Sunday, 20 August 2017

Once Upon A Time 三生三世十里桃花 Review 2017 China


Once Upon A Time - Shi Li Tai Hua - 三生三世十里桃花
Year: 2017
Director: Zhao Xiaoding, Anthony LaMolinara
Starring: Liu Yifei, Yang Yang, Luo Jin, Yan Yikuan
Based on: Three Lives, Three Worlds, Ten Miles Peach Blossoms by TangQi Gongzi
Running Time: 110 mins
Country: China

Once Upon A Time is the latest Chinese CGI-heavy fantasy-romance drama. Big budget Chinese films brimmed of CGI have become increasingly popular over the years but with many previous films not having special effects up to Hollywood's standard, how does Once Upon A Time compare?

This is the story of Bai Qian, a goddess and monarch from the Heavenly Realms. In her first life, she was the disciple of Mo Yuan. Due to a devastating war, Mo Yuan’s soul was destroyed while sealing the Demon Lord. Seventy thousand years later while Bai Qian was trying to reseal the Demon Lord, she was sent to the mortal realm to undergo a trial to become a High Goddess. There, she meets Ye Hua with whom she falls in love and eventually married. However, their love ends tragically. Many years later, the two star-crossed lovers meet again as deities but all her memories have been erased due to her request. Ye Hua, who is now a crown prince black dragon 90,000 years younger than Bai Qian, gets a second chance at love with her.

Sounds confusing? Well, it is. Prior knowledge of the original book "Three Lives, Three Worlds, Ten Miles Peach Blossoms" or maybe even the TV series would have helped. But with this being my first time discovering this story, I was left scratching my head a few times. The confused identities, the forced romance and the convoluted plot would work better over the 58 episode TV series. The enormous task of trying to cram all of this story into under 2 hours was always going to be tricky. That being said, the 2 directors almost manage to pull it off, with only a few of the ideas not entirely clicking. The story revolves around two seemingly star-crossed lovers who continue to encounter each other over numerous lifetimes, in its simplicity. Keep telling yourself that.

Surprisingly Once Upon A Time is actually beautiful to look at. Shot almost entirely against green-screen with limited physical sets and props, the visuals are stunning! Being co-directed with visual-effects artist Anthony LaMolinara, whose credits include Hollow Man and Spider-Man 1 and 2, appears to have certainly helped in that department. The backdrops all look mesmerising and seem to go on for miles; the visual-effects creatures look more real than what most Chinese films have to offer. The costumes are also exquisite with many remarkable embroidered outfits and complex hairstyles which are worthy of recognition. The same praise can be given to the music which is full of traditional sounding Chinese instruments and reminiscent of big blockbuster scores from films such as House of Flying Daggers.



The two lead characters Liu Yifei (Bai Qian) and Yang Yang (Ye Hua) are both great in their respective roles. There is good on-screen chemistry between them and their love story is charming, even if it does seem a little contrived at the beginning. Once you discover more about these complex characters and their stories unfold with twists and turns, it ultimately results in some emotional and heart-warming scenes delivered from the pair.

Another exciting aspect of the film is the action scenes. There is more action in the film than the trailers and advertising would lead you to believe. Some of these are executed fairly well with fun wire-fu sword fighting magic and battles with CGI monsters including a tiger, a dragon and some bizarre giant earth-tree creature. All of these are a welcome break from the drama and they give your brain time to recover.

The film is flawed but still enjoyable overall. With many good elements to it, especially being a treat for your eyes and ears. The plot is bewildering but eventually, the main points become clear and allow you to relax and soak it all in. If you like big fantasy fairy tales then you will enjoy this one, but make sure you keep your thinking cap on!

6/10


Saturday, 12 August 2017

Be My Baby Review 2013 Japan 恋の渦


Be My Baby 
恋の渦
Year: 2013
Director: Hitoshi Ohne
Writer: Daisuke Miura
Starring: 
Kenta Niikura, Naoko Wakai, Takumi Matsuzawa, Daisuke Sawamura, Yuki Ueda, Yumi Goto, Kenta Enya, Chihiro Shibata and Aya Kunitake
Running Time: 138 mins

Country: Japan

An unflinching, unflattering and honest voyeuristic look at a group of 9 Japanese twentysomethings and their intertwined relationships.


