival and the (also New York-based) Japan Cuts Film Festival, which together form one of the largest showcases of Asian cinema in the world. For our NYAF...

NYAFF Review: Monsters Club

Jul 13 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]211056:38556[/embed] Monsters Club (Monsutâzu Kurabu | モンスターズクラブ)Director: Toshiaki ToyodaRating: NRCountry: Japan In the first 10 or so minutes of Monsters Club we get a feel for its slow burn rhythms. Ryoichi Kakiuchi (Eita) is our Unabomber figure. He lives in his cabin out in woods and constructs a mail bomb as the snow falls outside. We watch the bomb travel to its destination, though from the bomb's point of view. It's followed by what can only be considered Ryoichi's Manifesto. It's been years since I read the Unabomber Manifesto, but I believe the tenor is the same: daily life turns us into mediocre drones unable to pursue what really matters to us. There's something meditative and poetic to the imagery of Monsters Club. Writer/director Toshiaki Toyoda supposedly shot the entire film in two weeks without a script, which I find rather fascinating. For all of its lingering and smoldering and silences, there's a certain tightness to Monsters Club. The dialogue and visuals seem well considered and graceful rather than slapdash, the latter often a sign of films done on the fly. This might have to do with its extremely short run time of 71 minutes. It feels packed, and becomes somewhat stunning once ghosts from Ryoichi's past come to visit. The most striking may be the ghost that looks like a meringue in clown make-up. I'm wondering if Monsters Club could have said more about the situation it presents. I don't mean that the the movie could have been longer, but that it would have drawn a deeper and more resonant conclusion about human endeavor and isolation. The movie expresses its righteous disdain for the erosive effects of the rat race, it shows how this alienation can be brought to an extreme, and it even shows how it's impossible to completely divorce yourself from the rest of the world. But then again, what distinguishes any broad social statement -- whether it's a terrorist manifesto or an essay like Henry David Thoreau's Walden -- is its extra, intangible, personal expression about the world at large, and maybe that's what doesn't quite come through in Monsters Club. Maybe it's that to live alone dissolves us into nothing just as living among others does, but maybe I'm missing what else it's trying to say, because I think that it's trying to say more. Central to the film is a poem or two by Kenji Miyazawa, and I wonder if that's where the additional statement is meant to come through. The other day I was talking with D.B. Burroughs of Unseen Films about Monsters Club, and he mentioned that one of his contributors really hooked into the movie because of the Miyazawa poetry. I'm not familiar with Miyazawa's work, but one poem gets recited in the movie at a crucial point, and it's one of those sublime moments where words and images join in an unexpected and remarkable way. There's some memorable music in Monsters Club as well, courtesy of Toshiyuki Terui, which reminds me a lot of the work of Dirty Three and its frontman Warren Ellis (no, not that Warren Ellis). It helps convey the underlying sadness of Ryoichi's past. Loneliness is a sad state, especially when it's self-imposed loneliness, and maybe the most audacious thing about Monsters Club is that it allows us to sympathize with a terrorist bomber. At its heart, his reasons for destruction are the same reasons regular people feel frustrated, but normal people usually find solace in their friends and loved ones. Ryoichi doesn't want to have anyone in his life or to participate in any part of the world, but he really has no choice. Could be that it's better to be a madman among the frustrated rather than a madman alone. It's such a brief movie, but I think Monsters Club may stick with me a while since it's so haunting. There's imagery that's potent and expresses frustration and isolation so well. While I probably don't have enough knowledge of Miyazawa to see how deep it digs its subtext, Monsters Club leaves an odd mark in my mind; my mind may be haunted. Maybe I'll rethink that thing about Maine. Alec Kubas-Meyer: I went into Monsters Club expecting to hate it. The film's description called it polarizing (and I usually fall on the negative side of the spectrum), but my curiosity got the better of me. I had to know what exactly a Japanese art film based on the story of the Unabomber would be. As I was watching it, I realized that I didn't hate it, but knew that I didn't like it either. It's a quintessential art film. Basically nothing happens, and most of the things that do are entirely in the protagonist's head. But in the last few minutes, something clicked. It was pretty clear early on that the story is not about the Unabomber at all; it's a ghost story. A ghost story where the ghost looks like it's covered in coconut cake. I don't know why or how, but when the film ended, I realized that I had liked it. Something about those last few minutes struck me and convinced me that the movie was worth seeing. 65 - Decent [Monsters Club will be screening at The Japan Society Sunday, July 15th at 6:00 PM. Writer/director Toshiaki Toyoda will be in attendance.]
 photo

[For the month of July, we will be covering the New York Asian Film Festival and the (also New York-based) Japan Cuts Film Festival, which together form one of the largest showcases of Asian cinema in the world. For our NYAFF...

 photo

[For the month of July, we will be covering the New York Asian Film Festival and the (also New York-based) Japan Cuts Film Festival, which together form one of the largest showcases of Asian cinema in the world. For our NYAF...

NYAFF 2012: Actor Choi Min-sik's reception speech

Jul 12 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]211324:38549:0[/embed]
 photo

[For the month of July, we will be covering the New York Asian Film Festival and the (also New York-based) Japan Cuts Film Festival, which together form one of the largest showcases of Asian cinema in the world. For our NYAF...

