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Sam foo (2018)
"Fruit" Chan Indeed!
Seven wins and 11 nominations? That headline might have been rewritten as "most creative ways to have sex". I think I've seen most if not all of Fruit Chan's other films, and while he is undoubtedly a famous, talented, and creative director, this effort was really over the top. I'm not so certain Mui was really enjoying her work, but am certain I will never look at a prosthetic arm, an eel, or a papaya in the same way ever again. Somehow this lurched from one event to the next, but I will say it captured Aberdeen and Tai O's raunchy flavours neatly. The subtitles were absolutely brilliant and captured the vernacular perfectly.
How It Ends (2018)
You're all correct
It's so tempting to start this review, say a few words, and then
(Yes, that's exactly the feeling about the ending.) The film itself until then isn't *that* bad but gave me the feeling I was watching an episode of The Walking Dead without the zombies. The protagonist even looks like Rick.
It's easy to understand why nobody would know what happened, if nearly all communications went down and it was still so soon, but less easy to figure out why so many turned so evil so quickly. The rating of 5 might have been a 6 or 7 if they had bothered to sort all this out.
Do Kaliyaan (1968)
My First Time
This review will be fun for me, if not for you, so please indulge me. Like so many Indian films, it could go on and on ...
Do Kaliyaan was the first Indian film I had ever seen, back in 1968. No, I've not seen it again since then, but it left such a huge impression. I was freshly relocated to Kenya, which had a substantial Indian community and therefore a good supply of Indian films. My friends wanted to try something "new", so we went to the cinema.
Wow! What an assault on the senses, in all ways. For one thing, the colours -- apparently all primary. The running time -- endless. The music, the songs, the dancing, at seemingly random intervals. The plot line -- all possible emotions one after another. Kids. More music. Being real about it, from my distant memory of this film, I thought it would *never* end.
But I came to knew and appreciate a certain formula for Indian cinema, and up to this day, somehow I compare every film from there in my head with Do Kaliyaan, and if it were possible, yes, I would definitely watch it again.
Thanks for reading!
Modern Story, Classic Style
The "spoiler alert" is here only because I wouldn't know how to write without it. As this film is based on a true story, plot development (for this review, anyway) is probably less important than how the film was made.
Think of the prototypical template for classical Indian films: background, despair, tragedy, redemption, and lonnngg -- with lots of music and some dancing to lighten the load. There you have it. Production values in Dangal are high, and acting from all sides is terrific, right down to the snarky behaviour of the Scottish wrestler near the end. All we missed in this rags-to-riches tour-de-force of athletic accomplishment were a small child dancing around a tree and then getting hit by a train.
If I could have changed anything, it would have been to tighten the editing and reduce running time by about 30 minutes, though most Indian viewers would probably disagree. I also would have given Babita a bit more of her due, since the film opens with Geeta and Babita apparently equal in skill and circumstance. Those musical interludes for me (as a non-Indian) got in the way after awhile. The national coach was also made out to be something of a loose cannon.
But here in Hong Kong, Dangal has generated an unusual amount of interest for a foreign film, and an Indian one to boot. The moral of the story--father knows best--will not be lost on local families.
My last words: excellent film, probably an 8 or 9 if only it had a shorter, tighter running time.
The Last Man on Earth (2015)
Could this show be any more polarizing?
The reviews here are as much fun as the show itself. Folks, really. Since when do all TV shows need to be literal, realistic, or logical? This is a low-budget entry that--according to some reports I read--wasn't supposed to make it past Season One. Yet here it still is, with an ensemble cast that ebbs and flows with story arcs as brief as five minutes (and if you didn't catch the connection to Mad Men, it's worth the search).
I'll grant anyone that some of the characters are written to make them look other-worldly stupid, but it's clever and impressive how the writers can pull them briefly back into sanity for just long enough to make a point before letting them loose again. One episode, when Tandy and Lewis did their road trip, proved this: it's not a spoiler to say that Tandy was very, very human near the end of that.
It's a good show for binge-watching. I don't think it's got enough in the premise to keep it going indefinitely, but if they could use, say, Season Four to find a good way to wrap it up, that would be satisfying. High art? No. But unusual, watchable, and I'm glad to have somehow found it.
