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Siew Lup (2016)
Where carnal pleasures and vengeance are the key ingredients to create the best roast meat.
Inspired by Korean director Park Chan Wook's Revenge Trilogy, Singaporean director Sam Loh creates Angels of Vengeance Trilogy, which combines food with abused female victim turned femme fatale. Siew Lup (Roast Meat in Cantonese) is the second chapter of Angel of Vengeance Trilogy, preceding the 2015's first chapter, Lang Tong (Boiled Soup in Cantonese). Featuring new and young actresses, the trilogy serves to push the boundaries of sex, violence and cannibalism in Singapore film history.
Siew Lup focuses on Mia (Rebecca Chen), an ex-prostitute who was rescued from Quan (Sunny Pang), a roast meat shop owner from the pimp who terrorizes her and Mia's mother. Mia enters a loveless marriage with Quan, which his sexual impotency leads to poor self-esteem, hence venting out his frustration through physical violence and rape on her. An encounter with Wu (Louis Wu), the owner of a funeral service company, Mia decides to live with Wu forever and leaves Quan for good. When a sinister plot of getting rid Quan and Wu's encounter with Xuan (Melody Low), a beautiful lady whose days are numbered due to terminal illness, Mia is out on a road of revenge and cannibalism is making its way to the roast meat shop serving unsuspecting diners.
Premiered in Singapore International Film Festival 2016 (SGIFF 2016) with a sold-out screening, Siew Lup seems promising when it comes to pushing the boundaries of graphic sex and violence on Singapore's big screen. Never before did any Singaporean film-makers dare to make a film which promises large amount of carnal pleasures and bloodshed on the big screen, considered that this is a taboo which not only challenges the censorship regulations in Singapore, but also makes us question if Singaporeans are ready for such content. Hence it is no surprise Siew Lup fills the curiosity among Singaporeans to see how the country is ready to make a movie which lashes out sex and violence openly.
While graphic sex and violence is the main selling point of Siew Lup, the story line was however, needs much substantial content to strengthen up the overall presentation of the film. Though the plot seems to be easy to fill up a film with duration of only 82 minutes (5 minutes shorter than the original 87 minutes SGIFF 2016 version), there are some pointers which were left unexplained. Quan's attraction towards Mia and Wu's affair with Xuan were quickly featured without deeper explanation.
Being a newcomer in Singapore film industry, Rebecca Chen has what it takes to portray the role of Mia: hot figures, beautiful looks. While it seems that Chen's Mia was a ready-made femme fatale, not much reason was given to justify her sudden change of personality and her penchant of killing her victims and turns them into roast meat. As the story develops, we can see how the people around Mia drives her to where she is: Pang's Quan is like a typical average Joe, whose profession and low-self esteem turned hot tempered individual, draws the attention of the audience. Not only did we see how it helps him to bring Mia into his life, but also drives her to become a femme fatale. Wu and Low's respective role of Wu and Xuan serves as a fuel for Mia to seek her freedom and paving the road for revenge.
Siew Lup may not suit everybody's palate, considered that it is an 82 minutes worth of sex and violence. Though the story is easy to understand and pretty straight forward, an expansion on the duration to build up the development of the story will definitely serve as a bonus to the audience, which marks a sweet and delicious end to a meal.
Dian wu bu (2016)
Who Are The Shatin Martins?
While Hong Kong may not be well known for its sports development, many people may not know the existence of The Shatin Martins, Hong Kong's first government baseball team. First time director Chan Chi Fat brings the story of The Shatin Martins onto the big screen, where Weeds on Fire answer the question: Who are the Shatin Martins?
The story is told from the perspective of Lung (Lam Yiu-Seng), a teenager growing up in Shatin during 1984. Coming from a neighborhood high school well-known for its poor disciplinary control, the students are enthusiastic in sports. The school principal, Mr Lo (Liu Kai-Chi), decided to turn a bunch of students with poor disciplinary records into Hong Kong's baseball team pioneers. Lung and his classmates were recruited by Mr Lo, where the boys undergo harsh training from the iron fist of Mr Lo. The harsh training builds up strong discipline among the boys, which not only makes the team enter the final round in the baseball tournament, but also creating an unknown glory in the sports history of Hong Kong.
The movie is not just a bunch of rowdy underdogs into a champion with remarkable results. Rather, it covers a wider aspect of a teenager in his growing up years: facing the dilemma of breaking undesired truth to his best friend, crush with a girl he loves, discovering his mother's infidelity and taking care of his aging father. While this doesn't seem to have any relationship to the theme of the film, it helps the audience to understand the struggle any typical youth will undergo while juggling with training and tournaments.
Apart from showcasing the tough training the boys undergo, it also carries an important message: giving up equals to losing. The message Mr Lo wants to instill on the boys are more than just winning the competition. It is also about developing their inner characters to prepare them from the reality the moment the boys join the working society. This can be seen from the opening and closing scene, where we see an adult Lung walking on the streets of Central occupied with protesters during the Yellow Umbrella Movement in 2014.
Weeds on Fire is one of the few Hong Kong independent productions which deserves its limelight, considered that this is a lesser known indie productions which fails to get the publicity it deserves. Watch this if you are a sports lover and you have never really came across a really good baseball movie after Penny Marshall's A League of Their Own (1992).
Collateral Beauty (2016)
Seeking the Emotional Connections
What is 'collateral beauty'? Not many will know about this term, which director David Frankel is using this term as his theme for his latest feature film.
Howard (Will Smith) is a successful entrepreneur who runs a media agency together with his three best friends: Whit (Edward Norton), Claire (Kate Winslet) and Simon (Michael Pena). After losing his daughter to a rare brain tumor, he drowns himself in sorrow and isolates himself at work and personal life. An encounter with Amy (Keira Knightley) leads Whit, Claire and Simon came across with a struggling theatrical group which was co-run bu Bridgette (Helen Mirren) and Raffi (Jacob Latimore). Howard's friend intercepted three letters written by him, which the recipient turns out to be: Death, Love and Time. To assist Howard coming out from grief and sorrow, his friends engage the help of Bridgette, Amy and Raffi to play the role of death, love and time respectively. Meanwhile, an encounter with Madeleine (Naomie Harris), the founder of a self-help group for parents who have lost their children to death makes Howard decided to start life all over again. When the trio (Bridgette, Amy and Raffi appear in the form of death, love and time) appears in Howard's life, it makes him question the meaning of life and the importance of overcoming the grief.
The term 'collateral beauty' can be simply defined as parents unable to see the damage of their child's death in full picture, but the love and beauty that comes after the death helps to bring people closer to one another. Frankel explores the definition in the film through the connections between the people around Howard. Here, we have seen how Howard has isolated himself from the outside world, which worries his loved ones and his friends (damage). Through the intervention of Bridgette's trio, it helps Howard to pick up the courage to restart his life, while at the same time seeking the possibility of connecting with Madeleine and give himself a second chance in life.
Looking at the bigger picture, Frankel also touches on the life of the people surrounding Howard: Whit is patching up his broken relationship with his ex-wife's daughter, Allison, to redeem his infidelity; Claire is seeking a sperm donor to conceive a child due to her age after spending most of her time establishing the career for Howard; Simon fears his family will be unable to support themselves financially after a relapse of cancer he has recovered. The subplot supports the story to move on, which it only helps the audience to understand the term, but also shifts the focus on Howard's grief to avoid boredom. While these subplots seems to be valid and reflects the actual life an individual will encounter, it may be heavy for some who are seeking to entertain than to reflect on their life. Towards the end of the story, audience can feel that emotional toils takes the center stage of the story, though it is not much of an emotional roller-coaster ride.
Smith carries the same usual self from his previous films in the similar genre, such as The Pursuit of Happiness, Seven Pounds and Concussion. Though he is the main focus of the story, he has unfortunately unable to engage the audience in the emotional toil he has been through. Not much explanation was given on Smith's Howard wallowing in sorrow, which audience may not be convinced on what has happened, which leads to the undesired behavior he displays when his friend is helping him. Instead, the focus has shifted to Helen Mirren's Bridgette, which she came in as a form of enlightenment to Howard. Besides applying her theatrical knowledge to the role she was given to, her age and appearance have also help the role to look more convincing without too much giveaway. At duration of 97 minutes, there isn't much room for Norton, Winslet, Pena, Knightley, Latimore and Harris to explore their respective roles. The casting is strong to draw the crowds, but it seems to be a waste since not much chance was given to explore the role.
There aren't many films like Collateral Beauty which helps an individual to understand social terms in a layman's term. While the star-studded casting makes the movie look promising, there are many areas left unexplained, which makes the movie feel under-whelmed.
Split Personality, Confused Identity
After exploring the lives of the boy who sees ghosts and the man who survived several man-made accidents, director M Night Shyamalan creates a thriller based on a person suffering from Disoriented Identity Disorder (DID). SPLIT was born under this idea, which aims to gives the audience a good understanding about DID, but ends up leaving the theater feeling confused.
Three teenage girls – Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), Claire (Haley Lu-Richardson) and Marcia (Jessica Sula) were abducted by Kevin (James McAvoy) at a car park. Locked in an unknown underground cellar, the three girls discovered that they were greeted by Kevin in different forms under different names: Kevin dressed up and acts like a straight man, a woman, a child and a gay guy. The girls soon discovers that Kevin is suffering from DID, which he lives with 23 personalities. Meanwhile, Dr Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley) is seeing Barry (one of the personalities under Kevin), a young artist who claims that he is suffering from some personality disorder. While Dr Fletcher is trying to prove that a person suffering from DID have the ability to change their physiology, the three girls are using his various personalities to rescue themselves, before Kevin's 24th personality comes after them.
As the title suggests, SPLIT was interpreted as someone with DID is living with split personalities. Though it was understood that McAvoy's Kevin was living with 23 personalities, only 8 personalities were seen in the entire film. With 8 personalities on display, this is not only challenging to McAvoy in terms of interpreting the respective personalities, it is also challenging for the audience to digest and understand the reason behind the distorted personalities. Audience were treated to McAvoy's interpretation on the different personalities he is living in, and how his respective personalities interact with his victims. However, this has starts to bore the audience, which some will find it time consuming and lack of interest, since everyone has more or less expected what will happens next.
