Last Letter / 你好，之华 / Lit: Hello Zhihua (2018)
director & writer: Shunji Iwai
cast: Zhou Xun, Qin Hao, Zhang Zifeng, Deng Enxi , Bian Tianyang
A married woman’s older sister passes away leaving behind two children. At the sister’s house she finds an invitation to her middle school reunion. The woman decides to go to tell her sister’s old classmates the bad news but ends up being mistaken as her sister. At the reunion she notices a man whom she had a crush on as a teenager. He approaches her, also assuming that she is her sister, and they exchange contact info. She begins writing letters to him under her sister’s name.
Continue reading “Last Letter – film review [Recommended]”
Burning / 버닝 (2018)
Director: Lee Chang-Dong
Screenplay: Lee Chang-Dong, Oh Jung-mi
Cast: Jun Jong-seo, Yoo Ah-in, Steven Yeun
Next Screening on Sunday, Oct 14
In the city of Paju, a young man, Jong-su, who recently completed his military service encounters a childhood classmate, Hae-mi. She seems to like him but later starts dating a mysterious, affluent stranger named Ben whom she met on a trip. Jong-su soon suspects something sinister about Ben.
This is a slow-burn story with a bit of a thriller aspect. It focuses on its two young characters who are lower class without much of an idea what they will do with their lives. Youth unemployment is high and it’s probably not a coincidence that the antagonist is a rich person, a “Gatsby” as Jong-su calls him. There’ also a subplot with Jong-su’s dad who’s arrested for allegedly assaulting a government official.
Continue reading “Burning – film review – Nouveau Cinema 2018”
Ash is Purest White / 江湖儿女 (2018)
Director & Screenplay: Jia Zhang-Ke
Cast: Zhao Tao, Liao Fan, Zheng Xu
Follows a couple involved in the underworld/jiang hu in the city of DaTong and eventually elsewhere over two decades. The tone of some trailers (like the one below) is quite misleading. This is a pensive, personal type of film without exciting action or high stakes conflict.
This isn’t a plot heavy movie. The pace is relaxed. It can feel a bit slow at times but it never lingers too long on a scene. Events happen without much explanation for them but they don’t feel contrived or forced. The focus is on the characters, specifically the main couple, a woman Qiao (Zhao Tao) and her boyfriend, Bin (Liao Fan) and more so on the former than the latter. They are involved in shady business but what sort of shady business they do is not revealed and simply implied. Their relationship changes over the course of the film and their emotions are often restrained. There’s a bit of a mysterious quality that is compelling rather than frustrating in its lack of specific detail. This relies heavily on good acting and both actors do their jobs well. This is definitely not an overwrought Hong Kong triad love story (as fun as those can be). But the tragedy here as love and jiang hu mix is more due to how the characters react to events and how they continue trying to survive rather than a seemingly inevitable suicide mission or last job set piece.
Continue reading “Ash is Purest White – film review – Nouveau Cinema 2018”
This year’s Festival du nouveau cinema screens many intriguing films from around the world from October 3-14, 2018 at Cineplex Quartier Latin, Cinema du Parc and Imperial cinema. There is as usual a great selection of East Asian films. I won’t list them all but I will mention some of the ones I look forward to seeing the most.
Films from China have often been lacking at festivals (perhaps in part due to censorship) but this edition features Jia ZhangKe’s latest film, Ash is the Purest White starring his wife and muse Zhao Tao and Liao Fan, an actor’s who’s been in many good films that I’ve enjoyed. Other actors in the film include Feng Xiaogang and Xu Zheng which make up an impressive cast. Long Day’s Journey into the Night directed by Bi Gan stars Huang Jue and the ever compelling and beautiful actress Tang Wei.
From Japan, the festval brings Hirokazu Kore-eda’s latest work Shoplifters, which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes. It has an excellent cast including Lily Franky, Sakura Ando, Mayu Matsuoka, and Kirin Kiki (her last film before she passed away in 2018). I’m biased since I’ve enjoyed many films by this director but I think this is a must-watch. Killing directed Shinya Tsukamoto stars Sosuke Ikematsu and Yu Aoi, both very good actors. Mamoru Hosoda’s latest animated film Mirai looks delightful for kids and adults. I’ve enjoyed past anime films by this director. There are also restored versions of older Japanese films from 60s, 70s & 80s which should intrigue those with a longer history of Japanese film viewing than myself.
