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You hua hao hao shuo

The most underrated Zhang Yimou film
I'm a fan of Zhang Yimou and finally found this DVD title from the shelves of a Shenzhen bookstore after a long search at many places.

This is a huge departure from previous Zhang Yimou work, esp in terms of style and locale. The director himself has said that this is the first and only time he'll ever attempt to make a black comedy set in contemporary China. You may even say this work is experimental in nature, compared to his other well known big budget and formal pieces.

Filmed with a hand-held camera and wide angle lens throughout the duration of the whole film, the quick pace editing and high energy performance & naturalistic tone never let you go once it grips you from the start. It presents a very realistic account of modern Chinese urban sensibilities, which in this case is set in Beijing. If you appreciate and love this kind of black humor, you will love this film totally. Also look out for hilarious cameos by Zhao Benshan (Happy Times)and the director Zhang Yimou himself.

A last point of note: I find the characters in this film, as in all other Zhang Yimou films, exhibiting similar personality traits - stubbornness, always trying to beat the odds & up the ante. Do let me know your thoughts on this.

David Lee

Qiu jue

A Chinese cinema classic that stands the test of time
I have the privilege to catch this classic film at a special screening with the film's director Lee Hsing.

From the opening voice-over, read in classical Chinese, the period setting and the meaning behind the title of the film "Execution in Autumn" are firmly established. Almost immediately, we're trust into the action of an escaping death row convict, who despite his relentless efforts, are overwhelmed and caught by his jailers. The head jailer is especially harsh as he meted out his punishment towards the condemned man. Pei Gang (played by Ou Wei) was earlier sentenced by the magistrate to death for committing 3 cruel murders,even though he claimed that the killings were acts of self defense. We learnt that Pei Gang was in fact a spoiled brat and a bully. He also had a doting grandmother who promised that she'll get him out of any trouble, including death row. Pei will not be executed until next Autumn, which gave him about one year's time. When all efforts to get him out seem to fail, what will his next course of action be? The central theme of the story is not so much about his escape, but rather the transformation of this man from evil to good, from running away and blaming others into accepting responsibility for his actions and eventually, accepting his fate...

Lee Hsing is known as one of the four best directors of Chinese cinema at that time, with the other three being Lee Han Hsiang, King Hu and Bai Jing Rui. The recognition and friendship of the four directors are forever sealed when they made the anthology film, "Joy Anger Sadness Happiness" in 1970, with each director helming a short film concerning one of the 4 universal human emotions. While Lee Han Hsiang is usually famous for his extravagant period pieces, Lee Hsing is more well known for his realistic social drama, such as "Oyster Girl", "Good Morning Taipei", "End of the Alley" and his contemporary literary adaptations. "Execution in Autumn" is one of his rare foray into period setting, yet it is also widely recognized as of his best film, if not his very best.

The technical aspects from the cinematography to the editing are top notch, even compared to this day. The authentic period set is also a remarkable feat in production design, especially the jail cell and its compound, which is built in CMCP largest studio, considered to be one of Asia's largest in its day.

The editing helps to pace the story and mood, and even the dialogue is kept to what's necessary for character development and story. According to Lee Hsing, this is an original screenplay, inspired by the old Chinese folklore about the condemned criminal who bit off his mother's nipple in spite, blaming her for not being strict with him, hence he grew up to be a condemned criminal. The essence of this folklore is the basis for "Execution in Autumn", as the mother's role is performed by the granny, although an extra dimension is added when the transformation and redemption of the condemned man is portrayed in the film.

The director Lee Hsing, now 82 years old, watched the whole film and even stayed behind for a post-screening Q&A session. It's remarkable that he still possess vivid memory on the making of this film, which dates back to more than 30 years ago. The anecdotes that he shared with the audience, from the selection of the male lead, to the efforts in building the realistic set and creating the four seasons that highlight the passing of time, is a Masterclass in film making.

Being a student and fan of Chinese cinema, one can't help but admired the efforts of the visionary artists behind the making of this classic. In 2005, "Execution in Autumn" was being selected into the 100 best Chinese films of the past century. With its timeless lessons about morals and life, the top-notch technical aspects and execution, I have no doubt that it will continue to stand the test of time and draw in new fans of Chinese cinema.

