30 July 2014

Suzhou River (China, 2000)

Mardar, a motorcycle courier in his mid-twenties, is one day asked by a shady alcohol smuggler to deliver his sixteen-year-old daughter, Moudan, to her aunt. Mardar and Moudan grow fond of each other. But their tender happiness is disrupted when Moudan thinks that Mardar has kidnapped her for a ransom. She is so disappointed in him that she jumps off the bridge into the Suzhou River. Mardar is now suspected of murder. When, a couple of years later, he comes out of jail he meets the dancer Meimei, an alter-ego of Moudan, and becomes fascinated by her.

With great cinematic style, Suzhou River portrays a love story with much credibility and emotions. The cinematography has been compared to that of Wong Kar-wai (Fallen Angels, Chungking Express) due to its dreamy and surreal nature, and in terms of acting it's a slam-dunk. Good stuff.

Genre: Drama/Romance

29 July 2014

Merantau (Indonesia, 2009)

Yuda, a skilled practitioner of Silat Harimau is in the final preparations to begin his "Merantau" a century's old rites-of-passage to be carried out by the community's young men that will see him leave the comforts of his idyllic farming village and make a name for himself in the bustling city of Jakarta. After a series of setbacks leave Yuda homeless and uncertain about his new future, a chance encounter results in him defending the orphaned Astri from becoming the latest victim of a European human trafficking ring led by the wildly psychotic, Ratger and his right-hand man Lars.

The sheer force of the fighting sequences are reason enough to watch this explosive fist fighting madness made by the same director who gave us the incredible action fests The Raid 1 & 2, and Merantau also features the same actor in the lead role. Satisfying bone crunching goodness and fight choreography that makes Hollywood productions green with envy, Merantau should please every viewer that's looking for a fight.

Genre: Action

28 July 2014

No Mercy (South Korea, 2010)

Sol Kyung-Gu plays a staff member of the National Institute of Scientific Investigation (NISI) in South Korea. He attempts to uncover the identity of a mysterious serial killer who decapitates his victims.

Korean thrillers are some of the best on this planet, that's a fact. They can be so brutal, gritty and dark that it's just beautiful. No Mercy is a stone cold tale of vengeance, that familiar theme that South Korea just seem to love. Of course I don't want to give away the ending, but wow it takes the cake and pretty much shoves it down your throat. Great actors, also. The main character is played by a fellow named Sol Kyung-Gu, whom you've undoubtedly seen before, perhaps in great films such as Peppermint Candy (2000) or Cruel Winter Blues (2006). 

A superb and suspenseful film.

Genre: Crime/Thriller

26 July 2014

Jiro Dreams of Sushi (US, 2011)

A documentary on 85-year-old sushi master Jiro Ono, his business in the Ginza, Tokyo Subway station, and his relationship with his son and eventual heir, Yoshikazu.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi was an American production, but I'm sure that people who's interested in Japanese culture and Japanese cuisine will find this film mighty impressive and interesting. It's impossible not to be amazed at what this man, Jiro, has accomplished and how he makes the perfect sushi dishes. I promise, even if you don't like sushi, the things Jiro makes will make you scream out for just a taste. The sushi looks so shiny and delicious, they're carefully made and it's ridiculous how some of this food is prepared. 

We also get to follow Jiro's son to the fish market and that by itself is an memorable experience. Massive tuna is laying in rows, octopuses are wrapping their arms around the fish vendors. We see the whole trip, from the bloody floors of the fish market halls to the minimalistic black plates in Jiro's restaurant, where the tuna, shrimps and eels looks like a work of art when he's done with them.     

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is an inspiring insight into the world of one of the best sushi chefs ever, and it works up one hell of an appetite. 

Genre: Documentary

24 July 2014

Space Battleship Yamato (Japan, 2010)

In 2199, five years after the start of the Gamilas attack on Earth, the planet has been ravaged by the aliens' radiation bombs and the remnants of humanity have fled underground. One day, former pilot Susumu Kodai discovers a capsule sent from the planet Iskandar that tells of a device that can remove the radiation from the Earth's surface. The United Nations of Space Administration rebuilds the battleship Yamato and begins the long trip to Iskandar and back in hopes of saving the Earth.