The first five minutes of the movie gets straight to the point directly, showing how the girls were abducted without any reasons. While audience were expecting to see how the girls are finding their ways to escape from their abductors, Shyamalan works differently compared to other movies which talks about how victims find their way to escape from their abductors. Audience were given an exploration on the lives of Kevin through his counseling appointment with Dr Fletcher, which was intervene with Casey's childhood experiences. The only link that brought Casey's childhood into the movie was towards the last ten minutes, showing how is she escaping from Kevin's 24th personality. With the overall presentation not shown in sequence, it is easy to make the audience feeling confused and distorted.
McAvoy's portrayal of Kevin lives under different names through his different personalities. While it was mentioned in the synopsis that Kevin is suffering from DID and lives with 23 personalities, only 8 different types of personalities were showcased in the film. From playing a straight man, a lonely man, a woman, a child to a beast, McAvoy's performance was the only reason that kept the story from going on. Anya Taylor-Joy's performance of Casey is more of a compliment to the story. Her wit not only helps her to understand Kevin, but also serves as a way of saving herself in the times of danger. Somehow, the intervention of Casey's childhood trauma fails to compliment the story well, which overall it drags the duration of the film.
To sum up, SPLIT has a hard time to identify its identity, which the movie is rather confusing. While McAvoy's performance saves the day and Taylor-Joy gets more screen time, this is another movie which Shyamalan is having a hard time to connect with his audience and fans.
A Yellow Bird (2016)
Seeking Redemption In the Midst of Confusion and Harsh Reality
Singapore short film director K Rajagopal's debut full length feature, A Yellow Bird, opens with a big bang in Singapore, since it was one of the two movies to premier in Cannes Film Festival 2016 (the other being Boo Junfeng's Apprentice). Combining his personal experiences and based on actual news, the movie looks into an ex-convict journey to seek redemption while struggling with reality upon release.
Siva (played by Singaporean actor Sivakumar Palakrishnan) was released from eight years of imprisonment due to smuggling contraband goods. Unable to find his wife and daughter who have not seen him during his imprisonment, Siva was struggling to get a stable job while living with his mother (Seema Biswas, as seen in Shehkar Kapur's Bandit Queen). While working as a musician in a Chinese funeral company, he met Chen Chen (China actress Huang Lu), an over-stayer who takes up various odd jobs so as to repay debts back in China. Siva's hot temper not only almost got him into trouble with the law again, but also puts a strain on his relationship with his mother. While working as a odd-job worker, Siva develops affection with Chen Chen, who works as a prostitute in a illegal brothel den at a bush. Hoping to help Chen Chen, Siva was in crossroads between seeking help from his estranged mother and getting money through illegal means.
By no means A Yellow Bird is a sugar-coated version of Victor Hugo's Les Miserable set in modern day Singapore. More rather, it is a view of an individual living in the underbelly of the developed society. To help the audience digest the movie, K Rajagopal and Jeremy Chua (producer) co- wrote the script and presents it in three parts: -The first part looks into Siva seeking for his wife upon his release from the prison and his strain relationship with his mother, who works as a cleaner and rents out the only bedroom in the government apartment to several China workers for survival. Through the different peoples he met, it helps to lay down the development on Siva seeking his wife, with his fury temper getting himself close to bar again. -The second part looks into Siva spending his time with Chen Chen earning a living through illegal ways. This is a unique development in the story, where both communicated through body languages, since Siva doesn't speaks Mandarin and Chen Chen doesn't speaks English. -The last part deals with Siva being mistaken as a rioter and escapes from the police, while trying to find his wife and daughter. This is more of a presentation on how Siva resorting to his old ways after being driven to the corner of the law.
Siva's experience is just one of the ex-convict story, which represents a fraction of ex-convicts who are unable to readjust themselves back to the society upon release. Not only do they undergo an emotional torrent, their love ones are trying to find ways to readjust their lifestyle upon his release. From the jobs Siva take up for survival, not only do we see how an ex-convict were unable to secure a full time job, but also how he was ostracized for being an ex-convict. His lack of understanding on the protocols the civil servants has to adhere when asking for his wife's contact detail not only almost got him into trouble, but also makes him heading to seek his wife aimlessly.
Sivakumar's performance as Siva not only brought the audience the harsh reality, but also makes you empathized with his loss and seeking for redemption. The encounter of Sivakumar's Siva and Huang Lu's Chen Chen is a unique combination of two people living in the underbelly of the society. Chen Chen was taking a risk of being an over-stayer when she is unable to earn enough money to repay debts. Right from the beginning where she quarrel with a funeral service supervisor after she was underpaid to working as a prostitute in a illegal brothel den, Chen Chen's encounter was a reflection of the other kind: illegal immigrants seeking for survival in Singapore.
For Indian actress Seema Biswas, playing Siva's mother is a great challenge. As mentioned by K Rajagopal, Seema Biswas takes up the challenge through blending in the lives of commoners in Singapore. Through observation, speaking with the common folks to making her own sari she wore in the movie, Seema Biswas has not only successfully plays a commoner from Singapore, but has also develops a character that serves as a big contrast to Siva's character in the movie.
A Yellow Bird is not your usual feel-good Singaporean movie that looks into how ex-convicts are able to restart their lives all over again upon their release. More rather, it takes the reality into your face value. At the same time, it looks into the struggle of people who are unable to make ends meet, and resorting to desperate means to meet their basic needs. This is a movie that should be watched by anyone who wants a deeper view of the reality in the developed society.
Bai yi (2016)
When Perversion Hides in the Corner of Everyone
Being the debut feature by Taiwanese documentary director Chu Hsien-Che, White Ant explores the darkest side of every human being, which shines the light on people requiring assistance when they are being driven to a corner of the society. Using the theme of sexual fetishism, it explores how a sense of righteous, if used in a wrong way, can lead to unexpected and undesired results on the parties involved. White Ant revolves on Bai Yide (Wu Kang Ren), a young man who lives alone and works in a bookstore in Taipei. Being alone and unable to blend himself into the society, he steals lingerie from his neighbors in the neighborhood and develops sexual gratification from it. One day, he receives a DVD from an unidentified sender, which the DVD contains a footage of Yide stealing lingerie from his neighbor. Feeling worried that someone will expose his acts, Yide went on a search to identify the sender. The sender turns out to be Junhong (Aviis Zhong), a female university student who had just broken up with her boyfriend. While she perceived her act to be righteous, it not only leads to Yide's life spiral out of control, but also affects her and Yide's mother, Mrs Bai (Yu Tai-Yan).
In general, the movie can be divided into two parts: the first part focuses on the effect. The showcase of Bai Yide's sexual fetishism and his isolated personality was intervening with Junhong's act of attempt to expose Yide's perverted act in the public. The first ten minutes of the film starts with Yide stealing lingerie from his neighbor in the late evening, where no one was around. This is continued with Yide getting a sense of gratification through wearing the lingerie and masturbation. What follows next was how Yide began to hide the lingerie in a box of various several stolen lingerie. This gave us an introduction on the movie, which leads us to find out more about Yide's distorted personality at the later stage of the movie. For Junhong, she was seen as a heroine in the beginning for exposing Yide's perverted act. However, it eventually leads to Junhong being seen as a person who makes Yide's life spin out of control and ends with a disaster.
Towards the second half of the film, Junhong steps into the main picture. Through an internship, she met Mrs Bai (Yide's mother), a bridal dressmaker. Under Mrs Bai's apprenticeship, Junhong not only seeks to find out more about the life of Yide, but also their personal experiences and hardship they went through after the death of Yide's father. This is where Junhong seeks redemption and self-forgiveness through understanding Yide and Mrs Bai's hardship, which explores the cause of Yide's perversion and distorted personality.
On the reason why the movie is name White Ant, director Chu Hsien-Che explains that white ants/termites tend to live in a dark and moist area, which allows them to breed and gnaw. Yide's personality is just like termite, where he constantly in darkness, whether it is his environment or personality. As a social drama, it highlights to us that there are many people who requires assistance due to the environment and incidents they went through in their life. As a psychological drama, it is more than just a cat and mouse game between Yide and Junhong. While one was choosing to live in darkness, another chooses to seek redemption. This is something that might happen to anyone, including you and me.
White Ant is not your usual popcorn movie. It serves as both a cautionary tale on perversion acts, while at the same time, it tells us that there are people who requires our assistance at any time.
Du li qiao zhi lian (1959)
Shaw Brothers Studio's Rare Portrayal of Singapore in the Late 1950s.
While fans of Shaw Brothers studio Hong Kong knows that the studio is famous for martial art films and erotica during the 60s and 70s, not many people knows that Shaw Brothers studio has a division which specialized in black and white (B/W) Cantonese melodramas, which it began in the 1950s. The Merdeka Bridge is one of the title under their wing. Shot entirely in Singapore, this is a rare gem that is available for public screening today. (Another movie shot in Singapore by Shaw Brothers studio is The Fragrant Durian, which unfortunately the prints were damaged and unable to be salvaged from their library.)
Shot in Singapore in 1959 and directed by Chow Sze Luk, The Merdeka Bridge follows the life of popular nightclub singer Sit Yin Mui (played by the late Patricia Lam Fung). Living with her mother, her good-for- nothing younger brother Sit Kei (played by the late Mak Kei) and younger sister, Yin Mui was always seen hanging around with Mr Lee, a married businessman who is fond of her and pays for her expenses. A road accident at The Merdeka Bridge brought Yin Mui and artist Cheng Man Wai (Cheung Yin Choi) together, which soon both of them falls in love. When Man Wai wants to further his art studies in France, he promised Yin Mui he will get married with her upon completing his studies. However, afraid that their living expenses will come to an end when getting married to Man Wai, Sit Kei and his mother demanded Man Wai to leave Yin Mui, so that she can get married to Mr Lee and ensure the family lead a life without worrying about living expenses. To worsen the matter, Sit Kei was in cahoots with Mr Lee, where he sets a trap for Yin Mui to sell herself to Mr Lee while Sit Kei gets the money. Having paid for Man Wai's school fees and living expenses, Yin Mui unwillingly accepts the proposal from Mr Lee (which was the trap set by Sit Kei). Tragedy falls on Sit Kei and his mother shortly after Yin Mui follows Mr Lee, which droves her world to the dark end.
