Friday, February 29, 2008

Iron Man

Every summer it seems like there's another superhero film that hypes me up like I'm still 13 (in many ways, I am, LOL).

And this summer it looks like it's going to be Iron Man. The next Batman looks good but not this badass!

If only it was a film about Iron Man and the rest of the Avengers but I'm sure that's on the drawing board if this does well.

Enjoy!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Sophie

My love of Sophie-Ellis Bextor is well-known (blog title fer instance!) but this video from England's GMTV about a year or so ago just sums it up nicely: the eyebrows, the "posh" demeanor, the hooks, the Top 40 pop-done-smartly, all there in full effect. Enjoy!


Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Drummer

The Drummer is simultaneously predictable and thoroughly engrossing.

Yes, it's a typical coming-of-age film but one that unfolds at a sometime languid pace and without too many Hollywood-style moments.

Combined with his turns in The Sun Also Rises and Invisible Target, I think Jaycee Chan is becoming a fine actor -- he's already a better dramatic actor than his father (that's a bit unfair as Jackie never tried to be a dramatic actor). Angelica Lee, here billed as Lee Sinjie, is a welcome sight in the role of the headstrong girl that captivates Jaycee's Sid. And Roy Cheung from Johnnie To's The Mission and Exiled is quite good as Tony Leung Ka Fai's Kwan's righthand man.

The links between Kwan and Sid's ties to the triad lifestyle are a bit clumsy and sometimes obvious but the story needed a reason for Sid to go into hiding and thus discover himself.

Sid has to go into hiding in the mountains of Taiwan and there discovers a drumming troupe (called Zen Drummers in the film but, given the locale, perhaps Chan Drummers would be more appropriate?).

What follows are the typical character-building moments, training montages, and lessons learned.

The film looks great -- the scenery in Taiwan is gorgeous and the nighttime scenes in Hong Kong practically make you feel the heat of the city.

Josie Ho is good as usual in a small supporting part and look for Cheng Pei-Pei's daughter, Eugenia Yuan, in flashbacks as Sid's mother and Kwan's ex-wife.

You can order the DVD here.

Read Yvonne Teh's interview with director Kenneth Bi here.

Sakuran



Certainly one of the most beautiful films I've seen in quite some time, Sakuran is a masterpiece of visual design.

Anna Tsuchiya from Kamikaze Girls plays the grownup version of a girl kidnapped to serve in an Edo-period Japan brothel and the film charts her life and career with a bit of humor and pathos set against a modern soundtrack by rocker Shiina Ringo.

The DVD from Taiwan, available here is a very nice 2 DVD set housed in a hard cardboard box, along with a handful of stills in an envelope. Unfortunately, the copious extras do not have English subtitles.

But the film looks magnificent as does star Anna Tsuchiya.

Bullet and Brain (2007)


Any film that features Francis Ng and Anthony Wong playing arcade classic Galaga can't be all bad can it?

Bullet and Brain (2007) is frequently ridiculous but, for fans of the above two actors, it's probably required viewing.

Yes, it's a Wong Jing-production but don't hold that against it.

I think my favorite moment had to be when the heroine, Rain (Mainland actress Tang Yan) is being driven home on the motorcycle of cop, Fred (Alex Fong). She stops to mail the letters that will summon Bullet (Francis Ng) and Brain (Anthony Wong) to her rescue. A Hummer pulls up, fires a rocket at the street corner mail box as soon as she deposits her letters and the cop does nothing beyond checking to see if she is okay. What kind of cop is this? If Hong Kong is the type of city where you can do driveby rocket attacks on city streets, it's probably even more exciting than I imagine.

And I have not mentioned as yet the horrible sound on this film. The entire film sounds like it was dubbed after shooting -- maybe due to the presence of Mainland and Hong Kong actors -- but it is jarring. According to Kozo's review, Anthony Wong did not even redub his own voice.

If you like Wong and Ng, watch it. If you like Eric Tsang, you can rent about two dozens other films better than this one.

You can order the DVD here.

The Pye-Dog

After watching this short and stylish film, I still don't know what the hell a pye-dog is.

Mui, played by Eason Chan, is a hitman man working for a bad-toupee-wearing gangster played by Eric Tsang. He takes a job as a janitor at a school where his eventual target is a student whose father is played by George Lam.

The kid's teacher is played by Gia Lin (Lin Yuan) who I quite liked in Dancing Lion but who seems almost catatonic here.

I think The Pye-Dog is proof that good cinematography does not a good movie make.

Yes, it looks beautiful, and, yes, there are some nice moments between the leads but, still, the emotional moments had no context or buildup and I still feel like the characters are woefully underdeveloped; [spoiler alert] and when Gia Lin's teacher turns out to be a rival assassin it is as inexplicable and it is unbelievable.

