Tag Archives: Asian Cinema

Cinema-Maniac: I Saw the Devil (2010) Review

If there’s another genre that had a bigger fall from grace it would be the horror genre. Much like the action genre, allot of fans can agree the 80s was where it peaked in popularity. However, horror can still continue to push the boundary of what is acceptable both visually, and from a creative perspective. How much is too much when it comes to blood, and gore. How in depth of an character exploration can you create before you begin thinking like a killer. Horror has the ability, more so than other genre, to put viewers in a uncomfortable situations, and even scare them in some cases. As someone who doesn’t see allot of horror movies it’s unfortunate very few horror films from the 90s, and 2000s didn’t entice me in viewing the genre without a preconceived notion. What made matter worse is despite having seen very few horror films, most of what I was exposed to by friends, and family were generally trite films within the genre. There were eventually films that won me over like 1931 Frankenstein, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre from 1974 (the only horror movie to scare me to date), and George A. Romero’s original Dawn of the Dead which is my all time favorite zombie film. That’s why I’m happy to write about I Saw the Devil. A modern horror film that is hybrid with a psychological thriller, and succeed for all the right reasons work as well it should have.

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Choi Min-sik: “Mmm, I could use this arm for a pie.”

I Saw the Devil is about a secret agent exacting revenge on a serial killer through a series of captures and releases. While not entirely a horror film, one admirable trait that I Saw the Devil accomplishes far better than general horror films is contextualizing the blood, and gore. Too often do many films within this genre disregard characters, and story for the sake of bloodshed. The film is deliberately slow paced for this singular reason. For starter, it slow pacing helps it create an atmosphere of dread over it’s main Kim Soo-hyeon (Byung-hun Lee). What it also allows for is to display impatience within Kim Soo-hyeon witnessing him losing sleep over finding his wife’s killer. Showing Kim Soo-hyeon will do anything in his position in the name of vengeance. Splicing scenes of both Kim Soo-hyeon, and Kyung-chul (Min-sik Choi) current activities in the film to never lose focus of time. Showing the two men psychology are similar in certain ways, but makes it easy to determine who the film wants you to sympathize with as Kim Soo-hyeon is going after killers while Kyung-chul goes after women to kill.

Another aspect of the story that is appealing is putting a twist on a familiar premise. In some horror films, if the victim of the deceased faces with the killer it’s either save until the climax, or becomes a film where the victim tortures the killer until someone dies in both scenario. By the end of the first act, the film victim Kim Soo-hyeon confronts killer Kyung-chul in which, surprisingly a choreographed fight scene ensues. After this confrontation, the film still continues by using a hunter, and the hunted mentality for its characters. At certain points in the film, this mind game between the two characters are discussed in the film. One attempted to be persuaded to simply let up on the vengeance, and ponder if there’s any value in it. For another he receives a taste of his own medicine while also deriving pleasure of how to get under the skin of whoever chasing him. In terms of characterization enough is given about Kim Soo-hyeon to understand his action. Simple things like having a wife, and caring for his family is as deep as it goes for Kim Soo-hyeon as a person. It’s enough to give an idea of his mentality before he decides to take revenge, and seeing how his act of revenge ultimately affects eventually becomes a dynamic characterization.

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Come at me bro!

The same cannot be said for those it represent as killers since the film never bother exploring the psychological aspect of what can motivate its criminals to do the things they do. There’s a cannibal in the film who loves eating people, but that’s about as deep as it goes. All the criminals function as criminals. They’re meant to be evil for the sake of being evil in order to take pleasure in their deaths. It could be debated the intention was to to debate in the act of revenge itself is justified, but on the other hand the film does not lay down any ground work for greyness. Nothing is more evident of this than the usage of its female characters. From the victims perspectives they respect women as people, but every time a criminal interacts with a woman it’s with the intent to do whatever the criminal desire to do with them. It’s portrayal of representing both sides is one dimensional at best. Just fine for a revenge fantasy film, but when the script tacked on a family aspect to Kyung-chul character it says it wanted to be something more thought provoking. Made even noteworthy when it wants to use Kyung-chul family to get across a specific agenda that doesn’t work out since they’re only included in one before popping back up again. It hard see the film for anything other more than just a piece of revenge fantasy where viewers takes satisfaction in seeing its main character harm criminals.

Other issues within the film are specifically connected to the horror genre itself. Moments in the film required higher suspension of disbelief in order for the film to function the way it wants too. One of these problematic plot point is not Kim Soo-hyeon not killing his wife’s murderer when he’s given three good opportunities to do so. It’s given context, and established motivation for why Kim Soo-hyeon won’t simply kill Kyung-chul. What is not explained in the film is how Kyung-chul manage to find personal information of Kim Soo-hyeon within a quick span of time. There’s no mention in the film he’s connected with anyone in the police force, nor has ties with many criminals that can provide this information. Another issues comes in the form of useless police officers for the film both as characters, and narrative devices. Within the film, the police officers biggest contribution is making an arrest after Kim Soo-hyeon has another encounter with Kyung-chul. As far as usage go they give minimal remarks on how they dislike killers receiving medical treatment in a hospital despite their crimes, and does not provide additional characterization for any of the criminals. A miss opportunity for the police officers is providing a semblance of a man hunt. Rarely is there a mention of the police making progress of finding a suspect who is going after serial killers. There’s is a moment where it seems like the police are close to tracking down Kyung-chul, but it ends up being forgotten plot point. I would mention that the police did provide Kim Soo-hyeon information needed to track down his wife murderer as a positive from the police inclusion, but he’s a secret agent so information gathering wouldn’t be as difficult to obtain if he was an ordinary citizen.

