Sunday, February 01, 2009

Oglin' October, Oracle!

추격자 (The Chaser)
Ever watched a movie where almost from the get-go, you feel your whole body tensing up, and you await each development with bated breath, your heart in your mouth? If so, congratulations: Such experiences are few and far between. And if not, go watch The Chaser. Tension-filled and taut as hell, this is a whopper of a crime thriller, with (amazingly enough) none of your usual stereotypes and clichés. Yet it also eventually becomes something more - a story of one man's fight for his own humanity and redemption against a hopelessly inept justice system. It's not without its flaws, but apart from a few missteps here and there, novice feature director Na Hong-jin shows masterful control and vision far beyond his years.

Le Dernier des fous (Demented)
This is another one of those movies that make me not want to attend any more festival screenings. Part of some French film festival or other, it's yet another snobbily detached, emotionally barren European arthouse film. For a movie that tells its story from a boy's POV, it does a good job doing so, but the strong performances are lost underneath the pointed detachment and self-satisfied ironies of it all. When I can't get attached to the characters and feel for them, I can't get into the movie and enjoy it, no matter how technically accomplished it is. And so, I couldn't care less. Cool poster, though. A kid with a gun is always cool.

Burn After Reading
OK, fine, I didn't really get emotionally attached to any character here, I think. But I still love this movie, because it's fast-paced and entertaining as hell - but not in the usual sense. Think about it. A comedy with no "punchlines" and no "funny music", but is hilarious precisely because of that. Only from the Coen Brothers could this little gem of a black, black satire come. Two of the funniest scenes, in my opinion, have a man getting shot in the face, and another man shot, then axed in the head. It's a tone that is unbelievably difficult to achieve - just look at all the Tarantino wannabes - but the Coen Brothers do it seemingly effortlessly.

Speaking of Tarantino wannabes, Mr. Guy Ritchie isn't technically one of them, although he's similar. He has his own English-crime thing going on, but the only person he rips off is himself, essentially making the same movie over and over again. He tries very hard to make it work this time, but overstuffed characters and plotting drag what could've been a fleet and entertaining crime caper down. It's still entertaining in bits, though I really couldn't care less about any character. Which, as I've mentioned before, almost automatically makes me dislike the movie (unless it's made by the Coen Brothers).

(Storm Rider: Clash of Evils)

Any attempt at making sense of the plot will be in vain, if you're not a fan of the long-running martial arts comic series in question. Elements - mythology, characters, histories, etc. - are packed in willy-nilly, and the whole thing still makes time for a whole bunch of cliché-ridden events like a pointless love subplot and annoying child sidekick characters. The fight scenes are energetic and interesting enough, if I could only tell what they were fighting over. Too bad the incomprehensible story denies me that. Also, the animation is at times prettty bad, going from rather amateurish 3-D establishing shots immediately to 2-D characters moving stiffly across the screen in extremely jarring edits.

G.P. 506 (The Guard Post)
This has an intriguing premise, which, while not the most original, is at least handled well in the suspense department. The problem it has is one it has in common with many other Korean movies - a flaccid second act that feels more like padding than actual plot advancement. The big revelation, when it comes, also feels rather anti-climactic, but at least from there on it leads to a respectably exciting climax. All in all, it's still a decent enough suspense-thriller-horror.

保持通話 (Connected)
A Hong Kong remake of the very watchable B-grade Hollywood thriller Cellular, this is competent enough on its own terms, but sacrifices the original's taut pacing at the altar of additional action movie thrills. These sequences detract, though, because they make it all less believable, and makes the pacing sag as well, because, honestly, they're not all that spectacular. Louis Koo and Barbie Hsu do well in the lead roles (she still can't beat Kim Basinger though), but awful over-the-top acting by the villains turn what should be an exciting climax into a gigglefest instead.

Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis
(Welcome to the Sticks)

It's not difficult to see why this was the domestic hit that it was - most of the comedy is rather broad, and translates well regardless of language. It's a light and affable, if rather obvious culture-shock/fish-out-of-water comedy. If you don't know French, all the language/accent jokes will probably fly above your head, as they did mine. However, this might actually work in its favor for me, because I think the wordplay is pretty unsubtle, and if I did know French, I'd probably have a lower opinion of it (much like how I think Jack Neo comedies are pretty damn unfunny - even though this is miles ahead of Neo's ilk). Still, it's an enjoyable time to be had at the movies, and some of the farcical scenes are really quite hilarious.

