Sunday, November 29, 2009

[In Flight] One Night in Supermarket (Ye Dian / 夜店)

Crazy Shift

There's a certain familiar ring to this slick comedy that made it enjoyable to sit through, from characters wonderfully portrayed to the premise of having the zaniest of events play out in one overnight mad caper, and it's even more surprising when it's helmed by first time writer-director Qing Yang who delivered this definite crowd pleaser almost like a veteran

Things seem almost routine at Wang Wang Supermarket, where geeky staff Li Junwei (Qiao Renlang) continues his voyeuristic activity spying on fellow staff, the pretty Tang Xiaolian (Li Xiaolu), recording her movements slyly from his camera phone. Unable to muster any courage to ask her out, the circumstances that will unfold over the next few hours will put him in direct contact with the girl of his dreams, although he has to figure out how to get them out of their predicament when He Sanshui (Xu Zheng) barges into the shop demanding that the shop owner gives him his lottery winnings because of a botched up ticketing.

There are plenty of reversal of roles here as to who's the captor and the captive, coupled with the a handful of hilarious incidents that happen in the supermarket when Sanshui, in executing Junwei's plan of running the supermarket as his own and recouping his losses through sales, encounters a myriad of clientele walking into the store. What more, having his henchman Lun Tai (Wang Dongfang) on the loose and very much hungry, adds on to the spot of laughter, especially when a taser gets thrown into the mix.

While the first half was fun, the second half dragged a little in having the premise become a lot more complicated as if searching hard for the perfect way to end it. The final act with the robber threatened to unravel all the good work done earlier on, throwing in the subplot of a diamond heist gone wrong a tad too late. Nonetheless it still had many positives going for it, with the coda after the credits being something predictable from the start.

[In Flight] On His Majesty's Secret Service (Dai Noi Muk Taam 009 / 大內密探靈靈狗)

My Left Hand

One can trust Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Jing to continue with the making of comedic films that lampoons the double-0 moniker, given that Stephen Chow had his dabbled quite successfully with his secret-agent-gone-wrong comedies using 007 (From Beijing with Love) and 008 (Forbidden City Cop), both which are some of my favourite comedies from the man. However this film falls on the side of a Wong Jing hack-job, which unfortunately is neither genuinely funny, and looked formulaic and tired.

Louis Koo plays 009, or translated literally from its aural pronunciation, double-O Dog. He's one of 12 special Royal Bodyguards of a simpleton Emperor (Liu Yiwei) who named these 12 guards after the Chinese Zodiac, hence 9 translated to Dog. Unlike his peers, Dog is a scientist, and relies pretty much on his brains and fantastical gadgets to protect his Majesty from evil ninja assassins. However, the danger lurks much closer to home, with the chief villain being the eunuch (as always) Lord Unicorn (Fan Siu-Wong), and the Empress herself (Sandra Ng in yet another loud-mouthed role).

That very much sums up the extremely flimsy plot, which also has a romantic angle thrown into it with the presence of Barbie Hsu's Faithful, a pretty maiden who has powerful kung-fu skills, a mighty good compliment to Dog's brainier demeanour. Despite star billing though, she disappears for almost half the movie, appearing mainly in the first and last acts only, and instead the focus on the problems of the relationship between Dog and Faithful, became second fiddle to that of Dog's peer Royal Tiger (Tong Dawei) and Princess Rainbow (Song Jia), where a competition sees many suitors come knocking on the door to want to obtain her hand in marriage.

Wong Jing may be the king of raunch if he wants to, but in this film he stays surprisingly muted, opting instead for safer, PG-rated gags. It's either that, or the inflight entertainment system I was watching this on, has a parental safety button in effect. I wasn't able to detect any huge narrative gaps or sudden quite cuts, though it could have boiled down to entire sections being removed. Whatever the case is, what's presented is truly nothing to shout about, and to find oneself breaking into a laugh is more of the surprise instead, due to the fact that you'll half expect the type of jokes that Wong Jing has up in his sleeves.

Recommended only if you're a hard core fan of any of the stars mentioned, just to see how they ham it up in a film that will do no wonders for their filmography.


By the time you read this I should be on the way to China for an overseas business trip.

As always, normal services would resume by next week. I think China doesn't like blogger, so updates to this site is heavily reliant on any pre-scheduled posts I managed to do up.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

An Education


We’ve seen a number of coming of age story where the protagonist learns about the real meaning of life, or a snapshot of it as presented, and they either get corrupted by that earlier bit of education, or emerge all the more stronger from the episode. An Education here very much presents that dilemma at times when life throws us a path to a short cut, where hard work can be substituted with a taste of instant success, seducing us to go off the well beaten, proven track and head toward the thrill of having material success presented on a silver platter.

Carey Mulligan plays Jenny, a wide-eyed 16 year old high school girl who’s quite brilliant in her studies save for Latin, and with the examinations just around the corner, parents Jack (Alfred Molina) and Majorie (Cara Seymour) urges her to drop her co-curricular activity of cello practice in order to mug and improve her grades. Little do they know that a chance encounter with David (Peter Sarsgaard), a man about twice the age of Jenny, would throw Jenny’s life upside down with the promises of a settle relationship, coupled with the systematic seduction of the high life – fast cars, swanky apartments, exotic goods – plenty of wining and dining, contacts with the who’s who and a pedigree history,

This story has plenty of bite to it, and that’s what makes it so enjoyable to sit through. While we can see the warning flags being waved all over the place, there’s a certain evil glee in witnessing how Jenny decides to ignore them and follow her heart instead of her head. But what really took the cake here is the portrayal of the role of parents. While parents generally always have our best interests at heart, and probably the fundamentals is to provide education on which we can build our foundation upon, sometimes we rely a lot on their wisdom and judgement to guide us out of troubled waters. However they too are susceptible to being blindsided and not blowing the whistle when the red flags get thrown up, and in this film, both Alfred Molina and Cara Seymour are at their element in fleshing out their roles of the difficulties in parenting, and actually being none too bright and too innocent in their pretense, to the point of contradiction and hypocrisy as well.

A lot has been said about Carey Mulligan’s performance as Jenny the jailbait, and it’s pretty much raved about almost everywhere as being single-handedly the attraction to the film thanks to her sensitive performance, or with Peter Sarsgaard, one of my favourite modern day character actors, in his portrayal of the roguish schmuck David who gives this sense of intensity beneath a calm demeanour exhibited. In fact, the ensemble cast is almost what holds the film together and moves Nick Hornby’s screenplay along, such as Dominic Cooper’s Danny, and Rosamund Pike’s hilarious turn as the bimbotic blonde Helen. Look out too for Emma Thompson’s small role as the headmistress and Olivia Williams’ Miss Stubbs, who for all their good intentions and wisdom, get slighted quite unceremoniously in a sharp critique on their brand of education.

An Education is a film that reminds us, as much as I hate to admit, that there are no short cuts in life. We learn in the hope that our lives can be improved in time to come when we reap what we sow, and if some things are too good to be true in presenting that quick route to success, then it probably is just that. Just watch out for the pitfalls as you approach that route with eyes wide open. This is a highly recommended film for its message of how easily we get enticed by impressions, and for its all round performances by the ensemble cast. Clearly one of my favourites of the year!

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

On Trial

I had thought RKO Pictures was already defunct, but it's quite telling that a film from its archives got pulled out for a remake, and although I've not seen the original film in the 50s directed by Fritz Lang no less, this remake had that similar promising premise which soon gave way to ridicule. Suffice to say that without the twist element, it's no better than a standard, average courtroom drama cum investigative thriller that already laid out its cards and was just going through its motion to the finale. Assault on the justice system this is not to be.

Since Michael Douglas' name got a bigger font size on the poster, let's start with his character, the District Attorney Mark Hunter who is one case away from sealing his man made destiny to become governor. He's quite the confident schmuck who can mesmerize any jury and his straight convictions of the accused through circumstantial and DNA evidence, raises the suspicion of investigative journalist C.J. Nicholas (Jesse Metcalfe of Desperate Housewives fame), whose research seem to point to Hunter artificially engineering evidence in his favour.

