Sunday, April 29, 2007

[SIFF] Bloody Tie (Sasaeng Gyeoldan)

Can Hear Me Or Not?

Bloody Tie was my last movie for this year's Singapore International Film Festival, and although it's an action movie, I thought it ended my festival this year with a whimper rather than with a bang.

Set in the time of the IMF (not the Mission Impossible one) making loans to a South Korean economic collapse, the populace begins to turn to drugs for their bit of escapism. The worst hit city with plenty of drug addicts happen to be Busan, and for drug dealer Sangdo, this presents opportunity to make it to the big league. On the other side of the law, narcotics police detective Lieutenant Do, known for his unorthodox and violent prone techniques, takes Sangdo under his wing as his informal snitch.

But as all things go, it's a black eat black world, with cop and drug dealer striking up an uneasy partnership, each with their own agenda to leach on the other for their own selfish reasons, in their common quest to take down the new and current drug lord. Sounds like good stuff? That's what I thought too, until the pacing switched me off for the most parts. It's full of verbal bravado, and plenty of supporting characters adding absolutely nothing to further the story. Its runtime of almost 2 hours was not justified, and some sections could have been cut short to quicken things up. One of the few saving graces is its black humour, but other than that, it's pretty serious and sombre.

If you're interested, stay tuned until the end of the credits. But given the late night, the projectionist was too trigger happy to shut the projector off halfway through the scene. Pity.

[SIFF] Aachi and Ssipak (Achi-wa Ssipak)

We're Vulgar and Loving It!

Aachi and Ssipak is a delightfully wicked piece of animation. It's full of fun, and politically incorrect, full of high octane action, and set against a nonsensical background in the future. It's rude, vulgar, and totally unapologetic about it.

In the future, humans have learnt how to harness human shit to become rich sources of energy. As a result, the government encourages everyone to shit and collect their waste to power our world. To reward its population, those who shit are given juicybars as rewards when they do their business at designated collection points. However, these juicybars (they look so phallic when being sucked upon) are addictive, and here you have a black market churned from obtaining and selling these bars. With gangs, one of the most notorious ones called The Diaper Gang, come forth to wreck havoc on the populace, and with the authorities not going to sit back and do nothing, they unleash their cyborg policeman Geko to take them down, violently.

And all these happen in the first 5 minutes. Like I said, it moves at breakneck speed, infused with comedy and various pop movie references galore, ranging from Pulp Fiction and the Untouchables to the obvious Robocop, and a sequence taken straight out of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. If you thought that the Koreans had the most ultra realistic and violent movies in their crime genre, this is also brought over to the animation field, with this movie a showcase just how violent a cartoon can be - heads get shot off constantly, and various dismemberments happen so often, you'll start to want nothing less than a swift violent end for its characters, in particularly the members of the Diaper Gang, who serve as disposable fodder.

So where does Aachi and Ssipak fit in you say? They're small time hoodlums who discover a girl called Beautiful (whom I thought was anything but), who has the capability to shit and be rewarded bucketloads. As small time hoodlums, they see this as a get rich opportunity, and it becomes like a round robin hide and seek game amongst all the players involved.

There are plenty of shit jokes and references, coupled with tons of swearing and showing of bad signs (middle finger, thumb in between fingers, the flipping of the forearm, etc), and probably served as direct insolence to both the gangsters as well as to the V for Vendetta like fascist government and their polices.

If you like your animations vulgar, fun, full of action and violence, then Aachi and Ssipak will be right up your alley.


Show Me Some Lovin'

Purists who were up in arms about Chinese actresses playing Japanese characters like in Memoirs of the Geisha will probably flip again at the portrayals of Indians by non-Indian actors, and could cite again similar examples whether the country of origin lacked capable actors to pull the roles off (Of course not, this is Bollywood we're talking about, certainly no lack of actors). But hey, this is a Canadian production, and those detractors were likely to have some axe to grind with Hollywood-ized versions of such movies, leaving this movie alone. Or maybe the subject matter explored here outweighed such negative, meaningless, counterproductive thoughts and arguments.

Journeying back to the time of the British withdrawal from India, one of the policies introduced during the independence, is this little handiwork done by the British, which had the population at the time segregate themselves into Hindu India, and Muslim Pakistan. This led to migration of scores of people to either side of the partitioning, and with it came religious tensions, and mindless massacres from both sides. This movie through its narrative was no holds barred on this criticism, even though it too boiled down to misunderstandings and intolerance from both groups of people.

Partition is a movie that I recommend, even though it's draped with heavy melodrama. Perhaps it's because it's a Romeo and Juliet type of story, with our protagonists not from feuding families, but from different religions. Gian Singh (Jimi Mistry) is an ex-soldier serving in the British army, and in his retirement from war, he returns to his village to seek a certain peace from within, after making a decision during the war which he has yet come to terms with. One day, he rescues Naseem Khan (Kristin Kreuk) from a massacre by the Sikhs on the Muslims who were en route to Pakistan, and shields her from his fellow men when they bayed for her blood.

As you might have guessed, the two will fall in love amid the background of violence, and their love will transcend religion, culture, and intolerance. Or will it? There are two acts in this movie, which I thought the second was somewhat hastened, given the idyllic pace which the first had dwelled in, sharing its rich cinematography by writer-director Vic Sarin. The story's development too moved into its fastest gear, especially in the finale which was what one would expect, and yes there were sniffles amongst the audience. What I thought was treaded quite superficially (and I suppose it was perhaps on purpose) was the dealing of religion, that it can be flipped flopped so easily. Perhaps herein laid a message that love will transcend that as well, given that after all, God is also about love?

Like how The Namesake made me sit up and take notice of Kal Penn, Partition had the same effect for Jimi Mistry. Best known for his comedic The Guru role in which he plays a "sexpert", he's almost unrecognizable under that thick beard, and gave a very strong performance as a man haunted by his past, and finding a future with a loved one, willing to make extreme sacrifices for his family. Kristin Kreuk, in her second movie outing after her bimbotic role in Eurotrip, brings a more Smallville's Lana Lang-ish appeal to her character here, as she pines for the loves of her life, and lets those tears roll. No, she doesn't look a bit like your typical Pakistani girl, but yes, her beauty helps illuminate the screen. It's strange though to see her try her best to put on a believable accent, and mannerisms right down to head movements, but she looks good in those saris!

I was surprised to see Irfan Khan in a bit role here, having enjoyed his performance also in The Namesake, and Neve Campbell and John Light rounded up the supporting roles, with Neve's Margaret Stilwell a character whom I thought was a tragic one, no doubt if you interpreted as her still holding onto the candle for Gian, without him realizing, probably consciously aware that their status and skin colour are too different to have resulted in anything fruitful.

With a one track beautiful theme song, lush sceneries, and wonderful performances, Partition is a surprise of the week, and over here, it's two screen release doesn't do it much justice. Should you want to watch a love story set against a historical background which still has repercussions until this very day, then make it a point not to miss this.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

[SIFF] Things We Do When We Fall In Love


The second part of James Lee's love trilogy, Things We Do When We Fall in Love is more of the same. If you're frustrated with the presentation of the first, then my advice is not to bother with the second, even though the stories are not linked. For me, I thought the colour made it slightly more bearable, but if you're not a fan of his auteur minimalist style, then you're likely to have impatience get to you.

There are many shots and situations which just are, without much incident, and totally up to you to interpret. Inside the car, in a motel, dancing on a quiet street in the dead of the night, walking around in a padi field, the list goes on. It is likely that there are deeper meanings to be studied from, but the shaky handheld camera gives you a wild spin, often following from behind the characters, or peering from behind inanimate objects. They eat, sleep and talk about the most mundane things. It's not a romantic film per se as the title would have you suggest, but rather a very unromantic one dealing with the ordinary, stemming from insecurity, and the constant craving to be wanted.

I thought there was a little hope for me to enjoy this movie when the introductory scene before the opening title showed flashes of things to come, of some comedy infused in its dialogue, but that was not to be. Instead, it went back to dialogue that was slow, non-purposeful, and excruciatingly repetitive, especially the cries for acceptance and the pleas to be understood, which get on your nerves. The constant arguments between the couple, ever so often, makes you wonder when they'll eventually part for good.

It tells of the relationship between a man and a woman. One's a computer programmer, the other a teacher. They decide to take a trip around nearby, and spend much time driving around, from which we follow like a "lamppost" at the back of their seats, watching silently as they eat, quarrel, and sing. We spend quite some time on the road, before we decide to end up in a motel, for more of the same. I thought Loh Bok Lai was decent in his role as the all suffering man who cannot seem to appease his lady love (or so we think), and Len Siew Mee, showed a different perspective with her female character here, compared to her love-them-and-leave-them Ling Yue in her previous movie. Here, her clingy character just gets to you and frustrates.

And following them won't be bad if not for the NYPD Blues styled camerawork. If you're one who suffer from motion sickness, bring a bag along. The story develops at a peculiar pace, and in the end, a hastily thrown epilogue of sorts is included, which I thought would have been unnecessary, if not just to show that pair of mammaries in a pool.

