Friday, November 30, 2007

For Love Or Money

Everybody should be like Ingvar. Or at the very least, everybody should be like Ang Lee.

What the hell am I talking about? First off is this New York Times story (registration required) on the famed Taiwanese director. We could all learn a lesson or two in humility from Ang. He lives modestly and describes himself as a regular dad. He even has a chicken coop at the back of his house. How regular is that!

And who is Ingvar? Simply, I was reminded of the IKEA founder, Ingvar Kampard. And if the legend is to believed, he drives a 15-year-old Volvo, flies strictly economy class, and even eats at his own stores for the affordable meals. All this despite having a net worth of US$33 billion!

And talking about net worth, Kaiju Shakedown had an interesting look at which Asian actor is the big money earner. Is it: a. Jackie Chan, b. Andy Lau, or c. Jet Li?

BUZZ!!! The answer is: it depends which side of the world the actor works on.

The news was that Jet Li would be making US$13 million from Peter Chan's The Warlords, the highest any actor has ever received on a Chinese-language film. That makes Li the fearless champion on this side of the world. While on the other side, Chan's films still trounce Li's at the box-office.

Bankability aside, I'm just wondering if Chan or Li have chicken coops at the back of their houses.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Rap Of The Century ... Y'All!

This is currently big news in Singapore. Very. Big. News.

It's bigger than the DVD release of Royston Tan's megahit 881. Bigger than the lighthouse issue. Bigger than ...

The wonders of the new media can help give some smalltime filmmakers a big break. But then, the playing field opens up so greatly that there's the worry of copyright issues and lack of control.

And there's this.

The story here is that this rap video was part of the Media Development Authority's annual report. But the ease of technology - with the annual report being in soft copy form, someone decided to introduce it into the big, bad cyberworld.

And the reactions this has brewed! Even Amir Muhammad wrote about it!

Someone managed to locate the source from which the rap was "sampled." No wonder then, that I thought it was a strange mix of Jay Chou and KRS-1.

No, as much as I'm amused by it, I won't embed the video here!

Lastly, here's a hilarious little gem brought to you by the people who gave us Talking Cock The Movie and Singapore Dreaming.

Remake Watch: The Karate Kid

Wax on ... wax off ... wax on ... wax off ...

Daniel-san and Mr Miyagi were, at best, caricatures. Daniel, the scrawny kid and victim of school bullies, and Miyagi, the one-dimensional image of the strange and peculiar Asian. When they meet, East and West, all kinds of cliches about Eastern values and way of life ensue, seemingly straight out of the Kwai Cheng Caine school. At one point, Miyagi, in his best stilted English and Fu Manchu accent, even offers Daniel-san this insight: "In Okinawa, all Miyagi know two things - fish and karate."

Yes, and all Japanese people know how to make sushi and speak in Zen sentences.

But all that aside, we scrawny victims of school bullies in the 80s lapped it all up, and cheered when Daniel-san delivered the final blow, Deadly Crane style.

Now, we don't know whether this is good or bad news, but China Films' Han Sanping has talked about a possible remake of The Karate Kid. Also thrown in was talk about the involvement of Will Smith and son Jaden, and either Jackie Chan or Stephen Chow as the Miyagi character. It would be called The Kungfu Kid.

Oh no ... oh no ...

Wax on ... wax off ... wax on ... wax off ...

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Everyone Wants To Be A Critic

It's quite fun to know that my friend and fellow movie blogger in Singapore, the Nutshell Reviewer, will be part of a panel discussing film blogs at the upcoming Singapore Writers' Festival.

Coincidentally, last night I was directed to this piece in the Guardian, "When Joe Bloggs Became Joe Blogger." It's once again the age-old argument about the validity of film writing on the Internet, namely in blogs. Even though this is also a blog, I found myself inevitably asking the same questions about most movie blogs.

Print vs online?

In that respect, I have both worlds, not necessarily the best of though. I've been a print journalist for more than a decade now, and a print movie reviewer for almost a decade. The problem with blogs, and the only problem with blogs, is as the title of this entry says. And the openness and accessibility of the Internet means anyone can have their say and their way now.

But I think the most important question that should be asked is, why are movie blogs so popular? The most popular ones have hits that easily trounce the circulation of some major newspapers. This must mean that the blogs are on the pulse of things more than print does, with the immediacy of the Internet taken into account.