Unfolding in the two weeks following a casual party at the home of the overbearing Koji, nine 20-something Japanese revellers with long, deeply entwined histories navigate the secrets and lies of contemporary relationships. Touching on issues of self-respect, emotional manipulation, casual viciousness, petty interpersonal politicking, dependency, insecurity, infidelity and misogyny, director Hitoshi One's (Moteki - Love Strikes) satire is as dark as it is soapy with unfortunately recognisable characters with recognisable human flaws.


A surprise hit Japanese indie film that was made for under £7000 and shot in only 4 days. As part of an idea from an actor's workshop, Be My Baby features all newcomers delivering strong performances under director Hitoshi Ohne (Bakuman).

If you have previous knowledge of Japanese youth culture then you are bound to get more out of the film. The opening act can be quite challenging as the viewer is introduced to each character in quick succession, as you try to piece together their motives and intentions it becomes quite overwhelming. The party scene still accomplishes its job of setting up the rest of the plot which thankfully slows down as we get into the meat of the story.

Most of the characters aren't nice people. They are mean and honest and very real. At times it's almost uncomfortable to see them talk about other people behind their back. Viewers will likely all relate to a character or a situation and will know people just like them. We have all met someone who is in a relationship that they don't know if they want to be in anymore. Or someone who is in an emotionally abusive relationship. Or someone who just tries their hardest to fit in with their friends even though they are the complete opposite. Or someone who is mean to just about everyone yet is still popular in his social circle. The majority of the characters aren't likeable and you will find yourself waiting with bated breath for these people to get their comeuppance.



The film could have been trimmed to about the 2-hour mark and would have flowed better overall narratively. However, that doesn't hinder from how great the story is, especially with some strong emotional punches along the way; as well as a shock ending. There is really no fault to find with the actor's performances, each one of them is unique and strong in their own way. If I hadn't read about the actors being newcomers, I would have never guessed. 

Filmed in only 4 locations, all of which are small dingy Japanese apartments. It always feels like you are right there; in amongst the story. This also adds to the uncomfortablity and claustrophobia during some of the scenes as the viewer is so close to the action but also feels helpless and with no escape.

7.5/10



Sunday, 23 July 2017

Planet of the Apes Series ranked best to worst!

This is an Asian Cinema blog but every now and again I do write about other films too.
For fans of Planet of the Apes, this is my ranking of the entire series from best to worst including the latest War for the Planet of the Apes. 
Check it out! 



Now back to Asian films!

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Children Who Chase Lost Voices Review 2011 Japan 星を追う子ども



Children Who Chase Lost Voices aka Journey To Agartha 星を追う子ども
Year: 2011
Director: Makoto Shinkai
Writer: Makoto Shinkai
Running Time: 116 minutes
Country: Japan


2011 saw the release of Makoto Shinkai's 3rd film and the follow-up to his highly acclaimed 5 Centimeters per Second. For Children Who Chase Lost Voices his themes and directions completely changed, this time focusing on the realm of fantasy. It's his most ambitious film to date and one that would draw many comparisons to Studio Ghibli.

Asuna Watase lives a lonely and somewhat sheltered life. After her father passed away she spends most of her time herself listening to a radio which was left to her as a memento. The radio uses a strange crystal in place of a diode which picks up music that sounds unfamiliar to her. Asuna randomly encounters a mysterious boy in her hideaway and they begin to have a connection which tragically gets cut short. After a discussion with her substitute teacher Mr. Morisaki, Asuna believes she might have a chance to see the boy again. She goes on a journey to a mysterious world where mythical beasts roam and brave warriors fight for their lives as she is destined to learn about life and death. 

It's impossible to discuss a Makoto Shinkai film without talking about the artwork and animation. In terms of animation, Makoto is one of the very few who can compete with Ghibli for how beautiful his films are to look at; Children Who Chase Lost Voices is no exception. The director transports you to the fictional world of Agartha through backgrounds full of rich stunning colors and exceptional fantasy artwork. With this film being more fast paced than his earlier 5 Centimeters per Second the viewer might not be able to take in all the art as well as you would like as some of the action scenes zoom past before your eyes can process it. The English dub is actually handled extremely well and is a bonus if you want to really get immersed in the film without being distracted by subtitles.