Hong Kong Affair (1958)
Fun if you live in Hong Kong
Am I really the first to review a movie made in 1958? Well, here's the disclaimer: I live in Hong Kong, so my impression of the film is coloured strongly by that. I've been trying to find a copy of this for more than ten years. Finally it appeared. Well worth the wait for one special reason: as opening credits state, it was filmed entirely here. Not bad at all for Hollywood in that era, and therefore impossible not to compare with its closest peer by age, "The World of Suzie Wong".
"Hong Kong Affair" (sometimes known as "Hong Kong Incident") is a silly little film based on a business partnership gone bad, and the consequences of that. What else sets this film apart are the frequent uses of exterior location shots in rural areas, mostly Fanling in the northern New Territories. The acting -- meh -- and it's no spoiler to smile at the ease with which the hero seems to fall for every local lady he meets. If you ever saw Suzie Wong, you might remember when Lomax (William Holden) first saw Suzie on the Star Ferry. HK Affair has an almost identical scene, on the street. The movie makers need to find ways to get the hero's social life in order quickly, I guess.
In any event, this one races to a suitable conclusion and if you are lucky enough ever to see this film, you'll have a good feel for what Hong Kong was like in the late 50s.
L'inconnu du lac (2013)
What a shame
Up until the last 15 minutes or so of the film, I would have scored it about a "7" for decent cinematography, attractive (or at least appropriate-looking) actors, pleasant setting, and even a realistic rendition of what cruising can be like. There was never any suspense about who committed the murder, just the question of how the writers and director would resolve it, like reading a John Grisham novel.
Then, what a letdown. Someone could say, well, Henri knew exactly what he was getting into (of course he did), but between that and what I suppose was a similar fate for the inspector, I felt like someone just threw in the towel and gave up on anything sensible. This is enough of a spoiler. Better for you to watch right up to the point where Our Hero goes swimming for the last time, and then switch off. Write your own ending.
One small technical thing: I watched this on a DVD with no English soundtrack, just French, but with subtitles. The content of the subtitles was fine, but they were in tiny white letters against a mostly pale background, and therefore impossible to see most of the time.
Camp 14: Total Control Zone (2012)
No rational person can doubt the ferocity of life in DPRK. Nobody is safe, and I don't doubt at all the basic truths of this film. But I have one question, maybe I just missed the explanation but in a country where there is no individualism and everyone spies on everyone else--which we assume to be the case--how could a 14-year-old boy, after escaping from a labour camp like this, just turn up in a nearby village and hang out there with no money, no work, no relatives, no friends, and more importantly no contacts to shield him from local police or camp guards who knew he escaped and must have been looking for him? The film did say the frozen river made it easier then to cross into China, but he had no prior knowledge of the outside world apart from what he was told by his cellmate? It could not have been as "easy" as the film made it sound, given the circumstances of the escape and even the time of year when it would have been very cold.
On other points, the interlude among the group preparing for a road trip in support of Free DPRK was jarring in that it didn't lighten the mood, it just seemed out of place. And the chain-smoking ex-guard was pure evil, far more than any fictional character.
The perfect title
For once, a film title so perfectly descriptive, you almost don't need to watch the film. Unlike nearly all other "making of ..." documentary porn movies that rely on voice-over or interviews with the actors, this film was built from a seemingly never-ending series of shooting sequences where someone filmed the (often) naked director or cameraman filming (mostly) soft-core productions. And the prologue to the film tells you this is what they are going to do. Subtitles on the copy I watched were clear and well-translated from French.
Each segment begins with the actors revealing their identity cards to the camera, blurred for legal reasons. Then the litany of: do this, do that, turn this way, don't do that, and so on. There were some unintentionally funny scenes where the director was trying to explain the context of the story so actors could improvise, but it got so complicated you could almost feel eyes glazing over while he struggled to say the same thing in a different way. And there were some demonstrations of "faking" techniques that will ensure you never watch porn the same way again.
Without spoiling anything, I can say that the final few minutes involve a really, really self-confident actress who clearly enjoys her work, as well she should--if she can get it.
