Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Triple Tap (鎗王之王 / Cheung Wong Chi Wong)

Gunslinger Blues

I can vaguely remember, if at all, Derek Yee's Double Tap starring Alex Fong and the late Leslie Cheung in lead roles, but don't let that stop you from watching this quasi-sequel Triple Tap, which continues with Fong in a supporting role, backing up the leads Daniel Wu and Louis Koo, both of whom had collaborated with Yee in a number of recent films, such as Protege and Shinjuku Incident, both which continue to provide that steady stream of well made Hong Kong crime films (even with the latter shot in Japan) to the cinema, with great production values and tight narratives to continue surpassing demanding audience expectations.

If you approach Triple Tap with the mindset eager to witness rote and numbing action about sharpshooters and crackshots, then this film is not for you, and you can stick to films like Sniper instead. Triple Tap boasts a multi-facted, psychological thriller which has plenty to offer as it twists and turns about character motivations, and even when you'd expect things to be forced to a corner having shown hand with its critical revelation, it still has enough in its tank to spring up a surprise or two, and more amazingly, making you care for the outcome of the characters, getting you to emotionally invest heavily in them.

The first hour with its sprawling narrative and themes tackled will set you thinking just about how the film will rocket past its buildup and into the finale. There's a sharpshooter's competition at a gun club, where Daniel Wu's cop character Chang had assailed to the top of the standings despite slight hesitation at the final obstacle, only to have his joy cut shot when Louis Koo's Ken, a hot shot forex trader, pip him to the summit through a confident showcase with flair, and a triple tap to boot at the same obstacle that tripped Chang up. I'm not sure I've seen those handguns before, but even if they look gimmicky, they still do pack a punch.

Which leads in very nicely to the root premise of the film, where a high stakes armoured vehicle robbery by a gang of thugs turn awry with inside jobs and mistrust dripping amongst the conspirators, to be thwarted by Ken, as a private citizen utilizing his competition gun to engage in a shootout with the robbers who had executed the security guards and about to take the life of a traffic policeman who responded to the scene of the crime. I'm pretty certain if the something similar were to happen in Singapore, you can bet that he'll likely be hailed as a hero who had stopped a crime and prevented the death of a civil servant, yet will be caught in the web of technicalities with a citizen having used a handgun to kill. I'm not sure how it'll play out here, but it sure will not be pretty.

This allowed for the film to debate about moral ethics and justice, and presented the case for and against with some courtroom drama thrown in as well which will feature in post-film screening discussions amongst friends. As you can tell, those looking for action will be sorely disappointed, as Triple Tap goes beyong just the average action flick, to examine the basic greed of man, with interesting nuggets of dialogue about illegal money lending activities, and scenes that focused on the recent financial meltdown, coverups and such from the perspective of an individual, not to mention moments where man pits against man in a psychological battle of wits.

And all these within the first hour, which left me impressed as Derek Yee neither overwhelms you into thinking he doesn't have a plan to get out of this narrative mess, since everything gets explained and addressed in due course, and by the time the final reel came along, all the cards fell into their rightful place, save a minor loophole or two that can be conveniently glossed over unless you're that stickler to scrutinize.

What I utterly enjoyed about the film is how the leading characters are multi-dimensional in their roles, to reinforce that the film is about dilemmas. For instance, the subconsciousness of a cop who failed to allow good sense to prevail when dealing with a suspect who had earlier beaten him in a competition, concerned with how he himself will be generally perceived should he pursue an arrest. It's a damned if you do or you don't situation with an ally or friend to be made, or an adversary unwillingly formed. The dilemma earlier as discussed where one has to decide whether to use force to counter life-and-death threats in a split second, and once done, to ponder about whether the right thing was done, and on whose moral grounds this assessment will be made?

The final dilemma presented will be that which has to justify having two female supporting roles with Charlene Choi as the simple nurse that Ken falls in love with, and Li Bing Bing as the alpha-female Anna Shaw, the VP of the private investment company that Ken works in, with her explicit infatuation with Ken being the reason behind his meteoric rise in the company, one where he has to trade dignity for material wealth, with the condition attached that he has to eventually leave his loved one. I suppose being caught in this situation with two women in your life, who you're ending up with will likely depend on the character that you are, or wish to become. A good problem to have though, if you ask me.

Rounding up the supporting cast are actors in bit roles, such as Chapman To as the mysterious man who had escaped from the botched heist, Lam Suet as a man succumbing to greed, brought about by circumstance involving the economic downturn, and Michael Wong in a blink and you miss role as a shady investment trader. Alex Fong also makes that appearance as the mentor cum guru whom Chang turns to for advice, and I thought this was a nice touch to link up with its predecessor. Not all's doom and gloom in the film of course, though the obvious signs of comedy here in a scene between Louis Koo and Chapman To, has really exasperating undertones.

An engaging storyline, some nice set action pieces, and great performances by Daniel Wu and Louis Koo, two actors who I am of the opinion that they are improving by leaps and bounds with each film, makes Triple Tap an entry worthy for contention into my top films for this year. Derek Yee has once again proved that he can craft a taut thriller, and Triple Tap is testament once more to that.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Despicable Me in 3D

Weapons of Mass Destruction

This marks Steve Carell's second foray into providing his voice for animated features, the earlier one having to share the limelight with Jim Carrey in Horton Hears a Who some two years ago. Now he's the head honcho in providing the voice for the lead character Gru, a mediocre villain out to attempt his next big diabolical project, if only he can secure funding for it. Yes, even the bad guys do get their off days, and business proposals are necessary for financing their dastardly deeds.

However, the story here balances Gru's bullying of children, by having 3 children adopted by him if not as a small step toward achieving his goal. But in a reversal here, these 3 kids are just about to teach him what it takes to be a good guy, and an awesome dad. Which of course contravenes every single DNA of his being, with dreams of being the top dog in the evil underworld.

3D animation wise, this film has its action sequences carefully crafted to exploit every depth of field and pointy edge that it can, so I'll put in almost on par with How To Train Your Dragon, another 3D animated film I thought had worked amongst the slew of duds to have come out (Shrek Forever After, anyone?) Story-wise, it does pale in comparison to Dragons, and of course Toy Story 3, but it does have its moments that will make you tear, or laugh uncontrollably with the wickedly placed contemporary references and sight gags.

But the scene stealer here is not the story, nor the animation or the effects, but those crazy yellow coloured minions who work for Gru, decked in overalls and safety goggles, and possess a certain degree of indestructibility and comedy. They are the new Madagascar Penguins, likely to be given a spin off on their own since they just about steals the thunder from everything else in the movie. That's how powerful these creatures in the hundreds are, holding your attention span, and beefing up the narrative with their antics. Mark my words, these small little dudes are huge in potential!

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


Sunday, June 27, 2010

[DVD] JCVD (2008)

Say Hello

In a Van Damme movie, if he's held up at a post office by 3 gun-totting man, we can probably bet than he can floor them all with deadly force within 3 minutes, save all hostages and swagger out with a girl in tow for romancing later on. But in real life, or at least a film that's set in this alternative reality that cut quite close to home, things aren't always that easy, especially when he's in his forties and admits early on that he has to pant his way through any film set with an action scene that requires one continuous take.

JCVD is, well in case you're now aware, made up of the initials of the has-been action hero Jean-Claude Van Damme, hero from films like Blood Sport and Universal Soldier, and as he's associated in this movie, the man credited for introducing John Woo to Hollywood as they made Hard Target. Things aren't all that rosy for a man who is well past his action hey-days, with roles not forthcoming, and having to enter into a prolonged child custody battle. Hollywood's action heroes of yesteryears have been fading from the limelight, and it's no wonder that some are finding second life through direct-to-video films, and in JCVD's experience here, he's not gaining any respect from new filmmaker hacks who couldn't care less about his glorious past.

What makes this film intriguing is to witness how ordinary Van Damme is, being just another regular joe who faces problems that aren't as far fetched as saving the world singlehandedly, and juggling his visibility with fan boys when in public, and can't actually step up to be that hero he's idolized for. The Van Damme here gets caught up in an armed robbery in a post office, and contrary to what we would assume he would do, he has to play ball, listen to instructions, and just about making sure that he himself also survives the ordeal.

But of course when one of the robbers happen to be a fan, then this allows for some comedy especially in a scene where he requests his action hero to demonstrate some of his famed moves, which in my opinion, shows that Jean Claude still has what it takes. The other action sequence that will impress will be the one in the beginning, which packs everything from gunfights to fisticuffs, and is just about the time that you'll experience much action in the film, bar delusional moments of "What If"s that Van Damme dreams up, which adds to the fun and plays on his action hero persona.

