Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Iron Man

Talk to the Hand

First things first, don't be a dweeb and leave the cinema hall before the end credits roll till the end. Contrary to some of the earlier reviews and reports, there IS a scene after the usual copyright and coincidental canned messages get their air time, and fanboys out there will cheer, as did I and at least 50 other folks in the hall who stayed behind. I'm not kidding and I'm putting the credibility of this entire site to say that it involves a certain Samuel L Jackson (yes, it's not cut from the print, and to those who cannot take even spoilers about this, skip the rest and proceed to the next paragraph) who introduced himself as a certain Mr Fury from S.H.I.E.L.D, and also a mention of The Avengers! And you'd think you were only teased with a potential War Machine in the sequel if it happens. Tsk!

With a little tinge of shame and regret, my rare dalliances with the Iron Man character stemmed from a few one off comic books, as well as occasions during the teenage years of spending time in the arcade with those Marvel games, where Iron Man was one of my preferred characters because it came together with his incredible arsenal of weapons from repulsor beams to this gigantic cannon which accompanied the execution of some complex combo moves. There's something sexy about the red and gold suit of armour, and having an array of weapons at the disposal of a player, makes perfect sense for variety in dispatching your enemies.

This may irk the fervent fans of Iron Man, but face it, the superhero belonged to Tier B where superheroes are concerned, languishing behind easily recognizable peers who already have movie after movie being made. But thanks to the advancement in digital technology, bringing Iron Man to life no longer consisted of the prospect and worrying thought of having a man running about in a rubber suit passing it off as metal, the way Ultraman would have been done, complete with mechanical clicks and whirrs as sound effects to try and fool the visual sensory. Here, we have a very detailed rendering of the entire design from scratch to final modification, and we're in at every step of the way, with many cheeky and sometimes a tad implausible scenes just for cheap laughs thrown in.

I thought Iron Man the story worked because of stark (pardon the pun) similarities with Batman Begins, also an origin story which took its time to dwell on the man behind the suit, nevermind at the sacrifice of having less action sequences, or by not giving the fans what they want through the showcase of more than the basic powers. Advanced capabilities can always find room in the sequel, and as the first movie used to establish its characters, I felt that it succeeded, given too that it had a cast of capables (just like Batman Begins had) to pull the movie through without resorting to over the top and campy performances, starting of course with the lead in Robert Downey Jr.

In a nutshell, Downey is Tony Stark through and through. His affinity for the character shines, and no doubt it bore some parallels between his own personal, and Stark's life in the narrative future when he hits the bottle. He was allowed to become a Two-Face of sorts, on one hand being and later acting out his flamboyance self whose mission in life was the continuation of his father's legacy of Stark Industries, a weapons conglomerate, versus his personal mission in ridding his own weapons from the hands of the bad guys, now updated to be freedom fighters in the Middle East. The dialogue contained within each scene of Stark's, except perhaps during captivity, is full of one-liners done in double quick time, you probably would think it boiled down to a whole host of natural ad-libbing.

But while Starks spends significant amount of time in his unsecured basement building his masterpiece, his human interaction come in the form of faithful secretary Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) who actually, for the first time I admit, looked really good on screen as Stark's most trusted aide, bringing about some serious spark of sexual tension and chemistry between the two characters of opposite sex, more so than any other comic book movie I have seen. And good friend from the air force Jim Rhodes (Terrence Howard) complete the circle of trust who knows of Stark's secret identity, and you'd be keeping your fingers crossed at the toss of a teaser of a certain War Machine appearance should the sequel be out.

Who's the main villain in the movie? It points the finger at Corporations, or at least here, the weapons manufacturers and the shady deals that go through in the name of profit, the sole objective for any corporation's existence. And Jeff Bridges, in a rare villanous role, got to personify that greed and wrestle for absolute power just like the trailer already suggested. While his performance is refreshing as he disappears behind the ball head and bushy beard, you could see his motivation and how the plot would have been developed to introduce the ultimate fodder for Iron Man to duke it out in a, sad to say, ordinary finale which any audience would probably be able to stay a step ahead.

As mentioned earlier, there are plenty of similarities with the Dark Knight of Gotham in Christopher Nolan's reboot, but more so because of properties inherent with the likeness between Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark. Both are incredibly wealthy to devote time outside of the day job to pursue their "hobby", both have to suffer personal tragedies in order to wake up to the cruel world, and in the movie, both fall prey to the corporate raider type, spend time perfecting their suit of war, have assistants they would trust their lives with, and of course save them from impending doom, and a finales set at their facilities.

But Iron Man is still a special effects extravaganza offering a thrill ride especially when he goes into battle mode, and without a doubt, Robert Downey Jr probably should be credited for raising the profile of this once Tier-B character, to perhaps becoming more recognizable now, and obviously, expanding the fan base of this weaponry filled suit of metal, which of course, in this origin movie, we were only given a glimpse of its potential. can everyone now spell sequel and clamour for more please? Iron Man has set the bar for the other upcoming comic book movies to try and surpass this summer season!

I'll Build Yours in the Sequel

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Holy Poster Glut Batman!

Friends would know I'm a big enough Bat-fan to have a post like this up on my blog. So just when you thought that Batman Begins had too many posters, The Dark Knight just went into overdrive, and that's not to mention the number of viral sites and gimmicks that keep on popping up all over the Internet.

These were two of the earliest, which shows Batman overlooking some miscellaneous skyline for The Joker

And of course this made it clear that the skyline is Hong Kong's. Just what is Bats doing there, only the movie will tell...

Then there's the ultra-creative Why So Serious campaign

And this one is amongst my favourites, which I thought would probably send out chills if put up properly and strategically in a theatre premises, as if The Joker was really behind the poster panel...

Then you have the complimentary "Don't Piss With Me" head shots

Got Dart?

Got Card?

Erm... Got Badge?

And of course, all three can be combined together to make one mega poster

This one goes into my books as one of the most bad-ass posters of all time, inspiration probably borrowed from The Crow. Unless of course you start to wonder just who the heck had the time to blow out the windows in that fashion.

But This????


Sheesh, I no like the Bat-pod already...

Monday, April 28, 2008

Money Still No Enough - 10 Years of Jack Neo Movies

It's been 10 years since Money No Enough, and Jack Neo and his merry men from J-Team have gone to make no less than 11 feature films in the last decade, each one growing from the strength of the other, and most of which have broken the million dollar mark at the local box office. This evening, friends, cast and crew from his filmography turned up in full force to pay tribute to a local filmmaker who's possibly the most hardworking, often writing, directing, producing, starring, and sometimes even having a hand in crafting the funny songs featured in his movie. Talk about "bao-ka-liao"!

You can read my event coverage of "10 Years of Great Jack Neo Movies" at by clicking on the logo below.


And here's a blast from the past review of Money No Enough, a movie which is now being re-released for a limited run at GV cinemas:

Money No Enough is still holding the record for the highest grossing local film to date (over S$5 million), and with its tremendous box office success, this movie sparked a thought that made-in-Singapore commercial films do have a chance at the box office. It also heralded a slew of various copycats trying to jump on the same bandwagon, such as Where Got Problem and Lucky Number.

Written by Jack Neo, and directed by Tay Teck Lock (not Jack Neo, contrary to popular belief), this movie contained plenty of dialect dialogue, which probably was unprecedented for its time, as well as a slew of vulgarities which flew off the characters tongue with ease. Naturally these were unheard of in Jack's popular Comedy Night television variety cum comedy show, given strict television guidelines, and hence, having screen characters SWEAR and in DIALECT, was a bit of a novelty for local audiences so used to hearing the same thing at home, amongst friends or at coffeeshops.

And speaking of coffeeshops, it is almost de-facto that a local movie needed to feature one in order to be a bona-fide local movie. Money No Enough opens with a montage and a theme song, before settling down at a kopitiam (coffeeshop), where three friends, an office worker (Jack Neo), the ah-beng contractor (Mark Lee), and the kopi-kia (coffee boy) Henry Thia, converge and presented the first of many social commentary on the government and the people, of course, laced with comedy.

