Mini reviews of the rest of the Fantasia films that I watched in 2018.
Being Natural, The Vanished, Buybust, Buffalo Boys, Fireworks, Loi Bao, Ajin, Laughing Under the Clouds, The Brink, Punk Samurai Slash Down
Being Natural (2018)
DIRECTOR: Tadashi Nagayama
WRITER: Tadashi Nagayama, Yuriko Suzuki
CAST: Yota Kawase, Kanji Tsuda, Natsuki Mieda
PRODUCER: Keiichiro Yatomi
As far as Japanese indie films go this isn’t bad but it wasn’t one I found particularly noteworthy. It starts out as a slice of life with some comedy but then there’s a massive shift in tone. It might subvert expectations at times but I feel like I would not watch this film a second time knowing what happens. It has some nice shots of countryside scenery and is technically solid.
The Vanished (2018)
DIRECTOR: Lee Chang-hee
WRITER: Lee Chang-hee
CAST: Kim Sang-kyung, Kim Kang-woo, Kim Hee-ae, Han Ji-an, Lee Ji-hoon
A remake of a Spanish film, this Korean thriller mystery has lots of twists but things seem to get tied up a bit too easily and neatly by the end of it, which causes the film to lose a bit of its impact overall. I’m also not sure I’d still enjoy the film as much on a second viewing with the knowledge of what will happen.
DIRECTOR: Erik Matti
WRITER: Erik Matti, Anton Santamaria
CAST: Anne Curtis, Brandon Vera
An incredibly intense action flick from the Philippines that obviously required enormous amounts of work and effort to make but it’s a bit undermined by the close-up shots of the action scenes which often maKe it hard to follow or even figure out what was going on. But on the other hand it all takes place in narrow corridors and spaces so one could argue that it’s a deliberate choice to make things feel more claustrophobic. Regardless, I’m not a fan of being too zoomed into the action and lots of camera movement. There are certain sequences early on that were very close to giving me a headache. But other times the dynamic camera movement was done well. There’s the one long no cut scene towards the end where Nina fights off everybody as she tries to escape.
Buffalo Boys (2018)
DIRECTOR: Mike Wiluan
WRITER: Raymond Lee, Rayya Makarim, Mike Wiluan
CAST: Ario Bayu, Pevita Pearce, Yoshi Sudarso
The setting makes this Indonesian western stand apart from the usual westerns we’re familiar with but otherwise the story beats will be very familiar. There actually isn’t much action in this movie and the focus is on the characters and how they are being oppressed by the colonial powers who force villagers to burn rice fields to grow opium which causes a food shortage for the village. The action is fairly intense and dynamic when it happens although the final showdown seems to be based more on luck than a feasible plan. There are many shots of beautiful scenery in the movie.
DIRECTOR: Akiyuki Shinbo, Nobuyuki Takeuchi
WRITER: Hitoshi Ohne
CAST: Shintaro Asanuma, Suzu Hirose, Mamoru Miyano, Masaki Suda
Based on a live action TV movie, this Japanese anime filme has some nice background artwork and fireworks but the story and characters are paper thin. It’s essentially a series of what if I didn’t fail at doing something so that I could have more time with that girl I really like. There’s a bit of sci-fi mystery to it and the ending does give something to ponder but honestly I’m not sure that I really cared about the characters. This film’s greatest strength is at creating an emotional atmosphere of nostalgia and wistful desire and making the viewer think of analogous moments in their lives that they wish they could redo.
Loi Bao (2017)
DIRECTOR: Victor Vu
WRITER: Nam Doan Nhat, Kay-Tilo Nguyen, Victor Vu
CAST: Cuong Seven, Hoang Son, Tin Nguyen Chanh, Nha Phuong, Ngoan Quach Ngoc, Simpa A Pu, Ahn Vu Ngoc
PRODUCER: Jenni Trang Le
CINEMATOGRAPHER: NGUYEN K’LINH
COMPOSER: WONG CHRISTOPHER
EDITOR: THANG VU, VICTOR VU, ANH VU HOANG
Although the parts of this Vietnamese movie are derivative and one who is familiar with some of the more popular Western action movies will probably recognize the inspiration for various sequences, it’s actually a respectable action / superhero movie with a decent story behind it. Cinematography is also good and the action is well framed. Slow motion is used judiciously. Not necessarily a must-watch for veterans but it would be a good one to start for those less experienced and just getting into the genre.
Ajin: Demi-Human (2017)
DIRECTOR: Katsuyuki Motohiro
WRITER: Kouji Seko
CAST: Takeru Satoh, Go Ayano, Tetsuji Tamayama, Yu Shirota, Yudai Chiba
This Japanese manga adaptation has thin characters with some having unexplained relations/motivations. Ajin are human who cannot die and always resurrect after death. This concept leads to rather creative action scenes with the human actors. However that’s not all that make Ajin special. They can also create black ghosts that can fight. However, the fights between the Ajin ghosts are quite unengaging without any tension since there seems to be no consequence when a ghost is defeated. Go Ayano fans will like his demi-nude scene that shows his lean and cut upper torso.
Laughing Under the Clouds (2018)
DIRECTOR: Katsuyuki Motohiro
WRITER: Yuya Takahashi
CAST: Sota Fukushi, Yuma Nakayama, Yuki Furukawa, Ren Kiriyama, Shunsuke Daito
Okay movie adapted from a manga. The ending is anticlimactic and amounts to a lot of screaming. While there are a few surprises and some good performances there’s nothing very memorable about this movie.
The Brink (2017)
DIRECTOR: Jonathan Li
WRITER: Lee Chun-Fai
CAST: Gordon Lam, Janice Man, Shawn Yu, Wu Yue, Max Zhang
This HK movie had potential to be a good action, crime movie but the story has gaps in it and the characters feel very generic. The main performances and action are very intense, with the final showdown taking place on a ship during a typhoon but overall this was a letdown.
Punk Samurai Slash Down (2018)
DIRECTOR: Gakuryu Ishii
WRITER: Kankuro Kudo
CAST: Go Ayano, Keiko Kitagawa, Shota Sometani, Masahiro Higashide, Tadanobu Asano, Masatoshi Nagase, Jun Murakami
Based on a novel, I didn’t really enjoy this Japanese WTF genre movie since it didn’t make me laugh much but it managed to somehow keep my attention with its escalating series of WTF plot developments. It culminates in a battle between a revived belly shaker cult and monkeys for reasons. It’s interesting to note the actors in this movie, some of whom are known for more serious fare. They seem to be having a fun time just being stupid and getting paid to do it.