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There is always room for improvement; leave a comment tell me what you think. And please, be brutal. Nothing like being eviscerated by the general public (though in reality no one reads this so maybe not so general public).

26 12월, 2007

Music For my Soul

As mentioned and groused before on this blog, music on the great Western front seems to be on the decline. The lack of imagination seems to be the prevailing trend in all sorts of genres. Of course there is the occasional unmistakable breakout of amazing talent such as Amy Winehouse and...come to think of it, that pretty much sums it up, with maybe the exception of (maybe) The Gossip. Instead people like Take That, with their stonkingly good first single from their comeback album, Westlife with their Michael Buble rehash and even the flippin' Spice Girls seem to have oodles more talent and are back with a vengeance here in the United Kingdom. Spice Girls might be stretching it. So  again thanks to the conduit of Javabeans and her fab website, an introduction me to a group known as Clazziquai occurred by happy happenstance about eight months ago, and boy is the music just absolutely gorgeous.

It originally started of as a one off side project  in 2001 for DJ Clazzi with brother and sister singers Christina and Alex Chu and was called the Clazziquai Project, received little notice from the critics, but created underground hype on the net. Their first album in 2004, Instant Pig was their come out party, garnering them critical and public success and their music was used in films (How to Keep my Boyfriend) K-dramas (run away success My Lovely Sam Soon) and advertisements, and they soon became a well known band. By this time however Christina had now become an unofficial member and was instead replaced by vocalist Choi Horan. To date they have released 3 full albums Instant Pig (2004), Colour Your Soul (2006) and Love Child of the Century (2007), as well as various remix albums including the latest Robotica (2007) which has 6 new tracks and remixes of 7 older songs.

Clazziquai's music is firmly in the camp of non hip hop, wannabe or otherwise, though this doesn't preclude them from working with hip hop acts like Tablo from Epik High amongst others. DJ Clazzi wanted to create a fusion of Jazz, House and Trance amongst others, creating this uniquely cool sound, and it works superbly. One of the best tracks is Gentle Giant, a charming, nursery rhyme like song that manages to be engaging and off-beat at the same time.

Here's a video (fan made, actually created for the K-drama Thank You) for  Gentle Giant. The little trill that Alex does while singing "falling" always gets me

My apologies. I will eventually learn to upload audio tracks and so not put you through all this hassle, but till then, enjoy.


All their albums are entirely entertaining and just a joy to listen to, a  versatile hash of bossanova to funk, and electronica. For those looking for an alternative to the current indie music (which really can't be defined as indie anymore because its mainstream and indie one would think was the defined as anything done with a small budget in someone's garage) I highly recommend this group just for its sheer sense of fun and great musicality too. The only drawback is that they are Korean (even though Alex is Korean/Canadian, but he might be from the French-speaking bit, who knows) and  their English lyrics sometimes make no sense (e.g. lets get dance/moving in a right time).


Another video, this time from their most recent full album, Love Child of the Century (2007), entitled Lover Boy.

Quick Note

Hey folk(s), felicitations of the season and what not. Just a quick, sad note. The choreographer of one of my favourite movies of all time, Michael Kidd, passed away. I've watched Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) since I was about eight years old, and it is one of my most enduring and fond memories of my late uncle's household. I never got tired of his collection of Elvis, Bollywood and classic Hollywood movies, and he is partly responsible for my love of movies today. Seven Brides with its strong, rousing choreography and retelling of Sabine Women tale, even though it was a tad bit politically incorrect, was a perrenial favourite and is part of my DVD collection to this day.

Michael Kidd also worked in the theatre, and directed the footwork Guys and Dolls (1951) for which he won a Tony for.

May he rest in peace.

15 12월, 2007

Rain is Coming to a Screen Near You!

For the few who are unaware, the Wachowski Brothers (responsible for the Matrix trilogy) are remaking the the Japanese anime Speed Racer. An integral part of any Nigerian kid's childhood due to the incessant repeats on our national TV station NTA, Speed Racer is is near and dear to my heart. What's got me all atwitter is that Rain/Bi, South Korea's hottest singer in both looks and popularity, is playing the part of the Japanese racer Taejo Togokan. Apart from the fact that most of the American audience won't notice that he is very obviously not a native Japanese speaker ( I wonder how they are going to get around that particular issue) I am quite chuffed that he will be making his first splash overseas as an actor and not as a singer.

Why acting and not singing? Well, he's had this annoying pipe dream for a while now that he's going to make it big in the American market since he's already conquered Asia. Given a whole host of huge reasons, including the fact that his brand of pop skews towards the R & B genre and America has long since moved on to "alternative" pop, and the American music industry is amazingly resitant to anything not remotely homegrown (reggaton, dancehall, heck even Daft Punk has a hard time) I do not feel that a failed pop career would be an ideal position for him to be in. A better introduction for him would be the big screen, where i'm sure he will put his best foot forward and show himself off wonderfully well in what i'm sure is going to be a very limited role. He is a solid actor with a few great productions under his belt including I'm a Cyborg But That's Ok with the fabulous director Park Chan Wook, of the Vengeance trilogy. They've got a production still with Rain about to punch the living daylights out of Emile Hirsch. I'm so excited!!! He is one of the few people I would actually squeal for, he's so cute! Ok. obligatory drooling done with.

My only misgivings so far are about the age of the characters with the actors seemingly a tad too old for the roles that they are portraying and the fact that the series is Japanese in origin, and yet they get a South Korean to play the lone Japanese character. There's also the thing about cartoons coming to the big screen and being butchered (see: Transformers) No matter, we will see what camera trickery (there is talk of full focus filming, where both the fore- and background remain in focus) we are going to be collectively dazzled with.

06 12월, 2007

Quick Note

Do you ever watch a movie or read a book and not particularly enjoy it until later on? That happens to me all the time. Take, for example, the movie Too Beautiful to Lie. Didn't particularly love it, but kept it nevertheless thinking it was an alright movie. Turns out two of my favourite thespians Kang Dong Won (from Duelist) and Kim Ha Neul (from My Tutor Friend) are both in this movie. Both solid actors and rewatching the movie I realise how much familiarity with the actors themselves plays a role in what I think or appreciate in a movie. Which leads to a myriad of problems for me to explore. Just some random food for thought.

05 12월, 2007

A Long Time a' Coming

It has been five months since I 'acquired' Running Wild. Obtained during the early stages of my "Kwon Sang Woo oppa iz to die 4!" phase, I was disinclined and lacked the energy and patience to sit and watch yet another cop drama. However unable to sleep, and skimming through my (fast diminishing) database of unwatched movies, Running Wild reared its head and having nothing better to do at three in the morning to ease my worries, it was watched.

The set up of the film is rather simple; you have your off the cuff, renegade cop and your by the book prosecutor both chasing down a supposedly reformed gangster for different reasons. The prosecutor, Yoo Ji Tae is after a supposedly reformed Crime Boss who still has plenty of underworld dealings but is running for a senate-like position. Kwon Sang Woo, plays the outre police officer hell bent on avenging his younger brother's death, killed by the crime boss as the boy tried to blackmail a gangster over murder. As an aside, KSW seems to be running into the problem of being type cast. He either plays out of control, nearly unhinged dudes with more attitude than sense (Once Upon a Time in High School, My Tutor Friend, and this movie) or romantic softie a role usually reserved for K-dramas. I have a decided preference for the tougher KSW.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand. I have to say watching this movie, these prosecutor and the cop elicited tons of sympathy from myself. Man I felt sorry for those dudes! They could not catch a freaking break for the life of them. Every single time that they managed a solid lead or breakthrough on capturing their erstwhile prey, something came up, and decimated all hope, sending these poor dudes back to square one. At one point the director cleverly makes it seem that the movie is drawing to a finale, the evidence is compiled, there are witnesses, the whole kit and caboodle. But is seems that it was not to be. Instead we as the audience  I was at the "screw this shit, lets cut those suckers up!" stage long before the characters did, cos man that bastard gangster was slippery. That is to say that the story was engaging, well written and altogether a solid piece of work that really entertains right through to the surprise ending. Every ounce of emotion that could be wrung out is, and both lead actors stepped up and truly delivered fine performances. I can't believe it took me five months.

4.25 Out of 5. Well written cop drama that surprises with its emotion.

Quirky Fun

A Cheerful Gang Turns the Earth, is another one of those fun, totally out there, quintessentially Japanese movies that make you truly wish for a Hollywood that goes all out to create an engaging, off-the-wall movie without resorting to crude humour. Semi-psychedelic, lots of fun and full of little nuggets of absurdity,  A Cheerful Gang follows the story of four strangers who meet at a bank robbery and decided that they had the necessary skills and the oodles of panache required to pull off a true bank heist and do so just for the hell of it. Consisting of a skilled pickpocket, a guy who talks a whole lot and is in it for poops and giggles, a human lie detector and a woman with both an amazing sense of time and driving skills (a female who is always on time and can out-drive all the other males? what is this world coming to!).

What's not to love about this movie? Its off the wall fun, while having a distinct anime feel to its pacing, its storyline and even the special effects applied. They manage in 1 hour 30 or so minutes to also coherently weave in themes of lost dreams, precocious youth, and single motherhood with a light touch. The movie does turn towards darker themes such as kidnapping and a conniving ex-husband which weigh it down a touch in the second act, but it manages to redeem itself and has a not so unexpected ending done with a firm tongue-in-cheek. Mexicans might be a tad offended by some poor choices in names in the final scenes of this movie, though.