Xiang jian hao

The most beautiful HK female stars
Happened to catch this almost forgotten gem on cable channel during one unsuspecting lazy afternoon. The forever beautiful Cherie Chung stars as an independent minded and sometimes hot-headed female news reporter who runs into the mild mannered and innocent young executive, played by the charming Kenny Bee. Their initial encounters, like many formulaic rom-com, were riddled with outrageous misunderstanding and disaster (Both drunk strangers unknowingly got into the bed together. Worse still, poloraids of them were taken by Kenny's office pals and turned into office pranks) Very soon however, the mutual hatred and politeness develop into romance, as Cherie moves into Kenny's apartment. Like many rom-com, no relationship will run smoothly without any conflict.

The script pays extra attention in setting up and exploring the issues that two very different people in love will have when they decide to share their lives together. A bigger social commentary is attempted in unethical corporate practices (which pre-dates Enron), but picture works better when it stays focus on the love-hate relationship of the cohabitants.

The main difference between this movie and other rom-com is the 3-dimensional characters, enhanced by the performance and chemistry of the leading stars Cherie and Kenny. Two other popular and very beautiful HK starlets of that era, Vivian Chow and Chingmy Yau, play supporting roles who despite having little screen time, add to the eye-candy. If you're a sucker for rom-com, there are the usual ingredients, and a little extra topping to satisfy. Even if you're not a rom-com fan, the gathering of the most beautiful Hong Kong female stars Cherie Chung, Vivian Chow & Chingmy Yau, will be a good reason to re-watch this sweet little picture...

Mulholland Dr.

David Lynch's masterpiece
(Possible spoilers)

Dreams, like the movies are in many instances an illusion for the mind. It offers us an escape from our mundane, boring and even dreaded realities. In the case for Diane Selwyn, it is her escape into a nice alternate reality. A reality where her wasted character becomes a goody two shoes, with talent and opportunities. Where else but Hollywood, LA, the dream factory that is the best embodiment of such a reality. Lynch himself describes the film as `A Love story in the city of dreams'. A most ambiguous and also most apt description.

I can understand why the detractors of the film feel so strongly against it. They fail to reconcile the last act of the movie with the rest of it, and fail to see Mulholland Drive as a coherent whole. They also fail to recognize the bits and pieces of individual scenes, such as the bizarre scene of the two men conversation in the Winkles restaurant about a dream, or the good old diabolical smiling couple, who seems to be smiling for no reason, or are they? These are all pieces that contribute to a very well organized piece of cinematic jigsaw puzzle, orchestrated by a modern maestro, known as David Lynch.

There are many more examples that can better 'explain' the subtleties in the first two acts winking at the reader.

Given the detailed explanation, the general viewer may be able to appreciate Mulholland Drive better as a coherent whole, and not a mess of disjointed scenes that many detractors have claimed it to be.

Mulholland Drive is without a doubt one of the more accessible of Lynch's work, and the most properly structured. As Lynch once said, even though his films are about dreams, they are based on ideas, tangible ideas. Ideas to him are the no.1 thing, and all he does is to translate his ideas to a different medium, the medium of film. Lynch has said that he likes it when other people analyses his films, for it is a subjective thing and all interpretations are fine. The ideas in Mulholland Drive without a doubt warranted deep scrutiny and discourse. However, one cannot deny the strong emotional resonance from many of the scenes, and its top notch crafting. Of note is Lynch's sound design, which retains the style evident in many of his previous work but comes out here even more strongly than ever, further complementing the mood and experience of the film. Mulholland Drive is both an experience to be taken in as well as intelligible rhetoric to be dissected. It is an angry indictment as well as a beautiful tearjerker. The duality and irony coupled with the uncompromising stance of Lynch makes it a great work of art.

The film represents the journey of an artist into maturity, one who moves from the subversion in Eraserhead to Lost Highway and finally arriving at Mulholland Drive. Let's just hope that this is not the final destination for a highly original contemporary filmmaker.

