Comments, Rotten Tomatoes and the like

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).

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*

My Very Own Blog!

So, I've decided that if i want to get my creative juices flowing and begin to hone my analytical skills, I need to do something. At much prompting from a good friend a blog is my first step. I doubt if anyone will read this, but it is something for me to get started with, and see how far and where this will take me.
Of late, I have been watching movies and television dramas from Korea especially, but also from Japan and a little of China (which includes Taiwanese and Hong Kong movies as well). This blog will be a sort of testing ground, a place where I can parse (if you will), share, and maybe introduce it to my friends.

Note to anyone who cares: I'm trying to learn Korean if you've got any ideas do tell!

Aja, aja fighting!