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Archive for the ‘Asian Films of 2012’ Category

by Jaime Grijalba.

a.k.a. In Another Country

director Hong Sang-soo

(South Korea, 89 min)

Hong Sang-soo is another of those korean directors that are always being talked about in certain circuits of film fanatics, critics and scholars, sometimes with more praise and analysis than any of those I mentioned in last week’s article about the south korean film Pieta, directed by Kim Ki-Duk. He seems to be regarded as a director who has a distinct sensibility and set of themes that he puts forward in every one of his films, and he also seems to be pretty regular and prolific in that sense too, putting at least one movie a year for the past 5 years, and more or less a movie every 2 years since 1996 with his debut ‘The Day a Pig Fell into the Well’ (1996). As important as the director is in this concept for a film, and its (sometimes innecesary) intricate storytelling, the most important and noticeable thing about this film is its main character: the talented and famous french actress Isabelle Huppert. It’s amazing to see how her career has advanced and expanded as years have gone by, specially in these recent years, as we see many of the most important directors of the world look for her to star in their movies, and so she has only gone up and above any expectation, with over a 100 movies in her repertoire, and with only 62 years of age (you wish you looked like her when you were 62 sistah). Just in 2012 she starred in the italian film ‘Bella addormentata’ (2012) directed by Marco Bellocchio, the portuguese production ‘Linhas de Wellington’ (2012) directed by Raúl Ruiz’s widow Valeria Sarmiento (since he died when it was in pre-production, she was suggested to continue it), the pinoy film ‘Captive’ (2012) directed by the famous Brillante Mendoza, the french film ‘Amour’ (2012) directed by the german director Michael Haneke (where she plays a brilliant supporting performance), and in this south korean film… and here we’re talking just about this year, if we go back in time we see many collaborations with directors like Raúl Ruiz, Michael Haneke, Claire Denis, Ursula Meier, David O. Russell, François Ozon and even in an episode of ‘Law and Order: Special Victims Unit’ of all series that she could’ve starred in. (more…)

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by Jaime Grijalba.

(South Korea, 104 min)

It’s hard to confront a director as controversial as Kim Ki-duk, specially when you have only heard about his controversial nature and have to judge it in some way based on the only movie you’ve seen of him: his latest. I know I should’ve seen some other films by this famous korean director before, but they have eluded me for the longest time, even though most people would think the contrary after seeing my interest in asian filmmaking in general, and korean culture in particular, he is a director that is usually mentioned when the korean industry is being talked about, specially since he seems to be on the outside making festival-pleasing movies that usually get selected to play in competition and/or usually win some prizes, as it’s been the case with his two past films. There’s even been some controversy regarding his last win, for the film that has summoned us today, because it was in competition in the Venice International Film Festival, and the Golden Lion was to be given to ‘The Master’ (2012), but at the last moment it was given to the south korean film… was it worthy of the prize given? I don’t know, because I haven’t seen ‘The Master’ yet (damn you, international distributors), but at least the word was flowing and Arirang was sung, and so all the people in the world were actually saying how Tom Cruise was involved in the final “snub” given to the P.T. Anderson film. Anyway, the film has arrived at some doorsteps, in this case mine, and I’ve been able to give it a look to see how actually controversial the film is, and given the fuzz that was out on how this was undeserving… I really can’t see why! I’t s a well done piece of filmmaking that manages to make you cringe, feel deep emotions and wonder all the time if this is how we actually act as human beings, or maybe this is being filmed in another planet, but that is just false hope, you know, we are indecent human beings with disgusting reactions, and that’s how we deserve to die. Kim Ki-duk, everyone, Kim Ki-duk. (more…)

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by Jaime Grijalba.

(Japan, 96 min.)