Malcolm X

Malcolm X: Still relevant to young people today?
I must say, I've had very high expectations of this film because it was one of the most ambitious projects ever to represent Malcolm X on film. I dare say no other film, video, and even documentary came close to the sheer magnitude in terms of production values, publicity as well as commercial and critical success. Nor does any other ‘attempts' on making ‘Malcolm X' came close in terms of the controversy generated. ‘Malcolm X' by Spike Lee is a fine piece of work, but I'm sure many will agree that it is not without it's flaws.

Warning: Spoilers ahead

Spike Lee had said that he wanted to target the young audience, especially black youths; that is why he wanted the film to be rated PG 13. But I'm not sure whether that intention has led to some of the problems that I have with the film. For example, I personally think that the first act in reenacting the story of young Malcolm, with all the ‘Jitterbug' dancing, the love scene on the beach, and supporting characters like ‘Shorty' (played by Spike Lee himself), felt some what contrived. I was lost in the midst of all the colors, music and dancing. It makes me feel like I'm watching a Broadway show rather than a Bio pic, and no amount of suspension of disbelief is going to convince me that this is even remotely close to the recreation and depiction of young Malcolm's life. Despite a high-spirited performance by Denzel Washington, it is simply unconvincing to see a middle aged man (Denzel was about 38 then) playing a juvenile delinquent.

Having prior knowledge about Malcolm X before watching the film didn't help either. For instance, the autobiography, which the film is based on, did not confirm that Clansmen murder Malcolm's father, but the film seems to portray that as a fact. I have doubts as to whether other facts have been manipulated by the film to tell the story, especially towards the more ambiguous early history on Malcolm's life.

However, I do find the stylized gangster treatment on Malcolm's hustling days to be tasteful, with a very noir look and feel to it. The period when Malcolm was incarcerated, although falling somewhat short in length, is adequate in serving as a transition between the different periods and getting it's messages across. The second stretch of the film, documenting Malcolm's rise as a Minister in the Nation of Islam, was impressive, mainly due to the great performance of Denzel Washington in portraying the Malcolm of this middle period. I take for granted many of the quotes and things said by Denzel are verbatim of the real Malcolm, which all the more accentuate the effects that you are watching the real Malcolm in action.

The last act of the film, which Malcolm X went through great turmoil after realizing the truths behind the deceptions that he had been living upon, his subsequent religious and spiritual redemption, and the final scene of the inevitable assassination all happen in quick succession within the film. Contrary to what many critics feel about this act in not deliberating long enough, I think it is again the choice of the filmmaker to cater to the film's target audience. Already stretching beyond 3 hours, it is hard to expect young people to remain seated and captivated if the story of Malcolm X is not condensed. I also feel that the quick pacing towards the end somewhat mirrors the real life of Malcolm X, because he did not stay alive for more than 100 days after his return from his pilgrimage to Mecca. The focus is more on his internal struggles, contrasting with the escalating events surrounding him, and I feel that the film deserves credit for its chosen treatment on the subject.

Lastly, I was incredibly overwhelmed by the juxtaposition of the archival images of the real Malcolm X with the eulogy recited by Ozzie Davis at the end of the film. It has been quite a long time since cinema had such a cathartic effect on me, especially with simple words like `How can you judge a man like Malcolm X? Do you know him…Have you spoken with him?' The finishing coda that follows, with a surprise entry of Nelson Mandela giving one of Malcolm's X speech which bears the infamous `by all means necessary', and the kids unanimous responses, again was overdone and portentous. If only there is another more creative way of relating the messages across that ties what Malcolm X represents to today's youth.

Valerie Flake

Brad Silberling is in this too!
Brad Silberling, the writer/director of ‘Moonlight Mile', is in this indie picture too, in a cameo appearance as a ‘guy in the shower'. His brief performance is hardly noticeable in the movie, except only when it comes to the credits roll, his name is the only one that stood out. Having helm such ‘A' Hollywood pictures as ‘City of Angels', ‘Casper', and directing episodes of hit TV series like NYPD Blue, Judging Amy, and Felicity among others, my initial reaction is to wonder is this really the same Brad Silberling, or some other bloke who bear the same name. Having confirmed his ‘involvement' in `Valerie Flake' from IMDB, I have taken the liberties to make some observations, i.e. comparing Silberling's ‘Moonlight Mile' with `Valerie Flake'.