Which gets shelved aside for JCVD the man, even though this reality is an alternative one. In a brilliant scene, which I felt was the highlight and defining moment of the film, Van Damme breaks the 4th wall and communicates directly to us the audience, as if he's having a confessional to god. He recounts the life that he has, the child who carved out a career by following his dreams, of never say die, and of adopting the right attitude. He covers in earnestness the ups and downs of his life, his success and failures, and frankly, if the Muscles from Brussels had bragged at one point that amongst the Hollywood action heroes he had the most credible acting skills, then this dramatic moment is that justified, with JCVD exhibiting plenty of genuine emotion.

Presented in a non linear narrative with view points changing from the likes of the cab driver, to the video store guys, to the cops and of course from JCVD's own, director Mabrouk El Mechri managed to build up suspense and allow us to wonder just what and how things are related with one another, with the crux of the story taking place in and around a single location isolated by the police from curious passers by and fans of Van Damme. It balances drama and some bits of comedy, while holding out on the limited action scenes to make you wonder just when will Van Damme execute those killer splits and hits.

The last film I saw on the big screen involving Van Damme was the latest Universal Soldier sequel, and it's a bit of a pity he's not involved with The Expendables, which had brought together action heroes both old and new in a single film that's likely to settle for that tinge of nostalgia. For JCVD fans, this film is a must-watch, while non-fans will likely agree that he's more or less vindicated from some of the relatively unsuccessful turns in those made for video market movies. Highly recommended!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Legend is Born: Ip Man (葉問前傳 / Yip Man Chin Chyun)

Who's a Naughty Boy Then?

Its marketing machinery touts this film as one with authentic Wing Chun moves on display, and I'm wondering if they'd actually watch the film when it preached that there's no such thing as “authenticity” in terms of Wing Chun, but one that evolves with different practitioners while keeping true to its philosophy. In essence, this reminds us, as with the Wilson Yip versions, that there's no one brand of martial arts that's superior than another, and one must be open to different versions and change for the better, just like how this belief can now be applied to all the expected upcoming Ip Man films to cash in on its popularity, such as Wong Kar Wai's version starring Tony Leung as Ip Man.

With cult Hong Kong director Herman Yau at the helm, The Legend is Born predates the Ip Man films we've seen thus far, seizing the window of opportunity in exploring Ip Man's life as a teenager before he became the master we're all familiar with Donnie Yen's portrayal. While it's less flashy than the two earlier films, Yau will pique your curiosity with the shrewd casting of veterans such as Sammo Hung in a different role this time as Ip Man's master Chan Wah-shun, Yuen Biao as the next generation leader Chung Sok, and even getting Fan Siu Wong back as Ip Man's foster brother Ip Tin-chi, making him the only actor to feature in all three Ip Man films thus far. Credibility for the film is even enhanced with the presence of Ip Man's real son Ip Chun as the elderly but sprightly Leung Bik who teaches Ip Man (played by Dennis To) a thing or two about his brand of Wing Chun.

That scene alone opposite To is one of the action highlights of the film. And action is something this film has no lack of, ranging from friendly and playful exchanges, to fending off petty street thugs and the Japanese – yes, again, but I suppose it's set in the era before the Sino-Japanese war that this in the narrative is somehow unavoidable. While the earlier film versions had tried to stay rooted in reality with the fight scenes, for this version there's the inevitable and obvious wirework being used from time to time, which takes you into the realm of fantasy unfortunately.

But almost everyone here has a fight crafted for them, and some of the better ones include the mouth-watering duel between Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao executing Wing Chun moves while blindfolded, imparting a key philosophy about pre-emption, Fan Siu Wong's battle against Japanese exponents in the Jing Wu premises, Dennis To against Yuen Biao when the former returned from Hong Kong, and of course the brawl involving Dennis To against many ninjas, which we now associate Ip Man with (fighting against impossible odds in headcount). Various martial arts like Judo and Karate also get thrown in even if they're used fleetingly, and there's also glimpses of the variation of Wing Chun involving weapons like the 6 inch pole (well, we know the damage what Ip Man can do with a humongous one from the first film), and the staples like the wooden dummy practices and the rapid fire punches. If there's any fight scene which is a let down, it'll be the final one which was short, and the opponent never really threatening our hero at all.

Dennis To, the current Hong Kong martial arts champion, probably has his close physical features resemble Donnie Yen to thank for in winning the title role of Ip Man, since audiences all over are currently associating the Master with Donnie's portrayal. Incidentally To had a role in Ip Man 2 as Sammo Hung's disciple, so how's that for having everyone associated with the earlier films, to chip in for this one? The pressure is on for To, but granted he cannot hold a candle to Donnie Yen's charisma yet, and because Ip Man the character here is in his early days, he gets whupped a bit more here as expected since he's nowhere near the grandmaster status. Credit to To for trying, though his acting is a lot more wooden, and his fighting moves executed for the film also having a raw feel than the fluidity we've come to know the Ip Man for.

On the other hand, I thought this was more of a Fan Siu Wong breakthrough role, where he'd make you sit up and take notice of his gentlemanly portrayal of Ip Tin-chi. In Ip Man 1 he's the ruffian from the North, and shows that he's quite the chameleon in changing his outwardly appearance for a different character here. His character also seemed to be more fleshed out (for a reason of course), and action-wise given the opportunity to shine a lot more with the various styles utilized, as well as those which Ip Man had picked up from Leung Bik, putting them two on almost equal terms.

Erica Lee's screenplay transports us back to the life and times of a young Ip Man and his life in the Wing Chun martial arts school, as well as his education in Hong Kong. Unfortunately it also meant having to put in a clunky romantic web weaved between the characters, though it didn't go beyond the surface and had plenty of "jealous fits" coming from Rose Chan's fellow martial arts student with whom Ip Tin-chi is interested in, but for her to prefer Ip Man, who in turn is in love with Huang Yi's rich girl character to probably align this to the Ip Man films.

The story also contain shades from the earlier ones, such as those involving corrupted officials, arrogant foreigners who have to be put in their place, a jail term (this makes it 3 in a row that Ip Man gets thrown into one), and having enough twists in the story to include a short murder mystery, espionage, and a turn that will make Infernal Affairs proud as well.

It's a prequel done by another production team, so don't expect the narrative to gel so nicely into Mandarin Films' Ip Man universe since there are elements here that obviously clashes with what we treat as canon. But what you can expect, as a martial arts action film, is plenty of rapid fire, hard hitting action, and of course more of Ip Man's character being portrayed on the big screen. You'd still feel compelled to applaud when Ip Man comes to the rescue, but soon realize that it doesn't exude the same emotional intensity, but makes up for it in its variety of fights showcasing the lesser seen Wing Chun moves.

Knight and Day

Ride to Success

What a rush! Knight and Day delivers the quintessential summer blockbuster through a perfectly delivered adrenaline ride with big names, action and comedy put together. Honestly The Killers, in a similarly positioned film with the alpha-male and the ditzy blonde pairing have paled in comparison with the real deal now on our shores, and it had likely boiled down to the star power that Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz still command in this part of the world, if sold out attendances here are any indication.

James Mangold's filmography currently covers a wide range of genres, and this experience had benefited him since Knight and Day contains plenty all rolled into one, with action, comedy, science fiction and even serious drama all included. The story really is quite flimsy, if not for the constant twists and turns that actually put you in the driver's seat and engage you in wondering who's who, and what's what, and just whose account you can trust, that of the suave spy, or the girl in shock, or how about the authorities for that matter.

And success was due in part to comedy no less. Tom Cruise had shown that he's adapt at being a comedic actor, with his now iconic Les Grossman from Tropic Thunder being the most memorable. He's not pushover as the action hero, though it's actually been-there-done-that territory as Roy Miller, who possesses this streak of recklessness balanced with expertise and superhuman abilities, who never seems to be putting in the wrong foot. Always seeming to be one step ahead of the game, you'll be constantly positioned to question his motives, his intent and wonder whether Miller is good, bad, or straddling both sides as a double agent.

Cameron Diaz on the other hand with her sunshine smile and demeanour, makes for that perfect eye-candy from whom we follow the proceedings, where her June Havens bumps into Miller at the airport, and following what she thought could be an opportunity for romance, soon finds herself wanted by a clandestine organization, shady underworld dealers, and somehow being doggedly in pursuit by Miller. She has no idea what's going on and it is precisely us following this huge question mark that proves to be half the fun.

