What Asian films have we all been watching lately?

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Re: What Asian films have we all been watching lately?

Postby Brian Thibodeau » Tue Nov 02, 2010 6:41 am

Solid review. 8)

Some thoughts on a couple of your thoughts . . .


Masterofoneinchpunch wrote:
--- spoilers below

I always hate when writers state an analogy or reference to another film and do not explain the two. The scenes most like Juon in this film include the crawling around of the “black” ghost as well as the closest scene with the slithering “black” creature (this was also somewhat reminiscent to some scenes in Ringu) and that same ghost in Juon had a broken neck just the same as in this film. The kid under the sink had the same feel as several scenes in Juon as well (though having a third party see the kid when she was having a seizure was just interesting and scary as well).


I'm not certain TWO SISTERS is necessarily riffing on the likes of JU-ON, thus I don't think an explanation on the part of the filmmakers would have been necessary. The timing of the buzz for TWO SISTERS in the U.S. -- coming as it did amid the upswing in interest in J-horror movies featuring creaky, long-haired, pasty-faced ghost girls -- could have lead the uninitiated down that path, and perhaps convince them that the tropes were relatively recent constructs that were already playing themselves out. But this kind of imagery goes way back in Asian cinema, particularly the ghost stories native to Japan and Korea. KWAIDAN could be considered an antecedent, but I doubt it was the first as much as it was the earliest many of us in the west were able to see thanks to The Criterion Collection (and where IS that Blu-ray by the way?). The broken necks, creaking bones, clicky groans and whatnot do seem to be shared among the more recent films, but I have a hard time believing one simply begat the other due to some prevailing trend at the time. I'm betting even those elements can be traced further back in Asian horror cinema history, but it's just not that easy to get ahold of all the films needed to prove it.

I posted some clips on YouTube from the 1967 Korean horror film A PUBLIC CEMETERY OF WOL-HA which illustrate certain touchstones which were already well-established even then:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mi5OLsVCw1M
(more relevance in related clips in the sidebar)

Don't expect to see direct copying from WOL-HA to something like TWO SISTERS (or JUON) in these clips, so much as certain imagery and the apparent ubiquity of it to the cultures as a whole (it's a creative well deep enough to have spanned the 36 years between the two pictures, and reaches beyond them in both directions). TWO SISTERS has the benefit of improved filmmaking and performance techniques to sell the shock moments to jaded contemporary audiences. Thanks to a rather narrow selection of titles from a relatively narrow period of time made available to Western viewers by European and North American distributors, I think there was created an understandable ignorance on the part of western viewers about the long history of these recurring visual motifs (in cinema, literature, art) that led to a preponderance of internet reviews and discussions wherein the phenomena is discussed as if it began, peaked and died (creatively speaking) on its home turf within a short period of time, say between 1999 and, say, 2006, once Hollywood had remade its fill. Those remakes, compounded by an increasingly similar parade of cherry-picked titles on DVD from U.S. distributors, cashed in on the "newfound" popularity of Asian ghost stories and unfairly made them seem faddish even though they were little of the sort back home. The concepts continue to infuse Korean and Japanese horror cinema even today (not to mention Thai cinema, Malaysian cinema, even the Chinese cinemas), and will continue to do so. Regardless of the varying quality of the finished films that toy with such tropes, they're part and parcel of the mythological fabric of the cultures. Westerners may decree that their time has come and gone, but I think they're viewing the concepts through an inappropriate set of filters.

As to the "third party seeing the kid" I remember making the case for her only thinking she sees the whatsit under the kitchen cupboard because of her heightened state of emotion due to the lack of her pills and the deliberately skittish nature of her character. There was even more to it than that, but damned if I can remember it all these years later, or even what forum I posted it on. Probably Koreanfilm.org, back before they lost years of forum discussions in the blink of an eye. :(
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Re: What Asian films have we all been watching lately?

Postby Masterofoneinchpunch » Tue Nov 02, 2010 5:11 pm

When I wrote writers I meant reviewers. I know that imagery is nothing new but it was the combination of story direction and editing that made me think of JUON with a few of those scenes. I would not state such a statement by story alone. Of course these stories are not new. Many of these tales predate KWAIDAN because of the oral nature of them (and that was based on Lafcadio Hearn's writings based on folk stories early in the 20th century which were based on ... goes on and on). On a side note I knew this Thai/Laotian girl who I lent JUON to a several years back. She talked about how her Mother would tell her tales of long-haired ghosts so she ended up really liking that film.

Whether that was coincidental or not it is always hard to tell, but I always go with a gut feeling when it comes to comparing similar aesthetics. But Kim Ji-woon had probably not seen the JUON film (now he could have seen the V releases of JUON) at that time since JUON came out in SK a few weeks after the release of TWO SISTERS (interesting month of film there :D). So if I was to do an official review (remember these ones are done a little quicker than the one's I publish :) with those I tend to do a lot more research) I would probably take out the JUON reference (the RINGU one I would watch both scenes back to back) unless I use it to discuss trends and/or analogies.

That really sucks about Koreanfilm.org. I try to back up much of what I write, but yeah I've lost work because of forums going bye-bye (including two Criterion forums at this point :D).
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Re: What Asian films have we all been watching lately?

Postby Brian Thibodeau » Tue Nov 02, 2010 10:47 pm

Ahhh, got it! Didn't realize you were referring to reviewers rather than the writer(s) of the film itself, although you can be assured I wasn't lumping you in with the former for the very reason that you take them to task in your review. That said, though, it appears we're at least on the same side of the fence when it comes to online coverage of certain types of Asian horror movies in the west, and that's where my beef about the cherry-picked titles made available to western viewers on DVD post-RINGU comes from -- it got to the point where ANY Asian movie with long-haired, bone-crunchy ghost girls was practically guaranteed a DVD release in the west simply because lazy distributors knew they were no-brainers to market (a lot of those chintzy J-Horror "anthologies" come to mind), and western online writers started grouping the titles together as some kind of recent phenomenon, which is at best a half-truth (obviously Asian filmmakers and distribs knew a gravy train when they saw it). Thus, a movie only had to feel like JU-ON, for example, for a tenuous connection to be drawn (the kind I suspect irritates us both). I think that factor in part accounts for the ignorance seen in some online amateur/fan reviews wherein connections are mostly drawn to various films from the trendy, perceived "wave" of Asian horror instead of the rich cultural history that has been passing down these stories and visual motifs for decades. Guess I'd rather see both connections made, rather than just one, but that's not always an easy task.

My thinking is that some (many?) Asian horror filmmakers reach for these concepts intuitively because they're familiar to them (because of the cultural history), beyond any trends in cinema, although it's entirely plausible that they present them based on things they've seen in films from neighboring industries or their own backyard. Possibly. Noticing suspicious similarities is inevitable, I guess, even when the filmmakers may have had no such intention. Kim Jee-woon might indeed have seen the JU-ON movies before he made TWO SISTERS, I can't say for sure (despite my own doubts), but he also may have been reared on other, older Asian or Korean horror movies that inform those specific scenes you mention.
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Re: What Asian films have we all been watching lately?

