Tuesday, January 31, 2012

New York International Children's Film Festival tickets are on sale


Go here now.

Thats the link to the schedule for this years NYICFF. It will also allow you to buy tickets. I know the website says in some places February 1 but it says on sale now on the top of the front page. I also just got the schedule in the mail, so I'm guessing the big reveal has come early.

This is great news and you really want to get tickets.

DO NOT LET THE CHILDREN IN THE TITLE FOOL YOU, THIS IS A GREAT FILM FESTIVAL FOR ADULTS. I mean that with all sincerity and seriousness. Randi and I have had tickets for every festival since they started, so if there is one thing I know, without a doubt, the festival is all about good films, not kids films. Yes, the films are geared for families, but at the same time that doesn't mean they are just for kids. How else do you explain films like 5 Centimeters a Second from a couple years back, which works as both a kids film and as an aching look back at paths not chosen that rocks a adults.

This year the selections are killer. Its full of great films across the board so you really need to make an effort to see as much of the good stuff as possible. Take a look at the schedule and I'm sure you'll find something you want to see since it's the best programmed festival yet.

You want highlights? Here are some of the films that I'm looking forward to:

The Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Below, the newest film from Makoto Shinkai the director of the masterpiece films 5 Centimeters a Second and Voices From a Distant Star. A chance to see any film by this director is a treat.

The Beatles in both Yellow Submarine (sadly only one showing) and Hard Days Night. Yellow Submarine has always been a huge favorite of mine and the chance to see it big is a treat.

They are running Toys in the Attic, the English dubbed version of In the Attic or Who Has A Birthday which was one of the first films reviewed here at Unseen. It blew me away and is proof that sometimes treasures lie in unexpected places. My original review is here, Simply put this is one of the best animated films you'll ever see, and three years on the film is still with me. The chance to see it again is an absolute unexpected pleasure. Believe me you DO want to see this, even if you think you don't.

They are running Ninja Kids!!! which played last years NYAFF. Mondocurry and myself both reviewed it. Mondocurry's review can be found here, while my review (which was buried in a review of 22 NYAFF films) can be read below:

Takashi Miike's adaptation of the anime series is one of the best anime to live action films as you'll ever see. Keeping the weird designs of characters (many have distorted facial features) the film has the feeling of a cartoon come to life. The film follows Rantaro, the son of an ex-ninja now farmer as he goes to the ninja academy.

Its a kids film for real kids since it's full of jokes about farts, snot and dog poop...

Not only one of the best film of the festival it is easily one of my favorites of the whole year. Mondocurry said to me after the screening that if I said anything other than I loved the film he would have called me a liar. I loved the film. If you can, score tickets to see this.


As I said in the NYAFF review, I'm trying to figure out how I can see both of the screenings and still have time to eat.

Again don't take my word for it read Mondocurry's piece as well.

The opening night film is A Monster in Paris. I've heard the film is good, and I'll be there simply because it's the opening night and those are always a blast.

The special events are not to be missed especially the chance to see Aardman's The Pirates!Band of Misfits in 3D as well as Michael Ocelot's Tales of the Night.

Frequently and very mistakenly overlooked are the short film collections. GO SEE THESE. Oscar winners come out of them, not only that there are great films hidden in them that you might never get to see. The shorts are always fantastic.

As always get your tickets sooner than later- the screenings almost always sell out WAY in advance.

Lastly don't get upset if you can't see everything. Its not physically possible. Not only do some screenings over lap, the locations are all over Manhattan so you may very well end up not being able to get from one place to another. (The geographical diversity of the festival is the one thing that makes me crazy)

Look, choose, go and see.

Going in this seems like it's going to be the best year yet.

Club Paradise


Robin Williams and Jimmy Cliff star in a film is another one of those films I stop to watch when I run across it on TV.

The plot has injured Chicago fire fighter Robin Williams heading off to the islands to recover. Finding he likes the warm weather and the location he along with buddy Cliff decide to open a resort. As the tourists arrive and try to deal with the misleading accommodations, developers wanting to take over the island arrive and begin to bribe the local officials to get there way.

Ruckus but gentle comedy kind of went nowhere when it played in theaters. However on home video, where I first discovered this gem of a film, it was a hit Back in my video store days this was a perennial renter with the film going in and out even when the film hit cable and went into it’s time on eternal rotation.

For me the film works not so much because the script is good, it’s only okay, rather the film works because the cast lead by Williams and Cliff and including Rick Moranis, Peter O’Toole, Twiggy, Adolph Cesar, Brian Doyle Murray,Eugene Levy, Robin Duke and Andrea Martin sell the nonsense. Its clear that the cast is having a blast so it translates into we the audience having a similar good time.

As I will say about many of the films this week, they aren’t high art, but they are good fun. Actually the best thing I can say about this film is that its so non-taxing that it makes you forget your worries like a great vacation will…however unlike a trip to the islands this vacation can be repeated as often as you want just by hitting the start button to replay the film.

Monday, January 30, 2012

High Risk (1981)


We begin this week of atypical vacation films with one of the first films I ever recorded when I got a VCR. I discovered this neat little film thanks to it being a Siskel and Ebert pick of the week way back when they were first doing their TV show.

The plot of this film has James Brolin and his friends deciding to go on a little hunting trip down to South America where they will rob a drug lord of his money and then go home. The idea is that it’s going to be a quick in and out. As you might expect things go sideways from the get go and they are soon running for their lives from everyone who wants the money for themselves.

Played for some laughs as well as suspense the film is a grand romp that will leave you smiling when it finishes running out its breezy 90 minutes. One of the huge pluses in the film is that the film doesn’t have a nasty edge that many other directors would have used. The film is light and bright and not what you think of when you think of an action film.

Also helping the film immensely is the cast- Brolin, Clevon Little, Lindsey Wagner, Bruce Davidson, Anthony Quinn, James Coburn, Ernest Borgnine, and Chick Vennera who sell every minute of the film and make you feel that they were doing this for more than a pay check.

High art it’s not. It is a great little film that is perfect for a rainy Saturday on the couch with a bowl of popcorn and a soda

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Sunday Nightcap 1/29/12 Joann Sfar, Adele Blanc-sec, Patton Oswalt and gushing on things I love


Time for our typical Sunday night ramble...

Wednesday night Randi and I attended the penultimate night of the New York Jewish Film Festival and their screening of Joann Sfar Draws From Memory (it was paired with the Silent Historian but because of car problems I had to bail before that or else miss my train home). The film is 49 minutes of artist and film director Sfar talking about drawing. Its Sfar in cafes, cabs and at home talking about what he draws and why.

I’m very mixed on the film.

The problems with the film are both technical and organizational.

Organizationally the film tells you very little about Sfar and his work other than how he does it and in a few cases what he’s drawn. We only know what he tells up and outside of some of his work it’s eye droppered out. There is no context, there is no attempt at organizing anything it’s Sfar just talking. Yes its interesting, but since I only learned of him from his film Gainsbourg I have no context to his life and art. Worse he mentions that he’s done 150 books, and we only see a few of his stories, and only those that are tied to his life and heritage.

But even his heritage isn't really explained. Outside of being from Algerian father, an Eastern European Mother, and a coquettish grandmother his life and family, which influences his work, isn't really explained. There is a comment that the Rabbi’s Cat is him poking fun at his father's religion but then it doesn’t explain his feelings or what that entails. Ultimately if you don’t know him you’re SOL. (In it's defense since looking on line I find that Sfar's background is not well explained anywhere in at least in English).

Technically the film suffers from horrible subtitling. Randi and I don’t speak French and we could tell some of what was subtitled wasn’t what was said. Worse the subtitling is incomplete with Sfar talking talking talking and only part of it being subtitled.

Carrying that theme further the film is full of Sfar’s comics, all of it in French, but only a few lines are translated. How can we understand what people see in Sfar’s work when we don’t know what he’s written? As with the translation of Sfars words, the written text frequently caused laughter and a reaction in some members of the audience who understood French, but blank stares from those of use who had to rely on the subtitles.

To me the film is a draft. It needs a good going over by someone who isn’t so close to its subject.

Onward and upward...

For those looking for another reason to track down The Adventures of Adele Blanc Sec which I reviewed back in January of last year, sans subtitles, Eden has reviewed the film at her own blog, Comicsgirl. The piece can be found here.

I was going write up the Oscar nominations but for the most part there wasn’t anything too exciting. Outside of Chico and Rita and the Cat in Paris getting nominations I really not that that excited by any of them.

