Sunday, February 26, 2006

Seventeen Years

Seventeen Years by Zhang Yuan (1999).

Yu Zhenggao and Tao Airong are a remarried couple. Each one of them has a daughter of the same age. However they constantly argue for no specific reasons, and the two sisters are different in their characters. Yu's daughter, Xiaoqin, is a studious, quiet girl whereas Tao's daughter, Tao Lan, is an outgoing girl. One day, another quarrell bursts when Xiaoqin stole 5 yuans that her father had left on the table. But, the money is found on Tao Lan's bed, and Tao is accused of being the thief. The mother gets angry with her daughter. Tao Lan runs off. She comes across Xiaoqin and hits her with a piece of wood. Xiaoqin dies...
Seventeen years later, Tan Lao is still in prison but because she was rewarded for having a good behaviour, she is picked up with only a few others amongst all the female inmates to spare the Spring Festival with her family. Tan Lao is now a woman, but a completely broken, silent and faded woman. Nobody is there to meet her at the prison's entrance. The police woman who sees her at the station decides to accompany her to her family...
This movie won many awards at international film festivals and was allowed to be screened in China (his previous films were forbidden, now all his current films are authorized). It's a particularly moving film - and be prepared to have tissues or hankerchieves next to you! But I loved the scenes when the policewoman and Tao Lan walk across the city, they are very good portraits of urban environment, also all the actors are excellent and, of course, the final part is rather touching, even if quite dramaticly tense, but very well played and well shot. Zhang Yuan subtely depicts the relationships between the characters without explaining too much.
This kind of close and intimate relationships will be seen again in I Love You.

Other Zhang Yuan's films seen so far :
Beijing Bastards (1993)
East Palace West Palace (1996)
Crazy English (1999) although quite loosely - documentary about a guy who teaches English in a special method - after awhile I got a bit bored, it was on tv once, I knew afterwards that he directed it.
I Love You (2003)
Green Tea (2003)
also a revolutionary opera that he filmed but this is never mentioned, I saw it when it wasn't supposed to be shown at the festival.
His lastest film is Little Red Flowers (2006).

Labels: ,

Monday, February 20, 2006

some HK comedies

some HK comedies......

Of course the king of comedy in HK is Stephen Chow Sing Chi.
2 other of his movies seen lately :
Fight Back to School (Gordon Chan, 1991), this one is so funny from the music to the situation and the acting.
Love in delivery (1994, Lee Lik-Chee, Stephen Chow) - the Garfield superhero is great! So silly and funny.

Stephen Chow Movies seen :
Legend of Dragon - (1990, Danny Lee) naive and cute
Fight Back to School (1991, Gordon Chan) extremely funny
King of Beggars (1992, Gordon Chan) quite good
Justice, My Foot! (1992, Johnnie To) okay
Flirting Scholar (1993, Lee Lik-Chee) funny
The Mad Monk (1993, Johnnie To) okay
Love on Delivery (1994, Lee Lik-Chee, Stephen Chow) funny
From Beijing with Love (1994, Lee Lik-Chee, Stephen Chow) so, so - parody of 007
A Chinese Odyssey Part 1 (1995, Jeff Lau) extremely funny
A Chinese Odyssey Part 2 (1995, Jeff Lau) the best - still my favourite
Sixty Million Dollar Man (1995, Wong Jing, Raymond Yip) messy
God of Cookery (1996, Lee Lik-Chi, Stephen Chow) good and funny
King of Comedy (1999, Lee Lik-Chi, Stephen Chow) good
Shaolin Soccer (2001, Stephen Chow) very funny and good
Kung Fu Hustle (2004, Stephen Chow) funny

Although I'm rather sure it wasn't intended to be as comical as it was, The Magic Crane by Benny Chan, a Tsui Hark production of 1993 turned out to be funny.
It's a wu xia / fantasy. Starring Anita Mui, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Rosamund Kwan, Damian Lau and others.
I must admit that the movie is hard to follow, well not that the story is complicated, because it isn't (basically a gathering of all martial arts school of China, but each school wants to take over, then you've got a subplot with a master - Damian Lau - who left his daughter - Rosamund Kwan - and kept the other as a student - Anita Mui).
But it's all over the place, and messy with all those flyings, fightings in the air done so fast that you haven't got time to realize that it's nearly the end.... and the special effects are cheap and overdone, the actual giant crane - because yes there is one - is laughable.
However, the movie is enjoyable, I had a few laughs too especially at the end, Tony Leung is quite funny too.

Jeff Lau's A Chinese Tall Story. (2005)
Another wacky adventures with the main characters from classic novel Journey to the West, A Chinese Tall Story focuses on Tang Monk Tripitaka.
So different from the Chinese Odyssey movies (the ones with Stephen Chow & the 2002 one), and less funny. There are some very stupid parts that are so silly that they are funny and I did laugh, but firstly, it's too much special effects - sometimes it's even too much like a video game - and there isn't the same energy, spontaneity than in the others.
As for the cast, well, Charlene Choi doesn't do much to me, Nicolas Tse was okay ... I guess. And the others didn't do much to me either, glad to see Wong Yat-Fei & Ng Man-Tat, Stephen Chow's pals, and Fan Bing-Bing - who I've never seen before - has a nice face, delicate features.