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Choi Min-sik ain’t happy with this buried alive prank. 

I Saw the Devil is entirely reliant on talent of two highly regarded actors from Korea who are Choi Min-sik, and Byung-hun Lee. Choi Min-sik as the psychaotic Kyung-chul is a  performance that is show stealing. Portraying a psychopath whose proud, and takes pleasure in the accomplishment of his killings. Embodying the truest essence of a killer without going over the top. Choi Min-sik subdue portrayal makes his character much more memorable because of it. Coming off as human as possible making it believable in one moment he holds your best interest to then later on want to chop you up into pieces. Withholding any urge to exaggerate his mannerism, and body language. At the same time, despite how often the viewer will see him get abused, Min-sik is a talented actor that he’s still manage to make his character despicable. The character of Kyung-chul has remotely no essence of any likable traits, yet Choi Min-sik understanding of his character paints a clear understanding of his mentality. In the all best possible ways, Choi Min-sik delivers a performance is very impressive to see unfold as much as it is capable to make you immerse within the film.

Byung-hun Lee who plays isn’t too shabby himself in the film either. Lee does a excellent job displaying a character whom seem to have all life sucked out of him. Remaining calm in any situation, even when to face with the killer. Despite displaying a humanless exterior for most of the film when the situation demands it Byung-hun Lee, in a few scenes is able to be emotional. There’s a final moment as the film closes where in a single moment Lee be expresses how mentality broken his character has become. When it comes to the sequences that require to fight him against actor Choi Min-sik, and neither of whom are expert in martial arts their performance of these sequences can fool anyone. Especially Byung-hun Lee whose swift movement can make a viewer further believe he encompasses his perfectly. As for the rest of the cast they’re at best character actor being good at playing off that one specific trait of their characters. It’s no exaggeration when saying the film is essentially a showcase for actors Choi Min-sik, and Byung-hun Lee than. Given the film aims that’s not a negative. The (I’m surprise to have) stunts work in the film are have good work put into them, and in certain scenes amaze by its creativity.

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I’m huntin wabbits!

The film is directed by Jee-won Kim who also has a writing credit in the film. His direction in the film is basically flawless. Despite sporting a beautiful look thanks to Mo-gae Lee it still manages to create scenes that master of the horror genre would be proud off. One important tool in Kim framing of a horror sequence is lightning, and showing specific details of the environments. In the opening sequence, Jee-won Kim makes it clear how helpless one of Choi Min-sik victims is in the environment. A recurring feeling Jee-won Kim goes for is making the viewer feel trapped in certain environments. Rarely showing what’s on the outside of an car, or building when a horror set piece is in place. His usage of wide shots is minimal in the film mostly being reliant on close on medium, and close ups whenever in buildings, and cars. What it accomplishes is not showing any blind spot to where an escape route is possible. Another aspect Jee-won Kim avoids is the common horror trope of people tripping while they run. Since there isn’t a high death count that never becomes an issue. If there’s any moments where Jee-won Kim becomes indulgent it’s mostly towards horror fans. He makes up for the lack of kills by going all out in showing good practical effects of body parts, makes sure lots of blood is spilled, and doesn’t cut away from hard to watch sequences. There’s a scene there you see a character cutting off an Achilles tendon, and the viewer sees the entire process. Another standout sequence execellent direction revolves around Choi Min-sik riding in a taxi with suspicious characters. Without being specific, this particular is carefully constructed to be bloody displaying Choi Min-sik stabbing people multiple times in a taxi, and having little blood spill on the camera as it spins around taxi. Jee-won Kim is relentless where it counts, but not overboard to the point where it’s indulgent on blood, and gore.

I Saw the Devil is wonderful combination of horror, and a psychological thriller understanding the best of both genre. The horror elements allows it to go into dark places as well as be bloody in presentation. Balance elegantly with the psychological mind games of two characters who simply hate each other guts to fuel it story after its first act. It’s a wonderfully twisted cat, and mouse game even when it’s clear at points it wants to be more than just revenge fantasy entertainment. On a technical level alone it offers two great performances from two good actor which alone makes it worth viewing. If you haven’t seen a good usage of horror within films, or simply a fan of horror movies I Saw the Devil will satisfy viewers who simply want the blood, and gore, while also offering viewers who are looking something more than just meaningless bloodshed.

8/10

Cinema-Maniac: The Man from Nowhere (2010) Review

In the action genre it’s difficult to find a universal meaning for what classifies a great action movie. For some it could simply mean the film in question has plenty of violence to satisfy adrenaline junkie. While for others it could simply mean the story took it time to make the preceding events meaningful if it comes of the cost of little violence being shown. If there is a middle ground in the genre it’s often not dictated by it main character, but rather the writer. Anyone who writes action films must understand their main character thoughts, and physical limitations (if any) before the presence of a threat ever appears. If not accounted for this crucial building block can misguide the writer. For example, if the writer is attempting to do the everyman hero archetype correctly than viewer exposure to seeing them perform superhuman feat, and surviving multiple impossible scenarios will serve against the everyman hero archetype. There’s also the argument that the action genre already peaked unable ever surpass the classic films whose influence is still present in the genre today. I on the other hand would say since the 80s the genre has been improving in certain areas, especially when it comes to crafting characters, and stories that never loses the viewer attention even when no violence seems presence. Jeong-beom Lee’s film, The Man from Nowhere/Ajeossi, understands the genre, but thanks to smart choices in the script, and execution of a familiar template creates a film that embodies the best aspect it genre at it most meaningful.