There are however two things that I do want to mention.

First off Steven Spielberg’s War Horse should, must… win for best cinematography. This is one of the best looking films you’ll ever see. It raises it all to a high art. England, Europe and World War One never looked so lovely. I just wish the rest of the film was as good as it looks.

The other bit of business is that Patton Oswalt got robbed by not getting at least an Oscar nom for Young Adult. I’m not a fan of Oswalt’s but he hits it out of the box and then some with one of the best performances of the last five years. He is the reason I stayed with the film to the end.

Don’t get me wrong Charlize Theron is equally wonderful but her ex-girlfriend from hell is the sort of unpleasant person you don’t want to spend a minute with let alone 100. On some level. While the fact that she doesn’t learn and stays the same jerk through out the film may strike some as a brilliant move on the part of the filmmakers, to me it made the film an exercise in diminishing returns- except for Patton Oswalt who kept me watching despite wanting to abandon ship. (hopefully the revenge will be a long career that doesn’t end in the obscurity that many supporting actors and actresses end up with)

I’ll say it again, it’s one of the best, most heart breaking performances from the last five years.


Its been remarked that I get gushy when I talk about certain film festivals and film events, and I can’t lie, I do. We all have our passions and I wear my heart on my sleeve.

Despite what some people may think I am not trying to butter anyone up or to get anything from anyone, I’m simply trying to spread the love. I genuinely love The New York Asian Film Festival, The New York International Children’s Film Festival, The New York Film Festival and Tribeca, and the others I talk about here.

How do you know?

You know because I go to many of the the screenings on my dime. Yes, I do get invited to some press screenings but I also go to as many screenings as I can afford and that I can attend. I go to the events and the films that I want to see and not what have been picked out for me.

Do I gush? Hell yea, because things like the chance to see Yellow Submarine on a big screen gets me all fired up.

Trust me, if I say I like or love something, I do.

Speaking of which tickets for the New York International Children's Film Festival go on sale Wednesday. I don't want to say too much right now, but this looks like the best year yet, which is saying a great deal.

Before I go I want to share a quick film watching story.

I saw a Korean film Monday night. It had no English on the cover, but it had a picture of a man shooting, so figured what the hell, I'll find out what it was once the film started. The trouble while it was subtitled in English, nothing written was so I had no idea what the film was. All was fine until I realized that the subtitles, which seemed quite good, were in fact for some other film entirely. The film seemed to be about the Japanese occupation and an effort to hide children. The subtitles sometimes were about that, but mostly seemed to be from some sort of gangster film or perhaps a supernatural one... Talk about surreal...

That's it for this tonight.

(This week we spotlight a few films where people try to get away from it all...)

I Love Hong Kong (2011) - Celebrating Chinese New Year!

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Director: Eric Tsang
Producer: Eric Tsang/Shaw Brothers Studio
Stars: Eric Tsang, Tony Leung Ka Fai, Sandra Ng, Aarif Lee, Stanley Fung, Fala Chen, Mag Lam, Anita Yuen, & more!!
Genre: Comedy-lunar new year

Watching I Love Hong Kong the 2nd time around brought back some great memories! My first go around with this film was last year in February while on vacation in Hong Kong during chinese new year. This film was one of a few that was slated specifically to help RING in the new year at the theater box offices. If I can remember correctly, I watched this film at the Grand Cinema in the swanky Elements shopping mall in Kowloon! The Grand Cinema housed 12 screens with very comfortable seats & a monster sound system! For all that don’t know, when you buy movie tickets in HK, you have to pick a specific seat in the theater prior to purchase. It sounded very formal at first but it does create order & an advanced shot to choose the best seats to your liking without last second bum rushes.

Lunar New Year films usually boasts an all star cast and this movie was no different. Led by the very talented, diminutive, & lovable Eric Tsang who acted in, directed, & produced I Love HK!

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The focal point of the film centered around the close knit relationships that were developed in the past as well as ongoing in the present tense between tenants of a typical low income housing complex in hong kong. Financial hardships and fate would bring some of these friends & families back together again to live in this tight community! Ng Shun (Tony Leung Ka Fei), his wife (Sandra Ng), and their two kids played by Aarif Lee, & Mag Lam will move back into Ng Shun’s father’s apartment where he grew up unbeknownst to the grandfather until the surprise visit. Ng Shun & his wife were doing quite well on their own until their Toy manufacturing company filed for bankruptcy. A reality check for the Ng family would ensue when they discover that the living style & comforts of this housing complex is not quite as endearing to what they were used to. One by one, old childhood friends from the past including ‘water dragon’ (Eric Tsang) & Ng Shun’s 1st girlfriend (Anita Yuen) would resurface back into their lives making for a sticky, uncomfortable, but hilarious situations! The character that stole the show with her performance in my opinion was Ng Shun’s wife played by Sandra Ng. She had the hardest adjustments to make dealing with her new employment, the low income housing, husband’s ex-girlfriend, & fitting in socially amongst the working class! The 2nd major character that peeks its ‘Chiao Chow’ head back into the Ng family was childhood friend ‘water dragon’ who has become a successful real estate/renovations mogul in the United States. Misunderstandings, flashbacks, and a before & after look of twin sisters will definitely be in order!

No doubt, I Love Hong Kong is filled with off the wall silly skits that manages to play homage to Hong Kong lifestyle and/or poke fun at it. Mentions of the iconic fast food eats like “Cafe de Coral” seen as Cafe de Oral in the movie, as well as some rumblings from the high end gourmet supermarket, "C!tysuper" seen as CCsuper in the movie is either adored or hated by the locals depending on their financial situation, I would guess. The evil in the story will reap its ugly head when the Tung Wah housing project intends to wipe out the mom & pop shops located in their complex in favor of opening up international chain stores.

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The dialogue in the film is full of wit and play on words--all the way down to the Ng families first names such as Ng Shun (can’t trust), Ng Tung (can’t connect), Ng Ming (don’t understand), & Ng Chi (don’t know). Some funny scenes in the movie include Sandra Ng trying to imitate being a working class country mom trying to get the deals at the grocery stand and the slow motion gangster leans in the lobby. I also can’t leave out the beautiful twins!?

In the end, I Love Hong Kong took us onto a family journey of hardships & bad luck that turned into good fortune & prosperity with a little patience, trust, humor, & unity!

This film is definitely worth your time! You will get a insightful glimpse of the day in the life of a Hongkie!

0506HK (2007) Celebrating Chinese New Year!


Filmmaker Quentin Lee explores whether he wants to move back to Hong Kong or whether he should stay in the US.

Lee and his family moved to Canada when he was 12, during the period where Hong Kong was a tizzy about what was going to happen in in 1997 when the city was returned to China. About the time that he went to Berkley his parents split up and his mother moved back to the city. The result was that he ended up splitting his time between his Dad in Canada and his mom in Hong Kong.

Framed as a trip to see his mom for Christmas the film is an examination of what it means to leave the place you're born and return. Its a search for culture, and how the people who stay in a place all their life (as some of Lee's friends had) and how others who left and return see the same place. Over the course of the the hour long film Lee talks to friends, family and a few people he meets along along the way to get their view of Hong Kong, culture and where they belong.

As some one who knows Hong Kong from the movies and from the stories of friends this is a kick in the head. Its a look at what it means to live in the city. It's so nice to see the city as more than just a movie location, now it's a place that people really live and work.

More interesting it's a film about what it means to be strung between places and cultures. Lee's heart is very much in China...but it's also very much in Los Angeles, the first place he ever chose to call home after growing up in places chosen for him by his family. It's a choice I've never had to make myself.

It was great to see many of people like Kam, Teddy Chan,Raman Hui and other people who are only names in film credits as people.

I really liked this film. Its a great little film that raises some interesting questions and manages to make a mythic place and and some of the people who live there something more real.

Available on DVD and on You Tube.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Wind Blast (2010) Celebrating Chinese New Year!


From Qunshu Gao, the director of The Message and Old Fish, comes a film that almost no one has seen or knows exists...at least with in my small cadre of Asian film loving friends. Whats worse is that if you look at IMDB the rating is around 4 out of 10. What film did they see?

This is an impossible to classify homage, satire, action, crime, western, form over content film. This is a film that you're either going to accept for it's off base self or hate for it's eclectic nature.