While many of the characters are stereotypes and caricatures, such as the aunties (mis)behaving in a hospital, loansharks and on insurance agents, most roles are politically incorrect and make no apologies for it, as they are exaggerated for local audiences to laugh at ourselves.

Some of the issues brought up might seem dated, but still hold certain truths in this time and age (it's only less than 10 years old, but already some landscape changes can be noticed). Issues like money or the lack thereof in a materialistic society, the graduate-non-graduate divide, and the keeping up with the Joneses are a reflection of the times in the late 90s during the economic crisis.

In any case, the hallmarks of a Jack Neo (written) movie can be seen to have started from here (although there were already some obscure HK/Taiwan movies that he had starred in). With the fusion of topical events from any coffeeshop talk's flavour of the moment, comedy, catchy songs, and caricatures, perhaps these is the success formula of making a viable commercial movie, given he's one of the few local filmmakers who almost consistently delivers at the box office.

Money No Enough is not without flaws, and it is fairly obvious from the raw delivery in sound. The ending is particularly weak, which is quite wasted given that it has an engaging beginning and middle portions in the vein of a good Hui Brothers styled movie, just that it didn't know how to end with a bang.

Nonetheless this movie has already set a record, and remains the local film to beat in terms of dollars. I would reckon for those interested in the revival of local films, or to chart the progress and sophistication of Jack Neo movies, then this is perhaps the movie to begin with.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Dance of the Dragon (龙之舞)

Kiss of the Dragon

I had initially rolled my eyes knowing that the title for this dance movie had to have the word "Dragon" in it, as I thought it's about high time we move away from mystical creatures and martial arts with movies based in Singapore, coupled with a very surreal setting of what seemed to be Chinatown, since no other races in our multi-cultural society were represented, not even as a token. But that aside, this International movie with cast and crew from the US, Australia and Singapore, made for a very standard film with good production values, though it had plenty of room to inject what was lacking the most - heart.

Not that it was absent totally. There are three distinct characters here, each played by someone of different nationality, and had in their own fiefdom, crafted scenes within their own comfort zone, but when put together, seem to have awkwardness stamped all over it. I shall begin with the strongest. This is no doubt Jang Hyuk's vehicle, as he stars as Tae, a Korean whom as a boy, thanks to his mother who took him to a dance performance, fell in love with the art, and vow to pursue this dream of his despite not knowing how to, and facing great opposition from his father, who deemed it a sissy sport and would have preferred he picked up martial arts as a hobby. So when he reached adulthood, and with savings from his factory job, he bids his parents goodbye, and off he comes to Singapore to attend a dance audition.

American Idol style no doubt, with artificial caustic remarks being thrown about by a lacklustre panel of three, but not before having a Singapore Tourism Board approved montage of the usual Singapore Skyline, Esplanade, Raffles Place et al shots that always plague every Singapore-based movie. And from here, let's move on to Fann's Emi Lim, whose signature is so easy to copy, I could've written plenty of cheques in her name. A has been dance instructor whose weak ankle meant a halt in competition, her retirement at the top of her game allowed her to sustain a school with plenty of students who can groove (much better than her of course), while she harbours the thought of one day returning to the ballroom. Taken in by the strikingly good looking Tae, coupled with the fact that he's a virgin (of dance), she relishes the challenge of unlearning what he had learnt, without partner and teacher, and I tell you, always cock teases him so much so that he begins to fall for her.

Alas Emi has a beau who doesn't pay her any attention, and Jason Scott Lee fills in this jealous boyfriend role with flared nostrils and wide hard-staring eyes with aplomb. As Cheng, who's also a has-been given his injured knee (a lot of injured has beens in this movie, and this pair's like made one for the other), his dojo, set up opposite the dance school along the same Wong Street, is running in the red, and he deals with shady characters like Lim Kay Tong's in order to keep his school afloat. Not happy with the good vibes between teacher and student, he tends to show off a lot of his martial arts capability in a bid to scare off the newbie dancer, only to set up an inevitable showdown between the two in due course.

To the movie's credit, the story's quite coherent, except that it relied on a number of cliches to carry the movie through, and not necessarily for the better. There were plenty of superficial subplots and elements that could have been developed further given the running time of close to 2 hours, but instead there were a number of slow moving scenes which while nice to look at, didn't provide depth any more than to establish some background for the characters. Amongst all, I liked Tae's story best, well since he's the main character and had adequate screen time dedicated, where the relationship between him and his father was one of the strongest in the movie with so much meant despite so little being said. Besides, I always enjoyed characters who can learn by observation or from books and videos, and in doing so, lack the basis of understanding which can sometimes plague their execution.

And there are a couple of really creative and unexpected development which I thought I had it nailed, but was wrong. Which of course is a plus point. But the more important question here is, can the leads dance? Scenes of dancing together were limited, and for the most parts Fann and Jang Hyuk danced solo. They were given plenty of opportunity to air the armpits, and the filmmakers were smart to have spliced little set pieces together rather than have dances in one continuous motion and scene, since this will definitely expose plenty of shortcomings especially for Fann's Emi, supposedly being World Class and all. What was worse, was the sudden inject of the song Hero by Enrique Iglesias, which I thought was somewhat inappropriate for a ballroom dance sequence, but I suppose fitted the scene at the time.

Thankfully though, the rest of the score for the movie was beautiful and memorable, the same one in which you can hear in the trailer. If memory serves me correct, almost every scene had a score to accompany the visuals, making it a rather musical film to sit through as well, though at times you have to grit your teeth as Emi seem to have a knack of spouting hokey dance philosophy. Production wise, I would liken it to last year's Cages where it's a different, beautiful side of Singapore being put on celluloid, almost romantic in quality and dreamlike.

Dance of the Dragon is not all bad, just that it lacked some amount of heart and detail to truly make it excellent. There's no doubt fans of Fann and Jang Hyuk will turn up in droves to catch this movie (like in today's screening), though there are also those who decided that enough is enough and had to walk out. In my opinion, this movie shouldn't have warranted that, but just don't set your sights and expectations too high in wanting to watch a movie with superb dancing or martial arts, of which it has neither, but took effort to craft believable scenes as best as it could.

Hansel & Gretel

We're Not Demonic! We Need Love!

I thought I'd foam in the mouth with yet another demonic kid horror movie, given the countless of such genre movies out there which set out to make innocent looking kids harbour plenty of ill intention behind them. But I thought the original Hansel and Gretel fairy tale was quite dark too, especially with the ending. You know, the kids who come to know of this gingerbread house where everything and anything can be eaten to fill their empty stomachs, only to culminate in their stuffing of the owner into a large stove so that they can take possession of the property to live (and eat) happily ever after.

OK, so if you believe my synopsis of the fairy tale, then you, like me, probably saw what many others don't. Anyway this Korean movie doesn't come close, only remotely in a certain scene, and the borrowing of the English title. The gingerbread house got replaced with a nice looking and inedible cottage in the middle of lush forest, though the amount of artificially coloured food still remains the same. Instead of two kids, we get three, who seem happy on the outside, but inside harbours some deep, dark, and unseen secrets. Until of course the movie decides to explain it all, as expected, in the last 30 minutes to make everything sensible.

While the poster might suggest horror, it's more of a thriller with little surprises. We all know that there's always some hideous back story that made the characters who they are currently, and almost always involve some bad episodes in life thus far. This time, it involves adults, and these children begin to develop suspicion of all adults who come into their lives. Pity Eun-Soo (Cheon Jeong-myeong), who got involved in a car accident, and got led by one of the children to live with them in their house. But the family in the Happy Children's Home, don't seem all the bit normal, and soon he discovers that he too seemed trapped within this surreal world with zero communications with the outside world. Heck, even the television's unplugged yet the only programme available is some really sadistic cartoon involving a rabbit and a bear.

The story might at first seem very ordinary though bleak, but grew from strength to strength as it went on, nevermind weak attempts at trying to elicit some cheap scares. I thought its basis of a story was strong, even though it did have a very screwed up version of the fairy tale most of us probably already know about. The set designs and art direction were all beautiful to look at, and most times you'll shift your focus to admiring the sets when events start to get repetitive, with Eun-Soo's attempts to get out of the house and the enchanted forest in more than 4 attempts, of course thwarted each time. Supporting characters like the adults who come and go, at first might make you scratch your head, but let that be the least of your worries, because once Santa Claus came visiting, you'll have to suspend your disbelief, otherwise this movie wouldn't work.