During World War II, Yamato was a battleship that served with the Imperial Japanese Navy and were one of the most powerful battleships that had ever been constructed. Many years later, Yamato was rebuilt as a starship and used to save the Earth in the animated series Space Battleship Yamato. Fast forward even more years and we reach the point where we got a feature film that's based on the anime TV series. 

It got some really good special effects by Japanese standards, and it's too bad that there isn't more space battles and enemy warships that threatens mankind because those scenes are awesome. Still, it's a cool and exciting space adventure and it makes you wish there'll be a sequel that goes all-out and increases the amount of action and great-looking spaceships. 

Genre: Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi

22 July 2014

Hansel and Gretel (South Korea, 2007)

A young man gets lost in the woods but finds himself in a beautiful house with three adorable children. With a warm fireplace and plenty to eat, the place seems too perfect to be true ― and impossible to exit.

Hansel and Gretel took the South Korean film industry by storm and revitalized the horror genre. Loosely based on the dark German fairy tale, this movie adaption makes a few changes, for example the old cannibal witch is now three young children with supernatural powers. One of the most outstanding features of the film is the set design and colors, everything from the lush, deep forest to the old house in the glade looks incredible and makes you wish you were there if it weren't for all the horrific things that kind of wants you dead. 

A great, well-made and gruesome spin on an already dark story.

Genre: Drama/Fantasy/Horror

20 July 2014

Kung Fu Hustle (China/Hong Kong, 2004)

Set in Canton, China in the 1940s, the story revolves in a town ruled by the Axe Gang, Sing who desperately wants to become a member. He stumbles into Pigsty Alley, a slum ruled by eccentric landlords who turns out to be the greatest kung-fu masters in disguise. Sing's actions eventually cause the Axe Gang and the slumlords to engage in an explosive kung-fu battle. Only one side will win and only one hero will emerge as the greatest kung-fu master of all.

You might have heard of or seen this one already because it became quite big upon its release. Kung Fu Hustle is  filled with insanely cartonish action and lots of slapstick fun, it plays around with the whole Hong Kong martial arts-genre and has a blast with it. There's no shortage of imaginative fighting styles, my favorite is the two men who shoot swords by playing a huge stringed instrument. Watch it if you like something that's not too serious or slow.

Genre: Action/Comedy/Crime

18 July 2014

Beijing Bicycle (China, 2001)

Newly-arrived in Beijing, country boy Guei gets a job as a bicycle courier. But when his bike is stolen, he only manages to persuade his boss to let him keep the job by promising to track the bike down. After some searching, he finds it in the possession of schoolboy Jian and resolves to take it back. Over the following days, as the bicycle passes back and forth between them, the two boys find their fates being bound closer and closer together.

Beijing Bicycle tells a story about youth that's bleak as the bleakest of things. The plot might be a bit thin, but it's still an effective tale of adolescence that pulls no punches and isn't afraid of leaving its main characters in the dirt. It might be somewhat of a downer for viewers who need retribution and happy endings, but for others it certainly is a ride worth taking. A tragic ride on a bike. 

Genre: Drama

16 July 2014

Ilo Ilo (Singapore, 2013)

Set in Singapore, Ilo Ilo chronicles the relationship between the Lim family and their newly arrived maid, Teresa. Like many other Filipino women, she has come to this city in search of a better life. Her presence in the family worsens their already strained relationship. Jiale, the young and troublesome son, starts to form a unique bond with Teresa, who soon becomes an unspoken part of the family.

Ilo Ilo has a theme which has been covered before on this blog with films such as The Way Home (2002) and Kikujiro (1999), where a young boy is suddenly in the hands of a new caretaker and must come to terms with it. The director of the film has captured a growing friendship perfectly, and you would never guess that you'd hope for these two characters to stay together. A lot of heart in this one. 