`Warning: Spoilers ahead'

There are many obvious similarities between the two in terms of thematic elements, characterization, and the plot development. The main protagonist of both films are presented as widows who seems unable to deal with the sudden bereavement of their loved one, crash in to stay with the in-laws, encounters a new love interest in a new environment, and eventually reveals to the surrogate parents (the in-laws) that it is not holy matrimony between his/her spouse all along. It is the underlying ‘secret', the obligatory revelation and the tremendous guilt that is bore by both Joe Nast (play by Jake Gyllenhaal in M.M) and Valerie Flake that drives the core of both films. Hence, I can't help but speculate how much of Moonlight Mile is influenced by the earlier film, although it has been said that Silberling's film is based on his personal experiences after the murder of his girlfriend Rebecca Schaeffer.

‘Moonlight Mile' is a much better crafted film, in terms of the production values and the high caliber of acting talents, graced with acting heavyweights Dustin Hoffman, Susan Sarandon, Holly Hunter, and the already mentioned Jake Gyllenhaal of ‘Donie Darko' fame. Not to discredit the acting in Valerie Flake, as Susan Traylor did manage a restrained and consistent performance throughout the length of the movie, which keeps me engaged to the story and her character nevertheless. I see it as some sort of a triumph for the underdog, where the likes of Traylor can bag the title role of a movie, playing a sexually charged character that would have traditionally been tailor made to the likes of glossed out beauties ala Julia Roberts (Erin Brockovich) or the Jenny from the block. The choice in casting, together with the filming locations, gives Valerie Flake a ‘look' of raw edge, a heightened sense of reality that complements the story. Such elements can never be found in the otherwise bigger and slicker looking Hollywood productions.

However, the dichotomy of Valerie Flake is that the strengths are also its flaws, given the overall amateur acting, the lazy static camera work, and many other aspects of the production. With a budget of $500,000, I am expecting more from the filmmakers. Look at what Robert Rodriguez can do with $7,000 in `El Mariachi'. The final outcome of Valerie Flake looks more like a final year student project rather than a good independent film made by professionals. Irregardless, credit has to be given to the very original script and Susan Traylor. Themes such as the frustrated artist being unable to relate her work to and communicate with her spouse strike a particular personal chord with me. Weighing the pros and cons, I give `Valerie Flake' a 6 out of 10.

Kill Bill: Vol. 1

A movie for the film geeks, made by a film geek:
Many who have seen it have panned this movie for its over-the-top zealousness and its high body count, not forgetting the many severed limbs and bloodied body parts along the way. Coming from me, I can only comment that these critics have not seen many films, or at least they have not seen the films that Q.T has seen.

As early as the Shaw Brothers opening banner right at the beginning, I know that this movie is not to be taken too seriously and I should just sit back and enjoy the ride. And not bad for a ride too, with a touch of nostalgia. Especially when more than 90 per cent of the films that the director have chosen to reference or pay tribute to are from the late sixties and the seventies, a by-gone era that still remains etched in memories. Here comes the spotting game: There's the Hitchcockian touch of suspense at the hospital scene. There are the samurai movies with Sonny Chiba and his samurai swords. Not forgetting martial arts maestro Chang Che's endless blood spilling (Q.T even acknowledged in an interview that during filming, he prayed and asked the belated Chang Che to teach him how to make the blood spill right! In the end, his persistence paid off and thank god he waited..) Even the major revenge plotline is based loosely on Samurai and Chinese martial arts movies, where vengeance is forever a recurring theme.

Coming back alive too and featured prominently are the Green Hornet (face masks cum music score) and Bruce Lee (the yellow tracksuit from ‘Game of Death', the ‘Fists of Fury' setting for the final showdown, and the Green Hornet itself !) Most of all credit has to be given to Sergio Leone and the music of Ennio Morricone. All throughout this film, you can see Leone's Extreme close-ups, the mexican standoffs (with swords rather than guns), and intercutting the shots with Morricone like music to create the tension and mood. According to the credits, one of Morricone's own score is featured.