Hansel and Gretel's a pretty decent thriller, a mix of groundhog-day-ness with the usual trappings of cheap horror movies, boosted though by its rich production values. Themes of wanting to belong and non-reciprocated friendship, together with major trust issues, lift its plain storyline, and all round fine acting by the kids who will at first scare you, and then lead you to want to give them all a hug.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay

For reasons unexplained, I did not watch Harold and Kumar in their quest to look for White Castle on the big screen, even though movies like these are right up my alley (I need to de-stress from time to time, with what a friend of mine would describe movies like these as "cock shows"). However, I did catch the best bits (heh) of the original movie when I was waiting for things to happen on a film set, though technically I have still yet to watch it from start to end. With the sequel now being screened, I am so there already.

Beginning directly where the first movie had left off, Harold Lee (John Cho) and Kumar Patel (Karl Penn) are now en route to Amsterdam, weed capital of the world, where they can indulge in their favourite drug and be high all the time. Secondary objective is of course Harold's quest to look for Maria (Paula Garces), and on the way they bump into Vanessa (Danneel Harris), Kumar's ex-girlfriend who introduced him to the world of marijuana. But with the idiotic duo, what you see in the trailer had to happen, and being accused as agents of North Korea and Al-Qaeda, they get sent to Guantanamo Bay where they soon bust out of.

Like the first movie, we follow these two jokers from incident to incident, each playing like a stand alone comedy skit, as they try to evade capture from the Department of Homeland Security, and now with their new quest of looking up Vanessa, so that they can get her influential fiance to get them off the hook, coupled with Kumar's own vendetta of disrupting the upcoming wedding proceedings. I was somewhat surprised that this movie had some semblance of a flimsy plot to follow, such that it's not mindless random episodes all the way (such as throwing in the KKK out of nowhere).

The jokes come from you at all angles - verbal, slapstick, and sometimes just plain irreverent. And for those who are anal retentive, you'd probably foam at the source material for most of the jokes, ranging from the homophobic to the racist, executed so sublimely, you'd probably feel guilty for laughing out loud at the funny bits. And what's a movie like this without the usual gratuitous shots of body parts, female and male, with genitalia on display without a tinge of embarassment. What more, the camera lingers, especially when filmmakers Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg wanted to probably perpetuate their version of a happening bottomless party in your face. Yep, topless is overrated.

But I guess what made this movie click, was that it doesn't hold back, and dared to slow things down by dipping into melodrama-romatic moments which will raise your goosebumps. Friendship between the two idiots get tested, broken (momentararily) and healed faster than you can smoke a joint, and Love, well, let's see if the square root of three will make you go "awww" (some members of the audience actually did!)

All in all, Harold and Kumar rocks (Can't believe I'm actually saying that), and I guess it's time to hunt down a copy of the White Castle DVD to indulge unabashedly at their original escapade.

** P.S. Actually had a lot of complaints, but I will just summarize it as stating for a fact that the print at Grand Cathay was shite - a lot of noise, and a green line perpetually imprinted permanently on the screen. Also, the sound seemed only to come from the speakers in front, and the projectionist decided to give the middle finger fuck-you to 50% of the audience who stayed behind to see what happened to Neil Patrick Harris, by switching off the projector before the coda was played.

We Ain't Terrorizers, We're Idiots!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

5th New Zealand Film Festival - 9 to 12 May 2008

The New Zealand Film Festival 2008 is presented by New Zealand Trade & Enterprise. The Festival will run from 9 to 12 May at Cinema Europa, GV VivoCity. Guess what, all screenings are rated R21!

Screening Schedule

Friday 9 May
7.00pm - Remembering Ed (66 mins) + Coffee and Allah (14mins)
9.00pm - Perfect Creature (87mins)

Saturday 10 May
4.30pm - Tongan Ninja (85mins)
7.00pm - Once Were Warriors (90mins)
9:00pm - Flight of the Conchrods (2 episodes x 27mins) + Take 3 (12mins)

Sunday 11 May
4.30pm - Remembering Ed (66 mins) + Coffee and Allah (14mins)
7.00pm - Tongan Ninja (85mins)
9.00pm - Perfect Creature (87mins)

Monday 12 May
7.00pm - Perfect Creature (87mins)
9.00pm - Once Were Warriors (90mins)

Tickets at $10.00 per session are available from 24 Apr 2008 on-line at, AXS stations & GV VivoCity box-office.

SFS members are entitled to discounted tickets at S$9.00 per session on production of a valid SFS membership card in person at the GV VivoCity box-office (limited to one discounted ticket per member per session)

My personal selection of choice? I'll be catching them all if I can, otherwise it'll be Tongan Ninja, Perfect Creature and Remembering Ed!

Superhero Movie

We're Not Drenched

For a comedy which has animal humping and humping of dead bodies, being rated PG only means one thing - very certain censorship, and Superhero Movie failed to survive the censor's scissors, having an enormous, and I really mean enormous, chunk of the movie being removed. It was so badly cut, that the narrative doesn't make sense and takes you a while to try and mentally bridge the scenes together. I'm guessing it's a good 5 minutes being cut off, and a quick check at the box office reveals that it is censored due to religious sensitivities.

Seriously, in my opinion, anyone watching this movie would expect that anything goes and no topic too taboo to be made fun of. Pompous people shouldn't be watching this anyway, and would probably steer clear too, given so many other "normal" and safe movies to choose from this week, well, maybe perhaps except for witnessing how Harold and Kumar escape from Guantanamo Bay. I thought Stephen Hawking had it bad, being spoofed without remorse, and Tom Cruise became a punching bag too. And that's just two of amongst a host of celebrities being made fun of.

Making this comedy poking fun at the genre is a no-brainer. From Scary Movie having a go at the obsession of horror movies and horror remakes, to Epic Movie taking a comedic spin on movies testing buns of steel and Date Movie amping up the Comedic in the Romantic Comedy genre, there are the usual hits and misses, with those like Meet the Spartans sinking real badly. I must admit I was enjoying myself with Superhero Movie, laughing along with every joke that hit the mark, and laughing at those which were just plain lame. There are some moments of brilliance which was unfortunately featured mostly in the trailers, and as usual, those in the trailers didn't survive the final cut.

Drawing material from Batman, X-Men, Fantastic Four and its main storyline, structure and scenes adapting quite wholesale from Spider-Man (2002), it tells of the story of Rick Riker (Drake Bell) who's the Peter Parker clone, along with clones of Aunt May with Aunt Lucille Adams (Marion Ross) and the token Mary Jane Watson love interest with Jill Johnson (Sara Paxton). Leslie Nielsen lent his comedic pedigree as Uncle Albert Adams, while others like Pamela Anderson made unnecessary cameo appearances. The villain is a Green Goblin throwaway, though I thought some effort and creativity had gone into "Hourglass".

Depending on your mood, you might want something really dumb to while your time away after a long day's stress at work so don't approach this with all seriousness. It's unabashedly dumb, and doesn't pass off anything more than that. Stay tuned during the end credits roll as a chock full of deleted scenes and bloopers get played, though cannot compensate for the missing chunk that the censor's scissors took away. If you want to watch it uncut, then you'll probably have to get the DVD, from overseas of course.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

61st Festival De Cannes In Competition

"24 City," China, Jia Zhangke
"Adoration," Canada, Atom Egoyan
"Changeling," U.S., Clint Eastwood
"Che," Spain, Steven Soderbergh
"Un Conte de noel," France, Arnaud Desplechin
"Daydreams," Turkey, Nuri Bilge Ceylan
"Delta," Hungary, Kornel Mundruczo
"Il Divo," Paolo Sorrentino, Italy
"Gomorra," Italy, Matteo Garrone
"La Frontiere de l'aube," France, Philippe Garrel
"Leonera," Argentina, Pablo Trapero
"Linha de Passe," Brazil, Walter Salles, Daniela Thomas
"La mujer sin cabeza," Argentina, Lucrecia Martel
"My Magic," Singapore, Eric Khoo
"The Palermo Shooting," Germany, Wim Wenders
"Serbis," Philippines, Brillante Mendoza
"The Silence of Lorna," Belgium, Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
"Synecdoche, New York," U.S., Charlie Kaufman
"Waltz With Bashir," Israel, Ari Folman

Nim's Island

I Made Fire!