This ultimately links to another current problem or trend, that of the extinct film critic. Read here Dave Kehr's blog entry about the firing of a critic. It's terribly disturbing and depressing news. I've had firsthand experience of this when a very good critic here who's also an acquaintance, was told that his reviews aren't "reader-friendly" enough. Whatever that means!

There's been talk that the traditional film critic is a dying breed that's "out of touch" with current trends. The lousy argument is the one that uses the example that whatever panning critics had dished out to Transformers had not dampen its box-office momentum. Therefore no one's listening to the critics anymore. That silly argument has since been countered elsewhere, that throughout history there has been no critic so great as to influence box-office with a thumbs up or down.

Let's look at "reader-friendly." Are blogs like Ain't It Cool News more reader-friendly than say, the Chicago Reader film blog? (Frankly, I don't buy into anything that has "cool" or "awesome" in its title or name.) Do people prefer words like "awesome action" and "cool shit" to "mise en scene" and "visual aesthetics"? Is that what "reader-friendly" means?

The more extreme example is also how newspapers dedicate whole pages and covers to Lord Of The Rings and Transformers, but would be hesitant to give equal amount of coverage to say, a Hou Hsiao-hsien film, or even a Wes Anderson film (over here) for that matter.

Of the blogs out there, the most credible to me, are still the ones run by the print critics; that could be construed as a matter of personal taste or bias, but I'd rather take to heart a review that analyses a film rather than one which tells me it "awesomely rocks!". (Seriously, these are actual words I found on a movie review blog.)

At the end of the day, the adage that "the more, the merrier" appeases all and sunder. Ask a fellow journalist and a friend of mine, and he'll tell you "I've learned over the years not to try and change the world." A pessimistic view, you could say, but also one that's far-sighted too. In the business sense, it's more prudent to go for the popular rather than artistic integrity. Newspapers see the advent of blogs and their popularity, newspapers get nervous. Blogs are not restricted by house-styles and journo-speak. The language is different. Newspapers perceive it as advantageous to adopt that kind of language. Out go the old critic and his jargon!

This could well be the real situation, couldn't it? The view that the blogs are more in touch with the times also don't hold water simply for the fact that the way films are made today, and the way they speak to audiences, are not that much different from before. Or if there are any variances, they certainly are natural and do not reflect that difference between blogs and traditional criticism. We're seeing faster cuts in films, but do we see a similar reduction in attention span in blogs? Not really.

So, why are movie blogs so popular? For one, they're free and they're easily accessible. You don't have to go to a newsstand and buy a copy or wait for the delivery man to send it to your door. And secondly, you get the latest news almost instantly or as fast as it is humanly possible to type and upload. And most often, it's the latest news that people are looking for, the latest reviews. A hot item instantly gets repeated everywhere on the blogosphere; case in point, the latest excitement over the "secret" Joker/Heath Ledger cover of Empire, beans spilled by a certain JoBlo.

So, if you're getting everything at a one-stop centre called a blog, what's there not to like about its reviews too?

Of course, I'm speculating. Which brings us right back to that Guardian article. While it addresses the undeniable fact that there's more uninformed writing about films now, which I agree, it also claims that bloggers are just interested in their own ego trips. Which I disagree to a certain extent.

Film bloggers, at least the good ones, are driven by 90% passion and 10% ego trip. As for the rest, whether that passion drives the blogger to be more informed, or at least attempt to be informed, is another matter altogether.

What You Get Is What You See

Thai filmmakers and cinemagoers are still fighting for their rights, while we over here have long resigned ourselves to our fate of seeing butchered films with a ratings system. There has sadly been no concerted effort by our filmmakers to demand a change to the rules and regulations like Apichatpong Weerasethakul and friends have, but so far in the last couple of years, our Censorship Board has shown incredible restraint with the scissors. And we've even gotten to see some films which would never have made it to the screens before this. Still, the situation is far from perfect.

I think we can all still recall the fiasco surrounding Tsai Ming-liang's I Don't Want To Sleep Alone earlier this year.

But down there in Singapore, it's an altogether different scenario. Although the Singapore censors are far more lenient compared to ours, it's the distributors who seem to be exploiting the situation, as some movie-goers have claimed. The latest case was Ang Lee's Lust, Caution, which earned an NC-16 rating. But the distributors released both the edited version (ala mainland China, sans sex scenes) and the uncut version, acrobatic sex and all. The latter was released with an R21 rating.