An audacious plan gets concocted, and for the sake of a Pulitzer prize, C.J. and career pal Corey (Joel Moore) decide to entrap Hunter into using his deceiving tactics against them in a real murder which they will engineer the circumstantial evidence to point towards C.J., though I wonder if the quest to become famous and climb that corporate ladder would warrant something as risky as this, and what more, the lack of purposeful planning, which allows you the audience to stay one step ahead into just what would happen next.

The second half of the movie then shifts its attention to Amber Tamblyn's Ella, while being the assistant to Mark Hunter, gets romantically involved with C.J. and decides to do a little probing herself, which of course led to her being a target. The rest I'm sure you can pretty much guess for yourself, as this just floats like a buoy in calm waters, not being the investigative thriller it can be, but something that's really, really bland and stands out like an amateur hack job.

Give it a go if you must, but don't expect anything spectacular. The obligatory action sequences all seemed too contrived, boring and pretty much illogical, such as the taunting of someone using a car. I have to admit though that the final words uttered here was quite a ballsy way to end a story, although it can also mean the same words directed at the unsuspecting audience member who didn't come expecting B-movie through and through.

Friday, November 27, 2009

De Dana Dan

Wanted in Singapore

I got to admit I wasn't quite plugged into the fact that Akshay Kumar and Katrina Kaif were in Singapore earlier this year to film this movie, and it wasn't until after they had left did I come to learn of their presence, and a new Bollywood film after Krrish that had decided to set itself on our island. Having watched Saint Jack again earlier and gone on the Jack of Hearts Mystery Bus Tour, my interest was piqued more on how landscapes have changed, and wondered if what had been captured here in this film, would still survive the test of time some decades down the road.

So yes, Singapore itself was the character I was looking out for, and the film managed to feature Clarke and Boat Quays of today, with those shown in Saint Jack still vividly fresh in my mind. The trailer for this film had highlighted many venues in which this film was shot at, from Sentosa to Fusionopolis, but alas this was only in the music video of one of the songs shown early on. Otherwise, since the Pan Pacific was listed in the credits, the bulk of the film actually took place in and around the hotel (if memory serves me right, there was an old Hong Kong comedy which was also shot in and around the same hotel), and thus was shot within or in any generic soundstage.

Storywise, both leads Akshay Kumar and Katrina Kaif were only representatives of a larger ensemble cast, and sad to say though that they disappear as well for a significant portion of the film, with Akshay in particular when the limelight had to be shared, and his character was written to be stuck in a cupboard of a location unknown to him. The gist of it, at least in the first act, tells of two men Nitin (Akshay Kumar) and Ram (Suneil Shetty) who are both drowned by their debts and stuck in jobs with no prospects. Their respective girlfriends Anjani (Katrina Kaif) and Manpreet (Sameera Reddy) happen to be from wealthy backgrounds, and their parents see it as material benefit should they be wedding other well to do folks.

Both men now become desperate in not wanting to lose their lady love, and crack up the most insane of plots involving kidnapping, which soon spiralled out of control to involve an Indian ambassador, their girlfriends parents, a sneaky hotel employee, a bumbling hitman, a mafia Don, a corrupt practices police inspector (though his rank is only that of sergeant), a mistress, and plenty of mistaken identities to make everyone beat around the bush in a convoluted manner, leaving you the audience having to open your eyes and ears to link everyone's relationship, motivation and intentions, both real, perceived and deliberately under deceit.

As for the comedic element, personally it's fairly hit and miss, though I wonder if there's anything that could be lost in translation since the audience were rip-roaring laughing at the slightest of sight gags, much credited to Akshay Kumar's comedic timing especially in the first act which shows his being exploited under his female employer played by Archana Puran Singh. What impressed more though was the series of special effects that had the Pan Pacific Hotel facing quite the disaster, and while some shots did look quite artificial, I have to admit it was quite the blast (pardon the pun) to see how landmarks here in Singapore get their 5 minutes of fame in being nearly obliterated in a motion picture. But this scene too fell prey to the largest bugbear of the movie, and that's where scenes were dragged out longer than its welcome.

While I had looked forward to some great comedy, and having to bear witness to yet another Bollywood film shot here, the end result was somewhat less than satisfactory.

Jack of Hearts Mystery Tour

Kinda Interesting

While I had watched Saint Jack previously, nothing beats having to watch a 35mm print of it on the big screen of the National Museum's Gallery Theatre amongst a group of film fans, which curiously was made up of a more international community which outnumbered the locals, probably being more intrigued at how this film, the only Hollywood one shot entire in Singapore to date, was made with our authorities being hoodwinked all the way, resulted in a ban which was recently lifted. Rated M18 now, this is not the first time the film was shown of course, having a one off screening during SIFF eons ago, and 3 years back at the Arts House.

This season's screening was all the more special, because it marks the 30th anniversary since the film was made, and was graced by cast and crew such as Pierre Cottrell, Tony Yeow, Noel Joseph, Teo Bee Hui, Lisa Lu who was also producer, and of course, the female lead Monika Subramaniam, who flew from the USA where she now resides to attend this screening, as well as to partake in the Jack of Hearts Mystery Bus Tour, so called as “Jack of Hearts” was the title of the “fake” movie that was submitted to the authorities for vetting, and we're embarking on that historical pseudo-recce of locations that Jack of Hearts, aka Saint Jack, was to be filmed in . Hosted and conducted by Saint Jack expert Ben Slater, who also authored the book Kinda Hot which recounts the entire filmmaking process, I knew I just had to sign on for this excursion, joined by the cast and crew as well, to be brought around the places that were, and are now standing.

Running some 2 hours, the rain disrupted some plans to disembark from the bus to do a quick walk around at some rare instances where some recognized landmarks still exist, but no matter since a lot of buildings and roads have already morphed into our gleaming facades of today. I love Saint Jack for the reason that I can quaintly remember some of the sights and sounds that were captured on film, being born in the 70s and growing up in the 80s, such as the old Boat Quay area prior to the Singapore River cleanup, the General Post Office aka Fullerton Hotel, and the non pristine version of Chinatown and her unglam shophouses, which were of more character then, than those standing now can ever hope to exude.

The tour bus also had screens inside, so clips from Saint Jack at the various points, including its making of documentary, could be played and compared with what's exactly outside through the bus' large windows. A tinge of nostalgia crept up especially when I see rickety SBS buses captured on celluloid, versus the gleaming air-conditioned ones that are the norm these days, amongst other sights captured, and I'm pretty sure the older cast and crew members would have fonder memories of an unrecognizable Singapore.

Anyway there were only two bus tours organized, and both were sold out days before. For the curious, here is the rundown of the tour checkpoints:

1. Institution Hill, where Jack Flowers' whorehouse stood.
Now: the hill has been flattened (?) somewhat to make way for the construction of the condominium Aspen Heights which now stands on site. A little bit of the hill still exists, but it'll only lead toward that private property and you can't proceed any further.

2: Clarke Quay, Melacca Bridge

Rain Meant Staying Put

Now: the bridge still stands, though its surroundings are clearly different, with more sanitized looking shophouses and shopping malls on both sides of the river. The bumboats have also disappeared. Unfortunately the rain had prevented us from disembarking and walking across the very same bridge that Jack Flowers did, but (as of the time of writing on a Sunday morning) the group in this morning's session should be in for a treat.

3. Chinatown, Smith Street drive past. This was where Jack Flowers and William Leigh were chased by Chinese gangsters.

4. Chinatown, Amoy Street drive through and disembarkation point. Jack Flowers had strutted along this street to Hing's shop, meeting Gopi at the door.

Ben Was Here (Gazzara That Is!)

Now: Unit 110 has become the “New Taiwan Porridge Shop”, and the environment is clearly more sanitized now, with various shops and eateries now occupying the neighbourhood shophouses.

5. Chinatown, Club Street drive past. This was where Jack Flowers confronted the Chinese gangsters and showed off the modifications made to the offensive words tattooed on his arms.

6. Empress Place, drive past. The makan place where Peter Bogdanovich's Eddie Schuman, Monika and Jack sat down near the waterfront, and that famous line uttered by Monika where she doesn't eat prawns with their heads still intact. The food centre is no longer around.

7. Fullerton Hotel / One Fullerton. The opening pan where the camera moves 360 degrees to show Collyer Quay, The General Post Office, and what the waterfront looked like in the 70s. Also the ending where Jack Flowers was standing at the road divider calling it quits.