Flixclusive Interview: Yeun Sang-ho, The King of Pigs

Jul 12 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
What is the current of state of South Korean animation? Honestly, there is not really an animation market in South Korea. Usually there are TV series or 3D movies for children, and sometimes, very rarely, a theatrical release of a feature. Last year we had fortunately, we were able to have quite a few theatrical features, but that’s really rare. Why did you want to start making animated movies? I like animation to begin with. Ever since I was young, I liked animation, especially Japanese animation, and naturally I just started making animation. I began with shorts, made quite a lot of shorts for about ten years. They’re mostly for grownups. How did it feel to Korean animation invited to Cannes? I actually heard about the news when I was at the Busan International Film Festival, and there are many Japanese animation directors that I admire, especially Kon Satoshi, known for Perfect Blue. I admired their style, and I tried to make a film that’s similar to their style, and Kon Satoshi has gone to Venice with Paprika, and I always wanted to follow their path and try to become an animation director like them. So I was really glad to hear that I was able to go to Cannes. Honestly, I kind of was shooting for going to Cannes with this film, and I’m really glad that it happened. So the film was at least in part based on your own experiences? Yeah, it’s based on my experience in school. What I saw, what I heard, and it’s the kind of experience that most of the boys in general would go through in South Korea. [To the translator, who was a young guy who grew up in South Korea] Is that what you went through? Oh yeah. Really? Pretty much, yeah. [Back to Yeun Sang-ho] Are any of the characters in The King of Pigs based on you? Mostly the three main characters. I especially focused on Jong-suk, and at the ending, I focused very much on portraying this character based on myself, and also what I would have wished something like that would actually be put in this character when I was young. When you initially had the idea, was it based on your own experiences or was it from a desire to make a movie about class inequality? Initially, I had a dream while I doing military service, and the dream was about three friends (including myself) taking revenge on someone by committing suicide, and the dream was about that, but it didn’t go so well. When I woke up, it was horrifying, and I wrote a note about it, and eventually it became this movie. And then, by the time I was going to write a feature, I found this note. I initially wanted to make this feature about social class, and based on this note that I found, I thought that I would be able to extend this and make it into this film. How many people worked on the film? Fifteen or sixteen people. How personally involved were you in the animation process? For the background, I drew about half of the film. For the picture, actually animating characters and the movement, I drew about 10,000 out of 30,000. What are you working on next? After The King of Pigs, I made a short that’s about 30 minutes long about my army experience… or about the army. And the next feature I will be working on [is roughly translated to] mean “fake religion” or “cultic religion,” and it’s going to be released early next year. I’m working on that right now. What’s that about? In Korea, there are many cultic religions, primarily based on Methodist Christianity, actually. Something that would derive from Christianity, not really a dominant thing, more cultic. And [the film] will take place in this village that is going to sink, meaning by the national plan for a reservoir. So they would actually sink the whole area for the reservoir. So the village is going to get sunk, so the story takes place in that village. So the cultic religion is in that village? So the religion gets involved in the village. It’s an apocalyptic village, and fake religion gets into that village. Would you ever make a live action movie? Not yet. I was offered a few times to make live action films, but mostly the conditions that I would like to have were not really met. If I get sufficient conditions, then yeah I will. Would you ever make a comedy? I actually made a short called Love is Fourteen, and that was a comedy. But for a feature, it’s not planned yet. I would definitely like to produce a lot of comedy, though, because I like comedy, especially slapstick. Do you try to put autobiographical elements in everything you make? Not really. The short I made called Hell was kind of a fantastical horror short film, and Love is Fourteen was a comedy. I would say that The King of Pigs is the first film that is based on my experience. [The implication that none of his experiences have ever been comedic makes me sad – Ed.] If you were ever given the chance to work with a Japanese animation team, would you? I am actually quite familiar with the Japanese staff from Mad House, which is an animation studio, but I noticed there are some systematical differences between Japanese animation and Korean animation, and in order to work with them, I think there would need to be some kind of system change beforehand. That’s all my time. Thanks so much! 
 photo

[For the month of July, we will be covering the New York Asian Film Festival and the (also New York-based) Japan Cuts Film Festival, which together form one of the largest showcases of Asian cinema in the world. For our NYAFF...

Japan Cuts Review: Love Strikes!