This is a typical story line that was commonly seen in B/W Cantonese melodramas, which mainly portray the lives of commoners struggling to meet ends meet. Such stories tend to be popular among the common Chinese folks in Cantonese speaking regions, such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia, for the folks find the story tend to their daily lives. While the plot seems to be complex, it is rather straightforward and easy to understand. In terms of presentation, the movie mainly explores the romance and relationship between Yin Mui and Man Wai, while the story development were supported by Yin Mui seeing Mr Lee as her sugar daddy to support the family, and Sit Kei constants trouble with the law.
Compared to Cathay Organization's The Lion City (1960), The Merdeka Bridge pales in utilizing Singapore as the location to shoot the movie. With most scenes shot in the studio, fans who are looking forward to see the pre-independence Singapore will be disappointed, since it doesn't feature much outdoor shots. However, this is the only movie which features the housing estates in Queenstown, Punggol Jetty, the streets of Orchard Road before development and the lesser known Orchard Police Station, which has been replaced by major shopping mall today.
While Patricia Lam Fung's is the main attraction of the film, it was Mak Kei's performance of Sit Kei that makes the movie memorable. Playing the young man who constantly got into trouble with the law, Sit Kei can be seen as the root of the downfall in the Sit Family. For fans of the late Patricia Lam Fung, they are in for a treat, since she performs several songs in the film, on top of her beautiful looks. Cheung Yin Choi's portrayal of Man Wai seems to draw less attention, which there isn't much chance for him to explore his role. It is also worth mentioning that the late James Yi Lui, who was well know for Hong Kong's independent production in the 1970s, make his debut feature in The Merdeka Bridge with a minor role.
To sum up, The Merdeka Bridge is one of the rare hidden gem from Shaw Brothers studio which the film was shot entirely in Singapore. However, they missed the opportunity to fully utilize the location, since it wasn't a trend for Hong Kong studios to shot the movie outside Hong Kong. Nevertheless, it gave the younger generations a good opportunity to see Singapore in the midst of development before coming to where we are today.
Female Dominance at its Best, But Pales Compared to Its Predecessor
Dutch director Paul Verhoeven is back with his latest full length feature film, Elle, after taking a ten's years break in full length film since Blackbook (Zwartboek, 2006). Once again, he uses feminism as the lead of the story, which showcases a different side of female dominance. Based on the novel Oh! written by Philippe Djian and features acclaimed actress Isabelle Huppert as Michele LeBlanc, the leading protagonist, the combination is definitely worth looking forward to.
When Michele, the CEO of a computer game development company, was sexually violated by a mysterious intruder who breaks into her home, she began a hunt on the identity of the intruder. Starting from her worker where she recently had a conflict with, she began every single step in self-protection. At the same time, she experiences family and relationship issues, a crush on her neighbor and sexual deprivation after remaining single for years. What she may not realize is that the intruder might be someone she is closed with, and it can be the person whom she trusts.
Generally, Elle can be divided into three components: the actions taken to prevent herself from further violation; repairing her estranged relationships with her family members and fulfilling her sexual deprivation from the people around her. In the three components, female dominance takes the leading role to control the situations that falls within the three components. For instance: changing the locks at home, getting an axe and pepper spray, learning how to fire a gun through the assistance of her co-worker displays a sense of security and protection needed for herself. Having a say in how her family members ought to behave, according to her standards, is another showcase on how female dominance applies on her personal relationships with her family members. This can be seen as how she wants her son to meet her criteria before she sponsors a new home for her son and pregnant girlfriend; telling her mother the types of boyfriend she should look for herself while paying for her living expenses. In terms of fulfilling her sexual needs, female dominance will only come in at the later part. Here, we can see how she gave in to her co-worker's request for sexual acts in the workplace, secretly admiring at her neighbor while pleasuring herself till how she fail to resist and constantly fantasize of being rape by the intruder.
While the plot focuses on how Huppert's Michele hunts down the intruder and engage in a cat and mouse game with the suspect, the development of the story has somehow distorted and went wayward from the initial plot. At an duration of 130 minutes, the story focuses mainly on how Michele's dominance and sometimes perverted personality came about. While this has provided us with a good understanding on Michele's background which leads to her personality, audience may find it rather redundant, and sometimes, bored, in terms of how this leads to the development of the whole story. Her personality was seen to only be useful at the last 40 minutes of the film, which opens a surprise to everyone. Isabelle Huppert has delivered an excellent performance in Elle, where she was seen as the next female role which uses female dominance as the center stage after Sharon Stone in Verhoeven's classic, Basic Instinct (1992). Audience can find some shadow of Stone's Catherine Tramell in Huppert's Michele, such as how she seduces her neighbor for sexual favors. While Tramell dominates and manipulate the people around her through intelligence and sex, Michele uses her personality to dominate the people around her.
To sum up, Elle marks the return of Paul Verhoeven to the big screen with a full-length feature thriller surrounding feminism and dominance. While this can be seen as one of the best foreign feature film of 2016, it is not exactly the best film from Verhoeven. Elle can be seen as a successor to Basic Instinct, but it has some way to go in order to achieve the cult-classic status earned by Basic Instinct.
Hung sau wan mei seui (2016)
When Puccini Meets the Killer and Monty Hall's Probability.
Based on the novel 'The Killer Is Still Awake' written by script writer Erica Lee, Hong Kong acclaimed director Herman Yau works together with Lee (who co-wrote the script) for the fourth time, hoping to give something new to the audience.
Primary school mathematics teacher Brian (Andy Hui) befriends the founder of Beloved Dogs, Jasmine (Janice Man) when she looks after Brian's pet dog. Working as a volunteer with Beloved Dogs, a non-profit organization which takes care of unwanted dogs, Brian and Jasmine soon falls in love. However, Jasmine unwilling accepts the proposal from a rich businessman, Vincent (Gordon Lam), under her parent's pressure. A week before the wedding, Jasmine seeks to patch up with a heartbroken Brian, but to no avail. Shortly after that, Jasmine was kidnapped by a mysterious man who strips her naked and tied her up on the bed, playing the song 'Nessun Dorma' from Puccini's Turandot. Things take a drastic turn when Jasmine escapes from the kidnapper, and Vincent found out about the kidnap and abuses her, ending with the kidnapper telling Jasmine that Vincent is the real target behind the kidnap.
This review is based on the 88 minutes version released for commercial purpose, instead of the original director's cut which premiered in Hong Kong during March this year. While the plot seems promising and packed with solid details, it has somehow failed to get audience's attention. The first 10 minutes explains the relationship between Brian, Jasmine and Vincent and their individual characteristics. This helps the audience to easily absorb the first half of the movie, where Jasmine were kidnapped and violated, intersected with a deeper background on the three characters.
Yau and Lee seems to focuses on Monty Hall's Probability Theory to tell the story, hence we can see the theory was used. To begin with, Brian explains the theory to Jasmine through a game in a classroom. This is followed by Jasmine making a dream, where she opens of the three red doors and see herself becoming a victim of Vincent. Lastly, when Jasmine argues with Brian that he can't apply the theory to explain some unanswered questions in life, the theory was used to answer the ending for Brian, Jasmine and Vincent. This has somehow made the story and the ending predictable, though some twists were made in the ending to change the overall perception of the movie.
Janice Man's performance as Jasmine is the main highlight of Nessun Dorma. Being the victim of the kidnap, she sees herself as Princess Turandot, which it explains her relationship with Brian. From a lovable and jovial individual, her world began to change after the kidnap, which Man has did a excellent job in the changes of Jasmine's character and emotion. While Gordon Lam did not disappoint the audience as Vincent, a rich businessman into shady business turned wife abuser, Andy Hui's Brian failed to impress the audience. Compared to Lam who got a lesser screen time which leaves the audience with deeper impression on his various emotional changes, Hui's expression were rather bored and seemed indifferent most of the time.
Overall, Nessum Dorma is a popcorn movie which doesn't require one to use Monty Hall Probability to think through, since it has been explained and applied in the movie. While fans of Janice Man will like the breakthrough she had in this film, this is one of the weakest film from Herman Yau, compared to his recent titles.
Lou xia de fang ke (2016)
The Tenants Downstairs – When Sliver Meets The Untold Story Meets Audition
Based on the novel of the same title written by Taiwanese author Giddens Ko, better known as his pen name Jiu Ba Dao (Nine Knives) to the Chinese community, he brings the novel to live with the help of the first time director, Adam Tsuei. Under the directions of Tsuei, TheTenants Downstairs serves as a symphony of people from different backgrounds, or more rather, a mass orgy on the dark side of human nature.
A homeless man turned landlord (Hong Kong veteran actor Simon Yam taking up the most challenging leading role) inherits an old abandoned apartment building from his relative. He rents out the rooms to 'normal human beings', which he believes they are flawed in certain way. Thus, the rooms were rent out to: A single father (You An-Shun) and his young daughter (Angel Ho), a lusty gymnastic teacher (Kaiser Chuang), a married lecturer (Taiwanese veteran actor Lee Kang Sheng) and his male student lover (Malaysian actor Bernard Ho), a geeky student (Hou Yan-xi) who believes he has the power of tele-portation, a office worker (Li Xin) who believes in making use of her body to climb up the corporate ladder, and a young lady (Shao Yu-Wei) who always carry a trolley luggage around into her room. With CCTVs installed in their respective rooms, the landlord satisfies his fetish for voyeurism. Making use of the individual's living habits, the landlord decided to manipulate everyone, which leads to mistrust, mayhem and murder.