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Go make me a sandwich you emo!

The Man from Nowhere follows a quiet pawnshop keeper with a violent past taking on a drug trafficking ring in hope of saving the child who is his only friend. Our leading character is Tae-sik (Bin Won), who on the surface is the every man action hero archetype who seems distant from people. In the action genre, the mysterious loner who some innocent person (usually a child or navie young woman) befriends by being persistent isn’t new in films. What matter most when it comes to familiar ideas, and plot devices is the usage of them. In The Man From Nowhere it gets virtually everything right about good writing from the very first scene. Setting up story elements that will later be expanded into greater significance as it progress. It sets up important story pieces for about half an hour establishing its central relationship with simple key scenes, and setting up intrigue in Tae-sik without directly revealing anything about him. You know from the premise Tae-sik cold attitude towards his neighbor child isn’t without reason. How writer, and director Jeong-beom Lee uses this plot device correctly was not reserving, displaying Tae-sik emotional attachment solely for its climax. By doing this, Jeong-beom Lee film benefits from this decision since it allows Tae-sik to be further developed as a character, and let the film not be reliant on showing the cold hearted protagonist become emotional for its central storyline.

It’s first thirty minutes are significant to how well the story is structure. Starting off like a character drama before switching gear in its second act to be an action thriller. For example, one moment in the film shows Tae-sik paying his respect to a woman whom nothing is revealed about. As the film eventually reveals Tae-sik connection to this woman the pieces fall into place for his attachment towards his neighbor daughter Jeong So-mi (Sae-ron Kim). It becomes a meaningful revelation since before Tae-sik past is revealed he is shown to care for Jeong So-mi. Another example of a well executed plot device is from a simple phone call. It’s between two criminals where a simple exchange is in placed to move the story forward. What detail is given, but not placed directly at the viewer attention is a snippet of dialogue. In context, it does more than move the story forward as a couple lines is given more significant later in the film. One of the best part of the story is how plot devices are more meaningful by the way they were used, and when to use them at the right time. The only serious issue to be found with the writing in its first act is in a scene where Jeong So-mi talks to Tae-Sik in a alley. It’s basically the equivalent of Jeong So-mi breaking the fourth wall to tell the audience to feel bad for her since she has a terrible life. It doesn’t help that the way it filmed explicitly shows Jeong So-mi character turning around, and describing how she is use to being neglected. It’s a heavy handed moment despite being well acted by Sae-ron Kim.

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Freeze…get it guys cause it cold, and raining?

Once the story kicks in it never lets up, nor does it undermine the importance of focusing on characters. As it story expands into something larger Tae-sik becomes more developed as the film progresses. Another positive of the film is never forgetting about its characters preventing itself from oversimplifying the conflict. While it is easy to know whom to cheer for in the film, the execution of it the story makes it clear that a good guy, or a villain is not just a label certain characters carry. Succeeding in giving characters small traits that attempt to make them more human than just an obstruction of its main character goal. The film weakest character are easily the policemen whom serve to reveal information on the current situation, and discovers details on the protagonist of the film. What Jeong-beom Lee accomplishes through his writing, and choices is delivery an action film that places equal importance on providing a good story as well offering familiarity within the genre. Action junkies, and casual viewers will probably know the beats of this specific premise, but it’s much more than a well written film. It’s a step forward for the genre that often recycles ideas by giving it more depths than what was expected of it in the past. Displaying a willingness to take the genre to greater heights in a different way.

Actor Bin Won takes the lead as the quiet, hardened pawnshop keeper. Striking a balance between the everyman, and the cold character he display on the surface. One contributing factor to his performance is being able to balance the material he’s given with ease. Won does not deliver his dialogue emotionlessly when he speaks. Knowing through his delivery how to properly express himself in the context of certain scenes. When it comes to scenes where Bin Won has to display other range of emotion it feels consistent for the character. Bin Won does not overact in any facet of his character so he is never too robotic sounding, nor too emotional when it demands him. Another advantage to Bin Won performance is seeing him performing the action sequences himself. There’s a stunt in the film where Bin Won is an executing a leap from the second storey of a building, leaping through the window followed by a roll on the ground to break his fall, and all done in one swift take. Moments like these further emphasizes not only Bin Won ability as an actor to commit to a role, but further makes his character more involving knowing the actor himself is performing these scenes blurring the line between actor, and character. 

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Little girl. You begging doesn’t work like this right?

Actress Sae-ron Kim does well in the role of playing the film naive, persistent child Jung So-Mi who befriends the quiet pawnshop keeper. She makes her character sympathetic, and in the few scenes she shares with Bin Won they play off each convincingly. Never once does she come across as pouty, or annoying the film. It’s remarkable that in her young age in the film, she actually has an understanding of how to deliver her material properly. Kim Hyo-seo plays Hyo-Jeong (So-Mi’s mother) is in few scenes, but contributes to the film nonetheless. Her few moments in the film shows the actress playing a struggling mother. Despite the length of time she’s actually makes good use of her time. Then there’s Kim Hee-Won, and Kim Sung-Oh both of whom do a good job in their roles. Usually in action movies whenever an actor is given a villainous character they go all out. However, both Hee-Won, and Sung-Oh performances are grounded making their characters more human. By portraying them as criminals it helps take them more seriously if they simply went out to be comically evil.