Jul 12 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]211292:38546[/embed] Love Strikes! (Moteki | モテキ)Director: Hitoshi OneRating: NRCountry: Japan  Yukiyo Fujimoto (Mirai Moriyama) is a 31 year old virgin, which in the Japanese entertainment industry apparently means that he is useless and a loser. He writes for an entertainment magazine called Natalie, where he covers music festivals and other such things. However, because he is useless and a loser, his boss says that he needs to go have sex with somebody so he will stop being so pathetic. Then he meets Miyuki (Masami Nagasawa), and he falls head-over-heels in love. Only problem is, Miyuki is taken. Obviously, that does absolutely nothing to stop him from pursuing her, because why would it? Destroying relationships is what love is all about, and some unpleasant and creepy advice from his boss certainly eggs him on. At first the whole thing is kind of cute. A crazy dance number performed by Yukiyo, J-Pop group Perfume, and a bunch of random passersby is the highlight of the film, and it really brings some peppiness to the whole thing. It seems like Yukiyo's relationship with Miyuki might go somewhere, so everything is all great and whatever. It's an awesome scene, but it set my expectations too high. It comes in around the 30 minute mark, only a quarter of the way through the movie. No other scene even compared to the craziness. The first thirty minutes in general are all amazing. But of course, things go south, inside of the film and not. For a while, I thought that Love Strikes! was what Honey Pupu should have been. It's about young-ish people whose lives are defined by social media. As opposed to some bizarre twitter-esque social network, the characters in Love Strikes! just use Twitter. It's how Yukiyo and Miyuki met, it's how all sorts of interactions in the film happened. Whereas Honey Pupu goes off to be unnecessarily existential and meaningless, Love Strikes! finds takes the practicality of Twitter and injects it into all forms of interaction. It's still definitely better than Honey Pupu, and better at doing some of the things Honey Pupu tried to do (including overexposing shots), but it's got plenty of character flaws of its own. I hate it when movies clearly want me to feel sympathetic for a terrible character. Something happens to them, and in some kind of montage of sadness or a lonely walk down an empty street or whatever, I can almost hear the filmmaker whispering "Awww, look at how unfortunate he is! Don't you feel bad for him?" Sure, it's something used in damn near every sad movie, but usually I will let it go, because usually there is a reason to feel bad. Maybe there's some minor emotional manipulation, but that's not always a bad thing. I'm perfectly content to feel sad when a character feels sad. Unless that character is terrible. Usually, I will say to that filmmaker, "Yes, I do." But there are cases where I can't do that. I want to turn around and shout, "Are you kidding me? Seriously? You want me to feel bad for this piece of shit? Stop breathing on me and go away." And that's how I felt about Yukiyo. He sucks. He is beyond awful. He's like the terrible protagonists in Supporting Characters, except even less likable. I would be remiss not to mention just how stupid he is. Basically everything he does at any point in the film is dumb. Sometimes it's only kind of dumb; other times it's amazingly dumb. His way of mishandling nearly every single situation would be laughable if he wasn't such an awful person. The stupidity is just the tip of the iceberg though, because any time he is having any kind of interaction, it's clear that he doesn't care about anybody. Not even a little bit. Everything he does is selfish to the extreme, and there is one moment in particular where I wanted someone to walk up to him and smash his face in with a hammer. Then I remembered that I wasn't watching a Korean movie and despaired. I was actually swearing at the screen, so unbelievably angry that anyone could be this terrible. I wanted some kind of terribly violent retribution. Maybe put him at the end of a Human Centipede, for example. He would completely deserve it. There are moments where it seems like he might change, and the running voiceover that he has certainly makes it sound that way, but then he just gets worse. To give some sense of scale, the only character I've ever hated this much in a film was Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull, and Jake LaMotta was/is the reason I can't stand watching that movie. And at least Jake LaMotta got his face bashed in occasionally. There is nothing of the sort here. A rejection that gives him his sad montage did nothing but make me angrier. He deserved to die cold and alone. At that point, I wanted the film to leave him in his terrible state and go focus on another, better character. Instead, it continues on with Yukiyo's quest to ignore absolutely everything that anyone has said to him, and ends on one of the worst notes in recent memory. It wasn't a freeze frame (that would be adding insult to injury), but it was somehow even worse. There are so many things wrong with the ending that I don't know where to begin, and I can't say much lest I spoil it, because I don't want to do that if I don't have to. What I will say is that absolutely nothing gets resolved. Some of the more interesting characters are completely forgotten by the time the ending comes around, and then Yukiyo's final bid for Miyuki's heart puts him in a position to have his ass handed to him (although the film decided not to give anyone the satisfaction of seeing that).  Apparently Love Strikes! is the follow-up to a TV series called Moteki (which is the film's Japanese name), which is based on a manga of the same name. As far as I can tell, it followed Yukiyo doing things that are probably pretty similar to the movie. Maybe with more time, he could have been a more compelling character. Maybe the film decided to emphasize all of his bad traits rather than his good ones for reasons that I could never understand. If that's true, that was a huge mistake. If that isn't true, I have no idea why anyone thought that character deserved a movie.  When I wasn't busy fuming about Yukiyo, I actually enjoyed Love Strikes! quite a bit. The other characters are interesting and the movie is often really funny. There is a lot of music, some of which is quite good and some of which is not so much, but it's an integral part of the film and it works pretty well on the whole. Love Strikes! is a good (maybe even great) movie centered around an absolutely atrocious character. With every moment he is not physically brutalized for his terribleness, my opinion of the film dropped down just a bit. There's a lot more I have to say, but I think I've said more than enough. Despite all my qualms, I still think the film is still worth watching, if only for the first 30 minutes. [Love Strikes! will be playing at the Japan Society on Saturday, July 13th at 7:15 PM and Sunday, July 22nd at 1:00 PM. The July 13th screen will be followed by a fancy party.]
 photo

I am mad at director Hitoshi One. Really, really mad. I was really tired when I started watching Love Strikes!. I wanted to watch it, but I didn't really want to watch it when I needed to. I needed something funny and lighthe...