Cruise and Diaz share great chemistry together, and it's been quite a long time since they're last pairing together under limited screen time in Cameron Crowe's Vanilla Sky, where the highlight of their scene was in a car careening off at high speeds. And it's no different here as well, with their best scenes almost always involving planes, trains and automobiles, including a high speed Ducarti chase with jeeps and bulls even through the busy streets in Spain. Action here is all non-flashy, but has enough pizzazz to thrill and put you at the edge of your seat.

The one action sequence that stood out was the chase down the highway where Miller rescues Havens with the sheer audacity of taking on an army of agents in a convoy of vehicles with shootouts, blowouts, and impossibly executed stunts if not for computer technology. But not everything's quite polished in the film, and the special effects were alarmingly raw for certain scenes, where you can spot the obvious superimposition. The other surprise was a narrative one, which allowed for sticky situations to be explained away, for deft defying escapes to be done without being shown, with cheats applied through fade to blacks. Which is a pity because Tom Cruise obviously did some, if not most of his own stunts to make his character look the convincing bad-ass he is with the fluid leaps and jumps.

Still the film worked, with supporting characters like a very restrained Peter Sarsgaard, and an almost unrecognizable Paul Dano playing quite one-dimensional roles. Ultimately it boiled down to Cruise and Diaz playing to their strengths, and the other major plus point would be the original music by John Powell, which jazzed this film up and added another dimension to this action-comedy. This is a definite winner in this year's rather dismal summer season thus far.

Letters to Juliet

So Much To Read and Reply

Amongst the mean girls alumni, I think Amanda Seyfried is probably the one who will do that group proud. We know how Lindsay Lohan has self-destructed of late with her partying antics and reported troubles on set of films that she has to be fired from, and Rachel McAdams has somehow faded away. Being a late bloomer, Seyfried has gone on from supporting roles to headlining romantic films such as Letters to Juliet, and it'll be interesting to note how her career will progress from this point on as the latest Hollywood It Girl to look out for.

Granted I was impressed by her acting chops in the rather unconventional role in Chloe that you'd expect an idol to try and avoid with a ten foot pole, but I suppose when given the opportunity to rub shoulders and star opposite veterans, will be too good a chance to pass up. Of late, she's starred opposite her contemporaries such as Megan Fox, and no prizes for guessing who actually came up tops despite being put in an unglam role. But more importantly she held her own against the likes of Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgård, Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, and now, Vanessa Redgrave. I can imagine the sheer amount of pointers and lessons to be learnt by an up and coming actress from such illustrious veterans.

And as Sophie, the fact checker for The New Yorker, Seyfried's back in the comfort zone of being the wholesome girl next door type, which I thought probably didn't challenge her much, except to cement her as the sure-fire go-to girl for roles such as this one. Engaged for a year to an Italian restaurateur Victor (Gael Garcia Bernal), they take a trip to Verona on what's supposedly a pre-honeymoon, except that Victor's passion in setting up his new restaurant meant a tad bit of neglect as he trades romance with Sophie for more quality time with his would-be suppliers. With free time on her hands, Sophie chances upon the Secretaries of Juliets (think Santa's Little Helpers), who reply to letters left under Juliet Capulet's supposed balcony from Act II Scene II by women from all over the world. Translators and postage stamps are no issues as they become the ultimate agony aunt.

The Secretaries are portrayed quite uniquely in the film, and it's a tad pity that the story didn't dwell more on their personalities other than to give them cardboard ones, with each of them being specialist in their respective assigned areas to correspond based on the contents within letters. I'd half expected the team to be featured heavily in the film, but the arrival of Claire (Redgrave) and her grandson Charlie (Christopher Egan) took up the second act, where they embark on a picturesque road trip to seek out Claire's Italian love Lorenzo some 50 years ago because of Sophie's letter of encouragement, which is to Charlie's chagrin since it just undermines his entire family tree and existence.

You can more or less smell from a distance just how the film will then develop and end, with a shared mission to look for a lover from the past, and the budding promise of a new one emerging. Past experience with romantic flicks will likely take a lot of shine and credit off this one, although the lovers here do fulfill the requisite eye candy requirement, as well as wonderful chemistry as the characters find out that fate can play the cruel game once in a while, and it's back to good ol' Timing being the catalyst for relationships to begin or to fail.

There are some who expect their partners to be with them all the time, and there are those who expect plenty of freedom to do their own thing as well. It takes an open mind and an observant eye to understand this so that you won't be betting on the wrong horse so to speak, and this film pretty much sums this up as Sophie gets a tad frustrated with Victor's win-win statements, and the lesson of the day seems to preach the seizing of any moment that presents itself, and not wait. The finale is expected, though the way it revealed itself was a tad too convenient.

If you're a realist, then this film will not appeal to you, as its value proposition and unique selling point is the romantic fantasy of searching for one's true love whom you've lost contact with some 50 years ago, and having true love find you when you least expect it to. If you're a die-hard romantic, then it'll be perfectly up your alley as you soak up the atmosphere and cling onto hope in-between comedic montage scenes where the characters meet up with the wrong Lorenzos. Which one are you?

Friday, June 25, 2010


Hello Gorgeous

I guess fans of Amanda Seyfried cannot experience the bold sacrifice she took to star in the Atom Egoyan film Chloe, since her same-sex scenes got butchered totally in Singapore, leaving the thriller much poorer as the watered down version made it just above average rather than to allow the audience to fully appreciate her courageous attempt at trying her hand at a character that doesn't read nerdy like in Jennifer's Body, confused as in Dear John, or just plain wholesome with Mamma Mia! and Letters to Juliet.

The last film of Atom Egoyan that got screened here, Where The Truth Lies, was slapped with the highest possible rating R21 and as far as I can recall, was screened without a single cut, despite scenes showing a threesome and again with same sex scenes. And this one here actually had that crucial moment where the characters connect both on a physical and emotional level, that the notion of exploiting another person as a proxy to a third party, got totally lost. So it's really your choice to want to go ahead with this in the cinemas, or decide not to altogether.

Which will be a pity, since it stars A-listers Julianne Moore and Liam Neeson, alongside Seyfried as the temptress who got hired by Moore's Catherine, who is suspicious that her husband David (Neeson) was having an affair, and will make no hesitation to bed Chloe should she start to seduce him. Wanting proof of his infidelity, you can say that Catherine's quite the sucker for punishment. Acting is superb all round as even Seyfried ups her game here to hold her own against the veterans, and truly she's one of the up and coming actresses of her generation that deserves a closer look at.

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


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

[SG Short] When Night Fa11s


The thing about relationships is the risk that it'll run stale, a party being taken for granted, or the notion finally settling in that it's just not up to what one would expect from it. In Derrick Lui's When Night Fa11s, this gets examined through the alternating points of view of a couple who have seemed to lost what had once bound them together, now experiencing literal opposites like the imagery of blackest night and brightest light.

And this mismatch cannot be more keenly felt between Eternity (Desmond Tan) and Wei Wei (Jessica Tan, Miss Singapore Universe 2007), a couple hitting the brick wall in problems with each other. For the guy, it's all about being able to continue bringing home the bacon after losing his job, which in Singapore's context, may mean hitting the roads and driving a cab, spending long though flexible hours with time spent driving being proportional to the revenue generated by the meter. For the girl, this translates to a yearning and longing for more time spent with her partner, and the limited time she has, epitomized by that 11th hour in the film's title, is all that she's getting.

It's the classic mismatch of expectations and the realization that fantasy has to give way to reality, and how this reality can draw out either maturity in a relationship, or start to pose problems. For the idle mind with Wei Wei spending plenty of time alone at home to question and fantasize, it boils down to regrets and second guesses, where the loneliness and silence experienced becomes an unfortunate norm serving as a catalyst to doom a relationship. Which you'll feel a certain sense of heart-wringing when you come to know of Eternity's very grounded approach in that basal nature of wanting to provide nothing but the best for a loved one, but I suppose a failure to communicate expectations translates to change being unaddressed, and unexpected until it's too late.

Derrick's narrative here switches between points of view, and for each there's his unmistakable take on relationships through the character's monologue and voiceovers. I felt that while the actors performed credibly, perhaps it is their voiceovers that needed some improvement in eliciting depth in emotion rather than to sound like reading off a script. Bang Wen Fu's music becomes a key component then to make up for this, and thankfully overpowers Desmond Tan's falsetto voice in providing measured pace that the narrative has to develop under. I would love to know if Derrick Lui has a "silent version", or contemplated one where the music and the cast's acting ability could have carried the film on its own than to make it a rather "talkie" narrative, as sometimes it may work with the visuals serving to tell a story, than to lead audiences into a definitive outcome rather than one that allows them to explore. According to Jessica Tan's blog entry here, the film was indeed shot without any dialogue.