Camera Probably Pivoted From Here

Calling It Quits at the Divider

Now: One Fullerton now stands at where once was the sea, and The Fullerton Hotel now operating from that iconic colonial building. No change to the number of lanes on both sides of the road though.

8. Raffles Hotel. 'Nuff said, although the courtyard where Jack Flowers met Yates and Mrs Yates is now concrete.

9. Bugis "Boogie" Street / Village which we get to see in abundance in the film, where transvestites and transsexuals once ruled the night life.
Now: Shopping Centres, and more Shopping Centres. The last bastion of what once was, is a "pasar malam" row of shops. Gone are the night time entertainment of course.

10. Shangrila Hotel is where George Lazenby's Senator stayed, and whom Jack Flowers tailed along 11. Orange Grove Road to 12. Hilton Hotel, where a proposition is made by both the Senator and Jack to a Chinese chap, separately of course.

Then it's a drive through along 13. (Lower) Orchard Road, before catching a glimpse of the spire of what was the 14. York Bandung Hotel, and then ending the tour at the 15. Goodwood Park Hotel, where the bus followed the almost exact same route of entry into "Paradise Gardens". Goodwood Park Hotel also served as the interior for The Hilton as well as Paradise Gardens. This served as the tour's end point and final pit stop, before heading back to the National Museum.

The tour would be a blast for both tourists and fans of the film alike, despite some of the locations being no longer in existence, which is a pity of course, but compensated by the lively discussions and reminiscence by both cast and crew. I'm not sure if this would be another feature some time down the road for those who had missed it this time round, and hey, how about including that Telok Kurau Lorong (J?) where the sex acts were performed :D

Here's another take on the bus tour, and another one here which was based on the dry run.

Mulan (花木兰)

Lady At Arms

The last I've seen of Mulan the Chinese folklore hero, was some 11 years ago when Disney decided to make her all singing and all dancing, gave her a mythical pet dragon who mouths off like Eddie Murphy, and made her fall in love with her commander in the battlefield. What more, the Disney folks never fail to remind you that she's Chinese through the character design of making her extremely slit-eyed. So fast forward to today, out goes that song and dance, the dragon gets thrown out the window as well, and hey, Zhao Wei gets casted in the lead role, and we know how mesmerizing those saucer sized eyes actually are. The romance bit in this Jingle Ma movie, stayed and while there are some quarters who found fault with it, I felt it was still tolerably OK.

We all know how the story of Hua Mulan follows that of other legendary folk heroes in China's rich history, and to date there's only a reference poem which accounted her exploits which stem out of filial piety, at a time in the Northern Wei state centuries ago when the Emperor decreed that all families must contribute to the war effort. Being a military family, the Huas have no male heir to represent their family, which automatically meant the aging father has got to volunteer himself. Rather than send her father to instant death in the battlefield, Mulan disguises herself as a male, and takes her father's place. That's basically the gist of the story, where she spends 12 long years at the war-front to the amazement that she was never found out, before returning to the gratitude of family and country.

This also means that storytellers have almost a full reign at what could have transpired during her tour of duty, and suffice to say this will always mean that there will be elements of hardship during training, attempts or situations at putting her true identity at risk, and given the soft hearted nature of an adolescent female, affairs of the heart will come knocking. The same goes for this film, written by Zhang Ting, which adopted the romantic angle rather heavily, exploring the relationship between Mulan, and General Wentai (Chen Kun), in a love that's quite forbidden since firstly a female cannot be serving in the army, and secondly, face it, two male soldiers, and later on, of general rank, can't be seen behaving lovey-dovey in front of their men. Besides, being romantically involved also served to be a roadblock to Mulan's innate war ability, or so Wentai believes that needs some way to be severed so that she can unleash that beast within.

As Wei soldiers, they're tasked to defend their country from the nomadic invading forces which seek to conquer Wei for their iron, in which to make weapons, and then to plunder some more. There's some gigantic contrast between the troops on both sides, one sans heavy armour, while the other gets more beautifully decked out, and in some ways, better equipped. But what the film is rather all about, is its take on leadership. One can have strength in superior numbers, or to have technology on its side, but without an effective, charismatic leader, it's as good as not being able to harness the multiplier effect that comes with the territory. Imagine having morale, trust and belief so high, that troops will rally behind you, trust your vision, and literally to lay their lives down for the cause. I suppose with any effective leader who walks the reasonable talk, should be able to attest to the respect that they command over their followers.

Then there are the battle scenes, because what's a Mulan film without one. Unfortunately though, most of the scenes were featured in some way in the trailer, so they do not come as a surprise. There's no big-bang action sequence as well, choosing instead to opt for a rather more personal, intimate battle rather than one involving the masses, and also wrapping things up a tad too conveniently, although it tried to redeem itself with a pathos filled finale revisiting the romantic angle once again. The war front scenes were like a quick summary of 12 years of iconic battles that Mulan had led, so those looking for fantastically choreographed battles in the mould of Red Cliff, will be sorely disappointed.

Then there are some rather questionable scenes which comes out of the blue, and somehow marred the enjoyment of the film a little because of their convenience, with that little bit of vampirism which I felt was not quite necessary, and a natural phenomenon which just appears and seem to take sides, again for reasons I am not able to fathom, and speculate only for the showcasing of special effects. Disaster movie, this is not.

But thankfully the performances all round provided that lift to the film, and made it bearable. Zhao Wei is no rookie to period war dramas, since she has Red Cliff to thank for in modifying her role there to become a warring princess. There are too many parallels to be drawn between her characters in Shangxiang and Mulan, such as going forth to the forefront of war to the disapproval of family, her desire to defend her country, her disguises and so on, one can still feel her Mulan here to be distinct and if I may say, quite definitive. Chen Kun also held his own against the veteran actress, although one can feel that since this is a Mulan film then he's playing second fiddle. Supporting roles range from Jaycee Chan to Hu Jun, who seem rather functional than to add any emotional depth to the film.

Mulan is just one version from a folklore open to vast interpretations, and you can bet your last dollar that this isn't going to be the last of Mulan related stories that we'll hear of. While it isn't an instant classic, this version can probably still shout out to be the definitive version for now.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Flight (ハッピーフライト)

Awesome, Three Thumbs Up!

Later this week I'll be on my way overseas on a flight, but no that's not the chief reason why this film appealed to me. I had chanced upon the film's release when in Tokyo last year and the trailer had caught my attention for its potential to provide some madcap humour. What's more, it stars one of my favourite Japanese actresses in Haruka Ayase, whose performance in Cyborg, She I had enjoyed, so it's only logical that I picked this film over others releasing this week.

Happy Flight is a delightful surprise surpassing my expectaions, where it features a myriad of characters and an ensemble cast to bring about an end to end presentation of just about everything that goes on behind the scenes from the operations of the ground crew at the check in counter, to the maintenance team, from the control tower operations centre and right up into the aircraft with the duties of the pilot and that of the cabin crew. Frequent travellers usually treat everything behind the scenes as a black box which just clicks and works, and this film provides that extra awareness and appreciation of the one million things that can and are happening, and in the worst case scenario, something simple that can go so wrong.

Which to All Nippon Airways, it's quite gutsy of them to open up and brand this film. I cannot see how a similar film can be done locally without jumping through some major hoops, and probably end up with folks being unhappy about how things can get portrayed on screen. But unlike films such as Flightplan, this one doesn't belittle any of the departments, but smartly fuses comedy without becoming veiled insults. I suppose Shinobu Yaguchi, who had helmed films like Waterboys and Swing Girls, proved to be the right person to craft a potentially complex tale on what goes on in aviation, and what he did was simply put, amazing.

Cleverly fusing all the different narratives and subplots, he had presented the films as a series of quick short stories, although each engaging enough to make you want to know more. While some characters can be caricatures, he pumped them up with enough engaging incidents to ultimately bring out that smile. It's also key that he had provided some behind the scenes insights from the industry, that would make you sit up and take notice, with nuggets of trivia coming from every angle and every department featured.

And not to forget the office politics within the department themselves, and when they interact with each other (I chuckled at the tai-chi attempt), everyone depending on one another's professional expertise to ensure a pleasant flight experience for every single passenger the minute he or she steps into the airport ready for their flight out. But of course sometimes things tend to rub off the wrong way, and for dramatic sake, could be slightly exaggerated especially on what takes place within the cabin, which most of us would be aware of, or from hearsay support some urban myths.