NYAFF Review: Golden Slumbers

Jul 12 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]210986:38548[/embed] Golden Slumbers (Le Sommeil d'Or)Director: Davy ChouRating: NRCountry: France/Cambodia The descriptions of Cambodian films presented in Golden Slumbers make them sound like these exotic, wondrous spectacles. There are the requisite musicals and melodramas (and probably musical melodramas) you're bound to encounter in any nation's cinema, but there are also many fantasy films which sound incredible. To hear about them, you picture works that are part Georges Melies and part Cantonese fantasy film from the 1980s. In one scene, Cambodian filmmaker Ly Bun Yim, in silhouette, describes his lost movie The Seahorse. It sounds like a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale as retold by a six-year-old with a more active imagination. In these moments, I think Chou's emphasis on the idea of the cinema's absence is quite fascinating. How do you depict films that don't exist anymore and convey the experience of actually watching them? Several people talk about the movies, there are personal photos from performers, and there are the posters of the films, each one rendered in quaintly oversaturated color. Then there's the matter of the movie theaters in Cambodia, many of which were hit by grenades and destroyed by the Khmer Rouge. Since then the spaces have been converted -- one's a dwelling for impoverished families, one's a giant karaoke parlor full of private rooms. In those karaoke rooms you can find other remnants from the lost cinematic history of Cambodia: songs from the films. Many were released as singles and albums, and they managed to survive the Khmer Rouge since the the EPs and LPs were smuggled out of the country. Many of these albums wound up in Long Beach, California, which has a large Cambodian community. Many of these old songs from the films are covered and rerecorded by contemporary pop acts in the country. There are some especially powerful interviews with the filmmakers of Cambodia who had to flee the country in order to survive. In an extended sequence of testimony (it feels weightier, really, more like a moment of confession), we watch Ly You Sreang describe his flight from his home country and the heartbreak and hardship he faced when he reached France. It's gut-wrenching to watch him pour out his heart, and it's one of the moments in Golden Slumbers where Chou allows his subjects to really express themselves and their concerns. That's much more interesting and emotional than having Chou mold the subject matter to suit his own intellectual interests. And that's the problem with Golden Slumbers despite its more powerful uses of style and the fascinating idea of cinema as absence. All of that information I gave you earlier about how the music from Cambodian films survived? That's not in the film. I learned that from the Q&A after the film. I also heard about actress Dy Saveth's life outside of Cambodia, which, though not related to film, seemed like it could have been included in some capacity. And here's another thing that I learned in the Q&A after the film: the King of Cambodia, Norodom Sihanouk, was a filmmaker. That's not mentioned anywhere in Golden Slumbers. Even though Sihanouk was making films in French for the elites, it seems like vital information about the country's film culture that should have been included. The conceit about absence and omission sadly extends to the films themselves. A handful of Cambodian movies survive in VCD form, and yet almost no clips of these films are shown. At the end, we do get glimpses of them on a dirty brick wall. The picture is hazy, and visual details are ruined by the dark grout between the bricks and the texture of the bricks themselves. It's a powerful visual metaphor about the destruction of a nation's cultural output, but it's also an apt visual metaphor for the style of the film -- in chronicling the cinema of Cambodia, Chou has unnecessarily obscured it. This is a question of documentarian obligation, I suppose. Not all documentaries need to be information dumps or history lessons. I think the essayistic style of Errol Morris is especially beautiful, and the same goes for that lingering, haunting style of Alain Resnais's short documentaries. But I think with a topic like a nation's lost cinema, there is some kind of obligation, particularly for one of the first feature-length docs on the subject, to be informative. There are moments of this, particularly in the second half of Golden Slumbers, but it was clear watching the film that the philosophical idea about how lost culture carries forward in history had undermined the more interesting facts of Cambodian film. Sometimes I want ideas instead of artifacts; sometimes I want artifacts instead of ideas. Yet here's the most frustrating part: ideas and artifacts are not mutually exclusive. Chou proves this in the better moments of Golden Slumbers, like the moment when The Seahorse is described. We are in dark rooms and see only shadows left behind. Or in a playful recreation of another film's special effects sequences, we get a sense of Yim's imaginative ambitions and how he brought those to the screen. Maybe, in an odd way, Chou made a very good documentary about the idea of Cambodian cinema and cultural memory; unfortunately he made it three or four documentaries about Cambodian cinema too early. If Golden Slumbers does serve one extremely important function, it's as an enticement toward exploration. I want to see these Cambodian films, and I'd love them to be found, restored, and preserved in some way. By bringing attention to this lost cinema in Golden Slumbers, that's already happened -- prints have been found in California and Toronto. During the post-screening Q&A, Chou said he consciously avoided showing any existing clips of Cambodian films (at least clearly) because he wanted to make people see these movies. Implicit in that statement was the idea that people wouldn't want to see these Cambodian films if they actually saw clips from them. With subject matter this rich and this important, people would want to see the movies regardless. There was no need to overthink it; sometimes overthinking ruins the beauty of what you're thinking about.
 photo

[For the month of July, we will be covering the New York Asian Film Festival and the (also New York-based) Japan Cuts Film Festival, which together form one of the largest showcases of Asian cinema in the world. For our NYAFF...

NYAFF 2012: Director Chung Chang-Wha's reception speech

Jul 11 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]211300:38544:0[/embed]
 photo

[For the month of July, we will be covering the New York Asian Film Festival and the (also New York-based) Japan Cuts Film Festival, which together form one of the largest showcases of Asian cinema in the world. For our NYAF...