The plot has some cops chasing a hit man and his girlfriend into the desert. The pair are also being chased by people sent by a former employer who is unhappy with how a previous job turned out. Everyone chases and fights each other over and over again.

I don't think it makes a great deal of sense. I'm sure it does to the characters on screen but something has gotten lost on the cutting room floor. With the result we in the audience have to take things on faith since things are only half heartedly explained. I've seen the film one and half times now and quite frankly I still don't completely understand it.

What I do understand is that this film is a series of stunning set pieces. These are all high octane action sequences involving guns and fists and horses and cars and dump trucks. Its a mixture of realistic action and your typical "over the top" Hong Kong style action. You know some of this couldn't happen, some of the moves would kill the people involved or could only happen if you have wires and special effects. Its all so well done that you simply accept it. Believe me the dump truck chase and the final ghost town sequences are going to get your blood pumping (and the other ones aren't bad either)

In a weird way this is one of the most action packed westerns you'll ever see.

Make no mistake, despite being set now as evidenced by GPS, computers, land rovers and automatic weapons this film is a western. If you stripped away all of the modern trappings this film would easily work as a gritty film from Europe.(I say Europe because American Westerns are rarely this cynical). It also has a good many of the Western cliches worked in (cowboy hats, chases on horse back, ghost town, stampede, the desert setting...) that you'd have to be blind not to catch what it's striving to be.

The problem with the film is that the story is so slender and the details are so off-handedly given that it's kind of hard to fully give yourself over to it. It can be tough going outside of the motion simply because we're essentially flying blind or watching a slice of violent life. It's a flaw, if you want to call it that, that I find in many martial arts films from the 1970's and 80's where they simply want give us a slender plot because they need to have something to hang the action sequences from. The most extreme notion of this are some the recent Thai action films such a BKO Bangkok Knockout which dispenses with plot after the first 15 minutes for a 90 minute fight scene.

I really do like the film, but I'll be the first to admit that the film made better sense the second time since I could rely on having all the plot in my head already. This is a film I can easily recommend to anyone who likes action films because this film is full of it.

Currently out on DVD around the world but not officially in the US.

Old FIsh (2007) Celebrating Chinese New Year!


Hailed by the few who saw it at the 2009 NYAFF as the best of the festival that year (every screening I attended had at least one person who saw the film who was trying to connect with one of the few few others who saw the film) this is best described as a true life CSI: China or more accurately CSI:OHMY since what you see on screen is the true story of a police bomb disposal crew in China.

Actually the story is that of the local bomb disposal expert who nearing retirement and how he stumbles upon the work of a serial bomber. The trouble is he really doesn't know what he's doing, as is abundantly clear at the start. What he does is defuse things through trial and error based on experience. The experience has been gained in the constant defusing of bombs and landmines left over from the Japanese Occupation some fifty years before.

Without a doubt this is one of the most amazing and decidedly unique films you're ever likely to see. To be certain the film takes your typical good buy vs bad guy story and turns it into something else entirely (we never really see any bad guy just the bombs). Its almost like taking a candy bar and whipping up a ten course meal out of it complete with soup and porterhouse steaks. You shouldn't be able to do what this film does but somehow it manges to do the impossible.

Based upon the actual work of a bomb squad and starring Ma Gaowei, a former bomb squad member this is the sort of film that seems too fantastical to be real, except that as you watch it, every bit of the film, every moment, every location and action feels real. Rarely has any film ever had such a great sense of place. You know that what we are seeing is real simply because you couldn't make up a location or an action such as what we see.

Whats annoying about this film is that it has no English release that I can find. None. While I do have a copy of the film on DVD there are no English subtitles. Which means I had to troll the Internet to find reviews, summaries and other material relating to the film so that I would have the fullest possible understanding of the film (short of seeing it with subtitles or learning Chinese). Yet again we have a case of some small gem of a film getting lost to the ages out side of it's country of origin simply because it hasn't been translated, or rather hasn't had a translation been made available.

Lets not put too fine a point on it subtitles or no this is one of the best films I've seen in 2011.

Find and see this film.

(FYI: Director Gao Shuqun also directed The Message which I reviewed back in May and Wind Blast which will be reviewed later today)

Friday, January 27, 2012

Under the Hawthorne Tree (2010) Celebrating Chinese New Year!


Yimou Zhang's intensely romantic and intensely beautiful story of love across class during the days of Mao.

Mao said that classrooms were to be built in the fields and to that end people were sent from the city into the country for re-education. Jing, a high school senior with a father in a political prison, is sent to a village were the Tree of Heroes grows. It was the site, according to local legend, where many people were martyred during the seSino Japanese War. Jing stays with a family with three sons and is smitten with one of them.

Its all in the eyes and the looks and the knowing glances....rarely has young love been so wonderfully explored.

One of the things that I love about the film is that it is very retro- in its feel. The look of the film is often like black and white post cards that had been colored by hand. Things look like revolutionary photographs at times. Through most of it it has the feeling of being a something we remember rather than what we are seeing.

The film also takes the form of a novel by bridging sections of the story and filling in plot points with simple intertitles. Actually I won't call them simple since they manage to not only move the plot along but they also add a depth to things that may not have been easily translated from the source novel without long exposition. Its a brillant move that will allows the story to grow naturally without getting needlessly complicated- after all this film is nothing more than a simple love story of star crossed lovers.

There is a simplicity to it all that is refreshing, an an innocence that manages to over come pretty much any flaws you may find. I for one was finding a late in the game scene playing out rather silly, and I was feeling that the film was letting me down in the stretch until a simple shot or two had me going from pondering a giggle to fighting back tears (what can I say I'm a hopeless romantic at heart).

If you like weepie romances this is one to search out. Its a a damn fine film, the work of a great director telling a simple story and nailing it perfectly.

What Women Want (2011) Celebrating Chinese New Year


A remake of the Mel Gibson film from a few years back, this is the story of a, charming, but piggish man who through an accident finds he can suddenly hear what women are thinking. The story follows how he uses the gift and begins to change as a result, all the while butting heads with his daughter, his ex-wife and a high powered executive in his company.

In reading on the film I found reaction very mixed. Some people found it a weak remake made worse by the leads, Andy Lau and Gong Li. Others were like me, who found the leads to be utterly charming and the film to be damn funny.

I should probably state at this point that I am not fan of the Mel Gibson original. I find that film entertaining but very forced and extremely manufactured. For me watching Mel and his co-stars go through the paces is like watching a well oiled machine go through its very preprogrammed paces.

I didn’t have that problem with this version of the story. I simply let the film unwind. I kind of knew where it was going, after all I had seen the earlier film, but I didn’t care. I was more interested in watching where Lau and Li took things.

When you see this film you’ll understand that the film’s success rests purely on the stars if you’re like some who’ve written on the film and you don’t like the stars or feel they don’t have a chemistry then you’re doomed. On the other hand if you’re like me you’ll find that the Lau and Li are absolutely wonderful together.

Actually to be honest to me the joy of the film is Lau. There is something about his devil care attitude toward women that is completely charming. He is clearly chatting up every woman he runs across in the hope of bedding them but he does it so sweetly that they manage not to be offended-except when they catch him doing it to every other woman.

Lau is a charmer and there is a scene early in the film in his apartment where he takes a shower to the music on his daughter's I-pod. The scene is so wonderfully wacky and utterly charming that it's at this point you're either completely hooked or you're lost. I was hooked and smiling from ear to ear.

Equally good is Gong Li as Lau's romantic sparring partner. She is stunningly beautiful and carries herself with an aire of confidence that makes her a wonderful match for Lau. She's so good that I quickly thought back to early in her career when she was the object of lust for a whole bunch of my friends.

For my money this is the superior version of the tale. If you want proof that sometime remakes are better`than the original see this film.

Currently out on import DVD.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Viral Factor (2012) Celebrating Chinese New Year!


The first film from 2012 at Unseen Films is also the China Lion Chinese New Year Release. China Lion is a distributor which releases Chinese films around the world on the same day. This means that a film that opens in Hong Kong opens the same day every where in the world. Most New Years films are comedies and family films, this one is a bloody soap opera.

First rule to enjoying this film throw any hope of a real plot that makes sense out the window. Frankly none of this makes any sense. Its got great action sequences, but little sense outside of that.