I’m not a fan of reviewing bad movies, I don’t like reading negative reviews either, specially from those writers that only seem to have two modes: praise or hate. I don’t see film criticism that way, I see it as an opportunity to talk about this miracle that is making a film and then receiving it, with this I mean, the beauty that is having a film reach you, whatever the method may be, that is an accomplishment, it found you and you are watching it, that is a feeling of accomplishment already for the director and for the viewer/reviewer himself. It all comes down, film criticism, to a matter of taste, and as we all know taste varies from critic to critic (or viewer to viewer, even though they would be less acute in the wording of their appraisal or condemnation, or not, sometimes the best judgements come from people in the street, those that are so maligned nowadays, I find myself learning more and more from gut reactions coming out of a theatre than reading 5 different blogs or newspapers, no offense to those writers). What I feel when I read a negative review, specially one that tries to burn and make the director pay for ‘wasting his time’, is sadness, not because they aren’t in their right mind to not like a film, but hate and condemnation is something that is never constructing and that out of spite is just trying to demonstrate some kind of higher level of intelligence that the critics supposedly have, but that is not actual fact nor real. When a critic reviews a movie, it should first be thankful that he is being able to do so in a world that is rapidly evolving and that seems to need serious film criticism less and less. So, I’m not advocating for a mutis from critics towards bad films, because if you think a film is bad, nothing should ever silence you from saying so, but hate, discrimination and name-calling is not the way to review films nowadays. So, what do you do? You go the other way around, there’s nothing more clear to see that a movie is bad is how easy it is to make fun of it, and in this topic we’re not disrespecting the filmmakers nor the movie itself, we’re just using it as a medium of comedy, while not being seriously critical, it is a easy way out for those uncontrolled critics that can’t muster up more than a few ‘they should be ashamed’ or ‘they should be burnt at the stake’ or ‘this movie shouldn’t exist’ or ‘this director should retire already’. Keep it funny, you’re still saying the movie is bad, but you’re not letting yourself show that you’re a complete asshole. (more…)

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by Jaime Grijalba.

For today I have something special, two short films from the world of Asia and from two countries that are getting more and more recognition as time goes by and as we go through the recent cinematography and festivals/award winners from the international standpoint. Now, first let’s talk about short films and specially about these ones, because they are directed by two recogniced and acclaimed filmmakers that have won awards and have become juries in international festivals, choosing the new generations of filmmakers themselves, but now, what is inside the form of the short film that is so atractive to these established filmmakers? Well, in the case of Apichatpong Weeresethakul, making short films between features has been a stablishment in his career, he takes them as something to work on, experimentations that he will later use (or not) in his next feature film, and that is all fine and dandy to me, I specially like what he has done with ‘Ashes’, reviewed earlier in this same feature, and now he has gone beyond that, going full documentary style in this new short. In the case of Ming-liang Tsai, he has also managed to experiment with the short film, but not in such a publicized way as with the thai director mentioned before, but in the recent years he has made a name for himself in certain festival and art-related circuits for his shorts. Now, here’s the interesting part about this is that these short films are, most of the time, comissioned, and so is the case with these two, comissioned for different art or film related projects, they are interesting on their own and so they are given the treatment of capsule reviews, just clicking “Read More”. (more…)

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by Jaime Grijalba.

As promised last month, I shall continue with capsule reviews of a group of asian films from 2012 that didn’t caught enough interest or where I’ve already talked about their issues in other films for them to guarantee a full review. So, without further ado, let’s dwell inside the world of asian cinema and look what it’s there for us.

Che sau (2012)

a.k.a. Motorway

director Pou-Soi Cheang

Hong Kong, 90 min

This has been compared many times, either through reviews, previews, festival summaries and even blurbs about the film itself, to the american film of 2011 named ‘Drive’, one of the most critically acclaimed, and at the same time, polarizing films of the past year (alongside ‘The Tree of Life’, it was surely a year for discussion and debate). There have been articles and reviews that go point by point naming every simmilaritie and even supposed references made by this posterior effort to the earlier film. Now, while I wasn’t one of the hordes of fanatics of ‘Drive’ (I thought that the film was a good piece of filmmaking in the technical sense, and it managed to keep me somewhat interested in what was going on, but the overbearing and awkward silences, the feeling of a plot that was never really put to the ground firmly, really put me at times on the other side of the board, claiming that it wasn’t as good as everyone else was saying that it was), I can honestly say that it was a better movie than this ‘Motorway’ manages to be, mainly because it’s not original at all. ‘Drive’ had some visual and plot wise a general sense of originality (no matter how much it stole from the classic ‘The Driver’) that wasn’t seen in american films in a long time, this movie from Hong Kong just points out every cliché in the book and passes over it, boring us out of our minds, and while the visuals may seem interesting, you can always say that they were rip-offs of the earlier 2011 film (how time and influences pass). This is the story of a rookie cop that was put in the force because of his expertise managing cars, racing them fast to catch the bad guys, and once that the bad guys have escaped even if he was really fast, he has to learn again from a retiring police officer to really ride the streets the right way for him to be able to catch them. It’s so dissapointing, I expected so much more when it was compared to the american film (heck, I even expected to like it more than ‘Drive’) but it was found lacking, just for the visuals, this movie manages to catch some of your attention. (Rating: ***)
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by Jaime Grijalba.

a.k.a.11.25: The Day He Chose His Own Fate

(Japan, 119 min)