Among the more contemporary influences, you have the Jap Anime sequence, courtesy of Production I.G, and the ultra violent ultra cool jap cult film‘Battle Royal', which manifests in the form of Chiaki Kuriyama as Go Go Yubari. I am trying to cover as much ground here, but I believe I'm still missing bits and pieces that Q.T has slotted in throughout the film. Perhaps other commentators will care to add on to this exhaustive list?

In retrospect, Q.T has built a proven track record on his 1st – 3rd films, based partially if not wholly on movies that he loves dearly. ‘Reservoir Dogs' is a hybrid of the heist films and the gritty Hong Kong crime/action genre. ‘Pulp Fiction', with it's title saying it all, is the first time that Q.T pay hommage by featuring a retro star of a by-gone era, i.e John Travolta, re-doing his slick dance moves. ‘Jackie Brown' is openly a hommage to Blaxploitation films with who else but Pam Grier to play the title character. It all culminates and comes to a boiling point in ‘Kill Bill', with the number of ‘stars' and movies featured topping them all. From the already mentioned Sonny Chiba to Gordon Liu, whom I feel didn't seems to quite fit into his green hornet masked role. Think Chiba got the better deal, playing the retired samurai swords maker cum master, with more dialogue and scenes to act in. But the incredible fact remains that Q.T has managed to cast them in his movie at this age, these two film legends if I may say so. Not bad at all for a former video store clerk.

I totally enjoyed picking out the movie references. Standing on its own merits, the production is top notch crafting, thanks to collaborators like D.P Bob Richardson. Especially love the b&w and silhouette sword fighting sequences, and the long moving uninterrupted camera throughout the Japanese club set-up ala Martin Scorsese or Brian De Palma's films. Richardson also happens to be the cinematographer for Scorsese in ‘Casino'. Commendable work is also heard in the sound design and sound editing, which together with the mostly non-original score, serves the movie well.

My only problem, or should I say conflict with the movie is: because the movies that Q.T loves are these sensational vengeance soaked exploitation flicks from at least 20-30 years ago, featuring them in today's context, to today's audience, will most probably result in tons and tons of negative cynical laughter. Not too many people can view this movie with a perspective in mind, as evidenced from the many negative comments. Q.T ended up doing more parody (I'm sure he meant to do some of it) rather than seriously and sincerely paying tribute to the films and the filmmakers that he so dearly adored and admired. It's like re-doing an old B-exploitation movie with a big budget ‘A' movie production and craft. The overall feeling that I got is that the elements from so many different and varied ‘movies' did not tie up together well, as compared to his earlier work like ‘Reservoir Dogs'. It is intelligently put together, but certain elements are simply too over-the top, and they are better left the way they were, in the video libraries. I really wonder what will Leone and Chang Che say when they see ‘Kill Bill'. If only I can ask them, like what Q did

Wong Gok ka moon

'Mean Streets' in Hong Kong
Wong Kar Wai's debut effort as a feature film director already showcase flashes of talent from the would-be auteur. ALthough not as groundbreaking or innovative as some of his better known films (eg. Chungking Express/ Fallen Angels), nevertheless it displayed some of his distinct signature styles, (eg. naturalistic & idiosyncratic dialogue, character driven films) and themes(eg. love,urban environment, world in turmoil and chaos)

Obviously inspired by Martin Scorsese's early effort 'Mean Streets', which was in turn partly inspired by 'beat' filmmaker John Cassevetes debut film 'Shadows'; 'As Tears Go by' is 'Mean streets' set in Hong Kong. The harsh depiction of traid and street gang culture is in sharp contrast to the stylish gun-totting hoods from John Woo's 'A Better Tomorrow'. In many ways, Wong's depiction came accross as more bittingly realistic, helped by its many on-location filming (another WKW style). Hong Kong's neon lit streets/dark dingy alleys/fluorescence interiors/late night piers, blended in perfectly with Wong's story set in contemporary urban HK. Very interesting camera work and lighting that is different from the other HK films coming out from that era. It displayed an early WKW visual flare, again evident in Chunking Express and Fallen Angels, which utilizes similar locations and settings, as well as ferentic camera movements and stylised composition. Credit should be due to art director Chang Shu Ping, who collaborated with Wong in all of his subsequent films. Of note too is cinematographer Andrew Lau, who will go on to helm the 'Young & Dangerous' series that bears several visual & subject matter influences from this film.Though I must add that Young & Dangerous portrayal of heroic gansters is more glorifying than Wong's pathetic bloodied characters.