Cinematography by Lim Beng Huat provides that wistful look, accentuating the dreams one possesses, and the harsh reality that another has to deal with, which includes a seduction and scene of temptation as acted out by Jeszlene Zhou in a temptress role without dialogue. I thought this scene on one hand could have been done without, but on the other serves to show how strong and stoic Eternity's love for Wei Wei is, unwavering in his loyalty even though opportunities such as these rear their ugly heads from time to time, and then adding to that heart-wrench when things unseen couldn't account for anything to damper the lost of hope.

When Night Fa11s can be somewhat depressing to sit through given the themes that it explored in under 20 minutes, reminding one and all that love is about timing, having the stars to align and the chips all falling at the right places.


It was recently announced that the film has been officially selected to the I've Seen Films - 2010 International Film Festival held in Milan, Italy, and is under both its International Competition Selection, and its Internet Contest as one amongst 278 competing short films from more than 58 countries.

You can click here to browse through the films in International Competition, and click on this link to find out more about the Internet Contest, to watch and to lend your support of course!


Related Links
- Official Movie Webpage
- Facebook Page

Monday, June 21, 2010

For The New Yorkers Who Dig Japanese Films...

A shoutout from my friends over at Japan Society:

It’s that time of year again… JAPAN CUTS Festival of Contemporary Japanese Cinema will run from July 1-16 in its fourth consecutive year, with 25 titles including co-presentations with the New York Asian Film Festival (July 1-4) and a special selection of films from the last decade (Best of Unreleased Naughties!) which have not been treated to U.S. release. What's more, there will be special guests in attendance, such as filmmakers Noboru Iguchi, Yoshihiro Nishimura, Tomorowo Taguchi, Toshiaki Toyoda, Hitoshi Yazaki, and Isao Yukisada; and actors Tatsuya Fujiwara and Daichi Watanabe, parties (Festival Launch Party on July 1st, SUSHI TYPHOON! on July 3rd and NIGHT OF THE FILMMAKERS on July 10th) and giveaways.

Festival Trailer

The lineup for this year's films include the following (click for my review)
- Crying Out Love, In The Center Of The World
- Moon & Cherry
- King of Thorn
and others which I'll watch at the drop of a hat, such as Zero Focus, Parade, One Million Yen Girl and Confessions. Time to dust off the cobwebs on my DVD of Memories of Matsuko too!

You can get more details from the Festival website here or go behind the scenes through the Japan Society FIlm Blog here, which is especially useful for folks like me who cannot be at the other side of the globe. If Twitter is your thing, then follow @JS_FILM_NYC over here.

For Singapore audiences, fret not! In August we will have our very own Japanese Film Festival on our shores, and you can keep abreast of developments in the lineup through the Festival's Facebook page!

Sunday, June 20, 2010


Sita Sings The Blues

My familiarity with the story of Sita-Ram-Ravana stemmed from films such as Delhi-6, which also starred lead actor Abhishek Bachchan and had a stage play in the film recounting that famous storyline from the Ramayana, and Nina Paley's stunning animated film Sita Sings the Blues, which you can watch for free. Making a film based loosely on a classic epic, and giving it a modern spin, is something of a risk that writer-director Mani Ratnam took, since there will always be purist that you can never convince, while those willing to plunge headlong into the experiment, will want to be impressed. I thought the end result was something clever, boosted by great production values, and slick casting with the Bachchans and Vikram in leading roles.

In fact, the making of this film is intriguing enough to compel me to want to watch both its Hindi version which I have done, and to compare it with the Tamil version Raavanan (with an almost similar casting) that is also simultaneously showing here (unfortunately without English subtitles). This Tamil version also got dubbed into Telugu and other regional languages for the Indian subcontinental market. With both versions being shot at the same time, what made it interesting in Ghajini-equivalent terms, is that the lead actress takes on the same role in both versions - Aishwarya Rai Bachchan plays Ragini in both, while Vikram takes on the superintendent of police Dev in the Hindi film, then reverses his alignment to take on the villain in the Tamil version.

The basis of the story follows the three lead characters in a battle between good and evil as represented by Lord Ram and Ravana respectively, where the latter kidnaps the former's wife Sita, and woos her while she awaits her husband's rescue. To say more will be to give away the pivotal surprise at the end of this film, which in my opinion, stuck mostly with the spirit of the tale, and how it panned out with a surprise. In Mani Ratnam's film, the lines of good and evil are blurred into shades of grey, as he boldly suggested that not all good are virtuous, and sometimes evil gets committed if violence, threats and killings are somehow justified, albeit in personal terms.

We're plunged straightaway into the cat-and-mouse chase in the opening scene of the film, where we see Beera (Abhishek Bachchan as the Ravana equivalent) and his gang of merry men inflicting maximum carnage on police officers, where on one hand he's being hunted by the law, and on the other, celebrated by the rural poor villages as a hero. He's basically your anti-establishment Robin Hood kinda guy, fighting the corrupt powers that be and ensuring that the needs of the lower caste get taken care of. He seems to be walking wounded, and it'll take up until the opening of the second half of the film to understand his violent motivations.

Meanwhile, we follow Vikram's Dev (as the Lord Ram equivalent) and his troops as they arm themselves to the teeth and cuts through the forested region in which Beera's gang is hiding. We see from flashbacks that he's quite the devoted husband, and having his wife kidnapped by his mortal foe just seethes enough rage in him to use all means necessary to reclaim his wife. That, or perhaps it's his ego under siege? It's this singular obsession that gets unfolded over time, that we also learn his true motivations, and the kind of officer of the law he is.

Then there's Aishwarya Rai Bachchan's Ragini as the Sita equivalent, but no she doesn't sing, but is a classical dancer, to allow for some picturization over the brilliant A.R. Rahman's songs. Ragini isn't as strong as she thought she was, but in her fearlessness comes unseen courage to stand up to Beera when held as a captive, and treading really close to exhibiting the Stockholm Syndrome. The best parts that Aish has in the film is when she's allowed to emote her feelings alone along beautiful landscapes, opening up her inner desires and hopes of escape from the clutches of evil.

It's been some time since the husband and wife team starred in the same film (the last being Sarkar Raj) so Raavana comes as a treat to fans as they go up against one another as foes, friends and with that tinge of a romantic possibility as well, alongside a backdrop of water, water everywhere, from rain to wild rivers, and under strong waterfalls. While Aishwarya's performance is very restrained as the regal Ragini, her best moments were in the rare dance sequences that provided an additional dimension to A.R. Rahman's score, which was yet another crowning glory for the film, and provided a lift when the narrative dips at times. Abhishek proved that he can play crazy, and does so with aplomb as the unpredictable, schizophrenic even, Beera.

You'll be asked to have patience during the first half of the film as you can teased with flashbacks while having to endure the setting of the stage with the establishing of key characters. The film (kept just slightly over 2 hours) springs to life immediate post-intermission as the basis for the feud gets explained, and here you're likely to feel swung over to Beera's side, and offer sympathies to just what he's doing for the community, and for himself and family. Vikram brings about that macho flair as the super-cop hell bent on eradicating his arch-enemy, and his moment of truth lies in the superbly executed scene opposite Aishwarya when he begins his interrogation. It's a short scene, but a dramatic breather after an all-out fight choreography on a suspension bridge reminiscence of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, though here with plenty of obvious wirework.

I don't understand how this film could have garnered broadly negative reviews. As a Bollywood film it's beautifully shot, with big name stars bringing to life characters that are remotely familiar from an epic, a director with a vision bold enough to challenge convention and ruffle a few feathers with his spin on an epic. At times it's poetic in nature thanks to its music, and engages you to throw moral judgement on the leading characters as they evolve. If I have time, I'll probably be sitting in the Tamil version just to see how Vikram does his Ravana.

A Brand New Life (Yeo-Haeng-Ja)

Friendship, Not

Winner of the Best Asian Film Award at last year's Tokyo International Film Festival, and screened out of competition at Cannes this year, writer-director Ounie Lecomte's debut feature film is a semi-autobiographical tale of a young South Korean girl who got abandoned by her single dad to an orphanage where she yearns a life of normalcy, still harbouring hopes that she'll be reunited with the only family she knows.