The supporting cast in general places good effort into the film no matter the size of their role. Actor Thanayong Wongtrakul is probably the last actor worth mentioning in the film. Wongtrakul plays Ramrowan who’s basically the adversary of the film protagonist. Like his other co-stars whom play criminals, Wongtrakul performances is also grounded making his character more memorable than it would have been otherwise. The film score is composed by Hyun-jung Shim. His score does include the bombastic sound one might expect from the action genre, but the noteworthy tracks are the ones that evoke feeling of a different genres, or uses unorthodox instruments to compose an epic sounding soundtrack despite its modern setting. Two outstanding tracks from the film are Chain of Mystery that evokes feeling of uneasiness perfect for a horror film, and the tracked named after the film itself. Thankfully, director Jeong-beom Lee knows when to implement the soundtrack to emphasizes a scene to make it more impactful, and when not to use too.

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Maybe it wasn’t a good idea to just chill here until one guy arrived.

From a technical standpoint Jeong-beom Lee film has the polish look of a blockbuster. Tae-yoon Lee cinematography is simply beautiful to look at, even during the film’s darker moments. Lee isn’t afraid to show the few instances of darker material thus giving the conflict a greater sense of weight. Thankfully, Jeong-beom Lee also knew to use shots of dark material sparingly so the effect wouldn’t diminish over time. When the film finally gets to the action scenes they are well worth the wait. Despite the gap between action scenes, and length between them all of the set pieces aces good filmmaking techniques. Not only does Lee use long takes of his actor performing the action sequences, but make sure to never lose the audience. The film first fight scene last less than a minute, but the performance, and the way it shot doesn’t diminish it’s a good action scene. Bin Won convincingly performs the fight in the speed it was required to pull it off. The film’s climax is easily the film’s most memorable sequence. Not only contextually is it the most satisfying set piece since the film builds up to this moment, but the actual action scene by itself is well choreographed. It doesn’t exaggerate Bin Won ability within the scene, and does a good job in giving multiple performers within in the scene something to do. So you won’t see an actor in the background simply seeing the hero killing someone making it also feel grounded. There’s also some practical blood splatter effect in the film for added effect in its brutality. When the film gets to the knife fight between the hero, and his adversary it’s more believable than one might expect. The blades of the knives barely clash with each other with the fight sequence playing more on overpowering the other opponent. It also doesn’t last too long to take away from the serious tone of the scene.

The Man from Nowhere excels in execution, and delivery of its own material creating a must see film. There are films I shower with endless praise, and there’s also films I personally would recommend reader to check out, even if it means they might trust my viewpoints on films less if we disagree. This is a film I would personally recommend to anyone reading this. While it does the carry the label of an action film, and contains familiar story beats the execution makes the film more meaningful than the simple label of being an action film. It might not succeed in making you emotionally invested, but an action film like this that places equal importance on good characters, and story as well as providing of what expected of it within the genre are commendable traits. Standing as a good example of pushing the action genre forward in a positive direction, and offering more than what audiences demanded of such films from the past. It’s a masterpiece in the genre, and is one of the most satisfying (and crowd pleasing) film the genre has produced.

10/10

Cinema-Maniac: The Admiral: Roaring Currents (2014) Review

The Admiral: Roaring Currents was a film that I never heard off, until I did research, and discovered it’s the highest grossing film in South Korea (as of now), and it the first South Korean film to make over 100 US million dollars internationally. Financially successful The Admiral: Roaring Currents is impressive on a business standpoint. From an artistic standpoint it also caught my attention. Since I live in the US, it’s weird learning that a country highest grossing film is not based on an established property, or an entry in a franchise. After learning this I looked up a trailer, and once again traits of a significant movie showed. It’s international appeal was evidence borrowing traits of a Hollywood blockbuster presenting the idea that this film is epic in emotions, epic in battles, and just historical epic filmmaking. So with my exposure to the film I decided to check it out since everything seemed in its favor. That is until the film start, and you realize beside being a expensive cinematic piece of Korean patriotism. It’s also a film that lacking in evoking epic emotions like what seen on screen.

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Stare men! Stare into the readers souls!

The first hour of the film is meant to set up the characters, stakes, and provide context for the massive naval battle that will occupied the second half of the film. Unfortunately, instead of being the grand, historical epic film it desperately wants to be it comes across as a hollow blockbuster with a historical backdrop. One thing that is made immediately clear within the film is that it paints complex political issues into a simple battle of black, and white. Showering itself in national pride proudly portraying Koreans as the good guys, and showing the Japanese they fight as the villains. Given the premise down to the bare minimum is 12 Koreans ship battling 330 Japanese ships which is best comparable to the story of David, and Goliath. It’s quite the underdog setup that if it was presented morally grey could have resonated with any audience regardless of nationality.

In the film, it makes a clear case the Japanese are evil. A Korean character says in the film their enemy (the Japanese) steal their provisions from civilians, and use children for target practice. With this single scene the film throws away any intention of representing both side equally. It would be acceptable if it ended simply by showing Japanese killing children, but the film continues showing Japanese in a negative light. Characters aren’t better off either. You could deduce whatever Japanese character is in the film is going to be presented as evil. However, the Korean characters aren’t compelling either. The film the person is centered on, Admiral Yi Sun-sin (Choi Min-Sik), receives most of his characterization through text in the first two minutes of the film. Yi Sun-sin is touted as a double agent, is tortured, and remove from his position. Afterwards, he gets reinstated because the nation of Korea needs him if they want to lose to the Japanese. With this information being the first thing you learn about Yi Sun-sin where his character could have gone is intriguing alone. As you probably come to expect from me reviewing films of this quality it’s usually not the case. Sun-sin character receives traits like contemplation of his life, national pride, and to engage in the massive battle. These contemplative thoughts aren’t explored to any great depth. They get a mentioned in one scene, and then done.