Fans of Abigail Breslin would definitely not want to miss this one, even though it's essentially a kiddie movie. Teaming up with Gerard Butler and Jodie Foster, I can't help but to imagine if Breslin's career would one day be an acclaimed one like Foster's is, given that after all the latter also started off as a child actor. Nim's Island is a refreshing change for me, one without the usual big-bang-boom trappings coupled with bad language, swear words and extreme bloody violence. It's in fact a perfect family movie for the kids out there and those who are still kids at heart!

You can read my review of Nim's Island at by clicking on the logo below.


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Go Speed Go!!

For those who can't wait to catch Speed Racer on the big screen (and Rain fans to catch your idol in his first Hollywood film), there's going to be a Charity Gala Premiere on 6 May at GV Vivocity.

Partnering Golden Village Cinemas, the Singapore Disability Sports Council (SDSC) will be leveraging on this premiere to raise funds for the sustenance of their sports programmes and services catered for the needs of people with disability. Undertaking all the three roles – Singapore Sports Council, Singapore National Olympic Council and National Sports Associations – in one, the SDSC is the sole body in Singapore that is helping people across all types of disability to earn the opportunity to play sports.

Tickets are going at S$25 each, and for those who want to pledge tickets to the beneficiaries, you can do so too! Contact Nolan at 6342 3565 or to book a hall for your employees/clients or buy individual tickets. More details can be found here!

Oh, and your ticket will come in a commemorative ticket holder too! I've got mine, and pledged 1 ticket, so do your part too :-)

Monday, April 21, 2008

Run Papa Run (一個好爸爸)

The Black Family

As far back as I can remember, Sylvia Chang was playing the tomboyish female inspector character opposite Karl Maka and Sam Hui in the Aces Go Places franchise, and it's been quite a transition for her from actress to acclaimed director. I haven't been watching a lot of her films lately, the last being Princess D and saw her in person during the local gala of the film. So in all honesty, I had decided to watch Run Papa Run based on her directing pedigree.

Run Papa Run reunites Louis Koo and Rene Liu again for the big screen, after their initial leading pairing in Happy Birthday. Here, they too play a couple that are polar opposites, Koo being in familiar territory as triad chief Lee Tin-Yun, and Liu as Mabel, an aspiring lawyer who decided to junk her high flying career to start a family with Tin-Yun, given after all, a shotgun wedding to begin with.

As most would say, fatherhood will begin to change a man, and for Tin-Yun, the arrival of daughter Hai-Yi begins an uphill battle within himself to change for the better. Gone are the recklessness of youth where fights and getting injured are part and parcel of territorial disputes, and begins to rebrand his illegal business to more legitimate ones, albeit some being a front for the same seedy business, but drugs is something he would not touch.

Sylvia Chang managed to present quite a sympathetic tale weaved primarily for the Tin-Yun character, and with deft touch provides multiple layers to his triad character, with ample comedic moments to lighten up the mood. Being essentially a superstitious character who has prophetic dreams (which we will see in an animated opening credits sequence), I thought Tin-Yun had provided some very interesting insights on his take of religion, having to convert to Catholicism, while yet maintaining his ties to Guan Gong, the deity of choice of many triad members out there.

But more importantly, it tells of the growing up of the Tin-Yun character over a period of many years, chronicling his ups and downs, rise and fall within the triads, though with good buddies Big Mouth (Lam Suet, check out his incredible hairstyle in the beginning), and Big Eyes, starring Max Mok in a welcome return to the big screen, even though both of them really didn't have a lot to do. As such, this movie is primarily a Louis Koo vehicle, and provided him a platform to showcase his acting range, while at the same time, crafting a very likable character. Rene Liu on the other hand, whilst given the meatier role in their previous collaboration Happy Birthday, clearly takes the backseat in this movie, as the long suffering wife whose pride and joy slowly drifts to become more like the father, who has spend a lot of time getting into and out of police stations, and finding it difficult to keep what Tun-Yun is doing, from their daughter.

However, the movie does take its time to tell its story, and toward the last act you do feel a little hard pressed for things to move a notch faster, as it creates a lot of subplots that you'd see coming from a mile away, which while nice to have, doesn't really contribute a lot to the story's depth. For Louis Koo fans, I know that this is one movie that you shouldn't miss!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Check It Out, Yo! (Chekeraccho!!)

Won't The Real Slim Shady Please Stand Up?

Check It Out, Yo! likely has flown under the radar of cinema listings here, given that the publicity machinery for this Japanese movie wasn't cranked, if at all. Along the veins of movies such as Swing Girls, Linda Linda Linda and even Hula Girls, what if a musical genre of sorts had male protagonists instead, just like how Waterboys did for synchronized swimming. Sounds like a no brainer idea, but while Check It Out, Yo! had its moments, it plateaued in its finale and didn't deliver the sucker punch required as per the previous movies mentioned, which is a pity of course. And it's not about the gender too.

The movie centers on Toru Isaka (Hayato Ichihara), a student at the crossroads of teenage life, who together with his good friends Tetsuo Tamashiro (Yuta Hiraoka, who was in Be With You and Swing Girls) and Akira Motobe (Tasuku Emoto) are trying to figure out what next to do with their lives. Their mutual female friend Yui Haebaru the tomboy (Mao Inoue) and wrestling freak, offers them a ticket each to the gig of the hottest indie rap band in town, the Workaholics, and it dawned upon them to aspire to be in a band too, given the countless female adulation that they will receive.

But given that they have zero experience in playing musical instruments, and an even non-existent track record in writing lyrics, it's all an uphill task made all the more challenging when they sign up to be the opening gig for the Workaholics, which means a do-or-die performance to deliver. And in between their training, Toru has to find time to romance his new crush Nagisa Nakamura (Ayumi Ito, voice of Tifa Lockhart of the Final Fantasy movies), the girlfriend of Workaholic's frontman Ryota Taram (Tetsuji Tamayama, from Nana), while at the same time being oblivious to the affections that Yui has for him, who in turn is liked by Tetsuo... my, my, the affairs of the heart do get complicated, don't they?

The movie was found to have been centered around this love heptagon, which meant that other aspects that you'd expect coming out of a musical, get casted aside. A pity of course, as there was only one hilarious and simply engaging musical sequence midway through the movie which highlighted their trials and determination to make it good in time for their performance, thanks to Yui's sister and brother-in-law, a large-sized hawaiian man who becomes the master of the boy's new band 098, but only just quite.

No doubt the visuals are extremely colourful and beautiful - I particularly liked those shots set in front of the aquarium - but these can't mask the relatively weak storyline despite having plenty of supporting cardboard characters like their individual, feuding parents and a teacher who can't get his personal relationships in order, to spice up the movie. And what I found to be an immense waste, is the entire sequence set up for the finale, which the finale failed to live up to, given that it's just a one song performance, and a truncated one at that too. While it may be cliche to have the protagonists succeed in the end, just like how Swing Girls and the mentioned movies had achieved, at least they left the audience with a sense of satisfaction in seeing how far they have progressed in their training. Here, it became a letdown, despite the potential that had been prepped.

However, Check It Out, Yo! Still remains a charming movie in its own right, barring the lack of a punch to the final moments. If you still intend to watch this, then you'd have to do so soon as it is likely to survive on screen for another week.

Funny Games U.S.

You're Not Funny

The next remake however, is an almost shot-for-shot, scene for scene treatment of Michael Haneke's own film back in 1997, now suffixed with U.S. in acknowledging the new funding and new cast that come to be in the movie. However, I question the real rationale why this would be remade for the modern audience, as the original seems like it's able to withstand the annals of time.

Of course having films remade this way is nothing new, with Gus Van Sant doing the same with Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, but at least it had someone else at the helm, probably wanting to challenge himself if his retelling, only with a change in case and everything else ceteris paribus, would be able to evoke the same emotional, horrific response. But I couldn't really understand a director remaking his own works, and a scene for scene one at that, except to perhaps work with a different cast in a different country.