Not HK, but since it's also a comedy, another Asian comedy seen recently :
Kamikaze Girls (Japan, 2004, Tetsuya Nakashima)
Quite liked it, it's very silly, but the two girls have plenty of energy and they did very well together, they're a truely good pair. Good enjoyable, fun movie.


Friday, February 17, 2006

Public Toilet, Princess Aurora, A Letter from an Unknown Woman

Three Asian Movies....

Public Toilet (2002, Fruit Chan).
After viewing Hong Kong - Hollywood, I watched Public Toilet.
I'm surprised of how many people disliked it and how many bad reviews it received. Sure, it's not perfect, and I found it a bit too long, a bit too over the place (you're in India, Korea, NY, Beijing, HK, even very shortly in Rome...).
But I like the way it was filmed, with a digital camera and the idea is quite good and some scenes quite inventive. There are many characters in various locations but what makes the link is the fact that they all wander at some point around different places from the world looking for miracle cures for their terminally ill beloveds. Also they all have toilet connections (well we all do). The one who makes even more the link with is Tong from Beijing who was born in a public toilet, and was surnamed the God of the Toilet. As usual some funny and odd parts, but it should have been shorter.

Fruit Chan movies seen :
Made in Hongkong - 1997 (still favourite)
Little Cheung - 1999
Durian Durian - 2000
Hollywood Hongkong - 2001
Public Toilet - 2002
Dumplings (short) - 2004

Princess Aurora (Bang Eun-jin, 2005, South Korea)
I thought it was really disappointing and unconvincing. I don't know if this movie was made before Sympathy for Lady Vengeance or what but here again we have a woman, a killer who seeks for revenge after her 6 year old daughter got kidnapped, raped and killed. I start to get fed up with those types of vengeances which I found quite ambigious and too easy. I got less and less interested by the movie as the story went on and it seems to me that the stylish cinematography only wants to make us forget the lack of content and the lack of character development but more than anything that the movie is rather a failure.

Best to finish with a much better film..

A Letter from an Unknown Woman by Xu Jinglei, 2004.
Xu Jinglei who is also an actress chose Stephen Zweig adaptation for her second movie direction. I first saw her as an actress in movies Spring Subway and I Love You, which I found, she was a very good actress in two different roles but two movies about love. For this movie she is also the leading actress next to Jiang Wen, and deals also about love, lost love in a very melancholy manner. The story is told in flashback with the voice-over and can be divided into 3 parts (when she first met him when she was an young adolescent in the beginning of the 30s, when she was a student at the end of the 30s and when she became a more mature, sophisticated woman at the end of WW2). The movie is very classical, but subtle and refined, the music and the cinematography (shot by Mark Lee Ping Bin, HHH cinematographer, very characteristic here, he also shot Springtime in a Small Town, which has also a similar cinematography, with some very beautiful interiors) contribute to this elegant direction.


Sunday, February 12, 2006

Directors Lounge 2006

Directors Lounge - February, 9 - 19. 2006 - Berlin

Directors Lounge shows collections of short, experimental works from many different genres. Special screenings feature highlights of experimental cinema, explore new trends in video-art and emphasize the role of independent filmmaking in culturspecific enviroments.

2nd edition : Directors Lounge 2006 at a glance facts and highlights

Karl-Marx-Allee 137, 10243 Berlin
next to the north-tower of Frankfurter Tor
Metro Frankfurter Tor U5 Tram M10
opening hours from 6pm open end screenings start 6.30 pm, 8.30 pm, 10 pm and 12 pm

No admission fee

specials, features, highlights

opening night : Thursday 9th february
- Worldpremiere Not This War by Dan Hubp, US
- Worldpremiere Mannaka No Ie (The House In The Middle) by André Werner, D
- German premiere The Holocaust Tourist by Jeremy "Jes" Benstock,GB
Mr. Benstock comes from London to join us this night.
- Lounge-tunes by Djane Ilka

NoMasala friday 10th february 8.30 pm, 10 pm
Experimental short films from India. Presented by NoMasala in cooperation with mocha-filmclub, Mumbai

Forming Motion: Animated Artistic Experiments curated by Kim Collmer, with assistance by Microcinema sunday 12th and monday 13th february, 10 pm

Intimate Journey curated by Lynn Loo monday 13th february, 8.30 pmFilms inspired by travels. Independent filmmakers share visual expressions of their individual journeys.