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Remember the Battle of Thermopylae men? Well, they are all cowards compare to me. 

Another character that ends up uneven is Lee Whe (Kwon Yool) who ends being the audience gateway to learn more about his father Yi Sun-sin. The conversations between these two character are the closest the film goes into character exploration. It’s easy characterization painting a clear picture of differing positions between the two. Seeing them interact with each other is interesting due to conflicting feelings on what should be done in the battle. Lee Whe understands his father, but doesn’t see the scenario in the same light he does. Leading to moments where Yi Sun-sin explains his reasoning to put his worries at ease. It display the strong bond between the two character to be able get along no the difference in thoughts in a dire situation. This relationship between father, and son never grows into anything emotionally gripping, nor tell the audience anything about Lee Whe as an individual. All of Lee Whe character is tied to what his father does in this current moment of his life so history between them not in this specific event, and time is not explored.

Finally, the last character worth mentioning is Im Joon-Young who is a spy for Yi Sun-sin (Jin Goon) who sole purpose is to gather intel on the enemy. Aside from showing a small glimpse of the Japanese oppressing the civilians of the land they conquered this is about as far as this character is taken. There’s a subplot of his possible deaf lover which would be something compelling to see, but the first time she appears on screen is to tell her man goodbye. There’s no flashbacks, or a scene where the two interact as a regular couple so it ends up being meaningless in the film narrative.

A major writing issue with the film is the Turtle Ship itself. In the film, it’s established that this ship is essential in Admiral Yi Sun-Shin strategy in fighting against a large vessel of 330 ships with his mere forces of 12 warships. What advantage, and capabilities the Turtle Ship has over a regular warship is never explained. One would think a crucial detail like that would at some point be discuss in the film. It would have been fine if the film mentioned if it had stronger armor, better canons, or anything that explains what it’s better than an average warship. It would have better correlated why Yi Sun-Shin is intent on battling with it, and so crucial in his plan.

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During production, the cast, and crew celebrated Burning Men by burning the sets.

The second half of the film consist of a massive naval battle, and yes it is awesome. It’s during this naval battle where the scale, the bombastic soundtrack, and overblown exaggerated drama create the film most engaging material. Becoming easy to lose yourself with the events of the film. Aspects of the naval battle itself are not without criticism. Like mentioned, the overblown drama during the battle is extraordinary. In the film, there’s a romance subplot that doesn’t get much attention so when that subplot conclusion comes narratively it is hollow in feelings. It also breaks character consistency since in one scene this character is shown doing sign language to talk to her lover, but during the naval battle knows what her lover is saying even he’s too far away from land to read his lips, and was presumed to be deaf. Another aspect of the battle is it will test your suspension of disbelief. Admiral Yi Sun-Shin virtually beats more ships then he likely would have as his ship survives one unlikely scenario after another. The most over the top example comes when Admiral Yi Sun-Shin ship is corner from three sides, and Sun-Shin has the idea to use canon fire to propel his ship away from being cornered. Describing this moment is far different from actually seeing it for yourself. Whether or not it’s possible for such a thing to happen I can’t comment on since I’m no physicist.

Despite the numerous issues with the extensive naval battle itself I would still defend it for being the best part of the film. Unlike the previous hour, this naval battle is focus, and gets everything right in creating a thrilling atmosphere. There’s no talk of politics. Just a epic battle that engulfs itself with extreme emotions, and patriotism. It also uses simple moments like citizens witnessing the battle itself, and reacting to it to further get lost in the moments of battle. These moments eventually correlate into an morally uplifting scene for the Koreans, and a boosting excitement for non-Korean viewers. The very lengthy naval battle in this film will go down in film history as one of the best ever filmed. Now I might as well talked what happens after the naval battle since I more or less cover the entire movie story. If it ended with the moment between father, and son, the film rating wouldn’t have changed, but the actual ending will leave some scratching their head as to why that was the closing moment the film ended on. Since nothing was established about the Turtle Ship seeing one in action doesn’t scream excitement unless you know about the Turtle Ship.

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I lost count at 54 men killed.

The film stars Choi Min-sik as Admiral Yi Sun-sin who is a terrific actor in general. In this film he puts another top notch performance. He gives his character more complexity than the actual writing itself. A simple gesture of Min-sik delaying an immediate response tells the audience there’s a lot on this person’s mind. Min-sik plays the role seriously embodying his character perfectly inspiring his men with his words to keep fighting, bold in displaying a man hardened by war, and portraying a person who reputation doesn’t make him a larger than life figure. While the film is an extraordinary underdog story Choi Min-sik portrayal of Admiral Yi Sun-sin keeps him as human as possible. So no matter what extreme scenario the character survives Choi Min-sik performance makes it easy to accept. Also, he’s Choi Min-sik, if any Korean actor deserves one film that tells everyone “I’m awesome” it’s him.

Known Yool is decent in the role of Lee Whe. His chemistry with Choi Min-sik is excellent with both actors working great of each other. Known Yool is more varied in his expressions compare to Choi Min-sik because of the material he’s given. While good, Yool doesn’t embodied his character the same way Choi Min-sik does whom he shares many scenes with. Jin Goon is okay in his role as Im Joon-Young. He doesn’t leave much of an impression because of screen time, though his shining moment is during the naval battle. Now I do like to spend time talking about as many actors as possible so they too can get credit even if the contribution is small, though this film does me no favor. Cho Jin-Woong, Ryoo Seung-Ryong, and Kim Myung-Gon are all Korean actors playing Japanese characters speaking in the Japanese language incorrectly. The Korean actors don’t make the proper pronunciation of Japanese words when speaking as sometime within the same pronounce the same words differently. It’s quite jarring, though largely will go unnoticed for those who don’t watch many films from Asia. The remaining important actors includes the likes of Kim Tae-Hoon, No Min-Woo, Ryohei Otani, Park Bo-Gum, and Lee Jung-Hyun whom all give one note performances. One has to be silent, another has to be the concern lover, and another has to be angry. With their simple portrayals they won’t live much of an impression.