Postby Masterofoneinchpunch » Thu Nov 04, 2010 12:08 am

I might have gone a little overboard on this one. Warning SPOILERS:

Sanshiro Sugata (1943: Akira Kurosawa: Japan)

An astonishing directorial debut, though Kurosawa had been working for many years in the film industry starting in 1935 with P.C.L. (Photo Chemical Laboratory which would become Toho Motion Picture Company), that is an amalgam of storyline, editing and composition that is a forbearing of his later work (analogous to Christopher Nolan's debut Following where much of the form of the future film features is foreshadowed). This is evident when you see the first vertical wipe early in the movie. Japanese Cinema historian Donald Richie would note this as well: "What is unusual is that from his first film onward the elements of his style should be so visible."

Sanshiro Sugata is a biographical account of a student, set during the years between 1884 and 1886, with the titular character based on the Tsuneo Tomita novel of the same name; who studied under the famous originator and practitioner of the Kodokan Judo art Dr. Yano Jigoro,. Sugata is a rash student who is physically strong but emotionally weak. He first joins a jujitsu club only to join Yano when he dispatches them with ease after they ambush him. He learns quickly, terrorizes the town with his skill only to anger his teacher. All is forgiven when he has an epiphany and ultimately changes his way. However, he still has the wrath of several jujitsu experts who of course will challenge him.

This is quite a fun film, though one could not expect for Kurosawa to make a psychologically in depth film during WWII. He would pretty much have to create an entertainment piece and/or a propaganda piece. Even though this was mostly fluff it still made several at the Ministry of the Interior quite furious. They made the outrageous accusation of it being too “British-American.” Director Yasujuiro Ozu stood up for the film, but still cuts would be made to the movie.

Some of the censor cuts (17 to 18 minutes worth depending on what source you read) are a bit annoying. I wonder what exactly happened when he was taking on the Sumo wrestler. It would have been something to see Sugata throw that big man. This scene could have been cut by the censors to possibly not disparate the Sumo arts since it is thought of so highly there. Toho later put in intertitles in to explain the missing scenes. But I think the relationships between the characters would have benefited if the cuts were not made. Even in its purged form there is much to enjoy from this movie from martial art scenes, personification of the villain, and brilliant editing and composition that one comes to expect from the Akira Kurosawa oeuvre.

Two of the most impressive fights scenes include the first main one where a rival jujitsu group decides to ambush a judo expert Dr. Yano Jigoro whom they consider a threat to their livelihood because of his bastardization of jujitsu (take note that they do not want to bring weapons to the fight; that would be dishonorable, nothing wrong with attacking with multiple people though). He dispatches the attackers with ease into the nearby water with exception for the last one whom after a nice kimura (or else it was a hammerlock I need to see it again) he makes him say uncle or at least who they are and why they attacked him. I wish the scene was more visible though. The print is quite dark and I do not always get to see what is happening as well as I would have liked. The second impressive fight scene is the finale. The mood and direction are set up quite well (though the action did not seem quite as impressive as the first scene I mentioned) in their fight to the death. He almost loses to the standing lapel choke but in a fit of lotus transcendence he fights his way through.

Gennosuke Higaki (Ryunosuke Tsukigata) plays quite an interesting villain. The parallels between his western ware and the current war are obvious, but Kurosawa's interest and even preference in him are quite strong. Kurosawa would remark: "I was much more interested in his character than in the hero's." even though he states in his biography he is personally more like Sugata. Higaki is an accomplished dandy (always funny when a fighter is a dandy or a fop) but obviously is not going to better Sugata. However, I did find Sugata a well thought out character. He, while strong as a martial artist, is new, shy and a bit clumsy when it comes to relationships much like many athletes whose life revolves around a particular sport. This is characterized in several scenes including the ending where he wants to wipe out the dirt from his interest's eye but does not quite know what to do.

There are several composite scenes that are quite well done. I found the geta (wooden clog) transition scenes compelling. Kurosawa is more known for his expediency in editing so I know some who found this superfluous. Donald Richie notes that it possibly has to do with the phrase geta o azukerus which figuratively means "putting oneself in the hands of others." Does anyone remember similar scenes of other Kurosawa films where he does a similar transition of time? Though the most sagacious scenes involve Sugata and Sayo (Yukiko Todoroki) where she is trying to return a towel to Sugata who used it to repair her geta strap (shoe strap) but keeps avoiding her in shyness.

I would have thought that many of those jujitsu artists would have learned to land better though – not counting being thrown into a wall.

This movie was quite influential though I do wonder how much of an archetype it is in relationship to master/student, philosophy of martial arts and final show down between differing martial art cliques. It still has an impact still though. Johnnie To's Throwdown (his ode to Judo) final fight scene is definitely reminiscent of the final battle scene here in both aesthetics (wavering reeds, song sung, weather) and the challenge that led up to it. But here is a film that influenced countless others especially in Asia. An interesting side note: the first main American film that would use Judo was the 1945 (filmed in 1944) Blood on the Sun starring James Cagney which is of moderate interest to completists of movies with martial arts in them.

This film can be found in the AK 100: 25 Films by Akira Kurosawa set from Criterion or the relatively cheaper Eclipse set The First Films of Akira Kurosawa. The print is solid, though quite dark during the night scenes and scratches can be seen throughout. It would have been nice to see a more expansive restoration of it and/or any extras besides the liner notes by Stephen Prince author of The Warrior’s Camera: The Cinema of Akira Kurosawa, but ultimately I am happy it is available in an R1 edition.

Sources:
The Films of Akira Kurosawa 3rd Edition (1996/1998) by Donald Richie
Something of an Autobiography (1982/1983) by Akira Kurosawa
http://www.criterion.com/current/posts/ ... -kurosawav
http://www.slantmagazine.com/dvd/review ... osawa/1787
http://filmjournal.net/mjocallaghan/201 ... gata-1943/
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0036400/combined
Last edited by Masterofoneinchpunch on Tue Nov 09, 2010 10:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: What Asian films have we all been watching lately?

Postby Brian Thibodeau » Thu Nov 04, 2010 3:26 am

Great review (again). I finally had a couple of Kurosawa Criterions come up in my queue at the local library: IKIRU and SANJURO. No big reviews from me on these, since you and Cal are doing such excellent work, but I was immensely satisfied with both. I doubt I'll need to own them at any point, but I found them highly rewarding. YOJIMBO is also on the shelf for me at the library, but I can't pick that up until tomorrow, possibly the next day. Wish I could've seen it before SANJURO, but I'm sure I'll get by. Looking through the Kurosawa filmography via your link to IMDB, I'm surprised at how many of his films I've seen. The problem is, I've seen the scattered over the past 30 years, and these recent reviews by you fellas have got me thinking I need to revisit as many as I can in a tighter time frame to get a better appreciation. Also signed out (after a looong wait) the Criterion edition of TOKYO STORY a couple of weeks ago. The only other Ozu pictures I've seen at this point are GOOD MORNING (which I loved), LATE SPRING and AUTUMN AFTERNOON, all of which give me the impression that the director worked within comparatively narrow thematical confines compared to others of his time. Or am I misreading based on having seen so few of his movies??

(also, since I'm mentioning Criterion discs -- though off-topic since it's not an Asian film -- I just finished Ronald Neame's HOPSCOTCH tonight. This was a measured, delightful caper comedy, but I'm curious as to how it finagled a slot in the Criterion Collection. Were they after something else in the Avco Embassy library and managed to get this tossed in as a bonus? It's not that there's much wrong with it -- quite the contrary -- but it's hardly an "important contemporary film", but I suppose such contention is one of the many attractions of several titles in the collection, not just this one. Bruce Eder's insightful essay at the Criterion site provides some good context regarding the upswing in "memoirs" by ex-CIA sluggos being published prior to the movie's release, but his attempt to frame the film as "subversive" seems a bit much . . . )
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Re: What Asian films have we all been watching lately?