Rather than seeing it as a usual suspense thriller, The Tenants Downstairs serves more of an exploration on the dark side of human nature. Simon Yam taking the leading role of the landlord serves as a bystander to the daily life of his tenants, which he carefully records down their daily activities in order to bring the game up to the next level. While Yam was well known for his various roles in the Category 3 movies during his early days, his experiences helps him to take up the challenging role, which leaves the audience with a twisted mind.
The story can also be seen as a darker side of the society, where the apartment is a micro-society by itself, with the tenants and their behavior forms the reflection to the current society. For instance: the father develops a sexual attraction towards his young daughter (incest and pedophilia); the gymnastic teacher engaging in a sexual relationship with the office worker, which in return, induces physical violence towards her (domestic violence); the geeky student indulging in his own world (socially awkward), which ends up being seen as a intruder in the homosexual relationship between the lecturer and the student; the gay couple living in a secret lifestyle (one is married and dominant, another waiting to be enlisted into the army and submissive). However, Taiwanese actress Shao Yu-Wei seems to be a scene stealer from here, where she chooses her victims through seduction and kidnapping. Beneath the kind- looking face holds a twisted personality, where her role is a reflection from the role of Asami portrayed by Eihi Shiina in Takashi Miike's Audition (1999).
With the mayhem created due to manipulation, it is no surprise that audience will get to see a movie filled with several adult contents. The Tenants Downstairs is not only something that is disturbing to the adult viewers, but also challenges the tolerance level, social norms and censorship regulations around the world. With the elements of voyeurism from Philip Noyce's Sliver (1993), murder and cannibalism in Herman Yau's The Untold Story (1993) and Audition, The Tenants Downstairs takes the strength from each film. With an unusual way of storytelling and unexpected twists, be warned and beware. Watch it only if you are ready for the unusual storytelling method from Ko, who also wrote the script. And no, this is a far cry from Ko's sweet teenage romantic drama, You're The Apple of My Eye (2012).
Note: The review is given based on the revised version created for Singapore market.
The Lovers & the Despot (2016)
The director, his ex-wife actress and the dictator turned kidnapper who kidnaps them.
The above tag line should pretty much sums up about the documentary feature, which tells the story most people might never heard of. The Lovers and the Despot explores the rather unusual love-hate relationship between a very unlikely trio: South Korean actress Choi Eun-hee and her ex-husband movie director Shin Sang-OK, where both were kidnap by their greatest fan, Kim Jong-il.
Written and directed by Ross Adam and Robert Cannon, the documentary tells the story behind one of the biggest kidnapping mystery that takes place in 1978. Featuring interviews with Choi herself, she personally explains to the audience about her career as an actress in South Korea movie industry, the romance and failed marriage between her and the late Shin, and a impossible reunion which takes place in the most unlikely place by the most unlikely person: Kim Jong-il's residency.
The documentary also covers the incident from the different perspective: the traumas faced by Choi and Shin's family member, especially their two adopted children; British police officers conducting the investigation on the disappearance of Choi and Shin in Hong Kong, where both were kidnapped in different locations; the South Korean CIA agent investigating the kidnap, which links to the study of North Korea movie industry and Kim's passion towards movies; Japanese film critic who assisted Shin to passed the message to their family back in South Korea; an former North Korea adviser who works for Kim and shares the unknown side of the late North Korea dictator. Together with some conversations from Kim himself, which was recorded by Choi and Shin secretly, audience gets an deeper insight on the man who was seen as a tyrant of the world.
Rather than having the usual conversations filled up the documentary, The Lovers and the Despot provides the audience with tonnes of rare footage, ranging from video clips from the movies made by Choi, Shin and Kim to photos and archival records. Not only does it keep the audience engaged, it also provides everyone an chance to watch something that is rare and unlikely to be seen on the mainstream media.
The Lovers and the Despot is one of the most important documentaries that document the evolution of North and South Korea film industry. Most importantly, we get to see a different side of the man in question itself.
Weaving the Link of Stockholm Syndrome via corruption and social media
What will a single father do when he lost his only son to a man-made disaster that is link to government corruption?
Will he: A – Quietly accepts the compensation from the government and let the matter rest; B – Attempt suicide so that he can join his son in the other world; C – Go on a one man VS government debate and protest to fight for the unjust?
For director Nishikant Kamat (well known for independent production Mumbai Meri Jaan (2008) and Drishyam (2015) ) and actor/writer Ritesh Shah (Force (2011), Airlift (2016), Kahaani (2012) and Te3n (2016), they have opt for a different approach: the single father kidnap's the Home Minister's son and demanded the Home Minister to find out the truth. Hence, Madaari was born and acclaimed actor Irrfan Khan takes the role of the single father in question.
Khan plays Nirmal Kumar, an IT Technician who lost his only son to a man made disaster, where his son was killed in a collapsing bridge while on the way to school. Unable to get any explanation from the government, he kidnaps Rohan (played by young child star, Vishesh Bansal), the son of Prashat Goswami (Tushar Dalvi), the Home Minister of India. Nirmal demands Prashat to find out the company behind the construction of the bridge to give him an explanation on the cause of the collapse, failing which it will lead to more children kidnapped before the deadline approaches. While detective Nachiket Verma (Jimmy Shergill) takes on the investigation and attempt to capture Nirmal, Nirmal retaliated with a story of father and son, which aims to create an awareness of the families broken in the disaster. Through the journey, Nirmal and Rohan knows each other better before moving forward to the next step, which is to get the involved parties to speak out the truth, and uncovers the corruption behind the disaster.
Madaari follows the style of A Wednesday (2008) and Unnaipol Oruvan (2009), where commoners held the government hostage in order to demand the government seeking the truth, whenever an unjust related to the government falls on the commoners. At the duration of 133 minutes, the delivery of the plot is fast-paced and detailed, where audience will see how the kidnapping takes place. Moving forward, we were showed with the reason that leads to the kidnapping, followed by the anxiety of both Nirmal and Prashat, when the collapse and the kidnapping takes place.
The movie also explores the developing relationship between Nirmal and Rohan. Upon being taken as a victim, Rohan faces fear and anxiety, which slowly evolves to sympathy and developing a mutual bond. This can be seen from how Nirmal kidnaps Rohan and ensures that he remains unharmed till the very end. While creating the story of father and son after the collapse and kidnapping leads to compassion and sympathy from the public, a drastic move made by Rohan's mother has turned the table around, which places both Nirmal and Rohan on a unexpected danger. Such act is a mirror reflection on today's society take towards social media, which showcases the various reactions from the public in an major incident, especially when most of the accidents are related to government corruption.
Irrfan Khan is the major attraction in Madaari, where not only did he manage to display various reactions in different environment, but also shows how he can adapt to the immediate changes. Compliment to his acting skills is the young child star Vishesh Bansal, who not only displays his wit in order to escape, but also understands the reason behind his kidnap. While Tushar Delvi could have given more screen time to showcase his reaction towards the demand from Nirmal, it was Jimmy Shergill who managed to steal the show, by showcasing the steps taken to handle the crisis.
Overall, Madaari is a fast-paced thriller which could have been more exciting. However, the great acting skills from the cast not only makes it worth watching, but also gives you an view on the reality of the current Indian society and the government's view towards corruption and handling a disaster.
Jug-yeo-ju-neun Yeo-ja (2016)
The Bacchus Lady – A Deeper Look into Elderly Prostitution in the Aging South Korea
In a society which believes in adults taking care of their elderly parents, South Korea is seeing more senior citizens struggling for living as the society progresses. With the rising living costs, more adults are getting married at a later age or choose not to getting married at all, since they may not be able to sustain the rising cost of living. It has become a concern that more senior citizens are not being taken care of by their children, especially when South Korea government's elderly benefit system fails to cover all aging citizens. For some elderly women, they were forced to dive into the world's oldest profession, prostitution, in order to make a living. Korean director Lee Je-Yong's latest feature, The Bacchus Lady, explores the issue of elderly prostitution and elderly struggling with poverty through the eyes of an aging prostitute, So-Young (played by veteran actress Yoon Yeo-Jeon).
So-Young works as an elderly prostitute who provides cheap sex services to male senior citizens under the pretext of selling Bacchus, a type of Korean bottled energy drinks. (Hence the name The Bacchus Lady, which refers to elderly prostitutes selling Bacchus) She, just like the many Bacchus ladies, hangs around in neighborhood parks soliciting sex. While she was diagnosed with gonorrhea at a clinic, she witness her male doctor stabbed by his Filipino lover after a conflict over their Kopino son named Min-Ho. (Kopino is a jargon which refers to a anyone with parentage of Korean and Filipino) So-Young picks Min-Ho from the street and take care of him while his mother was serving her prison sentence. Struggling with poverty, So-Young lives in a rented room together with Jae-Woo, a young designer who lost his right leg, and Tina, their male-to-female transsexual landlady. So-Young get in touch with her former clients during work, which the reunion wasn't a happy one for all of them. One of them was bedridden after a stroke, which his married son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren are not keen to visit him, let along taking care of him; another was feeling lonely after his wife passed away and the couple was childless; the third was a single man who is on daily medication and dementia. When they fail to see any future for themselves, they seek So-Young's assistance to end their life, which leads So-Young into a path of confusion.
Unlike his previous works such as Untold Scandal (a Korean blockbuster remake of Dangerous Liaisons) and An Affair (which explores extramarital affairs between married couples), Lee Je-Yong bring the social issues faced in the aging society onto the big screen. Through the eyes of So-Young, it is not difficult for the audience to understand why the elderly Koreans are seeing negativity in their golden age. The rising cost of living and South Korea government's measure to support the senior citizens has many of them to fall through the cracks, where many of them are still living in poverty. Hence, the services were mainly performed in budget motels and quiet corners in the park, since they are unable to afford a decent hotel for the services to be performed. For a childless lady such as So-Young, prostitution is the only way for her to earn an income, since she did not have other skills to earn her a living, and her age forbids her to work as a maid or a factory worker, the job she had during her younger days. To the other childless seniors, it is either they have to find a simple job to earn a living, or they will have to choose to end their life, since they are unable to keep it up with the rising living costs.