20 世紀少年
(Twentieth Century Boys)

I've never read the manga series before, but from what I hear, it's plenty confusing, what with it's huge cast of characters and multiple timeline-jumping. I took a deep breath and leapt right into the movie with no prior prep work, and came away not a little confused, but enjoyed the ride nonetheless. The intricate building of the world and its multitude of characters make this quite engrossing, and the premise is, of course, intriguing. Still, as expected, the huge cast and the frequent timeline switches often get confusing, although by the end you kind of get the drift of things. The visual effects, though not wall-to-wall, are well done and technical aspects are solid and kept interesting, especially in the sound department. I'll be there for the second instalment. I won't be the first to see it, but I'll be there, and that's good enough.

슈퍼맨이었던 사나이
(A Man Who Was Superman,
a.k.a. If I Were Superman)

This will go on my Worst-Of List for sure; it's one of my most hated movies of 2008. There are many reasons why, but I don't want to waste too much time and effort on it. Suffice to say that it goes from insufferably annoying (the delusional antics of "Superman") to hard-sell sappy - which is a slight improvement. The comedy doesn't work, the whimsy is painful, the social commentary is clumsy, and the drama isn't well-earned at all. Nothing works, and it's all so horrid that it often made me want to throw my shoe at the screen.

The Princess of Nebraska
There's a very telling shot which encapsulates pretty much the whole movie: A close-up of Li's navel. 77 minutes of cinematic (or not-so cinematic) navel-gazing and whining is 77 minutes too much. It might've made for a decent 15-minute short, but drawn out here to (barely) feature-length and shot on ugly DV, it's a painful affair. What the hell's the big deal about Wayne Wang anyway? How deluded do you have to be to think that this is good cinema? It's nothing but wannabe-pretentious indie crap.

A Thousand Years of Good Prayers
After sitting through the torturous The Princess of Nebraska, this almost seems like a masterpiece... well, I did say "almost". Henry O is very good, even if the script is at times forced and overly familiar (Ooh! Inter-generational conflict! How novel!), and the supporting cast is often painful to watch. Yes, I know it's low budget, but does it have to extend to the cast too? Also, why is it that even movies about minorities have other minorities in stereotyped roles? Do these hyphenate-Americans have such big chips on their shoulders that they are blind to other hyphenate-Americans who aren't of their race?

As is usual with anthologies, this is a mixed bag - one good, one bad, and one decent. The first is Interior Design, which is typical Gondry - fun and quirky, with enthusiastic and highly imaginative visuals. But then again, would we have expected anything less? It's the best of the lot, that's for sure - in fact, it's so good, it should have its own poster. Oh wait, it does.

Immediately after that, though, Merde, with its ironically apt title (it means "shit" in French), brings it all to a crashing halt with its self-indulgent nonsense and hateful characters and situations. You do not, I repeat, do not, have extended courtroom scenes where people are translating from a make-believe language to a real one. That's just way too much grunting and growling to bear. Finally, Shaking Tokyo attempts to salvage the situation, but unfortunately the damage has already been done. Too bad, because it's really quite decent and suitably whimsical, and even kinda sweet.

Tropic Thunder
I've been waiting for this movie for a fucking long time, and it doesn't disappoint. Much. Yes, it's a little too long, and Ben Stiller and Jack Black aren't in top form. But damn, is it funny, right from the first fake trailer shown. It's rare to see a Hollywood satire of itself at every level that's so vicious, you'd almost believe it was British. There's so much that works here, you can easily overlook the stuff that doesn't. How good is it? It's so good that I actually preordered the DVD from Amazon, and I never do that.



At 11:37 AM, February 26, 2009, Anonymous jack said...

hi, i agree with most of your reviews, hope to see the bitchery coming!

At 10:59 AM, March 20, 2009, Blogger GUO SHAO-HUA said...

i don't know, but i found The Chaser to be hopelessly boring. one minute it's a policier, then it's torture porn, then it's some emotional drama, then ...

or i'm just too jaded and cynical.


gimme some mindfuckery

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