The South Korea film I’m eager to see is Burning by Lee Chang Dong, whose previous film I saw was very engaging and thought provoking. This one stars Yoo Ah-in, Steven Yeun, and Jeon Jong-seo.
From France, there’s the animated film Funan directed by Denis Do about the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. It won the Crystal Prize for Best Feature Film at Annecy International Animated Festival.
There are also other films from South East Asian countries such as Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia and Singapore.
Trailers after the jump.
Continue reading “Festival du Nouveau Cinema – Oct 3-14, 2018”
Director & Writer: Aneesh Chaganty
Cast: John Cho, Debra Messing, Michelle La
A father misses a couple of phone calls from his daughter while he’s asleep. When she doesn’t return home, he tries to contact her again but ends up contacting the police to search for her. While searching through her laptop for clues he discovers that he does not know his daughter as well as he thought he did.
The thing that will become noticeable early on is that this movie is not filmed or staged in a conventional manner. Everything is seen via some sort of video media, whether it be a computer screen, a smartphone screen, a TV screen or surveillance camera. It is not the first movie to do so but very few films have chosen to tell their story in this way. It’s an interesting technique that makes it stand out and is particularly effective in the beginning when we see a montage of sorts showing the Kim’s family life before tragedy strikes. However, the restriction to presenting the story only via screens starts to feel forced towards the end when the film resorts to hidden cameras, live TV and live streaming to show the final events.
Continue reading “Searching – film review”
Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
Dir: Jon M. Chu
Cast: Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Gemma Chan, Awkafina
Based on the book of the same name by Kevin Kwan (who has subsequently written two more books that form a trilogy), the movie follows Rachel, a Chinese American professor who goes to Singapore with her boyfriend Nick who she quickly discovers is part of one of the richest families in Singapore. She has to deal with judgmental rich people and of course Nick’s unimpressed mother.
The actresses and female roles are almost all really good some of which in some way almost steal the spotlight away from the lead, Constance Wu. But let’s talk about her as Rachel first. She does a good job and her character arc actually goes in unexpected directions. The conflict between tradition and modern attitudes has a bit of a different twist here as socio-economic classes also comes into play. It informs and affects the romantic conflicts but doesn’t overwhelm the main story. Wu handles both the comedy and serious scenes in convincing fashion.
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Penguin Highway / ペンギン・ハイウェイ (2018)
DIRECTOR: Hiroyasu Ishida
WRITER: Makoto Ueda
CAST: Kana Kita, Yû Aoi
Adpated from a book, a 4th grade boy has a crush on an older woman who works at the dentist’s office that he goes to but that’s not the only thing on his mind. When penguins start appearing in his town, he decides to investigate with his best friend.
This film exhibits one of the great things that make animation a special medium. There are simply things you can draw that you couldn’t possibly replicate in real life or even with the aid of photo-realistic computer graphics. That sort of imagination and creativity are on display in this film.
Continue reading “Penguin Highway – film review – Fantasia 2018”
The Outlaws / 범죄도시 [BumJoedoshi] / Lit: Criminal City (2017)
DIRECTOR: Kang Yun-sung
WRITER: Kang Yun-sung
CAST: Don Lee (Ma Dong-seok), Yoon Kye-sang, Cho Chae-yun, Choi Guy-hwa, Jin Seon-kyu
Ma is a detective who leads a team that keeps the Korean-Chinese gangs under control. But the status quo gets turned upside-down when a trio of gangsters from China come into Seoul and start brutally taking away territory from the current Korean-Chinese gangsters. Inspired by real events (and probably extremely loosely).
This is a pretty solid Korean crime movie with a charismatic lead performance from Don Lee / Ma Dong-seok that’s matched by the villain Jang Chen (Yoon Kye-sang). Although the new Chinese gangsters in town are quite brutal, chopping off limbs with axes, the gore isn’t really put on screen. The movie’s overall tone isn’t dark and has some funny moments.
Continue reading “The Outlaws – film review – Fantasia 2018”