Narratively, we follow many viewpoints. We have a first officer Kazuhiro Suzuki (Seiichi Tanabe) in his final test flight to become a captain, and his Flight 1980 is assessed by an unsmiling Captain Noriyoshi Harada (Saburo Tokito) in the cockpit, which puts him under additional pressure given his disastrous attempt at the flight simulator. Then we have the ditzy cabin attendant Etsuko Saito (Haruka Ayase) who's a Calamity Jane under the supervision of Reiko Yamazaki (Shinobu Terajima) and a competing peer Mari Tanaka (Kazue Fukiishi). On the ground the subplots also extend to Tomoko Tabata's ground crew Natsumi Kimura, and Ittoku Kishbe's flight operations controller, and the list goes on, extending even toward an incident at the maintenance hangar, and a trio of comedic aviation geeks. And if all these don't seem enough, there's an oncoming typhoon to add to the chaos!

But the beauty of it is that you won't be a wee bit confused, or at any time does the story seem bloated, or sub plots unnecessary. Everything comes together in good time like clockwork, almost exactly the same experience you'll feel when boarding a plane for a trip. Working dynamics and office politics also deftly creeps into the film and presents to you the not-so-glamourous side to any job, although it does take the time to remind you that reputations that precede could also be misconstrued, and there's nothing wrong in holding back pre-judgements until you experience something yourself first hand.

Opening with an inflight safety video, I like the film enough to rank it one of my favourites of this year, for being that perfect balance between comedy, drama, and that valuable look into what makes aviation tick. Highly recommended, so do flock to the only screen in Singapore that's showing this as an exclusive showcase!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

5th Asian Festival of 1st Films - Singapore Entries

Work commitments will mean that I will have to miss this year's edition of the Asian Festival of 1st Films. So what I'll do instead is to highlight the entries that are keeping the Singapore flag flying, and hopefully you can make your way down for the screenings to lend your support!

First up, Blood Ties, which you can read about in my review earlier, the only feature film amongst the Singapore entries. It garnered two nominations, one for Best Actress in Joey Leong's role as the young girl possessed by her deceased brother's spirit to exact revenge on his killers. Kudos also went to the cinematography, and Derrick Loo got nominated in the Best Cinematographer category.

The other two are short films, with Cashless' Danny Jow being nominated for Best Actor, and Mohd Akbar Bin Tabare Alam being nominated for his directorial work Certain Chapters in the Best Short Film category, an experimental film which unveils the unforgiving and wanton world of gangsters in Singapore, inspired by a series of true events.

Screening Details
Cashless - 30 Nov Wed 1140hrs @ Arts House
Blood Ties - 30 Nov Wed 1845hrs @ GV Marina
Certain Chapters - 1st Dec Thu 1315hrs @ Arts House

Still from Certain Chapters


Blood Ties


Certain Chapters

Related LInks
Official Festival Website
Screening Schedule

Blood Ties - An Interview with Writer-Director CHAI Yee-Wei
Blood Ties - My Review
Blood Ties - Official Website
Cashless - Official Website
Cashless - Production Talk
Certain Chapters - YouTube page

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Raging Phoenix (ดื้อ สวย ด / Du Suay Doo)

Stay Still While I Kick You

Fans of martial arts action films in this region would find reason to celebrate recently with the introduction of Iko Uwais showcasing some combat Silat in Merantau and while I had counted him in amongst peers such as Tony Jaa, Jija Yanin stands out for being the only female of the lot who can dish out as much punishment as she could receive, and breakthrough performances aside, I think the real test comes in the follow up film, if it's either more of the same, or if it'll have enough bandwidth to allow the martial artist to go some distance from their maiden performance.

And I had enjoyed Raging Phoenix a lot more than Chocolate, which I felt had plenty of room in which to improve upon, especially in the editing department which didn't quite do that film justice in having Jija's character seem to go through each fight sequence like a video game, beginning each scene with the on-guard position. However, that film allowed her to showcase a whole range of moves and weapons, and in this one, her character sticks to one, which is a Chinese drunken fist equivalent, where the pupil downs gallons of alcohol, and through that intoxicated state, learn to internalize the alcohol and purge that high energy into something more hard hitting, channeling that deep down hurt and heartfelt pain they have to intrinsically possess into power through the knuckles.

The form of the martial arts clearly has plenty of Muay Thai in it, with the usual exploitation of elbows and knees to inflict maximum damage, though this time round the choreographers smartly fused some hip-hop breakdancing moves into the martial arts, since those dance movies would already prep you that those spins and turns, and feigns with the feet, could actually translate to deadly assault steps to incapacitate any enemy. Yes you read me right, but it didn't turn out as bad as it sounded, and soon enough you just won't feel that it's an amalgamation of two different forms, at least not when the catchy Thai hip hop song Yong-Wai stops playing.

As the story goes (yes, you still need one), it was a wee bit different from the usual to say the least, though the inevitable melodramatic moments did prolong the runtime without welcome. The narrative for Raging Phoenix played out just like its title, where it starts off really slowly and in some ways quite the bore, before its form got junked and transformed, into something more engaging as the story progressed, right after Jija's Deu gets saved from the clutches of the evil Jaguar Gang, whose mission statement is to kidnap girls with unique pheromones. Cue obligatory training montage as she becomes the protege of Sanim (Kazu Patrick Tang), Dog, Pig and Bull, and convoluted initiation rites later, she gets accepted into the vigilante group, seeking out the Jaguars to exact their individual vendettas.

Ranging Phoenix didn't turn out to be a one-woman show, which meant Jija had to step aside to allow her co-stars to shine, especially since her character is the rookie in this form of martial arts, and have to rely on the others to save her hide at first. It was a little painful to watch since we all know that this girl can really kick butt, though it made it all the more sweeter when she finally does. What she cannot do though, despite her new hairdo and cute-as-a-button features, is to play that romantic role given that there's a subplot involving unrequited love with her trainer Sanim, which was somewhat essential to fuel that new found strength (from depression actually) in the finale.

​A Thai film would seem incomplete without the obligatory evil transsexual, and Raging had one featured early for some comic relief. The chief villain, played by Roongtawan Jindasing, a body building champion, cuts a figure quite similar to Grace Jones's May Day in A View to a Kill, matching our heroine strength for strength, though triumphing with her D-cups, which I thought in a battle sequence she had used to knock Deu off her feet. Fight sequences had resorted to MTV-styled quick cut editing, though it did pace itself nicely through some slow-motion when required to allow the audience to take it all in. Fights were also nicely framed, especially when killer moves get employed, or when director Rashane Limtrakul decides to want to show you just how close and realistic the actors and stunt crew can get when they pull off hard hitting, bone-crunching action.

I would have thought that the film would have featured some outtakes – you know, for the filmmakers to show off that “real fights, real injuries” tagline, but to my surprise there was absolutely none. I would have loved to see whether some suspicion in the use of wire-work could be proven through the outtakes, since there were definitely some moves which were too hard to believe they can be executed without employing one. Padding also was visible though, for safety's sake of course, but don't let that distract you as much as it did to me.

Raging Phoenix isn't perfect, but it is yet another milestone for Jija Yanin to prove what she can do. Call me a fan as I am liking her films already, and can't wait to see her in more action films!

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Christmas Carol 3D

Don't You Dare Bah, Humbug! Me!

Robert Zemeckis seems to have been bitten by the motion-capture/3D/animation bug and it's definitely no stopping him from developing yet another flick that continues to evolve the multi-sensory technology to immerse the viewer into an experience. And you just cannot fault him with his latest, as you can see marked progression from what he first started out with The Polar Express, then Beowulf, and now, Charles Dickens' classic tale A Christmas Carol.

I suppose nobody needs any introduction to the tale where three ghosts visit Scrooge, turning his life (or nightmares actually) upside down to evoke a change in behavioural pattern. Scrooge being the miser being led to see the folly of his ways and his attitude, and well, turns over a new leaf. The story has been done countless of times, either directly, or indirectly and usually through comedies, the most recent being The Ghosts of Girlfriends Past starring Matthew McConaughey.