Genre: Drama

14 July 2014

The Animatrix (U.S./Japan/South Korea, 2003)

The Animatrix is a collection of several animated short films, detailing the backstory of the "Matrix" universe, and the original war between man and machines which led to the creation of the Matrix.

Yes, some could argue that The Animatrix doesn't belong in an all-asian film blog, but I say otherwise. The Animatrix is like experiencing the world of The Matrix through a Japanese lens. Some of the top animation houses in Japan have contributed to this glorious Sci-Fi anthology, and I could name one of the stories in it that makes it well worth the watch alone. The animation range from great to frickin' amazing, and it's pretty much what you get if you'd give an animation studio the budget of a huge Hollywood blockbuster. 

There's a massive variety in the stories, being that it's nine different tales: we go from feudal Japan to a noir-style detective story, we get a history lesson from a cyber-Buddha about how the war between humans and machines began and we follow some kids as they stumble upon a glitch in the Matrix where objects are suspended in air.

Whether you're a big fan of The Matrix or not, you probably would say that the two sequels were subpar in comparison with the first one, but adding The Animatrix to the original trilogy, we at least can have two movies that's kick-ass. 

Genre: Animation/Action/Sci-Fi

2 July 2014

The Clone Returns Home (Japan, 2008)

Kohei Takahara, an astronaut who dies in the line of duty, is legally resurrected as a clone: however, contrary to the scientist's expectations, he reverts to his childhood memories when his twin brother drowned sacrificing his life for Kohei.

The Clone Returns Home is a thought-provoking, light sci-fi story that explores the right and wrongs of cloning, but above all it's a tale of two brothers that never got to grow up together. It has a relatively small cast, but makes up for it with great performances and some really, really lovely cinematography. There's a handful of scenes that was a pure joy to watch, and along with the beautiful music those moments really struck a chord with me. The scene where a human body is being grown and is viewed like from an X-ray was one of my favorites. All in all, just a lot of visual candy in this film. 

Maybe you know by now if you're interested or not in seeing this movie, but I urge you too give it a chance. It may have a bit of a slow tempo, but it's worth it all the way. 

Genre: Drama/Sci-Fi

29 June 2014

Moss (South Korea, 2010)

Ryu Hae-Kuk enters a reclusive country village to attend his father's funeral. During his stay he investigates the death of his father and uncovers what appears to be a conspiracy. Why do the villagers act so strange? Why do they keep asking him when he will return to Seoul? The man then confronts the village leader Cheon Yong-Deok. The secrets of the village then start to unravel...

I hope you are sitting comfortably, because Moss is an almost three hour long mystery that demands your full attention. I saw this film a couple of years ago and didn't think too much of it, but after re-watching it, I've come to the conclusion that it's a terrific and suspenseful story with a great setting. Many may be afraid of its running time, and yes it's long, but also well worth the trip to a remote village where a dark secret has been brewing for many years.

Genre: Crime/Mystery

27 June 2014

The Raid 2: Berendal (Indonesia, 2014)

Following immediately after the events of The Raid, Ram is forced to reinvent himself as an undercover cop in order to provide protection for his wife and child. Working for the anti-corruption taskforce led by the one person he can trust, Bunawar, he is given a mission to engage himself as an enforcer for a local mob boss, Bangun. Finding a way in through Bangun's son Uco, Rama must hunt for information linking Bangun with police force corruption.

The first The Raid made huge headlines in 2011 when it was unleashed upon the cowering cinemas all over the world, with critics saying it could be the best action film ever made. That is of course an overstatement, but it was certainly up there among the giants. The Raid 2 continues with the same formula, fight sequences upon fight sequences to beat the living crap out everyone and everything. 

You have to be in the mood for a lengthy and bloody brawl to appreciate this film, otherwise it may get a bit monotonous or too violent, depending on how sensitive you are. One thing I will say for sure is that it has one of the best car chase scenes ever put to film, how the camera moves around and the brutal action that keeps going on while speeding down the road, it's just crazy, gorgeous, all-out action and extremely exhilarating. If you want some of the best martial-arts performances in one giant fighting flick, check this one out. 