For fans of Makoto, there will be a few familiar elements that are discussed such as separation of loved ones and loneliness. However, there is a whole new genre tackled with the fantasy setting which completely separates it from his other work. The story is somewhat complex and occasionally there is actually too much going on. With the introduction to the new world and its lore, it can get overwhelming trying to keep up with all the new information along with plot twists and various characters and beasts.


There is surprisingly some dark ideas throughout the story as it tackles many adult themes and subject matters. This is actually a breath of fresh air to see some of these topics discussed while watching a bright animated fantasy film. Some of the scenes actually left me a little shocked while contemplating the characters motives for some of their choices. There is also some on-screen violence during the action scenes which caught me off guard; this will be why the film was released in the UK with a 12 rating.

There are many elements and even some characters throughout the film which is reminiscent of Studio Ghibli. Films that look to have been an inspiration of sorts include Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away and Castle In The Sky. This isn't necessarily a bad trait, however, it does take you out of the film sometimes when you keep seeing images that remind you of Ghibli films.

Children Who Chase Lost Voices is a fine film in Makoto Shinkai's filmography. While it is fun and stunning to look at, it's not without its flaws. It's still easily one of his most ambitious films and it's a nice stepping stone on the way to his masterpiece Your Name.

7/10

See this if you liked:
Your Name
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
Princess Mononoke


Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Takeshi Kitano's Films Ranked Best To Worst


My first article is up on Taste Of Cinema.
It's a comprehensive list ranking all of Takeshi Kitano's directorial filmography from best to worst.
Give it a read. And let me know what you think.

Thanks!

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Han Gong-ju Review 2013 South Korea 한공주



Han Gong-Ju 한공주
Year: 2013
Director: Lee Su-jin
Writer: Lee Su-jin
Cast: Chun Woo-hee, Jung In-sun, Kim So-young
Running Time: 112 minutes
Country: South Korea

Lee Su-jin directs a powerful and brave coming-of-age story based on real life events of an infamous crime that happened in Miryang, South Korea.

17 year old girl Han Gong-ju is forced to change schools after being involved in a scandalous incident. Her previous school teacher takes it upon himself to help her out by arranging a place for her to hide out, in his mother's home. After starting a new school, Han Gong-ju tries to move on from the incident while keeping to herself but when her new friend Eun-hee discovers that she is a talented singer, she records her and uploads it to the internet on a fansite. Just as Gong-ju's life is starting to come together, her past begins to catch up.

Surprisingly Lee Su-jin tackled such a controversial subject for his directorial debut while also serving as the screen-writer. It proved to be a rewarding choice as the film went on to win numerous top awards around the festival circuit including the Tiger Award at the 2014 International Film Festival Rotterdam, the Golden Star at the 2013 Marrakech International Film Festival and Best New Director and Best Actress at the 35th Blue Dragon Film Awards.

The story is told through a non-conventional narrative and plot structure. Jumping subtly between past and present, it often catches you off guard before you realise what time frame the story is currently in. This adds to the viewers confusion as the mystery starts to unfold leaving you desperate and anxious to know what transpired. The storytelling and pacing is handled expertly as the film reaches it's nail-biting conclusion. With each new flashback, the horrifying incident gets more and more shocking as the viewer discovers exactly what occurred. Although these scenes can be hard to watch, credit to director Lee Su-jin, he never delves in to shock tactics to get a reaction.


Chun Woo-hee at the age of 26 plays a character ten years her junior with finesse and believability. Starring as the traumatised teen she delivers a subtle, yet often highly emotional and convincing performance which encourages you to root for the character as she tries to adjust and move on with her life. Chun Woo-hee's award winning performance would probably net her an Oscar nomination if this was a Hollywood picture.

The story is helped along with some humour and beautiful music and although the film is very dark, it still often feels upbeat. Gong-ju takes up trying to learn to swim once she moves school which adds some light-hearted comic relief moments. As does her new friendship with Eun-hee, which is sweet and adds some much needed charm to the film. Overall the film and story is bold and powerful, and even though it can be a hard watch, it deserves to be seen.

Hang Gong-Ju is a low budget film which went on to receive critical acclaim and break box office records in South Korea for an independent release. The films also elevated two new stars in the lead actress and director who are certainly people you should keep a close eye on.