One of the chief differences for this Zemeckis picture, is that it stays faithful to the source. No tinkering of characters and plots, as it strives to probably be the definitive version in time to come. And the animation here is simply top notch, and you'd soon appreciate the half a decade of honing the technology and craft into what you'd see from the film - pristine, photo-realistic rendition of characters and sets, so much so that if someone was to boldly suggest the end of an era for real actors shooting against real locations, well, you won't just bat your eyelids and laugh that suggestion off.

The level of detail for each character is astonishing, and one wonders at the amount of effort that went behind the scenes in the production process, which you can read about in countless of material available online. But I suppose having a strong, imaginative and innovative cast helps, as the voice talents here all prove to be a force to be reckoned with, in their portrayal of more than one character, and to infuse uniqueness into each so that they don't pass off as lazy copies of one another.

Rubber-faced Jim Carrey doesn't get to exercise his facial expressions in person, but does so through the animation. And to voice no less than 8 characters is something, although one can argue that some of the characters are just different versions of the same. And he's supported by the likes of Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Cary Elwes, Robin Wright Penn and Bob Hoskins amongst others to bring to life their respective multi-characters through only the quality of their voices.

Should Zemeckis continue this path of making animated films, I'd certainly like to see how he'll top this one. One caution though that some of the scenes here do contain some frightening moments that could make the young ones bawl, and I'm still lamenting that we don't have an IMAX 3D, or an IMAX theatre to take advantage of the many thrill-inducing scenes that were plentiful here. Hopefully that situation could change sometime soon.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Fox's 11

I'm pretty much the sucker for stop motion animation, so this naturally comes with that wee bit of bias, because I surely take my hats off to the filmmakers, especially the modelers and pretty much everyone who has to painstakingly move everything a little bit at a time, which for folks who are impatient (like myself), would already have driven one nuts.

But this crazy effort in bringing to life Roald Dahl's story of a sly fox, is pretty much worth every frame of it. The man hours and intricate designs are something of an old school technique when compared to the latest computer wizardry, but you'll be amazed at what director Wes Anderson and his team managed to come up with, complete with a solid story, likable characters, and plenty of fun.

George Clooney voices Mr Fox, a smug (what else, since Clooney chews these type of roles for breakfast) and wily erm, fox whose specialty is being the chicken thief that he is, providing for family. An incident cutting too close to death has Mr Fox promise Mrs Fox (Meryl Streep) that his thieving days are over, but you know how a leopard cannot change its spots. Soon he moves his family near three farmers Bean (Michael Gambon), Boggis (Robin Hurlstone) and Bunce (Hugo Guinness), and crafts his final hurrah in hitting all three neighbours, only for them to retaliate and demolish Mr Fox's lifestyle, and not to mention his relationship with wife, family and friends, resulting in a battle of wills and wits.

Despite the relatively short run time, the film managed to pack plenty of subplots, characterization, and comedy into one well oiled narrative. You'll surely be one without a sense of humour should you not be able to laugh at anything and everything that Anderson had put on screen, from slapstick to really smart and funny lines that make up every moment of enjoyment in this film. The A-list voice cast also includes the likes of Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe, Owen Wilson, Brian Cox, Adrien Brody et al, some of whom you'll know are regulars in Anderson's past works.

And if you had enjoyed his past quirky films, then you'd come to expect the same for Fantastic Mr. Fox, with Wes Andersen's signature touches all over the shop, where he made some departures from Dahl's book, but manage to retain the essence of the story, and through a stroke of luck, finding an alternate ending from Dahl's original manuscript which got adopted here in the film. It's comical, it's smart, it's stop motion and it won't be too long before fans will soon adopt Mr Fox's trademarked whistle-whistle-click-click.

Friday, November 20, 2009


Who Do You Trust?

There are enough films churned by Hollywood which examines the contemporary war on terror, with offerings going as far back as 2006's Syriana, to the more recent The Hurt Locker by Katherine Bigelow, adopting viewpoints of the players at the fringes on either side, or those placed in direct combat duties. Films on terrorism are nothing new to Bollywood, especially when they tackle issues on skirmishes and conflicts between India and Pakistan, but lately, this exploratory net has been cast a little bit wider, and the net being thrown at stories taking place on US soil, and this year alone we have Kabir Khan's New York, and Renzil D'Silva's Kurbaan.

The chief draw to the film though, personally I would feel, is the casting of real life couple Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor. Billed as a love story as well, their chemistry was instant, smooth, and just worked, playing a pair of lovebirds who spend the first forty minutes of the film romancing each other, starting off though on the wrong footing. Kapoor's Avantika and Khan's Ehsaan are teaching professors at a university, and like a typical Bollywood romance, comes with coolness and suaveness, with Kapoor at her element in being the aloof beauty, and Khan playing the persistant smooth operator, whom many will cheer for in his unorthodox tactics, and honey-coated words and phrases he uses to finally get Avantika's hand in marriage.

However, Kareena's Avantika then begins to fade to the background with the tone of the film shifting to its more serious topics on terrorism, with bombings and sleeper cell meetings taking over the narrative, once the couple relocated to New York and settles at an Indian community, with the Indian Muslim neighbours all acting a little strange. The couple's lifestyle got rudely interrupted when Avantika stumbles upon her neighbours' dark secret and suffice to say gets put under house arrest. On a separate parallel thread, reporter Riyaaze (Vivek Oberoi) gets on a personal crusade against a terror cell involved in the killing of his girlfriend Rehana (Diya Mirza), and inevitably these two storylines are set to converge, which gives rise to the comparison with New York for its portrayal of how new recruits get spotted, groomed and assimilated into the entire ideology of hitting out in American soil.

Which of course included ample scenes which show discrimination and prejudice against those who fit the classroom profile of a terrorist, and that infamous episode with Shah Rukh Khan at an American airport (which incidentally will be a subject in producer Karan Johar's new film My Name is Khan), is something of a teaser of such unhappiness can be channeled negatively into deep resentment. Renzil D'Silva also never failed to exploit opportunities set up in the story with heated classroom banter between US students, and the viewpoints of the Muslims in the film, stinging in delivery although one which will bring on plenty of cheers (like the audience I was with). However in choosing to present a more objective stand, these sledge-hammering, sweeping statements and mouthpieces down your throat also have their fair share of retorts in specially crafted scenes which preached against extremism, and the distortion of a peaceful religion. More so it tells on the hypocrisy of those who preach peace but are wielding guns themselves.

And since this is a fictional story, some dramatic elements have got to be in place, and you'll have to suspend disbelief in the second half of the film. There are a few things here that aren't exactly modus operandi of sleeper cells, given that they welcome a new recruit with open arms (albeit with a tinge of suspicion) and allowing him to walk right into their martyrdom plans without a proper background check. Also, because of the way the story is structured sequentially to allow for certain things to happen one after another, it makes their terror plot a bit too amateurish for this day and age, unfortunately. Not to mention too that the cops are looking out for an international terrorist who doesn't bother to disguise his looks, and allows him to cross borders oh so easily. But as I mentioned, if these were taken into consideration, there would be no film.

With religion still being regarded a sensitive issue and discussion topic here in Singapore, I think it's because of the way it more or less objectively portrays perpetrators and victims, their issues and reasons along with unambiguous rebuttals, that allowed this to be screened here, though an NC-16 rating for its violence and gore, with really ace looking makeup and animation to wow any audience. It dropped the usual song and dance routine, but only if the narrative was tightened could this measure up with its genre peers.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Case 39

Stay Away!

I had to admit the trailer got me hooked somewhat, as it debunked my dreariness toward yet another horror flick with a demonic kid as the centrepiece scare-master. However, those trailer scenes were nowhere found in this film, and it was yet another one of the same. It then became neither smart nor horrific, although it did leave a bad aftertaste that one could be either duped by sleight of hand tactics, or ended up watching something which undergone countless of rewrites and reshoots, pointing this film toward that of a hack job.

Renee Zellweger tries her hand at becoming a scream queen, but she gets upstaged by Jodelle Ferland as the helpless child who got adopted by Zellweger's social worker, only for things to go really strange when they're living together under the same roof. While the usual bag of tricks got employed to as scare tactics, a couple did stand out to elicit fearful screams, but ultimately what tanked was the rather high handed way the story got presented, in a rather take-it-or-leave-it fashion since no explanation was given about the origins of the ghoul, other than well, the devil can.