One can imagine just how much reference from Lecomte's own life got written into the film. Being unable to speak Korean and has French as a first language herself, Lecomte's tale follows the adventures of Jinhee (Kim Sae Ron), a precocious little girl who ends up in France which probably accounted for the director's own language skills or the lack thereof in her native tongue, and throughout the story you'll find it pretty heart-wrenching especially when Jinhee tries to resist blending into the scheme of things in the orphanage, knowing that to go with the flow will mean to surrender all memory of her loved one and life as she knew, to making herself appealing for a new foster family to pick her up for adoption.

Thus beneath the exterior sweetness lies strong feelings of resentment and anger even, being unable to fathom how her dad can give her up so that she can supposedly lead a better life in a foster home in the mid 70s Korea, and likely one to be overseas given the kind of folks who drop by the orphanage to look for children to adopt. The story's episodic in nature as the orphanage serves as a temporary holding point in her life in between a giant leap of change, and flits between how Jinhee finds every opportunity to resist change, and how each time she embraces a little change through friendships forged, her heart gets broken all over again.

And having one's heart broken too many times probably doesn't bode well for a proper, balanced development, given that her trust with loved ones and friends got betrayed in the highest order. The gem and revelation of the film is the tour de force performance by Kim Sae Ron as Jinhee, who almost single-handedly lifts the film from start to finish giving an unbelievably strong performance for her age, dealing with the range of positive and negative emotions like a seasoned veteran.

You can't help but to fall in love with the little girl, and share in her despair at being abandoned, and weep a little with her when promises made become shattered. Casting Sae Ron is a stroke of brilliance, as the actress' performance was key to make or break this film, and thankfully, she was the miracle to breathe life into what was a straightforward story dealing with human emotions, nevermind the bleak landscape that spelt doom and gloom. This performance alone is well worth getting a ticket to the film.

For those interested, here's the press conference clip from last year's Tokyo International Film Festival where a Q&A session was conducted with Ounie Lecomte and Tetsuaki Matsue who won for his documentary Live Tape, which will make its Singapore debut during the Japanese Film Festival later this year.

Part 1 of 2

Part 2 of 2

Saturday, June 19, 2010

[SFS Talkies] Timecode

Do You Want Me Back?

I've always been intrigued by films that either play itself out in real time, like John Badham's Nick of Time starring Johnny Depp, or films that contain moments of one continuous take, such as the spiraling opening of Brian De Palma's Snake Eyes, or fight action sequences in Tom Yum Goong, and of course, plenty of art house fare that employs the still camera. I can imagine the kind of logistical nightmare the production team has to go through in ensuring a meticulous delivery, otherwise it'll be back from the top all over again.

Which was why one of the first films I've decided to have a look at during this year's Hong Kong International Film Festival, was an indie slasher film Cut, which is done in one continuous take for the entire film from start to end. Little can be said of the storyline, but the premise and delivery technique was flawless, that you can't help but to constantly deal with the nagging thought of how things were done, and especially how the stunt team and camera crew got to get out of each other's way constantly.

Then thanks to this month's SFS Talkies, I learn of an earlier film, done some 10 years ago by Mike Figgis of Leaving Las Vegas fame, that made Cut look like child's play, and everything else that I had experienced thus far look like a walk in the park. Why? Four simultaneous cameras all shot in synchronization, done in 1 continuous take each, following a myriad of characters in and around a film casting location for the most parts, with characters interacting with one another, and the cameras following different characters when they criss-cross.

It's a brilliant technical nightmare. Half the time I was keeping my eyes peeled if a camera crew was found to be in the gunsights of another, but this was not the case. You can imagine the kind of meticulous planning during pre-production to have everything and everyone in sync, and challenging even that preparatory work with a few narrative events like earthquakes to literally shake things up. And having to film everything 15 times in 2 weeks in order to either take the best one (no splicing, no editing here) just boggles the mind, and surely it's an exercise in the technical sense rather than one focused on telling a story in straightforward sense.

The story isn't much to behold, granted it was all improvisational based on how the actors decide to get around to the pre-determined markers to get to the end. You're likely to end up hating it for going nowhere, or find it refreshingly off-the-cuff and enjoying every moment of irrelevance, and an exercise to try and piece together a semblance of something I suppose it is this freedom that attracted a cast list that happens to be remarkably strong, with an ensemble to include Saffron Burrows, Salma Hayek, Holly Hunter, Kyle MacLachlan, Leslie Mann, Alessandro Nivola, Julian Sands, Sellan Skarsgard and Jeanne Tripplehorn, besides a whole host of others. Characters range from the intense to the comical (Sands' masseuse, Nivola's keyboardist and Hayek's mediocre actress wannabe), which is a good thing to keep the interest and spirits up as the narrative just sprawls all over the place, and what more having 4 scenes simultaneously up on screen.

Which provides the viewer with quite the experience in a snapshot of existentialism, and life in general. We see things from our POV in real time at any one time, but we're well aware that during the same time frame, life around us revolves, whether we're participating actively or otherwise. The film provides a curious look at scenes before and after something pivotal, and like our attention span, we can choose to focus on those that interest us and ignore the rest. We have to, we have no choice, given limited cognitive abilities. But here, we're presented with a choice to see everything almost in focus, and at times two or more sections will amalgamate from different angles, especially with some milestone scenes.

I was a little apprehensive before the film about how I was able to follow the narrative given that I can't possible filter 4 different audio tracks as much as I like to, but again here's where the director makes decisions to assist us. Certain scenes were played out in an extended format, such as a quiet drive, which allows us to take our attention off a particular quadrant for a while. Or some where characters just laze around in quiet contemplation. Or have to suffer a frustrating wait, such as those involving Tripplehorn. For areas that Figgis wants our attention on, the audio will drift in, and sometimes it's balanced on different speakers, so watch this with a proper sound system set up!

For sure this is a film that demands more than one viewing, which allows those amongst us intrigued enough to just focus on one particular quadrant for the entire film, before moving onto another, if one is hardcore enough to do that. And with Everything But The Girl's Single in the soundtrack, I'm sold.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Toy Story 3 in 3D

We're Back

It was in 1995 that Toy Story signaled the arrival of Pixar, and the rest was history. To date, I have personally always found myself to have enjoyed all of their outputs, and it does seem that Pixar has indeed grown from strength to strength with sophistication in its graphics and attention to detail, but more so that their creative teams have always come out with solid stories to tell, which is always the key beneath all the glossy bells and whistles visuals.

And I simply love this installment, not only because it reunites us with the characters whom we have taken to heart as old friends, welcoming them back to yet another big screen outing, but because it has a moving story to tell, and has various elements from action-adventure, comedy and drama all rolled into one, allowing an outpour of a kaleidoscope of emotions as we journey for close to 2 hours with Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen), Jessie (Joan Cusack), Mr and Mrs Potato Head (Don Rickles and Estelle Harris), Hamm (John Ratzenberger), Res (Wallace Shawn), Slinky Dog (Blake Clark) and the aliens (Jeff Pidgeon) for one last hurrah.

The storyline for all three Toy Story films may share some similar plot lines in having the constant fear of being discarded and unwanted when one turns old, or to obsess with the thought of being forgotten and unappreciated, and almost always comes with a distance to conquer. That continues here in stronger terms given that it's been some 11 years since the last Toy Story film, and that the toys' owner Andy has already outgrown the toys and have chucked whatever's left all into a treasure chest. Making things worst, he's about to relocate to attend college, and thus the anxieties that Woody, Buzz and the rest of the gang has to come to terms with, being provided 4 options of heading for the trash, the attic, being given away or being that rare toy that gets to accompany Andy to his new environment.

New toys get introduced by way of how the story got crafted involving a children's day care centre, where we get to meet up with the over-emphasized, metrosexual Ken (Michael Keaton!) from Barbie (Jodi Benson), and others such as the Lotso bear (Ned Beatty), together with those belonging to a new human character called Bonnie (Emily Hahn) who owns a cool plush Totoro (which doesn't speak of course)! Sequels tend to overcrowd their stories with plenty of characters, but it worked perfectly for this installment as other than those which get lines, there are plenty in the background that you may just spot a few that you too may have owned at some point in time. Things also aren't quite what they seem at the day care being the paradise for toys in constantly being played with and loved but never to suffer a heartbreak or to be left feeling unwanted, and provides the basis upon which the story develops, providing plenty of challenges for the gang to overcome (gotta love that Monkey!)