Postby Masterofoneinchpunch » Thu Nov 04, 2010 6:51 pm

Brian Thibodeau wrote:Great review (again). I finally had a couple of Kurosawa Criterions come up in my queue at the local library: IKIRU and SANJURO. No big reviews from me on these, since you and Cal are doing such excellent work, but I was immensely satisfied with both. I doubt I'll need to own them at any point, but I found them highly rewarding. YOJIMBO is also on the shelf for me at the library, but I can't pick that up until tomorrow, possibly the next day. Wish I could've seen it before SANJURO, but I'm sure I'll get by. Looking through the Kurosawa filmography via your link to IMDB, I'm surprised at how many of his films I've seen. The problem is, I've seen the scattered over the past 30 years, and these recent reviews by you fellas have got me thinking I need to revisit as many as I can in a tighter time frame to get a better appreciation. Also signed out (after a looong wait) the Criterion edition of TOKYO STORY a couple of weeks ago. The only other Ozu pictures I've seen at this point are GOOD MORNING (which I loved), LATE SPRING and AUTUMN AFTERNOON, all of which give me the impression that the director worked within comparatively narrow thematical confines compared to others of his time. Or am I misreading based on having seen so few of his movies??

(also, since I'm mentioning Criterion discs -- though off-topic since it's not an Asian film -- I just finished Ronald Neame's HOPSCOTCH tonight. This was a measured, delightful caper comedy, but I'm curious as to how it finagled a slot in the Criterion Collection. Were they after something else in the Avco Embassy library and managed to get this tossed in as a bonus? It's not that there's much wrong with it -- quite the contrary -- but it's hardly an "important contemporary film", but I suppose such contention is one of the many attractions of several titles in the collection, not just this one. Bruce Eder's insightful essay at the Criterion site provides some good context regarding the upswing in "memoirs" by ex-CIA sluggos being published prior to the movie's release, but his attempt to frame the film as "subversive" seems a bit much . . . )


Thanks. YOJIMBO is one of my top 100 films of all time. When you watch it you will easily notice the similarities between that and A FISTFULL OF DOLLARS. If you watch the film check out my posting on CRITERIONFORUMS.COM where I discuss it versus the written book RED HARVEST and why it is not a remake of that nor really an adaptation.

I'm a huge Ozu fan and have seen 15 of his films (he has two more in R1 form that I need to get), but yes he works within a narrow thematical plot range (though mixes it up with each film) but is a master of those themes. GOOD MORNING is somewhat atypical of his work or you can see some of his earlier silent films to really see him tackle different genres, but his later films his form is dominated by the "tatami shot" and his lack of camera movement with complete focus of family themes (many of them father and daughter relationships starring Setsuko Hara) within the frame of the camera.

I need to see HOPSCOTCH. I do own it and meant to see it when Neame died, but never got around to it. Still sounds like a good watch though. I have no idea why Criterion released it, but I think you are probably on to something about it being tossed in as a bonus. I know that has happened before. But still glad that it is out.
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Re: What Asian films have we all been watching lately?

Postby Brian Thibodeau » Fri Nov 05, 2010 1:32 am

Masterofoneinchpunch wrote:Thanks. YOJIMBO is one of my top 100 films of all time. When you watch it you will easily notice the similarities between that and A FISTFULL OF DOLLARS. If you watch the film check out my posting on CRITERIONFORUMS.COM where I discuss it versus the written book RED HARVEST and why it is not a remake of that nor really an adaptation.


I'll keep all that in mind. ;)



Masterofoneinchpunch wrote:I'm a huge Ozu fan and have seen 15 of his films (he has two more in R1 form that I need to get), but yes he works within a narrow thematical plot range (though mixes it up with each film) but is a master of those themes. GOOD MORNING is somewhat atypical of his work or you can see some of his earlier silent films to really see him tackle different genres, but his later films his form is dominated by the "tatami shot" and his lack of camera movement with complete focus of family themes (many of them father and daughter relationships starring Setsuko Hara) within the frame of the camera.


Of the two Japanese heavyweights, I think I enjoy Ozu's work more than Kurosawa's, even though I've seen more of the latter's films and regard most of them quite highly. I'm fond of realistic family dramas from any culture, really, and Ozu's visual approach all but ensures a strong emotional connection to his characters without showy camerawork and production design telling you how you should feel at any given moment. I've added some more of his films to my Library queue, though which of his films I see next is anybody's guess!
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Re: What Asian films have we all been watching lately?

Postby Masterofoneinchpunch » Fri Nov 05, 2010 6:03 pm

Since this is more than Kurosawa and Ozu :D Brian have you got into Kenji Mizoguchi yet? I can't remember if you saw UGETSU or SANSHO THE BAILIFF yet.

Also have you seen Gozu (or anyone else here) and tell me if it is worth watching (or how high it should be on my watch list)? I've had a few online friends see it recently and the both liked it a lot. I'm always wary of Takashi Miike so I need more opinions.

Arguing about who's better between Kurosawa and Ozu is a little like Keaton vs. Chaplin :D (I do like Keaton better, but nevermind) both are great.
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Re: What Asian films have we all been watching lately?

Postby Brian Thibodeau » Sat Nov 06, 2010 1:08 am

Masterofoneinchpunch wrote:Since this is more than Kurosawa and Ozu :D Brian have you got into Kenji Mizoguchi yet? I can't remember if you saw UGETSU or SANSHO THE BAILIFF yet.


I may have seen UGETSU many years ago -- like in high school -- but I'd honestly have to see it again to properly assess it, and I'm sure I was too green and lacking context at the time to appreciate it. SANSHO is actually in my Library queue :wink: , but it appears they have copies on order (and thus none to sign out at the moment), so who knows when that will show up.

I doubt I'll delve as deeply as folks like you and Cal have into older Japanese cinema, but I'm making a point to try and see as best a cross section as I can. I'm just to heavily invested in Hong Kong VCDs and DVDs at this point, and trying to make the time to focus my attention on them -- to get too heavily sidetracked. Big Lots has already forced me to put them on the back burner too long! :lol:



Masterofoneinchpunch wrote:Also have you seen Gozu (or anyone else here) and tell me if it is worth watching (or how high it should be on my watch list)? I've had a few online friends see it recently and the both liked it a lot. I'm always wary of Takashi Miike so I need more opinions.


Boy, I never know whether to recommend certain Miike titles or not, even to myself! GOZU is a bucket full o' weird and for me, like most of Miike's films, it was a one-time-only viewing, although also like most of his films, I had no trouble sticking it through to it's corker of an ending. I've never been overly satisfied with any Miike film, but I've rarely felt like I wasted my 90 minutes either, so unique is his work. Actually, I recall watching an unsubbed DVD of this that a friend had ordered from Japan because he was a Miike worshipper at the time, so I'm probably not fit to recommend it anyways, since I had to research it online to fill in the (many) gaps I had in my head when it was over.