Could have been a documentary
It's hard to believe I am the first to review a 1980 film, but these things happen, so here goes: this film following the lives of various British prostitutes, social service workers, police, nasty escort service operators, politicians, and customers (not necessarily in such discrete categories, either) is absolutely in documentary format. The dialog sounds unscripted, almost stream-of-consciousness--and I am not certain whether this is a compliment to the actors or not, but they all, without exception, seemed perfectly suited to their roles.
The tone is not judgmental. It's as though a camera happened to be there during the many possible incidents that occur in a prostitute's daily life. As a result, sections of the film did seem to go on and on and ON, and one scene in particular was notable: a sociologist explaining in the most technical, dry academic terms about dynamics of the profession, to a woman who could barely stifle a giggle. All she was interested in was him.
There is just enough nudity, male and female. It didn't seem gratuitous, and it definitely wasn't sexy. It was just there. You might find yourself uncomfortable, feeling like a voyeur, but none of this is anything an adult shouldn't be able to handle. The film's ending is neither happy nor sad. It just tails off.
Footnote: IMDb's cover art for this film is probably not correct, because this is a British film, not Chinese.
Some Boys Do (2010)
And Some Shouldn't
Clearly I'm missing something: a film this bad should never have been released, yet somehow it was. God, where to start? Stilted, forced dialogs? Leaden, almost paralyzed acting, so bad they might as well have been holding and reading from their scripts? Continuing camera close-ups and framing literally in-your-face? Unfunny? Unbelievable? I'm struggling to find anything good to say. The actors aren't ugly. Considering this film is already three years old but fewer than five people have (yet) rated it, should indicate something. Of the films I have reviewed on IMDb, this is the very first where I have to say: give me that time back.
Xiang huo (1979)
Which version is this?
Normally I use the Review section to write reviews, and so will be the case here, but maybe someone can shed light on what it is I really saw. I bought a DVD of a different film, Mongolian Ping-Pong, and the DVD also contained a second film whose English title appeared as "Incense" on the film itself, and "Gone with Honor" on the cover. The film is dated 2005 and definitely appears to have been made in PRC, not in Taiwan as this IMDb entry shows, and definitely not in 1979. Searching Google only uncovers a 1979 version with both of those names, but no film details that I could read in English. So can someone help me know how and why this appeared alongside Mongolian Ping-Pong, apparently as a remake of a different (and unrated) film? Anyway ...
The basic plot involves a monk who runs and care-takes a temple in a small Chinese town. His prized possession, a statue of the Buddha, collapses. He has no resources to speak of, yet is determined to repair or replace the statue; for as he puts it, what is a temple without a statue? He has the most phenomenal bad luck every time he comes close to getting the money he needs for this work, and while he is made to look extraordinarily stupid each time something bad happens, he is quietly (very quietly) learning his lessons and planning his next moves. A resourceful monk, indeed.
It is such a "domestic" film, so underplayed and very realistic in every way, just a bit slow and bleak. The subtitles are clear and nicely informal, capturing the conversations well. I hope to discover the story behind this possible remake of the 1979 version, if that's what this is.
Art. No more, no less.
Looking through IMDb for the several other years this documentary has also been filmed, it surprises me not to see any other viewer comments. Maybe people just sat through these and got on with their lives. Let me stick to the topic and comment on the making of the calendar for 2009.
The good news: these guys are extraordinarily good-looking and no doubt some of the best physical specimens in the sporting or any other world. I mean, really. The other news: one after another, set to varying scores of rousing martial tunes, the fellows get made up and pose, usually with a strategically placed rugby ball, nearly always managing to look profoundly uncomfortable with what they are doing despite some nervous smiles. No full frontal nudity, though there may as well have been, because the whole film was just one modeling exercise after another, on, and on, and on, virtually no dialog, nothing but the same thing over and over. If you are a French rugby fan you might know these men but otherwise this is just art. Documentary or no, it's hard to rate such a film but it's not hard to confuse the handsomeness of the guys with the tediousness of the film itself. So my score meets both sides in the middle.