What's powerful about Toy Story 3 are the themes that get thrown in, such as that about loss, and the search and fight for things that are worthwhile. It emphasizes the bonds of friendship and courage, while tackling how the lack thereof in abandonment and the feeling of tremendous loss, can someone turn one into a bitter soul, which allowed for the film to take on tragic, darker consequences unseen in the earlier installments, while balancing the light hearted moments. We get to grow with the familiar characters a little more, while having new ones which are just as fun. Just ask Ken!

And a word of caution - prepare those tissues and hankies! Parting is such sweet sorrow, and the manner in which director Lee Unkrich deals with will definitely tug at your heartstrings. At least two scenes got to me, one involving facing a consequence of inevitable hopelessness that is a definite edge of your seat stuff only to remind you of how much you really care for the characters, while the other was what I deem as the perfect send off, an au revoir fit for closing the chapter on this Toy Story arc, while leaving room for another to happen (if it does). It moved, and shows how valuable it is to be loved again, and I thought it was pitch perfect. It would be interesting to know how the creators had intended to end the story, but it was brilliant to have chosen with what was.

Toy Story 3 is a must watch, and it's a contender for a space in my top 10 for the year. It's a sequel done right, a tale with a lot of heart, with elements encompassing what essentially is a fitting tribute and farewell to beloved characters that have blazed the trail for computer generated animation to take centerstage. As with all PIxar feature films, a short precedes the main feature, and Day and Night, like the one offered in Up, comes without dialogue, but with plenty of imagination and again, a solid story for a well animated short film that only Pixar can.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

22 Bullets (L'Immortel)


Based loosely on a true story premise where a French gangster got pumped with lead and left for dead but miraculously survived the hit, 22 Bullets is a revenge flick worthy of its Europa Corp pedigree so you'll know just what to expect - a stylish thriller filled with anti-heroes, and plenty of gratuitous violence with the charismatic Jean Reno in the role of an avenging angel out to settle scores when the perpetrators just wouldn't leave him alone in his retired life.

As the adage goes, one can never quite leave the gangland, and Reno's Charly Mattei, a once feared mobster in Marseille who signalled his retirement through the selling of his businesses to childhood friend Tony Zacchia (Kad Merad in a serious role), it's all about having a reputation that's still influential, and in order for friends to want to move along with their plans against his moral tones of zero involvement in drugs, the only way is to launch a pre-emptive strike to take Mattei out of the equation, only for the group of gunmen to fail in their quest and Mattei's reputation grows to become L'Immortel for obvious reasons.

Like the Godfather series, one may want to get out from one's violent past, but circumstances pull one right back into the thick of the action. For Mattei, it's almost giving the other cheek up for another slap when the mob goes after him in the hospital, but the last straw that broke the camel's back came from the targeting of his remaining loyal soldiers, and thus the avenging angel is born, nevermind if one of his arm is now paralyzed.

It's a story of honour amongst thieves, how some hoodlums fail to pay heed to the established rules of engagement of never crossing the line to hurt women and children, and essentially family members in their violent public spat. As for the cops led by Marie Goldman (Marina Fois), she's eager to look for an opening to avenge her husband's killing, yet bounded by duty to know that she has to keep personal and business separate. What more, it's to the police's advantage that the mob is killing one another, and thus warned to keep an arm's length at the explosive gangland war. In a strange parallel between those finding on opposite sides of the fence, it's all about doing a job, and then going home to family at the end of the day.

Directed by Richard Berry who also had a small role in the film, 22 Bullets is unflinching in its violence, and the mowing down of Charly Mattei early in the film somehow is reminiscent of other massacres such as that of Sonny Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather, or Murphy in Paul Verhoeven's Robocop. Don't expect Mattei to be dishing out revenge with creativity though, as his is a simple dispatch involving a signature one shot to the head, and one to the heart, two critical areas to ensure the grim reaper comes calling. There are the occasional lapses into monologues, although it does play up the fear factor here when he carries out the threat of striking when his enemies least expect him to.

Jean Reno as usual excels in this role, and you'll find yourself rooting for his character despite his flaws and what his character actually was in the past. As Zacchia puts it succinctly, a wrong is a wrong no matter what layer of morality gets draped over it. Kad Merad's Zacchia too puts in a moment of brilliance when he delivered a hypocritical speech about the value of close friendships, while his demeanour behind closed doors is anything but, lying to the masses without a flinch.

22 Bullets is a straightforward thriller that worked without too much surprises, but its slick delivery more than makes up for any of its shortcomings.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

She's Out of My League

Dream Come True

The cynic in anyone when coming across a couple where a hot chick is with an average or below average guy, will suggest that the fabric between them would either be his limousine or sports car, the size of his obscenely fat wallet, or he possesses the skills of a sex god blessed with a giant you-know-what. But if this film is to be believed, the babes are really down to earth people yearning for what everyone wants, genuine love. But you can trust a comedy to take this premise and spin it into quite the laugh-out-loud flick complete with one-liners, crazy characters, with everything fair game to be poked fun at.

Jay Baruchel will likely see his stock rise this year, coming off with providing the voice to what I thought was the best 3D animated film this year in How To Train Your Dragon, before what seemed to be promising in The Sorcerer's Apprentice with Nicolas Cage. His current on screen persona is more aligned to that of a slightly older Michael Cera, launching into self-deprecating mode ever so often with that tinge of whine and self-consciousness that Mr Average doesn't have what it takes to beat the odds. As the TSA airport screener Kirk, his live revolves around talking crap with his airport employee buddies, being bullied at home by everyone save Mom, and has just come off a break up with Marnie (Lindsay Sloane) whom he is trying to woo back.

Enter Alice Eve (Crossing Over, Sex and the City 2) as the hottie Molly, who enters Kirk's life when she left her cellphone at the screening station, and being the alpha aggressive female takes bold steps to get to meet up with Kirk to retrieve her phone, invite him out as a thank-you, and soon finds herself attracted to him because he is the quintessential Mr Safe, compared to the jocks she's been out with. It's Revenge of the Nerds people, if only the Nerd will stop not believing that his luck has turned, and that constantly reminding oneself of how lucky one is, is never cool.

Being there and having done that (being tackled by and tackling a hottie), the film rightly addresses issues of self-esteem that one must maintain or possess in order to sustain a relationship of this nature, and the story by Sean Anders and John Morris takes what is called the hot-o-meter, and with some whiff of a truth in it, compares and takes stock of people's individual indices with one another, using it as a quick gauge to determine if relationships last, from a rather physical perspective. But what's always more important is to dig a lot deeper into the person and get to know him/her inside out, than to look out for flaws with which to wallow some pity in and to obtain some egoistic, proud advantage over. Nobody's perfect, and this film takes quite the while to bring this thought across.

From the laughter perspective, She's Out of My League covers a broad spectrum of sources to elicit mirth, although those averse to F-bombs may want to steer clear of it, since Kirk's family doesn't think twice of letting plenty of it go everywhere. The middle finger also makes plenty of appearances, so uptight folks may want to give this film a miss. What was truly hilarious thankfully got hidden away from the trailer, and it's not since The 40 Year Old Virgin that a scene involving hair removal is done in such a distasteful yet hilarious sequence. Toilet jokes as it seems are popular, and that episode involving semen also gave the one in There's Something About Mary a run for its money.

The supporting cast here such as T.J. Miller (who was also in How To Train Your Dragon), Mike Vogel and Nate Torrence all seemed geared up to give Team Apatow a run for it too, and I wouldn't be surprised if steps are taken to craft that (if they are not already indirectly from that same comedic creative force). Miller who plays Stainer probably got really close to upstaging our male lead with his devil-may-care attitude and brashness, and no thanks to the hurried ending (it seemed as though a large chunk was taken away for the DVD's deleted scenes) we don't get to see more of how he orchestrates the expected ending. As the female lead, Alice Eve doesn't do very much other than to remind you of how hot she can be thanks to her ample assets, and who would have guessed that her real life parents also turn up as the reel ones here too.

This film won't likely join the ranks of classic, memorable comedies anytime soon, but for what it's worth for that instance of much needed comedy, then this film perhaps could be your pick over the bigger budgeted blockbusters that are currently invading the multiplexes.

The Karate Kid

I Teach You Kung Fu

One can suppose the tremendous love Jaden Smith gets from his parents Will and Jada Pinkett, who probably decided that it makes good sense for their son to learn some form of self-defense, so why not learn from one of the best available, and make a film out of it? I'm wildly speculating here on how this remake of the 1984 film of the same name came about, one which made the fictional Crane Technique famous, and launching Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita to instant fame, especially so for the latter.