While it seems that the rich elderly is taken care of by their children guarantees no worries for their future life, Lee Je-Yong is telling us the story from the other side of coin. So-Young's client, a rich businessman who was bedridden after a stroke, feels that he was leading a life with no dignity. His son and daughter-in-law refuse to take care of him and only visit him once in a while; his grandchildren are more interested in online games than him. While So-Young was the only one who bothers to visit him, she was seen as a gold-digger by the daughter-in-law. This is a reflection on how the children grow up in a modern Western-influenced environment, which serves a big contrast to the Confucian values practiced by the Koreans. Hence it is no wonder that the client has chosen death over living on support.
The Bacchus Lady also touches on other social issues, though it is not covered in depth. For instance, Min-Ho's appearance shows that South Korea is seeing an increase in immigrants from developing countries seeking a better life in South Korea. While So-Young could have simply ignored Min-Ho's appearance, she takes care of him and hopes that she can return Min-Ho to his mother upon her release. It is also a rarity to see the issue of trans gendered people being covered towards the end of the movie, where Tina works as a performer in a transgender nightclub.
To sum up, you will not see any handsome hunks or pretty girls in The Bacchus Lady. Instead, the elderly are taking up the lead to showcase the actual hidden facts in the developed society. If you are tired of the usual K-pop like Korean movies and prefer something more realistic, The Bacchus Lady will serve you well.
In the Room (2015)
Messy Tales of Love and Sex in Room 27
Singaporean director Eric Khoo's latest production, In the Room, marks the 6th feature film after focusing on series of short films in the recent years. While Khoo wants to explore the theme of love and sex in his latest full length feature, the final work will be a jaw-dropper to his fans, or anyone who has watched his previous films.
In the Room is made up of six different short stories which happen in Singapura Hotel, a fictional hotel which is set in Singapore. Spanning across 6 decades and longer, it focuses on various stories which takes place in Room 27. The story opens with a homosexual couple (Singaporean actors Koh Boon Pin & Daniel Jenkins) discussing if they should stay in Singapore or went to England during World War 2 in Singapore. It continues with how a brothel Madame (Hong Kong actress Josie Ho) who teachers her girls on how to gain the female power from their male clients through training on their vagina during 1950s. During the mid 60's, a lead singer, Damien (Singaporean actor Ian Tan), met a new chambermaid named Imrah and was attracted to her. Never did he expect that he will lost his life due to drug overdose in a sex, rock and roll New Year's party. Damien's spirit brought the audience to the 1970s, where a Thai transsexual is assuring his male partner that he will be alright when he undergo gender reassignment surgery the following day, followed by a bored Japanese housewife (Japanese AV actress Show Nishino) having an affair with a handsome looking Singaporean Chinese young man (Lawrence Wong) during the 1980s. Not to forget that Damien leads the audience to how a Korean couple (Choi Woo Shik and Kim Kkiobi) discussing the importance of love and sex during their holiday in Singapore in the 1990s, which follows by how the demise of Imrah at work leads to the fall of Hotel Singapura.
Khoo has once again explored his usual theme in his movies: loneliness and solitude. Compared to his previous works such as Mee Pok Man (1995), 12 Storeys (1997) and more recently, Tatsumi (2011), Damien's role serve as an observer across the different eras, where different people are experiencing love and seeking sex to fulfill the loneliness inside them. However, compared to his other films, sex has become an outlet to fulfill their loneliness rather than lust to meet their biological needs. This can be seen from the last three stories in the film, where we see how 1) the Thai transsexual afraid that his male partner will leave her after the operation, 2) the Singaporean young man persuades his Japanese lover to leave her loveless marriage, 3) the Korean lady who constantly feels that she wished to be loved, but it can only be achieved through an orgasm.
In the Room also explores the forbidden relationship between members of the same gender, which this can be seen in the first story, where Koh's role was reluctant to abandon his family in Singapore despite having the opportunity to move to England with his male partner to seek for their paradise. Female power was also covered here, where Ho advises her girls to provide their male clients with pleasure and dignity, while at the same time taking the dominant role in bed.
Towards the end of the film, Khoo fails to explain the fall of Hotel Singapura. Audience were brought through a very brief glance on how the famous hotel fails to keep up with times, and ended up crumbling at the corner of a highly developed Singapore, where hookers and gangsters infested Hotel Singapure with sleaze and violence. While the cinematography is beautiful, the storytelling was totally messy. At times, it is draggy. Most of the time, it moves so fast, you will wonder what has happened in the first place.
Just like the mess left behind in every hotel room, the audience left the room with a mess in their head.
Lion City (1960)
Lion City – The City That Roars
Lion City marks the first Chinese production to be made by the former Cathay-Keris Films, a subsidiary under Hong Kong's Cathay Organization, which is based in the former Malaya-Singapore during the pre separation days. Labelled as the first Malaya-Singapore Chinese blockbuster, it was directed by the first time director Yi Sui. Under the recent restoration project, Lion City was finally able to see the daylights again, where it was one of the main highlights in the recent Spotlight of Singapore Cinema 2015, showcasing a series of classics shot in Singapore during the early heydays in the 1950s to the late 1970s.
Featuring a list of fresh casts from Singapore, Lion City serves as a reflection on the development of Singapore, right from the days it is still under the British Colonial rule to moving towards independence in 1965. The plot is simple yet complex: Shao Ming (Pan En), the son of a rubber factory, falls in love with factory worker Feng Ling (Orchia Wu), after seeing how Feng Ling handles a dispute among the co- workers. While Feng Ling is hesitant to accept Shao Ming's offer to become friends, their passion towards reading and visiting the beach and see the development of Singapore binds them together. Eventually, both of them develop their relationship to the next step by getting married, which they have to overcome the pressures from parents, since they do not believe in love can be found across different social class and status, especially when Feng Ling's mother have seen from their neighbors ended up in a disastrous ending when she shares the same situation as Feng Ling.
While the romance seems to be the lead that keeps the story moving forward, Yi Sui wants to reflect the social norms and the development of Singapore during the era. This can be seen from the opening scene, which features the current status of Singapore. Various landmarks, such as the Labour Park (also known as the Kallang Park), the Causeway that links Singapore and Malaya, Fort Canning Hill, government residential estates along Dakota Crescent were featured in the film. All of these were accompanied by the theme song, which reflects how Singapore developed under Malaya before separation.
As the story develops, you will be introduced to Feng Ling's family members and how everyone is rushing off for work by taking bus after a quick breakfast. After work, we are introduced to the post dinner activities for everyone: Feng Ling enriching her knowledge by attending night classes; her two brothers, Zhi Hai and Zhi Xiong, headed to the union for meetings and visiting bars respectively. This give Yi Sui a good opportunity to expand the plot through the further encounters from Zhi Hai and Zhi Xiong: Zhi Hai was mistaken as a cigarette smuggler when some smuggled cigarettes were found in his fishing boat; Zhi Xiong had a brief rendezvous with Daisy, a bar hostess, which makes him realized that they are unable to develop the relationship. For their parents, listening to the radio to know about the upcoming general elections and comparing the pros and cons of the political party is what keeps them entertained after a hard day's work. All of these are seen as part and parcel of the daily life among the commoners, as portrayed by Yi Sui.
Shao Ming, on the other hand, shares his passion for swimming, sailing and visiting the beach with Feng Ling. Enjoying parties with his friends occasionally and driving Feng Ling up to the hills for dates is a reflection of the lifestyle lead by the people living in the upper level of the society ladder. All of these were made meaningful through Feng Ling's explanation on why she loves to visit the hills during her free time, where she gets to see how rapidly Singapore develops.
Most importantly, Yi Sui has turned Lion City into a microscopic reflection on the introduction of rules and regulations by the government, where social norms become deviance. Audience viewing Lion City using today's social norms will find it odd, or even hard to believe, but interesting at the same time. For instance: neighborhood cafés serves coffee, beers, juke box and pinball machines with beautiful female staffs is a common sight, where folks will hang out after a hard day's work. However, juke box and pinball machines were banned after the ruling party steps in, which they see it as deviance that encourages flirting and gambling. Also, people were educated in Lion City that voting is a secret, which can be seen from how Zhi Hai discussing with his parents on what needs to be done during the upcoming election.
Within a duration of 2 hours, audience were given treats on the view of Singapore during the post-war colonial era, together with several casts and a scattered storyline. Nevertheless, Lion City serves as a very important movie that reflects Singapore's development, right from the manufacturing industry, housing issues to recreation. This gains an important portfolio on Lion City's profile as more than just a movie that showcases romance across social class. Most importantly, it captures and witness the changes of Singapore, which leaves a legacy for the future generations.
Yat gor fuk jaap gu si (2013)
First time director Kiwi Chow's directorial debut A Complicated Story is way complicated in many aspects. Created as a final year project for a Master's Degree program under Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, A Complicated Story was a joint effort among 9 students under the program. Together with the assistance from the industrial partners, A Complicated Story is one of the rare Hong Kong independent productions featuring artists that appeals to audience who are used to commercial productions.
Adapted from Hong Kong novelist Yi Shu's novel of the same title, the story begins with student Liu Yazi (Taiwanese theatrical actress Zhu Zhiying) taking up an project when she needs a large sum of money to pay for her brother's medical fees due to sudden illness. The project involves Yazi as a surrogate mother for former celebrity Tracy T (Cherie In) and her husband, Lawrence Yu (Jacky Cheung). The project was arranged by lawyer Kammy Au (Stephanie Che) in which Kammy oversees the progress. With everything taken care of, Yazi's job is to ensure that she will give birth to the child when she is due for birth. However, Kammy calls for a stop of the project when Lawrence files for a divorce with Tracy, in which the barren Tracy hopes that she can use the child as a reason to salvage the loveless marriage. Not wanting to abort the child, Yazi escapes from the mansion she is nursing in and stays in an apartment. When Lawrence appears to Yazi suddenly, claiming to be the father of the unborn child, Yazi avoided him at all costs as she wants to raise the child by herself. Things went beyond everybody's control when Yazi's ex-boyfriend, Zhen Ming (newcomer Zi Yi) is willing to be the child's father, Lawrence is supporting Yazi in every aspect and courting her at the same time, and Kammy is attracted to Yazi.