Despite the complaints, will I watch the concluding movie? For sure, given that I want to complete the trilogy, and that I'm such a sucker for pain.


Writer-director James Lee was present this evening to introduce his latest work, as well as to field a Q&A session after the screening. Although the screening was a full house, I counted at least 6 persons leaving the auditorium, and more than half left before the Q&A started, which James mentioned was about affairs and the complexities of relationships. The moderator Philip Cheah added that he thought it was very much about the faithlessness of love. Do note that the following is not verbatim.

Q: There were a lot more landscape shots in this film, compared to your other works?
A: This is the first time I based my movie out of KL, because I'm quite lazy and I like to shoot from within the city. The cast and crew were happy that for the first time, we'll go outstation for the shoot.

Q: What made you create that scene in the desert?
A: I wanted to show the state of mind of the guy in an absurd way, and it was an extremely different landscape from where they began. He's lost, given that he doesn't have GPS (a throwback to the introductory scene), and it cuts back to the field when he calmed down and managed to find his way back.

Q: There were a lot of handheld shots in the movie. Was this deliberate?
A: In my previous works if you noticed, most of the shots were composed and still, usually on a tripod or on a track. I wanted to move away from what I do best, and didn't want to stick to one form. In this movie I gave a lot of creative space to the actors, and also relinquished control to my DP, who also suggested shooting from behind the characters in those handheld shots that you see.

Q: Could you share with us the production details?
A: This is my favourite work to date, and it was shot on 16mm on a shoestring budget of RM30K. I've become quite well known for shooting low budget films and shooting them on schedule. This one took about 11 days. I find that with less money I got, the more challenge I face as a filmmaker. I averaged about 3 to 5 takes per shot, and had a self imposed rule to work more precisely, as compared to my DV days where it can be quite indisciplined as you tend to just roll. I didn't have a script, but had a 19 paged short story from which to work with. The dialogues were done during rehearsals, and much of it was improvisation, with more space given to the actors. The DP here is the same one as (SIFF Closing Film) Opera Jawa.

Q: What was the intention of the last female character, who was introduced extremely late into the film?
A: She's a one-night stand, and it's to show how the guy treated other strangers.

There were some questions related to the earlier movie of the trilogy, Before We Fall in Love Again, and the end which was shot in colour, was used to show awakening, and of course, to make the audience sit up and take notice of how the characters have moved on. This movie and the previous one were designed separately, so although there were no names mentioned, and that the lead actress is the same person, the characters are not, though since it was not explicitly mentioned, some would naturally think that this was what happened to the same woman from the first movie. Even the actors, when they looked at the script, thought so too.

The actors are not professional actors by training. The guy is a painter teaching in a college, and to date is quite well known as an indie actor. The girl is a teacher of dance, and actually has only acted in my films, though I constantly encourage that they venture and work with other directors to broaden their experience.

The title for Things We Do When We Fall in Love was deliberately chosen (from a children's song), and it was a conscious effort to film the unromantic moments. The third part of the trilogy is still in the development phase, and James hopes to show it by end July. This time, it's from the point of view from a woman, as the other two were from the perspectives of men. Given that it's a loose trilogy, it will be similarly focused on situations about relationships. The title will be "Waiting for Love".

Will you be watching the final part of the trilogy? I think I just will, for completion sake :-)

The Wind that Shakes the Barley

Freedom Fighters

The preview for this movie played to a full house at Picturehouse, no doubt with almost half those in attendance being Caucasians, and I'd bet almost everyone is curious to the pedigree of Ken Loach's latest film that snagged that Palme d'Or at last year's Cannes Film Festival.

The Wind That Shakes the Barley is a mouthful, and it plays like a thinking man's Braveheart. While Mel Gibson's Academy Award winner was set in the 13th Century with the Scots battling the English for independence, Wind tackles similar subject matter about oppression, the rallying to arms and the battle for independence, set in early 20th Century in Ireland, sandwiched between the two World Wars. As such, there are many parallels between the movies in terms of the politics behind the scenes, the arguments for and against their rationale of armed resistance and struggle, though Wind doesn't have the large scaled set action pieces for war, and it doesn't need to.

It takes a very intimate look at the historical background of the Irish Republican Army, as seen through the eyes of two brothers Damien (Cillian Murphy) and Teddy (Padraic Delaney). The movie doesn't waste time in establishing a rather biased fact, that the English troops are despised for their arrogance and the crimes that they commit among commonfolk, much like the Robin Hood days. It doesn't take two ticks for Damien to enlist with the IRA for their armed struggle against oppression witnessed by many, and soon enough they discover that their political ideals differ.

Yes, it's as much a talkie movie as it is one with action. Even without background of the politics of the time, you'll still be able to follow through much of the debate given passionate performances, and fiery speeches made from the heart, given the universal subject themes. As always the case, differing ideals become the crux of the issue, and that adage that power corrupts ring through, especially amongst those at the top echelons, the politicians versus the man on the street. What I thought was intriguing, was how freedom was negotiated, as a compromise rather that complete, yet with plans in the backburner on going against such agreements when one becomes more powerful - the classical giving an inch and taking a yard, when the time is correct, with a powerful base to work from.

Cillian Murphy gives yet another commendable performance as Damien, a freedom fighter (or terrorist, depending on how you see it) fighting for the injustice he experiences and observes. Padraic Delaney too holds his own as Teddy the brother, and the two cannot be more different, especially when they stand for the same ideals, disagreeing on execution. One's an idealist, while the other doesn't mind compromise, but both share extreme pain in doing what they deem morally right.

Despite Spider-man's much awaited sequel making its debut worldwide this week, Wind is one movie that I'll recommend if summer blockbuster's aren't your cup of tea. Highly recommended, and if your interest is piqued on the struggles of the early IRA days, you can click on this link to learn more.

[SIFF] Black Gold

Wake Me Up Before You Go Go

When you sip on that aromatic cup of coffee, do you think about where it all comes from? 2 billion cups of coffee are consumed on an average day, and I'm sure many of us have contributed our daily cuppas to that statistic as shared by the documentary Black Gold by Marc and Nick Francis. From the ordinary black coffee at the local coffeeshop, to gourmet, fanciful concoctions at the nearest Starbucks (there's this new banana mix in town now), Black Gold takes you on a journey of the world's coffee trade, from the consumers right down to the farmers who toil their fields to give us those beans.

But who makes the most out of this trade? The multicorporations of course, fingered and identified in this film as money grabbers. We are taken on a tour of the vast coffee fields in Ethiopia, and Tadesse Meskela is our guide, as he shows us the conditions that the farmers have to work with, and the meagre amounts of money they are making to make ends meet, while the rest of the world gulps our coffee, parting with a few dollars while they make less than a cent. The demand and supply mechanics seem to be imbalanced, no doubt with prices made artificially high on the commodities trader market in New York and London, with none trickling down to the tail end for the suppliers.

Tadesse Meskela's objective is to band the farmers around a co-operative so as to be able to negotiate better prices. They're not on a mission to make prices rocket, but just a few dollars more would improve the livelihood of the farmers tremendously, and to enable their children to have decent education. It's also about the attempts to remove the multi-layered middleman chain (up to 6 links), and I've always been a proponent to eradicate the middle sections because unless they value add, there's no point swelling the pockets of those who does what I deem a "postman's job".

There are a few points which provides starking contrasts between the haves and have nots. What I thought was sly, was the showcasing of Starbucks, its first outlet and its star performers raving about how much opportunity they have etc, versus the source of Starbuck's coffee from Ethiopia, where massive famine is experienced by those in that region. I guess in a capitalist world, those who have money will continue to exploit, and will continue doing so as long as the bottomline is not affected.

However, Black Gold lacked that strike in that emotional chord. It's pure "here's the problem" without offering much, loaded with clinical facts and figures printed on screen. While it showed how difficult the folks down the supply chain are having, that's basically it. We're the clueless consumers as depicted in the documentary who couldn't care less, and that basically summed it up, given its lack of that final sucker punch to ring the message home.

Retribution (Sakebi)

Need New Gutter To Crawl Out From

Retribution, punishment that is considered to be morally right and fully deserved. And for those who, like myself, have not gotten warned enough from writer-director Kyoshi Kurosawa's earlier duds like Loft, watching Retribution is retribution enough for not heeding that warning with its red light flashing from a distance. I enjoyed Kairo, but somehow the subsequent works of his which I've watched, failed to captivate just as much.

Simply put, Retribution contains all the classical elements of things that go bump in the night, the Kurosawa way. Don't expect sudden boos - you'll get long takes, the quiet, and something I've always admired, how spirits appear in the background so gradually, it's actually frightening. But too much of a good thing becomes cliche, and spicing it up by making them fly like Keanu Reeves in the Matrix sequels, just reeks. This movie too suffered from too many of the same type ghouls, and having one of them, the sticky Woman in Red (Riona Hazuki, whom I swear looks very much like local TV actress Jacelyn Tay) letting out cries that can challenge any siren, inevitably makes you want to cover your eyes each time she appears.