Serving as producers, the Smith's version of The Karate Kid had Karate as a misnomer, since it's Kung Fu that got featured, although they did place the emphasis on Kid, with their son Jaden being the star of the show, very much younger than how Ralph Macchio turned out to be in his role as Daniel Larusso in the original. And the truth is that Jaden's ability here in the lead role coming off films like The Pursuit of Happyness and The Day the Earth Stood Still, is one of the highlights in ensuring you get sucked into his world of the new out of towner American boy from Detroit now finding himself in a new environment in Beijing, and rubbing off the playground bullies on the wrong foot.

Which provides the path to Karate Kid formula, where boy gets a good wallop from his peers, eventually saved by the maintenance man who knows a thing or two about martial arts, becoming a disciple and learning new skills, then entering a contest so that a fair fight can be featured at the finale. And what makes martial arts training more fun, is the East meets West clash of cultures that provide some avenue for light hearted moments, yet balanced with some serious drama when dealing with themes like a disgraced past, or explaining the hocus pocus mysticism behind the martial arts, which took on a somewhat greater proportion here.

Some moments of the formula did get an update to suit the different time and premise, especially with the Miyagi aspects paying homage to what Pat Morita had done, with things like the chopsticks and the fly, with a different outcome of course. Even the Crane Technique got a little makeover as well, though this version ran on for a little bit longer, and its finale fight really put you on the edge of your seat with excellent action choreography, though it must be said it's really fictional and at times unbelievable, since the fights were really bone crunching and hard hitting, but nary a scratch or severe injury gets inflicted barring what's necessary as formula. Since the combatants here are sparring sans protective gear, parents may want to warn their kids, who turn up in droves for the film, that there's a degree of artistic license taken here in the bouts, and no you can't kick a guy across the floor without breaking some ribs for instance.

What I found more interesting here, is the role that Jackie Chan plays as Mr Han. While no Mr Miyagi spouting words of profound wisdom, you can tell that as Mr Han, Jackie Chan tries hard to not goof around much, and becomes pretty serious in his role. It's somewhat a full circle for JC, after all, he burst into the scene playing exactly the role of "the Kid", being trained in a rote like manner similar to waxing on and off, or jacket on and off. In films like Snake in the Eagle's Shadow or Drunken Master, he's on the opposite side of the equation with Yuen Siu Tien playing his master, and with this film, takes on the master's role and training Jaden's Dre Parker in similar fashion. If I can ask JC a question, it'll definitely be to find out how he felt like having to mature into a stage where he's no longer the vengeful student, but the wise, sage like master.

Clocking almost 2.5 hours, the film got bogged down by the innocent romance between Dre and Meiying (Han Wenwen) that took up significant screen time to try and provide a little more dimension to Dre, as well as to explore themes like never giving up, and friendship. The other kid in the film, Wang Zhenwei who plays Dre's nemesis Cheng, has enough of that mean streak look to stay as that one-dimensional boogeyman that Dre has to overcome, influenced by the evil Master Li (Yu Rongguang) whose mantra is to be merciless, and never to bat an eyelid when called upon to violate the spirit of fair play.

Like the original film, the magic of the appeal lies very much in the pairing and chemistry shared between teacher and student. Here, Jackie Chan turns on his acting chops more so than to run around showcasing his acrobatic ability, leaving the slick moves to a buffed and trained Jaden Smith, who demonstrated that he's more than just a cute boy with braided hair, and possessed tremendous charisma that you can't help but to root for the little fella, who's blessed with nifty dance footwork, movie star looks from his parents and now, enough skills to inflict serious injury. A subtle tone on the surrogate father and son relationship gets hinted at, with director Harald Zwart not wanting to explore this a little deeper, going instead for a number of tourist-like shots of Beijing in a not-too-subtle effort to showcase the city.

The Karate Kid spawned a few sequels, one even featuring Hilary Swank before she kicked more butt in Million Dollar Baby. I'm betting on this film being the forerunner to this week's box office results, but a sequel may seem out of the question, since we know just how fast kids at Jaden Smith's age will develop and mature.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The A-Team


If I may indulge a little bit first, my friends and I have an affinity for The A-Team. After all, back in the days when it was cool to form a clan and hangout at internet cafes to hone our skills in a game of Counterstrike, we called ourselves something similar, and adopted nicks / personas that mirrored the crew to some extent, with a real officer leading the team, my handle being Face, and another called Mr E rather than T. Those were the good old days, and we'd even come up 49th in the national championships (erm, out of 50!)

That aside, The A-Team movie is graded A for action, comedy and plenty of fun. It's been a long time since I last seen a film that didn't take itself too seriously, and looked like everyone had a jolly good time in bringing to the silver screen one of television's enduring series in the 80s, coupled with what epitomized the spirit of what made Hannibal, Face, B.A. Baracus and Murdock household names back then, being the mercenaries for hire after breaking out of prison following being wrong accused of a crime they didn't commit.

Director Joe Carnahan, who also co-wrote the story with Brian Bloom (who plays one of the villains Pike) and Skip Woods, they did what the Star Trek team of 2009 did for that film, in bringing a modern day update to a series that has a cult following, and giving it their own spin while keeping true to its essence. I've enjoyed Carnahan's Narc and Smokin' Aces before, and his filmography positions him well in balancing action and comedy, knowing when to be serious, and when to go over the top. The A-Team film is an origin film, taking that iconic monologue in the opening credits of the TV series, and expanding it to a feature length film including giving reason behind why B.A Baracus just hates flying.

In this update, we are thrown to Mexico to witness the formation of the quartet of crack soldiers, with Hannibal (Liam Neeson) stopping B.A. Baracus (Quinton "Rampage" Jackson) in his van, forming a pact to save Face (Bradley Cooper) before escaping the country with the last minute recruitment of the best military pilot available in the crazy Murdock (District 9's Sharlto Copley). Then comes 8 years and 80 over successful missions that this Alpha clandestine team has under its belt in the Iraqi theatre of war, and just as the US forces are about to withdraw from Iraq comes a mission that only The A-Team can pull off, involving the retrieval of plates uses for counterfeiting the US100 dollar bill. However, with the involvement of the DoD represented by Jessica Biel's Captain Charisa Sosa, Face's ex-flame, and that of the CIA as led by agent Lynch (Patrick Wilson) while having to deal with private security mercenaries (yep, updated for today's environment) means our team is caught in-between a rock and a hard place, being framed for a crime they did not commit, and breaking out only to clear their innocence and get back at their betrayers.

It's the opening action sequence in Mexico that will set the tone for the rest of the action to come - to believe the ridiculous, since every sequence crafted has the meticulousness of the plan put on screen like how heist movies do it, but nicely edited so that repetition is kept to the minimum, if at all. Action sequence follow action sequence, and they're all wickedly done in making you laugh, while at the same time bewildered at just how they manage to pull off those unbelievable caper, some which you'll catch a glimpse of in the trailers.

The story's kept really snappy with witty one-liners, and wonderful characterization for what's essentially a lightweight, action-packed fare, and I suppose that's also thanks to the television mythos having to develop the characters so much so that fans will know what to expect, and with enough in the tank to convert new ones. The casting was also spot on, with Liam Neeson providing gravitas as the undisputed, honourable leader of the pack and the brains for operations, and Bradley Cooper with charisma and charm enough to make a believable Face and right hand man. Quinton Jackson has it tough to be B.A. Barnacus without being Mr T other than adopting that mohawk and attitude, providing some laughs with his fear of flying no thanks to Murdock, where Sharlto Copley steals the show from everyone else with his crazy antics and doing just about what's impossible (or even hilariously suicidal!)

But that said, this film did not become like the cinematic version of Mission Impossible, where a story about the essentials of teamwork eventually becoming a one-man show based on a character which didn't even exist in the original TV series. The nature, integrity and composition of The A-Team is always maintained, and with each operation you're left eager to expect just what each character will bring to the table in terms of their expertise, which the cast brings to life with ease thanks to their excellent chemistry with one another, filling the atmosphere with the right doses of comedy before fast paced action.

As with most adaptations, the original cast members will be given some screen time to please fans in a fun filled cameo, and it's somehow a pity that Mr T did not agree with the making of this film, which resulted in the remaining cast having to grace their presence in the coda at the end of the credits instead. So true blue fans, don't leave your seat until the end for a scene which is guaranteed to tickle your funnybone.

