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