Notable cameos include Bradley Cooper and Ian McShane in rather throwaway characters used to beef up the run time with some unnecessary scenes and sub plots, though the latter did get involved in a fisticuffs in an enclosed space for a scene which I have to admit was quite well done in keeping the tension up until the final moment. Other than that, it gets its formula pretty much worked out, and the freshness presumed from the trailer, unfortunately did not materialize into a better film that this could have been. I've enjoyed director Christian Alvart's Pandorum, but this one turned out to be pretty much of a dud when compared.

You can read my review of Case 39 at by clicking on the logo below.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Ninja Assassin


My friends and I had thought about wanting to make a ninja film just for the fun of it, and frankly when the trailer for Ninja Assassin came out, we felt the bar has been raised too high now, given the latest in fight choreography, the special animated effects with the weapons, and of course, Korean hunky mega-star Rain in the role of a stealthy assassin would have rendered whatever we thought of as useless.

But who would have thought this turned out to be more of a comedy of errors. The characters are so cardboard, and granted we aren't expecting Oscar-winning material here, but what came through was more of an insult to the genre of ninja movies. Worst, the rules of engagement were clearly violated, and in the final scene they might as well chose to nuke the whole place down, rather than to send in para-military elements. Guns versus swords? Give me a break, please.

The storyline is already explained in the trailer, where Rain's star ninja pupil Raizo turns against his assassin organization, and becomes a hunted man. But not before deciding to exact revenge for his beloved lady ninja, and thus a showdown is set up. I won't even want to go into detail what the role of Europol agents have in this film, because they're really redundant here, if not to set up the premise for one poorly shot but major action sequence that ended with that ninja being whacked aside by a spinning car trick. Erm, right.

Action wise, choreography was stunning for limited scenes, but marred mostly by the bad cinematography, especially in lighting, and in darkness you can't tell which ninja's attacking which. Though you may argue that it's the way those stealthy assassins operate, but well, if you can't work around this, the whole film might as well be shrouded in total darkness. And what's with the shaky camerawork in a chase scene down the streets, or filming the action too darned close that you don't get to see what's going on because everything's so badly framed?

It had potential to becoming an updated, contemporary ninja film, but unfortunately there's little style, and even lesser substance. What a disappointment.

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


Monday, November 16, 2009

RUDRA Music Video World Premiere

Local filmmaker Jacen Tan, who created hits like Tak Giu, Zo Gang and Zo Hee, returns to the scene this year with a different cinematic offering - that of a music video for Singapore metal band Rudra titled Hymns from the Blazing Chariot, which will make its world premiere on 7th Dec 2009 at The Substation.

Based on the song's lyrics and concept, the explosive music video is a re-imagination of the ancient Sanskrit text 'The Bhagavad Gita', one of the most important philosophical classics of the world. Shot entirely in front of a green screen, the music video boasts each band member wearing pink tghts while performing...

OK I'm kidding. Green screen check, but no tights. Instead the video's storyline will include battle scenes created with visual effects compositing and computer animation. which took over a year for production, complete with Indian performing arts groups Apsara Asia and Maya Dance Theatre helping out with the stunt choreography, costume design, props and weapons which were specially made.

Exclusive behind-the-scenes footage will also be shown, and Rudra themselves will perform a special set after the screening!!!

Doors open at 8pm at the Substation Theatre.

More details of the premiere are available at

To thank Rudra fans for their years of support, entry is free (pay as you want) for the event on 7 Dec 2009.
Limited seats are available, to reserve seats email tickets [at]

The Bhagavad Gita is a philosophical dialogue between Prince Arjuna and his charioteer Krishna which takes place just before the start of the Kurukshetra War.

Prince Arjuna is reluctant to go into battle as he has to fight his relatives, beloved friends and revered teachers. In desperation, he turns to Krishna for advice. Krishna explains to Arjuna his duties as a warrior and elaborates on different Yogic and Vedantic philosophies.

The Bhagavad Gita uses war as an allegory and is often seen as a practical, self-contained guide to life.

Click here for the wiki-entry.

Rudra, formed in 1992, is one of the leaders in the Asian Metal scene. Founders of 'Vedic Metal', their unique fusion of Indian traditional music, Vedic philosophy and extreme black/death metal has won them an underground following worldwide. Based in Singapore, their current line-up is Kathir (vocals & bass), Devan (guitars), Vinod (guitars) and Shiva (drums).

'Hymns from the Blazing Chariot' is taken from Rudra's fifth and latest album “Brahmavidya: Transcendental I", released in April 2009 by Vic Records (Netherlands) & Trinity Records (Hong Kong).


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Evangelion: 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance (Evangerion Shin Gekijôban: Ha)


It's been a long wait, but better late than never I'd say. One of the classic mecha science fiction anime now undergoing a revamp of its own, and despite not having much background knowledge of where the series has headed toward, I still found this installment engaging enough to leave me wanting more especially since it ended on a cliffhanger of sorts, even though it's yet another long wait before the third film hit the screens over here.

Evangelion continues where we last left off in its cinematic version, and the Earth is now under protection by the EVA robots around the world, still piloted by children. There are plans now underway to be more humane though, in piloting the EVAs like unmanned drones from afar, thus keeping the kids out of harm's way. But then there are other plans brewing at sinister levels, which only get hinted at here, clearly sowing the seeds in this installment for something more to come in the future films.

Elements from the earlier film have matured and become staple, and repeated, such as the cheeky way the female characters always get portrayed in teasing the audience / fanboys with various states of dress / near wardrobe malfunction, and hey, besides lead character Shinji Ikari (voiced by Megumi Ogata), every one of his peer pilot seem to be female, and in the opening we're introduced to the pilot for EVA No 5 to start off the film literally with a bang, and EVA No 2's pilot Asuka Langley Shikinami (Yuko Miyamura) in her bright red robot and uniform, in an instant confirming the suspicion that here's one hot chili who isn't afraid to speak her mind. I like this feisty character, who brings a breath of fresh air from the quiet Rei Ayanami (Megumi Hayashibara) and Shinji's pessimism. Other elements would include the countless religious imagery, which is now more in-your-face, and I suppose it should all make sence once the final film rolls around.

The narrative found perfect balance to go a little deeper into the motivation of the various characters, though the kid pilots leave more room as intended for future growth, since Rei is a quiet enigma, Shinji still being the reluctant hero, and Asuka the live-wire who doesn't mince her words, even if criticizing her Japanese counterparts quite pointedly and in some ways, offensively too. A large chunk of the story got devoted to a suggestion of a love triangle that didn't manage to play itself out due to the constant alien threat, but got to a point enough to affect the events that follow, and to make them a sledgehammer for emotions.

Then there's the action sequences, which are still as eye-popping spectacular. The Angels' designs get weirder, and their attack more powerful of course, though the EVAs have a few more tricks up their sleeves, brought about by really pushing the envelope beyond what has so far been permissible. With humans at the helm of technology, we are always in control and can add that aspect of humanity without allowing technology itself from going berserk. This gets explored and discussed somewhat, especially when a dummy module gets its field day when called upon to override some human inaction, and I assure you your jaw will drop and how enemies get pulverized, which is something which I least expected, in an action-packed, yet moving scene which will get you all riled up. Then again this shows how important it is to have a human mind in control, over something else which dictates its actions through set rules, and executed without a soul of thought.

As a follow up film, this one lived up to the potential set by its predecessor, and expanded upon that universe with more Evangelion protocols, new and improved mecha capabilities, and characters you feel for, while still keeping a lid on the intrigue posed by the organizations NERV and Seele. No prior knowledge of the earlier film is required, though you would be better off to know some basics to enjoy the film a lot more. Needless to say the fans would lap this up, especially when the trailer for the 3rd film gets played after the end credits that offered that sneak peek into what's next, and that antagonizing wait for it to actually happen.

For someone like me who started as a non-fan, watching just two films has turned me into a fan, and if anyone has more information how and where I should start off in looking back at the source material, pop me an email!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Tum Mile

Let's Get Out of this Mess

I had thought I was consciously going from one disaster flick to another, from the latest that Hollywood has to offer, to what Bollywood has on its plate. The trailer would have suggested that it's in line with Hanuedae with copious amounts of flood waters wrecking havoc on the man on the street, but this was actually quite the disastrous picture in itself.

