Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Alex Turner Strikes Again OR The Return of The Walker Brothers?

Alex Turner from Arctic Monkeys teams up with Miles Kane from a new band called The Rascals -- built from the ashes of The Little Flames (pun intended), whose "Put Your Dukes Up, John" was covered by the Monkeys on their "Leave Before The Lights Come On" single -- in a project called The Last Shadow Puppets and the first single evokes The Walker Brothers in a magnificent way.


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

CJ7 Up For Pre-Order Already!

File this in the "Boy, that was fast!" category: Stephen Chow's CJ7 is already up for pre-order on YesAsia and yes, it does have English subtitles!

You can order the standard version here.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Lost in Beijing

Lost in Beijing was not quite what I expected but Fan Bing-Bing was good and Tony Leung Ka-Fai was good but is turning into a cartoon of himself -- he's playing the same type of character now over and over (see The Drummer, etc).

The DVD is uncut which is a plus.

I would rank this film somewhere with Beijing Bicycle and the far superior Hollywood Hong Kong -- "realistic" films about modern day China with glimmers of hope amid the downbeat "realism."

You can order the DVD by clicking the banner!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Lust, Caution

The fact that Tang Wei was not nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award for Ang Lee's Lust, Caution is proof of how meaningless the Oscars are.

Ang Lee's complex film is some sort of masterpiece. And it's probably foolish to not address the sex scenes right away. Like The Last Tango in Paris more than 30 years ago, the sex scenes are character based and do, in some ways, further the plot; we learn about Tony Leung Chiu-Wai's Yee, especially in the first sex scene which amounts to a near rape and beating.

Tang Wei's Wong is still a virgin when she joins the acting troupe hoping to infiltrate Yee's collaborationist household. Her dedication to her mission demands she even lose her virginity by first sleeping with her teammate simply so she knows what to do when she seduces Yee. In 1938-1942 China, that was probably a considerable personal sacrifice for a young, unmarried woman to make.

[Spoiler Alert from here on out]

What I most enjoyed about the film was how the personal is the political. If Lee Hom-Wang's Kuang had simply expressed his love for Wong earlier, perhaps she would not have found herself feeling some weird sort of affection for Yee. And that affection is what leads her to give Yee the warning to escape the jewelry store and avoid his probable assassination.

And that failed plot is what reveals the presence of the resistance movement, gets Wong and her fellows captured and executed, and, eventually what undoes Yee.

For make no mistake, by film's end it is clear that Yee is doomed. Either doomed to a life of regret or, more probable, capture as a collaborator.

If Yee's assistant is aware of his involvement with Wong, and Wong is summarily executed, then surely the collaborationist forces of Shanghai will add up the clues and find their way to Yee eventually.

And if that doesn't happen, could his wife, played by Joan Chen, really be that naive to not suspect something?

I wished the film had spent more time on the motivations of Yee -- why is he collaborating with the enemy? Just a hint would have been nice.

The scene in the Japanese restaurant where Wong sings a traditional Chinese song to Yee and he tears up was quite good if a bit improbable; it does reveal that he has not completely sold his soul yet but I just found it hard to sympathize with him in that moment. If he could be moved by that, then why was he working with the enemy in the first place?

And Wong's climatic action -- letting Yee escape and thus sealing her own doom -- surprised me but made sense. Unlike her college friends, she was more of a blank slate all along. Her acting skill early on made this viewer think that perhaps it's all an act or, rather, where is the real Wong Chia-Chih? One never gets a sense of her political loyalties; after the bravura sequence where the troupe executes Tsao (Chin Kar-Lok), she is the only one not to have participated and the first one to leave the room -- as if the sight of real blood is more than she can bear. I had my suspicions there that she was not up to the task at hand -- even if she could sleep with Yee.

So she seduces Yee but was it really any great personal compromise for her or just another role to play? Like the Hollywood films she enjoys, is she simply playing the part of an ingenue for her own purposes?

She remained a naive young girl whose personal actions affected a great many people.

And the fact that the audience feels so many conflicting emotions for Wong is a testament to Tang Wei's amazing performance and Ang Lee's assured direction.

It was nice to see Tony Leung play a villain like the other Tony Leung is so good at playing; I only wish I knew more about his motivations.

Hong Kong film fans should look for a great cameo from actor and action director Chin Kar-Lok.

You can buy the US NC-17 rated version here. [The extras on the DVD are minimal but the 16 minute featurette was worth viewing simply because I think it was the first time I'd ever heard Tony Leung Chiu-Wai speak English.]

Read Kozo's review here.

Read Yvonne Teh's review here.

[UPDATE:] Having now read the novella in English, I have to further praise Ang Lee for fleshing out what was a slight story into something complex and profound.

Making Mr. Yee attractive added a layer of conflict to the film, simultaneously explaining Chia-Chih's attraction to him and masking his evil nature behind a pleasing appearance.

Friday, March 7, 2008

"From Feudal Serf to Spender..."

The Manic Street Preachers received the NME Godlike Genius award last week -- 02/28/08 in London -- and here are a few clips. I should have saved up money to go to the gig.

"Motorcycle Emptiness" remains one of my favorite songs of all time:

And "Your Love Alone Is Not Enough" with Cerys Matthews of Catatonia filling in for Nina Persson from The Cardigans is like a Welsh dream come true:

And here's Nicky Wire's impassioned acceptance speech:

And a few pictures for good measure!