Genre: Action/Crime/Thriller

24 June 2014

The Face of Another (Japan, 1966)

A businessman facially scarred in a laboratory fire receives psychotherapy from a psychiatrist, and obtains an amazingly lifelike mask from the doctor. Strangely enough, his personality seemingly begins to change after he puts on the mask as if the mask has influenced his personality.

A fascinating film that deals with how society can treat the physically challenged. Even decades after its release, it still feels very relevant to our own time where looks and peoples appearances seem to be the most important. The Face of Another is riddled with great performances and fantastic scenes, and in the lead role we have Tatsuya Nakadai who's been classics such as High and Low (1963) and Harakiri (1962). It's one of the more well-known films from Japanese film history, but if you missed it, here's a reminder just for you. 

Genre: Drama

18 June 2014

White Night (South Korea, 2009)

A pawnbroker is found murdered in a remote town. Police suspect that he was murdered by an acquaintance, as even the most experienced investigator on the case could identify no signs of resistance. Three people come under suspicion but all of them have perfect alibis and the investigation comes to a standstill. Almost fifteen years pass and the lead inspector, now approaching retirement, reflects on the only case he could not solve in an otherwise successful career. Haunted by a sense of responsibility and guilt that he caused suffering by letting the murder case go unsolved, he decides to re-investigate.

White Night is one of the better thriller's I've seen in a long time. It has a great cast, stunning camera work and is just as intense and exciting you want a thriller to be. It's a little longer than two hours, so there's nothing undeveloped with these characters once we're through. Solid as a rock and tight as a drum, White Night is a fantastic and competent thriller that should not be missed by fans of the genre.

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

16 June 2014

The Concubine (South Korea, 2012)

To escape a life of poverty, Hwa-yeon is forced to offer herself as one of the king's concubines. Once inside the royal palace, two men are immediately captivated by her. The Grand Prince Seong-won, a powerful, lust filled megalomaniac and Kwon-yoo, who has everything to lose if his desire for Hwa-yeon is exposed.

Here's another historical costume drama for you, and a great one. The lust for revenge runs thick, no one know's who to trust and eventually, an intense power struggle is at hand. The Concubine is worth seeing a couple of times due to the somewhat intricate web of subplots and many scheming characters. Though it's done with such style and great photography that it won't be hard to give it another go. 

Genre: Drama/History

13 June 2014

The Life of Oharu (Japan, 1952)

A fifty-year-old prostitute, no longer able to attract men, looks back on her sad life. Once a lady-in-waiting at the imperial court at Kyoto, Oharu fell in love with, and became the lover of, a man below her station. They were discovered, and Oharu and her family were exiled. For Oharu there followed a life filled with one sorrow and humiliation after another.

Let's turn back the clock to 1952, a time that's often referred to as the Golden Age of Japanese cinema. Kenji Mizoguchi was one of the directors that made some of his most well-known pictures during this period, such as Ugetsu (1953) and Street of Shame (1956). He also made The Life of Oharu, a tough story about a woman who's life never seems to go in the right direction. Not much joy can be found in this tale, but if that isn't a problem for you, then you have a memorable classic in front of you.

Genre: Drama

11 June 2014

Untold Scandal (South Korea, 2003)

The irresistible temptress Lady Cho asks her cad of a younger cousin, Jo-won, to deflower the innocent young Soh-ok, who is to become her husband's concubine. But, his attentions soon shift to the graceful and aloof Lady Sook, who lives according to her convictions as a Catholic. Jo-won becomes obsessed with seducing this chaste woman who has remained celibate for nine years since her husband's death. However, conquering the most virtuous woman in the land proves to be more difficult than Chosun's notorious playboy expects.

Revolving mostly around two characters, Untold Scandal digs deep into the art of seduction, but with a few more wicked intentions than just love. See it if you want a costume drama with good actors and a love story with a little bit less love in it, but more spite. Oh, and the ending was really good, too.