For audience who have read A Complicated Story, they will realize that the movie is a far cry from the novel. Chow explained that in terms of the essence of the novel and development of the character, they are following closely to the novel. However, one needs a great patience to understand the development of the characters while reading novels from Yi Shu. As such, A Complicated Story was divided into 3 chapters through the development of 3 major characters: Yazi (Chapter 1), Lawrence (Chapter 2) and Kammy (Chapter 3). The story develops together with the exploration on the characteristics of the individual leading characters. This makes the movie easier to digest, together with building up a better understanding of the characters from print to screen.
Yazi and Lawrence are 2 different characters from 2 different worlds. Orphaned since young with her brother as the next-of-kin, Yazi works hard to achieve her goals, displaying strong independence of a modern woman. Zhu Zhiying's portrayal of Yazi is a mirror reflection in the modern society, which she has bring life to the leading female character in every Yi Shu's novel. Jacky Cheung's portrayal of Lawrence is one thing that stays faithful to the novel. Lawrence is a mature and responsible man with a successful career, which is every single woman's dream man. However, this has become a barrier for Lawrence when he is courting Yazi, hoping that he can compensate Yazi's loss and the effort she puts in. Such scenario display's the essence created by Yi Shu, where women are gaining independence without depending on any man for survival.
With the support from some veteran actors and actresses, one will get to see Deanie Ip, Lo Hoi Pang, Elaine Jin and John Shum making special appearances. Lo plays Dr Yun, the gynecologist taking care of Yazi, is the only supporting role which appears in the novel. Ip plays Gypsy, which the role is a combination of Yazi's best friend and Lawrence's elder sister in the novel. The combination of the role also makes it easier for audience to digest the film without compromising the flow of the original story.
However, for serious fans of Yi Shu, it will be a disappointment that at least 80% of the story has been re-written in the movie adaptation. This has totally diverted from how the story was originally told. For instance, Kammy Au was never portrayed as a leading role in the novel, until she develops a crush on Yazi in the feature film. Somehow this is not the intention from Yi Shu on how the story should be reprise.
To sum up, A Complicated Story is delighting fans of Yi Shu, since it has been more than 25 years since Yi Shu's novel was adapted for a big screen release. While spiritually the movie follows the essence of the novel, fans and audience do wish that more could have been done to keep the story's originality.
Philomena – Seeking for her lost son at the other side of the world
Former BBC reporter Martin Sixsmith published an article on how Philomena Lee, a woman searching for her son who was born out of the wedlock and adopted by an American couple. The heart wrenching tale leaves many women, like Lee, who get themselves pregnant before getting married, seeking their child who has been adopted by families from American. It was not too long before Stephen Frears and Steve Coogan decided to bring the article up onto the screen, sharing with the world on one of the dark open secret, in a light and comical manner.
Entitled Philomena, it is a no-brainier for audience to know the story revolves the protagonist, Philomena Lee, marvelously portrayed by Judi Dench. Coogen, taking the role of both the producer and playing the role of Martin Sixsmith himself, develops an on screen chemistry with Dench. Set in 2002, the story revolves around Philomena seeking for her son, Anthony Lee, who was adopted by an American family in 1955. Shamed by her family members for getting pregnant before marriage at the age of 18, Philomena was send to a Roman Catholic Convent in Roscrea as a form of punishment to repent for her sins. Working in the laundry room for years, she was shocked and upset that Anthony was adopted by a childless American couple in return for a fee for the church's operation. Having signed an agreement between the church and her, Philomena is not to approach Anthony in any way. At the same time, Martin 'resigned' from BBC due to bringing shame and getting weary from reporting war stories. Deciding to take a different approach in his career, Martin assists Philomena in the journey to look for Anthony, who is now named Michael.
Frears takes a different approach in presenting the story of how Lee goes on the journey to seek her long lost son. While being realistic and serious at times, the light hearted approach softens any possible tension that could have broke out. This can be seen from her excitement by babbling cheerfully to Martin on the novel she read during their way to America. It is a great difference to Philomena's despair to look for Anthony/Michael after the church claims that the details of Anthony's adopted parents were destroyed in a fire years ago, which almost eliminates Philomena's hope of seeing Anthony/Michael.
Philomena also had her fair share of getting worried for not able to identify Anthony/Michael due to the history and culture of America. This is another pointer that was highlighted by Frears to show the despair and possible disappointment should Philomena unable to recognize Anthony/Michael.
'What if he died in the Vietnam War? Or lose a leg? Or getting obese?' Philomena was sharing her concern with Martin at a food truck on the street. 'Why obese?' Ask by the curious Martin. 'The size of the portion!' exclaims Philomena.
Behind the exchange of these funny lines, it not only shows how the history and culture has changed the people, but also the possible chances of Philomena acknowledging her long lost child who was taken away from her for the past half a century. Such references can be seen in Mrs Henderson Presents, Frear's 2005 production with Dench. Both films are witty, funny, and at the same time, tell us how time and environment can change everything a person hopes for. In summary, Philomena not only gives hope, but also about forgiveness and most importantly, treasuring everything that one have. At the running time of 98 minutes, it make us think how the separation from the child makes the mother want to see them at any cost.
Geung see (2013)
Rigor Mortis – Mr Vampire Redux
Asian generation X and Y's will remember Mr Vampire series, a Hong Kong horror/comedy featuring the late veteran actor Lam Cheng Yim as the Taoist priest who fight against the vampires. Having absent from the Hong Kong cinema for the past 2 decades, young musician Juno Mak is making his directorial debut, Rigor Mortis, a tribute to Mr Vampire series. Pairing up with the casts from Mr Vampire series, Rigor Mortis is seen as a vampire horror catered to the modern generation and giving a surprise to the generation X and Y Asians.
The plot looks simple: A depressed veteran actor Siu Ho (potrayed by Chin Siu Ho, making a comeback from Mr Vampire series) rented a unit in an aging apartment block, hoping to end his life after the death of his wife and son. He was rescued by Yau (Antony Chan, another veteran actor making his comeback), a retired Taoist priest who suspects that a female spirit has possessed on Ho who is attempting suicide. Survived from the suicide, his kind neighbour, Auntie May (Nina Paw Hee Ching) befriends him and try to give him support in his life. After seeing unusual behaviors from Yeung Fung (Kara Hui), a mentally unstable lady who loiters around the haunted unit, Ho helps Fung and her only son after hearing the story of the past that droves Fung to insanity from Yau. At the same time, Uncle Tung (Richard Ng), the husband of May, died unexpectedly from a fatal fall. Hoping that Tung will come back to life on the 7th day after his death, May seeks the help of Kau (Chung Fatt), a medium, to resurrect Tung. What follows was the mayhem of how the vampire was breed from the black magic, together with the pair of evil twin spirits haunting the apartment.
Fans of the Mr Vampire series will be delighted to see the resurrection. While they receive comical elements in Mr Vampire series, it is totally absent in Rigor Mortis. Instead, what we have is a chilling and serious tale of the dark side of human nature. Corpse has become a tool for one to try and prove that one has the ability to control the power, which it comes with a heavy price. This can be seen in both Ho and Yau fighting with the vampire for survival and protecting the innocent.
If Rigor Mortis is a tribute to Mr Vampire series, it will be no doubt that the casts are rightfully chosen. Chin Siu Ho is making a comeback after missing from the film industry for years. Playing the role of depressed actor who is failing in life, it is a reflection on the reality of entertainment industry, where the once popular celebrity has either decided to fade away from limelight for good, or overshadowed by rising celebrities. Antony Chan, better known as Friend Chan to the generation X and Y's is making a surprise comeback as the traditional Taoist priest for the new age. With his career as a priest is going south, he made a switch in career path by running a eatery selling fried glutinous rice. This is a witty link on how Mak explains the purpose of glutinous rice in Chinese exorcism. Having playing the role of kind mothers in drama series and films, Nina Paw makes a breakthrough by playing a housewife who indirectly falls into the trap/give in the request of performing black magic. From a friendly old lady to a woman who is driven by desperation, her calm and coldness has ultimately become a form of consent to allow the vampire creating mayhem in the apartment.
Film in an apartment block located in an aging estate, the sadness of the aging population can be seen from the residents living in the block. Under the supervision of Takeshi Shimizu, the Japanese director behind Ju-On Series, the fading colour on the block has become a breeding ground for anything that spells eerie. The setting complements with the plot, which one may see shadows of Ju-On series in Rigor Mortis. Furthermore, with the story told in a quick pacing with strong storyline that flow well, one will glue itself to the edge of the seat during the duration of 101 minutes. More points could have been supported with more details, since the original cut at 135 minutes might pack more punch.
In short, Rigor Mortis could have explored further in details. But overall, the strong storyline and the absence of good vampire films from Hong Kong should explains why Rigor Mortis is enjoying a box office success in Asia. For audience who are tired of zombies and romances between vampires and werewolves, Rigor Mortis is for you.
The Lie That Breaks The Trust
Danish director Thomas Vinterberg's 2012 production, The Hunt, explores the theme on trust. Trust among children to adults, trusts among friends, family, co-workers and the community are put onto a test when an unexpected lie ruins the life of kindergarten teacher, Lucas. With the uprising Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen as Lucas, The Hunt is not a film that can be easily digested over popcorn and drinks.