The film’s director, Kim Han-Min, did an excellent job overall. His only major criticism in his direction is misusing composer Tae-Seong Kim bombastic soundtrack in the whole film. When nothing narratively, or visually impactful is happening Kim Han-Min will have Tae-Seong music playing in it. Moments that could have been effective without music lose their impact. However, in the second half the usage of music is spot on. Another aspect of Kim Han-Min direction is spot is the naval battle itself. CG is noticeable, but for the most part keeps the action up close. Despite the large scale of the battle never once does Han-Min makes the audience become confused in what’s going on. He always creative in bringing in new ideas into the naval battle making sure it never becomes boring. This naval battle is probably going to be the technical achievement of his career. Another aspect worth praising is the film stellar cinematography bringing to life some memorable images, and the sets, and costume designs are good as well.

The Admiral: Roaring Currents is an epic film without equally sweeping engagement. As an historical film it simplifies the actual events into good vs evil. There’s no shame in the film hiding patriotism, nor the unequal portrayal of the enemies. Along with with story pieces, and character that don’t have much to them to captivate the viewers before the massive naval battle ensues. These aspects of the film will test audiences forgiveness for its writing shortcomings. If you take it as a piece of entertainment you might find it a decent diversion with the naval battle being the clear highlight of the film. No matter what way you might decide to view the film from there’s no escaping it could have ended up better, though maybe years from now a filmmaker will use this film as a template to make the masterpiece it couldn’t become.

6/10

Cinema-Maniac: No Tears for the Dead (2014) Review

On the surface U-neun nam-ja/No Tears For the Dead in English simply looks like another polish Korean action film. Well that is correct, but the man behind it, director/writer Jeong-beom Lee is famous for doing a film named The Man from Nowhere (US English title). It was the highest grossest film in Korea in 2010, and gained international attention that only a handful of Korean films have reached. There’s a (as expected) Indian remake named Rocky Handsome set to release somewhere in 2016, and (typical reaction) an announce US remake of the film. With these remakes it’s safe to say The Man from Nowhere cemented its place in Korean, and action cinema. Another thing that occurred was it made Jeong-beom Lee a talent on everyone’s radar. Unless you’re Jee-woo Kim (I Saw the Devil), Joon Ho Bong (Gwoemul), or Chan-wook Park (Oldboy) the Western world will more than likely forget great filmmakers if they fail to follow up on their success. If they do prove their big hit wasn’t a fluke, than they might get a call from Hollywood to direct a film in English language production. Jeong-beom Lee won’t join the likes of his other peers as No Tears For the Dead is not a good film, let alone one that comes close to matching half of the traits that many loved about The Man From Nowhere.

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Getting into the rhythm of making my new rap album. Crying Bullets.

No Tears for the Dead is about a hit man traumatized from accidentally killing a young girl during a job, and is given the mission to eliminate her mother. The killer for hire who becomes remorseful is a premise that grants leeway in exploring themes, and character traits that would otherwise be ignored in the action genre. Aspects like the protagonist becoming accustomed to taking lives, addressing how the character views change on the matter on killing growing older, and in some instance showing an inability put it behind them for a normal life. These are aspects for these kind of characters could be explored helping to create an action film that could be more meaningful than good guys killing bad guys. However, an hour into the film you’ll realize nothing within that span of time ends up becoming meaningful. For the first hour, the film is more in line of a drama setting up the pieces before changing gear into an action film for its later half. What is problematic about this is, within the first ten minutes, the film relays the information of what’s protagonist Gon (Dong-gun Jang) has to find for his boss, and that Gon is guilty about murdering an innocent child. Scenes beyond these ten minutes beat you over the head with the fact Gon feels guilty for killing a child. If you didn’t understand within the first ten minutes of the film then the film will dedicate an hour to make sure you get plot point.

Gon guilt over killing a child isn’t contemplative in the way it’s written. There is one flashback inserted into the film that show Gon past, and his drug addicted mother (Kim Ji-Sung). What purpose this flashback serve is not clear as Gon decision on whether or not to kill the mother, Mo-Kyung (Kim Min-hee), is determined by his past experiences. There isn’t any monologue, nor a discussion he has with the other characters as to why he made the decision that he did. The most that get elaborated on this is Gon saying “I’m tired”, but exactly what aspect of his old ways he’s tired off doesn’t come across plainly. Before Gon utter those words he kills a couple of people, and after uttering those words one would assume Gon stops killing for the remainder of the film. Except for the fact Gon makes a bomb to take out one of the goons who is trying to kill him which derails that possibility. So even when grasping at straws there’s no depth to the theme the film brings up on redemption, and killing. Another aspect of this writing that fell through was lacking scenes incorporating Gon with his mother. His mother is never given a name, never shows what led his mother to the situation she’s in, and how this led to Gon becoming a gun for hire. As a character, Gon mother has little value in the story, and as a plot device isn’t developed further then when it’s introduced.

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Want to know why I’m angry lady? It’s hard finding a still without me holding a gun.