Genre: Drama

10 June 2014

Unknown Pleasures (China, 2002)

Two unemployed slackers, neither with job prospects nor motivation, hang out in sheltered town in China trying to make sense of their aimless and uncertain futures. As youths, they struggle for individual freedom and the social responsibility that comes along with it.

With Unknown Pleasures, director Jia Zhangke (A Touch of Sin) wanted to portray the new generation that was emerging China, the so called "birth control" generation. These were kids who grew up in front of TV and computer screens and were fed with everything the media would allow. The whole film was shot only with a digital camera due to budget constraints, but I think it makes it more realistic without all the refining filters and whatnot. A great film showing how hard it can be growing up in a modern world, and not knowing where to belong. 

Genre: Drama

9 June 2014

Ugetsu Monogatari (Japan, 1953)

Genjuro is a potter who longs for wealth and luxury, while Tobei, a farmer, dreams of the glories of the samurai to the point of ignoring his wife. Though a war rages around them, they venture to town to sell their wares. Genjuro meets a beautiful woman and is immediately bewitched.

Ugetsu is one of the more well-known films in Japanese history, and it's often said to have popularized Japanese cinema in the west. A ghostly story where men's actions such as greed and violence have a horrible effect on the women. Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi, one of the greatest film makers of all time. 

 Genre: Drama/Fantasy/Mystery

7 June 2014

Like Father, Like Son (Japan, 2013)

The life of go-getting workaholic architect Ryotaone, of comfort and quietly ordered affluence with his wife Midori and son Keita, is violently overturned when hospital administrators reveal the unthinkable: Keita is not his biological son. Due to a mistake made by a negligent nurse, his "true" son has been raised in the dishevelled but warm-hearted home of working-class shopkeeper Yudai and his wife.

Finally one of my favorite Japanese directors, Hirokazu Koreeda, is back with another film. His work includes Nobody Knows (2004) and Still Walking (2008), among others. One thing that can be said of his films is that he always uses really good child actors, and that is once again true for Like Father, Like Son. That's fortunate because the plot is highly focused on two boys who are told they're in the wrong family. Koreeda is a very calm director, lots of static shots and when he moves the camera it's often very gentle and carefully done. Definitely one of the best drama movies of 2013, it's moving and features outstanding performances. Highly recommended. 

Genre: Drama

6 June 2014

The Way Home (South Korea, 2002)

Seven-year-old Sang-woo is left with his grandmother in a remote village while his mother looks for work. Born and raised in the city, Sang-woo quickly comes into conflict with his old-fashioned grandmother and his new rural surroundings. Disrespectful and selfish, Sang-woo lashes out in anger, perceiving that he has been abandoned. He trades his grandmother's only treasure for a video game; he throws his food and he throws tantrums. But then something happens, and Sang.woo starts to change. 

The Way Home is sure to melt every heart, even those that are made of stone. This is a simple but great film were young and old meets, and shows us that you don't have to be a certain age to know the importance of family. One thing of note is that the 78-year old woman who plays the grandmother never in her life had seen a film, yet the film is graced with very good acting. Amazing stuff. 

Genre: Drama

5 June 2014

Waterboys (Japan, 2001)

In a Japanese high school, a class of adolescent geeks joins the new synchronized swimming teacher and takes up the challenge to take part in the competition, in spite of the mockeries of the "real sportsmen".

Over the years, Waterboys has gained a huge fanbase, and I don't blame the in the slightest. It's a funny story that's quirky in a very Japanese sort of way. One thing that has been said about it numerous times is that it's humor resembles that of an anime almost, and uses many tropes that  is often seen in anime series. Check it out it you want something easy to watch and nothing too serious. 

Genre: Comedy/Sport

3 June 2014

The Harmonium in My Memory (South Korea, 1999)

Hong-yun is a high school girl in little mountain village when she falls head-over-heels for a handsome new school teacher, Mr. Jang. What with taking care of her youngest baby brother for her widowed mother and the impossible age difference, it is a roller-coaster ride for her as she tries to become someone special for Mr. Jang while he seems interested in the other new teacher at the school, Miss Yang.

