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Vice (I) (2018)
Brilliant, sinister political horrorshow
27 January 2019
It's been over 17 years since 9/11 and the subsequent carnage from the GWOT. There has been no accountability, the Congressional Reports, no investigations, nothing...this film is about as close we'll get to the truth behind it all, though there were important details missing, eg the rise of the Neo-Cons.

The acting is brilliant, and the nuances of the personalities are well-portrayed, though many other characters could have been explored in greater depth and detail.

It will however, make this compelling film much longer than it already is. I highly recommend it - it is absorbing, despite its rather dry political subject.
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The real 1/10s Propaganda Team are out in force
23 August 2018
Isn't it weird? All the 1/10s seem to me more like a propaganda effort to tank this documentary!

Undeserved the low rating. I don't think politics should affect one's ratings of a a film or documentary.

This comes across as authentic and a good view into what real war entails. There isn't a lot of action at all, but a lot of close studies of people and their lives.

I didn't feel differently about the wars or Russia. In fact, there's nothing about Russia in there, just ethnic Russians minorities fighting attacking majority Ukrainians in a separatist war. The protagonist is a Serbian sniper. The other men and women were separatists.

It comes across as real, compelling and suspenseful with Deki and his nemesis. Dum-dum! Deki is a very well-crafted character.

The cinematography is outstanding as well.

Gave 10/10 to balance all the strange 1/10s.
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Your Name. (2016)
Not impressed
2 January 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Had high expectations due to the hype and I liked Shinkai's previous works, but was disappointed that it really wasn't special. The plot is bland and predictable, the mystery not quite so mysterious, and you're expected to suspend disbelief but then one would expect an incredible journey that makes it all worthwhile when in reality it's all rather pedestrian of the usual teenage pulp romance genre.

The implausible we are asked to believe thus becomes rather irritating - when the great unraveling of the "mystery" is anything but.

I far prefer Studio Ghibli's wistfulness and sensitivity in their approach - there's something magical and enthralling in their hinting at young romance. Even in the realm of the impossible, eg Arietty, the story-telling is compelling enough to make the deeper currents palpable.

Oh well, different strokes and all that...
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Seoul Station (2016)
Better than Train to Busan
30 September 2016
Train to Busan is a hit now, and deservedly so. Although it is a zombie flick, it reaches deeper into the societal issues of corporate greed and class stratification, albeit in a way that is predictable and at times clichéd. Not so with Seoul Station - this animation delivers not only highly poignant commentary about class, poverty, social malaise, the ending is a whammy of a climax that is unexpected yet wraps up the narrative arc neatly without succumbing to familiar tactics.

Unlike Train to Busan, it is Seoul itself (and its denizens) that is at the epicenter of the drama. Likewise, the characters are well fleshed out according to their role and societal stature. As a horror thriller, the zombies are up close, omnipresent and quite effective. The characters kept up a good pace, and are resourceful in adapting to the dangers they face with intelligent and believable methods.

Like The King of Pigs and The Fake, Seoul Station belongs as much to the poignant social narrative as the zombie horror genre. It is a must-watch, and in my opinion, a superior film to Train to Busan.
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Dark but brilliant
18 September 2016
I have been disappointed by some of the more recent Korean films that promise to lead the audience into deep dark psychological realms but deliver only rather trite and confusing plots even if the cinematography and acting were stunning.

After being almost overwhelmed towards the conclusion of this animation, I believe that the spirit of Korean cinematic honesty, confrontation, complex psychegeography lives on in works like King of Pigs.

I won't go into the story - the plot is straightforward enough: bullying, high school hell, the sickness of a society based on hierarchy and class, corruption of the system...but the delivery of the narrative gets under your skin in completely original, unexpected ways.

The end twist is utter believable, and delivers a double whammy, so stay glued to your seat.

I can't understand some of the low ratings, though many might find this very difficult to watch due to the horrors depicted. It wasn't an easy film to sit through, but it is worth every effort to do so.
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Thoughtful martial arts film
29 August 2016
Warning: Spoilers
First, this isn't a typical wirefu flick with a simplistic plot that centers around the theme of vengeance or political intrigues involving evil eunuchs.

It is about honour, reputation of the martial arts schools, the social and changing political climate of early century China. There aren't really good or evil parties, there is tradition and resignation towards the impending militarization of China, the real emerging power at work.