The plot has Jay Chou playing a cop escorting a bio-weapons engineer and his family to safety. The trip goes horribly wrong and pretty much everyone dies and Jay is left with a bullet in his head which will completely paralyze him with in a short period. Going home to see his mother, who is in a wheel chair, he finds out that she knows where his father and older brother are. He thought they were dead. Wanting to fulfil his mother's wish to see them again he goes to Malaysia to find them. However when he arrives he instantly gets into trouble when a group of bad guys, who are working for the bad guy who took the bio engineer, try to kidnap a doctor to take over for the bio engineer who was killed while escaping. A fight ensues and Chou realizes that the bad guy who almost killed him is in fact his lost brother, Nicholas Tse.

I'll leave it there since there is way too many twists and turns in this film to relate. Basically it's enough material for at least five years of six soap operas.

I'm very torn about the film. Yes the action is often spectacular, with a jail break and car crash sequences that make you sit up and go "hello". Actually most of this film's action makes you sit up and go Wow....the trouble is the rest of the film is all over the place.

The CGI is wildly uneven with some of the effects of some of the explosions looking terrible. Those metal cylinders are not real nor are the cars that go off the cliffs

The English and Arabic dialog is poorly handled by the non-English/Arabic speakers.

Most damaging is the fact that the plot just does what it wants to. If they need something to happen it does. Need a character to be in the bad guys hands, he is. Need a character to be able to remove a bullet with tweezers? He does. Need a character who is all shot up to be fine after having a bullet removed? He is...instantly.The plot doesn't evolve, things just happen, much like a story by a charming five year old. Through most of the film I was constantly feeling that I was missing something, nope. They were just farting around and moving things along.

I'll be kind and not get into the stupid lapses in real world logic that allows the bad guys to have a body count around ten thousand with out anyone noticing, or to have one character survive being sealed in plastic then tossed off a ship in a sack weighted with chains only to float...

Stupid doesn't begin to address it (actually the third line of my notes is This film is stupid as a stick.)

On the other hand the film weirdly works. Sure you want to riff the film to death with smart ass comments, but you also want to see how it comes out. You really do like the action and the characters, and you watch, no matter how stupid the film, because you do get invested in what happens.

How invested? You may get genuinely misty at some of the more over wrought emotional moments such as when the father smiles at being reunited with his son, or some of the late in the game blood is thicker than water or this is how I want to remember things moments.

Its a stupid as a stick movie but it is emotional. Its also a movie action fans will like even though they will find it troublesome even on its own terms.

Currently in theatrical release around the world, its worth seeing if you are a dyed in the wool action fan.

Legend of the Dragon (1990) - Celebrating Chinese New Year!

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Director: Danny Lee
Stars: Stephen Chow, Yuen Wah, Teresa Mo, Leung Ka Yan
Fight choreographer: Corey Yuen Kwai, Yuen Wah
Genre: action comedy


It would not be quite right to celebrate the Year of the Dragon without soaking in a Stephen Chow film in my opinion! His silly, green, & self depracating-good old country boy demeanor almost always lends to a character with high morals, filial piety, and righteousness! His homages to Bruce Lee, kung fu, & chinese culture are always apparent in his films. Legend of the Dragon is one of Chow’s earlier films that got me hooked into his world of kung fu and over the top, cornball comedy! This time, his bumbling love for a woman, kung fu, & shooting pool would dominate the scene!

Chow Siu Lung (Stephen Chow) and Mo (Teresa Mo) would grow up together practicing the kung fu art of Wing Chun from Lung’s father -- Master Chow Fei Hung (Yuen Wah) in Tai-O, a remote fishing village on LanTau Island about 25 miles away from Hong Kong Island. Master Chow would own a substantial part of land in Tai-O. Lung & Mo would no nothing else but the love of practicing wing chun. Their ways of showing affection towards one another was punching, kicking, & fighting! Lung’s other secret love was playing billiards.

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Yan (Leung Ka Yan), the kung fu brother of Master Chow from big city pimping - Hong Kong comes to visit the countryside. The traditional, hard nosed Master Chow has a request for Yan to bring his son back with him to live in HK so he can do bigger & better things! Here begins a tale of where a naive rural side peasant boy would meet the hustle and bustle of city life! Yan finds himself trying to extort money from businesses going door to door but soon discovers that his nephew, ah lung would have extraordinary talent in playing billiards! Lung would be an accessory to gambling against his knowledge, a successful wager at that...until he plays for big stakes against the snooker champion, Jimmy White!! Nobody told Ah Lung that he was gambling against the deed of his father’s Tai O property!! Ah Lung & Master Chow would have to come up with a plan to win back their land! A tell tale quote from the movie reveals some patriotic feelings at the time of filming.

The prosperity of Hong Kong after 1997 relies on you.



The fighting in the film when they did square off, was fast, furious, & comedic!! Corey Yuen Kwai & Yuen Wah, both members of the famous “7 Little Fortunes” Peking Opera crew which includes Sammo, Jackie Chan, & Yuen Biao were the fight & action choreographers so you know the bar would be set pretty high! Leung Ka Yan who plays the crazy uncle in the film was a Shaw Brother studio veteran and a very capable martial art badass on the screen as well. Stephen Chow showed off his multi-talented TVB self as he layed down the signature for what he would be known for in the near future -- kung fu blended with benny hill style comedy!

Some fun scenes in the movie included::

* Ah lung’s encounter with Amy Yip
* Family dinner scene
* Father vs Son (Yuen Wah vs Stephen Chow) to test out if the son was ready to handle himself in HK!
* The fight scene with Ah Lung vs the lead henchmen with the gun!
* Awesome display of billiards from Jimmy White & Stephen Chow?
* Father & son demonstrating kung fu on the streets of tsim tsa chui for money.
* homage to bruce lee at the end!

Legend of the Dragon is definitely worth some play time especially if you are a fan of Stephen Chow! The movie contains a whole host of lighthearted-disposable fun and will be sure to drop that sky high blood pressure of yours! Be sure to stick around for the conclusion of the film as Stephen Chow, Yuen Wah, Leung Ka Yan, & Teresa Mo wishes the viewers a happy lunar new year! And don’t forget to watch those outtakes!

Gung Hei Fat Choy from Unseen Films!

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

1911 (2011) Celebrating Chinese New Year


Billed as Jackie Chan's 100th film (depending upon how you count it might be his 109th),this is a story of the Chinese revolution that brought down the Qing Dynasty.

As the populace begins open revolt and falling in behind Sun YatSen and his allies, the Qing government takes steps to stop them using their "modern" army. Through direct engagement with the Qing military and the behind the scenes political and financial maneuvers across the globe the rebels seek to bring down their hated oppressors.

Jackie Chan plays Huang Xing, one of the leaders of the rebel forces. Having been trained in modern war in Japan, he seeks to turn his rag tag soldiers into a fighting force. He's a man haunted by the losses his men are suffering (the opening failed assault drives him to the brink of suicide). Still he fights on with a intensity that all those around him responds to. The performance is one of Jackie's best, which considering his recent performances in film like Little Big Soldier , Karate Kid, or Shinjuku Incident is saying a great deal.

This is one of the best from the recent crop of films that came out for the anniversary of the 1911 revolution. Where many of the films seemed concerned with the large scale picture and seemed to be full of propaganda, at the loss of the people involved, here is a film that is very much concerned with the people. Here we have characters and not just actors getting a pay check for walk ons.

The film isn't perfect. The film has too many side characters and covers a great deal of time to the point that some events are reduced to being explained via titles on the screen. But at the same time it's no where near as bad as some of the founding of the Communist party films like Beginning of the Great Revival where most of the story was conveyed by titles.

Despite it's flaws the film is amazing. It all carries a strong emotional weight, especially the battle sequences. To me the failed opening attack which is intercut with the young men frolicking in the ocean is one of the most powerful indictments of war and it's loss that you're likely to fine. Its a perfectly contained little sequence...

Unfortunately I only just discovered that the US DVD version is missing about 25 minutes from the Asian Theatrical version. Not only are the minutes missing but you can feel the loss. I originally saw this in an unsubtitled version from China last year and was deeply moved. I was so moved that I wanted to write the film up for the Chinese New Year series. However since the US DVD was coming out 2 weeks before New Year I decided to hold off until I got a subtitled DVD. Watching the US release I was shocked. The pacing was off. Things moved too fast. The opening sequences seemed to be missing something, basically the poetry. The film was only a shadow of itself. (Something confirmed by picking up a subtitled version in Chinatown)

Why did they cut the film? I don't know. I really don't. I'm sure someone thought it was a good idea, but how it was done, cutting sequences apart severely weakens the film.