Naomi Watts headlines the movie, and together with Tim Roth, they form the couple Ann and George, who with their kid Georgie (Devon Gearhart), are off for a vacation in their home away from home, and as the story goes, things start to get really strange when they begin to encounter the duo Paul (Michael Pitt) and Peter (Brady Corbet), dressed in white and in gloves, behaving quite strangely outside of social norms, and adamant in playing games as they soon find themselves captives under the hands of sociopaths.

While Haneke's intention of the original movie was to highlight the notion of senseless violence, I felt that having this remake done, is to bait folks like me who are back, curious to find out more, the second time round, despite being told that it's exactly the same. Like masochists who revisit their pain points, I too fall under this group of the curious, and again find myself being questioned on whose side am I on, and whether I'd begin to advocate violence against violence, as the only way to solve the issue at hand.

While Naomi Watts can play terrified, likely honed from her scream queen stint from King Kong, Michael Pitt deserves mention as the chillingly cold villain, and managed to equal Amo Frisch's performance of the same character in the original. Other than that, Tim Roth's character as usual is wasted, because his potential threat level has been reduced, and Brady Corbet as the partner also managed to equal Frank Giering of the original, though of course being more of a sidekick to Paul.

If one should recommend which version to go for, I'd say you can go for either or. But if you had already watched the original, then you might want to give this a skip as it doesn't offer any other new insights, since after all, it's the same story, development and finale, even right down to the heavy rock soundtrack used.


Master and Apprentice

Today marks the Remakes day, where I take a look at two movies which are given an up-to-date treatment, and not unlike the general others, these have the creative forces back to lend certain credibility that it's not run of the mill product.

First up is Sleuth, where Michael Caine returns as one of the two roles, but this time, playing the other character opposite the one he was casted in the original, making way to protege of sorts, Jude Law, to take over. It's quite interesting that this marks the second time that Law is playing a Caine character in a remake, the first being the titular role in the movie Alfie. If this keeps up, I guess by the time he rolls around his senior citizen age, he might as well gun for the role of Alfred Pennyworth in a Batman movie.

I have to admit that I was a bit apprehensive when I learnt of the running time of this remake, that it's almost half of what the original was. I wondered which aspects of the original story would be summarized or worse, compromised, and in the worst case, presented only one half of the story. And I was pleasantly surprised that this is not a blind shot for shot remake, but one which retained the core essence while providing a very shiny, glossy veneer to spice up the visuals. The original had looked too much of a stage play with quite gaudy sets, but in Kenneth Branagh's update coupled with Harold Pinter working on the screenplay, it became more posh and classy. And gone too is the creepily irritating clown.

As stated earlier, Michael Caine now plays Andrew Wyke, a renowned novelist whose wife is having an affair with Jude Law's Milo Tindle, a hairdresser. Wyke sets up a meeting with Tindle and the two begin to play a cat and mouse mind game, relying on wit and trading gentlemanly insults laced with puns in a one-upmanship fashion, both out trying to prove their worth to each other, and of course to stroke their own egos in the process. To tell you more will be to spoil the fun, but suffice to say that things do get a little interesting and extreme as the story goes along, at no time being boring,

Even though this is a remake, it will not bore those who have watched the original, as there's a little bit more explored and offered toward the end, which will certainly raise some eyebrows, and take you by surprise. Of course the tightening of the story helped, and doesn't indulge too much on non-necessities that dragged the original. Chemistry between Caine and Law is excellent as they feed off each other's energies in fleshing their roles, and Caine was actually more menacing than Laurence Olivier in the original as Andrew Wyke. Law on the other hand brings the usual roguish charm to Milo, and in a particular scene, I thought he probably would have been in contention as The Joker, and should Christopher Nolan require someone to step into the late Heath Ledger's shoes, then look no further - in any case Nolan has replaced actors for the same role before, so it shouldn't really come as a surprise if the Joker character survives past The Dark Knight.

Between the original and this remake, I would prefer this version instead, for its relatively more palatable run time, and keeping things moving forward consistently. Being updated for the modern times also helped, so if I were to recommend anyone interesting in watching Sleuth, go for the remake instead. The score for the movie is also mesmerizing too, and earns brownie points.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

[DVD] Talking Cock The Movie (2002)

Watching the movie again this weekend was indeed a great stress reliever, and goes to show that some of the jokes here have withstood the test of time, or at least I still enjoyed them after some 6 years later. Being a first film, the production values are a bit raw, though there are plenty of insanely memorable moments that still crack me up, so much so I can now rewind and replay those specific scenes to my heart's contend.

Being a lazy bugger, you can read my earlier review of the movie here.

The Region Free DVD is presented unfortunately in Letterbox format, and visuals are less than pristine, but still acceptable. After all, this is a re-release version, given that the the original release had been sold out! No audio selection available, but there isn't any obvious hiss and cackles. Subtitles are available in Good English ("Lunchbox" and "Cheese bun" anyone? Ha!) and Mandarin, just in case you can't understand Singlish - but that's where the fun is!

Kelvin Tong's Rule #1 Trailer autoplays when the DVD is popped into the player, but thankfully can be skipped. Scene selection is available over 8 chapters, and each time you switch between the menu options, you can hear the cock's cockadoodledoo. See if you'll go nuts by clicking in between menu options incessantly!

There are some Special Features included in this "Pow-Ka-Leow" Collector's Edition DVD, such as Trailer 1 (1:28) presented in letterbox format, and Trailer 2 (1:48) presented in Anamorphic widescreen, but extremely pixelated visuals. The Behind the Scenes feature (56:13), presented in full frame, is actually a Talk Cock Session with the directors Joyceln Woo and Colin Goh, interviewed by Jan & Yvonne Uhde who wrote Latent Images, a book about Singapore Film. Based on some of the context and discussion, the interview seemed to have been conducted some time back (the era before NC16 and M18 videos are allowed for sale). The filmmakers go through the inspiration for the movie, as well as discuss the mechanics behind certain scenes, how they shared directorial duties, and comparisons on the filmmaking scene here as well as in the US. Definitely a feature you want to sit through to find out a lot more about this movie and the thoughts of the filmmakers! While the swear words are bleeped out conscientiously in the movie, wait till you watch this feature haha! And guess what, there's the audition for actors thrown in as well, and they were told to talk cock, which they do, with some jokes that were genuinely insane! To round up this feature is a musical presentation with a look on set at the making of.

To round up the extra features is the Short Film 3Meals (19:17, in letterbox format) which is written, directed and produced by Woo Yen Yen and Colin Goh. Gorgeously shot and while not exactly having laugh out loud moments, there still are plenty to smile about in the story. And to tell you the truth, I bought the DVD just to watch this short, since I missed it at the 3rd Singapore Short Cuts 2 years ago!

[DVD] Love Lies Bleeding (2008)

Christian Slater has gone the way of Steven Seagal and Wesley Snipes, and that is going straight to the video market. I guess his pedigree won't see him hit the big screens anytime soon, so fans of his, if you're still out there, might want to check out the latest of his movies now at a video store near you. Pretty standard action flick with bad lines and mediocre action that just goes through the motion.

You can read my review of Love Lies Bleeding at by clicking on the logo below.


Midnight Eagle (Middonaito Îguru)

No Prime Minister

The opening film of last year's Tokyo International Film Festival, the reviews for Midnight Eagle has so far been less than stellar, and I was curious to find out why. I mean, a disaster-like movie with elements that threaten in epic proportions couldn't be all that bad, what with a nuclear bomb atop a snowy mountain, with the risk of a nuclear fallout causing death and environmental damage through all of East Asia, and a race against time to prevent it from happening, relying on the heavy shoulders of a few, seem like a stroll in the park right?

The Japanese are in familiar territory, given the experience learnt from the old days when Gozilla stomped Tokyo, right up to the recent Sinking of Japan remake, you'd come to think by now they can fuse the best practices from such movies, and put together something with enough thrills and spills to excite the action seeking audience. Wrong. In fact, nothing much really happens here, and I have to admit that Izuru Narushima is no Michael Bay, who can really pump the adrenaline in folks with just a clock on countdown. Here, although there's a need to wrap things up in 48 hours, everything proceeds with a severe lack of urgency.