The film is thus alternately more realistic in the absence of the usual outlandish plot line and yet still not quite believable in those "1 vs 100" fight scenes that are typical of this genre, though the gore and death count are respectfully, authentically low. The fighting is filmed without wires, CGI or camera gimmicks, they aren't as stunning as a Yuen Woo Ping choreographed sequence, but I enjoyed the more realistic style of fighting throughout. Authentic details such as how judges mark the pugilists in competitions in the old days are also eye-opening and much appreciated for the knowledge aspect.

I gave it a higher rating because of the wry humour, cryptic dialogue that reveals more complex persona and histories behind the characters. The sparse "Northern" way of filming is more abstract and evocative. I hope the English subtitles do not confuse or disappoint as the narrative is interesting .
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The Wailing (2016)
Straightforward horror flick that tries to be more...
28 August 2016
I loved The Chaser, The Yellow Sea and of course Memories of Murder and while Horror isn't really my genre I'm willing to go on a hell-raising roller-coaster ride to unravel the frightening intrigues that this film promises.

From all the reviews, the forum discussing what really happened, YouTube "spoiler" videos clarifying the loose ends and the chatter in the cinema when the credits start to roll, it is quite clear that the audience are mostly left greatly mystified rather than delivered by a well-resolved end moment when pieces of the puzzle start to fall together in a satisfying manner.

Fans of mystery understand the need for red herrings, unexplained characters and details that throw the scent off and suggest multiple possibilities, but in this movie, they remain glaring plot holes and still don't make sense even by the end when the answer to the mystery is all but apparent. Herrings? More like leads down the garden, or rather, mountain path...

It is especially frustrating as the movie is long, there's little build-up to the horrors, few techniques that could be effective in moving the story-telling along were used and the terrifying moments become repetitious and drawn-out. Many of these repetitious scenes could have been cut to focus instead on the background to some of the key characters, not only to increase audience understanding of the families, the cultural context, religious beliefs and superstitions but to help to make the final conclusions comprehensible in flashback....that "oh I missed that bit about character X, it explains why things turn out this way, etc." moment.

Acting was really good, which is the high point of the movie for me.That's what the 5 is for.

Shame the talent wasn't put to more effective use, as the story has great potential.
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Surprising little gem of a mystery...
28 August 2016
This little gem of a movie takes place in rural China revolving round several complex relationships and families linked together by the death of an unlikable thug who is also the key connector of what goes on in these separate families.

Beyond the central mystery of the coffin, the various stories of the families unfold in a non-linear fashion, forward and back in time, the characters of each family impacting the fate of another in intriguing ways.

Unlike many Asian movies that rush into the popular "mystery" genre, the film is replete with twists and turns that manage to be intelligently coherent, the ends all tie together, the audience slowly grasps the bigger picture and its resolution is immensely satisfying.
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14 May 2016
This is one of the best Chinese period movie by far. The tale has enough plot twists to hold the audience's interest, the action is not too CGI wirefu, the persistent theme of brotherhood in Woo's movie is well-executed, the acting is low key and believable. Can't understand the low ratings, except perhaps there's disappointment in anticipating more choreographed action.

The tale of corruption, ruthlessness and court intrigues sets the backdrop for the historic fall of the Ming Dynasty to the Manchurian Qing Dynasty. The chaos, killings, double betrayals, etc. characterize the perils of a realm in decay, and the ascend of an external threat. The movie is stronger for not shying away from the portrayal and in offering an uncomfortable end.

For once, the plot, characters and the historic backdrop actually held my interest more than the swordplay. For this I awarded a higher rating to mitigate the down votes from those expecting a wuxia blood splattered wirefu action and were disappointed to see mediocre bladework.
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Tangerines (2013)
A Perfect Film
9 July 2015
There is no more to add...the ratings say it all - this is cinema at its best, a riveting drama, no cgi pretenses, free from excessive action, stripped of aesthetic camera shots, just powerful, pure, raw humanity here.

It reminds me a little of "Before the Rain", 1994, starring the incomparable Katrin Cartlidge.

The acting from the main characters is utterly convincing, there's not a single instance of emotional excess to detract from the unfolding story, and what a story it tells, to remind us about brotherhood, that there is so much more that unites than divides us, about what it means to live and love life, to be human.