The Harmonium in My Memory stars two fantastic actors in the lead roles: Byung-hun Lee who you might recognize from films such as A Bittersweet Life (2005) and I Saw the Devil (2010), and  Jeon Do-yeon, who's starred in great films like Happy End (1999) and Secret Sunshine (2007). This could have been just another romance film, but fortunately, they turned down the age of the love interest to seventeen and placed her in a messy high school. A fun love story with an age gap, this should be your next film if you want something lighthearted and sweet.

Genre: Drama/Romance

2 June 2014

This Transient Life (Japan, 1970)

Set around a remote Buddhist monastery, it features Masao, a young son of a rich merchant who doesn't want to follow his father into business or go to college, preferring to study under a famous Master how to make statues of the Goddess of Mercy. At the same time, his sister Yuri is struggling to find a potential husband, only for it to explode when their horseplay in masks one day leads to an incestuous consummation that brings disaster to all. 

This Transient Life (a.k.a. Mujo) may be hard for some viewers to get into. Not only does in delve deep into existentialism, incest and religion, but it does so for about two and a half hours. It got some great cinematography and screenplay, so if you're in the mood for something heavy, check this one out. 

Genre: Drama

1 June 2014

Samurai Rebellion (Japan, 1967)

During peace in 1725, aging swordsman Isaburo is living a henpecked life when his clan lord requests that Isaburo's son marry the lord's mistress, with whom he's displeased, even though she's born him a son. Isaburo wants to refuse, but his son Yogoro accepts the woman, Ichi, and they fall deeply in love. Their love renews Isaburo, so when the clan lord's elder son dies and the lord sends for Ichi to return to his side as mother of his heir, Isaburo opposes his lord, and his father will have none of it.

Toshiro Mifune has starred in a lot of samurai flicks, Seven Samurai (1954), Yojimbo (1961) and Sanjuro (1962) to name a few of my favorites, and here's another one. If you're into this genre, there's a good chance you'll fall for this one. It's not an action oriented samurai film, but a great portrayal of an event that sparks a feud between samurai clans. 

Genre: Drama

31 May 2014

Double Suicide (Japan, 1969)

In 18th Century in Japan, the paper merchant Jihei falls in love for the courtesan Koharu, but he can not afford to redeem her from her master and owner of the brothel, since he spent all his money in the place with Koharu. Jihei's wife Osan tries to keep her husband with his two children and asks Koharu to leave him. The two lovers make a pact of double suicide to escape from the rigid rules of the Japanese society of 1720 and stay together after death.

Double Suicide is based on an old play that was normally performed with puppets. Here, the puppets have been replaced with real actors, but the concept remains the same. Black-clad puppet masters is often seen in the background, hiding in the shadows and controlling the fate of the actors. You could call this a puppet play without strings, a really cool idea.   

Genre:  Drama

30 May 2014

When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (Japan, 1960)

This is the story of Mama, a.k.a. Keiko, a middle-aged bar hostess who must choose to either get married or buy a bar of her own. Her family hounds her for money, her customers for her attention, and she is continually in debt. The life of a bar hostess is examined as well as the way in which the system traps and sometimes kills those in it.

Through smoky hostess clubs and deep pitfalls of debts we follow a woman who tries to break free from the chains that holds her, played by Hideko Takamine (Twenty-Four Eyes). It's a great portrayal of a woman's role in a society such as Tokyo in the fifties, were the biggest lust of all were the lust for money. 

Genre: Drama

29 May 2014

An Actor's Revenge (Japan, 1963)

While performing in a touring kabuki troupe, leading female impersonator Yukinojo comes across the three men who drove his parents to suicide twenty years earlier, and plans his revenge, firstly by seducing the daughter of one of them, secondly by ruining them.

A tale of vengeance, lies, deceit and murder. An Actor's Revenge is a powerful story about a man who's whole being is to seek revenge for his parents death. A lot of really stylistic imagery and settings drastically improves the themes involving actors and theaters. I like how the leading actor plays two different roles, something I don't think was very common back then. A recommended classic.