I like the film, but I love the original version. If you can get a version from a source like Yes Asia, I especially recommend you give the film a try. (Addendum it appears the version playing on pay per view on cable is the full version. I'm confused but still recommend the full film)

The Eagle Shooting Heroes (1993) - Celebrating Chinese New Year!

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Director: Jeffrey Lau
Producer: Wong Kar Wai
Action Choreographer: Sammo Hung
Stars: Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Tony Leung Ka Fai, Maggie Cheung, Brigitte Lin
Leslie Cheung, Jackie Cheung, Carina Lau, Kenny B, Joey Wong
Veronica Yip
Genre: parody, wuxia comedy, fantasy



This movie was released in 1993 to celebrate lunar chinese new year! I figured it was so festive, so off the wall, so wicked, and chock full of heavy hitting movie stars that I would bring it back one more time for our unseen minds!

Just a little background information on this film, The Eagle Shooting Heroes is a parody of a novel called The Legend of the Condor Heroes. This novel is such a classic that many a TV series in Hong Kong & China have developed an adaptation to the story as early as 1976. Shaw Brother’s studio film fans might recognize The Brave Archer movie series which was also based on the Legend of the Condor Heroes.

Now back to 1993, Wong Kar Wai was the producer of this film with Jeffrey Lau as the director. At the same time, Wong Kar Wai was also directing Ashes of Time which was a serious adaptation of Legend of the Condor Heroes and believe it or not, he used the same cast in Ashes of Time to star in The Eagle Shooting Heroes! The only difference was that the actors were shuffled around to play different characters in the movie!

The story of the Legend of the Condor Heroes is set in the Song & Jin Dynasties as the Jin (Tribal Manchuria) look to destroy the Song (China). Meanwhile, the Mongols lurk in the background and would eventually conquer both of these regimes to unify China. Two heroes from the Song Dynasty would be killed leaving their sons to be the fore-bearers of their family name. One son would be raised by the Mongols, while the other would be raised by the Jins! Talk about conflicts of interest! The story would basically be about the trials & tribulations of both of these warriors and their decisions to fight for their true ancestry or not. Would power, greed, & women get in the way?

Now with that background story in mind, throw it all out the window! The Eagle Shooting Heroes would poke fun and pull the persian rug from under the whole premise! Think in the direction of “Kung Fu Hustle”. Total buffoonery and fun! The action though, was off the scale & was certainly not a joke as Sammo Hung threw down some elbow grease to direct the awesome fight sequences! My only beef was that the fight scenes seemed to be sped up quite a bit. But, in hindsight it might of been intentional to add some more slapstick to the story! The characters played by Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Leslie Cheung (R.I.P.), Jackie Cheung, Carina Lau, Tony Leung Ka fai, & Brigitte Lin were standouts in the film!

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Some of the senseless, but fun plots involved Ouyang Feng (Tony Leung Chui Wai), a shady kung fu villain & a close relative to the persian king. Feng has an affair with his cousin (Veronica Yip) and this evil duo would team up to try and take the throne. The persian couple would battle the Princess (Brigitte Lin) but her Tsunami punch is no match for the rancid Toad style of Ouyang Feng. The princess then goes on the road to look for a secret book of martial arts located in the white bone cave known as the Book of Yin. The sorceress (Maggie Cheung) provides assistance to feng by predicting actions on her crystal ball of the whereabouts of the princess as well as give secret weapons to Tony Leung Chiu Wai like the deadly flying boot & the invincible bees! Ouyang Feng would ultimately meet his match when he encounters Hong Quigong, the Beggar (Jackie Cheung). Even with thoughts of suicide, the Beggar lays a nice beatdown to the Persian wanna be prince! Hong Quigong contemplates suicide because his cousin, Suiqui (Joey Wang) rejects his advances. Fortunately, he never succeeds in taking his own life because he is too busy bruising up Feng while still in hot pursuit of his cousin!

The rest of the story would entangle the theme of searching for love. Yaoshi Huang (Leslie Cheung) can’t decide who he wants as Suqui and the Princess would be on his tasting menu! Zhou Botong (Carina Lau) plays a role as a man in the QuangZhen Clan out to seek revenge for the death of his kung fu brother! Yes, Botong had homosexual feelings towards the brother. How wacky was that, Carina Lau playing a gay man?! Duan (Tony Leung Ka Fai) is an Indian prince who seeks true love in order to reach immortality. Mind you, his true love will have a “666” tattoed on his body!

Some funny sequences from the movie include encounters with 3 kaiju’s (monsters) that would not be too enthralled with humans looking for this Book of Jin in their White Bone cave! There were many funny scenes in the movie but when Duan finally finds his true love with the “666” engraved in HIM it would make for nice laughs! Floating heads, killer boots to the head, gay love, crossdressing, weird musical numbers, tantalizing kung fu action in wuxia glory, & ballet dancing would be a few appetizing things to look forward to in this lunar new year special!

The Eagle Shooting Heroes generated 2 hours full of fun, wacky, & wild--mass hysteria! Jeffrey Lau & Wong Kar Wai sure didn’t hold back with addressing issues on homophobia & sexuality! In real life, Leslie Cheung (r.i.p.) was a homosexual. I wonder how he really felt about filming this movie. In contrast, this same cast also went on to film Ashes of Time, a serious rendition of the story of the Legend of the Condor Heroes.

Happy Year of the Dragon folks!

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Legend of the Sacred Stone (2000) Celebrating Chinese New Year !


A true martial arts epic done completely with puppets.

Yes, that's right its a dead nuts on target xuxia epic that's all puppets and it will blow your mind.

The film begins with a voice over saying that 400 years ago when a sage sends the three heirs of the sects and the six Representatives of the major sects (that's what my translation says) to fight a demon who has escaped and is seeking to take over the martial arts world.

Basically the film starts with a bunch of heroes and armies battling a demon in the mountains. The heroes beat the demon and lock up his mortal remains. They then send it off to be entombed for eternity. Unfortunately the Unfriendlies arrive and release the demon and then set off looking for the pieces of the Heaven Stone. (that's about the first 20 minutes.) After that things calm down as some of the heroes try to stop the The Unfriendlies and help a young woman and her father.

If you think any of this makes any real sense you're seriously mistaken and you've never seen some of the classic wu xia films like the Zu films, The Storm Riders films, many Bruce Lee films or even the "classic" The Blade. You have to remember the details of the stories don't really matter in many of the classic films, it's motion, and ideas and feelings, three things that this film has in abundance.

Each time I'm watching the puppets go through their battles I've always been struck by how the moves are perfectly executed. Here is everything you've seen in many of the martial arts films of the 1970's and 80's but done in such away that you really forgive the wire work and over done special effects. Watching real people go through the motions I'm always slightly distanced by the fantastic (and ultimately silly) moves. The fact that its a movie is always front and center. However watching these puppets I get lost. The unreality of the characters meshes perfectly with the overly theatrical moves and effects.

Ultimately this is everything you've ever seen in a wuxia film, but real.

I really like this film a great deal and it's been a film that I've loaned a lot over the years to friends and family who love "kung fu" films. Every time I talk someone into seeing it, generally it's something people to do reluctantly. They don't think they'll ever get past it being puppets. Amazingly in all but one or two cases people do. More amazingly everyone seems to be stymied at how some of it was done. Yes it's all tricks and wires and angles, but it all blends together into something...well amazing.

Now I want to be completely honest.

In deciding to write this film up I pulled the film out and watched it, really watched it again, for the first time in several years. Seeing it again from start to finish for the first time I found that I was not as in love with the film as I had been. Don't get me wrong, I still think it's a great film, but I think I've seen it way too many times...

...however that doesn't make me recommend the film any less. This is still a spectacular film that anyone who loves the movies and what movies can do should see.

This is a treasure.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The New York International Children's Film Festival has announced it's first films for 2012


The NYICFF has announced the first crop of films for the festival which starts March 2. I think the best way to describe it is as : ITS ALL GOOD.

I’m impressed as hell, more so since it appears that they will be running Takashi Miike’s Ninja Kids!!!, which I had been told might not happen. This is such great news I officially take back anything bad I may have ever said about them.

