Monday, March 26, 2007

Review: Day Night Day Night

And I've Packed You a Happy Meal

Mention films about suicide bombers, and movies like Syrianna and Paradise Now comes to mind. Films that try to explain the rationale behind the driving force of these persons dedicated to destruction and murder, and while those stories had the usual male bombers, Day Night Day Night took on a more interesting angle, and looked at the role of female suicide bombers - those that don't really fit the usual security profile, and are usually deemed as lower risk of being detected before they execute their plan.

In her first fictional feature, director Julia Loktev takes a long hard look at the journey of a 19 year old girl played by Luisa Williams. Attractive, petite,you won't understand why she has to do what she wants to, and the story doesn't explain. This is almost in parallel to real life, where you read reports of the aftermath, and are presented with little clues to their background.

Loktev weaved a tale from seeking out the terrorists, meeting them, going through their rites and procedures, before being accepted for the mission, complete with the making of the video, and the fit up of the device. Most times you don't get to see much, as the camera angles are extremely tight and full of close ups, to accentuate the waiting, and to allow you to focus on the girl, and her thoughts, and her apprehension, despair, and a host of other emotions.

I thought Loktev too took quite a neutral stand in not stereotyping the bad hats, that indeed it can be anyone, people from abroad with different cultures, or the home grown and bred haters of society. And that is true because terror can come from anywhere.

This is not an easy movie to sit through as it's deliberately slow and nothing much really happened. But as a movie that attempts to narrate the process from civilian to combatant, this fictionalized account will probably be as close as you can get.

Review: Refrain

Maggi Mee good to eat!

I'm sure Cui Zi'en, has its metaphysical ingenuity towards his trilogy which transcends inner emotions rather than spoken words, but this takes the cake as the battle to struggle through 109 minutes of minimalist performance and setting takes place. As the main two (only) characters fought through ethics and social distrust, the longing views and antics of the situation they go through might just be too much for one to keep still and enjoy. In a nutshell younger brother, dying from AIDS, is worried for his retarded elder when he's time comes. Not trusting of the world outside, he tries to pull him along for a suicide pact.

If only he would develop on character build-up and developed a more social clashing setting would this be a powerful feature that teaches us a thing or two about death and society in a homosexual context which has ben all done too long.

Review: Arthur and the Minimoys

I'm Arthur. Who Are You?

Director Luc Besson is probably synonymous with movies laden with violence, like Nikita, Leon the Professional, and the science fiction fantasy The Fifth Element. The Taxi franchise too is associated with the French director, as are the other diverse variety of movies written by him, ranging from Danny the Dog to 13th District.

And finally, an animation which doesn't feature talking animals. Talk about a deserved break from animation of those sorts. Besson has weaved a magical fantasy adventure, combining live action and delightful 3D animation which is absolutely stunning, and not forgetting a memorable, simple yet strong story to carry the movie through, rather than rehashed juvenile tales that put you to sleep.

No doubt that you might think there are bits which makes it look like a distant cousin of Honey I Shrunk the Kids, or Ants / A Bug's Life, Arthur and the Minimoys has its own saccharine sweet backstory developed, leading to an inevitable ending of which it isn't pessimistic about. In fact, it ends on hope, and love, and there's always something special with movies that dare to end wit that.

The hybrid technique used in itself is special too, as there are too few movies which do so, one of which that comes to mind is Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Here, Arthur is played by Freddie Highmore, last seen in A Good Year, and I thought he's slowly adding to his resume with credible performances all round in the various movies he's in. Lending star power to the movie are the voice talents of (in the English version), check this out - Madonna, Robert De Niro, Jimmy Falon, Harvey Keitel, Snoop Dogg, and David Bowie, who seems to be on a slowburner to making movies these days.

Arthur and the Minimoys is full of love - between Arthur and Selenia the Minimoy Princess (all animated movies must have lovebirds, you know?), and more importantly, between family members. The message on nature and loving nature becomes secondary somewhat, but nonetheless still rings through. Highly recommended animated feature, a refreshing change from the usual style offered.

Review: The Untold Story (Baat Sin Faan Dim Ji Yan Yuk Cha Siu Baau)

Good Stuff Cannot Bluff

This year's HKIFF has director Herman Yau's movies in retrospect, and features some of his adult cult classics like The Untold Story, and Ebola Syndrome. There would be no way that I would pass on the opportunity to watch these movies on the big screen, in 35mm format.