8/10


Sunday, 30 April 2017

Love Off The Cuff Review 2017 Hong Kong 春嬌救志明



Love Off The Cuff 春嬌救志明
Year: 2017
Director: Pang Ho-cheung
Writers: Luk Yee-sum, Wan Chi-man, Pang Ho-cheung
Cast: Miriam Yeung, Shawn Yue, Paul Chun, Jiang Mengjie
Running Time: 120 minutes
Country: Hong Kong-China

Pang Ho-cheung re-teams Shawn Yue and Miriam Yeung for his third installment in the romantic-comedy Love In A Puff series. Is this story starting to show signs of fatigue? Or is this an inevitable set up for a fourth film?

Picking up after the events of 2012's Love In The Buff, Cherie (Miriam Yeung) and Jimmy (Shawn Yue) are now a relatively happy couple, living together and dealing with their daily ups and downs. Jimmy still has trouble growing up and taking the relationship seriously, while Cherie can be a bit overbearing and her demands make it somewhat challenging to live with. Furthering their stress, Cherie's father (Paul Chun) returns to town out of blue to introduce them to his new young fiancee. At the same time, Jimmy's childhood friend, who also happens to be his godmother, comes to visit with the request of wanting Jimmy to father her child through artificial insemination. After a disastrous trip together to Taipei, the couple are finally forced to confront their doubts about their future together.

The plot is very bare, as was the rest of the series, but that's never what drives these films. It's about the characters, their realism and their situations together. It almost has an intimate documentary feel as we peek in to a couples insecurities as we watch Cherie snoop through Jimmy's phone. Or her worrying about their younger lodger walking around the apartment in her bra. Jimmy is constantly doing something wrong or upsetting his partner by accident, which is a character trait that a lot of men, including myself, can relate to. And that's the driving force behind these films, how relatable and real that they feel.

Love Off The Cuff, like the rest of the series, is a very local Hong Kong film. The characters talk and act like Hong Kongers which is part of the appeal of Pang Ho-cheung's work. He isn't afraid to possibly alienate some viewers by keeping it brutally realistic. Some of the humour is distinctive to Hong Kong, so some of the jokes may go over your head. And there are references throughout to HK pop-culture such as jokes about the Young and Dangerous films, Nick Cheung, Leon Lai and even some Canto-pop songs. There is a karaoke scene featuring a pop song(that i'm unfamiliar with) which is used rather effectively and even if you are unfamiliar with the song, you still understand the sentiment. But if you are a local, i'm sure it would have even more depth.

Pang Ho-cheung handles humour excellently in his films, and Love Off The Cuff is dirtier and more outrageous than before. There is a scene involving a gag about "literally shit" as Cherie puts it. It's childish, it's crude, and it's genuinely funny, it received a loud roar of laughter in the cinema hall I was in. There is some situation and shock humour throughout the film, but it's all executed well. A memorable scene has cops finding the 2 leads in a mistaken sexual act situation which gets funnier and funnier as it progresses, this is similar to comedy you may see in American Pie or Superbad. It's not always possible to get humour to work this well for the Hong Kong audience that the Western world also understands, but I think this series has tackled that very well, even if that wasn't their overall intention.






Shawn and Miriam have grew together throughout these films. They have always had great chemistry but now after 7 years, it almost feels like they have became these alter egos and it makes the whole experience more worthwhile. Both do a superb job in their roles, and none of their acting could be faulted. The supporting cast are also great with Cherie's regular friends returning for shenanigans. And her dad played by Paul Chun has some brilliantly funny scenes which boosts the film with some needed energy.

120 minutes didn't feel overly long, but it could have been trimmed down by about 15 minutes or so to help the overall flow of the story progression. There is also one scene which came across as being a bit too dark and startling for this genre of film, it caught me off guard and stayed with me for a while afterwards. But Pang Ho-cheung is a genre busting director at heart, which is evident by his bizarre intros to his films. This time is was a highly entertaining story about Gat Gat Gong... Which almost makes me hope he directs a monster horror film next.

Although I wouldn't go as far to say that fatigue is setting in, I'd rank this film better than part two but not as good as part one, it did feel like more could have been done to progress the characters story further as a lot of the film is familiar territory. With the ending we are left wondering, is this the end of the trilogy? Or will there be a fourth to let us fans know what happens next? I personally think there is enough story left in these characters to make another film. So how about we get the next installment "Love Up The Duff" (That name has been shamelessly stolen from my partner who suggested it after our viewing).


7/10

Love Off The Cuff is currently showing from the 28th April in cinemas across Hong Kong, US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and the UK. For more information check here