Think the Ocean's  series with more Japanese, more fun, loads of random moments and less self referential humour. Bonus question: Name three conditions needed to put an elephant in a fridge. Not really a head-scratcher but one of those throwaway bits in the movie that added to the keen sense of whimsy that I loved.

3.75 out of 5 some solid entertainment

25 11월, 2007

What is it with Oedipal Complexes That Make Such Good Fodder?

My first book review. Yay! So anyways while browsing through a thread on Dramabeans website, she mentioned author Haruki Murakami as her favorite of all time, considering her good taste in TV, it certainly piqued my interest but it didn't make a lasting impression, or so I thought. I must have stored it somewhere in the back of my mind, because walking past a display in the central library, his name pops up as I walk out the door, and a couple of days later I borrow Kafka on the Shore (I was actually supposed to be attending an art function next door at the museum, but I was more amused than amazed so I wandered through to the library instead).

Two different, slightly out of sync lives sharing the same story make it for an interesting read. The first tale is of a boy named Kafka, runs away on the day of his fifteenth birthday under a foreboding curse bestowed on him by his father and winds up at a library run by the mysterious yet alluring Miss Saeki. He goes on to befriend Oshima, the ostensibly male librarian who works there and reads all sorts of great books and works through some serious issues. The second is about Nakata, an elderly gentleman, who due to some accident is unable to read or write, but possesses the uncanny ability to speak to cats and so supplements his government "sub city" by finding lost cats.

This is the first book that I've read in ages and in that I managed to finish reading it in two days (in between a whole host of other things going on in my life that i won't get into now) and kept forging on through some intensely depressing scenes, means only one thing: The book was damn good. Murakami was able weave fantasy, modern life and the (definitely) surreal into an intense, gripping read that constantly keeps you reaching for understanding until the very end. He adds touches of whimsy and humour that had me laughing in the middle of a train @ 6:30 am on the way to work and garnering some intensely weirded out looks. He introduces minor threads that are woven into the story at the most unexpected moments, jolting the reader. Even so, the book is unrelentingly dark. It seems that the courses for these two lives, headed toward an inevitable meeting both in the flesh and in the ether, are burdened with things definitely out of left field. I was left profoundly disturbed by the oedipal and incestuous references (as i always am), but funnily enough in a Back to the Future, Marty and his young mother sort of way.

The book was an amazing reintroduction back into the world of literature, and since I am currently sans the interwebs (picture deep, wracking sobs at the public library while typing this. How the heck does one go about surviving without a computer?), I've picked up another author also seen in passing. We'll see how this whole book reading thing goes.

5 out of 5. One fantastic mind-bender

09 11월, 2007

Bollywood/Gizmodo Mash up?

There are some things that you never expect to happen in your lifetime. What could my fave Bollywood actor Hrithik Roshan and Gizmodo, the best second best tech website ever, have in common? Acer computers, for whom Hrithik is currently shilling for. The collision of two different realms of interest could only be brought together by one thing: Advertising. What makes the post on the Giz so amusing is that they (both the writer and the commentators) have no clue who Hrithik is, and the ad would make me run out and buy an Acer if I wasn't aware that Acers are POS. Celebrity endorsements work for a lot of people, or else we wouldn't have Jessica Simpson and P Diddy selling face creams.

Here's a look @ one ad.

06 11월, 2007

To Gravitas! Kanpai!

One of the things i crave most when watching movies is a sense of something new, that I haven't seen, heard, read or felt anything that happens on screen before. The current Hollywood phase is sort of a been there done that as evinced by the comic book rip offs, the sequels to said comic book rip offs and some high brow stuff like Brown Bunny which would have been much better left as an idea inside of someone's (probably well soused) head. It is one of the reasons I first gravitated towards classic Hollywood movies, to Bollywood and lately, to South Korean and Japanese cinema. The rom coms, dramas and action movies have a different feel to them as the sense of story telling in Asian cinema not only differs from the West, it oddly enough ticks a lot of boxes for me that I never even knew I had (There is a self imposed barrier that denies me the full pleasure of these movies, but more on that later).

One director in particular absolutely converted me to a true believer, convinced me that I had stumbled onto something great with the reintroduction of Far East Asian cinema into the realm of my conscience. Kim Ki Duk stole my attention with his stunning movie 3 Iron (2004). This deep, layered film of what essentially is an amazingly emotive love story employed a simple device; the two lead characters say almost nothing throughout the course of the entire movie. Odd as that may seem, it works. I started actively looking for his work and watched Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter...and Spring (2003), Address Unknown (2001), and Samaritan Girl (2004) in rapid succession. For all these movies he served as both writer and director and enjoyed I them all, as thought provoking, genuine unpretentious works that actually strive to tell a story as well as being artful.

To be honest I have access to most of his movies including his more recent works like Breath (2007) and Time (2006), but haven't watched them yet. This is due to an unfortunate foible (actually it is a major emotional failing and a stumbling block to any future career) of mine, where I don't enjoy a lot of serious content. One of Kim Ki Duk's (and other directors like Won Kar Wai) strengths in his story telling is that not much really happens as a movie progresses. It is very much a slow unfolding of events that require patience and a somewhat keen intellect to be able to sit through and analyse the goings on in his movies. I sadly have the attention span of a three-year old suffering from ADHD on speed on my good days. My intellectual prowess? Well as you can tell from the language, piss poor grammar along with run on sentences and a serious overuse of commas on this blog, Stanford is certainly not breaking down the door.

In truth, I also am somewhat scared of movies that make you think too hard because being the selfish bitch that I am, anything deeper than X Factor makes me ruminate on how it relates to my miserable [insert deity here]-forsaken life, which i really don't want to think about at all. Watching a good, deep movie invariably leads me to depression and listlessness which is a great disservice to what are to be sure some great movies. Which is sad as I am very much enamoured of the concepts behind a lot of these movies. I have many stored and available to watch, but cannot bring my self to sit through one without fidgeting like my nether regions are on fire. The thing is this; once you get started with these movies you start to think of symbolism and meaning which to me is sometimes a slippery slope into the over-analysis of a movie. Background skyscrapers are suddenly male phallic symbols, where in fact that may have just been the best place to get a shot at the time. I am lousy at interpretation; I am more of the mind that yes, there are some things that imply more than one meaning, other times it is what it is, a freaking table, skyscraper, whatever. Those are my excuses.

All this was just to say that Kim Ki Duk is my favorite Asian dude/dudette of the month, for daring to be individual and bringing that individuality to the screen and hoping he brings more.

NB (Kanpai is the Japanese equivalent of cheers, could not be bothered to find the Korean, sorry)

A pivotal Scene from 3 Iron

02 11월, 2007


Whenever I think that there is no hope for Bollywood, that the endless deluge of cute, benign romantic comedies, Shah-Rukh-in-tears ridden dramas and bland we're-going-to-steal-something action movies would absolutely destroy any hopes that Indian cinema would speak to an international audience, some movie comes along and changes all that. The first was Eklavya (2007) which was good, but still fell back on some tried and true Indian cinema trademarks. Then along came the caper Johnny Gaddaar (2007), and I am still in recovery. Why you ask? This movie was freaking awesome!!!!!!

The storyline is intriguing enough; Vikram plans to steal 25 million rupees (Just under $640,000.00) from his 4 partners in crime in order to run of to Canada with his true love, who just happens to be the wife of partner number 2. This starts him on a journey that he was ill prepared to make and things grow from bad to worse for our lead man. It is one of those movies where a decision made with a coin toss at (quite literally) a crossroad just snowballs and bad decisions create solutions that just mire you so deep, that the thought of escape seems impossible.

Where do I begin with this movie? Is it the retro fabulous opening credits? Great contemporary soundtrack? Great pacing, dialogue maybe? A combination of all three and more. It is rare that I know whether or not I will like a movie from the first couple of scenes, but when this much effort is put into just the opening titles and backgrounds your expectations are raised, and this is one movie that just keeps giving, hand over fist. The soundtrack, keeping in line with the general cinematography and visuals, also employs that sort of nu-retro vibe. The mod sixties and seventies are screaming at you unmistakably, but you also hear reggaeton, rock, and pop vibes in there that I have to say left me damn impressed. I personally want to say that the soundtrack deserves all the accolades it can possibly get and that the producers Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy have seriously captured my attention.

The cast is also top notch featuring not just newcomers but some old standards as well, making for a great ensemble cast. Neil Nitin Mukesh, descended from a long line of singing Mukeshes, makes his cinematic debut as a lead character, Vikram the gaddaar, in the movie. Apart from being totally smokin' (no seriously, he's damn hot and he can wiggle that little Indian butt), he projects the very palpable essence of a man winging it and hoping that it all turns out right. The script is great in that it allows the actors to portray the humanity of their characters; they have family, loved ones, and are human beings who deal with the pressures of day to day living. There is no sense that we are watching evil doers out to ruin the world. That is one of the many things that makes this movie so good: We may not condone the things these men do, but we empathise with their lives and their problems.