But the fact that the distributor released the cut version first, followed some time later by the uncut version, was what angered many Singaporeans and started the accusations that the distributor was trying to exploit them, by fooling them into seeing the NC-16 version, then luring them back for seven to nine minutes of added footage later. These are allegations but some people were pissed off enough to call for a boycott of the R21 release, preferring to make a stand in lieu of chiropractic erotica.

As for me, I used to travel down to Singapore for films that were never released in Malaysia. I still do, but not as often anymore. Although we have more releases than before, with some films opening even earlier than in Singapore, they still have a lot more going on down south. There seems to be a lot of screenings and special events at the National Museum and other venues, almost every month. Recently, there was a special 35mm screening of King Hu's Touch Of Zen, and then the Animation Nation festival, including a showing of Tekkonkinkreet.

But there was one experience that reminded me to be extra cautious about going into a cinema in Singapore. Some years ago, I arrived in Singapore on a late afternoon, and in a daze from lack of sleep, walked into the Eng Wah cineplex in Suntec City, bought a ticket for Infernal Affairs 2, got comfy in the seat, and ... to my horror, Anthony Wong and Eric Tsang spoke in Mandarin and in weird voices from Dubbing Hell!

I decided to catch some sleep instead, and dozed off right there in my seat.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Go McSweeney Go Go Go!

McSweeney's is one of my all-time favourite websites and a definite must-read every single day. It's one of the most hilarious and ingenious things ever created by man, apart from Takeshi's Castle.

And when they have something movie-related like this, I get completely bowled over.

Also see Jim Jarmusch's Notes For A Ghostbusters Sequel, and one of the funniest articles ever written by anyone, Troubleshooting Guide For Timecorp's VH3928 Model Time Machine.


On a somewhat related note, the Wachowskis' movie version of Speed Racer's website is up and running, with a gorgeous photo of the Mach 5 greeting visitors on the main page. I had doubts about the movie, even with the Ws involved, but hey, it's got Sanada Hiroyuki and Jung Ji-hoon aka Rain in it!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Paradoxes Of The Heart

I seriously regard David Fincher's Alien 3 as the best in the series. This statement is sure to get some people's knickers in a knot, but allowing oneself some distance from one's own fanboy tendencies would help to see where I'm coming from.

Stripping away the powerful H.R. Giger designs that tends to overwhelm everything else, and minimising the action and skulking cat-and-mouse scenarios, Fincher is able to bring about a certain focus on character development and dynamics that were missing from the first two films - or in James Cameron's Aliens, was simplified to a large degree but without compromising or catering too much to the blockhead action fan.

Let's not even talk about the overrated first movie, almost always regarded by fanboys as a "masterpiece." Ridley Scott's preliminary episode in the saga is an art direction masterpiece, not a director's masterpiece. He was smart enough to allow the actors to improvise, which lent a certain realism to their banter and interaction. But take away Giger's wonderfully realised designs, both horrific and erotic at the same time, and also the cinematography of Derek Vanlint, and you'll find nothing much there. It's boring even, with overlong sequences of the characters skulking around the interiors of the Nostromo. Incidentally, the same is true of that other Scott "masterpiece," Blade Runner, which is, again, one big bore, except that the artistic vision, like Alien, is so strong that it commands attention simply by being visually arresting.

Alien 3, while admittedly owing a lot to the previous films, brings about new and interesting problems, turns the idea of a strong woman character almost on its head, while imbuing the proceedings with undercurrents of the religious and spiritual. That adds more humanity to the story rather than just another alien vs humans scenario, balancing delicately the ideas of crime, punishment, redemption, righteousness, monstrosity and sacrifice. In fact, the self-regulating correction facility of Fury 161, with its end-of-the-road hardcore criminals and psychos, could well be read as a deep-space purgatory. Most interesting is Charles S. Dutton's Dillon, the religious fanatic who is at once the perfect anti-hero.

Playing off what we already know about Ripley, the initial encounter she has with Dillon and the others in the prison cafeteria plays off many shades at once.