Excellant performances from all three leads, which bagged Jacky CHeung(doing a Robert de niro) the best supporting actor and Andy Lau a nomination for best actor at that year's HK film awards. Maggie Chueng claimed that this was the first time she discovered the true potential of screen acting. Also unforgettable is Alex Man's supporting turn as the most sadistic villian imaginable.

'As Tears go By' is probably the only WKW film that is fully scripted (WOng served as a scriptwriter in other generic HK movies for several years before this effort), and it shows. Some clever and subtle original touches in the first act, that translates Scorsese's tortured characters and ethnic Itlian dispora to local HK flavor and motivations. However, the conflict dragged on by the second act, and the film seems indecisive as whether to focus on the Andy Lau/Maggie Cheung love story arc or on his dillema with his understudy pal Jacky Cheung and their conflict with bad ass Alex Man. Scorsese's 'Mean Streets' works because it manages to stay focus on the main protaganist POV and motivations. The whole film is centered around Harvey Keitel's character, and the other characters serves as his burden to his climb up the mafia ranks. That direction seems lost in Wong's version. The last act/conclusion seems rushed, cliche and definitely predictable. What I suspect, and logically seems plausible, is the interference of the producers and financiers on 'As Tears go by'. WOng had claimed in interviews that his early work was being hampered in many ways by others, hence his firm decision and insistence to be the producer in all his subsequent films. He wants to and achieves total artistic control over all of his later films.

Nevertheless, 'As Tears Go by' is without a doubt a milestone of WOng's career as well as Hong Kong cinema. The visceral on-screen violence, realistc seedy portrayal of HK's underworld and streets locale, and cosmopolitan loves and relationships was never before seen on HK screens during its day. It is preceded only by John Woo's 'A Better Tomorrow', which in many ways is a different kind of film with very different themes. Definitely worth catching for fans of Wong Kar Wai and those who love Hong Kong cinema.

7/10 from me.


The KEY to Iran's future?
I just saw this film from it's screening on Arts Central, Singapore's premier tv channel dedicated to arts programming, and in some ways, our version of Australia's SBS (since this is our only free-to-air reception of 'exotic' foreign fair, minus the nudity & sex of course)

Iranian cinema, however 'world renowned', still remains as largely unfamiliar territory for me. I guess I have only truely seen works of Majid Majidi, courtesy of their widespread popularity and availability.

Shamefully, this is my 'first contact' with Kiarostami, considered by many to be the luminary of Iranian Cinema, and even so he only serves as the writer of this film.

I must say, looking at the plot synopisis initially, which is about a four-year old boy and his baby brother who were locked-in by their parents,I thought this will be another Iranian sentimental kid-flick along the lines of Majidi.

How wrong was I proven. Not only is this film starkingly realistic, it is also frighteningly worrying. The almost static camera, with bare minimal cuts, allows the action to play out to it's desired effects. And the performance, especially of child actor Mahnaz Ansarian who plays the main protagonist Amir Mohammad (I've lost count the number of times his name was shouted), is simply astonishing.

With almost 1 1/2 hours of depicting the child left home alone with his baby brother, locked-in with food cooking on the stove and an eventual gas leak, it does drag on to end up playing like a documentary re-enactment of a guidebook warning, listing all the dangers that the house can pose to your child. Perhaps the moral of the story is simply: Never leave your kids alone at home.