I love crime capers. From Cary Grant's debonair turn in Alfred Hitchcock's To Catch A Thief (1955) to the fabulous Brit movie, Layer Cake (2004), watching a well hatched, well thought out plan come to fruition or unravel is always a good watch. Not too much concentration is required, there really is no emotional investment in any of the characters the directors use such movies as an excuse to make something that is stylish, sexy and cool. It seems that Bollywood also has a history of crime movies, unfortunately my vague recollections of sitting in my uncle's home and watching such movies only evokes the music, which I found really annoying. Thanks to Johnny Gaddaar's director Sriram Raghavan, I may just have to find and revisit that bit of Indian cinematic history with some fresh eyes as the director makes no bones about where his inspiration arose, what with posters and clips showing up all over the place. It seems that Johnny Gaddaar has made Mr. Raghavan a welcome addition into list of directors to keep an eye on.

NB:- This movie bombed at the cinemas in India for the very reason that it is so atypical.

4.5 out of 5 for making me a fan of indian cinema again!!

30 10월, 2007

Play's Just Like the Movies

I've decided that when it comes to Bollywood or things inspired by it, trying to be remotely serious will definitely sour anyone's mood therefore it will be taken as is. That means even though I knew exactly what was going to happen 20 minutes in to a 2-hour play, disbelief will be suspended or at least an attempt will be made to do so. Here's Introduction to Rom Com Redux, Bollywood-style: Naive, virginal bride lives with eccentric UK/Punjabi family, grows into her own and falls in love a.k.a, There's Something About Simmy.

We have Raj, the ne'er do well younger son of an immigrant Indian family who have the oh-so-brilliant idea of marrying him off to a trad Punjabi bride Simmy, and bringing her back to the UK. That's because obviously, the sense of obligation one gets when one marries a total stranger in a foreign country will suddenly turn a thieving moron into a model citizen of this here shores. Well Raj does a runner with his (frequently derided, white) girlfriend out the upstairs bathroom window no less. His bride is left to deal with the whims of his controlling mother, deteriorating grandfather, shrill sister, whipped brother-in-law, "aunties" and sullen older brother.

Simmy has no way of escape. Her passport has been seized by her mother-in-law, presumably for safekeeping, and her letters home are closely monitored and intercepted by the same sainted lady. Mommy dearest pressures Simmy to stay till Diwali (sort of like the Indian version of thanksgiving) to give Raj time to come to his senses and because someone obviously needs to be the scullery maid. Did I mention that this was supposed to be a comedy? Anyways, in steps the anti-Punjabi older brother Harry skulking home from uni for no apparent reason other to look hot and take his shirt off at every opportunity presented, and at this point we all know how the story goes. She starts to learn English, forges an unlikely friendship with Harry and...[fill in the blank].

Truth be told it was alright. Though much of the humour relied overmuch on Simmy's inability to speak Anglais, the histrionics of Simmy's sister-in-law and the sub-plot of the aunties sleuthing into the whereabouts of Raj, it was cute. We got the standard Bollywood song and dance (2 numbers), kitschy dialogue and passionless romance. It took me back to the days of Concordia's college productions right down to the sometimes overly dramatic acting especially with the secondary characters. I was able to sit through it and not pass out, I just won't pay money to go see it again. Props to Harry for providing us with many a tender, shirtless moment.

2.25 Out of 5. For getting me go see some theatre.

26 10월, 2007

The Heart of An Artist

It is the late 1800's and Korea is falling to bits. Dealing with both the Japanese and the Chinese nipping at their heels, the people needed a hero, someone who idealistically they could rally around as a source of pride for a nation battered into submission. What better medium than art, which holds universal appeal to rich and poor alike? Ohwon Jang Seung Ub luckily is on hand to provide such a service. Im Kwon Taek, one of the most respected names in South Korean cinema helms Chihwaseon (2002), meaning Painted Fire, and creates a compelling, somewhat meandering picture of Jang Seung Ub.

Dare I say it? This movie bored me just a little bit. Maybe because I was watching the movie a little too close to bed time or I was not in the mood, but about halfway through I started to fast forward the bits with conversation to get to the bits with no talking at all. When it all just focused on the painting or on what I must admit is some fantastic cinematography, I was enthralled. Im Kwon Taek really captured the dual nature that you find in the paintings themselves; stark backgrounds and landscapes with its winter references (North Dakota never looked this good in winter), accented with exotic dragonflies, lush greenery, like spring. I guess I just liked the sexy bits.

You get the vibe that Jang Seung Ub is a lost soul, constantly alone in his world where nothing is permanent. His women, his companions, his talent, and the favour he receives are all beholden to his whims and folly. A man constantly complimented for his extraordinary skill, he has this overwhelming need to test himself, to create from what the masters have laid down. He wrestles internally to be creative, to be new and fresh, but can't quite figure how to totally break from tradition and from what he already holds to be true about himself and his work. Even when he breaks free and becomes an individual he is criticised as a commoner with no respect for what came before, where poetry or words must accompany a picture in order for art to have meaning. Im Kwon Taek really does manage to portray the essence of the man on screen, thanks in no small part to Choi Min Sik.

What was quite disconcerting and probably what made it a tad difficult to get into the movie was Choi Min Sik playing someone supposedly in his 20's somewhere which I'm sure he would have been able to pull off when he was 15, maybe 16 (I kid! No, actually, it was more than just a bit creepy. The man should not have attempted such) but not so much at the age of 40. It made it hard for me to connect with the story of his early years because all I could see was some old dude who couldn't get his act together. However as the story progresses he becomes more age appropriate and you can actually feel his desperation as an old man who realises his mortality and tries to perpetuate himself through the time honored way of procreation, hanging on to the very last moment.

The movie is like a 2-hour character study, where we follow this man through his life and see him as he is. A national hero to be sure, but at the same time a man who was selfish, choking on talent, brash and dared to defy the norm. I guess maybe the tortured artists and the rise and fall never ends well was why I wasn't so keen on this movie, but I liked most of it. Maybe I wasn't so bored after all

4.5 out of 5 for truly great insight, and some kick-ass cinematography (is kick-ass hyphenated or no?)

24 10월, 2007

Life's Little Surprises

So, I downloaded the Japanese movie Like A Dragon, which is supposed to be another great movie experience from the enfant terrible of Japanese cinema, and lo and behold who shows up? Well, I was taken aback by a surprisingly flawless Korean accent and was kind of curious to see who this Japanese dude was. Upon closer inspection and a minute or two of "why does he seem so familiar?" questions to myself it clicked that he was actually supposedly one of my favorite K drama dudes, über hottie Gong Yoo of Coffee Prince (which by the way is being made in to a play? WTF? So soon? Why?). Unfortunately movie doesn't have subtitles as of yet and I am fast running out of HDD space on both fronts so I'm not sure I'll actually be able to watch it before I have to get rid of it. Considering his two or three year hiatus depending on what path he chooses in the army, its nice to know he was branching out of dramas into the movie world, and with Miike at that.


22 10월, 2007

Say it Loud! I heart Nickelback 4 Life!

One of the most reviled musical acts of the modern era, Nickelback, also happen to be my absolute favorite modern rock band. They actually create music that sounds great, is easy to listen to and doesn't try to be more than it is: a good time.

Some say that their music sounds too much alike and that in fact, they rip off their own music. As does the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Queen, the Boss or even Abba. It is called a signature sound. It is what differentiates them from all the other bands that are out there. Yes sometimes it may be a touch repetitive, but as opposed to a whole genre (read: almost any supposedly 'alternative' pop band that is out there) of sound alikes, we have just one band who sound distinctive. Big effing deal.

Another criticism is that their sound is over polished. Excuse me? You're hating on the music cos it sounds too put together? As opposed to the sound of high school kids playing together in the basement a couple of hours then having a gig at the O2 Arena ( the Staple centre for you Yanks) at the end of the week? Yes garage chic, emo rock is in. It is anti establishment, anti pop. Yay. Cue dudes and chicks in the skinny jeans, heavy eyeliner and a bad case of affected ennui. I don't much care for it, as in, it irritates me in way akin to me wanting to slit my wrists. I have no problems if others like it. Just don't knock it if people want their music to sound like someone tried. You know, like they rehearsed, tuned their instruments and maybe employed the occaisonal use of metronome to keep on beat.

No one, but no one mentions that Chad Kroeger can outsing most of those emo and rock bands any day of the week. His voice is rich, powerful, dead sexy and resonates with character. The rasp may be annoying to some, but to me it has individuality written all over it. His voice is reaches out from him and into you, and each word that he's written resonates with emotion that he sings. Fake or no it can be angry, tired, bitter, happy. Like a great blues singer he works his voice to the best advantage, it is never monotone or boring. He doesn't rely on screaming or growling or whatever gimmicks other "hard" rock singers think is some semblance of a substitute for actual singing.

He doesn't write overcomplicated, oblique-reference burdened lyrics that in the cold light of day don't hold much water in the making sense dam. His lyrics are for lack of a better word, touching. He managed to have enough edge and angst to take the lyrics far away enough from the bubblegum pop lyrics end of the spectrum, but still manages to keep it true enough that it connects with an audience. His recent collaboration with Carlos Santana is a good fun, with light lyrics that still manage to spin a tale of love at first sight that works, and isn't a James Blunt type wailer.