Dillon: You don't wanna know me, lady. I'm a murderer and a rapist of women.
Ripley: (Pause) Well then, I guess I must make you nervous.

Anyone who's familiar with the first two films would have a great chuckle at this. Here is a bunch of badass men, or who think they're badass, who have no inkling of who Ripley is; rather, they view her in the most chauvinistic manner, not knowing that she's fought off the biggest badass of the universe - the Alien Queen.

But the Alien series, upon closer inspection, is not really about Ripley, nor is it about Man against Nature/Alien. Like all good horror, it deploys decoys, distractions, but ultimately brings you back, in all three films, to its primary concern - that of Man vs The Big Bad Corporation. In this case, Weyland-Yutani, which, if you think about it, has been the catalyst for all Ripley's problems throughout the series.

It's really a cautionary tale about authority.


I've been having a discussion on a certain literary blog, about horror writing, and how it lacks substance when it comes to local authors. Like I noted in the discussion, horror can be at its best, like with Lovecraft, Poe, Arthur Machen, Clark Ashton Smith, Algernon Blackwood, the dark fantasy of Ray Bradbury, the pulp terror of Robert Bloch, and even Stephen King.

At its worst, you have the likes of Dean Koontz, Clive Barker, Richard Laymon, et al.

Local horror writing tends towards the lesser end of the spectrum, I said. The authors are often preoccupied with primarily trying to deliver the scares or terrors at the expense of everything else.

One of the stories that completely intrigued me was Joyce Carol Oates' The Doll, from her collection, Haunted: Tales Of The Grotesque. Here's a story that's horrific, disturbing, but most of all psychologically effective and resonant even before you near the end and realise what the mechanical and puppet-like occupants of the strange house are really about. The important thing is that the real horror on which it is based plays as a very deep undercurrent that is felt throughout without it being expressly conveyed. It's ingenious.

Stephen King too, at his best, has the uncanny ability to create a palpable sense of place and sense of self in his characters. Oftentimes his stories pit the protagonists against each other rather than against the monster or supernatural threat - people thrown into unnatural settings and situations. At the heart of it, all good horror stories are about the darker potentials of the human self, and they explore that rather than just present it, which is often the misstep of our local authors.

Infinitely, the darker side of us is far more interesting than any ghost, demon or ghoul.

And that's what David Fincher understood with Alien 3. That's what Dan O'Bannon, screenwriter of the original Alien script, understood too, when midway through the first film, we're suddenly privy to the real motive of Ash, the android.


Friday, November 23, 2007

This Movie Is Really Cool ... Really, Just Trust Us!

Monsters. We love them in movies. Whether it's a 50-foot mutation or a serial killer, they provide some good scares when they're effective. But Hollywood these days have not much to offer in terms of originality. Maybe there's nothing in real life to mirror anymore.

Look at it this way. During the Cold War, the threat of nuclear warfare was real, as was the post-war advent of radioactive playthings that inspired the likes of Godzilla and other manner of nature's aberrations. The duck-and-cover days may be slightly irrelevant now, and the threats that we're led to believe exist today, are largely fabricated. Maybe that's why the monsters in movies seem fake too. I don't know. Maybe that's why Hollywood resorts to "torture porn."

I still don't know.

As far as pushing the limits go, these blood-and-gore films have raised controversy time and again, earned the ire of women's groups. But does it stop anyone from making more of them or wanting to see them? Far from it.

This morning, I received a text message from someone who was at a movie preview, and who'd obviously just seen the trailer for the horror flick Unrest. It was made last year but is only now showing here. Its claim to originality? It's the first movie to use real dead bodies.

No, I'm not kidding. Take a look at IMDB: "The corpse used in the movie is real." One user exclaims excitedly in the title of her/his comment: Real cadavers!!!

Then that user had this to say: "... when I heard they were using real cadavers for this, I knew I had to catch it."

If they legitimise such a thing in movies, what then separates criminal snuff movies from fiction films? How is the fan of torture porn and real cadavers different from those who forward gore in emails for kicks? Who are the monsters? So now what? Instead of donating your body to science, donate your body to the movie industry?

This is serious.


All this business about J.J. Abrams' Cloverfield is getting a bit tiresome. If you don't already know, it's an upcoming monster movie that has been teasing everyone with bits here and there on the Internet, including fake news reports, but all the while hiding the monster from view. There's certainly a limit to everything, and this one just reached the spot on the scale that says "Who cares?!"