The pace is slowed, to allow us to know and connect to Ivo, Margus, Ahmed and Nika, such that whatever happens to them matter, regardless of their background and which side of the war they stand.

As we are drawn deeply into their presence, the sudden explosions and noises that remind us that a war is ongoing become terrifying, as we sit at the edge of our chairs, realizing that our protagonists are vulnerable, as all of us are fragile.

Highly recommended if you are seeking an intense, haunting cinematic experience.
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Grand Waste of a Stellar Cast
25 August 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Having been to a few of Wes Anderson's films, the twee, absurd caricature, dead-pan precious, lush, scenic, cardboard Tim Burton-esque cinematography that many insisted is synonymous with "intelligent humour" were all expected. What wasn't is the insufferable, sophomoric idiocy of the story, gratuitous characters and shallowness of the plot, the script, the character development, the entire purpose of the making of this film. What on earth is it suppose to say?! What deeper layers are there to uncover other than it being a madcap caper about promiscuous hotel staff carrying on with obscenely rich geriatrics, murderous villains and relatives, an outrageous and unbelievable jailbreak adventure? What is the point to this wedding cake indulgence of a film, exactly? And please don't sniff haughtily with a "You just don't get its brilliance/genius/subversion/provocation, blah..blah...blah...go watch a Tom Cruise flick!" retort. I honestly don't get much more from this film than its gruel thin plot.
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Night and Fog (2009)
Harrowing...but worth every minute!
29 March 2013
By introducing the ending at the beginning of the film, the Director Ann Hui cleverly focuses on the unfolding of a family tragedy and the deterioration of a fraught relationship. The result is an extremely powerful drama, delivered by an astonishing cast. Simon Yam and Zhang Jingchu are simply BRILLIANT...I can't even describe their performance with words. If you are a genuine cinema verite fan, this cannot be missed, it will be a great pity if this film is avoided because of the subject matter, as it is a lot more. Its impact on me is not unlike The Bicycle Thief, and its quality on par with other cinematic greats. It is really such shame that this film does not get the exposure it deserves.
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Gritty, Brilliant, one of To's Best
20 April 2012
I really don't understand the low ratings for this superb film. This is one of the most brilliant films about the current state of the world as reflected in Hong Kong society I've seen, especially as an indictment against the financial markets and banks, as exemplified in the cold reptilian nature of the female banker. The non-plot is seamlessly woven, though there's a tribute to Kieslowski here, and To coaxed great performances from most of his cast. The interwoven lives are gripping in their own roller-coaster way, as fortunes ride up and down not unlike the stock market. The only disappointment for me was the ending - I did not expect that of To, but again, it could have been the nod to Kieslowski that he wrapped it up the way he did.
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You will either get it or you won't....
21 January 2011
There are so many funny metaphors but you do need to be somewhat acquainted with Chinese to understand them. I think this will be a difficult film for non-Chinese to grasp, especially with a lot of deadpan satire and dark humor. It is extremely funny in a way, especially the scene between Jiang Wen and Carina Lau where she displayed a series of objects to him in bed. You won't "get it" if you don't understand Chinese proverbs and surreptitious meaning. So I'm not surprised if this movie will be rated exceptionally intelligent to its Chinese audience but will appear to many as silly, improbable and illogical.
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Confucius (2010)
Stunned by the low ratings!
9 January 2011
I didn't watch this epic film for the longest time because of the low ratings and bad reviews about how boring, unexciting, etc. it is.

I was also skeptical about Chow Yun Fat as Confucius, but it did work somehow, although I suspect there could have been better actors, though not as famous.

However, after seeing Faye Wong's mv for the end song with the scenes form the film, it finally piqued my interest and was I glad I didn't miss this gem after all! It tries to stay close to the historic tales and records in describing Confucius' life, so it could come across as lacking in CGI action, but I think it helps rather than hurts the film.

I MUCH prefer this epic to Red Cliff, the dialogue is much more intelligent and believable, and the acting is much better. It also dispenses with clichés that John Woo is fond of, with the exception of a couple of scenes.

As it is a biopic, there isn't much of Confucius' teachings depicted, but more about political unrest and intrigues.

Don't over analyze this - sit back and enjoy a great historic epic with beautifully created CGI scenes.