For details on what they have officially announced the press release follows:

New York, New York, Jan 19, 2012 – The critically acclaimed New York Int’l Children’s Film Festival has announced the 2012 jury and slate preview for its 15th anniversary event, which runs March 2-25 at New York’s DGA Theater, Walter Reade Theater, IFC Center, Peter Norton Symphony Space, Asia Society, Scholastic Theater, and Cantor Film Center. The 2012 jury includes actors Uma Thurman, Jeffrey Wright, and Susan Sarandon and filmmakers and animators James Schamus, Gus Van Sant, Michel Ocelot, Tomm Moore, and John Canemaker (complete jury below). As an Oscar®-qualifying festival, NYICFF jury winners qualify for consideration for the 2012 Academy Awards® in the Live Action and Animated Short Film categories. The complete festival lineup will be announced on February 1, and tickets for the festival will go on sale at www.gkids.com.

Now in its 15th year, NYICFF is the nation’s largest festival for children and teens and will present four weeks of groundbreaking and thought-provoking films for ages 3-18, with 100 new animated, live action, documentary, and experimental shorts and features, opening and closing night galas, studio showcases, retrospectives, filmmaker Q&As, filmmaking workshops, and the NYICFF Awards Ceremony. NYICFF has grown into an especially important showcase for independent and international animation, having premiered new works by Hayao Miyazaki, Nick Park, Katsuhiro Otomo, Tomm Moore, Mamoru Hosoda, Konstantin Bronzit among many others.

SLATE PREVIEW:
A Monster in Paris, Opening Night Film – US Premiere, France, Bibo Bergeron. NYICFF 2012 opens with a classic misunderstood-monster tale set in Paris 1910, a warm-hearted animated musical about the power of song featuring Django Reinhardt-style gypsy guitar and honey-toned vocals courtesy of Sean Lennon.

Le Tableau РNorth American Premiere, France, Jean-Fran̤ois Laguionie. One of the most stunningly beautiful films in years, with swirls of vibrant color that burst from the screen and nearly every frame a breathtaking wonder, Le Tableau is a captivating, enormously enjoyable parable set within the frame of an unfinished painting. Presented in partnership with Rendez-Vous with French Cinema.

Cinderella Moon – US Premiere, China/USA, Richard Bowen. A gorgeous and enchanting fairytale based on the earliest known version of Cinderella (the Chinese tale “Ye Xian” from 768 A.D.) filled with exquisitely ornate costumes and dazzling scenery shot in Yunnan Province.

Chimpanzee – Showcase Screening, USA, Alastair Fothergill/Mark Linfield. From the award-winning directors of Earth and sumptuously shot in the rain forests of Africa, Chimpanzee tells the true-life story of an adorable young chimp named Oscar, whose playful curiosity and zest for discovery showcase the intelligence and ingenuity of some of the most extraordinary personalities in the animal kingdom.

The Pirates! A Band of Misfits – Showcase Screening, UK, Peter Lord. An epic new claymation adventure from four-time Academy Award®-winning stop-motion masters Aardman Animations. Directed by Aardman founder (and former NYICFF juror) Peter Lord, Pirates is a high seas saga of a hapless pirate captain and his crew of extremely silly and witless pirate fools.

Yellow Submarine – Special Event, UK, George Dunning. First NYC Screening in Over 10 Years! An icon of psychedelic pop culture, Yellow Submarine is a colorful musical spectacle and an exhilaratingly joyful cinematic experience – filled with visual invention, optical illusions, word play, and glorious, glorious music.


So save your money since tickets on sale next Thursday, February 1

The Sorcerer and the White Snake (2011) Celebrating Chinese New Year!


If you want to see the beautiful things that the Chinese film industry is turning out, look no further than this film. Although the effects aren't quite up to the HUGE bloated Hollywood epics they are nicely representative of an industry churning out spectacular images.

This film also marks the return of Jet Li to wu xia films after saying that Fearless and Forbidden Kingdom would be his last go round in the genre. He insists that he was tricked into taking the part by a promise of having little in the way of fight scenes, whether that's true or not I don't know, but I'm glad to see him in action once more.

The story is a well used one in Chinese cinema about a young man who falls in, love with a snake spirit that saves him from drowning. As their romance becomes a marriage and a deeply felt love affair, a Buddhist monk (here played by Jet Li) is traveling around the country side exorcising all of the demons and locking them away. How the course of religious mission collides with true love is the film.

I really like this film a great deal. I'm kind of taken aback that the some people don't particularly like the film. I'm guessing that the fact that the film is more a romance than an action film has turned them off. I also suspect that the fact that Li is a more the second lead makes them unhappy as well.

For me this film is a wonderful touching exercise in romance and action. The central love story is compelling and continues a streak of good romances that I've seen recently (I'm writing this up in November, days after seeing Extraterrestrial, Every Song Talks About Me and Dancing Zoo in a two day stretch which means it certainly stands up to some stiff competition.)

What I like about the film is that every character arcs. We have the demons turning out to be less evil and the monks finding out that things are not always black and white nor as we have been lead to believe. There is something about the arc of Jet Li's character that is nicely warming.

The action sequences are plentiful to keep the film from becoming totally mushy. They are truly spectacular and magnificent enough to make me wish I had been able to see this when this played as the opening night film of a Chinese Film Festival at Avery Fisher Hall. As I said at the start this is a great looking film that is a great introduction to what the Chinese visual effects wizards have been turning out lately.

There is a great deal of comedy in the film that helps to liven things up. Sequences such as the animal demons trying to hold human form so that our heroine can pretend to have a nice human family for her beau is both clever and laugh out loud funny. We also have the joys of the silliness of the novice monk turning into a bat demon.

As I said I really liked this film a great deal.

And yes it's derivative at times with bits cribbed from elsewhere, A bit of in the Hall of the Mountain King in some of the music, A fall into hell with a bat demon that mimics Gandalf's fall with the Balrog in the Two Towers, but the film still is it's own unique animal, the battle on the canal is marvelous as the fake demons prove real and Jet Li chases the king demon by running across the boats it kicks up into the air.

Definitely worth seeing. I know the film is available on DVD as an import. I'm not too sure what US release is going to be.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sunday Night Cap 1/22/12 - A question of on screen violence

Sunday night late- time for a nightcap….

I'll get to the usual Sunday night nonsense, but first I have to get my two cents in concerning an important subject that came up earlier this week.

Drew McWeeny, the former Moriarty at Ain’t it Cool, posted an non-review the other night when a rape scene in the film The Divide made him pause and ponder was it really necessary… which lead him to a bigger question of how much of the terrible things we see on screen equally necessary?

(If you haven’t read the piece yet do so. It can be found by following this link)

Drew’s piece is a challenge. The question is where do we draw the line at on screen violence? The question posed in the piece is specifically aimed at violence toward women but to my mind we should actually ask the question about ALL violence, since ultimately all violence ultimately bad no matter who its against. It’s a question that I’ve been battling with for a long time, especially since my taste in film brings me in contact with a wide range of on and off screen violence.

To me the problem is always what is the director’s intent? Do we need to see what we are seeing?

The problem seems to be that there is a need in most mainstream films the violence is there for shock value or to get the director/film noticed. I will show this terrible thing because it will get noticed or have an (easy) effect.

Most of the time I don’t think it matters to the film makers if the effect produced is good or bad so long as they are noticed. I find troubling that more and more filmmakers are trying to get noticed through nastiness rather than through talent. I do think that many filmmakers feel that in order to get attention they’ll rape one of characters, which is akin to the literary cliché of having an important novel turn black in the final third or quarter in order to have a point.

Drew’s piece deals primarily with rape and he is rightly troubled by the increase of graphic rape on screen, but for me the problem is that as filmmakers push the envelope all violence is being amped up and we are getting more and more bloody, violent or even disgusting sequences in all levels films (and if you want to push things further look at the growth of gross out comedy)

However at the same time as I am troubled by the violence I have to take a step back and realize that within myself the type of film I am seeing will shape any outrage. To be perfectly honest I am more forgiving of a low budget exploitation film with no pretext of being anything other than trash, than I am of a big budget or mainstream film (on any level). Frankly the difference is simply that the exploitation producers know their limits, know what the audience is there for and stays with in certain confines (or at least we know what we are getting going in). The mainstream producers only know shock and awe brings big bucks or big publicity so they bring out the rapes and the violence in ways and at times that are unexpected and un called for to get their desired knee jerk reactions.