Words about moving movies monday 13th february, 9.30 pma lecture by Cosima Reif, pure chance-artist from Vienna

Electronic painting – videos and installations curated by Daniela Butsch tuesday 14th february 8.30 pm, 10 pm

View05 Weather Report Finnish Videoart compiled by AV-arkki wednesday 15th february 8.30 pm, 10 pm, 12 pm

Yunnan Arts University, class Xiang Weixing curated by Daniela Butsch thursday 16th february 6.30 pm

CANDELA ! Cuban side-tracks curated by Kristin Bergaust friday 17th february 8.30 pm

An evening with aE3 friday 17th february 10 pmMultimedia-artist aE3 from Nantes, France will personaly introduce his work

Urban research curated by Klaus W. Eisenlohr an indeep compilation of videos and films dealing with aspects of urban living. 7 screenings read more

Farewell Party – liveacts, highlights and surprises our lips are sealed. sunday 19th february all night long

Installations and video loops
The complete program :
Watch videos and shorts screened now at Directors Lounge online :

Labels: ,

Notes on some Asian films

A few Asian movies seen lately... (bis)

even shorter thoughts! May develop a bit more later...

One Nite in Mongkok by Derek Yee (2004-HK) with Cecilia Cheung, Daniel Wu - well told story, good crime film in a rather realistic manner. I enjoyed it.

Shanghai Dreams by Wang Xiaoshuai (2005, China) - set at the beginning of the 80s in Guizhou province. In the 60s, a large amount of families left Chinese cities to settle in the poorer regions of the country in order to develop local industry. Well shot and well played, but I think I prefered Drifters (although there is a similar tone I found).

Chicken Poets by Meng Jinghui (2002, China)
Meng Jinghui is an avant garde stage director and Chicken Poets was his debut film.
The film tells the story of unsuccessful, defeated and dissatisfied poet Ouyang Yunfei who admires the Russian poet Mayakovsky. As he arrives in a town near Beijing to see his old classmate who now breeds black chicken, he meets Fang Fang, a color-blind lonely young woman who works at the airport.
The film offers some odd situations and is rather bitter mixed with a certain light irony (which gives a tone that can often be found in Mainland Chinese films), the words are condensed, succint and sharp and the images are very well-composed sometimes dreamlike using nice imagery and visual effects. More than anywathing the two leading actors are great. Very good film!!

Hong Kong - Hollywood by Fruit Chan (Three Extremes, Made in HK...) made in 2002 starring the delightful Zhou Xun.

When I watched Dumplings of 3 Extremes, I found a bit strange that Fruit Chan was making a gory horror film since the 3 other movies I've seen before weren't at all horror or gory. Fruit Chan is one of the very few independent filmmakers in Hong Kong who doesn't follow the HK star-system since most of his actors/tresses are non-professional or unknown. In Hollywood Hongkong though there is the Mainland actress Zhou Xun who at the time got revealed with a great Mainland Chinese movie, Suzhou River (2000).

The movie is interesting and contains several sub-stories, displaying a gallery of characters, all portrayed realistically. I actually really like how he films the urban environment, a quality that he proved in his previous movies.
The film opens with the opening credits orginally done showing pieces of dead pigs ready to be cooked with red labels containing the credits.Then you have the family portrait : Little brother, Big brother and Father who live in the dilapidated Tai Hom and run a barbecue pork restaurant. They have their own pigs, including one called Mama. One of their neighbours is a young skinny 19 year old pimp, Keung, who gets his business from internet but more from the locals (father pork butcher). Keung meets a young beautiful Mainland prostitute (Zhou Xun), Fong Fong. When Fong Fong arrives in Tai Hom, she meets the family butcher and introduces herself as Tung Tung. She charms them all but you know there is something suspicion behind all this....

As I've said there are many sub-plots and details and in a rather dark humour tone, there is something that I could related to 3 Extremes : firstly, the most obvious one is the Mainland doctor, who wants to make some strange experiments with Mama (the pig, well the female pig) and this special type of dark humour.


Notes on some Asian films

A few Asian movies seen lately...

I've been watching several films lately, just too lazy to write about them. Very brief thoughts of two Japanese movies:

Pastoral: To Die In the Country by Shuji Terayama (1974).
It's hard to describe the movie, but it's based upon his adolescence in a community in the countryside. It gives his interrogation between his work, autobiographical work, what's fictive, what's real and at the same time his relation with his youth and particularly with his mother. The movie itself delivers a succession of oniric, surrealist imagery, I particularly liked the circus scenes. Great images and compositions and nice use of colours.

Ecstasy of the Angels by Koji Wakamatsu (1972)
I felt a certain I really like especially for its content, much more political and engaged than Go Go second Time Virgin. The film deals with a group of radical anarchists "the soldiers of the 4 seasons" , in which each of one of them uses code names based on the days of the week or the names of the months. The October group was in charge to steal the US weaponery in order to commit terrorist acts. But the mission tuned out badly and since then the group takes distance from the organization. Shot in a contrasted black and white, there are some brief uses of colour every now and then, and the sexual and violent imagery is mixed with its political engagement .