The Valdivia International Film Festival was one of the best experiences I’ve had in a long time, 5 days devoted entirely to the watching and conversation about film with people you know and don’t know, from your city or even from another countries, all coming down south to enjoy and receive the hospitality of this city and its people, as well as acknowledging this film festival to be one of the most important in Latin America. There you have the oportunity to see the new voices of Chile, Latin America and the world in a friendly competition that lasts the whole week and that manages to bring up the most intelligent of the issues and filmmaking conversations, as well as theorical. It is one of those few festivals in which you can actually find a stance, an editorial of sorts, that they will always prevail the auteur content abova all, as well as contemplative narrative, and to top it all: an abundance of documentaries, put along side fiction works competing for the same prize. This year, the competition was great and the winners in both competitions (international and chilean) were my respective favorites of the competition films I saw: ‘De Jueves a Domingo’ (International) and ‘Where the Condors Fly’ (National), which I rate **** and ****1/2 stars respectively. Now, outside the competition, its obvious that we will find many other screenings, and while the special showings weren’t as star-studded as years before (they managed to bring ‘Film Socialisme’ forward before many other countries in the world), it managed to have ‘Holy Motors’ (one of the most talked about films of the year, and that I rate ****1/2) and this film, that also played in Cannes Un Certain Regard with other films. While not as good as the other films that I watched in the festival, it is still a must watch to many people that are interested in japanese culture, history and film. (more…)

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by Jaime Grijalba

a.k.a. Resident Evil: Damnation

(Japan, 101 min)

The theme has been chasing me and I do think that, maybe, this is a sign of sorts. It is the third time this year that I’ve been in the position of writing this column and talking about a film that is a videogame adaptation, and this is the second animation and, may I link the original piece here, where I talk about the definitions and divisions inside the sub-genre, and I shall link to a recent installment in my usual wednesday pieces (even if Bob Clark graciously ceded his spot this week for my piece on an anime film once again, as he has kindly done a large number of times and I can’t be thankful enough) where I talk about the issues of videogames in general as narrative experiences when talking about a too faithful film based on a succesful japanese series, here. Now, let’s keep talking about videogame movies, just a tiny bit, so that there’s not much else to say and if I ever encounter another videogame adaptation that I have to cover for this series of essays/reviews I’ve been doing, I can just jump straight ahead to the jist of the thing itself, instead of meandering around doing technical and thematical discussion that maybe no one is actually interested about. So, as I said in previous essays, there are a singular kind of films that bear the label ‘based on videogames’ where the only thing that they do is continue the story and the canon of the original games, a product usually done for and with the fans in mind, as it thrives on the reference to events and characters of the videogame franchise but not in the way that a live-action film would, but as in what continuity would think about regarding the destiny of the main characters and how it all pieces together the plot threads of the previous, and most important, the following games (as the movie is usually one of the vehicles of promotion for the forthcoming game in the series). For example, there’s the classic and much maligned ‘Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children’, that has some neat CG animation from Japan and manages to tell its own story, continuing and featuring new characters, and even I, not a particular fan of the original PlayStation game, I like the movie for what it is and because of the spectacle that brings in the final act, as well, of course, thanks to the references done to the game to make it appealing to the fans. So here comes along another CG animated film that follows characters and situations from the ‘Resident Evil’ game series, that manages to put its own story forward and at the same time pleasing the fans, how perfect is it? Well, let’s just see… (more…)

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by Jaime Grijalba.

As I said in the earlier edition, I will review in one paragraph all those asian films of 2012 that are not as writing-enducing as others that I’ve covered in the past editions of this half-monthly column, and as I say that I must say that I have a lot of films to cover, but I’ll divide it by two, so you’ll have this second and a third edition in two weeks time covering a total of eight films in capsule reviews of a paragraph or whatever I can come up with, so without further ado, let’s dive right into the industry of films.

Bao dao shuang xiong (2012)

a.k.a. Double Trouble

director Hsun-Wei David Chang

Taiwan, China, 87 min

Many know and love the films where Jackie Chan stars, fights and sometimes even directs. His films are filled with some incredible stagey acts and crazy stunts, while also maintaining some kind of humour about it, making it the best slapstic humour from anywhere in the world for almost two decades, he was a modern Buster Keaton/Charlie Chaplin for those who wanted to see him in that way . Now it seems that his son, Jaycee Chan, has taken the crown from his own father to continue doing this amazing kind of films of great spectacle and big budgets from the asian land of the kung fu and martial arts. Now, I just wish that he had a better spotlight and a better director to make his films any good. This ‘Double Trouble’ focuses on two guys, one is a chinese policeman taking his vacation in Taiwan and the other is a museum guard from Taiwan that is protecting one of the most ancient and important surviving treasures of the chinese culture (for those in the know, most of the chinese ancient culture can only be found in Taiwan after Mao’s smart move to destroy everything that reminded them of the glourious days of the chinese empire). So, making it short and sweet, the ancient scroll is robbed, and it is the job for this guard to look for it, because he thinks he’s guilty. He finds himself tied to this free policeman, due to the fact that he is detained by the guard due to his involvement in the robbery (he inarvetedly helped the two girls who robbed the scroll). So, this action adventure may have been great and interesting if it were any political about the issues that are at hand (Taiwan and China have a harsh history), and instead it just wants to have nice car chases and coreographed fights, that may be fun, but when the focus is not so much on Jaycee all the time, the film looses its strenghts (those little that it had) and aims for a bigger scope and range of characters, that end up in over-acting and innecesary twists. Still, there are some good scenes and sequences, specially one involving two girls on motorcycles and a bus filled with turists. (Rating: ***)