Flixclusive Interview: Director Chung Chang-Wha

Jul 10 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]211130:38539[/embed] How was yesterday's screening of Five Fingers of Death? [Editor's note: At the screening, Chung Chang-Wha was given a Star Asia Lifetime Achievement Award.] It was so touching, because in France the audience reaction was really good, but here, in NYC-- New York is a very international city, very big and metropolitan, so it was so touching that the audience was so passionate and asked questions. What was the Korean film industry like in the 1950s and 1960s when you started making films? It was a real difficult time because the whole production system was very poor, and we didn't have that many studios there. Also, investments were really poor, so only the directors had all the responsibilities and capabilities for making films. Before you went to Hong Kong, what Korean films that you made were you especially proud of? I love my film Sunny Field, which there are no original prints of now, which is very sad and tragic. But actually it was my first action film and it became a turning point in my career. It's a very significant film for me. I was actually wondering if any of those early films are available. I know there's the Korean Film Archive. Have they made any attempts to locate, restore, or preserve those movies? They recently found the film Dolmuji in Taiwan -- by "they" I mean the Korean Film Archive, they found it. They're trying to recover it, but it's so damaged, so it's not really 100% recovered. [Editor's note: During the Q & A for The Swift Knight, Chung Chang-Wha received a similar question about his pre-Shaw Brothers films. After a wry smile and laugh, he mentioned that it always sort of hurts to get those questions. (Sorry!) Roughly 70% of his pre-Hong Kong films are missing, damaged, or lost. In the past, rather than sending duplicate prints of Korean films to other countries, original prints were sent. If anything, it means that these lost films could still be out there, though it's anyone's guess where they are.] I read somewhere that you trained in music. Did that inform you as a director? It really important! [laughs] [laughs] My experiences with my music education affected my understanding of tempo and rhythm. I think the cinema is all about tempos and rhythms as an art form. It helps me think off how to control films, like what should be slow and what should be fast and what should be strong. Do you find that different genres have different rhythms? Like is there an action rhythm, a melodrama rhythm, a comedy rhythm? Of course. Could you discuss what you feel those rhythms are? [laughs] That's a real tricky question. [a beat] I guess first of all, I'm proud to have made action films in Korea when I did because at that time, in the late 1950s and 1960s, everyone else was making literature films and home dramas, which are both kind of slow. I think those genres, though, are less a matter of tempos since they're more about storytelling. So at that time, Korean audiences were going to Hollywood movies for that reason -- [the literature films and home dramas] were so slow. That's why I’m proud to have been part of that first generation of action films from Korea. What I don't like about home dramas is that the dialogue is the really important part of the genre while I personally think that the movies should be more about the mise en scene. It's contrary to my views, so I don't care for that genre. In addition to that, in Korean home dramas -- not like French films -- the dialogue lacks it own aesthetics, so they just make the dialogue into whole conversations. That's another reason why I think Korean audiences didn't care for those home drama films. Actually, you know, I was also wondering if you've ever composed music or written your own music. No, I haven't composed any music for my movies, but since I have the musical background I discussed the music selections with the music directors, and I think that's what helps make my films really outstanding. Were you the first person to use trampolines and powder in an action movie? Yes, I was the first one to start using those techniques. When I started filming Five Fingers of Death in Hong Kong, I felt like I needed to make a distinction between that film and the films being made by Cantonese directors. And Five Fingers of Death is all about power moves, so I needed to think of a way to exaggerate the power and energy in the film. What did you feel about the Cantonese action movies before Five Fingers of Death? Before I started making Five Fingers of Death, wuxia films were the main focus of Hong Kong films. But I felt that there were too many wuxia films at the time, so the audience might get tired of watching these kinds of movies. So I wanted to set the time period somewhere between the wuxia movies and a more modern time in China. It was another way to make a distinct mark from other films and filmmakers of the time. There's a screening of The Swift Knight at NYAFF as well. How do you feel about The Swift Knight? I wrote the story of The Swift Knight because I wanted to make something new in wuxia films. I wanted to bring some uplifting bits into the films, and actually there are two police officers in the movie. They're there for comic relief at certain points so that the audience can feel comfortable watching these movies. How do you feel about contemporary Korean cinema, especially since it's been exploding so much over the years? I know that so many of the recent movies are so advanced in terms of technology, technique, and every aspect, and I also know that young directors are trying really hard these days, but one thing I don't like about recent movies in Korea is that there's too much violence. Sometimes it's all about just violence. I'd like to see some more humanism and humanity and emotions in there. That's my only wish. Are there any filmmakers in Korea today who are meeting your wishes? Of course there a lot of really great young directors these days, but I especially like Bong Joon-Ho's style. Have you thought about getting behind the camera again? Of course! [laughs] [laughs] Are you developing anything or is there a dream project you'd like to work on? After coming to New York City and observing people living here, it seems like I could make some more human dramas here because of how diverse people are, and people live in their own diverse ways. I think that's real interesting, and I just got that idea as I came here. Have you jotted anything down yet or are you just in the process of observing and accumulating? I was always thinking of the underlying human dramas all the time, but since New York City is so diverse, I think that it would be really good to draw out the stories. Do you have a favorite scene you've shot or even a favorite film that you've made? You know, actually I think Five Fingers of Death and The Swift Knight are my best and favorite films. What do you think makes those two movies your favorite? What I like about those two films is that the storytelling is pretty unique, I think, and it's also kind of mysterious as I say that. Another thing I like about those two films is that they are kind of contrary. Five Fingers of Death represents a lot of power and energy while The Swift Knight is all about narrative, and I really liked the narrative in that film. But still, I still find some flaws as I rewatch those films, so I still feel like I could do better if I were to make those films nowadays.
 photo

[For the month of July, we will be covering the New York Asian Film Festival and the (also New York-based) Japan Cuts Film Festival, which together form one of the largest showcases of Asian cinema in the world. For our NYAFF...