Hate 'em or love them, they still are outdoing many of the more 'real' bands out there. And it's because they are good, plain and simple.

Here is Chad singing Someday off my favorite album of theirs, The Long Road.

20 10월, 2007

No More! Never Again! Gouge me eyes out!

Okay, so it may be a bit unfair to describe them as execrable, but honestly I don't think I could watch anymore Chinese-language dramas. This is a tirade against a few Mandarin ones I've seen so far. The problems are many and my patience is short so;

The Women (or rather, girls. 'Cos it seems that anyone over the age of 21 is a fun-hating bitch just waiting in the wings to make our poor sweet young innocent's life miserable and steal their man/true love/future breadbasket, whilst looking fabulous rockin' a designer suit and looking like they actually have something to do. I'm twenty f... something gosh darnit, what did I do to deserve this!!)
They tend to be really, young, naive, uncomplicated girls. They lack finesse and are good girls with good hearts, plucky even.They are sooo shhweet. They also tend to be poor ( not middle class, just straight up poor) and working some menial job. These lovely girl just couldn't make it through school cos they were just plain ol' stupid. Just one thing. No a couple of things. They tend to be vapid. They, for all intents and purposes, are educationally stunted about the age 12 and have suffered from the longest adolescent akward-stageitis as a collective. Their bevy of loyal, equally retch inducing friends all drank from the same poisoned well. The 1980's valley girl and whine is reborn in Mandarin with the same fashion sense, albeit with no money, no malls to overrun and a serious case of filial piety. Education, personal growth and reasoned thinking is seemingly anathema to these creatures. On the contrary for these girls clear, reasoned, methodical thinking seems to be what's wrong with the world today. We must feel!! In short, they are retards of the first water. I'm surprised some of the girls have something between their ears that enables them to communicate with people, as it seems all they can do is pout, cause chaos and say the word ker ai (as an aside, the Japanese say kawaii, sound a lot alike I wonder if they have the same etymology) which means cute. Blech.

Yes i know they are characters and aren't real. I guess they are meant to appeal to a certain demographic, chiefly anyone young enough to think that Girls Aloud is the pinnacle of music. But seriously, when one is rooting with all my might for the Baroness Schrader type characters (also known as the villainesses) you know there must be something wrong. What makes the bad girls so awful you ask? Well, they work and actually earn the money used to keep themselves in a style I would like to be accustomed to. They actively used their brain cells. They do stuff like, I don't know, think. Usually any form of female frontal lobe use is portrayed as evil, scheming whore who will do anything to steal the man but these women actually plot and manipulate quite well. They wear clothing that don't look like they were rescued from a burning pile the teletubbies rejected. They've got goals and are working towards them. True, that might involve running roughshod over a few people and shoving your future mother-in-law down the stairs, but you do need to break a few heads (or eggs) to make an omelet, right? They also happen to suffer ( a freaking hell of a lot!) from unrequited love, or lose their man to the pure soul cos obviously career oriented women are ball-busting harpies.

The Men
Portrayed as heartless bastards who can only see the bottom line and how it affects their business, and are supposedly obscenely wealthy. We also have obscenely wealthy bad boys who have nothing better to do than torment the afore mentioned doe-eyed beauties, whilst wearing a leather jacket. Nothing more to be said, really. Oh yeah, majority have fantastic head of dead sexy hair that falls across the face just so.

Sigh. Oh, where do I begin? Is it the countless voice overs? The zooming into the face for a reaction shot. Is it constantly flashing back to an occurrence only a couple of seconds ago? Nay folks, it is all that and more. I have a litany of complaints about the production, but i will leave it to a couple and chalk the rest to low budget. Here are the highlights.

Somewhere the writers seem to have gotten the idea that the posing was too much for the actors. They said, "You know what? Instead of some actual semblance of emotion or acting from you, we'll just write you a voiced over, internal monologue bit where we'll explain everything that is supposed to be going on in that itty bitty mind of yours so you don't have to worry your wittle, oh-so-photogenic head 'bout nothin'!". We then get a lovely high angled shot of someone's damnable fringe (or bangs) and moue, accompanied some long, unnecessary mind sapping exposition that ultimately either explained what just happened, was going on or what will happen next. The supposedly tense, exciting music kicks in. Exciting, to be sure.

Nothing says startled quite like zooming in to someone's face. We can't just zoom in once, no, no, that wouldn't give the viewers time to fully absorb the gravitas of the moment. Twice, feels a bit too uneven. Third time is the charm. To reinforce what just happened, we flashback to the occurences of a few moments ago, be it the voiced over internal monologue. Or a the slo-mo "you just missed each other walking down the same hallway" coincidences. Or someone tripping and falling. Or someone brushing by and stealing something. The list goes on and on. In fact, there doesn't seem to be one moment that is not overladden with syrupy emotion. I won't even talk about bad sets, lighting, camera work and the like. I can't. It would be too depressing, and also i have no bloody clue about my word count limit here.

Lastly, The Acting
An unbelievable amount of mugging goes on in these shows. Any emotion apart from dead seems to require the efforts of both facial muscle groups at the same time. The women whine incessantly and pout. The men are one barrel and a tricorne hat away from a Captain Morgan pose in every scene. Where anyone with a modicum of sense would tell him "boy, you better stop with that sh*t you are a grown-ass dude. Man up!", it seems they are encouraged in such manly behaviour. I think it is supposed to make women swoon. Few make the jump from television to movies, as it seems TV is the wasteland for every second rate acting hack that looks good. That may be a bit harsh but man, can't stand them.

I can see why the hallyu wave swept the rest of Asia, if I had to watch these here steaming piles of turd constantly, I would at least want to watch the better produced (read: more money well spent) crying-jag inducing dramas from Korea. I will never again watch more than the first episode of a bad drama. My psyche has been damaged enough already. The end.

19 10월, 2007

Some Campy Fun

Sumptuous. That word has nothing to do with the forthcoming J Drama but the has been rattling around in my brain for a couple of days now, and since I have not seen anything to warrant such a description, right here will do.

Back to business. J dramas are worlds apart from the K dramas that are currently drowning East and Southern Asia in a weep-fest of overwrought wrist-to-forehead, woe-is-me storytelling. When funny, they stay funny. When gravitas is called for, it is definitely not brought about by male posturing and insipid women caterwauling. For the most part, the good ones are balanced, well acted, and have great dialogue.

Vampire Host falls somewhere below that benchmark, but is still some unweighty good stuff. Like many other J Dramas before and after, it is based on a manga Blood Hound, involves high school girls and a strange dude who is very into cosplay (Google it). It is light, very amusing, and good-natured fun about a vampire who investigates cases that end up being of a supernatural nature. Each case is over 2 episodes 12 episodes in all.

Okay, sorry, nothing remotely clever to say.

17 10월, 2007

Quick Note

To my shame, horror and general bemusement I am still a proud Backstreet Boys fan. Oxymoronic, I know. However, the BSB are coming out with a new album Unbreakable who's lead song is "Inconsolable", which sounds like (take a deep breath) "incomplete", "more than that", "I still" and the list goes on. I know all the lyrics to most of those songs just because they were so awesomely sing alongable and i had great pretensions that my voice did not actually cause dogs to go beserk. This album won't do so great because frankly the market is done with this type of music and they really are "getting too old for this". Kudos to them for bringing some much needed pop to the pop world, instead of the post-modern, dark is sexy(back) sort of thing. For your Viewing pleasure, these two dudes lip sync one of my favorites "I want it that way" and do a bang up job.

Reenvisioning the Samurai Tale

For a movie that I avoided watching for weeks, Samurai Fiction (1998) was definitely a welcome surprise. Director Hiroyuki Nakano revisits the samurai movies with a tongue-in-cheek flair that tickles but still contains the sincere homage to those who had come before. Akira Kurosawa comes readily to mind (looove him!). Set in the Edo period and filmed almost totally in black and white, one would think that this would end up as a bland rehash with some window-dressing to make it appealing to the younger crew and in some ways it is, but only in the best way and not with the bland rehash bit. He took a genre that I am personally a great fan of, and did all the right things to reinvigorate it.

The plot is quite basic as the it is in itself it a take on a particular genre of movies. A ronin Rannosuke Kazamatsuri (the acting debut for Hotei Tomoyasu) initially hired by a clan and given the privilege of guarding the clan's prized possession, ends up stealing the weapon. He is given chase by the clan's administrator's son Heishiro Inukai and his two best friends, also known as the three stooges. One roadside battle, a near-fatal injury and a dead sidekick later, Heishiro is rescued by a pacifist samurai Hanbei Mizoguchi, and is nursed back to health by Hanbei's beautiful daughter. Kazamatsuri for some odd reason decides to chill at the local gambling den run by Lady Okatsu, Mari Natsuki in a scene stealing role. Throw in a few ninjas for good measure and you have way too many characters and not enough time. Or so you think.

In making this, Hiroyuki truly got the feel of the old-school samurai movies, from the movie back-lot-sets look, to the feel and pacing of the movie. He brings his slick modern MTV touch to it adding flashes of colour when dealing with death and fire. He also has an awesome soundtrack composed by Hotei Tomoyasu, a pop singer withon his off days. It is all woven together in a surprisingly uncomplicated plot that does leave us with a few lose ends. Mari Natsuki did a fantastic job as Lady Okatsu and dominated every scene that she was in. A tough uncompromising, manipulative character she really did give the others a run for their money and one would almost wist the movie was about her instead.