A new trailer has surfaced, and it's more of the same. It looks like it's going to be yet another shaky camera movie, and I'm really starting to believe the folks in Hong Kong who said: "The handheld camera covers three mistakes: Bad acting, bad set design, and bad directing." (I quote from Bordwell.)

But there's a segment of audiences who are displaying a rather peculiar trait of getting visibly excited at such blurry, retina-hurting visuals. It's probably the verite style that reminds them of news footage (especially all the "excitement" in Iraq captured by "embedded" news cameras), and approximates realism for those who don't mind getting their brains turned into cotton candy.

Blame the shaky camera on The Blair Witch Project, and then blame the viral teaser marketing on that movie as well. For a long while before the movie opened, people were made to believe the characters were real and had indeed disappeared in the woods. Cloverfield may not be reaching for the same Orson Welles/War Of The Worlds panic hysteria as Blair Witch, but it's playing the same cat-and-mouse game with us.

Jaws hid its monster from us on screen, but we were already treated to sights of it on posters and in movie stills. There was still an excitement about it coming to life on screen. Digital effects have all but eliminated that kind of anticipation and sense of wonder that made us ask "How did they do it?"

Coming from that perspective, isn't it now clear why they need such artificiality to create excitement, even hiding the monster completely from us now until we finally see it in the movie? (Remember Roland Emmerich's Godzilla?) It reeks of a certain desperation, to me.

Bong Joon-ho probably understands this, and had the tadpole monster appear full-blown in the first few minutes of The Host. But then, considering how much the monster actually appears in the film, it looks more like the least of the movie's concerns compared to the entertaining family drama and delightful cast of characters.

So in this day and age of CGI, what's there left to do? Create a monster in a laboratory for real, and then unleash it and film it as it gobbles people up?

Well, they're allowing real cadavers after all.


Thursday, November 22, 2007

Sci-fi Hustle

So the world waited with bated breath just a half-hour ago, in anticipation of the teaser trailer for Stephen Chow Sing-chi's new movie, CJ7 (formerly known as A Hope, formerly known as Yangtze River 7, formerly known as Long River 7).

I was wondering if it would actually happen; I checked Yahoo this morning, but there were no indications of an impending global event. It had been reported here and here. But it did happen, almost stealthily, and I would have missed it like Chow's character missed the giant flying saucer in the trailer.

Chow has certainly come such a long way. Together with Johnnie To, the two had been relative unknowns to the west until recently when their movies became hits worldwide. Now, To's name is on everyone's lips, and a simple Stephen Chow teaser trailer has become a global phenomenon.

I remember we would anticipate a feel-good Chow Sing-chi or Jackie Chan movie every Chinese New Year. It became a tradition, and still is, I guess, as CJ7 will be coming to cinemas in February next year. The film is somewhat reminiscent of Batteries Not Included, and the trailer spoofs everything from Close Encounters to 2001 to Alien. It's no surprise because if you watch the intro of Shaolin Soccer, you'd see that the bald monk head aligned with the football is a spoof of 2001.

Head over to Yahoo Malaysia ( for the trailer. I'm told it's going to be online there only for a day.

Stephen King Rock Or Suck

With a clear and open mind that acknowledges the crappiness of the title of this post, yet can't help admitting its accuracy, I submit for your approval the Stephen King Rock Or Suck comparison table. Since The Mist is here, and getting some pretty good reviews, it's time to take a complex and highly sophisticated scientific look at the movie adaptations of his work so far, a study that took years of focussed research.

Stephen King Rock

The Shawshank Redemption - nothing supernatural, slightly horrific
Stand By Me - nothing supernatural, slightly horrific
Dolores Claiborne - nothing supernatural, slightly horrific
The Green Mile - slightly supernatural, slightly horrific
Carrie - slightly supernatural, slightly horrific
The Dead Zone - slightly supernatural, slightly horrific
Misery - nothing supernatural, slightly horrific

Stephen King Suck

Christine - supernatural, horrific, not scary
Pet Sematary - supernatural, horrific, not scary
Sometimes They Come Back - supernatural, horrific, not scary
1408 - supernatural, horrific, not scary
Secret Window - supernatural, horrific, not scary
Children Of The Corn - supernatural, horrific, not scary
The Night Flier - supernatural, horrific, not scary

From this table, we can conclude that any adaptation of an all-out horror or supernatural story never ever works.