Then there’s the interaction between Gon, and Mo-Kyung which instead of building on what’s established only reiterates the same point in the first hour. Gon is guilt ridden for killing Mo-Kyung’s daughter, and Mo-Kyung is dealing with it in her own way. Their interaction could have developed them both into more complex characters, but alas it does not. Aside when Gon, and Mo-Kyung meet in an elevator there’s no scenes of them interacting like regular people. Gon observe Mo-Kyung from the sidelines. Having already mentioned the lack of monologue preventing an understanding of what Gon is thinking leads to pure speculations. Connecting loose dots while stimulating does not amount to much if there’s nothing concrete to connect them together. Gon does have a complete character arc, but there’s not much to his character. The whys he suddenly feel guilty about taking lives is left blank, as well as other aspects of his character. Other issues also include the script making a big deal of the desired item in question when found being made into a big deal when it reveals, even though the first ten minutes confirmed what the item is, and who likely has it. A subplot involving the police ends up contributing little to the story as well as other characters whom contribute little in the long run. The second half of the film is more like an action movie, but the lack of emotional resonate from the buildup makes the ensuing violence lacking in weight to what was presented. It’s first half got across it does not want to be a piece of mindless action which conflicts with the brainless approach in viewing the film second half. Then there’s the film’s ending which plays against expectation. It’s a good ending completing Gon arc, though the other underdeveloped elements prevent from staying in the mind.

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So you want me to kill a man? Pfft. I’m head of security at Jurassic World in my spare time.

Now time for some actual compliments for what the film did correctly. Starting with the man behind it Jeong-beom Lee. He’s confident in his craft which is evident throughout the film. His selection of shots, with the help of cinematographer Mo-gae Lee, gives the film a sleek look. There’s also good stunt work, and fight choreography in the action sequences. Jeong-beom knows how to film action, and using shaky cam accordingly. Usually adding to an action scene than obscure the set piece. Another aspects of these action sequences is they come mostly in the form of hand to hand to combat. While some of the scenes require leap in logic when it comes to how characters survive none of the action sequences suffer any serious issues. There’s a fight scene that has actor Jang Dong-gun fighting in a small hallway that is very inventive. Using the small space to create a sense of enclosure, and Jang Dong-gun character skill in hand to hand combat to convincingly turn an outnumbered fight in his favor. The one set piece that emphasizes gun fighting is staged elaborately. Usually in gun fights you’ll have the duck, and cover approach which is boring if not done right. However, Jeong-beom Lee one only gun fight makes use of the actors moving across the environment besides narrowly dodging bullets. Jeong-beom made sure to show one character shooting while going to cover, and the person who being shot at not testing his luck for a kill. The gun fight also have the actors moving to different level of a single building visually adding a nice change in scenery in the set piece. Lee makes the right choice to keep the action sequences small, and manageable never going to big making them work as well as they do. As a director, Jeong-beom does nothing wrong from the selection of music that fits the tone, to editing action sequences to make as coherent and wisely framed as possible, and putting trust faith into his crew which shows through out with good production values.

Leading actor Jang Dong-gun is the best part of the film. His performance is complex putting his all into his character. Coming across as both a no non-sense assassin in body movement, and getting across he’s a troubled soul through his eyes. Never once in the film is Jang Dong-gun afraid to reveal the more emotional side of his character. Dong-gun performance is more compelling than the actual film. There’s several scenes in the film where Dong-gun is silent, but thanks to the way be expresses himself through facial expressions, and body movement what his character feels comes across clearly. He also performs in the action sequences convincingly not being afraid to take a couple of hits. Regardless of what Jang Dong-gun is shown doing on screen he’s the easily the best actor in the film.

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Don’t worry about us. We do very little to help you.

Kim Min-hee has the second largest role in the film. Her character visibly goes through more series of emotions. For the first hour of the film nothing about her performance is noticeable since her character is all over the place, and Kim Min-hee is unable to make her character come across as putting up a facade like the writing intended. However, pass the forty minute mark of the film Min-hee shows a gradual mental downfall of her character. Slowly showing her character becoming broken in her state.

Supporting cast includes the likes of Brian Tee whose solid in his role. Tee is simply meant to be the adversary to the hero of the film, and nothing more. For the role, Tee is also convincing in his performance in the action scenes he’s in. Anthony Dilio is plays one of Tee’s henchman, though the only noteworthy thing about his performance is speaking in Korean, English, and Spanish (only in scene) in a single movie. Dilio only meant to look tough aesthetically. Same thing applies to Alessandro Coumo who is only aesthetically needed for his small role. Byun Yo-han, and Jun-Seong Kim deliver one note in his performance which fine because of the characters they play. Not so much for Jun-Seong Kim who has more screen time making his lacked in varied expressions noticeable. Finally, there’s Kim Hee-Won who shines in the final act of the film, though doesn’t leave much of impression anywhere else in the film.

No Tears for the Dead (2014) has a polish look, and good set pieces, but hampered down by bad writing, and actors who are unable to elevate the material. It has good setup to create meaningful characters, and has the desire to provoke the viewers unlike your average action film, but sadly aimless writing, humorless story, lack of depth presented in its theme, and lack of emotional resonates makes the entire film self-conflicting for the whole run. No matter what way you attempt to view the film from there’s always more issues than positives in the writing. It’s too serious to be entirely brainless, but it’s lack depths to punch the viewer with a series of emotions like it wanted. Dong-gun Jang, and the action sequences are the only consistently high quality aspect of the films, but whenever one isn’t on screen the film is unable to stand as strongly. Despite the conflicting material, Dong-gun Jang performance was a highlight of the film no matter what he was doing. Unfortunately, the good qualities wasn’t enough to save the film from being a messy film that couldn’t live up to its potential.