As the story goes, Koji Yakusho, a Kurosawa movie regular, plays a veteran detective Yoshioka assigned to investigate the homicide of the woman in a scarlet red dress, who was drowned in salty water accumulated in a puddle at a construction site. Curiously enough, the evidence all point to him - his whereabouts unknown, and a button at the scene which could have come from his own jacket. The problem is, he has no recollection what the heck had happened, and neither does he know the girl. Along the way, he seemed to be guided by this invisible force which he calls his hunch, to nab other suspects in other cases of similar modus operandi - that of drowning in shallow salt waters.

It's pretty much a character study piece of Yoshioka, with many flashbacks and numerous attempts tying up its convoluted loose ends. His nasty demeanour of unorthodox tactics (I just love that chase up the rooftop and its resolution of that scene) make him unpopular, and when alone, his relationship with his beautiful girlfriend Harue (Manami Konishi) makes you wonder why the bad boys get all the nice girls. Anyway that aside, it's precisely these relationship issues that put the entire story on a spin, and which I thought for a man like him, saving his whisky bottle during an earthquake speaks loads.

As mentioned earlier, the production is almost minimal, especially with Yoshioka alone in his apartment. The movie's not for everyone, and restless teenagers are better off leaving the theatre rather than to vent their displeasure at the other folks who want to endure this. There are a few surprises in store for those patient enough to wait till they emerge, but therein arose more questions to be answered. You wont get satisfaction watching this movie, all you get is retribution for wasting time watching something quite hokey and clunky.

If there's only one thing I like about the movie, it's that one special effects shot involving a water pan towards the end. Blink and you'll miss it.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Provoked: A True Story

Honey, I'm Home!

There were two reasons why I had decided to catch this film, and they are the beautiful Aishwarya Rai and composer extraordinaire A. R. Rahman. Provoked is based on the true story of Kiranjit Ahluwalia, whose autobiographical book "Circle of Light" forms the basis of this movie. However, its textbook delivery style resulted in a film that's quite plain, despite its powerful potential in examining domestic violence against women.

Rai plays the protagonist Kiranjit, a Punjabi woman instructed by culture and social norms to be the dutiful wife to Deepak Ahluwalia (Naveen Andrews), who whisks her off to London. Kiranjit doesn't know what she's in for as it's an arranged marriage, and soon enough the true colours of her spouse start to show - the drinking, the womanizing, and the verbal, physical, emotional abuses. For 10 years she tolerated and suffered, until one night she snapped and gave her husband his just desserts. We're talking about the law here, and so she gets sent to the slammer.

Then on it's split down a few paths. Along one path, iIt's like Prison on Fire, where glimpses of the harsh realities of the world inside with criminals start to harden Kiranjit to fend for herself, along with the making of new friends and "sisters". On another path, the courtroom drama which was pivotal, given that it's a landmark case which debated upon the fine definition of provocation, somehow got delivered quite blandly, no doubt because attention was drawn toward the very British courtroom with its wigs and polite legal language. And finally, the path of melodrama and flashbacks, used ad nauseam here in telling the abuse that Kiranjit had to endure.

I'm gonna be biased here to say that Aishwarya Rai's performance is probably the best thing in the movie. As in Mistress of Spice, those eyes can speak a thousand words with just a flicker, a movement, or a blink. And she can do unglam too, sans thick makeup and making prison garb fashionable. As an abused woman, you can't help but feel sorry for her, and very much root for her to get herself out of her plight, using whatever means possible. Nothing too breakthrough, but she's as effective as can be.

Unfortunately, bad acting plagued most of the supporting cast. Naveen Andrews as the husband Deepak only managed to look snarling, but is never menacing enough, and the rest seemed to have been sleepwalking, in part being let down by the lack of meat in these roles, being in true one dimensional fashion. Only Miranda Richardson's fellow jailbird and cellmate Veronica Scott offered some balance in the acting department opposite Rai.

Veteran director Jag Muhdhra seemed to have a bad outing trying to polish the film into the gem it should be, and certain scenes were badly edited that they seemed to be pasted side by side without much thought to gel them together smoothly. It seemed to have dwelled too much in the beginning, and felt hurried toward the end. It also lacked details of the rationale, and failed to pound deeper into the heart of the subject. Rather, what we got was a brief introduction and explanation of the topic, followed by a very quick, superficial resolution, leaving us wanting more. A. R. Rahman's score seemed to have disappeared into the background at times, though when it's on, you can always ensure a treat for the ears.

Perhaps that's the point, of enticing the audience to pick up the book to read first hand the plight of someone being abused, and the challenges faced in being a mother from within a cell, battling innate customs and expectations to come out from within a shell and into the open, not only to try and save oneself, but to be a beacon of hope for many others in the same boat.

Straight to the point, no frills storytelling, recommended for the curious and for those who want a launching point into a hot subject of abusive relationships.

Thursday, April 26, 2007



Raise your hands, those who have not uttered "Fuck" before. You perhaps stand amongst the hypocritical few. Probably considered the most vulgar and offensive word in the English language, it is undoubted, as some of the talking heads in this documentary state, that its effect and meaning ever gets lost in translation, especially when coupled with the right tone, and the universal middle finger hand signal.

Playing to a full house (and will be in two screenings during SIFF), Fuck the documentary is quite a mixed bag. It tried to cover everything there is to the word, and does so with more than 800 utterances in its various forms, from nouns to adjectives, detailing examples along the way, to much hilarity when coupled with the renowned illustrator Bill Plympton's cartoons. Those bits are the best parts, with Plympton's cheeky take on the word play in its creative intertitles used to introduce the various segments of focus.

From literature to music to religion, Fuck examines how the word crept into social consciousness, acceptance-objection, reflecting on the changing social norms when some use it freely, while others frown and throw a fit when they hear it. It also tried to uncover the origins of Fuck, and no, it's not an acronym and never was, although this is a widely held misconception.

With plenty of celebrities and recognizable faces providing interview segments, Fuck seemed lacking in a very strong direction when it seemed to want to split all over the place. With comedians, filmmakers, authors, musicians and the likes putting their point across, sometimes the editing make it seem quite contrived especially when two opposing views come to a clash, and no prizes for guessing which side is made to look stupid.

And what's a documentary like Fuck worth, if it doesn't take a prolonged jab at the authorities and morality groups? But in the end, while it wraps up quite neatly almost everything there is to do about the word Fuck and its usage in contemporary daily lives, you come to wonder just what the fuss is all about. Fuck!

P.S. stay tuned until the end of the credits for a very short Plympton toon!

P.P.S. I recall an anecdote that took place some 12 years ago. Upon enlistment in NS, one of the first few questions asked by my BMT platoon sergeant on the very first day was "How many of you Air Levels (term used for those smart alecky A Level graduates like my batch) cannot stand vulgarities?", to which some idiots actually raised their hands.

The reply by my sergeant? An emphatic "FUUUUUCK YOU!" which I swore lasted a good 5 seconds at least.

The reaction? One of stunned silence naturally, and a to-the-point introduction to the army - a whole new ballgame altogether! :-)

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

My Love

One of those rare non-movie related posts that will creep occassionally into my blog.

On the surface, this is the music that my friends and I have been waking up to every morning in Hong Kong during the Film Festival, because one of us set it as the music to play when the morning call from his mobile phone went off.

If you wanna dig deeper, and I'll be deliberately cryptic about it, this is something that I want to say, and something I hope to be able to do so in film.

Bring back the memories....

My Love
Justin Timberlake

(feat. T.I.)

Ain't another woman that can take your spot my-

If I wrote you a symphony,
Just to say how much you mean to me (what would you do?)
If I told you you were beautiful
Would you date me on the regular (tell me, would you?)
Well, baby I've been around the world
But I ain't seen myself another girl (like you)
This ring here represents my heart
But there's just one thing I need from you (say "I do")

Yeah, because
I can see us holding hands
Walking on the beach, our toes in the sand
I can see us on the countryside
Sitting on the grass, laying side by side
You could be my baby, let me make you my lady
Girl, you amaze me
Ain't gotta do nothing crazy
See, all I want you to do is be my love
(So don't give away) My love
(So don't give away) My love
(So don't give away) Ain't another woman that can take your spot, my love
(So don't give away) My love
(So don't give away) My love
(So don't give away) Ain't another woman that can take your spot, my love

Ooooh, girl
My love
My love

Now, if I wrote you a love note
And made you smile with every word I wrote (what would you do?)
Would that make you want to change your scene
And wanna be the one on my team (tell me, would you?)
See, what's the point of waiting anymore?
Cause girl I've never been more sure (that baby, it's you)
This ring here represents my heart
And everything that you've been waiting for (just say "I do")

Yeah, because
I can see us holding hands
Walking on the beach, our toes in the sand
I can see us on the countryside
Sitting on the grass, laying side by side
You could be my baby, let me make you my lady
Girl, you amaze me
Ain't gotta do nothing crazy
See, all I want you to do is be my love
(So don't give away) My love
(So don't give away) My love
(So don't give away) Ain't another woman that can take your spot, my love
(So don't give away) My love
(So don't give away) My love
(So don't give away) Ain't another woman that can take your spot, my love