I'm kidding, of course. But it's been increasingly looking that way since King's strongest works are usually non-horror. There are the exceptions like Stanley Kubrick's The Shining and Tobe Hooper's TV mini-series of Salem's Lot. Once in a while you get the entertaining oddity, like the sci-fi thriller Dreamcatcher. So The Mist may just be the odd one out once again, thanks to Frank Darabont.

Just don't ever let King himself get behind the camera for a movie of one of his own tomes. Maximum Overdrive, anyone?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Miscellaneous Miscellany

Currently in a cloud of confusion, I begin to wonder aloud why I started a blog and then have no idea what to write in it. Then, from out of nowhere came the obsession with disco hit Last Train To London, by ELO, the music video of which ended up on my Facebook profile.

What does everything have to do with anything? Nothing. I just thought nobody'd like to know.

Apart from my YesAsia orders not arriving yet - the damn Malaysian post office is super-efficient, as usual - Spirit Of The Beehive has inspired me to revisit Frankenstein, which I will do this week.

Meanwhile, with all of us still buzzing about the resurface of Johnny Bikin Filem after almost one-and-a-half decade since it was made, there's also news that Flower In The Pocket, Liew Seng Tat's Pusan winner, will be competing in a very major film festival next year. Can't say more until the official announcement has been made, but the Da Huang collective sure is travelling far and wide these days. I told an African friend in Berlin about the whole caring-and-sharing approach of the giant group hug known as Da Huang, and she was so impressed by the idea of independent filmmakers working together that she decided right away to take the model (and a handsome Da Huang brochure!) back home and teach her students about it. It might just get viral.

Now, talking about Da Huang, have you seen this? James Lee must either have gone bonkers or got knocked over the head by an obelisk named Epiphany, but Mr Slow-Moving Movies With Listless Characters has gone and made an extremely bloody horror film! So I guess Before We Fall In Love Again, The Monster Standing Behind Us Is Going To Rip Our Heads Off And Drink Our Blood. But this is not a Da Huang project. I repeat, this is NOT a Da Huang project.

It's a Tayangan Unggul release. And speaking of which, have you ever tried navigating the TU website? It's got all these cool graphics and stuff, but ... nothing. You have completely no idea what to do, until you notice a little button at the bottom that says "Bahasa Melayu." I don't get it because it's not like you have a choice to view the site in English. But once you get past that, it takes you to a very cluttered main page that will take a while to figure out.

Having said that, TU has a rather nice film coming up, and the trailer is nice and funny. Can't wait for this one.

And finally, has anyone noticed how much Wanted really is The Matrix Recycled? Watch the trailer, and tell me if James McAvoy isn't Neo, Angelina Jolie isn't Trinity and Morgan Freeman isn't Morpheus.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Lists Are Hard To Do

I was adding titles to my list of favourite films in the Flixster application on Facebook, and it reminded me again why I dislike lists, especially favourites and best-of's. But then there's also an undeniable fun factor involved, and for me, the fun is derived from being reminded, as I list them out, why I love these movies that I do, and what it is about them that's so memorable.

The first 10 films currently in my list of favourites:

La Jetee - Probably the best science fiction film ever made, and it consists of a series of still photographs and a single two-second moving image that's utterly surprising. I absolutely love it for its mix of sci-fi and romance, every bit as haunting as Chris Marker's obvious Vertigo influence. The remake, Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys, is almost as excellent. But this remains, for me, the greatest film ever made.

Au Hasard Balthazar - I love Bresson's films for their inward spirituality, almost a contrast to Kieslowski's outward explorations of the soul. Every frame is of a gossamer beauty, especially so with Diary Of A Country Priest. Godard famously and quite accurately proclaimed that Au Hasard Balthazar is "the world in an hour and a half."

Ju-Dou - Zhang Yimou's early films, especially the Red series, were like horror films. Certainly Ju-Dou ends on a very horrific note. And it has the most erotic non-nudity, non-explicit love scene ever filmed!

My Neighbour Totoro - This is, to me, Miyazaki's greatest work. Like Balthazar, this is my personal "world in an hour and a half" film. It's probably the greatest film about childhood ever made. Other than La Jetee, no other film has had such an impact on me when I first saw it.