In looking at his filmography, I see GOZU was, chronologically speaking, the second most recent Miike movie I've seen. Only ZEBRAMAN (2004) was viewed after that, at TIFF (probably not the best one to convince my not-keen-on-the-gonzo girlfriend into seeing with me :lol: ). Since then, he's directed about 249 more movies, so I doubt I'll ever catch up at this point, though most of them have had DVD releases via Hong Kong and are readily available all over town. So is this a recommendation? Yes. But you have every right to be wary. :P

Have you seen VISITOR Q? Now that's a weird one . . .



Masterofoneinchpunch wrote:Arguing about who's better between Kurosawa and Ozu is a little like Keaton vs. Chaplin :D (I do like Keaton better, but nevermind) both are great.


Still a legit debate, though, as long as a viewer doesn't denigrate one to praise the other because, as you say, they're both great. I just find Ozu's style and subject matter more to my tastes, although I suspect if I watched too many of his movies in a row, I might need a rest from the "life sucks but that's life" dramatics! Went to pick up YOJIMBO tonight but it wasn't on the reserve shelf for me and there was no record of it having been signed out (which means it's probably floating around the building somewhere). This has happened once before, but no big deal, and since I'm not paying I guess I can't complain. The librarians are always kind enough to put my at the top of the wait list for the next one, which should be in soon enough.


Finally, going back to something I forgot to mention regarding your earlier post:

Masterofoneinchpunch wrote:Thanks. YOJIMBO is one of my top 100 films of all time. When you watch it you will easily notice the similarities between that and A FISTFULL OF DOLLARS.


I'm curious if you've seen LAST MAN STANDING with Bruce Willis, which is another high-profile YOJIMBO remake. I saw it theatrically way back when and thought it was pretty good. I knew it was a remake even though I couldn't compare them at the time. Not one I felt compelled to own, although it was recently released in a Blu-ray double feature with Willis' THE LAST BOY SCOUT, which is a film I would like to have on Blu-ray, so I might end up with both of them anyways once the price drops.
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Re: What Asian films have we all been watching lately?

Postby Masterofoneinchpunch » Mon Nov 08, 2010 10:15 pm

Brian Thibodeau wrote:...I doubt I'll delve as deeply as folks like you and Cal have into older Japanese cinema, but I'm making a point to try and see as best a cross section as I can. I'm just to heavily invested in Hong Kong VCDs and DVDs at this point, and trying to make the time to focus my attention on them -- to get too heavily sidetracked. Big Lots has already forced me to put them on the back burner too long! :lol:


I'm a pretty big fan of older Japanese cinema especially 1950s and before. I do want to work on 1970s and after, but yeah I do love HK film as well and that takes a lot of my time too.

Brian Thibodeau wrote:...I've never been overly satisfied with any Miike film, but I've rarely felt like I wasted my 90 minutes either, so unique is his work. ...
Have you seen VISITOR Q? Now that's a weird one . . .


I have not seen VISITOR Q nor do I think I will based on what I've read about it. Some plots I tend to avoid (yes I've seen incest in film before like Malle's Murmur of the Heart (1971) :D), but after FULL METAL YAKUZA I've avoided a lot of Miike. But I agree with your statement about never being overly satisfied yet never like you wasted your time (though feelings of ickyness do reside).

Brian Thibodeau wrote:...Still a legit debate, though, as long as a viewer doesn't denigrate one to praise the other because, as you say, they're both great. I just find Ozu's style and subject matter more to my tastes, although I suspect if I watched too many of his movies in a row, I might need a rest from the "life sucks but that's life" dramatics! ...
...I'm curious if you've seen LAST MAN STANDING with Bruce Willis, which is another high-profile YOJIMBO remake. I saw it theatrically way back when and thought it was pretty good. I knew it was a remake even though I couldn't compare them at the time. Not one I felt compelled to own, although it was recently released in a Blu-ray double feature with Willis' THE LAST BOY SCOUT, which is a film I would like to have on Blu-ray, so I might end up with both of them anyways once the price drops.


Agreed always a legit debate if you are inclined to write/talk about it. Just don't forget the other Japanese directors of that time :D.

I have seen LAST MAN STANDING and did like it (I only have the VHS of it and someone gave me that). That would be a cool double feature though. Since you have seen that film and FISTFULL OF DOLLARS I think you know what you are getting into with YOJIMBO. However, there is more dark humor in Kurosawa's and the cinematography is one of Kurosawa's best.

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Fireball (2009: Thanakorn Pongsuwan: Thailand) *½/****

I hate when you watch a film that not only feels like a waste of time but when you lament that time could have been spent elsewhere from watching a better film or cleaning the toilet. I recently enjoyed the Legend of the Tsunami Warrior which was not a great film, but you can see the maturity of the Thailand popular cinema in terms of special effects and film techniques so I was curious on this film. Sometimes curiosity is dangerous.

Many times when you are watching a martial arts film (sometimes this goes with musicals as well) you can forgive an inane plot, idiotic characterizations and pretty much everything else if the fight scenes are sagacious. Usually when they are not it is because you are presented with actors (and/or choreographers) who know nothing about showcasing the proper aesthetics and the artistic ability to convey the beauty that makes martial art cinema great. Sometimes, like in this film, the actors have the martial arts ability, but it is the director, editor and cinematographer that help make this film an irritable exercise in how long can you sit at a time while watching this before you change and watch something else. I can forgive the film quality which has the feel of a low budget TV movie. I cannot forgive (besides the plot) the elliptical editing, the cinematography which seems to be done by a 300 pound ex-alcoholic after running a mile who is suffering delirium tremens, and the soundtrack with exception of the cool Thai rap heard early in the film. Honestly, I have no idea what they were trying to accomplish with the editing. Were they trying to outdo Michael Bay?

The plot was not much better. Here we have Tai (Preeti Barameeanat) a criminal who was set free because of his twin brother’s Tan’s (same actor) cash contributions that left Tan in a coma. Tan was making money with the underground basketball game called Fireball. Tai takes his identity and gets back into the game to find out who was responsible for his brother’s condition. I like the idea of having an underground basketball game featuring Muay Thai and run by drug lords. But the execution of it could have been better. Allowing weapons to be used really made it silly and stupid. I know I should not be thinking, but who would put themselves into that situation without much money or without having their family held hostage? Ultimately the best situation for this type of game where you win by scoring once (or dispatching all of your opponents) would be to hire very fast players who could score right off of a fast break (even with individuals trying to beat you up) since a good basketball player should be able to do a layup/dunk even with two or three guarding and not getting hit.

One of the benefits of lower budget films is that much is done on location. You get to see a lot of city life and as a byproduct of the frenzied fight scenes I found myself enjoying those scenes. The attempt at creating a commentary on the social-economic conditions of these youths ultimately did not work because of a few plot threads that either made you to hate the drug lords yet put your sympathy on the one upcoming drug lord who recruited the protagonist and a few others who you get to see a bit of their daily lives.

I did not even give a second thought to viewing the extras. Well I debated it (sometimes I enjoy the extras more than the film in cases like this), but decided that I had enough abuse. The Lionsgate release had no issues though it does seem that there are dubtitles – so there is an English dub along with this as well.

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Re: What Asian films have we all been watching lately?

Postby cal42 » Mon Nov 08, 2010 10:29 pm

I've got nothing to add as such, but I'd like to say I'm following this conversation with great interest :) . I'm hovering over buying a Blu-ray of Late Spring but not quite committing yet :P . Any further suggestions, recommendations and outright demands will be welcome.
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Re: What Asian films have we all been watching lately?