Ooooh, girl
My love
My love

[T.I. talking]
alrigh, itz time to get em J.T.
i dont know what she's hesitating for man...
[T.I.'s rap]
Shorty, cool as a fan
On the new once again
Still has fan from Peru to Japan
Listen baby, I don't wanna ruin your plan
But if you got a man, try to lose him if you can
Cause the girls real wild throw their hands up high
When they wanna come kick it wit a stand up guy
You don't really wanna let a chance go by
Because you ain't been seen wit a man so fly
Friend so fly i can go fly
Private, cause I handle my B.I.
They call me candle guy, simply 'cause I am on fire
I hate to have to cancel my vacation so you can't deny
I'm patient, but I ain't gon try
You don't come, I ain't gon die
Hold up, what chu mean, you can't go why?
Me and you boyfriend we ain't no tie
You say you wanna kick it with an ace so high
Baby, you decide that I ain't your guy
Ain't gon lie ,I feel your space
But forget your face, I swear I will
St. Baths, Anguilla anywhere I chill
Just bring wit me a pair, I will

I can see us holding hands
Walking on the beach, our toes in the sand
I can see us on the countryside
Sitting on the grass, laying side by side
You could be my baby, let me make you my lady
Girl, you amaze me
Ain't gotta do nothing crazy
See, all I want you to do is be my love
(Love) My love
(Love) My love
(Love) Ain't another woman that can take your spot, my love
(Love) My love
(Love) My love
(Love) Ain't another woman that can take your spot, my love

Ooooh, girl
My love

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

[SIFF] Aki Ra's Boys (Asian Premiere)

In warfare, besides being picked off by a sniper with his long range rifle, having to face landmines probably ranks up there in terms of fear factor. Buried beyond the naked eye, and activated either through pressure or trip wire, it maims or kills, and survivors often are without limbs. The area of destruction is relatively large, and a small device can be packed with enough shrapnel to take out many in a single discharge, and to rattle troop morale. Larger ones can be used to take out armoured carriers or tanks too.

James Leong and Lynn Lee have crafted an intriguing documentary with Aki Ra's Boys, with Cambodian boys Boreak and Vannak being the titular boys mentioned by virtue of the screen time they have. They aren't ordinary, they are victims of landmines, and have lost one of their arms when inevitably playing with live mines left behind during the war. It's not a pretty sight as they demonstrate up close how it hurts, and show you their stumps, and you wonder how they keep themselves uplifted as they remind the audience that at times, it actually hurts.

Hanging around the Landmines Museum at Siem Reap, Cambodia, Boreak brings you on a typical tour, introducing the weapons of destruction in accented English like an expert in the subject, rattling off the destructive capabilities of the mines as a matter of fact. But the documentary's not all gloom, as most of the images captured were how the boys and their fellow peers make the best of their situation, and seem to have quite a bit of fun in their regular games sessions. I was also impressed by Boreak's maturity, and his earnestness in wanting to provide for his family.

James and Lynn also allowed us to observe Aki Ra at work, which is probably one of the scenes which will make you wince. A soldier in the Khmer Rouge regime, Aki Ra now devotes his time and effort into demining Cambodia, putting his skills as a mine layer to good use, in removing the mines to prevent any innocent lives lost, or injured severely. Probably the best in the business, he had defused more than 30,000 of them, and the entire sequence of him going through the process of demining in a rather haphazard manner, will make you cringe, even though you know nothing bad will happen with all the frequent knocking and clanging (otherwise James and Lynn wouldn't be around for the screening!)

Not without flaws, I thought the documentary indulged a little in the scenes at Angkor Wat, and was a little repetitive with Boreak showing off his WWE Championship impersonations, dragging out the third act. But all in all it's an incredible effort in bringing us scenes from the ground, in one of the world's most heavily mined countries, showing us the lives of those impacted by this particular weapon, and the little personal stories on hope and perseverance, in making the best of what we have, to try and do a lot more.

I'm already a big fan of James and Lynn's works, the previous documentary feature being Passabe, I'd rue the chance I had during HKIFF where I could witness the world premiere of their latest documentary Homeless FC (had to fly back to Singapore on the same day), and I am crossing my fingers that Homeless FC will make a screening here soon!


James Leong and Lynn Lee were present today for the screening of their documentary Aki Ra's Boys. The following was the Q&A session which transpired after the screening. Do note that it's not verbatim.

Q: What was the duration spent in making this documentary?
A: Lynn mentioned she met the kids about 4 months before shooting, and over a 6 month period, the actual filming took 3 weeks, and a one week for follow up.

Q: How did they meet the boys?
A: Lynn met Boreak when she was in Cambodia to film another documentary, and noticed him performing a dance amongst a group of girls, and his obvious missing limb. When she approached him to be in a film, his first reaction was to run away! Thankfully they managed to get in touch with Aki Ra (and hence the rest as they say was history).

James shared that the Landmines Museum was in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and Boreak's village was actually 100km away, but because of the condition of the roads, it took about 6 to 7 hours to reach. The place where Aki Ra was demining was somewhere near the Thai border.

With a crew of 3 (James, Lynn and their technical manager Rajesh), they were actual more afraid prior to being on site to observe and film Aki Ra sifting for mines, but when they were on location, it was kind of hypnotic watching Aki Ra going about his job, and the fear went away during the filming process. With Aki Ra's experience with defusing more than 30,000 mines, there's no other person better to follow into a minefield, than him.

James and Lynn also shared that they had a translator to bridge the language barrier, and their toughest challenge faced was editing something in a language that you don't understand - how to cut it an dmake it work. They had 26 hours of film, and actually subtitled all of it.

They were also asked about the status of Boreak, and they mentioned they actually went back in Feb this year to show the film to the boys, but Boreak wasn't present as he's in school. And in fact he's taking school more seriously now, and is really tall, calmer, and less mischievous. They also didn't get to meet Boreak's father as he's a soldier and not at home a lot.

Q: Were the boys more "showy" when the cameras were turned on?
A: When the cameras were on, Boreak actually did a lot more of his WWE Champion mimicry.

I thought one question asked was quite impolite, but probably had to be asked so that misconceptions could be cleared - the documentary wasn't staged (James also shared they filmed many interviews, and were able to use them as an underlay), and that they do not share the philosophy of having to pay people they film, so as not to cause the folks/interviewees to be beholden to them and doing what they want them to do. However, a token donation was made to Aki Ra's museum funds.

You can read more about the production process from James Leong and Lynn Lee's blog

[SIFF] The Changi Murals (World Premiere)

I only remember one other time where a local short film had its world premiere here to much fanfare. The organizers clearly were of the opinion that most of the sell out crowd were here to view Boo Junfeng's The Changi Murals, but I thought that most were here for James Leong and Lynn Lee's Aki Ra's Boys instead. In any case, I thought Aki Ra's Boys was the real deal, and The Changi Murals the sideshow, even thought it was played first.

I would have expected that a film on the much talked about murals, with its rich backstory, would have made a compelling, deep, and emotional movie. While it was beautifully filmed, it seemed a bit sterile, in having a rather unrealistic looking set, POWs who seemed to be well fed as opposed to well publicized pictures, and a story that didn't engage. It was rather superficial in its treatment of the murals.

Although it was supposed to be lyrical, there's something lacking in the way the short tried to achieve its objective. Hopefully, a feature version, with a relatively larger budget, might do this topic some justice, and this probably be a short teaser to what it could have wanted to be.

Anyone curious about the murals, might have better luck from a site like this one.


Boo Junfeng was present today at the National Museum Gallery Theatre for the World Premiere of his short film The Changi Murals. The following was the Q&A session which transpired after the screening. Do note that it's not verbatim.

Q: Were there was any problems with getting the expatriate actors for the roles?
A: It was difficult and close to 2 months were spent looking for the cast.

Q: The environment looked quite clean. Was it like that during the times?
A: Much effort has been taken to recreate what it was like as much as possible. The locations within the camp were not too bad actually, and quite well kept, because it was in a hospital as Stanley (the character in the film) was suffering from dysentery at the time.

Junfeng shared that he didn't want to assume what it would be like for a POW, and decided to go lyrical, and let the images, natural surroundings, and the murals speak for themselves - perhaps it's more of an interpretation of the murals.

Q: Is there an intention to make a feature film from this short?
A: The inspiration came from my knowing of the murals for a long time, and given I live in the same area in Changi, it intrigued me that the place where I live at one time had atrocities committed, and had POWs living around the area. I did think it had feature film potential, but for the obvious the lack of resources to make it.

Q: Why the 6 months of preproduction?
A: I was in NS at the time, and the scale of putting it together was quite huge for a short film, as you can see from the end credits. I had to also find people and tried to engage professionals, as well as to find the time to do it.

Q: Did the actors look anything like the real persons they are portraying, or were certain artistic liberties taken?
A: Naturally if you look at the body shapes of expats in Singapore.... we had to select the skinnier of those who turned up for the auditions.