Japan Cuts Review: Asura

Jul 10 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
Asura (Ashura | アシュラ)Director: Keiichi SatoRating: NRCountry: Japan  Two things hurt the experience of Asura for me: my younger self's obsession with anime, and my more recent self's obsession with videogames. Aside from the fact that it's an animated film from Japan, it shares a lot of flaws with other, serialized anime like Dragonball Z. A lot of jokes are made about DBZ and the fact that the characters spend entire episodes powering up and over-explaining every single part of their backstory. Although Asura doesn't have much in the way of powering up, there is far too much explanation. Even though we see how Asura gets to be the way he is, two other characters feel compelled to explain it, except neither of them knows what happened as well as the audience does, because they weren't there and Asura certainly can't explain anything. This sort of unnecessary exposition is riddled throughout the film, and that makes the 75 minute runtime feel much longer. I'm say at least a quarter of the dialogue could have been cut with no impact on the story, and it would have much better pacing. When characters are explaining things, the action necessarily stops, but it's unnecessary explanation. And when the film slows down, its visual quirks become far more apparent. If you have played any anime-based videogame, you are familiar with cel-shading. Even if you haven't played anime-based games, if you're into Japanese games at all (and, if you're reading this, you probably are), you have probably played something cel-shaded. It's hard to explain (and unfortunately video footage seems to be scarce/nonexistence), but its used to emulate the style of a comic book in 3D space. I imagine that was the intent here, since Asura is based on a graphic novel, although I can't say for sure that Asura was animated in the same way cel-shaded games are, but it certainly looks that way. I spent the entire film trying to get over the way the film looked, and I never quite succeeded. Every time I thought I'd gotten a hold of it, something showed up that made me expect a button prompt to happen any moment. I felt like I was watching a videogame cutscene, especially in the second half, where the action really takes hold. I felt like I should have been holding a controller, or at the very least that I could have been, and that was enough to keep me from investing into what I was seeing. Which is too bad, because I was seeing some pretty cool things. Asura's journey is a strange one, and it leads through some very compelling moments. It's the kind of story that would have been heartbreaking if I had gotten into it. Certainly the people around me were moved by it. The film deals with a lot of serious topics, and it can get pretty intense at times. There's famine, murder, cannibalism, and despair. In fact, as I think about it, there's basically nothing happy about the movie. Every single moment of the film is bleak and depressing, right from the first frame until the last. But then that last frame happened, and I started to laugh. While everyone in the theater began talking about how beautiful the film was, I was in hysterics. To compliment the soul crushing finale, what was there? Some Japanese pop-rock playing over a montage of the film's events. Instead of contemplating the story's greater meaning, I thought back to my younger self, learning the lyrics to the song that played over the Rurouni Kenshin credits and singing along. Huh. I wish I knew what that song was called. But even though I laughed at the credits, was put off by the visuals, and found fault with the exposition, I have to say that I liked Asura. There is definitely a good movie in there somewhere, and I caught glimpses of it, but then it was buried again, beneath aggravating design decisions which grated right up against my personal biases. [You can see Asura at the Japan Society on Thursday, July 12 at 6:30 PM. The film is being copresented by the New York Asian Film Festival and the Japan Cuts Film Festival. You must be 18 or older to attend the screening.]
 photo

[For the month of July, we will be covering the New York Asian Film Festival and the (also New York-based) Japan Cuts Film Festival, which together form one of the largest showcases of Asian cinema in the world. For our NYAFF...

Flixclusive details on King of Pigs director's next film

Jul 10 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
What is your new movie about? In Korea, there are many cultic religions. Primarily based on Methodist Christianity, actually. Something that would derive from Christianity, not really a dominant thing, more cultic. And [the film] will take place in this village that is going to sink, meaning by the national plan of… for a reservoir. So they would actually sink the whole area for the reservoir. So the village is going to get sunk, so the story takes place in that village..., [and] the religion gets involved in the village. It’s an apocalyptic village, and fake religion gets into that village. I think this story has a lot of potential. The King of Pigs, for all its technical problems, was a fascinating look at some really intense things. Middle school is not generally thought of as such a horrible place (at least, not in America), so it will be interesting to see just how dark a film about an apocalyptic village invaded by a cult will be. I'm excited. I just hope it has a better goddamn translation.
 photo

[For the month of July, we will be covering the New York Asian Film Festival and the (also New York-based) Japan Cuts Film Festival, which together form one of the largest showcases of Asian cinema in the world. For our NYAFF...

NYAFF Review: The Lost Bladesman

Jul 09 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]211116:38504[/embed] The Lost Bladesman (Guan Yun Chang | 關雲長)Director: Alan Mak and Felix ChongRating: NRCountry: China/Hong Kong The NYAFF notes that statues of General Guan are found in both police stations as well as Triad headquarters. He's a figure revered for his strength and courage, and his signature weapon is intimidating, the stuff of brutal legend: the guan dao, a heavy spear with a saber at the end. To portray this major historical and mythic figure, Yen said he had to put on some weight and ate roughly five meals a day. He didn't become as stocky as Teddy Roosevelt by any means, but there is a little extra meat on his bones in the film. Yen sports a robe almost the entire time to help maintain an illusion of extra body mass. The Lost Bladesman chronicles the period in which General Guan is captured by Cao Cao (Jiang Wen), eventually released, and then pursued by those in service to Cao Cao's generals. In the opening sequence, we get a large scale battle scene, with arrows flying everywhere and battering rams, the sort of frantic mayhem like a shook up ant farm. General Guan is asked to fight for Cao Cao's forces, in a rather stirring cavalry charge. In terms of scope, it's the largest action scene you'll see in the film. The rest of the sequences tend to be General Guan against the world as he crosses five passes and fights six other generals. He does all this while defending his lord's concubine, Qilan. She's played by Sun Li, who you may remember from Jet Li's Fearless. As in Fearless, her character in The Lost Bladesman is an idea of unattainable love and ease. It's chaos and war out there, with hundreds of thousands of lives on the line; Guan feels he can help bring peace, but only through great effort. So, no time for love. Sometimes it's a difficult to evaluate performances in another language. The subtleties of inflection, delivery, and mannerism get lost in translation, and with The Lost Bladesman there's also the historical baggage to take into account. Yen plays General Guan like a paragon of virtue. There are rarely cracks in that stony facade of his, and his delivery tends to be decisive and straightforward. He carries himself like an idea of courage, a fount of strength. He's playing a type in a time of legend -- it could be Lancelot-like or something to that effect. Greater familiarity with the history of the events and other portrayals of Guan would also be helpful if I really wanted to measure Yen's acting, but it seems like Yen's performance fits with the film's tone. This is in stark contrast to Jiang Wen's Cao Cao, which he plays with greater naturalism and, at times, an almost laid back quality. Cao Cao was apparently a merciless ruler and extremely manipulative, and Wen provides an air of scheming to many of his moments on screen. What begins as an innocent round of drinks with General Guan is really an attempt to cause scandal; what seems a moment of sympathy may have an ulterior motive. His long inhales -- mostly breath, just a little whistle -- can be heard right before he delivers a line, which I assume was intentional. It's like a pause to think of how he can mold a moment to his advantage. But this is a Donnie Yen vehicle about a great warrior, so the real showcase is the action. There's a lot of speed involved in the fight sequences, and just a bit of wire work, but The Lost Bladesman mostly emphasizes power and strategy. The guan dao is such a massive weapon, and General Guan is such a revered figure, so many of his attacks have the destructive power of meteors and lightning. George Washington chopped down a cherry tree with a hatchet, General Guan would have chopped it down with his guan dao in one clean and miraculous slice, one handed. There's an especially remarkable fight scene in a narrow alleyway. In general, the guan dao is wielded with wide lateral strikes given its weight and construction, but the alleyway presents an impediment to that. Small and lighter weapons give attackers an edge on General Guan, so the solution is adaptation. It's a clever bit of action direction on Yen's part, and a way to help show a keenness for strategy in General Guan's character. Did something exactly like this happen? Probably not. But did George Washington throw that silver dollar across the Potomac? Nope. The final battle is the anachronistic one, and I'm still not sure how I feel about it. It feels less like a wuxia fight and more like General Guan fighting a SWAT team. Writing that sentence makes me smile, but it's hard to place it tonally with the rest of the film. It's still a nicely put together sequence, and I wouldn't mind seeing an entire film with this kind of sensibility. They've done modernized westerns to death, but I don't know if I've seen police raids and gun fights brought screaming into the past. Even War of the Arrows (which I probably should have rated higher since I like it more as I reflect on it) didn't treat its arrowplay this way. As an adventure story with familiar ideas about loyalty and the impossibility of tranquil love, The Lost Bladesman is a great bit of entertainment and a good showcase of Yen's abilities. (It's also a reminder that I need to watch more of Jiang Wen's work.) I can't really comment on it as a historical piece, but even then, it's pretty clear that certain stories about history take place in an area outside of history. That's where the myth-making of national heroes takes place, and that's where this story is free to do as it will.
 photo