Set in a small town in Denmark, Lucas was dealing with the custody of his son, Marcus. At the same time, he gets along with his group of close friends, where they hunt, swim in the cold lake and drinks together. When Klara, the daughter of Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen), a best friend of Lucas, gets a mistaken idea over the gestures from Lucas, she tells a lie that soon will not only spreads unwanted panic among the community, but also destroys the life of Lucas. Lucas was accused of making an indecent exposure towards Klara, where panic among the parents spreads like wild fire. Lucas becomes the public enemy overnight, and what follows is how he copes and gains back his innocence.
Vinterberg is using The Hunt as a mirror reflection on how the current society deals with child's sexual abuse. While it is nothing new that sexual abuse are usually occurred among the closest people the victim knows, The Hunt explores on how trust are being misused and exploited at the same time. To Gretha, the kindergarten principal, she believes in hearing what she wants to hear rather than the truth. This is followed by Ole, a local counselor, who are indirectly pressuring Klara in telling another lie (or more rather, what the adults wants to hear) on how she was violated by Lucas. In no time, the community sees Lucas as a sexual predator towards young children after attending their monthly parent's gathering, where the news of Lucas violating Klara was announced. Vinterberg is showcasing the audience how the breakdown of trust can begin with a lie, and what people prefer to hear. Trust is also seen as something that is very fragile, where all it takes is some negative comments to break the trust that has been build among the community for years.
Running at 115 minutes, some audience will find it uneasy to sit through The Hunt. The first half of the film are easy to follow, but soon audience are lost in the labyrinth of trust and misconception, just like how the community are lost in logic and what they choose to believe in. Death threats and ostracizing are issues that plague Lucas, and annoy the audience sometimes. Much areas are left unexplained in the second half of the film. Audience are either given a room to think and reflect, or to left them high and dry. Mikkelsen, who won the Best Actor in Cannes Film Festival 2012, could have been given more time to defend himself and clear his innocence, rather than suffering in silence. No doubt his fine acting skills gave him the credit to win the honor of Best Actor, but at times, it is too much to bear for the audience.
Overall, The Hunt is not your usual feel good European independent production. It gives you room to think and examine how fragile trust can be. At the same time, it also tells us how a innocent lie can break a person. While it leaves the audience to think how trusts can be gain, sometimes, audience just wish to see how the empty gaps can be filled up by the director.
Love and Bruises (2011)
Feel the bruises, not the love
Love and Bruises is Chinese controversial director Lou Ye's latest production. Based on the adaptation of Liu Jie Falin's 'Bitch', Lou tells a love story that is not covered in a bed of roses, but lust and bruises. Newcomer Corrine Yam and Tahir Rahim (A Prophet) takes the leading role of the lover in question, who suffers more bruises in the relationship than feels the love.
Yam plays Hua, a Beijing student who met an accident along the road. Mathieu (Rahim), the worker who accidentally bumps on Hua, apologizes to Hua by taking her to a dinner. The dinner ends up a date rape, where Hua was raped by Mathieu. Feeling a sense of guilt, Mathieu takes Hua home, which ends up both of them falling into a love relationship that is filled with lust. Hua is the victim in the relationship, where she was abused by Mathieu, both physically and emotionally. When Hua decided to end the relationship, Mathieu realizes that Hua is the love of his life, which he will do anything to salvage the broken relationship, even if it means divorcing his current wife so as to marry Hua.
Once again, Lou Ye explores the painful relationship that leads to no happy ending, which can be seen in Summer Palace (2006) and Spring Fever (2009). Sex is the main theme of Love and Bruises, which sees how a couple getting together just to satisfy their sexual needs than emotional needs. The plot for Love and Bruises is similar to Summer Palace, except it is summarized in the backdrop of modern day Paris and Beijing with a twist in the plot.
While Love and Bruises explores the love and sexual relationship between a couple from different countries and different races, the plots seems to be aimless, which audience can be left lost in translation. The main focus of the film seems to focus more on the sexual relationship between Hua and Mathieu, rather than what the couple did to salvage the damaged relationship. In many areas, audience are left with blanks to fill in, rather than be told what happened in between. The movie also lacks a clear explanation on how what makes Hua taking the submissive role in the relationship, and Mathieu the more aggressive one.
To sum up, Love and Bruises leaves the audience with some bruises with a bitter aftertaste, which it may explains why love relationship may not always be a bed of rose. However, the wounds will heal with more love being showered in the relationship. Just like the movie, more love can be shown so that audience will not feel much bruises.
It Makes Us Looking Forward to The Girl Who Set Fire on the Hornet's Nest
It takes a great challenge for a movie director to do a remake of a popular movie, especially when it is based on best selling novel. David Fincher has taken the challenge to do a remake of the highly popular Millennium Trilogy, and he did it. He has delivered a splendid American remake of the Swedish drama series, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Daniel Craig takes up the role of Mikael Blomkervist, and Rooney Mara plays Lisbeth Salander. Together, the trio have given us the feel bad movie of Christmas.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo marks the first chapter of Millennium Trilogy, with Mikael the journalist and Lisbeth, a computer hacker, working together to investigate the case of a missing girl, Harriet Vanger. Harriet was believed to be murdered by one of her family member when she goes missing 40 years ago. At the same time, Mikael is under trial for defamation of a entrepreneur, while Lisbeth is surviving from a rape which could have unlikely to happened on her.
While Fincher gives a fully explained details in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2009), which was based on a short story written by F.Scott Fitzgerald, it takes a challenge to summarize a 644 pages story written by the late Swedish author Stieg Larsson into a 2hr 38 min movie. Fincher not only did it, but also makes the US remake truly lives up to the novel. Audience get a better understanding on Lisbeth's lifestyle and attitude towards her surrounding, such as being reserved at work, living as a bisexual computer hacker, survives from rape and develops affection on her working partner Mikael. To understand how Mikael turns Millennium magazine into a magazine that exposes corporate scandals, it can be seen from the way how he investigates the disappearance of Harriet Vanger. This is how we see Fincher wants to tell the audience on the working style for Mikael without repeating Mikael's working style, which was featured at the beginning of the novel.
Editing plays a very important role in this US remake. In the first half of the movie, Mikael and Lisbeth were presented as two different persons with very different lifestyle, which goes concurrently without overlapping each other. Towards the next half of the film, both met each other by working in the investigation on the disappearance of Harriet Vanger, which eventually leads to the discovery of the sinister secrets of the Vanger family. The pace is fast, direct without making one feeling bored. Rather, it engages the audience, making them wanting to know more. This is another reason why the movie is a success. What it lacks, however, is a deeper exploration on Lisbeth's personality. While it was explained in the Swedish version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, it was not seen in the US remake.
In some way, the US remake makes up what was lacking in the Swedish version. The opening credits are created specially for the US remake, compared to the usual credits run over on movie scenes. This gives audience the reason they should arrive the theaters early to catch them. Observant audience will know that the opening credits covers the title of the trilogy: a dragon tattoo on the black female body (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), a burning matchstick and a burning body (The Girl Who Played With Fire) and hornets flying out of a girl's mouth (The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest). The credits are marvelously accompanied by Karen O, Trent Renzor and Atticus Ross modern reprise of Led Zeppelin's The Immigrant Song.
With a marvelous US remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, it gives us the reason to look forward to the US remake of The Girl Who Played With Fire. Now, all we want is to revisit Mikael and Lisbeth, the unlikely pair, to unveil more dark secrets.
Xian shen (1985)
It Kills in the Nude
Killings in the Nude is one of the rare hidden gems that are unknown to most in the history of Hong Kong soft core erotica. Made in 1985, it is the first time a Hong Kong erotica featuring three greatest soft core erotica actress of the time: Ai Ti from Hong Kong, well known for her roles in Shaw Brother's studio erotica directed by Lu Chi; Kim Gee Mei from South Korea, known for some Hong Kong soft core classics in the mid 80's, and lastly Yasuko Yagami, one of the greatest Japanese erotica actress.
Killings in the Nude set in the background of Qing Dynasty, about two sisters in a tale of lust and revenge. Song Xixi, the elder daughter of a rich and powerful family, falls in love with the accountant working for her family. Both runs away from the family one night and it ends with a passionate sex. Xixi was sold to a brothel by the accountant the next day, where her beautiful looks got her into the good books of the brothel madame. The madame grooms Xixi into a highly skilled courtesan, which later, she founds the accountant to be the cousin of old general's wife (Ai Ti). The old general was interested with Xixi, which she took the opportunity to get rid of the accountant and the general's wife, who was seeing another man behind him. In return, she will become the old general's second wife. After killing the general's wife and the accountant, she becomes the second wife of the old general and takes in her mother, together with her younger sister, Qiao Qiao (Yasuko Yagami). Xixi employs a teacher for Qiao Qiao, which eventually becomes Qiao Qiao's lover. The old general's right hand man, General Balajia, is interested in Xixi and vows to take her away from the old general when possible. One night, he kills the general and attempt to rape Xixi. Xixi commits suicide and the rest of the family, including the teacher, were made a wanted criminal by Balajia. When the teacher was captured and sentenced to death, Qiao Qiao vows revenge on Balajia and picks up the skill from the brothel madame, on how to kill a man when having sex. Qiao Qiao kills Balajia in the end, which the movie ends with Qian Qian stabbing Balajia totally naked. This is in line with the English title, which summarizes as how one kills their victim through sex.
While Killings in the Nude is considered as a soft core erotica from the 1980's, sex did not take up the main part of the movie. More rather, it is a well combination of lust, erotica, martial arts and love. Lust for love and power can be seen on characters such as Balajia, who wanted to take over the position of the old general. It is done with a combination of martial arts during the fight sequence from the beginning to the end. Love was explored between the two sisters, who want to give each other the best life. Not forgetting on the love between Qian Qiao and the teacher, where she is willing to sacrifice her chastity for a dying man.
For a period drama dealing discussing sex as the main theme, it is difficult to talk about depths of the movie one would expect, and what one would learn from it at the end of the day. However, Killings in the Nude has lived up to the tag line displayed in their poster, which reveals the secret life and trainings of courtesans, such as sexual skills, arts and keeping themselves attractive. There are plenty of nudity during these sequence, but were not exploited to become another usual erotica.