Junfeng revealed that the faces on the murals were actually based on fellow prisoners, so he decided to feature a lot of these faces in the film, coupled with plenty of tight shots. He also shared that the murals were restored 3 times after the War ended, and twice by Stanley himself, who was an art teacher in school when a colleague sounded out to him about some murals found in Changi. In the 60s when they were discovered, almost nobody knew the murals existed. Only when they were clearing a storeroom did they realized that the site was an ex-chapel, and the murals had been covered by another layer of paint - the murals were completed in 1943, and one mural was destroyed by the Japanese when they converted the site into a store room.

Q: What was the effect that the murals had on the Japanese soldiers, as depicted in the film?
A: From the book, the chain of command of the British and Australian army were pretty much intact, so the Japanese were there literally as guards and nothing else.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Good Shepherd

Can You Be Trusted?

A shepherd tends to his herd, and keeps a lookout for that wolf in sheep's clothing. Robert De Niro directs The Good Shepherd, written by Eric Roth (who also wrote Munich, Ali and The Insider), a tale about the early days of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), its founding and the black eat black world of spy versus spy, as seen from the fictional Edward Bell Wilson (Matt Damon), tasked with the responsibility of setting up the all important counterintelligence wing.

Clocking in at almost 3 hours, it is time well spent, as you observe how this side of the world really works - with its truth, supposed truth, and fabricated lies which look very much like the truth. Through Edward's experiences, you realize, just as he was warned very much early, that things are always not quite they seem, friends can be enemies and enemies friends, and that the only person you can ever trust, is yourself. And sitting through the movie, you'll feel somewhat frustrated as you also partake in trying to make sense of statements, of trying to figure out just who's who and who's right (or not) in this double-triple crossing world where betrayal and distrust are tasks to handle day to day.

And does this constant looking over your shoulder and distrust affect your personal life? Sure. We see how Edward's own is a little screwed up, and while he keeps his serious demeanour on all the time, he's actually quite a casanova. Trapped in a loveless marriage with Margaret (Angelina Jolie) with whom he married out of responsibility, we see how his profound deep sense of patriotism always put his country above self and family, thus bringing in so much tension, and it seemed to show that men in his position, have a hard time with work-life balance.

The ensemble cast makes this picture very riveting to follow, and Matt Damon trades his fisticuffs as Jason Bourne for a more stoic performance as THE man within the circle of trust who's entrusted with the responsibility of learning from the British, and then setting up the counterintelligence team from scratch. Rarely smiling, strict looking, and possessing this no nonsense attitude. Being on the hot seat, he puts in quite a one-dimensional performance for the character of Edward, but you can feel his pain and dilemma of having to be the best character judge out there. Angelina Jolie has yet another flower vase role, with nothing much to do except to exude pain from within each time she gets rejected by Edward emotionally.

The narrative is fractured and there's a constant flashback which weaves itself into the current timeline, making the flow quite jarring at times. By not having a younger actor for Edward in his youth, you'll have to rely very much on the dates that are shown to put yourself in the correct timeline. Up until almost two-thirds of the movie does the past catch up with the present, and it becomes easier then. Despite being billed as a movie about the founding of the CIA, you don't get to see that much, and the Agency more or less just sprang into existence in the movie.

Despite its flaws, those who like the usual spy-vs-spy movies will enjoy The Good Shepherd. However, do bear in mind that this is not a fantasized stylized action movie like Bond or Bourne. There's no big-bang action pieces, but plenty of mind games, behind the scenes, and in actuality, a personal story of one man's struggles with grave worldly uncertainties and its share of shady characters.

The Last Mimzy


Directed by the current CEO of New Line Cinema, The Last Mimzy is a children's fantasy movie which goes along the grains of having its children protagonists developing special powers, communicating with one another and with an alien object that no adult (or anyone else for that matter) can, and to help save some futuristic civilization. Sounds like a typical walk in the park for any children's movie you might add.

The Wilder siblings Noah (Chris O'Neil) and Emma (Rhiannon Leigh Wryn) find a mysterious box with strange markings, containing some weird toys, amongst which includes a harmless looking soft toy bunny christened Mimzy. Soon enough Noah starts developing intellectual prowess bordering on genius and like Peter Parker would do without eyeglasses, while Emma, with Mimzy clutched closely to chest, starts to exhibit powers that a psychic would, in addition to being able to play five stones that float and with a light show included.

As parents and adults (Noah's schoolteacher and his wife), they have a natural tendency for disbelief and to second guess the children, as all adults would in a made for children's movie. And the authorities are hunting for them, just as they would, as targets of a resulting city wide blackout.

If anything, the chemistry between the child actors playing the siblings is believable enough, and you would agree with me that Rhiannon Leigh Wryn is adorable as the kid sister whose innocence and love play a crucial role in the movie's plot. There are a few moments with injected humour, which I thought Asian audiences would identify with immediately with Kathryn Hahn's role as a "numbers" obsessed lady, and for technical geeks, watch out for that logo (I've actually had a friend who was expecting it to pop out, and to our surprise, it did!)

Expect the rudimentary plot development, characters as well as special effects that are just functional rather than to wow. It should serve as pretty interesting for a kid, but for an adult, we would have already seen other more superior stories, beginning with Spielberg's ET.

Friday, April 20, 2007

[SIFF] Feet Unbound (Asian Premiere)

Today marked the Asian premiere of Ng Khee Jin's documentary Feet Unbound, which recounts the Red Army's Long March in China during tumultuous times in China after the collapse of the Qing Dynasty. It was a military retreat of over 200,000 troops on foot over 12,500 kilometres which lasted for almost 3 years, and the film looks at the event from the point of view of the female survivors, as well as the narrator Elly, a journalist from Beijing.

In a way, the documentary doesn't run along conventional presentation. You would expect a documentary to be the mouthpiece of the filmmaker, adopting the filmmaker's point of view, and everything else that fell into place, comes from the director himself. However Feet Unbound provided another parallel perspective, and that's from Elly, who's also in turn interviewed to share her thoughts. So while the director had a vision at the helm, a separate voice was added, and thus it may seem at times to contain a separate narrative.

The gems were of course the interviews with the women survivors of the Long March. In their twilight years, they still possess some spunk as they recollect their experiences, and watching them tell their stories in an animated manner, you can't help but wonder how passionate they were really like back at their peak. Some shared and sang a number of the propaganda songs used to boost morale during the difficult times, and you'll feel their pain when they tell of the hardships of the time, as well as the frequent hunger pangs from the lack of food, fighting three different battle fronts as they battle against the Guomingtang troops, the warlords, as well as Mother Nature.

This is a very technically sound documentary, and it captures the picturesque landscapes of rural China beautifully. I like the soundtrack especially, an original composition which was performed by the renowned Tang Quartet. The last time I saw the Quartet in action was during a Coco Lee concert in Singapore back in 2000, and I wonder if there would be anymore local films who will tap on the Quartet for film soundtracks.

Chinese women of noble births had their feet bounded to keep it small. Some say it was for aesthetics, as it made walking quite difficult - balancing and all - and those with big feet are automatically labelled as the peasants as they need to work the fields. Those who took part in the March naturally had their feet unbound, and signalled probably for the first time, the women being able to exercise their freedom of choice - to join the movement based on the promise to better their lot.

Elly,in her journey to retrace the steps taken, pales in comparison obviously as most of the travelling was done in a chauffered SUV versus the journey made on foot. Despite the length of travel, this documentary remained very palatable in its compact runtime, and the many precious anecdotes peppered throughout made it extremely watchable.

Director Ng Khee Jin was present to grace the occassion of Feet Unbound's Asian Premiere, and to him it was a special one as it's like a homecoming for the film. While technically an Australian production, he added that it's entirely made by a Singapore production crew.

There were questions about the narrative of Elly included in the film, as a reporter on her own trip, with impressions taken from her journal. Somehow the director-writer's voice didn't come through, or not as clear - so the question was, whose voice was it meant to be for the audience to follow. Khee Jin explained that the film was unscripted, and it was a conscious decision to introduce the voice of a younger woman and her impressions of the Long March, besides hearing first hand accounts from the older women survivors, who were there to recount history from their perspective.

Khee Jin shared that the filming was done over a year, with pre-production carried out over 4 to 5 weeks, while actual filming took place over 8 to 9 weeks. The biggest challenge he faced was when the original talent (Elly was actually the replacement) had to back out of the production days when they were starting to shoot. She was a reporter from Xinhua News Agency, and because of some breaking news she had to cover, she couldn't take leave. Khee Jin freaked out, though that reporter introduced Elly, and the result is this film. Other challenges he faced had paled in comparison.

Khee Jin also revealed that the idea behind including Elly's personal life, with the matchmaking and her dalliances with relationships, was actually not to tell a simple, straight, direct story. He wanted to include a perspective from what a typical modern Chinese woman is like, as compared to the women on the Long March - who were truly the first generation of the modern Chinese woman, with the promise of equal rights. He wanted to show how China had moved on, and to essentially contrast the evolution of the Chinese woman. He made Elly keep a journal of her experiences each day, and discovered there was a parallel story from the journal entries, where she was at a point of her career where she's losing interest.