[For the month of July, we will be covering the New York Asian Film Festival and the (also New York-based) Japan Cuts Film Festival, which together form one of the largest showcases of Asian cinema in the world. For our NYAFF...

Flixclusive interview: Choi Min-sik

Jul 09 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
Nameless Gangster is your first time playing a gangster since Failan, right? The main character of Nameless Gangster was a public officer, and he’s not a real gangster. He just happened to work with those real gangsters to support his family and earn money. So Nameless Gangster is not really a gangster movie. It’s more about this ordinary guy’s life story. You tend to play morally ambiguous characters, not completely good or completely evil (except in I Saw the Devil). What draws you to that? When you see people, it’s just people’s nature. Everyone has their own villains inside and angels. Everyone has their good vs. evil, so even with the total villains sometimes they do good things. I want to present multi-dimensional perspective people, not like an animation. How closely are you following the American remake of Oldboy? I’m not really expecting to see it, but I’m following the press. If Spike Lee asked you to cameo in the movie, would you say yes? [In English] Yes! [laughs] Yes. How do you feel about the decision of some directors, such as Park Chan-wook [director of Oldboy], to direct English language films? I think it’s perfect. I think it’s a really great idea to direct in other languages. I think that the directors and actors have different jobs, so that even if the language is different, the directors can still conduct films, since it’s about representing human life and universal ideas. But still, actors should use their own tongues, so preferably natives would act. Would you ever direct a movie? Only a stage play. What is your favorite Korean revenge movie? Oldboy. [laughs] No, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, the first film in the Vengeance trilogy by Park Chan-wook. That is a really good movie. One of my favorites as well. So you exiled yourself from filmmaking in protest of the reduction of South Korea’s screening quota. Why did you stop? Because it’s my job. [laughs] Do you have any martial arts training? Only when the film requires it. So you didn’t have any before you started acting? No. I don’t like physical violence very much. [laughs] How do you choose your projects? When I first read a scenario, it should persuade me. No matter which genre it is, I should be attracted to it and fascinated by it, that I should read through the whole thing from first page to last page. What are you working on next? I am working on a new film titled New World. It’s a thriller. Can you tell me what it’s about? I’m a police officer this time [laughs]. It’s still an ongoing project, and I can’t talk about it that precisely. But I’ll give you a hint: it’s similar to The Departed by Martin Scorsese. Do you have any thoughts on the future of Korean cinema? I’m not worried about Korean cinema’s future, because the people there, directors and actors are so young, and they are so full of passion to make new, experimental films with a lot of energy. So I’m not worried about that. The only wish I have is for more support economically and strategically from the government. That’s my only wish. Are there any other actors or directors you would like to work with? In Korea or in Hollywood? I was thinking Korea, but either one. [Laughs] I want to work with Park Chan-wook again. I want to do a whole new style with him. Really challenge him. Are there any actors you want to work with? Of course there are a lot. Sol Kyung-gu, who was the main actor in Peppermint Candy. [In English] You know Peppermint Candy? No, I haven’t seen it. But I will. He’s a really excellent actor, and also a friend. And there are a lot of beautiful actresses I want to work with as well [laughs]. Unfortunately that’s my time. Can I have a hug? … Yeah boyeeee.
 photo

[For the month of July, we will be covering the New York Asian Film Festival and the (also New York-based) Japan Cuts Film Festival, which together form one of the largest showcases of Asian cinema in the world. For our NYAFF...