A disappointment but you can order the DVD here

Friday, February 22, 2008

New Blog on the Blogroll

I started using this site to keep track of the unfolding Edison Chen scandal but I think it will be useful even once that simmers down:

Asian Gossip with translations of Hong Kong celebrity gossip news.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Edison Retires And Glenn Rejoices (Just Kidding)

Can't say I'm too surprised to see this, but after his cameo in Trivial Matters, I am happy to report that Edison Chen is taking an extended leave from show business (did he have any choice at this point?)

He was good in Dog Bite Dog, though, despite the lachrymose ending.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Mad Detective/Trivial Matters

Johnnie To's The Mad Detective is a minor masterpiece. Lau Ching Wan, like Humphrey Bogart decades ago, uses his expression the way other actors use wild gestures and affected accents.

American filmmakers should take a lesson from To in how to construct a tight film and keep it under 95 minutes. The ending in a hall of mirrors echos not only The Lady From Shanghai but also -- at least for me in a roundabout way -- Enter the Dragon (LOL, really!) with an overhead shot that seems to be a hommage to the tracking shot that follows Travis Bickle's final rampage in Scorsese's Taxi Driver.

All of the plot threads are wrapped up and if the audience does not get an easy ending, what we do get makes perfect sense. Given what we know of Bun's character and the case, was there any other way it could have worked out? Andy On's detective Ho solves the case but could never have reasonably explained how he did it -- there was no way for anyone to.

To seems to be telling us that success in fighting crime sometimes involves madness leading unto death as well as playing with reality -- Ho's shifting the guns among the victims before his girlfried arrives, all amidst the shards of the mirrors playing up the way perspective is relative. The enforcers of society's rules are the ones who sometimes have to bend them to fight crime.

A heavy film that deserves a second viewing.

As for Pang Ho-Cheung's Trivial Matters: I was all set to give up on the thing until the Gillian Chung/Stephy Tang segment moved me. And the Chapman To segment, Recharge, was also mildly touching. I think the director has taken a step back from Isabella and Exodus, but, he is still taking risks and Trivial Matters remains one of the more original, non-Wong Kar Wai or Johnnie To-associated films to come out of Hong Kong in quite some time.

It's hard to fault the thing; the point is in the title and if any of the segments had more depth they would hardly be trivial anymore would they?

Read YTSL's reviews of Trivial Matters and The Mad Detective.

Read Kozo's reviews of Trivial Matters and The Mad Detective.

Buy Trivial Matters here and click the ad for The Mad Detective.

[NOTE: Since the Exodus DVD had English subtitles on the extras, it would have been nice to have English subs on the extras on the Trivial Matters disc since there are quite a few of them but, alas, no such luck.]

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Warlords

The big surprise of Peter Chan's epic The Warlords is that Jet Li is a decent actor. A lesser surprise is that Andy Lau can ratchet down the charm if he needs to -- though one extended crying/laughing jag did seem a bit too much.

I'm not qualified to comment on the historical setting of the film so I'll just stick to this as a piece of entertainment.

On many levels, the first half of the film is perfect -- the action is not wuxia, not wire-fu, and has enough blood to be suitably memorable and jarring and the three leads bond and march into battle as "blood" brothers.

Then the film falls apart and for that, I'm going to have to talk about the plot -- SPOILER ALERT.

So Jet Li's character has the moral backbone to punish his own troops for rape -- which serves as a character building moment of enlightenment for Andy Lau and Takeshi Kaneshiro's characters -- but, then, by the end of the film Li's Pang is ready to kill Lau's Er Hu to further his own career or to get the girl? (Either motive is not particularly admirable is it?)

Based on the early scene of the brothers killing three innocent captives as part of their blood oath, I saw Li's Pang as the ultimate opportunist. Lau's Er Hu is naive enough to sign up for the moral crusade to free people from oppression even while Pang is just using that rallying cry as a means to an end.

Lau's character is certainly the most sympathetic and Er Hu seemed like a guy in over his head -- Pang showed him a new code of warfare, yes, but it was for nothing.

I admired the way director Chan shot the slaughter of the innocents in Nanking ( or was it after the Suzhou battle?) -- they are never shown being shot but, rather, the camera focuses on the faces of Li and Lau and the archers as they are sickened (literally and morally) by what they are doing (we later see the bodies, of course).

And the blood oath scene itself was perfect in the way it underfolded matter-of-factly -- Li underplayed it beautifully, telling his victim to remember his face to take revenge in the next life.

But, in the end, their is no real moral lesson to the film except that Pang shows how people can be manipulated by charismatic leaders -- a lesson for our age, I think.

I was reminded of Branagh's Henry V -- the leader who offers his men a vision of morality but only as a means to the throne. The masses following the charge buy into the vision but, really, the guy in front is just using that message to get them to lay down their lives for a cause.

Now that I've written this, I think the film has more depth than I realized...LOL!

YTSL's review does not seem to be online anymore but you can read Kozo's here.

[UPDATED: YTSL's review is online as well as her interview with director Peter Chan. The review is here and the interview is here.]


You can buy the DVD by clicking the banner at the bottom of the page.