Then again, the author Kirostami is well-known for the subtexts in his work. Pondering futher, despite knowing very little about Irianian society or culture, I'm beginning to pick out other ways of interpretation. Perhaps if we look at Amir as representing Iranian youth, and his baby brother as Iranain future, with both of them being locked in (due to censorship/some kindda societal repression), it is up to the youth to find the 'key' amid all the troubles and obstacles, in order to save not only himself, but also his brother (the future). He will not be getting a lot of help, both his parents are absent, and not surprisingly, only the mother seems to be blamed (perhaps another subtext?), and those who really come forward to aid him are all women. The only 'man' character who appears in the film, the vegetables seller, only lends his voice through the loud speaker, and left the scene early without giving further assistance, despite the urgency and dangers facing the children. Another social criticism perhaps? Then again, I must stress that I have not read deeply enough to further address any issues. All these are just mere observations based on the watching of this film alone.

The length of this film, however riddled with troubles, does end on a note of hope. Not sure if the last freeze frame of Amir has anything to do with Truffaut's "400 blows", and if it does, I don't think it works quite as effectively given the different context and also a rather abrupt resolution to the build-up of this film.

Anyways, with all being said, 'Kelid' is still an interesting look at Iranian cinema and a peek into their socio-cultural world. My resolution now is to seek out the other films of Kiarostami. Perhaps only then will I have a better understanding and reading of this film...

A 7/10

The Hudsucker Proxy

A homage tribute to classic screwball, Sturges and Capra~
I've always admired the Coen Brothers and their films. THere's always a 'wicked' blend of clever writing, mayhem, noir and the Coens' uncanny sense of dark humour. And thanks to their frequent collaborators like cinematographer Roger Deakins, you can always expect a work of impecable quality. Yet that seem to be problem, because of all the good films that they have made, despite their individual merits, none of them seem to stand out on it's own.

THat is untill I came accross 'The Hudsucker Proxy'. I can't agree more with other reviewers who feel that this is an underrated film. And the film's title, though relevant to the film itself, doesn't strike as a piece that you'll wanna check out, unless you are a Coens' fan.

Coming to the film itself, despite the 'impecable quality' that I've seen in previous Coens', I was nonetheless astonished by the 'look' of it. From the opening alone, with the almost surreal recreation of New York 1958, the very beautiful and communicating cinematography that goes very well with the design, for the lack of a better word, I can only say it's 'Magical'.

Many scenes really stand out and demanded attention, and that includes the two-cops conversant narration of the 'entry' of Jennifer Jason Leigh's character first meeting Tim Robin's Norville Barnes...the two cops serve as a metaphor to the two Coen Brothers writing the scene itself.

ANd this leads to the main point I'm about to make - This film is made up of classical screwball references, namely the films of Preston Sturges and Frank Capra. The above-mentioned scene is already evident as a Sturges' style in 'Lady Eve. The plot, characters, ideas and execution are taken from Sturges and Capra. A intelligent 'Puilitzer' and conniving Amy Archer falling in love with the imbecile but 'rich' with a heart Norville Barnes - once again it's "Lady Eve". The sucidal Barnes who got rescued by angels during Christmas/ NEw YEar Merry season - Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life". An innocent and naive man from small time town making BIG TIME by a twist of fate, with a twist of irony, and bucking the system - "Mr SMith goes to Washington"

Add in some biting satire that includes feminism and cut-throat corporate life to the screwball adn Capraism, and you'll have this new blend from the Coen brothers...something different from what I coined as 'Coenism noir', and still very good and satisfying.

MY guess is Sam Raimi's contribution in writing credits does add on to the differentiating factors. But nevertheless, this is a Coens' film, and without doubt the best I've seen. As a fellow film buff, I can picture how the brothers are trying to pay a fitting tribute to their idols and the genre. I take my hat off them and maybe someday in the near future, it will be the Coen brothers turn to be placed on the pedestal.

9/10 from me.

Shu dan long wei

Postmodern take on Hong Kong action cinema...i prefer an entertaining comedy/action spoof~
I saw this movie during my high school days when it was first released in the cinema. I enjoyed it thoroughly back then, and having seen countless snnipets on re-runs and re-re-runs on tv, and just watching it in its entirety again most recently, I still find it satisfyingly entertaining.