Which really puts the damper for it to be a "race against time" thriller. In trying to tell a story in as large a scale as possible, it incorporated three fronts before converging them all in the finale (Transformers, anyone?), but does so in a very slow manner. You have the political front, led by Prime Minister Watarase (Tatsuya Fuji) who on one hand declines to reveal the incident to the public lest a panic occurs and he loses his job, and on the other pandering to the US request of maintaining confidentiality, because they had actually flown nuclear bomb carrying stealth bombers over the skies of Japan. Yes the USofA again conveniently becomes the blame victim just had how it was in Korea's The Host, which one wonders whether their allies are becoming tired of their military antics.

Then there's the "action" front with war photo-journalist Yuji Nishizaki (Takao Osawa), who on his frequent journeys to the Northern Alps, photographs the incident, and on the cajoling of his friend Shinichiro Ochiai (Hiroshi Tamaki), they decide to scale the mountain to investigate up close, only to have "agents" (North Korean spies actually, in lieu of the more politically correct subtitles) also on the same mission, but to finish off what was started. The duo need firepower to handle the adversary, and that comes from the Defense Forces' Major Akihiro Saeki (A-Saku Yoshida). Lastly, Nishizaki's sister in law, whom he isn't on good terms with, given the sexual tension between them (or so I read their body language), handling some events on the domestic front with some injured North Korean and his girlfriend, who holds the key to end the danger.

In some ways, it resembles Robert Redford's Lions for Lambs, which also has a battlefront created on the high mountains, while pencil pushing decision makers survey the action from the comfort of their warm, sparse bunker operations room. Since it's a drama more so than an action movie, a lot of extras are just sitting in the background, trying not to sleep while the actors emote, and looking prim and proper in their starched uniforms decorated with countless of medals. The Japanese seem to be unable to get rid of showing off technical superiority with long distance communications over huge television monitors that give unprecedented clarity in both video and audio, of course with plenty of loopholes abound too.

While there's a lack of urgency, the enemies are faceless too, with inanimate objects like "the bomb" and plenty of snow-camouflaged, masked soldiers armed with automatic machine guns and RPGs, so they don't really present themselves as menacing or life-threatening, just as another generic goon that gets dispatched easily. Midnight Eagle could have been a taut action thriller, but what we got was plenty of unnecessary drama that bloated the plot.

Friday, April 18, 2008

More Local Movies On The Way

And you'd think after 13 feature length narrative movies and documentaries the last few weeks during SIFF, there would be a drought? No way Jose, and this is just a flavour of things to come!

On May 1, we'll see John Radel and Max Manniix's Dance of the Dragon, produced by ex-television actor Robin Leong, and starring Fann Wong in a story which has kung fu and ballroom dancing. It looks gorgeous, but seriously, it's about time we move away from calling every frickin Asian movie Dragon-this and Dragon-that. Stiff competition for this one given that Iron Man premieres just a day before.

I had thought Eric Khoo's latest movie My Magic would debut at this year's SIFF, but of course not, since its sights is now set on making a Cannes Premiere! We've waited long enough for his follow up to Be With Me, so pretty please, when can we watch this, Eric?

Speaking of festivals, Wee Li-lin's Gone Shopping is part of the official selection at the Udine Far East Film Fest this April (this week in fact), though this is not the version that got played in the cinemas here last year, but a brand new Director's Cut. Now, would we get to see that version here, perhaps at Sinema Old School, or through a DVD release?

August will be an extremely busy month, since now that the National Day Week seem to fan that patriotic spirit within and everyone wants to go local. No less than 3 movies will be making their debut, with Kallang Roar the Movie by Chen Ding An flying way below the radar from Jack Neo's Money No Enough Too, and potential box office rival 1028 (Working Title) by Royston Tan.

Tan and Neo will be revisiting old material, with the sequel to Money No Enough (watch for the original making its 10th Anniversary return to the big screen in the next few weeks), and the prequel to 881 under Tan's new production company 10twentyeight. Kallang Roar should prove interesting for older football fans as you'll probably have a field day watching lookalikes having a ball of a time at the open-close-open-close-open National Stadium, which has become the subject of at least a few local shorts and documentaries, one of which I am aware should make its debut once the Grand Dame closes its door, for good!!

September would be interesting, and this is my personal highly anticipated local movie so far. From the studio that brought us the beautifully shot Becoming Royston, comes a movie called The Days, directed by Boi Kwong.

Looks like we'll have our own version of Young and Dangerous! Richard Low and Yeo Yann Yann play supporting roles to essentially an unknown cast, but eye-candy enough nonetheless to put bums on seats.

And speaking of eye candy, ex-Miss Malaysia Andrea Fonseka makes her feature film debut in Michael Wang's The Carrot Cake Conversations, due out probably in October. Check out the posters, and the teaser!


Really interesting times ahead for local movies! Keep the flag flying, and most importantly, show your support by watching them, instead of throwing potshots based on wild guesses and conjectures. See you at the (local) movies!

The Forbidden Kingdom (功夫之王)

Journey to the New West

Put 2 of the largest Asian stars together in an action comedy may be a no-brainer, but it sure took long for someone to finally greenlight and get the project off and running. But when word was that Jet Li and Jackie Chan were to square off in a Journey to the West type of story, I guess that sent shivers down the spines of their fans, wondering who would play which character, especially the coveted role of the Monkey King. While I shall not reveal it here, it again is safe to say that like match-ups, there are obviously no clear winner, and The Forbidden Kingdom plays it safe too with a cop out of a fight between the two masters.

But surprise, the story did give what fans were after, watching both Li and Chan pit their choreographed skills against each other in nothing short of at least 10 minutes, aided by plenty of wirework, and a variety of parodying moves from classic kung-fu inspired by animals and insects (looks like Kung Fu Panda has been pawned). I thought it was extremely interesting to see Chan employ the use of Drunken Fists, which was utilized by one of the characters he has in his filmography - that of Wong Fei-hung, in which Jet Li made it his own under Tsui Hark's direction of the popular Once Upon a Time in China series. Li though also goes back early into his filmography, and stars as a monk, where a role in Shaolin Temple provided him his first wind at stardom. After that had been done, this works more of a collaborative storyline rather than an adversarial one, with that honours going to Collin Chou (to continue the degrees of separation, he was chosen after Jet Li rejected the role of Seraph in the Matrix sequels), as the envious and devious Jade Warlord, whose cunning saw the stone imprisonment of the Monkey King, in a plot spinoff not quite like the novels and the television series we're so familiar with.

In fact, that's not just the only change or adaptation that made it to The Forbidden Kingdom, and here's where John Fusco's story runs riot. The opening credits already gave you an inkling of what's to come, with plenty of fanboy-dom in the paying of homage to great martial arts actors from Bruce Li, Gordon Liu and Cheng Pei-pei, to cult movies like 36th Chamber and One Armed Swordsman. And liberties were taken with characters in the movie as well, with the showpiece from Li Bingbing as Bride With White Hair (She's no Lin Ching-hsia though) and Liu Yifei, more popularly known for her Little Dragon Role in the Return to the Condor Heroes television series, now here as Golden Swallow from Come Drink With Me (She's no Cheng Pei-pei either), and not Little Swallow as many in the audience had assumed.

I have to give credit to the script for putting so many Chinese characters from martial arts novels, movies and folklore together, and giving it a refreshing spin through the infusion of creative imagination within something so established, yet doesn't make a monkey (pardon the pun) out of it concept-wise, but the delivery still managed to trudge on the muddle of cliches abound. You have a relative unknown to this part of the world, Michael Angarano, as Jason Tripitakas (quite obvious reference, the name), the traveller from our world to the fantasy world, as the Chosen One who will toss the one ring into the fires of Mordor. OK, so he has in his posession the magical cudgel of the Monkey King, found in a little Chinatown shop of horrors, the sort where you can find Gremlins, and have to travel to the 5 Elements Mountain to return it to the rightful owner. To aid in his quest, Fate assembles for him the Fellowship of the Staff - Lu Yan (Chan) the drunken immortal, The Silent Monk (Li) and Golden Swallow (Liu) who has a personal vendetta of her own.