The Color of Love (1994)
I'm sure there is a good reason why the ratings for this short film are so high, but it's a little hard to know why. IMDb says reviews need to be ten lines, so let me get the actual comment out of the way quickly: hard-core porn as viewed through a kaleidoscope.
It might help if the viewer prepares for this by having some high-quality substance to enhance the mood, or maybe that was the idea. There is no story. There is a lot of color. If you never played with a kaleidoscope when you were little, you may not know the reference. Another way to describe this would be to imagine many cans of paint, in primary colors, coming down like rain on a stag film.
This film appears in a DVD called Xperimental Eros, issued by Other Cinema DVD in 2007. Ahem ... no reference to this DVD in IMDb yet!
Sneakin' and Peekin' (1976)
This 15-minute film appears in a DVD compilation called Xperimental Eros. Two men crawl through the woods and emerge at a nudist camp pageant of some sort, where a few people are playing volleyball (apparently the obligatory activity at nudist camps) but where the nudists seem wildly outnumbered by clothed gawkers and photographers. From this point on, we get to see amateurish shots (mostly into the sun) of Miss Nude Puerto Rico and Mr. Nude Trucker, along with a fair number of ladies apparently looking for representation of some sort. The audio is a mess, and really so is the video, though nobody would start watching this with high expectations.
There is no story. The filmmakers take their pictures and apparently go out the way they came, back to their car, saying "we snuck out," drive back to the city, whistle, sing, mumble, and run out of film.
I promise, there's no spoiler here. It is exactly the type of home movie anyone might have taken back in 1976 when this was probably a bit racy. Think of it as a period piece.
Reading IMDb's plot synopsis helps explain this psychedelic bit of soft-core porn, but doesn't make the film itself any easier to watch, even at just over six minutes. I would admit I've never seen a film (of any length) produced like that before, but the jarring, jumpy colors and absence of anything in the least bit erotic don't necessarily help to make the technical point I had to get by reading the summary. The plot, such as it is, involves couples in various stages of foreplay where only the man's face is visible; anything about the females is blanked out.
This film was in a DVD called Xperimental Eros, which came out in 2007 and which has at least eight other short titles as well.
Night Scene (2004)
Realistic view, amateur production
As this film moved along, I was wondering whether it was a genuine documentary or a "mockumentary" of mainland Chinese rent boy street scenes and lifestyle. If I really had to think about that, then the execution in documentary style was well-done, and it doesn't much matter if it was real or not. In any case, IMDb lists this as "Drama" so that answers the question.
Production values are somewhat dim; the atmosphere is dark (in more ways than one!); and the players are properly jaded about their work. There is no real sense of character development; the people are interchangeable. But these are not necessarily negatives, as the lifestyle doesn't promote long-term friendships. The subtitles were somewhat sparse in relation to the amount of talking, but I think they probably captured the true tone.
During the past year or two, several films have come out of China with related themes. These follow the groundbreaking "East Palace, West Palace," "Lan Yu," and "Man Man Woman Woman" (which has various titles). Some of the films in this genre seem stuck in the need to dwell on teenage angst and ennui--in real time, which makes them more than a little boring. This one moves along but could have done with tighter editing and stronger sense of purpose. I'm a little surprised to be the first person to comment on this film. It was OK.
Dong Pek Ham yu sheung O Wan (2004)
Tentative steps towards reality
If you see this as a sort of Chinese "coming of age" film, with a twist you can spot after only a few minutes, you won't be too far wrong. Set in contemporary urban Hong Kong, it's roughly the story of two young schoolmates, soccer fanatics, dealing with typical issues: school, friends, skills, poverty, growing up, and of course that twist. The acting is pretty good since it doesn't look like the principals were seasoned professionals, but the story did meander around and, because I'm not fluent in Cantonese, I know some key points didn't get translated well or at least sufficiently in the subtitles.
I give this "6" for likability and its honest attempt to portray current issues, though the film might have done with fewer dead ends in the story line along the way. The ending--which of course I can't give away--was nicely done.
Escape from Hong Kong (1942)
Cowboys and Japanese?