The vibe that you get from this movie is that a director took the script from 5 different movies genres put it in a jar, shook violently and poured the result onto celluloid. With great success I might add. What we get are like little vignettes of a road movie, a romantic comedy, period drama, and of course the rogue samurai. The movie plays around with the expected conventions of each archetype for instance Kazamatsuri is an accidental bad guy for the most part and erstwhile hero Heishiro can't do much more than get in the way and bleed from his nose everytime Hanbei's daughter flashes some skin. His attention to detail is also quite amazing, right down to the lack of blood on the swords anytime someone killed. I can see why Tarantino was inspired by this, it is great fun and a fantastic reminder of what good samurai movies consist of.

4 out of 5 for some offbeat, good fun and keeping me interested!

12 10월, 2007

The Reason I wish I Spoke Korean More Fluently

So I've been trying to teach myself Korean and have stalled somewhere at learning how to read it, but having no vocabulary or grammar basics on which to build on. That's code for too lazy to progress any further without intervention. In steps rap group Epik High with their 2 Disc album Remapping the Human Soul (2007). Consisting of Tablo, Mithra and DJ Tukutz, Epik High is one of my new found favourites, and I can only hope that their music truly progresses an improves. I love this album for both rekindling my somewhat flagging fervor for the Korean language, and for making me realise that contrary to what Nas said, hip-hop is not dead, it's just morphed and moved somewhere far, far away.

Now one big part of why I like this group is Tablo. Canadian-Korean by birth, he graduated from Stanford with a Master's in English Literature, and he now is a rapper that manages to straddle comfortably both the pop and conscience driven world he works in. He nevertheless comes across as an easy going, fun dude who dances a little too much like a girl. His English lyrics are just as moving and telling as his Korean ones, which as long as they don't degrade women, glorify violence or stultifyingly boring i couldn't care less. I give them props for trying to have a message and delivering.

The other part has to be DJ Tukutz. Even though most of the time I have no clue what either Tablo or Mithra are saying I can listen to this album over and over again solely because of the production of the music itself. At times reminiscent of 90's euro-pop other times paying homage to hip hop great Dr. Dre, this album is definitely set up for some good listening, which I fully intend to do for a good long while. He also grooves in the same sort of vibe that another Korean favorite of mine, Clazziquai, does, reaching out to a lot of genres to create a smooth well connected sounds that sort of rests quietly in the background while the MC's do their thing

Below is the video for my favorite track (a.k.a my current ringtone) on the Album: Fan. Enjoy!

Hollywood Invades Bollywood; Botches it Again.

As India becomes more of global economic force, one unintended side effect is hollywood's belated realisation that there is a film market out there that outdoes them in ticket sales and number of movies made: Bollywood. To that effect, there have been some recent forays by Los Angeles denizens into the world's largest movie industry, the boring crapfest (sorry!) also known as Marigold being the last disastrous toe dip into those particular waters. Then along came Brad Listermann who took his personal story and made it into a stomach churning bollywood film.

Jason Lewis of Sex and The City (and some oh so steamy Aero chocolate ads) fame stars as Alex, a struggling writer who has a chance meeting with Reena (Kashmira Shah) while buying their morning chai. Over a four day period, the two meet, frolic in LA and fall in love. She disappears and, armed with no more than a name and the neighbourhood she lives in he flies his American butt all the way over to India to find this woman. How does a white dude armed with the most generic of first names find someone in a city with a population of over 16 million? He looks up and she's miraculously plastered on one huge billboard. Oh, and in those halcyon, starry-eyed four days, she forgot to mention that she was the biggest Indian film star, in like, everrr. Talk about lie of omission.

Now, granted this would not have been too bad of a premise if it didn't lunge into the pitfalls of hackneyed writing we have come to know so well from bollywood. We have the disapproving parents who want to marry her to a wealthy yet brutal friend of the family. We have the sidekick friend who falls in love with his former best friend, but abandoned her in the village/small town/hicksville once he acquired fame and fortune. And we have the standby of movie within a movie as a justification as to why there are any dance sequences at all. All this is tied up in a bow made up of what is rapidly becoming my pet peeve in these half and half movies; two Indian people having a very trying time to wise crack in stilted, albeit good, English.

I should mention at this point that Kashmira Shah was, during the making of this movie, Mrs Listermann but sadly their relationship came to an end. I wonder if that's what Brad was thinking when he regurgitated that overused line "somethings look pretty, but are too spicy for a foreigner to handle" or something to that effect. Sour grapes, mayhaps? And we do have to give Mr. Listermann credit as it is his first time out, working in a foreign market, so some slack will be cut.

Getting back to the movie, it ends as we all know it, with some really lame shenanigans masquerading as a plot twist. At this juncture, I would like to point out that the acting and the dancing weren't too bad, with a great cameo of Cruella de Vil as Reena's mum (just kidding, but man, they look eerily alike). Thought I'd throw that in there, after all this is a review.

0.5 out of 5. That was because they at least tried to act.

NB:- Mr Listermann is making a movie about a "fixer" trying to find a girl sold into the sex trade. Screen Play by Gregory Roberts directed by Anthony Mandler (who directs lots of big names' music videos) called Allegra. First dibs on calling it a disaster.

10 10월, 2007

Time Travel and the North/South Divide. Yes, Someone Made it Into A Movie

When I read the blurb on Cheongun I was a bit stymied. What was this movie trying to be? Social commentary, a comedy or both? It seemed at least be worth a watch with a premise that seemed just a tad bizarre. At the DMZ (demilitarized zone, border between North and South Korea), the two Koreas have come together to design the world's best nuclear weapon. Scary, I know. The only problem is this: The West is none too pleased with this development and demand that the weapon be handed over to safer hands, meaning the Americans ,whom, as we all know, are so great and are in no way lead by someone who has less understanding of geopolitics than the average twelve year old. Now some patriotic North Korean would rather die than see that happen (which I totally sympathise with by the way) and so rounds up a team to steal said weapon, kidnaps the principal nuclear scientist (the lone female character in this film) giving his southern compadres the unpleasant task of bringing him back. Now due to some wacky cosmic event, the two teams plus the scientist get sent back in time.

The movie is surprisingly effective as it is essentially 3 movies in one and rookie director Min Joon Ki does quite a nice job treating all three topics. On the one hand the movie is It skirts around the divide between the two Koreas, on issues such as propaganda, national pride, leadership and heroism. The other is the fish-out-of-space-time-continuum a-la A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's court thing which we always have so much fun with. The third story is that of Lee Sun Shin who, by all historical accounts was a great warrior who staved off the Japanese from invading Korea. By the way, that would be the South Korean version, the North Korean version has something to do with their immortal leader being alive in 1572. Who knew? When they meet him, he's a thieving loser who just failed the army entrance exams, and has stolen their entire cache of weapons. Fun times.

Of course the comedy is very much laden through the first half of the movie, the second half deals with marauding barbarians trying to overrun several villages in the area and here is where Lee Sun Shin comes into his own. And of course they are trying to get back to their own time and deal with a ticking time (nuclear) bomb.

Now this movie is definitely not of the earthshaking variety, but it is fun to watch and has all the elements but (thank the saints) a half baked romance. It still manages to get several digs in about the state of Korean governmental affairs and the mind-set of the people forced to live with it, but I never thought a scene with a hand grenade could make me laugh so hard, but it did and it still does every time I go back and watch it. A thoroughly enjoyable popcorn flick that takes a serious turn half way through.

3.75 out of 5, just for the grenade scene alone!

Vengeance is oh so Sweet!

For the one person who actually plays video game and reads this blog (i'm talkin' to you bro, you'd better be reading this!) this is one of THE funniest apologies I've watched in like, forever. Just because, having lived with game freaks and fanatics (again my dear brovver, you) I know how ticked off people get, and adding the spoiler on the end? Priceless. BTW you ought to read the death threat he got. So hilarious!

Did forget to mention the video game? Microsoft's hallowed Halo 3, released after much hype and media fanfare. All the comments posted cursing him to perdition, did not take into consideration that the swag landed in a freaking bush, and so would probably have suffered little or no harm from the 20 or so ft drop. Also that the spoiler wasn't real, but the fanboi's (derogatory term for anyone who is a diehard fan of a particular product) seemed to have lost all sense of a smidgeon of a connection to reality.

My first favorite asian (actually asian/american) dude/dudette of the month, Mr. Brian Lam, Editor of Gizmodo.

To Be Unfeeling

Freesia: Icy Tears is another Japanese cinema offering, this time from indie director Kazuyoshi Kumakiri. In an alternate near future Japan, revenge killings are sanctioned and regulated by the Nihon government. Any family seeking revenge hires an agency which in turn gives those targeted a time, a place for said killing and even the option of hiring state or private body guards to protect you. Hiroshi is a newly hired contract killer working for one of those agencies, helmed by a woman with more than a little vengeance on her mind. He's cold, ruthless and gets the job done without any unnecessary fuss. He and his boss share a secret past: the military tests a weapon on thirty orphans leaving a lone orphan girl and a child soldier who witnesses the crime. The movie essentially has dual stories intertwined, one being boss lady seeking revenge against Toshio who, fifteen years ago, led the orphans on the test site on orders and abandoned them there. The other path being watching Hiroshi do his thing. None of the story lines are particularly fulfilling.