Postby Masterofoneinchpunch » Mon Nov 08, 2010 11:01 pm

cal42 wrote:I've got nothing to add as such, but I'd like to say I'm following this conversation with great interest :) . I'm hovering over buying a Blu-ray of Late Spring but not quite committing yet :P . Any further suggestions, recommendations and outright demands will be welcome.


Buy, buy, buy. That is among Ozu's best films. Now what areas were you looking to purchase? :D Going to get FIREBALL?
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Re: What Asian films have we all been watching lately?

Postby Brian Thibodeau » Tue Nov 09, 2010 4:29 am

Masterofoneinchpunch wrote:I'm a pretty big fan of older Japanese cinema especially 1950s and before. I do want to work on 1970s and after, but yeah I do love HK film as well and that takes a lot of my time too.


So much to see! As you (and Cal!) seem increasingly well-steeped in Japanese cinema of the 50's and 60's, you'll surely have a better foundation from which to appreciate the evolution of the country's cinema through the 70's. Of course, that also seems to be the decade in which they really started bringing in the weirdness and the kink, but they're still important factors.

For me, part of having a better understanding of the mountain of Hong Kong cinema I've accumulated means seeing as many key films (as I can) from several other cultures as possible before I dive back into it, including works from the U.S., Japan, Korea, China and most of Europe, because so many HK filmmakers do reveal such influences in their work and I can write about them with more confidence if I'm able to spot them. Another reason is a certain ignorance I've often witnessed around the web by new and veteran "fans" alike, who often seem capable only of viewing Hong Kong cinema through a prism with the word "cult" etched into the side of it, or people who think having had a deep, meaningful tryst with 1970's Euro "cult" weirdness is somehow enough to understand Hong Kong cinema from that decade onward. That kind of narrow approach, however intentional or unintentional, coupled with the second-class treatment and/or favoring of martial arts/action cinema afforded by western distributors for decades, is a key reason that Hong Kong cinema remains ghettoized among a broader (and largely internet-bred) fanbase all too content to seek out the most famous genre pictures from perennial marquee names (which is exactly what American companies like Dragon Dynasty and Tokyo Shock spoon feed them) without caring to analyze the larger picture. Not saying there aren't scholars out there doing the good work, just that they number far too few.


Masterofoneinchpunch wrote:I have not seen VISITOR Q nor do I think I will based on what I've read about it. Some plots I tend to avoid (yes I've seen incest in film before like Malle's Murmur of the Heart (1971) :D), but after FULL METAL YAKUZA I've avoided a lot of Miike.


I prefer my cinematic incest a bit more subtle, a la LONE STAR or CHINATOWN. :)



Masterofoneinchpunch wrote:Fireball (2009: Thanakorn Pongsuwan: Thailand) *½/****

I hate when you watch a film that not only feels like a waste of time but when you lament that time could have been spent elsewhere from watching a better film or cleaning the toilet. I recently enjoyed the Legend of the Tsunami Warrior which was not a great film, but you can see the maturity of the Thailand popular cinema in terms of special effects and film techniques so I was curious on this film. Sometimes curiosity is dangerous.


Masterofoneinchpunch wrote:Now what areas were you looking to purchase? :D Going to get FIREBALL?


Seems like all a Thai movie needs these days is a kick-ass poster to get picked up for a quickie U.S. DVD dump. Then again, for a seeming majority of Thai cinema, a kick-ass poster is about as good as it gets. I don't watch much Thai cinema anymore as I don't feel it has much impact on an understanding of the greater whole of Asian cinema. It feels very self-contained in many ways, or at best, derivative of films made in other Asian countries rather than influential upon them. Even their biggest draw, Tony Jaa, hasn't had much influence on anything cinematic other than Tony Jaa movies and fans of the same. I see Filipino movies in much the same way. They make a ton of them every year, but none really have drawing power or influence beyond the Philippines and the Filipino diaspora, in large part because they're so chintzy and built almost entirely around young and pretty "personalities" of often dubious talent. Weirdly enough, though, they're represent one of the few Asian cinemas you can see with regularity on Toronto multiplex screens because of the size of the expat population here.



Masterofoneinchpunch wrote:Can you ever trust Amazon reviewers? Seriously that's too many four-star (out of five) reviews.


About as much as you can trust IMDB reviewers (or hell, most internet reviews for that matter!). Which is to say, sometime yes, sometimes no. I generally find I'm wary of 5-star or 1-star Amazon raves or rants on just about anything, unless I'm already aware of an overwhelmingly positive or negative "establishment" critical consensus. Otherwise, I find the 3-star and 4-star reviews to be more measured in their analysis (well, the serious ones, anyways).
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Re: What Asian films have we all been watching lately?

Postby Masterofoneinchpunch » Tue Nov 09, 2010 5:49 pm

Brian Thibodeau wrote:
Masterofoneinchpunch wrote:I'm a pretty big fan of older Japanese cinema especially 1950s and before. I do want to work on 1970s and after, but yeah I do love HK film as well and that takes a lot of my time too.


So much to see! As you (and Cal!) seem increasingly well-steeped in Japanese cinema of the 50's and 60's, you'll surely have a better foundation from which to appreciate the evolution of the country's cinema through the 70's. Of course, that also seems to be the decade in which they really started bringing in the weirdness and the kink, but they're still important factors.

For me, part of having a better understanding of the mountain of Hong Kong cinema I've accumulated means seeing as many key films (as I can) from several other cultures as possible before I dive back into it, including works from the U.S., Japan, Korea, China and most of Europe, because so many HK filmmakers do reveal such influences in their work and I can write about them with more confidence if I'm able to spot them. Another reason is a certain ignorance I've often witnessed around the web by new and veteran "fans" alike, who often seem capable only of viewing Hong Kong cinema through a prism with the word "cult" etched into the side of it, or people who think having had a deep, meaningful tryst with 1970's Euro "cult" weirdness is somehow enough to understand Hong Kong cinema from that decade onward. That kind of narrow approach, however intentional or unintentional, coupled with the second-class treatment and/or favoring of martial arts/action cinema afforded by western distributors for decades, is a key reason that Hong Kong cinema remains ghettoized among a broader (and largely internet-bred) fanbase all too content to seek out the most famous genre pictures from perennial marquee names (which is exactly what American companies like Dragon Dynasty and Tokyo Shock spoon feed them) without caring to analyze the larger picture. Not saying there aren't scholars out there doing the good work, just that they number far too few.
...
Seems like all a Thai movie needs these days is a kick-ass poster to get picked up for a quickie U.S. DVD dump. Then again, for a seeming majority of Thai cinema, a kick-ass poster is about as good as it gets. I don't watch much Thai cinema anymore as I don't feel it has much impact on an understanding of the greater whole of Asian cinema. It feels very self-contained in many ways, or at best, derivative of films made in other Asian countries rather than influential upon them. Even their biggest draw, Tony Jaa, hasn't had much influence on anything cinematic other than Tony Jaa movies and fans of the same. I see Filipino movies in much the same way. They make a ton of them every year, but none really have drawing power or influence beyond the Philippines and the Filipino diaspora, in large part because they're so chintzy and built almost entirely around young and pretty "personalities" of often dubious talent. Weirdly enough, though, they're represent one of the few Asian cinemas you can see with regularity on Toronto multiplex screens because of the size of the expat population here.
...