There were some in the audience who were repulsed by Elly's character (probably the perceived promiscuity, and her open attitudes toward flirting and sex), and for Khee Jin, it was an eye-opener to be together with the audience to feel their reactions - the Chinese crowd tend to loathe Elly, while the Western audiences were actually fascinated by her character. These were obvious differing reactions, as are some points at which the audience cracked up.

In the film, there was an archival black and white clip used quite often cited from "WanShuiQianShan" (1959) (which literally translates to "ten thosand waters and thousand mountains"), an early propaganda film which Khin Jin thought to be the best one about the Long March, and he used it in Feet Unbound to show some aspects of the actual event.

Feet Unbound is Khee Jin's first film, and a personal project of sorts. When asked if he had faced any objections from the Chinese authorities, Khee Jin said that it was shot without a permit! The initial point of inspiration was when he first read about the Long March about 20+ years back, and from the two books which was listed in the end credits as having inspired the film, Khee Jin mentioned that they were probably the only 2 books out there which was about women in the Long March.

The Last King of Scotland DVD

The bio-pic The Last King of Scotland, about Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, has recently got its DVD released. Loaded with powerful special features, The Last King of Scotland DVD includes audio commentary by director Kevin MacDonald, seven deleted scenes with optional director commentary, a “Capturing Idi Amin” documentary, a Forest Whitaker featurette and other extras as listed below.

The Last King Of Scotland DVD is available in both full screen and widescreen versions, and features English Dolby Surround 5.1 as well as Spanish and French Dolby Surround and English, Spanish and French subtitles.

Bonus materials include:
• Audio Commentary By Director Kevin MacDonald
• Seven Deleted Scenes With Optional Audio Commentary By Director Kevin MacDonald
• “Capturing Idi Amin” Documentary
• Forest Whitaker On Portraying Idi Amin Featurette
• “Fox Movie Channel Presents: Casting Session – The Last King Of Scotland ”
• Theatrical Trailer
• International Trailer

You can read my review of the movie here, and you can make a purchase of the DVD directly from

Watch out for my review of the DVD soon!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Hills Have Eyes II

Baby Wants Mommy

I had actually liked the remake of Wes Craven's Hills Have Eyes, which was shown here last year. Directed by Alxandre Aja, it was top notch violence and gore which actually sent a chill, because the victims were an innocent family out for a holiday, and to see them getting systematically deeper into trouble, somehow makes it rather horrific to sit through.

While its predecessor was shown here with cuts, The Hills Have Eyes II is shown here in its full gory glory. However you wonder, just where did all the blood and gore had gone. Written by father and son team Wes and Jonathan Craven, the follow up movie (also a remake of the sequel to the original) seemed to be lacking in flavour and spirit. Sure the mutants are back, but there's very little space given to set them up, or enough time for you to identify and distinguish one from the other.

Did director Martin Weisz opt to play it safe? There's tension built, but nothing too riveting. The narrative is simple and straightforward, without much thought into trying to capture the X-factor why the original had worked somehow. Attempting to shock just for shock's sake, the movie opens with the birth of a child, in the most un-Discovery Channel manner, before introducing us to the victims, I mean, characters, and a short scene to link the events from its predecessor.

Again the military's dirty hands are in this one. Gone are the family, and in comes a small squad of National Guard trainees. It's soldiers versus A-bomb mutants, so the numbers come in handy to build up the body count. But in fact, none of them died in any creative manner. It's the usual hack jobs, and more uninterestingly, through the use of their carbines. Boring, and I guess too many movies outdoing one another in the creative death department, has taken its toil on this one, where simpleness and sure death like falling from great heights without the camera flinching, go unappreciated. Truth is, you know that it's a camera trick, and boy, are there a number of recognizable indoor shots for this outdoor movie, that makes it look cheap.

By the time it takes for these rookie soldiers to complete their training to the dark side and become cold killers (fighting for their own survival), you'll be more than in a hurry to head for the exit. To enjoy this movie, the usual leave your brains at the door cliche applies. Just make sure someone doesn't take a real machete and help you put it there.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


No You Can't See

If you were salivating at the prospect of Ryan Gosling and Rosamund Pike getting hot and heavy under the sheets as suggested by the trailer, well, just so you know, all those uber sexy scenes got snipped off. Not that it's the work of the local film censors, as it's passed clean without cuts here, and watching the film transition between the scenes, it's gone without a hint of a bad edit. Somehow it's good to rid of the distractions to focus on the much touted cat and mouse game between Sir Anthony Hopkins' character and Gosling's, vis-a-vis a face off between a multi-award winning actor, and a young up and coming rising star.

Anthony Hopkins' Ted Crawford seemed very much like Hannibal Lecter, no matter how anyone, even Hopkins, tries to disprove the notion. Perhaps it's after the recent dismal and disappointing Hannibal Rising, that audiences would do just anything to suspend disbelief and imagine it to be Lecter's return to the big screen done right, with that glint in the eye and the wry smile. I won't be surprised that someone in the crowd would have half expected Crawford to eat his wife after shooting her in the head. And Hopkins would have to showcase his acting chops once again, having done so with his Hannibal going up against luminaries like Judie Foster, Julianne Moore, Edward Norton, and now, Ryan Gosling.

Gosling too had his fair share of playing a character obsessed with committing the perfect murder. In 2002's Murder by Numbers, he and peer Ben Chaplin did just that, and had to contend with Sandra Bullock's detective. Here, Gosling crosses over to the DA's office, his Willy Beachum a high flying scheming legal eagle who can't wait to spread his wings and soar over to the private sector for the fatter paycheck. Given his successes and reputation for wins, he takes on the State versus Ted Crawford case, in what is believed to be a simple open-and-shut legal suit, with signed confessions and what not, only to have his arrogance serve his downfall, and his redemption at eating the humble pie. As the old Chinese proverb says, "the older ginger is hotter".

Courtroom dramas are nothing new to director Gregory Hoblit, having helmed films like Primal Fear and Hart's War. However, those who are expecting sparks to fly between defendant and prosecutor in the courtroom will be a tad disappointed. Hopkins and Gosling spend too little time together sharing the same scene and playing off each other's energies, and perhaps rightly so, otherwise everyone will be thinking it's yet another Hannibal tale. The spotlight is firmly set on Gosling, as we see him struggle against being soundly beaten by his adversary, and the fight against succumbing to temptation (OK, so he gave in and did it with his boss, but that we don't really see. So...). His Beachum is all about the seeking of redemption, in doing what's right, to try and put things right, nevermind if the result doesn't turn out the way it should be.

Rosamund Pike continues her Bond girl type role, in being the token eye candy amongst two leading men showcasing their acting chops. Her go-getting, domineering private sector lawyer-mentor-supervisor Nikki Gardner who lusts after Beachum (yeah, the editing made it seem she's the one sending the signals) contrasts with her inner needy girl who can't take no for an answer. I suppose much of any depth in her character were snipped away to the editing floor, which is a pity, as her character came across as rather inconsistent.

There are a number of themes put forth in Fracture, some of which are topical, even to our own city state. Things like the lure of the private sector and that distinct smell of money, the imminent departure of the civil servant, the true calling of the public sector etc. What I thought was intriguing enough is the entire perversion of justice, laws, and the exploitation of loopholes which Crawford milks to perfection, that technically one can really walk away from a crime if you do your sums right.

Those who are alert might find the revelation a bit wanting, and it's a full circle kinda lesson learnt about being overconfident leaning towards arrogance. It sets up the fall perfectly, but becomes anti-climatic given the dogged need for closure and doing so in too quick a time and coincidence. Then again, you might also consider that perhaps this is the most politically correct, face saving way to settle a stand off between a veteran, and a promising star.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

[SIFF] Before We Fall in Love Again

Life in Mono

Before We Fall in Love Again was shown free at the Goethe-Institut as the free programme schedule for the SIFF draws to a close. Tomorrow, the event proper begins with the Opening Film Sankara. Malaysian writer-director James Lee's follow up to this movie, Things We Do When We Fall in Love, is part of the SIFF's official selection, and somehow I'm regretting a little if the tone of the follow up to his Love series is anything like this one.

The. characters. speak. like. that. and. only. after. long. pauses. To put it simply, it's excruciating slow, and for someone who likes their images peppered with sound, there is a void of background music to cue your emotions. You do not know whether to feel sorry for the characters, or ridicule them for some of the weirdness they exhibit. It's not an easy movie to sit through, especially when the material to begin with seemed forcibly put on screen. Some scenes were too long, and at times felt unnecessary in order to stretch its length.

Don't get me wrong, I thought the story was fine, but the delivery could have been improved. Before We Fall in Love Again tells the story of two men and the same woman they love. One, the husband (played by Chye Chee Keong), who's at a lost, trying to find out where his wife disappeared to, without a word. The other, the wife's lover Tong, played by musician Pete Teo, who looks up the husband to talk about Ling Yue's (Len Siew Mee) disappearance.