Ringu - Contemporary times' most influential horror film, hands down. Sadako is the original bad-hair-day ghost, and coincidentally (or not) came on the heels of the straight-hair trend in fashion. I first saw this on a no-subtitle copy, yet that infamous final scene still got to me ... for weeks.

Persona - In a way I love The Virgin Spring even more than this, but Persona's here for sentimental reasons. It introduced me to Bergman. Plus, in contrast to Ju-Dou, it has the greatest sex scene never filmed. Yep, it's not there, but people will tell you it's like they saw it on screen. What I love and admire most about Bergman is the extraordinary way he has with actors.

Taste Of Cherry - Despite it being a movie that consists largely of a guy driving around aimlessly, this is a very profound, very life-affirming film. Even when the camera sits in the car next to the driver, it is endlessly fascinating due to the off-screen elements that Kiarostami employs.

Days Of Heaven - My most favourite Malick film. Apart from being a complete visual feast, it has a verite quality about it, and the most believable, ultra-realistic voice-over ever. I used to have this on laserdisc and watched it at least twice a year.

Kikujiro - This just recently replaced my other Kitano favourite, Hana-Bi, as my most favourite Kitano film. It's a love-it-or-hate-it kind of film, but I love the wide-open potential of such a road comedy and how Kitano milks every possibility out of it, and still manages to make a fun, hilarious and poignant film.

Comrades, Almost A Love Story - Definitely one of the best films to come out of Hong Kong. A moving portrait of two lives that unwittingly weave in and out of each other, Peter Chan's masterpiece has a quality far removed from the usual HK tear-jerker, and one of the most jaw-dropping final frame in cinema.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Sweeney Todd, Mobile Phones And Ancient Mobs

Just received a list of 2008 releases from Warner Bros. As usual these lists from studios always look boring, sometimes ridiculous and are often full of remakes. Undeniably there'll always be one or two gems among them.

We already know about The Dark Knight, and the rest aren't worth mentioning. Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street is, of course, noteworthy for Burton alone, but what has he done lately that has equalled the mind-blowing proportions of Edward Scissorhands or Batman, or even the madcap Beetlejuice?

One thing I can't help thinking though, is that everytime I see Johnny Depp as Sweeney Todd, I imagine Yakusho Koji in the role, and suspect Yakusho would do a much more interesting job!

Did I already mention "remakes"? Here's one in the WB list - the American version of Miike Takashi's silly but wildly entertaining One Missed Call. Watch the trailer, and then tell me if it isn't Final Destination with mobile phones. Ho-hum. It's always been my suspicion that Miike had been aware of the self-parodying effects of J-Horror now, its oversaturation, and decided to just have fun with the movie. It's also my suspicion that Hollywood isn't going to have any fun with the horror genre anytime soon.

Further down the road there's 10,000BC. I must admit the movie looks gorgeous, but why do I keep seeing the ridiculous "I try hard to look heroic" face of Gerard Butler and hearing "This ... is ... Sparta!"-type rhetoric whenever I see scenes of ancient mobs?

Finally, the one thing we should all be looking forward to is Spike Jonze's movie version of that Maurice Sendak classic, Where The Wild Things Are. It's slated for release in the third quarter of the year. I think it's going to be wild.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Move Over, Bart, Shinchan Did It First

Reading about Dragon Ball, inevitably I came across details about how much censorship was exercised over the series in America. This is understandably so, since the difference between cultures is a great divide yet to be bridged.

Things like the family bath scene in My Neighbour Totoro was a point of discussion for some because the father is seen bathing together with his two young daughters. In Japan where this is standard practice among families, this is no problem, but in America it would, and did, raise some eyebrows. Incidentally, Disney was reported to have been jittery about a similar bathhouse scene in Takahata Isao's Only Yesterday, and was hesitant about releasing the film.

In the US version of Dragon Ball aired over Cartoon Network, scenes of Goku naked were digitally fixed, among other "problematic" stuff like panties, homosexuality and paedophilia.

Which now brings us to the point I wanted raise.

When The Simpsons Movie came out, there was much buzz surrounding a certain scene involving Bart Simpson's first full-frontal nude scene. Aiyah, I say, what's the big deal, especially if you've been a long-time fan of Crayon Shinchan?