It is much more enjoyable than what its solemn subject matter would suggest.
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One of the BEST films ever made
23 August 2009
This has got to be one of the most AMAZING films ever made, not only for the astounding cinematography, the quiet, subtle, yet overpowering drama, the incredible pacing of the story, the compelling character portraits, but also for very intelligently conceived cinema verite techniques. It is an extremely moving film, though it may be one of the most difficult movies I ever sat through, both the beauty and brutality are overwhelmingly relentless.

Based on a true story, the film demonstrates a rare instance where Life is fuller, richer and more interesting than Fiction. The dramas that Hollywood feeds us pale in comparison to the colour of humanity and the depths of emotional courage portrayed in this film.

It is a film to be experienced, and ranks right up there with classics like Nanook of the North, Das Boot, etc., please don't ever miss it.
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Dark Water (2005)
Poignant, emotionally engaging dark drama
16 May 2009
Add me to the non teenage minority who sees a beautifully filmed and acted drama in Dark Water. The horrors take a back seat to the gripping familial drama of both Dahlia's and Natasha's, which are subtly sketched out in the moody shadows of the apartment and in Dahlia's dreams. Connelly really shines here, carrying the entire film on her shoulders, evoking great sympathy for her character. It is to the film's credit that the mother and daughter bond is so convincingly portrayed, the ending becomes truly sad but emotionally poignant. I cried at the unfolding of the final scene. I prefer this remake to the original, the acting is much better, and the story, though not as scary, is much more believable.

It is a wonderful. beautiful, albeit dark and wistful drama, and great for all mothers and daughters.
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14 May 2009
I am addicted to this series. Ostensibly about gardens, it is really about the culture, the stunning nature of each region, how they are loved by men and distilled into gardens. The best moments weren't necessarily the stroll through the grandest gardens, but the more intimate moments when he filmed the backyards of ordinary people tending lovingly to their version of gardens and farms. It really offers an uplifting respite from the tsunami of bad news dominating the headlines, of the unfathomable greed and corruption of bankers and politicians. Now this is Hope one can believe in. My only gripe is that they didn't pick the best gardens, especially in the US and China episodes.
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Red Cliff II (2009)
Better than the First
1 May 2009
I was so disgusted with Part 1, I didn't even bother going to the cinema to catch Part 2, and I have just watched Part 2 on DVD. I wish I'd done the reverse instead! although Part 2 is still marred with some of the irritatingly dumb dialogue, completely gratuitous, made up stories and "cute" characters and unnecessary "art" touches (John Woo calling Oscars...), it contains less fillers and the lavish production is amply showcased.

Perhaps the fact that I sat through Part 1 inoculated me from the effects in Part 2, or maybe Woo heeded the audience's complaints and cut out more of the cr*p.

Two outstanding elements that made the film worth watching - the actor who plays Cao Cao and the set with all the grand battle scenes. It got too pyrotechnical for me, but it screams money.

There are plot lines that are quite unbelievable - as I'm not that familiar with the true historical context, I cannot ascertain if they actually took place, but a brilliant tactician like Cao Cao surely would not be as gullible as the film portrayed?

In the end, there were far more interesting secondary characters with their subplots in the original history, not to mention the novel itself, without John Woo having to fabricate and invent paper thin ones with their equally shallow "stories". It also leads to an uneven script - alternating between brilliant prose from the novel and other classics and "dumbed down" meaningless drivel and "jokes" thought up by less refined modern minds. These "touches" irritate any audience who has a good knowledge of the original - they would feel insulted. I saw partial episodes of those made for TV series produced in China, very much less glamorous and low budget, but ultimately intelligent and engaging.

For an audience with no inkling of the original, Red Cliff 2 - with less of those "Meng Meng" moments and more scenes from the tactical battles - is probably entertaining and satisfying enough. This I gathered from the feedback of others. Thus, I'm giving it 7 stars in my attempt to stay objective to the best of my ability.
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Red Cliff (2008)
Three Kingdom Cliff Notes
14 July 2008
Warning: Spoilers
***Warning...may contain spoilers, but movie is pretty "spoilt" as it is...*****

I really wanted to like and support this movie. Three Kingdoms is one of the most fascinating historic period with lots of compelling tales of political intrigue, plot twists, larger than life characters, fantastical, famous battles, mind-boggling tactics and the novel, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, fleshed out the historical structure further with fascinating myths, legendary details, is very difficult to go "wrong" with this material, and yet John Woo has chosen to chuck most of it away and dumb it all down for us.