The reasons I like this movie; it is quiet. There are no particular highs or lows, in this movie, which is also reflected in the soundtrack. Instead, there is this steady, almost plodding, pace heading towards the finish line. There are no big twists or massive revelations that shock the heck out of you. There is also a certain allure to Hiroshi. His silence emotes, weirdly enough, this tortured, scarred soul whose life is without fear, plagued by the recurring image of the second witness but unable to react to it in any visceral way. He seems to be reaching out for something to connect to and when he finally does, races out and does something which makes no sense to me at all. Go figure.

The reasons I don't like it? It is predictable as all get out. There are no real surprises. The movie has got a real sort of show down in the wild west with gunslingers vibe, with deathly enemies and noirish femme fatale-like character, but is some what disjointed. The major characters in this movie all have a direct link to the military experiment and we get to see the role that each plays in each but somehow, the director manages to screw it up and it does not come across as a cohesive narrative. There were so many threads that were picked up woven into the story line, only to be suddenly abandoned and the viewers are left to figure out exactly what's going on. Other plot sequences make no contribution to the storyline other than to move characters to the final showdown location, which, really, should not happen in ANY good movie. Secondary characters and storylines eat too much into what should essentially be a story about 3 people coming to terms with their past, period. Instead it tries to become a character study waaay too late into the movie, where frankly, we could care less.

To be honest the most riveting thing about movie was observing the cinematic tricks the director utilised to make the movie. Things like using sepia tones through most of the movie, draping the lead male in the only bit of colour in the movie, and the boss lady suddenly draped in red after a turning point in the movie. Even to me, a cinema theory idiot could spot them a mile away. I kind of hate it when they are that obvious, it's kind of like "really, that is all you could come up with?" sort of thing. The movie does have some intriguing questions raised, and could have easily been a great movie instead of a so-so one.

3.5 out 5 for a great attempt.

16 9월, 2007

The Joys of English Language Vernacular

A parachute is:

a) An apparatus used to retard free fall from an aircraft, consisting of a light, usually hemispherical canopy attached by cords to a harness and worn or stored folded until deployed in descent.

b) A dancehall/reggae move.

c) Korean slang for a colleague or coworker that gets a job not on their own merit, but because someone in upper management places them there.

d) All of the above.

Some things just make me smile for no apparent reason. Odd sense of humour? Maybe.


08 9월, 2007

My Musings on Music, Hip Hop/Rap in Particular

For all you music buffs out there. I have to admit I have an uneasy relationship with hip hop. While I appreciate artists such as Talib Kweli and Common, to be honest I am quite unfamiliar with anything that is not on the radio. At the same time that I decry the violence, misogynism, greed and lack of talent I do not go out of the way to actually listen to anyone outside of the mainstream.

From my understanding hip hop started as a way to demonstrate to the world what life was like living on the outskirts of "normal" society. Not to glorify it, but to highlight the strife, poverty and desolation of such a life. It wasn't all pain don't get me wrong. Hip hop was also a lot about fun, but oft times in a witty, tongue-in-cheek manner. It provided a voice to those unseen, unheard masses that truly had something to tell the world. Artists were truly that. Nowadays the music scene seems to be dominated by less than stellar voices, speaking on less than noble themes. Can anyone say 50 cent?

I thought that Timbaland and Kanye West were the great hopes for the year. After a 2007 with an array of rather bland, sub par albums I was excited, thrilled even. Timbaland released Throw It On Me and The Way I Are, which to my untrained ears sounded fresh, new exciting, branching out from the tired old beats that we were all used to hearing. Kanyeezy, in turn, absolutely blew me away with Stronger. Co-produced with French electro-pop duo Daft Punk this track had to be the best that had been released all year, for me probably in the last 2. It seemed that hip hop was waking up and moving away from the creative rut it had sunk into, exploring new frontiers, breaking down barriers, saving the world!!! Yeah, not so much. I should put a note here that is not a commentary on lyrical content, which, depending on the track, I don't give a toss (club bangers) or get bored by because the beats don't engage me.

Okay, so I indulged in a bit of delerium there, but I had great hopes for Timbaland's Shock Value album and Kanye's Graduation but, sorry to say, I was highly disappointed. The tracks are solid but its seems they released the cream of the crop to lure us into a venus fly trap of sameness. Mr. West was especially disappointing. While there is a maturity to this album compared to The College Dropout it just didn't freak me like it does my brother.

What is all this doing on a blog supposedly dedicated towards Asian entertainment? Well M.I.A's album Kala dropped in August and I just got round to listening to it. For those of you who don't know, M.I.A is Sri Lankan by birth but grew up in the UK after fleeing with her mum as a refugee. The album had me from its hello, titled Bamboo Banga with its driving beat, and its rip of a Tamil movie hit. The production is just amazing. From what I can glean from album reviews, she had visa issues and could no longer work in the US. Instead she careened about the globe, working on the album at every port of call. The album is just chock-a-block of energy, with a fusion of sounds from West Africa, South Asia, even bird calls and gun shot sounds making appearances.

Her influences from Bollywood to The Clash resonate throughout, making it a thoroughly listenable & danceable release, a true pleasure. Indeed the weakest track on there is the one produced by the venerable Timbaland (who @ this point, coupled with Fiddy's Ayo Technology, is begining to piss me off. What with all this weak sh*t?). This to me is the best hip hop/fusion/alternative album of the year, putting this woman so far ahead of the curve i don't think her contemporaries can even see her dust. And, she is a woman with a cause, and makes sure that she's heard. This is where Missy Elliot was when her first couple albums dropped and this is what hip hop needs to be maintain its grip on the music industry.

05 9월, 2007

Aragami: A Challenge Well Met

You have to love Japanese film makers. Good directors can actually do stuff for kicks and giggles and get amazing results. Directors Tsutsumi Yukihiki and Kitamura Ryuhei were set a challenge: each was to create a quality, full length movie with one set, one location, only 2 central characters and filmed in 7 days. It was named The Duel Project and produced 2 highly anticipated films. Tsutsumi's efforts produced 2LDK, where two female roommates create a bloodbath in their apartment. Armed with 5 actors (3 peripheral ones) and himself, Kitamura gave us a worthy treat. Aragami.

Set sometime in Feudal Japan, two heavily injured samurai stagger into a remote temple and take refuge. One wakes up finding all his injuries miraculously healed, his partner gone and is wined and dined by his mysterious, seemingly benevolent host, served by an eerily quiet female companion. Turns out the host ain't so great after all. He's actually Aragami, the "raging god of war", a near immortal with a pecadillo for human flesh. He challenges the samurai to a battle to the death.

For those of you expecting an all out samurai sword fight fest though, hold your horses. Kitamura slowly builds a lot of tension through dialogue, adding strange touches of humour and melodrama strewn throughout the piece. What has been done brilliantly is the act of dispensing with a lot of the extraneous bits we come to expect @ the cinema. There is nowhere else but the gorgeous, amazing set, no outside individuals, no distractions. We get get only the briefest of backgrounds on the unnamed samurai and we honestly could not care less. The director seems to have quite carefully sculpted the movie around the demi-god, and gives us a little character study of him, while also exploring the development of a relationship between the two. We get to know Aragami as the story progresses, and even get a window into his possible motivations for such a throw down. As the intensity builds to what are some really all out, solidly choreographed sword-fight scenes, we appreciate more and more that there is nothing to distract us from the battle between the them.

While it does nothing revolutionary, it is a revalation, with brilliant directing and great story telling that gives us a solid entertaining piece of work that should be appreciated by all and is well worth multiple viewings.

4.25 out of 5 for a hugely entertaining movie

04 9월, 2007

The Allure of K drama

So here is a rationalisation for why I watch Korean TV. Primarily it is because they don't do seasons which thrills me to no end (you have no idea). All they have are a standard 16, maybe 18, episodes which air twice each week, so in 2 months it's all over. There are some shows like Jumong which ran 80 episodes, but that was a rarity, as it was an in depth historical drama and that was a great production undertaking in itself. Dramas take the best qualities of TV and movie which combined gives us the character development and depth of TV, and the finality of a film. This, is sheer bliss: I don't have to wait till next season to see what happens next (House), I won't lose interest (Desperate Housewives) and I won't come to loathe the show with a passion when the next season rolls around (Grey's Anatomy). Secondly they are overwhelmingly in the romantic comedy vein, which suits me just fine. Thirdly, they don't really subscribe to the more-skin-less-clothing school of thought. While it can seem a little too chaste I enjoy TV that doesn't feel the need to exploit. Which brings me to my fourth and last point: the dramas remind me of home. For some odd reason, Korean culture connects with me on a visceral level, but that is for another post.