It's an interesting character piece where the two male leads interact and discovery slowly, just who the love of their life really is like. As one character puts it, it's a meeting of the cuckold and the loverboy, as their stories about Ling Yue unfold through a series of flashbacks. The camera stays pretty still for the most parts, and shots are medium to long, putting the audience into the shoes of voyeurs as we observe from afar, the love triangle between the three. I believe this is one of the rare films I've watched where the woman is actually the player, though one of the two guys isn't any saint himself.

As I mentioned earlier, those who prefer their movies with background music, and plenty of snappy dialogue, might want to steer clear of this black and white movie. Unfolding primarily in a period of a single day/night, the narrative contained at times some funny moments, but nothing truly genuine for laughs. Certain scenes do get repetitive, and it seemed to have a liking to focus on the mundane (brushing of teeth anyone?). The final act seemed to have cramped too much into too little, introducing a couple of side characters on the fly without much tie in to the main plot.

Your despair for the movie to end will parallel the emotions that the characters feel for their dilemma to come to closure. I hope the follow up movie will pick up the pace a bit.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Mukhsin TV Spots

Here's a series of Mukhsin TV spots with the Silky White product tie-in, directed by Yasmin herself as well as Ho Yuhang (he's in Mukhsin too, see if you can spot him!)

Episode 1 - directed by Yasmin Ahmad

Episode 2 - directed by Yasmin Ahmad

Episode 3 - directed by Ho Yuhang

Episode 4 - directed by Yasmin Ahmad

Episode 6 - directed by Ho Yuhang

Episode 7 - directed by Yasmin Ahmad

Sunday, April 15, 2007


Yeah I Want See

Turistas is a clear cut Hostel wannabe. The similarities are obvious, with a group of backpacking tourists having the time of their lives, only to have their vacation cut short after taking advice from outsiders, and find themselves in compromising situations which threaten their lives. It's a race against their aggressors as they try and escape... doesn't it all sound so familiar?

The slasher genre cannot be more overcrowded than now. With franchises such as Saw and movies like Hills Have Eyes, Hostel, Wolf Creek and son on, we brace ourselves for more, with the sequels of the previous two mentioned movies coming out soon. I guess such movies, filled with sex and violence, will continue to be made until the box office start to show signs of severe dents and become unprofitable, and hey, I'm not complaining, until now.

While you have to tip your hat off at the attempt at tying in urban legends (which could be true) about missing personnel and the sweeping statements made at organ donation, the execution (pardon the pun) of this movie, is nothing short of basic formula - sex and nudity at the beginning (though nothing much to see), followed by plenty of blood, gore and violence to end it all. In fact, the build up takes so long, you wonder if they had forgotten all about the need to put the characters under some form of duress and emergency, remembering to do so only in the last 30 minutes of the film.

Even then, this movie is a walk in the park compared to its more gruesome counterparts. Boasting only one major gory scene which will be likely to make your stomach churn, everything else is a long stroll to making things happen. In fact, having a director of underwater photography credited in the opening, is warning enough - there is a severe overindulgence of underwater scenes, which is neither interesting or exciting, and dragged on for too long. With its inadequate lighting and repetitive actions of surfacing for water, this is perhaps candidate for worst non-action-sequence-ever.

If you must scratch your itch in watching a gory movie, then hang on to those precious dollars until The Hills Have Eyes Again. Unless you're a fan of the Las Vegas television series, then you might want to check out one of the rare big screen outings of Josh Duhamel (who plays Danny in the series). Otherwise, wait until Michael Bay's Transformers hit the big screen, he's in that one too.

[SIFF] Match Made

Family Ties

Occasionally, you see media reports in the local papers highlighting the increase in the number of foreign brides (and grooms) in Singapore, with the majority from the Indochina region. Mirabelle Ang's documentary Match Made is based on a Singapore man's search for a Vietnamese bride, and begins in thick of the action in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).

In 48 minutes, we accompany Ricky, a furniture salesman in his late 30s, who through a local matchmaking agency set up by a Taiwanese, goes in search for a bride. Filmmed in 2004, Mirabelle covers the spectrum of the process, from engaging the agency, to the introduction of a host of possible candidates in a selection process held in a hotel room, the initial fleeting discussions through an interpreter, the marriage, where you get to witness first hand a Vietnamese wedding ceremony and the customary lunch/dinner, as well as a visit to the bride's farming village.

Match Made offered a singular viewpoint from the perspective of a bride hunter, and I thought she captured quite well, the unsettling nature of choosing one's bride from a buffet train. To date I still cannot fathom how anyone can choose someone to spend one's life with like that, akin to a flesh parade, and how with methodical, clinical, business-like demeanour, everything gets settled in less than 4 days, including the marriage itself, the meeting of the in-laws etc. It's all for the money probably, as what the amount that the family finally gets, offered some elevation from dire straits for a while.

The documentary does ask the usual questions, like why the girls are willing to participate in such a matchmaking deal, with the usual answers dissing the local men, to good stories heard about Singaporean men, and the hope of living abroad in comfort. It does ask certain probing questions to the matchmakers - the agency as well as their local agents, in trying to find out more about the selection and shortlist process, and while the answers are forthcoming, you do feel a sense that there is more than meets the eye.

And certainly in the way the documentary was shot, there were a lot more depth that could have been explored, but somehow the filmmakers didn't manage to follow through completely. The ending felt quite rushed, especially in the interview back in Singapore - the audience just gets a few cursory responses from the interviewee, and nothing else. Perhaps it is the nature of privacy, that the ending, wrapped up in inter-titles, tells of a lot more pain behind the scenes that the subjects do not wish to be further interviewed on camera?

One can only speculate. However, Match Made has done its fair share of demystifying the machinery behind these matches made in foreign lands. An interesting revelatory documentary that despite its flaws, will still manage to garner your undivided attention.

Smokin' Aces


I've enjoyed Joe Carnahan's earlier movie Narc when it was shown here years ago, a gritty undercover narcotics cops and robbers story with Patric Jason and Ray Liotta as a crazed unorthodox cop. Here in Smokin' Aces, a few of the same techniques are employed as to the presentation and style in which the movie was shot, and it makes this movie such an adrenaline rush.

The movie's title refers to the the wanting to bump off Buddy "Aces" Israel (Jeremy Piven), an acclaimed Las Vegas magician with ties to the Italian mob, and who's about to squeal to the Feds and thereafter vanishing into the Witness Protection programme. Naturally, the mob has a contract put out, and all the bounty hunters and contract killers, from the likes of Ben Affleck to Alicia Keys (yup, in her first action movie), congregate in a Lake Tahoe hotel to try and lay claim to Aces' life.

Standing in their way are two FBI agents Richard (Ryan Reynolds) and Donald (Ray Liotta again, from Wild Hogs and Carnahan's Narc), whose perspective of the case we take on, and journey together up until its revelation, with so many twists in store, that you can't help but to pay close attention. Loaded with plenty of guns and shoot em ups, Smokin' Aces delivers enough thrills and spills for the action crime thriller fans, especially when there are ample opportunities presented due to the presence of a large ensemble cast.

What's interesting is to observe how professional hitmen go about their business, in wheeling and dealing their way, inching as close as they can to the mark. With a deal as hot as this, two or more groups going in at the same time, in a speed race, will naturally set their gunsights on one another, intentionally or otherwise, and it's a blast to see how they wriggle in and out of such situations, in classic black-eat-black scenarios. Having battles on many fronts make this a never-ending roller coaster ride.

But it's not the action that's top notch - violent, brutal and bloody, which is easy to degenerate the movie into a blood sport, but the ending which I thought is a bit unconventional, though nonetheless powerful. It's a sign to the authorities, who are always screwing up, tripping themselves with cock ups and protocols, that enough's enough, and to quit the bullshit talk. I've never been held breathless at an ending for some time already, and Smokin' Aces gets that credit.

Highly recommended to those who like their thrillers take the necessary build up and assembling all the chess pieces, ready to strike at any moment, followed by the unleashing of plenty of mayhem right up until the end. Smokin' hot!

Wild Hogs

Born to be Wild

Major stars getting together for a road trip? Sounds like fun to me, and if the trailer was anything to go by, it was potential for serious laughs as middle aged men band together for some serious male bonding session while hitting the road. Wild Hogs are what Doug, Woody, Bobby and Dudley call themselves - biker dude wannabes who spend their free time mucking around a biker pub, sharing their life's woes.

Doug (Tim Allen) is a dentist who gets no respect from his son and suffers from a self inflicted diet regime, Bobby (Martin Lawrence) is a henpecked househusband working in between his novel and The Firm, Dudley (William H Macy) is a geeky computer programmer who doesn't have the guts to speak to girls, and unofficial leader of the pack Woody (John Travolta) seems to have it all on the surface - riches and a Swimsuit Illustrated wife, but little does anyone know he's a bankrupt undergoing a divorce.

Watching them moot the idea of a road trip on bikes - to ride hard and ride free, seemed to have rubbed off on me. If I had a bike license, hell yeah, I'd do that too with a bunch of like minded buddies, hitting the road on a trip to somewhere, a destination in mind, but absolutely zero planning on how exactly to get there. Revving those Harleys on a highway is a romantic idea, making pit stops wherever there's a need for gas, to replenish supplies or to answer nature's call.