Fans of Shaw Brothers classic erotica featuring Ai Ti as the leading actress will be amazed to see how little her role is. There are not many actions from her, neither do we get to see much scenes featuring Ai Ti. The main focus falls on Kim Gee Mei and Yasuko Yagami, which revolves on the two sisters: both fights for love but for different purposes.
To sum up, Killings in the Nude is one of the old school classics that keep you entertain on a boring night. It is one of the rare classics that we do not get to see easily. Do watch it if you come across.
Xin hai ge ming (2011)
1911 The Revolution
1911, also known as 1911 Revolution, is a China production which marks two special occasions: 1. To commemorate the 100th anniversary of Xinhai Revolution, which Dr Sun Yat Sen over throws the corrupted Qing Monarchy, marking the two thousand years of monarchy control of China to an end. 2. This is actor and director Jackie Chan's 100th movie. What audience can see from 1911 is not only about how China has come to its way today from the past, but also witness how Jackie Chan is taking a new approach in the types of movie he is making.
Generally 1911 revolves around the few main characters: Chan as Huang Xing, the commander who lead his army to overthrow the Qing Monarchy, Winston Chao as Dr Sun, Li Bing Bing as Xu Zonghan, a revolutionist, who is also a good friend of Sun and Huang's lover, lastly with Joan Chen as Aisin Gioro Lungyu, the Empress who son is Puyi, the last emperor of China. The storyline of 1911 takes place around the last year of Qing Monarchy before the outbreak of Xinhai Revolution, where the story can be split into 2 parts: Huang leading the army to fight against the Qing army, and Sun gathering the support of the Chinese overseas through donations to fund the revolution, and stopping European banks from providing loans to Qing Monarchy. In the later part of the film, however, it falls on how Sun Yat Sen appoints Yuan Shikai, the Prime Minister of Qing Monarchy, as the first President of China Republic.
For those who are expecting Jackie Chan to create something new with his stunts and comical acts, they will be disappointed. 1911 marks Chan taking a serious role in his movie career by telling the remarkable chapter of the China history, which can be seen as another breakthrough after his role as a Chinese illegal immigrant paving a better life at Japan in Shinjuku Incident. (2009) As the director, he did not create any stunts or scenes of war for the sake of pleasing the audience who are seeing more action from him. War scenes are created to tell the pain people go through in a revolution, just as what was mentioned in the film, 'Revolution is not about death, but rather, paving a better future for the future generation.' The movie packs in plenty of details about the stages of the revolution, which provides a good reference for audience who do not have much knowledge about the revolution, and the aftermath of the founding of the Republic. However, those who are seeking action in the film will find 1911 a bore than something that entertains them.
While it seems that Chan is the leading character of 1911, the fact is Chao's role of Sun Yat Sen takes a heavier role compared to other leading role. This is the third time Chao reprise the role of Sun, which he did not disappoints audience who have watched his role as Sun in previous films such as The Soong Sisters (1997). While Chen's role of Lungyu could have been elaborated further, nevertheless it is a good try to see Chen taking one of the leading role, since it is not often she appears in a movie. We can see how Chen brings out the agony of Lungyu, after hearing from the officials in the imperial court on how King Louis XVI was executed by the French's during the French Revolution, hoping that both her son Puyi and herself will be spared from execution. It is also delighting to see Jackie's son, Jaycee, making a cameo appearance as a captain, together with Dennis To (Ip Man 2, The Legend is Born – Ip Man) as a soldier fighting in the revolution.
In short, do not expect too much action and comical appearances from Jackie Chan in 1911. More rather, be entertained with a new role Chan wants to create, which is something that is worth looking forward to in his career.
More Pleasure and Sensation Needed!
Long before 3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy begins the filming, it has drawn the media's attention for being Hong Kong's first 3D pornography feature. While South Korea comes out with Natali 3D (2010) before 3D Sex and Zen goes on a general release in April 2011, 3D Sex and Zen has proved to give audience the better deal. First time director Christopher Sun has created a sensation when 3D Sex and Zen opens in cinemas. The 3D erotica could have been better, but nonetheless it is a good try.
Loosely based on Qing Dyansty's erotic literature, The Carnal Prayer Mat, together with partial adaptation from Sex and Zen 1991 (featuring Amy Yip, Hong Kong's famous sex bomb in the 1990's taking the leading role), 3D Sex and Zen offers a story of eroticism with morality, in which both areas could have strike a better balance.
The story begins with Wei Yangsheng (Hiro Hayama), a scholar who believes that life is full of pleasure. He marries Tie Yuxiang (Lan Yan), the beautiful daughter of Tie Fei, the Taoist priest. However, as Tie Yuxiang knew nothing about sex life, Wei Yangsheng finds his marriage a dull and boring commitment. Upon introduction from a good friend, he was invited to Prince Ning's Chamber of Pleasure, in which he was introduced to two beauties: Rui Zhu (Saori Hara), a highly skilled courtesan in methods of pleasure; Dong Mei (Yukiko Suo), who gains only pleasure thru infliction of physical pain. With the help of Pleasure Old Man, who appears as a young beauty (Vonnie Lui), Wei Yangsheng spend his days in Chamber of Pleasure, drowning in sexual pleasures. This is the beginning of the trap he was lead into, while he was collecting evidences against Prince Ning's corruption.
3D Sex and Zen has succeed in selling itself as a movie with plenty of nudity, sexual inter courses, lesbianism and sadomasochism. It also touches on taboos in Asian country such as sex and religion. However, it failed to live up to it's hype of presenting sex in an eye popping 3D. What audience get to see for the 3D effects are, sad to say, items flying over to the eyes of the audience. Unlike Hollywood 3D slasher flicks such as SAW 3D (2010), My Bloody Valentine 3D (2009) and Final Destination 3D (2009) which promises audience with blood and gore right in front of their eyes, audience for 3D Sex and Zen got themselves with only mahjong tiles, bullets and knives flying towards the audience. The only eye popping scene audience saw was the upper nudity made by Vonnie Lui. As a movie claiming to sell eye popping sex in 3D, it has not really lived up to its hype.
Most of sexual scenes and nudity appears in clear images when 3D glasses are put on, but the eye popping visuals are simply lacking. Another area that is worth mentioning in a rather negative way is 3D Sex and Zen contains a fair amount of violence and gore than sex and nudity. Be prepare to see decapitation if you are not ready for it.
The flow of the story could have been better, in terms on how 3D Sex and Zen was presented. The flow is rather weak, with much details missing from the movie. More details could have been used to beef up the weak storyline, such as how Wei Yangsheng and Tie Yuxiang trying to salvage their failing marriage towards the end of the movie.
Though 3D Sex and Zen are not totally based on The Carnal Prayer Mat, what audience will like to see is how filmmakers can do a full adaptation of The Carnal Prayer Mat, which serves as more than just a tale of eroticism. It is a tale of morality that serves as a warning on sins and retribution. 3D Sex and Zen managed to carry the message across the film, but the fair amount of violence and gore seems to hinder the way the message are meant to be presented.
To sum up, for audience who wants a more detailed story, they can consider the 135 minutes extended version on blu-ray release. 3D Sex and Zen could have improved by beefing up the storyline, which gives audience more pleasure than confusion.
The Kids Are All Right (2010)
The Kids Are Very All Right
The Kids Are All Right is a typical family drama with a twist. Parents raising up their children. Spouse goes on a cheating curve. Children are in their growing phase of being a rebellious teenager. Director Lisa Cholodenko gives it a slight twist, where instead of having parents consist of a father and a mother, we have two mothers instead. Issues get complicated when both mothers are lovers, and the father is the third party who came in between the mothers/lovers.
Annette Bening and Julianne Moore are the mothers in question, and Mark Ruffalo is the father who came in between the two mothers, which turns the homosexual-parent family upside down.
Nic (Bening) and Jules (Moore) are two women in a lesbian marriage who had two children through artificial insemination. When both children, Joni and Laser (Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson) tried to find out that Paul (Ruffalo), an restaurant owner serving organic food is their father, they get in touch with him to know Nic and Jules. After knowing each other well over dinner, Paul visits the family often. Jules works in the farm owns by Paul, and they fall in love. Nic sense estrangement from Jules, and Jules seeks comfort from Paul.
The scenario seems very much of a typical soap drama scenario. Place it in a heterosexual context and it just simply makes it into another soap drama on the big screen that might not even get any attention. Place it on a homosexual context and not only it draws the attention, but also puts us in another view: the stability of a relationship in a homosexual family.
The Kids Are All Right are at times light-hearted, at most times a realistic portrayal on the possible problems surfacing on a homosexual family. It shows us that love between two married women can worn out over a long period of time, just like any normal married couple who fails to keep the relationship alive. Similarily, children growing up in a homosexual family may want to seek attention due to the loss of opportunity growing up together with their father/mother. To the children, it just feels like growing up in a single-parent family, where the father/mother is missing from their life.
This is a clear picture of the reality portrayed in real life, with The Kids Are All Right as the reflection of the reality. Cholodenko borough us Laurel Canyon (2000), which discusses more serious issue than The Kids Are All Right. Though The Kids Are All Right is meant to be a comedy, it is a comedy with food for thought.
Bening and Moore gives us laughs at times, and provokes us with thoughts towards the end of the film, such as the sustainability of a lesbian marriage as time goes by. Ruffalo gave us with a realistic view from a man on growing up issues, such as sex and alcohol during high school education. This makes The Kids Are All Right being the first few movie in the history of Hollywood that truly discusses lesbian marriage and starting a family.
Somehow, the release of The Kids Are All Right in Singapore were not only delayed, but also make it into a limited release, where it is only allowed in one cinema due to the nature of the film. However, this did not deter audiences to show their support for the comedy, which sees a pretty healthy response on the opening weekend.
To sum up, everybody is all right in The Kids Are All Right, which serves some food for thought over wine and conversations about family bonding and keeping the love and relationship alive.