There are some nifty special effects and martial arts choreography here, which is always a delight, though at times they do lapse into the generic, and had to have things like a bamboo forest to lend credibility and self-respectability. The villains too were pretty weak, and Collin Chou's main villain was reduced, besides the fight sequences, to nothing more menacing that Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa's Shang Tsung in Mortal Kombat. With Jackie Chan sharing the limelight with either Chris Rock or Owen Wilson in the Rush Hour and Shanghai Noon/Knights franchise, there's no doubt who's the funnyman. Here, Chan seemed to relish the opportunity to play jester, and you can see that coming across in very obvious fashion, though Li does have his moments out of being stoic, to deliver, of all things, well timed toilet humour.

And there's plenty to laugh too at the movie, and this might serve as its biggest bugbear. The characters speak English for the most parts (no doubt to whom this movie was made for), and there's really no rocket science trying to think up of excuses to do so, they just do, and quite abruptly and clumsily too. While Chan did seem comfortable with it after his stint at Hollywood, and Liu Yifei surprisingly very fluent, Jet Li seemed to need more work (jia you ok?) as I could've sworn he said "speed, actually and power". The dialogue also lapsed into chop-suey talk with circle of fortune cookie riddles being thrown about, and the one that took the cake came from Liu Yifei (listen out for it!), coupled with the fact that her character tends to talk in third person perspective, which is puzzling.

Howeer, The Forbidden Kingdom still managed to deliver an entertaining ride from start to end for the most parts, and if you can get pass the cliches and unintentionally comical moments. Fans of the martial arts genre will have a field day in identifying the little bits and pieces of references that pepper the movie, so to this group of fans, don't miss this movie!

Feet of Fury

Thursday, April 17, 2008



I've never been under general anesthesia before, not that I want to, but I guess without first hand experience, one can only imagine what it would be like to be somewhat unconscious while your body's at the mercy of surgeons who are responsible in cutting you up and putting you back properly. I guess we've all heard of our fair share of horror stories with miscellaneous surgical tools being left inside our bodies, and one thing's for sure, I'll be pretty much scared shitless if I have to go anesthesia for a major body repair too.

I usually have a general distrust of the doctors, especially those who have to peer, poke and prod within you, because one wrong move or diagnosis, and you're in for some pretty troubled lifestyle for a long time. If Awake reminds us of anything, that'll be to choose your doctors wisely. Even though they are your friends, should they have dubious abilities and worse, bad credentials, references and have lawsuits to settle arising from malpractice, take it as a sign to run away, fast. It's nothing personal, just professional, since it's your life at stake, not theirs. So don't be stubborn, and engage the best possible surgeon you can afford.

And perhaps mothers know best too. Lena Olin stars as Lilith Beresford, the mother of billionaire scion Clay Beresford (Hayden Christensen). Being the overly protective and domineering single parent in his life, Clay finds it hard to connect with her, much lest trying to break the news that her employee Samantha (Jessica Alba) is the woman that he's been dating and going to marry.

But of course, he's faced with a disease that requires a heart transplant, having the stars play games with him too for being of the rare O- blood type. When a donor becomes available and he's strapped to the operating table by Dr Jack Harper (Terrence Howard), here's where the titular condition kicks in, describing how a certain percentage of patients actually stay conscious throughout the whole process of surgery. I would really hate it to be in his shoes when your chest get opened up from scalpel to drill, or worse, having the skull opened to get to the brain.

This movie earned its rating for blood curling in-your-face surgical sequence, but other than that, it runs in a pretty breezy fashion, clocking under 90 minutes to weave a tight medical thriller. I must say I came in with low expectations, and came out quite surprised at the twists put into the story, which is not really contrived and forced to make the whole thing work. The clues are there all the while for an attentive audience to pick up along the way, and when you do, you'll probably still smile when it gets delivered and confirms your suspicions.

Awake is very bleak on its take on love however, what with in sickness and in health, for better or worse. It tells you to look carefully, beneath beautiful facades to try and peer into a person's character, which frankly can be hidden quite easily until it is too late. Christensen didn't have much to do since the crucial scenes all involve his voice over narration in an out of conscious body experience, emphasizing his shock, disappointment and discovery of what's actually transpiring in conversation with the doctors.

And it's definitely not something anyone wants to hear at all, and the sequence of being overcome by anesthesia, is worth the ticket price.

Sex is Zero 2

Not Zero

It's quite surprising to see this movie still playing to record attendance even after at least a week in the cinemas. Like most Korean R21 movies, there's this notion that although the title titillates, there isn't really much to see, and while the franchise might be billed as Korea's answer to America's American Pie, it's pretty much far from it in terms of raunchiness, because at its core it still fell prey to a typical melodramatic romance movie with a dash of comedic elements.

Not having seen the movie in full, it didn't really matter, unless you're slow to pick up on the characters and their background shenanigans that they brought over from Part 1. The main female lead then was conveniently written off in the introduction in less than 5 minutes, only to be replaced by Song Ji-hyo's Kyung-ah, who meets the equivalent of Jason Bigg's Jim Levenstein in Im Chang-jeong's Eun-sik, in a hospital hostage situation. Fast forward and we have the couple in dating terms, although for reasons to be revealed, they haven't taken the plunge while the notion's constantly being mooted by their peers.

So Part 2 actually continues where the last left off. Everyone's still a student, and for sports, the girls are into swimming, while the guys are Multi-Martial Arts practitioners, both sides whose coaches are in a relationship. I thought that the way the story developed, just allowed for very rudimentary character development, and seemed more interested in getting through scene after scene of skin baring potential. Toilet humour is welcome of course, and when the whole audience are into it, the crass gets converted to rip-roaring fun gags, especially with the one utilizing a lollipop as the weapon of choice (was it in the first?)

Some gags though are still quite juvenile and you'd wonder if you're laughing along with the characters, or at the characters or the story, whose punchline you're expecting to come from miles away. And for those who've watched the first, stay tuned again for the same old rehashed treatment of semi-naked characters running around from one room to another, escaping from one frying pan situation only to find themselves in the fire. While it might be fun the first time round, having it sort of repeated just reeks of staleness.

As expected, only the one-dimensional side show characters get to show their skin, so those drooling over the prospects of seeing Song Ji-hyo bare something, too bad. Between the two leads it's a typical romantic story of the finding, losing and reconciling cycle, which drew inspiration with ideas from just about any generic genre movie you can think of, so that it's nothing to shout about. However, both main leads Song Ji-hyo and Im Chang-jeong (some suspension of disbelief required as he's acting as a teen) have plenty of chemistry together, and watching them go through the motions is such sinful pleasures, even if it had to resort to activating the tear ducts or two.

All in all, pretty enjoyable flick only if you're watching it with the right crowd who aren't hesitant in laughing at pretty much every silly gag, a running one which even involves a transsexual.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Satisfy Me

You can't help but to chuckle when the armoured Bentley came out, and the movie turned into one frickin advertisement highlighting the virtues and abilities of the car. If I have the cash, I wanna get one for myself too. The movie's pretty much a mixed bag that warrants your brain to be parked at the front door of the theatre hall, and get treated to a rojak mixed bag of almost every conceivable action movie cliche coupled with plot premise of recent zombie-virus-quarantine movie out there (such as this, this and this. Rhona Mitra got styled like Charlize Theron's Aeon Flux, so that provided some form of eye candy relief.

You can read my review of Doomsday at by clicking on the logo below.


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Escape From Huang Shi (The Children of Huang Shi)


So the posters have Chow Yun Fat's mug splattered in the center and given top billing. However, this is actually Jonathan Rhys Meyers' vehicle as he plays the central character of George Hogg, an Associated Press reporter who smuggles himself into pre-WWII Nanjing and witnessed the atrocities of the invading Japanese army. Inspired by a true story, this is about the life of Hogg as he takes it upon himself to do whatever he can to save a group of orphans he gets set up and acquainted with.

