Sunday, February 10, 2008

Short Reviews

I used to be a film critic for a lifestyle website, and if you know me at all, you know me loves ze filmses. Here is a short, unedited ramble about why you should watch my top three.

1. Hero (China, 2002)

The most beautiful film ever made. Christopher Doyle's cinematographic artistry combines with the vision of Zhang Yimou and the martial arts perfection that is Jet Li to create, in effect, the world's premier piece of cinematic history. Hero is a story told in colours that develops with Byzantine twists and turns in the style of Rashômon, rending the heart with its beautiful tale.

The King of the Kingdom of Qin (Chen Da Ming) receives word that lowly county sheriff with no name (Jet Li) has fought and defeated the three greatest warriors of the neighbouring kingdom of Zhao, Flying Snow (In the Mood of Love's Maggie Cheung), Broken Sword (Infernal Affair's Tony Leung Chi Wai) and Sky (Donnie Yen).

The nameless warrior is received into the court as the head of ten thousand families, sitting but paces from the King. From this vantage point, the nameless warrior tells his lord of the story of how he conquered the three warriors using love and hate.

The King of Win is no fool and realises that the nameless warrior's tale is a complete lie - and the King believes that he has the true story figured out. All is not as it seems - the truth is an elusive quarry.

From the tale told, all will learn that the greatest hero is one that does not fight, and that true understanding is achieved without violence.

But for those who live in a world ravaged by war and plagued by the sword, it takes a great hero to find a love that lasts beyond life, to find a meaning beyond the endless bloodshed, and to find perfection in all arts.

This is Hero.

No shot is wasted, from Moon's (Zhang) single rolling tear drop after her master's ultimate betrayal of her innocence, to a perfect shot of Flying Snow and Broken Sword as peaceful, warrior-scholar lovers. The cinematography is unmatched, and the script represents two years of work from China's greatest filmmaker, so it is sure to not disappoint.

Yes, there are undertones of totalitarianism in implicit support for the reign of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China, but to dislike this film for such petty political reasons to deprive yourself of truly great art, and blind yourself to deeper meaning.


2. The King and the Clown (Korea, 2005)

Wang-eui Nam-ja is, without a doubt, Korea's greatest film. In a nation whose cultural phenomenon known as Hallyu is sweeping across the world, proving so popular that some Asian countries are attempting to curb the one-way flow of this marginal imperialism, we have something truly worthy of importing.

My mind is still boggling.

Korea is the origin of many a fluffy romantic drama and chiseled popstar. Who would have known that amongst the "My Sassy Girl"'s and the violent meaninglessness of various wannabe Beat Takeshi films such as "Old Boy" there would be my number two pick? This film has won pretty much every Korean award there is, and a few international ones to boot. It's a damn shame that they didn't run it in Cannes.

The literal translation of the Korean, Japanese (王の男) and Chinese (王的男人) titles of this film are "All the King's Men" or "The King's Man" - a more poetic and deserving title than the English, evoking exactly its original eponymous pun. Wang-eui Nam-ja is a heart-rending tragedy in the finest Shakespearean tradition, updated for modern sensibilities and set in Korea's most popularised period, the turbulent Chosun Dynasty, during the reign of King Yeonsangun of Joseon.

It is a tale of two street entertainers, Jang-Seng (Gam Wu-seong) and Gong-Gil (Lee Jun Ki), who escape life in a circus under a heavy-handed circus owner, who pimps out the (male) feminine actor Gong-gil to bisexual barons and petty landlords who are curious about the man who would act like a woman. Jan Seng is Gong Gil's unspoken protector and friend and eventually convinces the other to escape from the traveling troupe.

Do not be so small minded as to let that confused gender bending turn of events put you off. Lee Jun Ki's performance is spellbinding, as an actor who, who specialises in female characters, moving and talking and acting so much like a female one wonders whether he truly is male. A scene in particular, played out over grassy field, where the two runaways deal with their worries and fears by falling back on the only reassurance they know - acting it out in a beautiful, poignant and multi-layered ad-lib play about two blind old men.

Things take a turn for the better when the two entertainers flee the clutches of the old circus master and get to Seoul. They manage to out dance, out sing, out perform all the rival entertainment there, and begin a show that directly mocks the King and his sexual obsession with his mistress - a fact widely known in gossip circles. But mocking the powerful has its price, and the two are drawn into powerful palace intrigues and yet another show of masks and acting - the true story of the man behind the throne, with all its human complexity.

Do not miss this goddamn film.


3. Fight Club, (Hollywood, 1999)

Do you really need a review to see this film?

It is not, as most women seem to believe before watching it, some kind of macho guys only beat-em-up film. Blame that on the stupendously stupid marketing campaign.

As an underground DVD hit, Fight Club is the story of the modern man, raised by the single mum and struggling to find meaning behind service desks and collared shirts. It is the ranting, raging, powerful outpouring of a generation that sees no salvation of the nation, no hope in god, no struggle in war. In the words of Tyler Durden:

"We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War's a spiritual war... our Great Depression is our lives. We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off. "

How would one act in a society that places self perfection, the feminisation and the taming of man, as the end goal of human progress? Indeed, very pissed off.

It's Fight Club. You really don't need me to explain more.


The others, which I will get around to at some point in time:

4. The Road Home (China, 1999)
5. The Jammed, (Australia, 2007)
6. All about Lily Chou Chou (Japan, 2001)
7. LoTR Trilogy (2001-03)
8. Once Upon a Time in China (HK, 1991)
9. Star Wars Eps 5,4,6 (1977-83)
9.5: (NEW) Lust, Caution
10. Matrix (1999)
11. In the Mood for Love (HK, 2000)
12. Miracles (HK, 1989)
13. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (Japan, 1984)
14. To Live (1994)
15. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
16. A Very Long Engagement (France 2004)
17. Dead Poets Society, by Peter Wier (1989)
18. Zoolander (2001)
19. The Wind that Shakes the Barley (Ireland ,2006)
20. The Incredibles, by Pixar (2004)
21. Toy Story 1&2, by Pixar (1995, 1999)
22. The Gangs of New York (2002)
23. The Pianist (2002)
24. Troy (2007)
25. Infernal Affairs (2002)
26. Being John Malkovich (1999)

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