The battle scenes were visually stimulating enough, and are the best parts of the movie, so savour them! What is interesting is to see the magnificence of the formations and tactics described in the books all meticulously CGIed for us.

Overall, this is a big budget production, and it does show in the lavish sets, costumes, impressive battle mobilization, etc. This is where I awarded the movie 6/10.

Forget the acting, the characters, the cringe-worthy dialogue, playing footsie with history (Liu Bei was actually rather cunning and he wove grass shoe soles while he lived under Cao Cao to hide his intelligence and ambition, he isn't the clueless good guy as portrayed), the insipid and totally pointless, pathetically contrived sex, the incredibly asinine jokes and lame puns ("fan" and "staying cool") stretched to unbelievable limits, the WTF? anecdotes (the stolen ox, the music improvization, and "Meng Meng", the baby horse).

Unbelievable!! The middle is a waste of time - there is so much more to add and to say, yet only extreme cinematic silliness and facile character portraits prevail. The contemporary equivalent of the three rulers are say, Mao, Chiang Kai-shek and Sun Yat Sen and their capable deputies, not to mention the brilliant women like the Soong sisters, can anyone imagine Zhou En- Lai spending his spare time during a period of war against the Japanese or Nationalists teaching children's songs to kids in school or writing calligraphy that insults his opponents???

The original texts are so rich with tactical details, ruthless, complex and brilliant characters and unpredictable plot twists, it would have made a far more interesting film the likes of LOTR. I wish Peter Jackson directed this gem, not John Woo. It's as if someone dumbed down and diluted the LOTR trilogy, into ....Narnia.

If you're looking for a more authentically "Chinese" film about the glory and horrors of war, brotherhood (not just between the 3 characters but the heart-wrenching element of civil warring, Chinese vs. Chinese, etc.), treachery, betrayal, love, honour, watch "Warlords". One of the best films ever...epic, complex, realistic, emotionally engaging and unforgettable. Red Cliff comes across as an epic farce in comparison to Warlords.
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Film rendered brilliant by our times
9 January 2007
Warning: Spoilers
I put off watching this because I was tired of the masked hero comic genre and wasn't sure if this was another action flick with lots of CGI and a thin plot. But do I regret it! Sure, the weaknesses I feared were there - too much of The Phantom of the Opera, a number of Big Brother clichés and Natalie Portman was so kosher it hurts - but this film is saved by virtue of its timing. The film also considerably at some junctures even though the action was well- choreographed and worthy of the makers of The Matrix. It is long, the narrative familiar but engrossing enough. Before 2000, I would have scoffed at the probability of such a plot premise which would have seemed far-fetched and over the top. Watching it in this day and age, I get chills and goosebumps not because the film was that good but because the times we're in are that bad. Before 2000, the self-evident truths in the film would have made it trite, today, they are strangely poignant. All the references to atrocities tolerated are so ordinary to us at this moment in time, it is almost psychotically hilarious. It is so unsettling to sit through this that towards the end, one actually finds great relief that the directors did not deny us a hopeful trajectory and one is happy to embrace the "Hollywood" ending because the possibility of us fighting back instead of sinking into greater paranoia and apathy against neo-fascism in our lifetime is to put it optimistically, bleak. How many truly care about the erosion of civil liberties, detention without trial or torture camps? Well, if you've got nothing to hide, what are you afraid of? Nuke Iran and potentially killing millions? Shrug. In that, this is highly recommended as a great escapist film.
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The Book-Bag Boy (2003 TV Movie)
A deceptively simple film that explores the complexities of the Algerian War
15 September 2006
The story of an improbable friendship between Omar, a French-Algerian, and Raphael, a "Pied- Noir" (the derogatory name of a French settler in Algeria) and their families makes a moving, humane narrative to the war for Algerian independence. Great acting from the two child actors as well as the colourful supporting cast portraying the French-Algerian community in Paris. The conflicting loyalties, friendship and ties are gently thrown into relief, viewed from the optimism and compassion of the boys who are precociously mature, having to deal with the harsh realities of adult struggles around them, but charmingly fresh and bold as children are wont to be. This isn't an epic style film, but those who are moved by films like "Cinema Paradiso" and "Milena" might similarly be touched by this excellent, intimate, unpretentious effort.
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