Forget about the summer films that went before it this year. The A-Team represents just what it means to be a popcorn summer blockbuster film with all the right ingredients in entertainment. Highly recommended, and I won't be surprised if this sneaks into the shortlist for one of the best this year, purely based on the amount of fun that came along with it! Here's hoping there will be future adventures with the same amount of spirit!

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Wearing Green - 9 to 18 Jun

The inevitable call of duty to the nation.

Normal services will resume soon!

Sunday, June 06, 2010


So Who Are You Again?

A blonde being led by a dark haired handsome man on an adventure that goes beyond her wildest dreams, with her life constantly on knife's edge with all the shoot-em-ups happening around them. Is this the Cruise-Diaz flick Knight and Day? No, it's the Kutcher-Heigl film Killers instead, having drawn first blood this summer based on a similar tale of a killer taking on a reluctant sidekick inadvertently in his adventures against armed men. Or at least that's the parallel that can be drawn from the trailers.

Killers turned out to be a film deeply rooted in matrimonial issues once the courtship scenes breezed by, with both protagonists Spencer (Ashton Kutcher) and Jen (Katherine Heigl) meeting up through serendipity in Nice, France, before a whirlwind romance fast forwards the film to 3 years later when they are already blissfully married, after a perfect courtship lands them into that dreamily happy, married life.

Until of course Spencer's past as a hired assassin for the CIA catches up with him and interrupts his mundane, routine life, with the agency wanting him dead for walking out on them. So begins a madcap chase involving assassins out to get their bounty by getting rid of Spencer, and him trying his best to juggle both keeping him and his wife alive, and appeasing Jen because his lies about his past is threatening the blissful life he had always dreamt of living. In some ways, the predicaments and arguments the couple get into seem to be similar to that of the Carell-Fey film Date Movie earlier this year, where similar themes of married life got explored, though this one interspersed with plenty of guns-ablazing action sequences, and token car chases.

Between Heigl and Kutcher, it seemed that the former has all the best lines in the film, and regardless of what others may think, I feel she still continues with her great comic timing and is totally at ease with romantic comedies, so much so that she's treading on dangerous ground in being typecast as the typical ditzy blonde in rom-coms, that she might as probably be heir apparent to roles that normally goes to Cameron Diaz. Kutcher continues his pretty boy role here, with his Spencer being a little bit more mature and actually yearning to settle down rather than to continue with his jet-setting lifestyle as an international hired assassin, only to discover that Jen's dad Mr Komfeldt (Tom Selleck, still keeping that signature mustache in good shape) is one tough cookie to crack.

The film is paced so fast from start to finish that you hardly have time to sit and kick back, with everything passing you by in a flash, from action scenes to dramatic ones filling up the in-betweens. The genuine laughs come in sporadic moments, the action nothing quite spectacular, but the pairing up and chemistry shared between this couple from bliss to bicker, is probably the highlight of the film. There's the token twist that added a little spice to a rather straight-forward plot, though it's something that you'll probably see coming from a mile away, since having a star in the film is something of a dead giveaway when you realize that that person is somewhat grossly underutilized.

Now for that Cruise-Diaz vehicle to come by and let's see if that can blow away the competition, or surrender to either Date Movie, or Killers. Stay tuned.

A Nightmare on Elm Street

Dirty Hands

Michael Bay has probably developed a strange fetish for wanting to recreate, reimagine or just plain want to remake every classic horror film out there, taking its icons and trying to craft something new and just as enduring. From the Texas Chainsaw Massacre to Friday the 13th's Jason, he now turns his gunsights to Wes Craven's A Nightmare of Elm Street with the irrepressible Freddy Krueger, played to perfection and stereotyping Robert Englund in what would be the role he's best remembered for, with that disfigured face, hat, claw-like gloves and a wicked (pardon the pun) sense of humour, being the ghoul that haunts one's dreams, living in another parallel where he's lord and king over the sleeper.

Director Samuel Bayer's version begins his series in the thick of the action in a diner, where we see a young chap Dean (Kellan Lutz) being sleep deprived for three days before finally succumbing to Freddy's dominance in his dreamworld. One by one a group of teens fall into their slumber and to their deaths, and it's up to Nancy (Rooney Mara) and Quentin (Kyle Gallner) to figure out how the sins of their parents, and of their repressed memories of their childhood, all play a part in the recent gory deaths of their high school friends.

Which will leave the fan wondering, just exactly what sort of reimagination goes on here. There's really nothing new to add to the established mythos, and there's actually little point in trying to revive a film whose icon has spawned countless of films to varying degrees of success. Moreover, compared to Robert Englund's turn, Jackie Earle Haley seemed to be rehashing an amalgam of his previous roles from Little Children and Shutter Island, and unfortunately, his makeup and wardrobe as Freddy projected less of a real menace than it should. As an origin film we cannot stray away from the retelling of how Freddy came about, but stopped short of how it took so long before managing to exact revenge, probably it really takes that long for mastery of the dreamworld complete with snazzy looking special effects.

But of course I'm not dissing Haley's performance because there's really only so much he can do with such a weak story, though his Krueger seemed to have lost his sense of humour until late in the show. Other than that, his iconic character suffered less drastic changes than say, other Hollywood needless remakes such as Clash of the Titans. Gore is kept to a minimum, with the body count for a horror film surprisingly kept very low. Bayer also didn't break any new ground in the generation of scares, dipping his hand into tried and tested, though cliché and unimaginative techniques of sudden turns and loud music to try to make you jump in your seat, until it becomes really boring as every upcoming scare got preempted by its impatient musical bars that come on too early.

One thing's for sure, the sequel for this rebirth has already been greenlit and set in motion, and going by the way this film ended there's no prize for guessing just who else is next on Freddy Krueger's hit list. I still bear the slightest hope that films should not be remade just for the sake of, especially when they don't offer anything new nor innovative, and come across as just another bagful of rehashed elements that don't add value to the mythos. Now that's the real nightmare for an audience in watching something on repeat with deja vu elements being touted as something unique.

Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang

Where's My Nanny?!

It's only when you need her and not want her, that she appears, and only when you want her but no longer need her, does she go away. It's been 5 years since the first Nanny McPhee film burst onto the silver screen, and now a second film comes at a time during the school holidays to provide the little ones some entertaining, family friendly fare with good moral messages to boot. Emma Thompson reprises her role as the magical nanny with facial disfigurements that disappear one at a time, each time she imparts values to children, and here she has 5 to teach the little ones to behave.

Like its predecessor, Nanny McPhee appears to assist Maggie Gyllenhaal's Mrs Green, a war time wife whose husband (Ewan McGregor) has been off to war and has only corresponded back home through snail mail. Being the current breadwinner and finding great difficulty in controlling her children Vincent (Oscar Steer), Norman (Asa Butterfield) and Megsie (Lil Woods), her problems compound when they are joined by their cousins Cyril (Eros Vlahos) and Celia (Rose Taylor-Ritson) who hail from the city, and a clash of attitudes spell even more trouble for the harried Mrs Green. But not if Nanny McPhee can help it, and does so in a jiffy.

Set mostly in and around the Green farm which the children's uncle Phil (Rhys Ifans) as chief baddie who tries hard to get Mrs Green to sell half her ownership so as to bail him out of gambling debts, McPhee gets to impart lessons learnt through manufactured incidents on the farm and allows her magic to be weaved even on piglets, which will probably delight the younger audience as they do strange things like climbing trees and synchronized swimming. In some ways, the lessons here somehow paled from the earlier film, and the last lesson happened more like a matter of fact rather than one properly planned out, though they do enough to allow some nifty special effects laden scenes to be played out.

The children in the film brought about fine performances and are able to hold their own against the likes of Maggie Gyllenhaal, and even the cameos of McGregor and especially Ralph Fiennes, who boomed with much stature as Lord Gray of the War Office and in that short scene, provided enough pathos and a key plot element as to why the Green's cousins came to live with them on the farm. Comedy came in the form of Maggie Smith's senile Mrs Docherty, though it was a mix of hits and misses with the latter taking unfortunate dominance.

I suppose Nanny McPhee can be an enduring franchise if the younger audience embrace it as the less flashier franchise series of say, Harry Potter and even Twilight. After all, it has good moral lessons to impart, and has a feel good element about it, on one hand being light weight in treatment, yet packing some punch in its messages. Stay tuned during the end credits too for an animated sequence that's too beautifully done to miss, and for the sharp eyed viewer, let's see if you can spot a moment of goof in the film that has something to do with the film being flipped left to right. Recommended for children, and adults alike.
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