NYAFF Review: Doomsday Book

Jul 09 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]210670:38414[/embed] Doomsday Book (Inlyumyeolmangbogoseo | 인류멸망보고서)Directors: Kim Ji-Woon and Yim Pil-SungRating: NRCountry: South Korea There is no "book" in Doomsday Book. In fact, none of the three shorts in the anthology have the faintest thing to do with literature of any kind. Perhaps the title is a reference to the film's status as an anthology? But then why not just call it Doomsday Anthology? Or A Series of Shorts About Doomsday Done by Famous Korean Directors? Both of them would be more appropriate titles, and neither of them would seem so out of place given the films themselves. First, there's Brave New World, Yim Pil-Sung's take on the zombie genre. Then there's Heavenly Creature, directed by Kim Ji-Woon, which looks at a world where robots are Buddhas. Then Yim Pil-Sung returns (with Kim Ji-Woon as guest director) for Happy Birthday, which serves as a warning against purchasing things from strange websites. They are all entirely self-contained stories, and none of them are really anything like the others. As three separate stories they would be just as effective as they are in a collection. That does not, however, mean that they are bad as a collection, because they absolutely aren't. A quick look at Wikipedia's list of zombie movies shows that the last two years have seen a dramatic decrease in production. But even if Brave New World had come out during some of the more zombie-heavy years, it would still stand out. Unlike most zombie films, Brave New World is about Patient Zero, played by Ryu Seung-Beom. Although it's never explained how exactly the virus comes to exist, it's very interesting to see how the disease comes to infect large portions of the population. Even though there is a Patient Zero, Patients 1-30 become infected at essentially the same time he does, though not in the way you would think. Happy Birthday is about a family preparing for the apocalypse. A giant meteor/thing is hurtling towards them (note: the meteor in the trailer is actually different from the meteor in the film), and they have to figure out how to survive. Fortunately, they have a doomsday bunker complete with TV, computer, internet, and bikes that can generate some electricity. Three of those things would obviously be useless following the collision, but they are important in the context of the plot, so it's good they have them. Both of Yim Pil-Sung's segments spend a lot of time with TV news. Using the news as a narrative device is an interesting one. It's a very easy way to set the mood or explain events without giving characters overly expository dialogue. Usually you see it used in more political films, but these shorts use it to give updates on the crises at hand. These updates also offer some of the best moments in the whole of Doomsday Book. As I mentioned in the beginning, both of those sections are funny, and a lot of that comes from these newscasts. Watching as the people onscreen devolve while the world goes to hell is as funny as it is poignant. Unfortunately, I was very disappointed with the middle segment, Heavenly Creature. Kim Ji-Woon, who directed both I Saw the Devil and The Good, the Bad, the Weird, is one of my favorite Korean directors, so I had high expectations. They were not met. But I think that even if I had gone in with no expectations I would have been disappointed by the segment. The problem is simple: too much talking. In a near-future world that seems to be like a Korean version of I, Robot, the film focuses on a Buddhist monastery. The moments in the outside world are tantalizing and fascinating, but they are too few and far in between. Instead, we're stuck with characters philosophizing about the role of robots, their capabilities, and what it means to be Buddha. This could be interesting, but it's not. It's a static location with static characters. Some of these characters are defending the robots, some of them are attacking the robots, but even though a robot is really the central character, the robots are peripheral. They are simply there as a way to justify long speeches about the role of technology in modern society. Rather than showing the audience how detrimental they are, the film seems content with telling us. If this were a book, pages of monologue would be fine, if a bit boring to read. In a movie, though, it's almost insulting. That being said, I still liked Heavenly Creature. It could (and should) have been much more than it was, but it was nonetheless very well done. The moments in the world outside were especially cool, and I would be okay with a future that looked like that. It's also intensely dramatic, jarringly so, given the comedic nature of the shorts around it. That is neither a good nor a bad thing, though, simply something to be aware of. As a whole, I really enjoyed Doomsday Book. Despite a disappointing second segment, it had some really amazing moments. Happy Birthday is excellent, Brave New World is great, and Heavenly Creature is good. There is no greater meaning that comes from them being together, but there really doesn't need to be. Originally, the anthology was set to feature a third short (in place of Happy Birthday) directed by Han Jae-Rim, but budgetary concerns made that impossible. I'm curious what that would have been like. Perhaps there would have been a clearer progression from one film to the next. Maybe it would have had something to do with a book. It's an interesting thing to think about, but it doesn't really do any good, especially since it would have replaced Happy Birthday, and that would have been a shame. Hubert Vigilla: Anthology films can be an odd duck since you're thinking about the parts of the whole and how they function together. It's rare that any of them cohere as well as a mix tape. In Doomsday Book, each of the three films deals with a version of the end of the world: a zombie apocalypse, the end of human spiritual supremacy, and (essentially) an asteroid strike. The Yim Pil-Sung bookends to Doomsday Book are much wackier, more inventive, and more dynamic than the Kim Ji-Woon center, which is more meditative and philosophical, though it's also on the talky side. It gets by on its fascinating conceit -- what if a robot thought it was the Buddha -- and its remarkable sense of design. There's a feature-length film in that could be extrapolated from the middle section, or at the very least a good novella. But even then, nothing feels like filler in Doomsday Book, and each of the films stands solidly on their own. 77 - Good [Doomsday Book will be screening at Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater Wednesday, July 11th at 8:15 PM and Thursday, July 12th at 1:00 PM]
 photo

[For the month of July, we will be covering the New York Asian Film Festival and the (also New York-based) Japan Cuts Film Festival, which together form one of the largest showcases of Asian cinema in the world. For our NYAFF...


  Around the web (login to improve these)




Back to Top


We follow moms on   Facebook  and   Twitter
  Light Theme      Dark Theme
Pssst. Konami Code + Enter?
You may remix stuff our site under creative commons w/@
- Destructoid means family. Living the dream, since 2006 -