It's a romance story, with little time devoted to its gimmicky backdrop with the 2005 Mumbai flooding. Unlike similar plot devices in various disaster films, this one could have done away with its gimmick, but what would remain is an uninspired piece of romantic drama that neither sizzles nor touches, but contains every conceivable cliché offered by any mediocre television drama. Boy meets girl, they fall in love, they fight and we find out whether they reconcile under a heavy downpour. Making things worst is that the characters have absolutely no chemistry, and you'd be rooting for them to stay apart since staying together had proven to be difficult.

Emraan Hashmi continues to play the artist type as Akshay the painter (he was also a painter in Raaz: the Mystery Continues), who thinks the world of himself and refuses to compromise his art nor to eat the humble pie. He falls for rich girl Sanjana (Soha Ali Khan) and they decide to move in together in a swanky Cape Town apartment. Being without of a regular job, we know who will ultimately be forking out dough for bills, and this damages his big male ego. Multiple fights ensues, they split, and meet again some 6 years later, where the film began, aboard a business class section of the airline. Yep, ego boy finally made good, and is contemplating against his ego how to woo his lady love back, except that this time the heavens so wish to rain on his parade.

The narrative gets told in flashbacks, which I thought the backstory would be over and done with by the time the intermission rolls along. Unfortunately not, as it continued to plod on. The story by Ankur Tewari failed to realize how to cut its losses once the appeal of the lovebirds no longer hold, and the focus could have been on how damaging the disaster is, no thanks to inept, lazy and incompetent staff at a meteorological station who seemed more concerned with who's making money from the in-house gambling table. Then again, perhaps the lack of a fat budget had prevented that aspect from taking place,and what resulted in were a couple of CG wide shots of the city drenched, and a couple of archived newsreels to tell you just how bad the situation is.

For a set action sequence – check this – we have a bus turning slowly to its side in a manner which defies the laws of physics, just because a tree branch had punctured one of its windows, and it seemed like the end of the world for all on board, who had so far been mulling around just waiting for the rain, and the flood waters to stop and recede, which the latter did so under miraculous circumstances actually. And what about the inexplicable rush of a towering body of water into a building floor which is higher than what the level of water on the streets is currently, just to see capture sheer horror from the faces of our lead characters? And to top if off, some melodramatic moments you see coming from a mile with regards to water, and power cables.

For what it's worth, Tum Mile could have been a wonderful comedy, but it decided to focus on the insipid relationship between two uninteresting couples in their tiffs and attempts at reconciliation. The result? A total washout.


No Paradise

Roland Emmerich has already established himself as the go-to man if anyone in Hollywood wants to make an event film to entertain the masses. We've had an intergalactic portal open up in Stargate, an alien invasion with Independence Day, a bastardization of Japan's iconic monster Godzilla, a what-if tale of a freezing winter when hell turneth over with The Day After Tomorrow, and now, 2012.

Instead of repeating oneself on the negative outcomes of global warming and a consequence of our raping the environment, this one breezes you through some mumbo-jumbo physics, which ultimately translates into the Earth's core heating up and Mother Nature running a severe fever, which results in hurling everything at mankind, from volcanic eruptions, massive tidal waves and of course, some insane shifting of tectonic plates which only mean one thing - an immense and tremendous cinematic destruction of the world as we know it on celluloid.

To some, you'll be told to park your brains at the door. To others, they wonder how dumb a film can be in magnifying some hocus-pocus doomsday scenario. Bottom line in my opinion, this is nothing but a tentpole pop corn film for purely entertainment purposes, so if you can't accept this, then don't buy a ticket and be the party pooper. In essence, this film is more like an amusement ride, where the price of an admission ticket almost guarantees a thrilling roller coaster ride from start to finish, despite a relatively slow opening to establish a whole slew of key characters and their relationships with one another, before allowing Nature to unleash its fury in all its digital glory.

Effects wise, the teaser did just enough to pique one's interest. I have to admit that watching entire land masses swallowed up by the oceans was pretty terrifying, yet these money shots are just that, the hook for someone to bite and make a beeline for the theatres. CG is carefully crafted here to make it look realistic, and detailed enough for anyone going for repeated screenings to pick out additional, minute attributes that were missed the first time round. After all, it's world wide pandemonium we're talking about here, and there's a systematic way in how the world gets destructed on screen. Unfortunately though you would be able to notice that some of the simpler effects don't get properly rendered and may come across as cheap, though thankfully the larger spectacles clearly got more devotion in getting them done right.

That aside, the mammoth run time allowed for a lot of subplots and themes to be discussed, which turned out to be the surprising gem within 2012. Granted there are unnecessary tangents that could have been removed to allow for a tighter story, such as the entire cruise ship arc which turned out to be nothing more than a pissing competition at Poseidon's (the remake) way, and didn't contribute much other than to allow alternative, uninteresting perspectives besides the cursory warning of never to allow regrets to remain status quo. Or the usual lapses into bravado speeches to rouse the human spirit in survival, which turn out to be rather cliche and boring as well.

The world as we know in the film is into its bleakest hour, and how do you inform anyone about the magnitude of disaster to come? Public announcements would lead to no law nor order, and the breakdown of civil society, and it's up to a group of G8 governments to set a secret agenda in a race against time to ensure that they can ensure the continuity of the human race, by playing Noah themselves.

Emerich has this time round become a little bit more all inclusive in having some non-US centric participation, though this did also seem like a statement to be more politically correct than anything else. Infusing some real world sensibilities, even the location and prowess needed to embark on their massive projects, were left to the Chinese for their impeccable diligence and hard work (not to mention being the world's factory too), and probably a nod to their engineering.

What would raise eyebrows in its morality tale, is how proponents in the way this hushed up secret project would become, and the silencing of detractors or those who cannot keep a secret. Natural selection based on superior gene pool got thrown out the window as well, as predetermined survivors were chosen on the basis of wealth, which of course reflects the way how capitalist societies operate in with money talking loudest. Which makes you wonder how other science fiction films which have similar premises, would have tackled this issue, from Wall E to Pandorum even.

Anyway those are things that were touched upon, but not dwelled in further detail because as I mentioned, it's a film for mass appeal entertainment, finding time to poke fun at world figures and politicians such as Queen Elizabeth II, and the Californian governor. Having a large ensemble cast is part of the fun as well, and they play nothing more than cardboard characters each given a specific thing to contribute in the film. If I lists some of them down as average Joe Jackson Curtis played by John Cusack, his estranged wife played by Amanda Peet, Kinky Boots' Chiwetel Ejiofor as a prominent scientist, Danny Glover as the US President, Thandie Newton as the First Daughter, Woody Harrelson as an over the top doomsday soothsayer, and more from Morgan Lili, Oliver Platt, Jimi Mistry and Lisa Lu, to Singaporean Chin Han, who plays a young TIbetian worker.

If you're looking for entertainment, then look no further than 2012, the tentpole film for this week. Just remember to check your expectations, and buckle up for that adrenaline rush. Make sure you're opting to see this in a digital hall, with a good sound system enough to reverberate the audio shockwaves across the entire screening hall.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Gokusen: The Movie (ごくせん The Movie)


Gokusen is based on a Japanese manga which became a highly popular television drama series, and going by the response of the audience, it's likely that many fans have turned up in droves just to catch the latest installment of their favourite inspirational teacher Yankumi, played in quite a schizophrenic manner by Yukie Naakama, befitting of the character who's balancing her school life with the legacy of who she actually is.

Which is being the heir to the Oedo yakuza family as granddaughter of the boss, primed to take over the family triad business if not for her desire to live her dream, which is to teach. In the television series starring just about the same cast who made it to this film extension, plenty of comedy stem from her attempts at keeping her true identity a secret, despite lapses sometimes in using Gangster lingo, which we do get glimpses of here, but being lost in translation.

Simply put, this story is based upon a typical tale of an inspirational teacher who never stops believing in her students, no matter how hopeless they seem in their academics. We don't get to see a lot of classroom lessons here (almost zilch), but what we do get, is how Yankumi, through her sincere actions and care for her students, win her delinquent charges over, and impart some important life lessons, which will probably propel them further in life, if not setting them out on a clear, strong foundation. Two simple values become what's core, and that's never to lie, and to live life with pride and dignity.