I've actually seen almost all of the 1930s, 1940s Japanese cinema on R1 (it actually is a low number) and getting close to the 1950s as well.

I agree that it is extremely important for film scholars (and/or folks like us) to go the influences of HK cinema to better understand the cinema. Like to better understand Johnnie To and John Woo it is important to go over the oeuvre of Jean Pierre Melville (and with John Woo it is important to go over the work of Chang Cheh).

It is disingenuous to call HK a cult cinema (I know I'm preaching to the choir). While it has cult cinema, much of the work is sagacious and worth watching for any film scholar. Why only a few like David Bordwell (and ourselves) seem to push HK with serious studies I'm still not sure (with the exception of Wong Kar-wai as one of the few HK directors that cinephiles overall seem to take serious).

I do hope my writing has helped some increase their knowledge of various cinemas and with HK cinema beyond Wong, JC ...

Now what I find kind of funny is who many high brow cinema fans have taken to Apichatpong Weerasethakul. I have only seen his first full length film MYSTERIOUS OBJECT AT NOON so I will reserve judgment until later (so basically to these high brow cinema fans HK is Wong Kar-wai and Thailand is Apichatpong Weerasethakul; I'm being partially facetious but there is some truth to that statement).

I agree that much of Thai film is definitely derived from other Asian cinema, though I do think Tony Jaa's influence is a little bigger than most. How much is a good question? A lot of what he can do is hard to imitate (reminds me of Primus, a band I loved, not many imitated because well it is hard to :D) and even other Thai cinema I have seen does not approach the action scenes the same way (yes this includes FIREBALL which uses wires in the weird places and LEGEND OF THE TSUNAMI WARRIOR which seems to have a bit of American editing influence; or even possible a Korean editing influence which was influenced from other sources :D). But I do agree with what you write. CHOCOLATE, while having some fun fighting scenes and was a fun film, was derivative of many HK films (aka homage; I even found one scene that was referencing ROBIN-B-HOOD, the Bruce Lee scenes are obvious in it).

How many Thai films are made per year?
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Re: What Asian films have we all been watching lately?

Postby cal42 » Tue Nov 09, 2010 7:05 pm

Brian Thibodeau wrote:So much to see! As you (and Cal!) seem increasingly well-steeped in Japanese cinema of the 50's and 60's, you'll surely have a better foundation from which to appreciate the evolution of the country's cinema through the 70's. Of course, that also seems to be the decade in which they really started bringing in the weirdness and the kink, but they're still important factors.


I used to be quite prejudiced against Japanese cinema, thinking the cultural differences were just going to make viewing Japanese films pretty hard going. A lot of that was based on a few short-lived forays into Anime, where I became convinced that a) I just don't "get" the whole approach to the work (particularly the sense of humour) and b) some film makers are possibly clinically insane.

Of course, I've since found out that I was only seeing the small picture, and I've since happily eaten my hat. Funny thing is, on a personal level, I found the same thing happening to my appreciation of Japanese cinema the same as that of HK movies. I started to watch Japanese action films of the 70s on a regular basis and found that I felt that the style of shooting, editing and setting very much more accessible (or even "westernised") than HK films, even if the content arguably wasn't always as consistent. From there, I started looking deeper into other genres, styles, etc, much like I did before when I fell in love with kung fu films from HK. I suspect I'm not alone in finding that action movies are like a "gateway" drug :) . I even found I was able to sit my girlfriend in front of Ikiru and get her to enjoy it despite her scepticism and dislike of black-and-white films (yeah, I know). I've had very limited success getting her to connect with Hong Kong films at all (even WKW) and I don't think I'll bother trying her with 80s hey-day Jackie Chan :P .

For me, the turning point in my appreciation of Japanese films was Stray Dog, and I doubt I'll ever look at Japanese cinema the same way again. But I'd love to know if there is a HK equivalent, and that's where I am starting to become frustrated with HK films as it seems rather difficult to find anything reasonably old due to, well, no demand I guess. In nearly 20 years of watching, I don't believe I've seen a film older than 1966 from HK, and I don't think it's all down to my usual preference for action films.

Masterofoneinchpunch wrote:Buy, buy, buy. That is among Ozu's best films. Now what areas were you looking to purchase? :D Going to get FIREBALL?


Thanks for the recommendation, I've now ordered Late Spring :) . If I enjoy that one, no doubt there'll be a glut of writings on Ozu. Actually, my bank balance isn't as healthy as it was, so maybe not!

As of right now, I still just don't "get" Thai cinema. Maybe my attitudes will change in the future, but right now I'm not looking to get into them. I've tried their "gateway" drug - Tony Jaa - and still can't connect. But I did say that about Japanese films many years ago, so there's always a chance.

Oh, and Keaton is best - surely everyone knows that? :wink: :P
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Re: What Asian films have we all been watching lately?

Postby Masterofoneinchpunch » Wed Nov 10, 2010 7:25 pm

The Most Beautiful (1944)

"The Most Beautiful is not a major picture, but it is the one dearest to me." - Akira Kurosawa

Propaganda films are usually of interest to me because of the situation and time period they were made in and their point of view not because of plot or sublime character development. Rarely do the characterizations, I currently cannot think of one, go beyond one or two dimensions. This is because the point of the propaganda film regardless of origin is to rally the troops and align their sense of duty. This movie is no different in that regard. But there are several key differences from the typical propaganda film that makes this film more interesting. The most interesting approach was the documentary approach Kurosawa took. Though he used actresses he did all he could to remove the artificiality of their craft to create a realistic portrait of the young girls at that time who were working in military construction. I felt this movie was effective in that regard. The tempered acting to those that are used to the Noh influenced acting of his later films. Another surprise is that this is one of two films of Kurosawa where the protagonist is a woman. The other one is No Regrets For Our Youth (1946) with Setsuko Hara.

The least interesting aspect of the film is the story. It is about a group of young women in an optical instrument factory that have to push up production to fill the need for the optical lens. While the men were asked to increase their production a hundred percent, the women were asked to do 50 percent. This insulted the women and they asked that they do a more respectable number like 66 percent (would a higher number have been insulting to the men?). The hardships created by this are numerable as the women face sickness, injury, mental breakdown and general crabbiness.

The movie is too episodic and heavy on the “team spirit” motif (not that Kurosawa had much of a choice), but it eventually settles on the titular protagonist in Tsuru Watanabe (Yoko Yaguchi) who embodies the spirit (kokoro) of an ideal worker. Her mother is dying, but her father and her mother want her to stay in the factory working so that Japan will not lose face. What is subversive is that she is a stubborn individualist. When she loses track of lens that she did not finish correcting, she goes through the monument task of finding it, and regardless of the pain it causes her, the lack of sleep and her supervisors telling her she does not need to do it – she does it anyways.

I do not agree with Donald Richie in his The Films of Akira Kurosawa when he states “Twenty years later it is almost impossible for us to think a lost lens this important.” She states that she worries that lost lens might result in the death of Japanese soldiers (and possibly in her mind a battle and ultimately the war). It does not matter if she is correct in this thinking, it only matters that she feels that way. Anyone who has any degree of OCD can relate to this. Once the mind gets fixed with an idea that may haunt them it is easy to understand the monomania which consumes her until she finds her mistake.