I can’t in good conscious compare the violence of say Girl with the Dragon Tattoo with the violence in many Women in Prison films. What the makers are shooting for, what the target audience is, are very different. That doesn’t mean that I can justify or accept the rape in Dragon Tattoo as something better than say the nastiness in Bare Behind Bars (yes it’s a real film and yes I’m going to run a review) or vice versa. All I’m saying is that there are levels, you may not want to accept that, but there are. It doesn’t make it any better, but its something we have to acknowledge exists.

Personally I have to look at what sort of film I’m looking at. Is it a balls to the wall exploitation film? If so then I’ll view it as something different. I’m way more forgiving of an exploitation film that is simply aiming to push buttons of a certain group than I am of a big budget film which is trying to be thrill ride for a general audience.

In a few weeks Unseen is going to do a week of Women in Prison films. As a rule I don’t particularly like the films. I find them stupid and badly done. They can be pretty misogynistic. However at the same time I won’t deny that some of them are good in their own twisted sort of away. Do I like the violence in them? No, but with in context it’s a form of acceptable. Of course that’s my own opinion.

On the other hand if you take a big budget film with big pretensions and you add a rape the act becomes more shocking and more out of place. In thinking about Drew’s dismantling of the rape in Dragon Tattoo I find he’s on to something. The act is there more to get a rise out of the audience the film would never otherwise get. I would also argue that the trouble with the film is not the rape- its that the filmmaker requires that we see it….and see it as graphically as possible. I do think that seeing the rape intensifies the horror and later elation at the revenge, but at the same time its a lazy cheap shot since, ultimately we didn't need to see it.

Is there any time we really need to see a rape (or other tortuous act)? I'm sure there is but I think that it all depends on contexts and intents that are way above simple button pushing or base money grabs.

If you want to see a rape in context that is both exploitative and troubling in the right way,see the one in the exploitation film Thriller: A Cruel Picture aka They Call Her One Eye. In the uncut film the rape is graphically (as in hardcore) shown.In stead of being titillating its like a punch in the gut with each thrust. In its way it out does Lisbeth’s rape as an on screen act because it upends everything we’ve seen- and we can see there is no faking. Yes this is an exploitation film where the act sets the heroine on a trail of violence, but at the same time the graphic unpleasant nature of it makes us question everything we feel after that: Yes, we understand what she's doing but we don't really need to be there. In all honesty I think the film isn't "liked" more is that the graphic act changes the game.

I understand Drew's rage at the amping up, and I understand his pledge to walk out,and frankly in thinking about myself and my film going I kind of agree with. I've been turning off and walking out of films for a while that I thought were too much. I've been doing it on all ends of the spectrum, from stopping several Women in Prison films I was wading through for the up coming week to the heartfelt and arty Don't Be Afraid which ran as part of Lincoln Center's Spanish Film Now series. Both crossed lines that didn't need to be crossed, and both did so with out any real context (in my mind) other than to dwell in the depravity which they held out to be bad. While I am resigning the bad prison films to silence I did call the filmmakers out in my review of the Spanish film.

Should filmmakers knock it off?

Yes, if only because they will cause all sorts of hellish problems for themselves down the line, when they have a project that requires the shock and awe. The problems will arise because audiences will, ultimately get bored with the gratuitous crap and tune out. The world is not full misogynists and people will grow tired and they will complain.

Okay I'm off my soapbox. On to our regular Sunday night nonsense....

As you may have seen on the Twitter verse the Japan Society has posted the films in their Love Will Tear Us Apart series in March. The film series is a mix of films that cover the subject of love in all its weird forms. Trust me on this there are a whole bunch of really good films in this series. While some are better than others, I don’t think there is a real clunker in the bunch. If that isn’t enough a good number of the films are NOT on DVD, and a few more while on DVD are not available in English and only in super expensive Japanese editions. I’ll let you know when the tickets go on sale, but for right now you should check out the listing for the series which can be found here. (A few recommendations Snake of June, In the Realm of the Senses,Vegetarian, Villain,Dream, and Time)

Details are up for the Raquel Welch series at Lincoln Center. No joke this is a super series with some great films in the line up. The ability to see them on a big screen is a real treat. Best of all the lady herself will be doing several Q&As and introductions. The selection of films runs the gamut from her great films like Three Musketeers to her more culty ones like Myra Brenkenridge details can be found here.

The Museum of Modern Art has announced the first 7 titles screening at New Directors New Films. Co-presented with the Film Society of Lincoln Center, this is one of the highlights of the film year with many “hit films” later in the year showing up here first. Last year Margin Call started here last march and ended up a big sleeper hit this past fall. Details can be found here.

Lastly some links:
Raymond Chandler's scathing letter to Alfred Hitchcock about Strangers on a Train.

Cartoon Brew on a trailer for Nick Cross' Black Sunrise

What happens in a bookstore after hours? Find out here. (I don't want to know what it took to do this) and thanks A.L.L.

Oscar announces the Foreign Language short list. Don't get too excited the award will most certainly go to A Separation (I'll deal with the actual nominations, which come out Tuesday, next weekend)

The House of 72 Tenants (1973) - Celebrating Chinese New Year!

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Director: Chor Yuen
Stars: Yueh Hua, Tin Ching, Ching Li, Hu Chin, Lydia Shum Din-Ha, Hoh Sau-San, Lau Yat-Fan, Guk Fung, Cheng Hong-Yip, Lee Sau-Kei, Cheng Miu, Leung Tin, Law Lan, Nam Hung, Danny Lee Sau-Yin, Ouyang Shafei, Lau Dan, Chan Mei-Hua, Wong Ching-Ho, Karen Yip Leng-Chi, Si Si, Wong Hon, Lau Ng-Ke, Lee Ho, Wong Kwong-Yue, Do Ping, Adam Cheng Siu-Chow, Yeung Chak-Lam, Ricky Hui Koon-Ying, Chan Goon Tai
Genre: comedy



When I thought about the films that I wanted to shine the spotlight on to celebrate chinese lunar new year, I didn’t think too long about throwing in The House of 72 Tenants to the Unseen films menu! I would never call this a festive movie by any stretch of the imagination but I think this chinese centric comedy piece joined with an enormous cast of up and coming HK stars with an underlying message of unity is celebratory enough!

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This movie chronicles the day in the life of the struggle of 72 tenants living in a run down tenement home under the evil supervision of a slum-lord landlady played by the character of Pat Koo & her husband Ah-Bing. These slum-parents have an adopted child now 19 years old - Ah Heung (Ching Li) that they verbally & mentally abuse and deprive of basic necessities...like food. Everyday chores like fetching a bucket of running water from one pipe shared by the tenement home proves to be a project when Pat Koo flexes her selfish weight just in spite. Her tenants come from all different backgrounds which includes a laundry lady from Shanghai (Lydia shum), a Dr. from Shantung, an Olive Peddler, a shoe cobbler-Fat Chai (Yueh Hua), an unemployed college graduate with a wife working as a prostitute to make ends meet, seamstresses, and a cigarette vendor just to name a few characters.

The landlady is a nasty ass, foul mouthed, condescending piece of work that tries to intimidate the house of 72 tenants by turning off the electricity, restricting water supply, inciting and setting up her tenants as thieves, & even kicking out a grand pa when the rent payment is late. Her husband acts as an accomplice. The comedy of this movie begins when all the residents ban together and play off one another when Pat Koo flexes her muscle! Fat Chai - the shoe cobbler takes the role as the ring leader for the tenants as his mojo, his wit, & his righteousness would be a shoe in (intentional pun) to take the bull by the horns! The scary thing is that the worst of the harassing done by the slum-lord is directed at her daughter, Ah Heung. What kind of parent would sell their daughter to a travel company to work as a “tour guide” aka prostitution?! What kind of stepfather would make sexual advances towards their own stepdaughter?! Oops, sorry Woody Allen, I wasn’t trying to catch you crossing the Delancey!

A corrupt policeman named 3-6-9 and a crooked fire department will show their true colors in a cash rules everything around me mentality in hong kong. Jabs at society would come in the form of comedy delivered with the harsh and witty linguistics of cantonese. This film would prove to be a nice refresher course for me in cursing in canto-slang! In the end, the cohesiveness from all the tenants in this slum hole would morph into a jury of killer bee-hives for the wicked witch from the east to contend with!

For the Stephen Chow--Kung Fu Hustle fans, after watching the House of 72 Tenants, you will see where the inspiration from Pig Sty Alley would come from!