Well, it's hard to find a more dated film than this but it was fun to watch, and brought back memories of old westerns on TV, the Cisco Kid (yes, in Hong Kong), and Saturday morning serials. At one hour's length, this short film manages to include sharpshooting variety acts, World War II espionage, German secret agents, comedy, a Japanese attack on Hong Kong, and quite a few familiar names--especially if you were a kid in the 50s and glued to the TV. I was never quite certain whose side "Valarie" was on, but Marjorie Lord in that role did a great job.
I live in Hong Kong and am trying to accumulate the few western-made old films with HK themes or settings. It's not as easy as it sounds, and this was one of the prize catches. No wonder so few people have seen it. IMDb mentions that an alternate title was "Adventure in Sumatra" and I'm not sure why that is, since there is nothing whatsoever about Sumatra in this film.
Rice & Potatoes (1998)
A clinical documentary
Technically, this short (59 min.) set of interviews with mixed ethnic Caucasian and Asian gay male couples on a variety of social topics was well-photographed, articulate, and believable. The participants' personalities clearly spanned the usual range: studious, thoughtful, flamboyant, quiet, and so on.
My quibble would be with the underlying premise that all "Asians" of the type represented here have retained their cultural roots to the extent that it has a material effect on the direction such a relationship takes. My parents came from Eastern Europe and I am about as Slavic as an orange. The difference between me and the Asians in this film rests in our physical appearance. Nobody looks at me and calls me "Eastern European," or expects me to carry Slavic values into a relationship; yet somehow these guys are going to be "Asian" (and all that implies) forever.
Having said that, the film has its moments and introduces a topic that still has a lot of room for development.
Film school style, nice twist
The film is only 12 minutes long, so ten lines of comment are as long as the film. But I can write this without any spoiler, I promise: man meets woman in a pay-for-play environment for a bit of light S&M (thus the title, "Whacked"), and conversation an eavesdropper could anticipate even without seeing the film--right up almost to the end. And then, yes, there's a twist. The production values are stilted and somewhat amateurish, with aggressively strong colors supporting a forced dialogue between the two reasonably normal-looking characters. But some odd little things happen during the course of this cinematic exercise and I was left feeling that the filmmakers had a bit of fun making this. So the 12 minutes were not wasted. Just as well it stopped at 12 minutes, though.
Hong Kong Nights (1935)
Nice Historical Relic
Rating a film nearly 70 years after it is made would seem like a fool's errand but I live in Hong Kong and was hoping a copy of this film would eventually surface, and it did. With nearly every cinematic cliché thrown into the mix, and a story loosely wrapped around illegal weapons and a bracelet with nine lives, it's great fun to watch even if the storyline is confusing. It doesn't matter. There are a few background scenes of old Hong Kong; the language they speak really isn't Chinese; there are almost no ethnic Chinese in the film; and the print quality is terrible. Again, it doesn't matter. It has its moments, and anyone aware of the few old films with Hong Kong themes would want to see this and compare them. Now if only Ronald Reagan's old Hong Kong film would come along ...
Shirley Valentine (1989)
We have met Shirley, and she is us
A review called "Shirley Valentine" a chick-flick. Nonsense. This film cuts right to the core of dreams and plans and bravery, and does it in settings so totally believable that Reality TV looks made-up in comparison. What a great film, most likely treasured by the relatively few people who seem to have seen it. One of my all-time favourites.
Gam gai (2002)
Great fun to watch this, and because the subtitles have been done professionally, many of the puns and allusions do get through. One thing I particularly liked was how the many sub-stories did get resolved, and the ending was (in my view) just right for the tone of the film. One of the best HK films I've seen.
Ferry to Hong Kong (1959)
Orson Welles needed the money?
An interesting premise, somewhere between "Casablanca" and Suzie Wong, with name-brand actors. But this wound up as a weak period piece redeemed by a few (very few) clever moments and many nice background shots of Hong Kong as it was. Not many mid-20th-century films produced in the West with Hong Kong themes are available on DVD or video (at least we have "World of Suzie Wong") and fewer still had actual Hong Kong locations, so I am not disappointed in the film. Otherwise, it's a watchable "B" movie with Orson Welles as a bonus.