One thing that surprised me when hearing it in the film, and the fact that Kurosawa got away with putting into the score (he mentions this in his autobiography), is the insertion of “Semper Fidelis” by John Philip Sousa.

Has anyone seen any other Kurosawa film where he uses as many horizontal wipes?

After the picture he married the main actress Yoko Yaguchi. It was love at first sight. Kurosawa stated “She was a terribly stubborn and uncompromising person, and since I am very much the same, we often clashed head on.” I do wonder how well they got along over the years though.

I think this film can satisfy not only Akira Kurosawa fans but fans of social realist cinema and of course those looking for propaganda films of WWII. If someone is just getting into Japanese cinema this probably could be passed on for quite a long awhile. But for completists (those reading this) they will want to see this. But then again completists want to see everything.

I can almost repeat this paragraph I used for Sanshiro Sugata: This film can be found in the AK 100: 25 Films by Akira Kurosawa set from Criterion or the relatively cheaper Eclipse set The First Films of Akira Kurosawa. The print is solid, though scratches can be seen throughout. It would have been nice to see a more expansive restoration of it and/or any extras besides the liner notes by Stephen Prince author of The Warrior’s Camera: The Cinema of Akira Kurosawa, but ultimately I am happy it is available in an R1 edition.

Sources:
The Films of Akira Kurosawa 3rd Edition (1996/1998) by Donald Richie
Something of an Autobiography (1982/1983) by Akira Kurosawa
http://www.criterion.com/current/posts/ ... -kurosawav
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0036947/combined
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Re: What Asian films have we all been watching lately?

Postby Masterofoneinchpunch » Tue Nov 16, 2010 12:27 am

Raging Phoenix (2009: Rashane Limtrakul: Thailand) ***/****

JeeJa Yanin has had an auspicious start to her martial arts movie career. He first film Chocolate (2008) was a solid martial arts film that showcased her ability and allowed her to downplay acting by having her being mute. She gets to talk in this film and is generally fine with her acting abilities, but her strong points are still her martial art abilities. JeeJa is the most exciting female martial artist in cinema right now. While that might not be saying much, I do find her fun to watch. Much like Tony Jaa, I feel with the right script both could do much more than with the material they are currently given.

Raging Phoenix succeeds on the action scenes but ultimately fails in the plot. JeeJa is Dea a confused slightly erratic woman down on luck with choosing boyfriends, removed from the band she was playing in because of attacking that boyfriend during a performance and of all the luck she is now targeted to be kidnapped by a gang called Jaguar who target specific smelling women who will be harvested of their pheromones to sell on the black market as a sex aphrodisiac. That just sounds silly doesn't it? Wait it gets better. She is saved by Sanim (Kazu Patrick Tang: Bangkok Adrenaline) a practitioner of a martial art called Meiraiyuth who is part of a group of marauding good guys who have lost their significant others to this nefarious gang. These include three others named Pig s**t (Nui Sandang), Dog s**t (Sompong Leartvimolkasame), and Bull s**t (Boonprasayrit Salangam). She then becomes their student in learning this martial art to use in destroying all of these kidnappers and in search of the head of the serpent of the gang played by Thai/Indian bodybuilding champion (and once was part of the Royal Thai Police) Roongtawan Jindasing in her first movie appearance. Of course she has to survive the training which involves imbibing much liquor and getting beaten up.

The first fight scene is partially impressive. I love the use of modified powerisers the bad guys have which are like a pogo stick per leg but longer and built with blades. I was skeptical at first, but it came out quite creative and entertaining. I would love to have those, though I would probably kill a few people while learning it and potential decapitating myself.

While the use of wires to accent the fight scenes is overused, they do help create an aesthetically pleasing martial arts style in Meiraiyuth. It is a mixture of drunken boxing, Muay Thai, break-dancing and Capoeira. While it may not always be advantageous to throw in a dance move while beating someone up it is impressive here. One problem that occasionally comes up is that when doing extremely flexible moves at impossible angles the impact of the blow comes off as very soft and the overreaction of the opponent is forced though I have seen this issue in many action films (as well as the mysterious blow that completely misses the person yet that person is blown over by the wind of the punch or kick).

But besides the plot I have one other issue that annoyed me. Some of the CGI use is pretty bad. This is especially evident when they are trying to break into the lair of Jaguar. At its worst is when they initially break in and fall or "slide" down to the lower depths. They basically looked like they were moving their arms and legs while the background is changing. The bridge fight scene is also hurt by this where much around them looks like they are in a computer game from the mid 1990s. When you watch something as impressive as the few fight scenes you wonder why they resorted to this phony graphics manipulation.

I have to admit I had a fun time watching this movie. The story is not as solid as Chocolate (though better than Ong Bak 2) and like many Thai action films they feel derivative (or homage) of other successful Asian films especially ones from Hong Kong. The incorporation of Meiraiyuth reminds me quite a bit of drunken boxing and it is impossible not to think of Drunken Master (1978). Early on the manipulation of Deu's body as a weapon by Sanim certainly reminds me of its use in Dirty Ho, but a few Jackie Chan films as well. The film seemed to completely forget the drinking part of the art in the later part of the film.

I have the Magnet R1 release. It has two main extras: a “Making of Raging Phoenix” and “Behind the Scenes of Raging Phoenix.” The “Making of Raging Phoenix” (11m.53s) is in Thai/French with removable English subtitles. It is a fun extra though you wonder how/why the director Rashane Limtrakul spent a year writing the script. Patrick Tang speaks French in the extra. The “Behind the Scenes of Raging Phoenix” (10m.35s) is pretty much showing them practice the fighting scenes (and some drum training) to a Thai(?) rap beat. However like in the end credits of a Jackie Chan film you get to see mishaps and the dangers of this type of film when JeeJa Yanin hurts her neck and gets put into a brace. And to top it off it has the international trailer (3m.34s) of this film and various trailers “Also From Magnolia Home Entertainment.”
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Re: What Asian films have we all been watching lately?

Postby Masterofoneinchpunch » Tue Nov 23, 2010 8:35 pm

Center Stage (1992: Stanley Kwan: Hong Kong) ***½/**** (possibly ****; will determine on next watch)

“Malicious Gossip”

Retired Film Critic Jonathan Rosenbaum considers this film to be the best movie he has seen out of Hong Kong and at one point he has had this in his top 100 films. That is mighty high praise from the sometimes choleric critic. I had seen a previous film from Stanley Kwan called Rouge starring Anita Mui and Leslie Cheung. I had found Anita outstanding in it, but was not completely happy with the film as a whole and felt it is overrated by many Hong Kong critics. However, Center Stage (aka Actress aka Centre Stage) is a gargantuan step forward in filmmaking with Kwan putting in 18 months of research. I understand why Rosenbaum praises it very highly.

Center Stage is about the most famous of Chinese’s silent actresses Ruan Ling-yu (this film helped make her famous with the later generations) whose life was the envy of many, but was plagued by a multitude of thin relationships and a capricious press. She committed suicide at the age of 25. Originally Anita Mui, who looks quite a bit like Ruan Ling-Yu, was supposed to be the lead (she backed out of the project because she did not want to film in Shanghai because of the Tian An Men Square incident). Knowing her acting style I think she would have done well as the lead in this film as well, she can bring an ethereal melancholy to her roles (and is surprisingly good in comedy, she is missed). However, Maggie Cheung is extraordinary in this role (though those who say this is her breakout dramatic performance are completely forgetting her in Days of Being Wild (1990)). She is so dominant in this film that with the exception of Tony Leung Ka-Fai’s portrayal of director Tsai Chu-sheng most of the male acting appears milquetoast.