The Untold Story tells of a heinous crime that reportedly took place in 80s Macau, where the entire family of the Eight Immortals Restaurant were slaughtered, their bodies dismembered, the bones dumped into trash, and their flesh, as the title already states, gets put as fillings into roast meat buns. Anthony Wong plays the chief villain Wong Chi Hang, who refuses to acknowledge the dastardly murders he had committed, and gives an impressive performance as a dangerous, calculative criminal behind those nerdy looking spectacles.

This Category III movie is unflinching in its violence, and not just those involving weapons like butcher knives, but seemingly innocent utensils like ladles and chopsticks will never be looked upon in the same light again. Women and children are not spared the graphicness of it all, and although some acts were done off screen, it is chilling enough to send shivers, no thanks to the gleefully evil expression of Wong the actor. Rape, dismemberment, beheadings, immolation, they're all here to earn this adult movie its cult status.

Danny Lee, a regular in cop movies in the 80s and also a producer of the film, plays a cop with shady morals here, with preference for hookers and breaking protocol by bringing them regularly to crime scenes and the police station. It's quite a departure from the straight heroic roles he plays ever so often. Besides watching him in action (haven't seen him in a while), another "oldie" Seng Fui On is in the movie as a jailbird who bears a grudge against Wong Chi Hang. Watching a host of other familiar faces brings back that sense of nostalgia.

But perhaps what made this movie stand out, is its portrayal of the police force as a bunch of bumbling officers (in a way) with its blend of comedy, and its stark portrayal of questionable interrogation tactics which probably wouldn't get passed today, and would definitely be frowned upon.

It's a wicked delight to indulge in the enjoyment of this movie, and I'd recommend anyone who wants to watch this, to watch it on the big screen in 35mm format at whatever opportunity that comes by.

Review: The Basement (World Premiere)

Lights Camera Action!

The Basement screened today at the HK Space Museum was a world's first, and simply put, it can be broken down in three acts. It's not easy to follow, and the ending left quite open ended. The techniques used, especially the extensive use of long shots, and the dim lighting made the look of the film a little fuzzy, and very dark, probably to accentuate director Liu Hao's message of uncertainty, and helplessness.

The first act would have made an excellent horror movie, with its darkness, shadow play, and sound effects. The pacing, cinematography would all suggest this. However, this act served as a rather long introduction of our lead characters, a girl named Sheng Hao, and her boyfriend Jia Hao, who has the habit of standing her up. It's a journey along the games people play, in being coy, in being wanting, in being indifferent.

Things still don't pick up in the second act, where they finally meet, and continue their lovers games. Until an intruder is caught, and things start to pick up slightly with a catalyst introduced, but still, it doesn't move along much. The intruder, a voyeur, because of his new found power to blackmail, start to make demands, and while this was an interesting plot development, it suffered again from the lack of pace, and repetition.

In its wrap, it left things convoluted, and leaving you quite unsatisfied. If there's an issue with The Basement, it'll be the pacing which is excruciatingly slow. The revelation was not a surprise, as you would have more or less guessed it given the lack of characters, and locale. Not for the impatient, nor those who prefer crisp stories.

There will be some mild spoilers in the paragraphs below.

Director Liu Hao graced the World Premiere screening with an introduction as well as a Question and Answer session after the screening. Many were curious as to why the intruder didn't free himself completely, and this was clarified that it wasn't the intention of the intruder, as he realized the power he wielded over the couple, and is seeking to fulfil his own desires. Also, there were questions why the couple was obedient, and I thought this was already explained in the movie itself - that the woman worked at the venue, and she would be in trouble if word leaked out what she/the couple had done/were doing.

The slow pacing of the movie was deliberate, and Liu Hao shared that he's been working at the venue where the set was based (actually his own film studio in Beijing), and had a 7 month gap to make a movie in the interim, while developing another feature film. At that location, he noticed the lot of people who were living there, and because of constraints, cannot make a fast paced movie. Similarly, it's a reflection of life and its uncertainties, and it was deliberately planned to be slow moving.

Liu Hao revealed that the movie cost only 7000RMB, of which 2800RMB went to the music, and even then, it was for the rental of the sound studio. Sound effects in the movie were courtesy of the existing ambience. They were real sewage sounds, and therefore no need for additional special effects since they already work. The way the movie was framed was also a mirror of his own late night wandering in his film studio, where there are 12 rooms. When asked if he was emulating any other filmmaker, in particular Ozu, he clarified that it is not his aim to imitate, but rather it's a personal matter. If we were to notice, his past 2 films and this one are all different, different in stories and different in interpretation.

He also went at lengths to explain about self, and how what others see about you may not necessarily be the true you, but rather what you want others to see. The message that he wanted to bring out was the feeling of helplessness, the uncertainty of life and the what-ifs.