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by Jaime Grijalba.

a.k.a. Ace Attorney

(Japan, 135 min.)

Isn’t it hard to write sometimes? I mean, sometimes you promise yourself that you will write on certain topics on certain dates, and then you promise yourself that you will write more frequently, and then you promise yourself that you’ll try to keep it fresh, keep it good, keep it with a modern context, keep it emotional, maintaining some kind of overall quality that people may seem to expect from you, but you actually end up finding out that either no one reads what you’ve written or that your actual writing skill level is lower than you initially thought it was. Now, I’m not telling you all this because I feel that I place myself in any of those two cases (maybe I am, maybe not, maybe I’m in both categories and I’m just an idiot with no future), but because when you are in the position to write about something (or maybe just write whatever comes into your mind: fiction) and then you start reading instead of writing, you find out either one of these two things: someone else wrote it better (or just already wrote it, not better or worse, but someone already did what you are doing) or that you already wrote about it earlier, and you would only be repeating yourself. Why am I saying this? Because some weeks ago I wrote a piece on this same space about a movie called ‘Dragon Age: Dawn of the Seeker’ (2012), where I made a two paragraph introduction regarding video game adaptations and films that I like inside that sub-sub-genre of films that usually come out to the public, and I specially was worried about theorizing about the different kinds of videogame adaptations, as that animation was a very special one, one that used the same world in which the game takes place, but tells a totally new and maybe canon-related story, much like the ‘Resident Evil Regeneration’ (2008) japanese animation film or its sequel that will come out later this year and I hope I can see to review in this same spot. The problem was when I finished watching the film that is the subject of today, I was totally sure how I was going to write about it, I was going to do a mini-history lesson on the video game adaptations, and if it wasn’t that I was looking for a template to do my review that I stumbled upon the one I did for the other video-game adaptation of sorts (you can read that review here) and read that I had already written about it. So, what the heck was I supposed to do know? I had to improvise some structure of sorts, something fresh, something new, and I guess I didn’t found it, because I’m going through the laziest of the processes: telling you the how-I-got-here story that makes me deliver a review that in my mind was totally interesting, and maybe now is just a bit lackluster. So, first point that I have to get across in this review: yes, this is a videogame adaptation.

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by Jaime Grijalba.

(North Korea, 95 min.)

This is by far one of the weirdest finds I’ve ever had in this year of focusing on asian films so far. It’s a north korean documentary that has no credited director that I had the luck of seeing thanks to today’s technology and youtube. The presentation is, of course, not perfect, but the story behind this documentary is quite intriguing (I shall leave you with the statement from the uploader shortly) giving the film a tone of urgency and at the same time certain fear of what it really aims for. It is a north korean film that uses snippets from tv commercials, films, tv series and other audiovisual material (most of it from the United States) to try and proove a point: modern society is a dumbed down due to the power of these pictures of violence and commercial enticement. Nevertheless, the film does go in a certain aspect that I found to be a little hypocritical: democracy, but I still thought that it was worth watching for a lot of reasons that you can find out if you watch it after the jump.

For now, I leave you with the statement made by the uploader of this film:

On a trip to visit family in Seoul in April, I was approached by a man and a woman who claimed to be North Korean defectors. They presented me with a DVD that recently came into their possession and asked me to translate it. They also asked me to post the completed film on the Internet so that it could reach a worldwide audience. I believed what I was told and an agreement was made to protect their identities (and mine).

Despite my concerns about what I was viewing when I returned home, I proceeded to translate and post the film on You Tube because of the film’s extraordinary content. I have now made public my belief that this film was never intended for a domestic audience in the DPRK. Instead, I believe that these people, who presented themselves as ‘defectors’ specifically targeted me because of my reputation as a translator and interpreter.

Furthermore, I now believe these people work for the DPRK. The fact that I have continued to translate and post the film in spite of this belief does not make me complicit in their intention to spread their ideology. I chose to keep posting this film because – regardless of who made it – I believe people should see it because of the issues it raises and I stand by my right to post it for people to share and discuss freely with each other.

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