Stanley Kwan eschews a normal biopic for a multilayered approach that inserts old footage from extant films from Ruan, the actors themselves discussing her career and dramatic recreation of scenes from her life. This film focuses on her acting days and her known relationships during that time both platonic and romantic. While the actors speculate what was going through her mind, the film does well in showing the inner turmoil but does not over speculate as to why she killed herself – though most think it has to do with the tabloids (Hong Kong critic Paul Foronoff thinks it might have had to do with the upcoming transition to sound for Chinese cinema and the fact that her Mandarin was not that good).

The cinematography from Poon Hang-sang (Peking Opera Blues (1986), Kung Fu Hustle (2004)) is beautiful. The Shanghai location does help in the authenticity, but the costumes, the settings and the look of the film is exquisite. This is a film to have someone watch who thinks Hong Kong cinema is only Wong Kar-wai and action films.

Ruan was most famous for her 1930s performances including The Goddess (1934) and only 8 of her films (possibly 9) are extant. I have been recommended the paperback/DVD [url="http://www.amazon.com/dp/9622093957/"]Ruan Ling-Yu: The goddess of Shanghai[/url] (which contains a copy of The Goddess) from the Soft Film 軟性電影 curator. While I knew several directors mentioned like Fei Mu (director of what often is considered the best Chinese film of all time Spring in a Small Town (1948)), there are so many characters that I would like to learn more about. I have only watched a few films from 1930s Shanghai like Twin Sisters (1934) and Street Angel (1937) – Street Angel is quite good and apparently a remake of the Frank Borzage film Street Angel (1928).

Only get the remastered R0/NTSC Fortune Star/Joy Sales release. It has the full length director’s cut (at 154 minutes) and is currently the best looking DVD on this film out there. This release includes two interviews both in Cantonese with removable English subs (and two Chinese subs), one with director Stanley Kwan (11.37m) and one with Hong Kong critic Paul Foronoff (13m). Both are excellent for their short time period though Paul has the most insane grin throughout his.
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Re: What Asian films have we all been watching lately?

Postby Masterofoneinchpunch » Sat Dec 04, 2010 12:33 am

EDIT: I put an updated version of this in the database here.

The Odd One Dies (1997: Patrick Yau Tat-chi: Hong Kong): ***½/****

Analogous to Expect The Unexpected (1998) and The Longest Nite (1998) Patrick Yau is the nominal director in The Odd One Dies but did not do the majority of directing (though Yau has stated this film he had the most input of the three). The uncredited director is Johnnie To, whose production company is Milkyway Image with Wai Ka-Fai, that was the force behind the film. Aside from those three films (which I have seen) Patrick was credited to one more film The Loser’s Club (2001; which I have not seen) and apparently his film career has been over since then. However, when watching the movie it is easy to see many familiar elements of To including genre (shashou pian: professional killer genre), incorporation of black humor and Lam Suet.

Takeshi Kaneshiro is a laconic nameless street thug who is either on a death wish or just does not care. I see a bit of this character in Louis Koo’s performance in Throw Down (2004), but when you watch this it is hard not to think of Takeshi’s two previous Wong Kar-wai* roles (Chungking Express (1994), Fallen Angels (1995)) as well. Takashi after losing much money in gambling decides to take on a hired killer role for 88,000 HK dollars cash. First he gets himself an old large mobile phone, sunglasses, chain, watch, used car and a jacket. How he gets those items is quite hilarious. Since he is hell-bent, or just does not care, he gambles a good portion of that money away as well. He loses thousands after thousands, doubling his bet every time with a local card shark named George (Lee Diy-yue), without as much as a wince when he loses. But then the strangest thing happens, he starts to win and he wins big. Then he decides to hire someone else to do the killing.

The newly hired killer is much to his surprise a female (Carman Lee Yeuk-tung) who is just out of jail from a previous man-slaughter case (she killed her cousin for her boyfriend/Uncle Simon; though I am not sure if I am correct I believe she killed the infant she had with him when she was 14) and she is just as laconic and nuts as he is. They both smoke quite a lot and almost appear to be Doppelganger’s of each other**. However, she is malodorous and unkempt. They, of course, become attached to each other.

I had a lot of fun watching this film. I had so much merriment that I did the rare thing and watched it twice within a week which I had not done in years. There is a peculiar comedic style to this that is very dark, but still quite bloody good (literally). There is a recurring fingers lopping off joke (when the same Triad character catches a knife from both Takeshi and later Carman) that is brutally hilarious but also leads to a strong scene of redemption at the end. The direction is also quirky. You get a great look of Hong Kong in this film. There is an excellent scene of Takeshi running around a busy area crossing one street after another. He is almost hit several times and it is great to see the passerby expression (many of these movies will be filmed with many people not knowing they are being filmed). All filmed with no (or very little) cuts. In fact it is quite reminiscent to a similar scene in Police Story 2 with Jackie Chan.

I really wish these early Milkyway films like this one, The Longest Nite (1998) and The Mission (1999) would get more recognition especially amongst more mainstream critics who tend to eschew anything Hong Kong that is not Wong Kar-wai. This has been been slowly changing over the years with Stephen Teo’s book on Johnnie To as well as David Bordwell adding much on To in his updated Planet Hong Kong. But as a fan of these movies it still is not enough.

This DVD is not the easiest film to get a hold of as there is no R1 edition out there. Luckily there have been a decent amount of used copies available from a Mei Ah R0 1997(?) release though it appears to be OOP now. It looks exactly like a LD port and I have read that some copies do not necessarily work on all DVD players. Luckily mine did. There are no extras unfortunately. There are Chinese and English subtitles (surprisingly decent subtitles) and Cantonese and Mandarin language tracks. This film is desperately in need of an update.

* Johnnie To has stated that in an interview with Stephen Teo: “we didn’t deliberately set out to copy Wong Kar-wai. I don’t copy other people’s stuff. The film is about loneliness and it’s possible that it shows a tendency to Wong Kar-wai.” Interestingly enough Stephen Teo does make note of several similarities between Wong’s films and this movie in his book “Director in Action” (2007). My own personal opinion is that the biggest similarity is Takeshi Kaneshiro’s performance. While some have stated the cinematography resembles Wong’s work, I feel it is just because of the use of hand-held and overuse of canted angles (possibly more of them then in The Third Man (1949)). The issue of expiring time is familiar (Chungking Express) but I feel that is prevalent of Hong Kong cinema as a whole since the handover was to happen a little over a month after the release of this film. Plus one of the strongest thematic elements for Wong’s oeuvre the ever-present “unrequited love” is missing from this film.

** The Doppelganger is another recurrent theme in To’s films. When watching this movie look for a massive amount of scenarios repeated for a second time or third time. The last time the scenario happens it signals a change. For example, when Takeshi meets Simon for the second time he beats him up. When Carmen sees him she fantasizes about killing him, but leaves him without doing anything. When Takeshi tries to stab the Triad member for the third time (Carmen did it the second time), he does not go through with the motion to remove his fingers and ultimately receives the forgiveness of him. Takeshi apologizes to George the third time they meet.

NOTE: Need to check Tony and Mo name. Check books again.
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