As I stated earlier, this is a chinese centric type of movie and some of the dialogue might get lost in translation when only reading from the subtitles. The comedy comes mostly from conversation relying less on body language. However, I think with an open mind and some creative thinking along with some translations from a native speaking cantonese friend, you might be able to fill in some of the holes with spackle! All in all, I believe this film is worth seeking out and spending the time to unwind with! It tells a tale of unity and friendship under the grip of hard times.

I have a challenge for all you Hong Kong film fiends!! It’s easy to spot Lydia Shum, Yuen Hua, & even the cameo appearance of Chan Goon Tai/Chen Kuan Tai in the film, but can you find Adam Cheng, Ricky Hui, & Danny Lee, & director-Chor Yuen??

Peace, prosperity, & much health!

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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Peking Opera Blues (1986) Celebrating Chinese New Year!


For the next 9 days, we at Unseen Films are going to celebrate Chinese New Year by shining a spotlight on some films that we feel should be given the red carpet - lunar new year treatment! Lookout for some wild & epic wuxia pieces including the latest from Jet Li and a period piece from Taiwan filmed with puppets! It will blow your mind-guaranteed! Some other can’t misses include a Tsui Hark classic, a Stephen Chow comedy, a Wong Kar Wai parody, an Andy Lau romance, a beautiful & romantic work of art by Zhang Yimou, & some more surprises from the overlord wizard of Unseen Films! Thanks to DB for allowing me to maestro this movie theme and by all means, tell us what some of your favorite movies are to celebrate 2012: the Year of the Dragon! The chinese lunar new year actually starts on January 23rd -- but we figured we’d start a few days earlier to get you all punch drunk before the dragon whips its tail! Enjoy!
-mr c


One of the best films from director Tsui Hark, and one of my favorite films that he's directed.

For me Tsui Hark has always been a better producer than a director. Sure he's directed some wonderful films (Butterfly Murders, Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame, All About Women) and when he's on he's one of the best directors out there but he's also directed some real stinkers (You can't seriously tell me that Seven Swords isn't one of the dullest most long winded films around)

With Peking Opera Blues Hark manages to make a film that really works on it's own terms even when those terms are utter nonsense.

The film concerns three women, a box of jewels, a warlord and a theater where Peking Opera is performed by men. It is by turns a grand adventure, farce and the story concerning the empowerment of women.

The plot, very roughly explained, has a General needing money to stay in power. His mistress is actually working with the revolutionaries and is conspiring to steal his money. When a box of jewels goes missing, it ends up in a theater where Peking Opera is performed. The owner's daughter wishes to perform but law forbids it. As everyone tries to find out where the jewels are people are also forced to try and work out who is really a man and who is a woman.

Its grand farce expertly done.

I'm not going to lie and say that it all makes sense, it doesn't. The point of the film is to make you smile and feel good and that's something this film manges to in spades. Every time I watch this film I smile from ear to ear from start to finish. Not only that I'm constantly say "oh Wow!!" out loud. Never mind that I've seen this film at least a dozen or so times over the years, I still am impressed by the action.

I know several women who love this film. They love that this film has three kick ass women in the lead. They are woman who manage to both fight better than most of the men on screen, but also manage to have a deeply feminine side. The women who love the film love that it allows the heroines to have it both ways. They don't need to choose one way or another, indeed they only seem to come out on top when they manage to be both things.

Not to put too fine a point on it this is one of the best films to come out of China in the 1980's and it's probably one of the top wu xia films ever made.

If you love action films, hell if you love movies you really need to see this film. It's some of the best work by one of the best directors working today.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Tuesday at the KCS: Rough Cut (2009)


Tuesday is the second of the Korean Cultural Service screenings for 2012. This time out the film is the NYAFF audience favorite Rough Cut.

Rough Cut is the story of an actor who can’t get anyone to work with him because he beats up his co-stars in the fight scenes. When he beats up the last man who’ll work with him, he ends up recruiting the gangster who beat him up in a bar fight the night before. It seems the gangster used to be an actor…

This is less the advertised action film than a buddy film about lost souls trying to find a life in filmmaking. Don’t let that description put you off, it’s a great film. I’ve seen it several times since I saw it at the NYAFF in 2009 and not thinking of it as an action film makes it play way better. I originally wrote the film up for Unseen in April 2010 (the review is here) and I’ve seen it a couple of times since and I find it's better than even what I thought then, improving with each viewing.

Go see the film. As with all the films in the first quartet very much worth the time to go down to Tribeca.

As always doors are at 630 and the film is at 7.

Buster Keaton in "The General" (1926)

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Director: Buster Keaton and Clyde Bruckman
Stars: Buster Keaton, Marion Mack
Genre: Silent film, comedy


Buster Keaton’s fascination with trains is clearly evident in this tale of American civil unrest! He is a man in complete harmony with his train as karma on the tracks would reign supreme for this engineer-conductor of The General. Johnnie Gray (Buster Keaton) is passionate about only two things in his life, his locomotive & girlfriend, Annabelle (Marion Mack). The call for duty comes knocking in the south when the Union Army wages an attack on the confederates. This would invoke all emotions of patriotism as Annabelle’s brother & father enlists with the confederate army. To impress his girlfriend, Johnnie would try to enlist as well but unfortunately, he is denied entry because he would be of more value to the cause as a train engineer with The General as stated by the recruiters. This would cause a strain in the relationship as Annabelle misintreprets this the wrong way. Some time has passed and the day would come when the Union army hijacks The General train during a routine break at the Marietta, Georgia stop. All the passengers, the union spies, and Johnnie Gray the engineer would exit the train for a brief lunch break and reststop. Meanwhile, the sly Union army spies would hop back on and steal the General, heading north bound! They kidnap Annabelle out of convenience because she was still on the General. The union thieves would destroy the railroad tracks along the way in order to cripple the south's pursuit & transportation outlets as well as disrupt all forms of communication via the railways by destroying the telephone poles.

This would start the motions of the great Buster Keaton enroute to getting back The General and his girl in which he would not even know she was kidnapped until later on. Some really subtle but cool stunts nonetheless will be executed by Buster such as sitting on the push-pull connecting rod of the locomotive while it was moving, and chasing the stolen General with a railway handcar with a see-saw like pump action by hand to move the car along the tracks! After taking a tumble on the handcar, he would run and jump onto a bicycle in hot pursuit which would not last very long riding alongside the tracks. Johnnie would borrow another confederate train to chase after The union pirates! An amazing sequence of trying to load and fire a cannon, hopping out and back into the locomotive, and then trying to dodge the cannon balls that he loaded waiting to be fired was real suspenseful! Other acts of incredible feats by Buster in the movie include scaling the locomotive while it was moving to remove debris from the tracks left by the union, chopping up wood to fuel the engine while in hot pursuit, and putting out a fire created by the north in a tunnel are just a few examples of his multitasking physical genious! He manhandles the train with brawn & grace! Another amazing scene was when Johnnie sets a bridge on fire so when the enemy train rolled on the tracks the bridge would collapse sending everyone into the water! A 2nd half of adventures would continue on the locomotive when Johnnie comes to the rescue of Annabelle in enemy territories! They both will have slapstick moments together on the locomotive while dodging enemy fire! The confederate flag would flap in the wind again!

After watching The General, you can clearly see where Jackie Chan got some of his ideas for the brand of off the wall action sequences that he would impart in his creations! For example, Buster Keaton’s use of the hand car on the railroad tracks would surface in Jackie’s SUPERCOP. The bicycle sequence would also be of influence in PROJECT A. The stuntwork with Buster navigating, scaling, jumping on/off of the locomotive can be paralleled to Jackie in fight form with his battle vs Ken Lo on the moving train in Supercop/Police Story 3. Buster’s use of taking the short cut down the mountain on foot to intercept the moving train has been used in many Jackie movies such as Police Story when Chan is chasing after the crooks in the hijacked bus! There are definitely many little nuances and quirks of similiarity that you will notice when comparing the great Buster Keaton and Jackie Chan. One of the big differences between these two freaks of nature is that Buster always has that stoic look when executing his physical comedy while Jackie is often filled with exaggerated emotion when showcasing his! Whatever the case may be, both of these legends bring inanimate objects to life whether it be a train, a helicopter, a table, or a 2x4 piece of lumber!

The General is a definite must see on Buster Keaton’s movie queue! Who else would be daring enough to make an American Civil war parody especially siding with the Confederate southern slave states which was a war that was only 60 years removed before the film was conceived!

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