Back in 2013, I wrote an article highlighting 3 of my favorite Asian Christmas films from Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea. After rewatching more this year, I figured a follow up was due with 3 more of my favourites! So sit down in front of the TV with your family, grab a Christmas KFC and some mulled wine and let the holiday festivities begin.
It All Began When I Met You
Director: Katsuhide Motoki
Writer: Atsuko Hashibe
Cast: Hiroshi Tamaki, Rin Takanashi, Fumino Kimura, Masahiro Higashide, Tsubasa Honda, Miwako Ichikawa, Saburo Tokito, Nene Otsuka, Nenji Kobayashi and Chieko Baisho
Running time: 106 minutes
In 2013 Japan released their Love Actually inspired romantic Christmas film. Following 6 different semi-interlinking stories focusing on 10 different characters in the lead up to Christmas. The film revolves around the location of the magnificent Tokyo Station which was used in celebration of its 100th anniversary.
The characters and their stories feature a wide range of diversity. A train driver has received the news that his illness has left him with only 6 months left to live and he is faced with the difficult decision of telling his son. A long-distance relationship between a fashion designer in Tokyo and a construction worker in Sendai is facing some real tough issues. Will they be able to resolve their schedules and meet each other for Christmas? A miserable company president with severe trust issues meets a woman at a restaurant in Tokyo Station. He believes all women are only after his money but that accusation doesn't sit well with the woman. A 7-year-old girl who lives at an orphanage hopes and prays that her mum will come back to pick her up for Christmas. The owner of a cake shop at Tokyo Station is reminded of a promise she made to her partner 49 years ago while she watches one of her part-time workers nervously try to approach her crush.
The romantic element of "It All Began When I met You" is actually more suited for the Japan setting than it is for the British setting of Love Actually. In Japan, Christmas not being a national holiday, is actually more about couples and dates than it is about family. Many singles desperately try and find someone they can date and spend Christmas with.
A solid Christmas film with great performances and a beautiful setting. You will laugh, you will cry and probably cry again.
Director: Kim Ji-hoon
Writers: Kim Sang-don, Heo Jun-seok
Cast: Sol Kyung-gu, Kim Sang-kyung, Son Ye-jin
Running time: 121 minutes
Country: South Korea
2012 saw the release of the surprise Christmas disaster film, The Tower, inspired by The Towering Inferno(1974). Set on Christmas Eve in Seoul and released on Christmas Eve across South Korea on Christmas Day. It's not exactly your everyday standard festive film, think of this one as more of a Die Hard or Batman Returns.
It's Christmas Eve at Tower Sky, a luxury twin-skyscraper in central Seoul as the staff and president prepare for a massive Christmas party. Dae-ho the maintenance manager has a crush on the restaurant manager Yoon-hee, which often causes him to screw up in her presence. Dae-ho's daughter arrives for the Christmas party, but he has to leave her in the care of Yoon-hee as he is forced to deal with security issues including a faulty sprinkler system. While everyone is enjoying the party, the Sky Tower manager dazzles the guests with fake snow being dropped from above from hired helicopters. However, strong winds cause serious disaster as one of the helicopters loses control and crashes into one of the towers. Raging fires soon begin to spread across the building, engulfing floor by floor. Veteran firefighter Young-ki leads the fire department to the scene to try and stop the disaster.
The Tower is easily one of the best disaster films in years. While most disaster films struggle to hold the viewer's attention in the opening act while they patiently wait for the action and chaos to start, The Tower manages to be entertaining from the very start. All of the characters are intriguing and their stories as captivating as you try to suss out who will become the heroes and who will be the victims. The pacing is frantic with none of the acts really dragging out or leaving you bored.
For being a lower budget film than Hollywood counterparts, all of the visual and special effects are brilliant. The scenes with the fire spreading are genuinely scary as are the exploding flames. The film often leaves you feeling on edge and tense and almost claustrophobic as the fire surrounds all the poor guests.
The film definitely has it's Christmas moments. From the party setting, to the Christmas music to the family drama and romance. The first half hour introduces you to the characters and makes you care for them. The next hour and a half is an adrenaline rush and those characters you now care about trying to survive. If you are looking for a 2 hour no-nonsense gripping thrill-ride this Christmas then this one is for you.
Miracle: Devil Claus' Love and Magic
Director: Isshin Inudo
Writers: Kou Nakamura (novel), Tomoe Kanno
Cast: Masaki Aiba, Nana Eikura, Han Hyo-Joo, Toma Ikuta, Hitori Gekidan
Running time: 115 minutes
The most original film on the list is easily Miracle: Devil Claus. Not being based on or inspired by another movie but based on an original Japanese novel, this makes Miracle feel all the more uniquely Japanese.
A bookshop worker Hikari(Masaki Aiba) is extremely kind and reserved, not really getting himself out there, his kindness often makes him look pathetic to others. Hikari dreams of becoming a successful manga artist and he spends his free time spreading mysterious flyers called "Debikuro Communication" around the city. He meets a girl one cold winter night that he immediately falls for. Anna(Nana Eikura) has been Hikari's best friend ever since they were children but she secretly wants more from him. It turns out she works with the girl that had the chance encounter with Hikari, a successful lighting designer So-Young(Han Hyo-Joo). Meanwhile, Kitayama(Toma Ikuta) who was friends with Hikari is back in town, he is now a popular manga writer and his life is just about to cross with Hikari once again.
The Devil Claus from the title is actually a fictional character that Hikari creates for one of his manga comics. The character pops up from time-to-time as an animated cartoon character in a real-world setting, looking like a similar effect to Roger Rabbit. It is only Hikari that can see him like an imaginary friend, offering wisdom and often added to scenes for great comic effect.
While not being as cliche as you might first think, it is still a somewhat familiar story of misunderstood love and finding your way, set to the backdrop of Christmas. The story has just enough Christmas and romance to be in that genre without becoming to sickly-sweet. Pretty predictable from start to finish, it never pretends to be anything more than a fun Christmas drama. This is one that will certainly leave you feeling in the Christmas spirit and maybe even hoping for a Christmas miracle.
So there we have it. Another Christmas is nearly upon us. But there is still some time to sit down with a few festive films and get into the spirit of the holidays.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays everyone!