The typical K dramas share a lot of common elements: ditsy yet lovable, but often poor female leads; strong, capable, rich, aloof male ones (if its a comedy) and; will most definitely have a love triangle/quadrangle. There will be a sexpot female 2nd lead or there will be an ex-girlfriend/lover who is stunning but will never get the guy. Someone, somewhere, will be plotting something nefarious, and, quite often the female lead is older than the male one. Most annoyingly though, somebody, usually (AGAIN!!) female, will most likely have some hidden terminal illness, or will die of a broken heart. Or someone will lose their damn minds, me along with them.

Oh and I forgot to mention. The dudes are unbelievably hot. Caliente. From K dramas I discovered some serious eye candy, namely Bi, Kim Sung Soo, Dennis O, Lee Jung Jae, and Gong Yoo being the cream of the crop. Yeah, I'm shallow like that, so sue me.

Now, most dramas I wouldn't touch with a barge pole because really, how often can you watch the terminally ill ex-girlfriend, die of heartbreak, but not before she wreaks havoc between the two leads? Unfortunately as a newbie i didn't know the difference and was sucked into watching a lot that was highly recommended, forgetting that the audience consists predominantly of giggly 15 to 19 year olds who think it's touching to watch someone suffer and die, fist clutched to chest, over love. Unh hunh.

So anyways, I watched dramas like Goong and Goong S, Delightful Girl Choong Hyang, Full House, 1% of Anything and my favourites, Coffee Prince and Air City. Those are the ones I actually completed. I started countless others but could not bear to finish them because, quite frankly, the got so melodramatic, so rip-your-hair-out weepy, so full of angst that I nearly ripped the screen off my notebook in sheer frustration. They start off lighthearted, witty and amusing, and the good dramas get you invested in the characters and rooting for whatever side you pick but by about episode 8, you honestly just want commit fictional mass murder. A couple of them such as Green Rose and Time Between Dog and Wolf are revenge dramas and so you would think sidestep those pitfalls, but then you remember that any thrilling revenge plot always needs: a thwarted love story to make us connect with the angst more keenly. Air City was near perfect though, which was basically a 16 episode advertisement for Incheon International Airport, Seoul, with all its high tech gadgetry (yay!), good investigative drama (I seem to be in the minority with that thought) and some good writing. Then they killed it with the, yup you guessed it, terminally ill ex-girlfriend (boo!). Coffee Prince was the pinnacle for me, and I'll stop there because I've already gone on ad nauseum in a prior post.

For a fascinating, overwrought, and utterly hilarious summary, go to Youtube and do a search for "Bobby Lee Korean dramas", a Mad TV series of skits. Even with no Korean @ all it's pretty funny, and with my limited knowledge (it is really hard to teach yourself a language), I cracked up @ the Korean that i did understand and the extremely, baaaad translation. Enjoy part 1 of 4.

Its all about the happy ending...

So, for those of you who I actually keep in contact with (all 2 of you, you know who y'all are), you know that I have been, for want of a better word, obsessed, with a show called Coffee Prince or 커피프린스 1호점 (literally kaw-pi peu-rin-seu 1 ho-cham) . It has literally been the one show that i have watched religiously, waiting on tenterhooks until the next torrent is released, then having to wait for the fansubs to come out. Aigoo. After 17 delicious fun-filled episodes however, the show is over, and Coffee prince is no more. I was quite cut up when the final episode aired, to be honest. I can't quite explain, but my guts twisted, my heart felt so constricted and it felt, really for the first time, that I was truly mourning the loss of something truly dear to me. I'm not sure I was this upset when I left home to attend college. All this over a TV show you ask? Yes, absolutely. This has to be the best piece of television I have seen all year, bar none.

The setup: A la Shakespeare's The Twelfth Night, it involves a girl, Go Eun Chan, who disguised as a guy, falls for main squeeze Choi Han Gyul, who just happens to be in love with his cousin's (Choi Han Sung) girl, Han Yoo Joo, who just returned to Korea after running off with another guy, blessedly only known as DK. Get that? Han Gyul, played by Gong Yoo, is 30, a cavalier playboy, and having run off to the States to be a toymaker, has now been summoned home to Korea to fulfill his filial duties like take over the family business and get married to some suitable filly. Eun Chan (Yoon Eun Hae) is 24, and has lived most of her life as a tomboy, has never been to college and works as a delivery "boy" to support her inept mother and high strung sister. Through several chance meetings HG, thinking that EC is in fact a he, hires her as his fake gay lover to ward off advances from the "dates" his family have set up. Liking her work ethic he hires "him" to work at an all male coffee shop, Coffee Prince.

Now this extremely light and fluffy framework would seem to consign this to the not-much-depth department, but there you'd be wrong. What starts off as a simple tale of a girl and guy falling in love morphs slowly into a tale of a boy becoming a man, dealing with questioning his sexuality, what it means to be true to oneself and the nature of falling in love. As I have mentioned earlier in the blog, Coffee Prince is liberally sprinkled with "play" and the romantic in me loves the fact that they really emphasised friendship as part of any love relationship and not just two people making calf eyes @ each other. It also quite interestingly, showcased a rocky, long-term relationship, how people deal with infidelity, mistrust and how people move forward trying to keep it together. I don't mean to imply that it is all heart wrenching stuff. You get the sense it is a lot like Much Ado About Nothing, or another favourite of mine Pride and Prejudice, where you know everything will end up alright, but the journey is what gets you coming back for more. I like that as a series it had layers to it, is very much worthy of a deeper look, it still was an enjoyable experience. While I enjoy the works of the like of Won Kar Wai, Kim Ki Duk Lee Myung Su and the like, the occasional non-mind bending piece of celluloid is totally needed to balance it all out.

What else can I say? I love this series to bits and my respect for Gong Yoo has absolutely grown in leaps and bounds. Sadly, he's off for compulsory military training for 2 years and this author will truly miss him. An nyeong, oppa.

A beacon of hope for great writing: 5 out of 5!!!

24 8월, 2007

So Stylish it Hurts

The Duelist. I don't know why I am so enamoured of this piece, but love it I do. I had never heard of director Lee Myung Se before this movie, but he is also the director of Nowhere to Hide (1999) another Korean cinematic great or so I've been told. A fusion saeguk (historical or period) piece, Duelist tells the tale of a female police inspector in old school Korea investigating the sudden increase in counterfeit currency threatening to undermine the nation. Her investigations lead her to an enigmatic, nameless, assasin cum thief with connections to the highest circles of power. Oh dear, and she thinks he's cute too.

Duelist has all the hallmarks of a wuxia movie but side-steps the genre altogether. Wuxia according to wikipedia means "martial (arts) heroes, [and] is a distinct quasi-fantasy sub-genre of the martial arts genre in literature, television and cinema". Don't be lulled into thinking of people flourishing swords in trees or on water, however. What you get with Lee is frenetic, freeze-frame cinematography, graceful, agile sword fighting, a touching romance and I must say, the most entertaining use of music in cinema I've heard in ages.

This is a spectacle in the very best sense. Our minds our flooded with one arresting frame after another, so much so we almost get annoyed with the story telling for getting in the way of what we are watching and what we hear. Even the soundtrack, with its tango, rock, even circus vibe, is everything but typical and is just as much a part of the movie. In one particular sequence he layers two quite dissonant songs creating a harsh duet that serves as a narrator for the turmoil both characters feel.

Lee creates so much of a visual and audio impact that it sometimes seemed like the story was secondary to the images and sounds he was trying to impress on us and therein lies the rub; we actually do need some story to make us a little more attached to the characters. There is some rudimentary beginings in there about the nameless assasin and the master he serves, but it never fully gathers momentum leaving quite an empty unresolved feeling its place. Same goes for the romance. You feel the chemistry between the two leads, the passion that reaches out each time they engage in a throwdown is phenomenal. It feels empty though, as all we get are short, intense flashes of emotion that don't develop when they aren't together.

From all accounts, Lee values style over substance and this movie, rightly or wrongly, has been criticised as being the embodiment of that tenet. He has a refreshing style that is reminiscent of what someone once said of Missy Elliot; he's found a room in the [film-making] mansion that no one else realised was there. His next film, M- Movie (2007) has been making a tour of the festival circuit, and I for one, am waiting on tenterhooks.

I could keep waxing lyrical about this movie, but I'll stop now. Let's just say I liked it a lot.

4.95 out of 5 More story next time. Please!

23 8월, 2007

He brings us flowers, but what a stinker!

Take your typical Bollywood and Hollywood banality, add bad acting, even worse directing and to pull it together, a liberal dose of two of the potentially worst dancers ever to grace a bollywood screen at the same time and you have the perfect recipe for Marigold (2007). My first thought when I heard about this movie about 6 months ago was "Salman Khan as a choreographer? You have GOT to be joking." I laughed long and hard, and as it turns out, I was right.

Ali Lantrey (of NBC's Heroes fame) plays Marigold, a D list actress with such cinematic gems as Basic Instinct 3 under her belt. A "four star bitch" if ever there was a stereotypical one, she is stranded in Goa when the financing for her latest flick goes south, and by typical movie manipulation, she ends up with a bit part in a bollywood production in the making 2 years and counting. There she comes across Prem (Salman Khan) the choreographer for the movie, and there love begins. They cavort, they listen to music on the beach, fulfill grandmother's predictions and find out they are made for each other. That gooey mess on your face right now? My brains splattered all over the place, having exploded from the sheer level of inanity that this movie absolutely wallows in.