Compared to the other run on the mill Hong Kong action/ comedy movies, this ranks as one of those with a much larger budget, hence higher production values. Not to say that it is anywhere near the Hollywood meglo-maniacal standards, but it is good enough for something 'Made in Hong Kong'.

However I must say, action aside, the most impressive thing about this movie is still the writing, thanks to the very talented and much maligned Wong Jing. I always considered Wong Jing a wizard of Hong Kong cinema, contributing to almost all of Stephen Chow's earlier works, and still having more spells to unleash from his bag.

The postmodern take on Jacky Cheung doing a Bruce Lee 'Game of Death' yellow outfit, and of course even Jackie Chan's 'I always do my own stunts' is not only refreshingly funny, but also a biting satirical commentary. Top that with very good performances from Cheung himself, and his supporting cast which includes Wu Ma parodying 'Jackie Chan's father' and Charlie Cho as Jackie's manager, and the always beautiful Chingmy Yau and Valerie CHow upping the good/ bad babe factor plus the high doses of slapstick, suspense and mind-blowing doesn't get any more and any better~

'High Risks' (it's original English title) is a Jet Lee well as Jacky Cheung's. I guess many of the american reviewers here, who probably only saw the English dubbed version, would find this to be very unfamiliar Jet Lee territory as compared to his other period pieces. They would no doubt also have missed out on many of the clever in-jokes and sub texts, and view this as another 'Die Hard' spoof. Sad to say, that is the case with many of the transitions of Asian films to American shores, most notably Hong Kong cinema and Japanese anime. So regardless of whether you are a Jet Lee fan or not, go see this movie with and open mind & enjoy the ride. Even if not for anything else, indulge in the escapist entertainment. THat's how it works for me in the first place...

Billy Liar

There's a Billy Liar in each of us~~
Most novels may not necessary translate well to the stage, let alone to the Big screen. 'Billy Liar' has achieved all that. I have just recently discovered this 'hidden' gem from among the throngs of DVD shelves. The reason I 'picked it up' was due largely to the director's name, John Schlesinger. Having seen his catapult to American fame 'Midnight Cowboy', I reckon why not check out his earlier British work. Boy was I astonished!

First of all, the script. The adapted screenplay by the original writers Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall is wickedly witty and performative for theatre dramatics, yet it crosses perfectly to the realms of cinema. The cut-aways to the lavishly staged dream sequences are so effective, so in contrast to the stark realism that we get from most of the on-location filming (from the DVD bonus features, the two writers actually take you on a present day 'tour' of a couple of the 'real'locations, juxtaposed with snippets of the film sequences at exactly the same spots).

Also commendable is the black and white cinematography by veteran Bristish lensman Denys Coop. Done in Cinemascope, the depth of Hinchcliffe Avenue can only be fully realised in the widescreen format, so avoid the re-formatted tv release at all costs!

And I must say the most amazing thing about the film is still the performance. Schlesinger rarely fails to bring out the best from his actors, and this seminal work is no exception. All the supporting cast, from 'Mr Shadrack ', Billy's family and girlfriends played very well to be the 'plastic reality' that's driving Billy insane. Hence, he seeks solance,affirmation and escape in his fantasies and lies, but ultimately we know which track he ends back on.

Tom Courtenay is simply 'Billy Liar'. Somehow, he bears an uncanny resemblance to Ewen Macgregor, or perhaps that's just me. It was mentioned that Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay, who have both played the title character on stage, were considered for the the film role at the same time. I can't help but only wonder how it would've turned out if Finney got the part instead...

Last but not least, who can resist Julie Christie, aka Liz. She is Billy's object of desire cum temptation cum salvation, very much in contrast to Billy's inhabited world... simply beautiful. The intro sequence of Liz as she walks along the streets of Bradford is another highlight of the film, undescribable with words. You gotta see it for ya self~

What else can I say about 'Billy Liar'. I guess everyone was once a 'Billy Liar', or still has a Billy Liar in him or herself. Well, at least I can say it for me self. Perhaps on a finer day, I WILL CATCH thee TRAIN to 'London'.......

I give it 9/10 :-)

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