Genre: Drama

27 May 2014

Helpless (South Korea, 2012)

A woman suddenly disappears. Her fiance then sets out to find her and, in the process, uncovers layers of dark hidden secrets. One month prior to Moon-Ho and Sun-Young's wedding, they take a road trip to Andong. Moon-Ho plans to formally introduce his fiance to his parents. Along the way to Andong, they pull over at a highway rest stop. Moon-Ho goes inside, while Sun-Young waits in the car. When Moon-Ho arrives back at his car, he discovers that his fiance has now completely disappeared. Frantic, Moon-Ho looks all over the rest stop, but Sun-Young is nowhere to be found.

I love being surprised in films, especially when I think I know what's going on and imagines how it's going to end. Helpless threw a curveball at me and sent me back to square one. The suspense and thrills had me in a tight grip, and I couldn't wait to find out how this search for a lost woman would end.  Great performances, also. A kidnapping mystery may sound somewhat done to death, but I really liked this one. 

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

25 May 2014

Hwayi: A Monster Boy (South Korea, 2013)

A 5 member gang, led by Seok-Tae, kidnaps a baby boy named Hwa-Yi and raises the baby like their own son. The baby boy is now 17 years old and he has been trained to become a lethal killer. Taking part with his fathers in his first murder, Hwa-Yi learns something about his own past. Hwa-Yi pulls out his gun to find out who he really is.

With a title like that, I didn't know what to expect, but as it turns out, this film was a great thriller that stood out from the ordinary. Some twists and turns keeps it interesting throughout the whole film and the action sequences are nicely done. It was directed by the same man who made the immensely popular Save the Green Planet ten years earlier, so it was about time he came back. Original and dark, A Monster Boy should not disappoint

Genre: Action/Thriller

A City of Sadness (Hong Kong/Taiwan, 1989)

A meditative look into the country’s transition from the end of Japanese occupation in 1945, to its secession from mainland China in 1949 and beginning of nearly 40 years of martial law. Formally rigorous approach, along with a contemplative and mournful tone, were used for chronicling how each seemingly positive development, which, at that point, provided reason for hope for a more peaceful future, eventually always led to tragedy.

A City of Sadness is a striking story about one family's journey through some of the hardest years in Taiwanese history. In one of the main roles we have the outstanding Tony Leung, who's been in great films like In the Mood for Love (2000) and 2046 (2004). This film is spoiled with great actors who give much credibility to some really horrific events, and watching this film feels like an essential cultural achievement.  

Genre: Drama

23 May 2014

Café Lumière (Japan, 2003)

In a residential Tokyo neighborhood, Yoko, a young freelance writer defies her strongly traditional parents with news that she is pregnant and has no desire to marry the father. She calmly accepts this reality and stoically deals with the worried reactions of her family. In an effort to alleviate her loneliness, she befriends the owner of a second-hand bookstore. He falls in love with her, but keeps his feelings silent. Gradually, Yoko begins to re-evaluate everything in her life in this meditative masterpiece of young urban solitude.

Hou Hsiao-hsien pays homage to one of the greatest film makers in Japanese history, Yasujiro Ozu, who gave us such classics as Tokyo Story (1953) and Floating Weeds (1959). If you aren't familiar with Ozu's work, you won't spot the film style that director Hou is going for, but let me tell you, he really nailed it. Often the camera is placed at low height, and rarely does it move. Some of my favorite scenes is the static shots of the city districts where the trains pass each other and continues on their way into dark tunnels below the cramped buildings, really beautiful in a certain way, and so alike Ozu's way of shooting buildings or other objects in his transitions between scenes. 

All this camera goodness is really just the tip of the iceberg for me, because in front of the lens we have a subtle, fantastic drama. Tadanobu Asano (Ichi the Killer) plays one of the main roles, a man who goes around recording the sounds of trains. Yes, really. I can't recommend this film enough, so if you're in the mood for a film that takes it time, watch this meditative and lovely movie now.

Trains are a big part of Café Lumière, in a strangely subduing kind of way.

Genre: Drama