Bollywood cliches abound here. Wind machine? Check. Crossed lovers? Check. Twists (if you didn't see any of these twists coming a mile away, you have never watched a single rom com. Ever.)? Check. Even the background music was rehashed from earlier, and what i am definitely certain of, more successful, movies.

From the get go this movie had me in stitches for all the wrong reasons. Anybody who's seen a Salman Khan movie must know that the dude cannot dance. To compensate usually extras dance around him, the camera never stays on him too long, and the female lead in the movie is pretty much spectacular. His first scene has him dancing. 'Nuff said. His acting fared little better, coming accross as either comatose, or paralysed from the scalp down, accompanied by a monotone voice (the English dialogue I'm guessing didn't help any). Ali Larter, poor dear, is neither a superb actress, nor is she blessed with rhythm either. Marry that with the awkwardness of being unfamiliar with the music and the dance steps used in bollywood, and you have one uncomfortable person on screen, looking like she ain't got a clue. With both actos dancing together, my heart truly went out to the choreographer who must have been suicidal by the time this catastrophe was done.

The dialogue was, what's that word again...bilious. Now I get that this is meant to appeal to a wider audience, but I assume that audience can actually read, so subtitles should not have been a problem. There should have been a lot more conversation in Hindi, because frankly, the scriptwriter(s) must have gone through their A to Z of things to say in a rom com and unceremoniously dumped it on a piece of paper. The dialogue was wholly unoriginal coupled with a whole lot of bad acting.

I think the movie may have, at some point in its distant past, tried to be both an homage to, and poke fun @, bollywood but it took itself much too seriously and hung itself while doing so. The music is humdrum, but on the plus side the Indian countryside and scenery look great, if a filmed a little undewhelmingly, and costuming was pretty solid (except for Salman and that white fringed travesty). In the end, this venture was an exercise in waste, of time, of talent, and of money and I sincerely hope that nobody chooses this as their first Indian movie, 'cos man this bit the big one.

-1 (yes you read right, minus) out of 5. An expected but still painful disappointment

Video: Making of Marigold

Let's Play!

Okay, over @ one of my favourite blogs, there was a bit of a conversation about intimacy as portrayed in Korean Dramas. At the moment Coffee Prince has to be hands down one of the best television shows I have seen this year (more about that later). I decided to post one of my comments here, cos I for once was quite lucid and actually made sense.
I'm a bit more ambivalent on the idea of the portrayal of sexuality and sex in K dramas. One the one hand it is refreshing to watch relationship develop through what my philosophy and film professor called "play". In a nutshell in older movies of the 40's and 50's we saw romance develop through banter, wordplay, non-sexual physical interaction with one another. Couples who played well together tended to have more meaningful interaction. The Big Sleep (1946) with Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart is a great example, as is Indiscreet (1958) with Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman.
One of the things I love about K dramas is that there is a real sense that the protagonists really get to discover before the start of all the heart (and fist!) clenching angst. The couples tend to be like dogs sniping @ each others heels and the women tend to be the aggressors (which is another topic all together). It's fun, it's charming and it hearkens to an ideal that intimacy is not just "knockin' boots" with someone you think is hot. In Coffee Prince we sense that Yu Ju and Han Sung play well and their problems stem from not knowing themselves well enough to trust the other.
The portrayal of intimacy in dramas though seems overwhelmingly stilted and forced. Usually a lot is played as broad comedy, or even in serious moments we get an unnatural physical distance in a hug or kiss and you can almost see the actors step out of character and start to think of what they are meant to be portraying. Even my beloved Coffee Prince is guilty, resorting to the hike-and-slam-into-wall hollwood portrayal of intense passion didn't quite jibe with the the rest of the series. In a perfect world, the romance would retain the fun and lose the stiffness...

Video: Coffee Prince, final scene ep 16

13 8월, 2007

One Baaad Lesson

My Tutor Friend 2 (2007) is to the follow up My Tutor Friend (2003), which originally starred I-really-can't-freakin'-believe-he's-31-and-he's-SO-hot Kwon Sang Woo and Kim Ha Neul. Part 2 is the sort of movie you can't wait till it has finished. You have absolutely no idea how you got to the end,but you are so immensely glad the agonising pain is over. In a nutshell, it sucked.

Junko (Lee Cheong Ah) plays Junko a Japanese (with a Korean grandmother) exchange student who has goes to Korea in order to chase down her crush. She ends up as a boarder living with a bunch of seeming ne'er do wells including the lodge owner's son Jong Man (Park Ki Woong). Jong Man ends up being her Korean language teacher. At this point, I'm sure I'm supposed to say, "hilarity ensues". Suffice to say, there were few things I found funny about this movie. This movie failed on many levels to live up to the charm and charisma that made the first movie so much more inviting

The connection between Jong Man, the lay about son with credit card debt, and the nose to the grindstone, always on the lookout for a quick buck were definitely at odds with each other. Likewise her crush always seemed tepid at best. There was an all too sudden switch from enemies, to friends and from friends to potential love interest? I was frankly blindsided by it, and not in a good way, even though i knew it was coming. The cast seems way too young to comprehend what the hell they are supposed to be doing, and, the director may have been on holiday for all the focus this film definitively lacks. It seems all too much like a hastily put together cast and script to cash in on a good thing.

I was tres disappointed. Deleted the damn movie from my collection never to be seen again

0.5 out of 5, and that's only because I'm having a good day.

10 8월, 2007

Rules are meant to be broken...

Can a meaningful relationship be borne of sexual harrasment, consensual near-rape and infidelity? Rules of Dating (2005) directed by Han Jae Rim, starring Park Hae Il (the Host, 2006) and Kang Hye Jeong (Oldboy, 2003) asks us exactly what it means to be in a relationship.

The very first line of this movie "are you wet?" is posed at Hong Choi (Kang Hye Jeong) by Lee Yoo Rim (Park Hae Il) in what is a first in a series of sexually charged innuendo and behaviour on his part. He is in relentless pursuit of Choi and employs the well worn line of I-just-want-to- (talk, see you, apologise, what have you) to worm his way past her defenses. Choi on the other hand, comes off as coy, reluctant even, at the begining but seems to be perversely enjoying the attention.

As the film progresses, there is an ever so subtle change in the movie. While at first the reigns of the affair are held by Lee, the pursuer, Choi wrests control from him. Their roles do not change, but the terms are slowly altered until a sudden realisation comes towards the end. Their relationship is not unlike that of a dominatrix-slave, where truly the slave has the power.

This movie evokes ghosts of the Mike Nichols film Closer (2004), in that people are definitely not as pretty as we would like them to be, even when it comes to love. We are underhanded, sneaky, selfish and above all, about self preservation. None of the characters end up as particularly likeable, but we do end up somewhat sympathetic to their plight and their choices are understandable. In all a good drama.

3 out of 5 I liked the movie

Video: Are You The One by The Presets

Romantic comedy @ better than average...

So the very first review will be for the movie that tuned me in to Korean Cinema. It's a chick flick through and through, Seducing Mr. Perfect (2006) (even the name gives it away). Starring Mr "h0t-enough-to-make-my-bones-melt" Daniel Henney and Uhm Jung Hwa, I could not have picked a more perfect starter movie (for me anyways). Why? Half the movie is in English. Mr Henney is actually half Korean, half American. At the time of that movie, he was not yet comfortable enough to speak Korean with any sense of ease, so his part of the script is entirely in Yongorul (Korean for English). Makes the movie a lot easier to follow for first timers, as you don't spend the entire time playing catch up with either the subtitles or the actors.

But I digress, so back to the subject at hand. For those of you who love romantic comedies, this should be right up your alley. Uhm Jung Hwa plays June, a woman constantly experiencing romantic woes. Her boyfriends keep parting ways with her for some odd reason, probably because she tends to overwhelm them with a mothering streak that has a slight whiff of desperation about it. Daniel Henney plays is her playboy boss Robin Heiden, who is inordinately interested in his subordinate's love life. In the end she turns to him for help to get her "man".

The good news is that its cute. It has all the ingredients for your typical paint by numbers Hollywood fare. However, Mr Henney is unable to do more than smile, smirk and a frown is stretching it, but, man, does he look doing so. He is in my opinion, so stunningly gorgeous throughout the movie, so much so his performance really does not get in the way of the droolfest he is meant to inspire. His Keanu Reeves-esque acting forces Uhm Jung Hwa to ham it up a little, but even so, some chemistry between is can genuinely be felt between the two. Little vignettes from the movie stand out in my mind(my favourite scene is when her actions from a previous night's revelry finally comes back to her in the elevator), and the story is engaging and light hearted.

My major gripe is there are several throwaway scenes, tertiary characters that detract from what could have been a very charming movie if it had focused a little more. The scenes also do nothing to really establish Robin Heiden's previous love life except announcements by exposition from said tertiary characters. It seemed like the script writers were having a bad couple of months and threw their hands up in despair before shrugging and typing something on paper. What it leaves us with is a movie that seems disjointed in places.

Overall it is a pleasant movie that is great for a girls night in with some popcorn and a tub of ice cream.

A solid 3 out of 5 from me if you include Mr Henney, you could take it as a 3.75 out of 5.

Video: Mr Henney playing Creep *sigh*