But that doesn't means she's a softie O Captain My Captain. When push comes to shove, her innate abilities to solve things in gangster style, exaggerated of course for comedic effect, means she's never one to shy away from fights, especially completing those started by her students. Metaphorically, it's a fight for her students to wake up their ideas, to keep them from being bullied and to be safe from harm. For her young age, she behaves somewhat like a mother hen, ever protective of her charges, extending the notion of being a teacher for life to all her students, the entire three generations worth which get their respective air time in this feature film.

And that naturally meant that the narrative is split quite evenly, one that addresses her current pupil's problems with a biker gang, one to solve her ex-student's alleged involvement with drug trafficking which formed the bulk all the way to the finale, and one of her earliest students being posted to the Akadou High School as a trainee teacher, where she is currently teaching, thinking that she had inspired him to follow in her footsteps. The film felt that it's providing some closure to some of the earlier drama series, especially in the epilogue where it takes some pains to bring back prominent cast members for a quick canonical updating session.

Those not acquainted with either the television or manga series may feel a little left out when obvious references to those material get made, although it doesn't dictate that prior background knowledge is pre-requisite to enjoy this. To do so, you've to accept that there is room for plenty of quirky, over the top comedy, ranging from deliberate over-acting (especially with Yukie Nakama's act cute antics) to cheesy sound effects that made it look all too cartoony.

Definitely one for the fans, with non-fans able to join in the fun, and probably get their interest piqued in what they've missing out on thus far.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Informant!

Why Can't I Qualify For A Telephone-Shoe?!

Liar Liar, Pants on Fire! I was once told that only the truth can set one free, then again there's this thing about truth which is an entire can of worms as well. Anyway, with lies come bigger lies to cover previous ones, and before you know it, unless you're one heck of a skilled liar, it just snowballs until it gets out of control, and you wonder just how you might just break this circle should you come clean. Sort of.

Which brings us to Steven Soderbergh's The Informant!, where we follow the (mis)adventures of a company whistle blower, who acted in his own self, delusional interest in believing that confessing to the Feds his activity and what he intimately knows about his company's shenanigans in price-fixing, would absolve him of his guilt, and hey, fast track him to the CEO position as well, since he's wearing the white hat and with the good guys. But little does everyone know that Matt Damon's Mark Whitacre has some serious personal issues, which we gleefully laugh along with, until we realize that it is something that has potential to torpedo his credibility.

Matt Damon probably got everyone sit up and take notice with his action-hero persona in Jason Bourne in the Bourne trilogy of films, where his talk-less-kick-arse-more character had everyone heralding the era of shaky-camerawork in action films. Here, it seems that Soderbergh had plucked Damon from his Ocean's films, identifying that he can play low-key with aplomb, and does so as the lead protagonist in the film, without whom I believe this movie will fall flat.

Damon hides behind that thick moustache and paunch to bring out possibly one of his best roles in recent years highlighting some serious versatility so far unseen, punctuated by a quirky narrative complete with a very deliberate 80s feel in art direction. The film worked on a couple of levels, and while the trailer would like you to believe that Mark Whitacre was some kind of Johnny English or Maxwell Smart styled undercover spy buffoon, the character here is anything but and smarter than the trailer made it out to be. There's also no laugh out loud humour that it had suggested, but plenty of wry ones, thanks to some hilarious voiceovers reflecting Whitacre's thought process at that moment, that had topics ranging from anything under the sun, again tying in very closely to Whitacre's condition. One moment he's supposed to listen attentively to a plan, the next he's thinking aloud about cheap ties.

Alas the story did feel weighted as it dragged on for a wee bit too long, accentuating something which the audience would already know about by then, but just wanted to push it all a little further to the point of no return. Thanks to some excellent makeup, you'll get to see Damon like you've never seen him before, and that's basically what The Informant! is all about. A Matt Damon vehicle where he gets the chance to show that he's not just all action and no talk. Some insights into shady corporate deals with kickbacks, corruption and lack of corporate governance will appeal, and probably so would the stifling processes that the FBI, with Scott Bakula heading the cast, have to deal with a none too bright collaborator from within.

Not Soderbergh's best work, but one which adds gravitas to Matt Damon's filmography.

Monday, November 09, 2009


Photo-Fitting the Prey

If Daddy's little girl got hurt, you know darn well that Daddy will spare no effort in hunting the perpetrators down, especially when the police is inept, and turning to the other side of the law for revenge seem all the more attractive. Cost isn't a factor too, since everything has a price, especially with a dad willing to sell everything just to see his brand of justice get exacted.

Welcome to Johnnie To's world of hitmen and a tale of vengeance, set in the cities of Macau and Hong Kong, with his regular Milkyway cast and crew set to deliver an all too familiar premise, now joined by French actor Johnny Hallyday as Costello, a chef who's naturally more than meets the eye, being able to assemble a stripped handgun blindfolded and in record time compared to seasoned veterans. His daughter and her family got gunned down in cold blood, and working against time and with only an injured ear as a clue, he capitalizes on a chance encounter with the hitmen trio of Kwai (Anthony Wong), Chu (Lam Ka Tung) and Fatty Lok (Lam Suet), who for plenty of Euros, a watch, a restaurant and an apartment in Paris, take up this assignment for quite the good deal as it is.

Only of course for Wai Ka-Fai's story to put them in a dilemma of sorts, when they have to consider whether to honour an agreement with someone they know little about, or to do so with their long time contract employer (played to evil delight by Simon Yam), fully aware that crossing the latter will bring about some drastic results, akin to biting the hand that feeds you.

And of course with such consequences come plenty of room for some balletic shootouts, only that the initial big one, with Eddie Cheung, Felix Wong and Ng Ting Yip turned out to be a dark affair under a moon shadowed by cloud cover, with black leather jackets not helping much in knowing who's shooting who in the dark. Otherwise, there were some quirky scenes such as the innovating rolling of rubbish bales to act as sandbags in an open plain, and the finale which will see you rooting for just desserts to be served.

Johnnie To has included plenty of his signature style in this film, from stand offs to no holds barred shootouts with a myriad of semi and automatic handguns and rifles, it's like an education session with a firearms nut. Which of course entertains since the cast, already so familiar with his style, and familiar with what's expected of them, pulled this off oozing plenty of machismo along the way. I cannot for the life of me think of any other non-resident actors who can waltz into a Johnnie To film and look and feel like his gangsters, though Johnny Hallyday comes close with a dogged mission, and a look that has seen better, glorious days.

There are some shades of To's earlier films such as The Mission and Exiled, which isn't too difficult to draw some parallels from since they start essentially a similar core cast, and with some scenes which I thought were uncannily lifted from Exiled with the enemy assault and flight from the fire escape, and there's almost always a scene in the rain with umbrellas, a throwback to other Milkyway productions like Sparrow and Eye in the Sky. There's a twist in the story involving a character in the film which I will not dwell or make refeences to (since you're likely to go Oh, that looked like a plot element from some other film), but suffice to say that that little wee bit that came unexpected, provided more gravitas to the title Vengeance, since it now takes on a whole new dimension altogether, with more action promised of course, but examining the notion of the act of Vengeance, on how different it will be altogether when one no longer remembers the purpose it's supposed to serve.

It's strictly for Johnnie To's fans who know what to expect from the master and now poster boy of Hong Kong cinema, and probably a good introduction too for those new to his films. Those sitting on the fence will wonder what the fuss is about with this film being part of the official selection at this year's Cannes Film Festival, but over here, this film is making a fuss, especially for me, and I'll give you a reason.

For once, we can watch a Hong Kong film with Cantonese dialogue left intact. While local film Blood Ties had Cantonese used as well, this film builds upon that goodwill extended by the powers that be. True, Vengeance has a chunk of dialogue in English, with the other chunk predominantly in Cantonese, and I'll take that. If this is an example of the rules being relaxed slowly, then I'm all for it because nothing, absolutely nothing, beats having to hear the cast emoting in their natural voices, rather than to have someone else step in to voiceover their roles. And of course, if we all don't turn into gangsters or start speaking Cantonese en masse, I think the film would've made the point that not everyone will be negatively influenced by such baseless concerns to begin with.

I smell change coming already, and let's hope it really does with Vengeance being that small step taken in the right direction!
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