Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Wolf Warriors 2 Review 2017 China 战狼2


Wolf Warrior 2 战狼2

Year: 2017
Director: Wu Jing
Writers: Wu Jing, Dong Qun, Liu Yi

Cast: Wu Jing, Celina Jade, Frank Grillo, Hans Zhang, Wu Gang
Running Time: 121 Minutes
Country: China


2017's surprise blockbuster hit Wolf Warrior 2 is one of those rare cases of the sequel not only being better than the original but surpassing the film in every single way.

After the events of Wolf Warrior, Leng Feng (Wu Jing), China's deadliest special forces operative settles into a quiet life on the sea. When sadistic mercenaries begin targeting nearby civilians, he must leave his newfound peace behind and return to his duties as a soldier and protector. A Chinese destroyer arrives to evacuate strictly Chinese civilians caught up in the middle of the civil war, but after overhearing guards talking about needing someone to rescue workers at a factory and an important doctor who knows the vaccination for Lamanla, Leng Feng volunteers.

Viewers will realise within the first few minutes if this film is for them. Kicking off with an immense fight scene between Wu Jing and Somali pirates which takes the fight into the ocean. Cleverly orchestrated, they are submerged underwater into one of the best underwater-fight scenes ever filmed, which is neatly edited to look like one take. It's fun, ridiculously over the top and sets the tone for what's to follow for the next two hours.

Many viewers and critics had issues with the original Wolf Warrior, mainly due to its propaganda feel and the fact it came across like a recruitment video for the Chinese army. This sequel essentially strips all that away. While still being highly Nationalistic, it actually works to the plot and doesn't feel quite as contrived. The film has less in common with The Founding of a Republic and it's more in line with a Chinese version of Rambo. Wu Jing directs the film, as well as starring once again. Wu has improved leaps and bounds as a director and this time he keeps the plot simple and straight to the point, which allows the story to flow without the need to ever over-complicate things. If at any time your mind starts to wander during some of the character development scenes, don't fret because there is another exciting action scene right around the corner.

The location of Africa is also a fresh setting for the series, while not explicitly stating which country the film is set in, it's only ever mentioned as Africa. The setting emerges the viewer right into the heart of Africa. Full of wild interesting locations, including the slums which play host to an exhilarating car chase. There's also the introduction of some very fun African characters. There is a touching relationship with a boy that Wu Jing becomes a godfather too. The boy and his mother are both hilarious characters and inject some humour into the violent action story. The stereotypes of some of the Africans may be bordering on offensive to some, but it all seems in good fun.


Wolf Warrior 2 is probably the best action film of the year thus far! It's filled to the brim with some breathtaking action scenes and set-pieces throughout. The action is on a huge scale and with great stunt work that would make a Hong Kong stuntman proud. There are highly intricate martial arts hand-to-hand fights which Wu Jing shines throughout. There are also plenty of shoot outs full of a wide variety of guns and tanks, topped off with knife fights and loads of explosions. Some of the action scenes are ridiculously over the top, such as Wu Jing stopping a bazooka in the most ridiculous yet entertaining way possible. But that's all part of the fun! Suspend your disbelief and have some fun. Although Scott Adkins is missing from the film, Frank Grillo steps up and plays an excellent villain. Grillo also helps deliver a brutally skilful final fight-scene with Wu Jing which doesn't disappoint at all.

Remain in your seat after the film is finished for a mid-credit Marvel-esque teaser scene that reminded me of a Coors Light commercial... And will give fans of the series something to look forward to.

Wolf Warrior 2 is a highly entertaining film. If you like your old school action films, this is for you. It's fun from start to finish and the action never lets up. Given all of this, it's really not a surprise that the film is doing so well at the box-office. As a side note; this is the first time in years, outside of festivals, that I've watched a film in the cinema that received a round of applause.

7.5/10


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