The trailer for Wild Hogs actually contained some of the best parts from the movie, and most of the good bits happen in the first half of the film. Toward the second half, you come to expect that the experience the guys go through together will have changed them for the better, though contrary to the notion of a road trip, they seem to be stuck at a single location toward the end, thus the movie started to sag both in pace and the lack of interesting happenings to spice things up.

I thought watching William H Macy in a comedic role was truly refreshing, and he almost has all the best lines in the movie. Juggling the other big named actors isn't easy, and Martin Lawrence's role turned out to be the most undefined, and somehow not as interesting as the rest. John Travolta really piled on the weight here, though he showed shades of his boogie Saturday Night Live days. The supporting cast of Ray Liotta and Marisa Tomei were surprising additions, and John C McGinley's involvement would probably be the best scene in the movie, as the cop who catches our heroes in a compromising situation out in the woods, made worst by their dialogue uttered while half asleep.

And if all that isn't enough, throw in Kyle Gass (Tenacious D and the Pick of Destiny) hamming it up with contemporary pop tunes, and a soundtrack worthy to take along during a long road trip. Wild Hogs is really fun to watch, with a somewhat sublime message of remembering to take some time off for some serious recreation and vacation. It's feel good all the way, with boys who never really quite grown up.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Love and Honor (Bushi No Ichibun)

Eat a Bowl of Tea

Love and Honor is the concluding chapter to director Yoji Yamada's loose samurai trilogy. Personally, I have enjoyed the other two, Twilight Samurai and The Hidden Blade, because they are extremely well made, and have important stories to tell, rather than focusing its energies onto huge action sets with plenty of sword wielding, and Love and Honor is no different.

Shinnojo Mimura (Takuya Kimura) is a lowly Japanese samurai, who's employed by his clan as a food taster. It's a dead end job with zero job satisfaction, and Shinnojo reveals in a conversation with his wife Kayo (Rei Dan) that he dreams of opening up a kendo dojo of his own, and recruiting students to teach regardless of their caste. It's a noble dream, but one that is cut short when he gets blinded during one of the food tasting sessions, eating sashimi made from fish which is poisonous when out of season.

Like its title suggests, Love and Honor is an intense love story based on those two themes. With Shinnojo handicapped, fears are abound within the family that without a job, they will lose their status and material wealth. And Shinnojo's growing negative attitude toward life doesn't help either. Stress befalls Kayo, and on the ill advice of her aunt, she seeks to find a powerful samurai Shimada (Mitsugoro Bando) to help them out of their plight.

No man enjoys his wife having to bring home the bacon on his behalf, especially not when it involves favours with another man who's vastly superior, not in feudal Japan. It's an interesting character study into the 3 characters, of love, defending of honor, envy, jealousy. And it all comes to an end in what I thought was a very touching finale. As mentioned, don't anticipate any sword fighting action to be a huge spectacle. Rather, the one here seemed to be rather rooted with realism. When it boiled down to the sword, every slash, parry, thrust seemed made with measurable consideration, with forceful purpose. Given Shinnojo's blindness, don't expect Zaitochi styled super-samurai feats, and in fact, Shinnojo's struggles are more to do with things from within.

Takuya Kimura, whom I last seen in 2046, has aged for this role. He looked mature and pretty much left his pretty boy days quite far behind to bring certain gravitas to his character. Rei Dan in a debut is on par with the recognizable female leads in the previous trilogy movies, and is excellent too in her role as like the other female characters, and a memorable one too. And not all's bleak in the movie, with Takashi Sasano's servant character Tokuhei bringing about some light hearted moments with his earnestness and wit.

Samurai movies have been possibly enriched by Yoji Yamada's trilogy contribution, and Love and Honor triumphs slightly over its predecessors to bring the series into a fitting close. Recommended!

Friday, April 13, 2007

The Letters of Death

Khun Mahasamut and I

This Thai horror had one surprise for me, in that it stars Mahasamut Boonyaruk in its lead role. He had mentioned this project during his visit to Singapore last year, and Letters of Death is it.

It's not a perfect movie, and in more ways is campy rather than horrific. Entertaining for a while, but largely forgettable. What I liked about the movie, is the theme of self-preservation. Watch it to know what I mean.

To read my review of Letters of Death at, click on the logo below:

Nightmare Detective (Akumu Tantei)

I Dream of You

John Constantine existing in your Nightmare on Elm Street, except that this Nightmare Detective is suicidal.

I'm discovering that I'm slow becoming one not to enjoy fantasy flicks, but for everyone out there, this is perhaps one of the better alternative offerings around.

To read my review of Nightmare Detective at, click on the logo below:

Thursday, April 12, 2007

[DVD] PTU (2003)

We're Cool Like That

The reason why I bought this was simple. Since I was on a DVD buying spree, and had picked up Johnnie To's The Mission (see review here), I thought I might as well pick up yet another of his movies which I have not watched, and so PTU presented itself because of the price, and the uber cool slip case cover.

PTU, or Police Tactical Unit, is quite unlike To's movies like the Election series, or The Mission. Here, we look at cops. Ordinary cops, who like everyone else, just want to go home safe and sound after their tour of duty. The movie started off with the sounds of the bustling streets of Hong Kong, before we find ourselves inside a police truck, with everyone in sombre mood during their trip to their patrol grounds of Tsim Sha Tsui, and listening quite ominously to an announcement over the radio regarding the death of a cop.

And so begins am eventful night, which is the time period where PTU takes place in. We follow quite a number of characters - Lam Suet as Lo from the Anti-Crime Division, whose firearm was lost during a scuffle with thugs, and forms the crux of the story in which the lives of everyone else in the movie revolves around, Maggie Siu as Kat, sergeant of her team of PTU cops, and Simon Yam as Mike, her counterpart leading the other team. It's a great character study piece of the three main characters, initially one who knows he's in lots of trouble for the loss, and desperately trying to recover it, in order to save face, and keep his reputation intact for an upcoming promotion, Kat's sense of doing what's right, following procedure, and Mike, who's willing to risk it all to help another of his own "for kay" (slang for cop).

Under To's direction, PTU is a brilliant visual piece. Creative use of light and shadow illuminates PTU, making it a visual spectacle, so much that you'll still enjoy the movie even if you turn off the volume. I particularly enjoyed the rather quiet moments which were plenty throughout the movie, rather than the usual wham-bang kind of action with guns ablazing. In fact, a shot is never even fired, until the end-all finale, combining all the separate threads of the story into one heck of a finale. What could probably raise eyebrows, are the unorthodox methods employed by the upholders of the law. You can't help but ponder over the methods, and how the lieutenants either turn a blind eye to, or are in full agreement with the provocative procedures meted out by their captain. Surely a talking point, if fire should be met with fire when dealing with scum.

There are many subtle touches in this compact tale of less than 90 minutes, with the ubiquitous mobile phone being so important as a plot element, and that strong sense of irony in the narrative. And again in To's cops and robbers / triad movies (though I may be wrong), it seemed that the cool soundtrack which is peppered throughout the film, seemed to stem from a single primary theme music, this time with some electric guitar riffs.

PTU doesn't get bogged down by wasting time explaining the many whys and how comes, and prefers to zap you right into the moment. It's the sense of contemplative urgency that makes it compelling to watch, and every turn brings something unexpected. The ending is particular interesting too, especially for those who have written statements in uniformed groups - you surely know what they're doing!

If compared with The Mission, then this Code 3 DVD from Mei Ah is relatively better in that it came packaged with an interview each with director Johnnie To and lead actor Simon Yam. Unfortunately the interview clips are not subtitled, so unless you understand Cantonese, you're at a loss.

Johnnie To shared that PTU explores underlying notions, and ideas that there is no such thing as true justice. It's also an exploration into how cops look at themselves, and amongst their colleagues. He also talks about face and reputation, and of the violence and unorthodox methods employed by the cops. This interview runs approximately 10 minutes, and a word of caution, it contains spoilers, so do not watch this segment before you watch the movie!

Continuing directly after To's interview, is one with Simon Yam. Running about 7 minutes and 25 seconds, Simon shared how this role in PTU was refreshing and extremely challenging, and revealed that the toughest scene for him was the one at the diner for supper, which called for complex emotions to be internalized and expressed. Again the interview comes without subtitles, and is in Cantonese.

Other than that, the other Special Features are the theatrical trailer which runs 2 minutes 4 seconds, a "Data Bank" section featuring a one page synopsis of the story in both English and Mandarin texts, as well as a crew and cast credits list (text based, nothing fancy), and a "Best Buy" section consisting of a trailer for a sex-comedy tele-movie titled "20|30 Dictionary" (or directly translated from Chinese as "Guy Girl Dictionary"), starring Chapman To and Athena Chu. Again, this trailer comes without any subtitles.

PTU's menu selection is animated with clips from the movie, and has scene selections over 6 chapters. Audio comes in Dolby Digital Surround 5.1 either in Cantonese or Mandarin, or DTS in Cantonese. Subtitles are available in Traditional or Simplified Chinese, and in English. The English subs doesn't have any glaring inconsistencies or errors, so it's all good.
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