What of Chow? His Chen Hansheng, a communist fighting against the Japanese, gets relegated to supporting appearances, to give us some brief history lessons on the uneasy alliance between the communists and Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists, as they only link up with each other to fight a common enemy when it conveniences both parties. You would come to think that, from the trailers, this is gonna be quite an action packed movie with Chow leading his group of merry men to do battle against the Japanese, but the movie employs a "fight another day" stance, and the central plot has nothing to do with that too.

And pairing up in the same movie after their Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon stint is Michelle Yeoh, only this time, they don't get to share any scene together, and worse, Yeoh's role as a rich merchant Mrs Wang gets severely diminished. No doubt it is clear that the prospects of uniting Chow and Yeoh together would bring in curious crowds who can't wait to savour the opportune moment, but alas they happen to be just the side dishes.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers, joined by Radha Mitchell, fresh from her battle with a beastly crocodile, takes on leading man status, as the reporter who finds himself thrusts into Huang Shi, and into the enclave of 60 male orphans, living in filth, and without hope. Strongly encouraged to stay behind and take care of them, he becomes the reluctant and unwilling teacher, but slowly wins over the hearts and trust of the children, and hence begins a fairy tale like environment that seemingly is remotely away from the war in China, except for the enemy planes flying overhead serving as a reminder.

However, it's soon that they find themselves between a rock and a hard place, with the Japanese inching closer, and the Nationalists wanting to possess their land for their use, as well as to conscript those boys into warfare. Not wanting that to happen, Hogg packs them all up, and so begins the journey proper as per what the title says.

The events that unfold are just plain sailing without any tension involved, nor any excitement built up. It just flat-lines its way through beautiful environments of mountains and plains, coupled with treacherous snows and sandstorms, but otherwise, it seemed that their 1000km trek looked quite peanuts. What's more amusing here though is how the Chinese cast look so much more comfortable speaking English - I thought Chow has improved by leaps and bounds, but Meyers and Mitchell really sounded very off in their Mandarin diction, that you'll find it quite ridiculous that the parties they speak to, can understand them totally. Brownie points have to be given for their courage to speak, and give the language a go, though again it could be playing to character as one cannot master the language in such a short period of time.

At the end of the day, this played out more like a simple account of an event that had happened (of course again with artistic license taken), and the documentary-styled interview segments at the end while the end credits play, affirmed what happened and gave us some insights into Hogg's character, much more that what the film had portrayed. While the alternate title might seem to involve the Children quite a bit, only a few were given names and faces, and even fewer given personalities. Similar to movies like Schindler's List and Hotel Rwanda where the ability of one man helped save many, but this one lacked that crucial emotional punch.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Other Boleyn Girl

Your Choice?

The art of being a woman is to let the man believe they are in charge, as advised to Anne Boleyn in the movie by her mother Lady Elizabeth Boleyn (Kristin Scott Thomas)

Chilling words, aren't they, for all the men out there when watching this movie of a power struggle of sorts between the Boleyn sisters for the love, power and position from the King of England of the time, Henry Tudor (Eric Bana). I've been intrigued with the British monarchy of old ever since getting quick history lessons by the Beefeaters at the Tower of London back in 2004, and setting foot into the very premises where the events of the time took place, and visiting Anne Boleyn's final resting place at the Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula, makes one wonder about its rich history. After all, I've stood where many have stood hundreds of years ago when they witnessed Anne Boleyn's execution, and one could only imagine what the atmosphere was like back then.

With the relative success of English period dramas like Elizabeth, thanks to the powerful performance of Cate Blanchett, The Other Boleyn Girl takes a step backwards in the timeline and dealt with the events immediately before Elizabeth's reign, tracing her ancestry of sorts, since Anne Boleyn is her mother. And nothing beats having the web of intrigue weave its tangled mess as almost everyone plays for self advancement.

The Boleyns good fortune likes with having beautiful daughters - Anne (Natalie POrtman) and Mary (Scarlett Johannson), hence the opportunity for marriage, used as a tool for consolidation of wealth and position should they marry into priviledged families. And of course, there's none other when Dad Sir Thomas Boleyn (Mark Rylance) and Uncle the Duke of Norfolk (David Morrissey) scheme to plant the seeds of lust in the reigning King of England, and in doing so, causes the sisters to battle it out under heaps of misunderstanding, and growing hatred one has for the other, given a lust for power.

The political intrigue is nothing mind boggling, but goes to show how lust corrupts. In the case of Anne, her desire to be Queen outstrips her compassion for everyone, and as a one woman operator, out-schemes everyone in order to further her goals. For Mary, what seemed to be at first a non-noble thing to do in having to commit "sanctioned" adultery for the good of her family's standing, becomes a love for the man who's every so fickle. Eric Bana's Henry broods too much, and often thinks with his other head, so obvious in his explicit want to covert Anne even though he has his wife Queen Katherine (Ana Torrent), cast aside for not producing a male heir, and having child with Mary.

You might be anticipating some form of contrast of love that Henry had for Anne and Mary, but this is reduced to the comparison of love scenes, one tender, the other taking the rough and tumble route. While Johansson's Mary doesn't get a lot to do, nor opportunities for her to shine, the star of the show is undoubtedly Natalie Portman, as she plots and plans and allows for a series of emotions to come through as she struggles hard to be accepted, and then crumble into a heap toward the end under pressure to reproduce. It's not very often you get to see this negative side that get played out by Portman, so fans of hers, you're in for a real treat.

I thought the production values was excellent too, with rich costumes designed as well as attention to details paid, though certain important events and their impact were quickly glossed over, like how Henry VIII broke ties with the Catholic Church. Sure it is a Hollywood dramatization which allowed for some artistic license to be taken, but I thought, if memory served me right, that the finale was quite accurate, even though the sequences of events had to be super compressed. Things like her final appearance, and even the weapon of choice changed from an axe to a sword, are testament to those values, though some may argue that the ugly details were spared, which I felt could be left out, otherwise it might be a little morbid anyway.

So with period dramas recounting key events from relatively famous historical figures from the past - the Boleyn girls, Elizabeth and even Marie Antoinette, one wonders which other female blue blood will get the opportunity to be brought to the big screen.

You can read more about Anne Boleyn here.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Cassandra's Dream

No I'm Angela

Woody Allen's final movie in his loose London Trilogy, with Match Point and Scoop preceding it, but without Scarlett Johansson's participation. Instead we get great chemistry between Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell who play two brothers caught up in a moral tale that unfolds in Greek tragedy and operatic n proportions.

The draw of the movie is no doubt the main leads. Ewan McGregor stars as Ian, who works in his father's restaurant but dreams of participating in some real estate opportunities. Only catch is he has no funds to make any form of investment. However he has this showy streak, and often borrows from his brother Terry (Colin Farrell), the fast cars from the latter's workshop, or money when Terry makes some extra income from gambling, which is his major vice in life.

We follow the story of the brothers for a bit, with Ian falling for small time theatre actress Angela Stark (Hayley Atwell), who's quite high maintenance, while brother Terry has his winning streak at the tables being abruptly ended, and turns out to be owing tens of thousands to illegal creditors. Both naturally run into financial difficulty, but then their family has a benefactor, a rich uncle (played by Tom Wilkinson) who swears by family and blood, and offers to bail them out, just like before, and just like how he had helped their family with everything.

Of course there's no such thing as a free lunch, and this time round there is a catch, as the brothers, in order to obtain their money, have to help their uncle in dispatching one of his business rivals. So begins the dilemma of committing the perfect crime, and the moral tussle between the brothers, one whom sees it as an obligation to repay their uncle for what he has done for them, and going to do of course, while the other just finds it wrong, and has to constantly battle the guilty conscious.

While they look like unlikely brothers, Farrell and McGregor play off each other rather well, in particular, Farrell. We seldom see him in a role that's not the alpha male type, and the last I know of watching him look scared, on the edge, and depressed, was in the movie Phone Booth. Most of the time, his on screen persona always is very cock sure of himself, but not here, and allows for some excellent results.

Other than that, the movie just chugs along until the finale, and doesn't offer any intriguing twists or tickle your brains any further once the dilemma is over and the decision to head down the slippery slope chosen. A decent movie for its star power, but definitely not one of Allen's best, even amongst the London Trilogy.
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