Shinchan's been "hanging it all out" since time immemorial. And what's more, he's done it on television before!

Surfing For DVDs

After months of not checking out what's new on DVD, I went to Amazon yesterday and discovered these:

I'd long been waiting for a proper DVD release for both films, especially Ju Dou. I've had a Taiwanese DVD of Raise The Red Lantern for years, but the transfer is atrocious, to say the least.

Had to get them, of course, but it all came up to about US$39. I decided to check out YesAsia, and lo and behold, the exact same R1 discs were available. Although the price of each was slightly higher, I had free shipping, so it all came up to about US$33. It was the first time I had ordered from YesAsia, and another surprise was to wake up today and find an email saying my orders have been shipped. That was quick!

Then I went to my old haunt, the Aussie store EzyDVD, and discovered pre-orders for Interview With The Vampire Special Edition and 2001: A Space Odyssey 2-Disc Special Edition going really cheap. These have been released in the US, of course, but apparently they're not out yet in Australia.

I'd order them, but there's also the matter of the Criterion Collection edition of Days Of Heaven. Sigh.

So, this week, the postman will be my best friend as I await the DVDs from YesAsia and a couple books from Acmamall.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Bats On The Island

By the looks of this, not everyone's happy about the new Batman movie.

Yes, sure, ooh Batman goes to Hong Kong, wow, the crowd goes wild and all that, but wait, says Johnnie To of the local goverment:

"The government can offer 100% support for them, but they can't even offer 1% to us locals. It's discrimination, because we Chinese are not worth as much cash to them."

Meanwhile, when u click on the bat logo on the official website, you get a Harvey Dent campaign ad. Of course Dent is played by Aaron Eckhardt, but does anyone remember the wonderful promise of an interesting twist when, in the Tim Burton-directed Batman, Dent was played by Billy Dee Williams?

But of course, later in the franchise, in particular Joel Schumacher's Batman Forever, Dent miraculously mutated into Tommy Lee Jones.

Manga Go West

I'm very much in two minds about the new live-action adaptation of manga/anime series Dragon Ball, just recently announced. First off, it's always worrying when Hollywood decides to take on a much beloved franchise, more so an Asian one. For one, its various remakes of Asian movies haven't exactly been shining examples of movie genius.

Dragon Ball's always been a love-it-or-hate-it kind of series. Personally, I find it extremely entertaining, very imaginative and totally wacky. Wacky is always good when it comes to anime (Crayon Shinchan, anyone? Ranma?). And that's why it's impressed most people when Twentieth Century Fox also announced that Stephen Chow Sing-chi will be producing the movie. Wacky + wacky = LOL crazy comedy?

Well, hit the pause button on that enthusiasm, please. The casting is a bit weird to me. I'm willing to give Final Destination director James Wong the benefit of the doubt, but Justin Chatwin as Goku? James Marsters as villain Piccolo?

You see, Dragon Ball was inspired by both Drunken Master and the Chinese classic Journey To The West. Like it or not, the settings have an inevitably Eastern feel to them, although series creator Toriyama Akira says:

"The setting of Dragon Ball has a sort of Chinese feel to it, but it's not necessarily China. Exactly where it takes place is uncertain."

Having an all-western cast would feel, well, unusual. Certainly the dialogue is going to be weird. "Hey, Piccolo, I'm gonna kick your ass!"

My friend calls it the westernisation of Asian ideas, or "angmoh-nisation." Take for example also, the upcoming Wachowskis adaptation of Speed Racer. But then again, a lot of anime and manga series are set in "neutral" locations, and there's no shortage of characters with western names. Remember Rick Hunter of the Robotech series? Or just watch the series The Vision Of Escaflowne and see the various blond characters with English names. So it's all pretty fair game for anyone.

But for Dragon Ball, Chatwin as a character named Goku is a bit hard to swallow. Could there be a possibility that they might change some of the character names? Perhaps Goku might become Gary or something? Shudder.

And the difference in expectation between Dragon Ball and Speed Racer? Think about it, the Wachowskis made The Matrix, and James Wong made ... er, The One.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A New Beginning

So I finally shut down my previous film blog and started this new one. Let's just say certain things got a little too close for comfort and the difficult decision had to be made.

Welcome to The Storyboard.

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