4/10

Cinema-Maniac: Once Upon a Time in Shanghai (2014)

Expectations of Martial Art films have changed significantly over the decades. The days of getting cheesy English dubs for live action Martial Art movies are gone now with most home video releases of offering people to see them in their original language. Even when the films do receives English dub they are not as silly as what was release in the 70s. Another thing that also changed over time was the fight choreography implementing the environment as part in the fight during the 70s, and then pushing martial artists body limits during the 80s. An era which created plentiful of Martial Art classic films giving rise to legends Jackie Chan, Yuen Biao, and Sammo Hung Kam-Bo. Then came the 90s where some Chinese talent went oversea to find success in Hollywood. While the quantity of great martial films wasn’t as high as in the 80s the quality of them improved with some offering more complex plot lines. However, while there is more to the history of the subgenre than my broad generalization there’s no mistaking during the 2000s that China dominance over the Martial Arts subgenre dwindle as legendary talents were aging, and therefore not perform like they use too. Once Upon A Time In Shanghai wants to be a one of those classics from the subgenre heydays in a time where characters were kept simple, and emphasis on fight choreography was the norm. While it is an homage to those kind of films martial art films of the past. Once Upon A Time In Shanghai doesn’t ignite the same kind of feelings of those earlier films it loves.

Once Upon A Time In Shanghai tells the story of a laborer who moves to Shanghai in the hope of becoming rich. From that synopsis, if you’re familiar with crime films that contain an immigrant as the protagonist there’s no need tell readers what to expect. While it is a classic story to tell in the crime genre of immigrant hoping to make it big in foreign land it’s also been told countless of times. It’s telegraphed from the overly strong, naive country-bumpkin protagonist Ma Yongzhen (Philip Ng), the young ambitious new criminal on the block Long Qi (Andy On), the father whose disapprove of the criminal lifestyle Master Tie (Sammo Hung Kam-Bo), the young woman who eventually falls in love for the naive protagonist Tie Mei (Luxia Jiang), and a few singular purpose background characters. Making these characters arcs more predictable is adding martial arts replacing gun wielding gangsters for fists, and axes. Instead of touching on the subject of family there are few discussions about honor, and fighting. Retaining the classic story of beat of crime families uniting to eliminate a great threat that could overthrow them in power. So forth is the nature of the film to ooze old fashion cinema on everything. What this ends up creating is a typical story that aims to pay homage without changing anything. If you’re not familiar with these kind of stories the undercooked plot beats won’t make it engaging. Containing the moments you would expect from hero Ma Yongzhen becoming good friends with Long Qi after a fight, the two new friends talking about dreams on a bridge at night looking at the stars, and Ma Yongzhen given the option to run away when things become chaotic. The scenes are in place for creating good material, but the rush nature of a script that had too many ideas don’t allow time to develop them to their fullest effect.

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The silent fart. Philip Ng deadliest technique.

The first signs of trouble in the script appears before the title card does. There’s text that (paraphrasing) says that Shanghai is a city of dreams for the people of China, and hard work can get you the life you want, but the thousand of youths coming into Shanghai are tempted to take the easy way out to by becoming gangsters. This text is delivered while dramatic music plays in the background, the film grayish color filter to show some harshness in the situation, and showing the viewers a crowded deck filled with immigrants with their head held down. This sets up the idea it’ll be touching on the realistic issues dealt with achieving the “American Dream” (well, in this case the “Shanghai Dream”) with martial arts as a bonus. Then it shows a grown man taking away a Potato from a starving girl which naturally makes one wonder how the immediate harsh tone will be followed up with. PUNCH! Out of nowhere a single punch is all it take to conflict with the tone established leading into a heavily edited fight scene. A fight scene where our main character kicks two baddies several feet from the ground is an odd contrast after seeing a deck of depressing looking immigrants. Now there was a better way to transition into the fight scene. Some simple dialogue of the grown man rudely stating he’s still hungry with our hero telling him to give it back to the little girl. When the grown man says no giving the signal to his buddy to prepare for a fight would have allowed the filmmakers to keep the fight scene, and transition into fight scene more smoothly. However, this opening never bothers bringing up why the grown man stole the Potato simply assuming the viewer will make assumption this immigrant is bad for stealing food from a little girl. Though, without context given in the scenario it could easily be interpreted as a grown man getting back food stolen from him.

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I’m guessing Andy On paycheck is the reason the film has a grayish color filter.

The rest of the film follows a similar pattern of issues. There’s a scene early in the film where our hero helps an old man who stole opium from a gang, but the old man the protagonist helps goes nowhere. Then, there’s the romance aspect of the film which is underdeveloped. Our protagonist spends more time with his boss than he does his love interest. Also, there’s a subplot of our hero meeting up with his brother which disappears as it goes on. If a plot point is not underdeveloped it’s either forgotten about. The only aspect of the writing that works to any degree is Ma Yongzhen bracelet. His bracelet was given to him by his mother, and was given words of wisdom that would remind of Ma Yongzhen not to kill. It’s a simple motive where the outcome of the bracelet is telegraphed, but it was executed just fine. It’s just a shame there’s not much depth in it usage. A simple solution to the writing would have been to make the story longer, though given it wanted to be an homage script writer Jing Wong probably felt being derivative was the best bet. To his credit, the movie does progress naturally, and knows the classical story beats of old fashioned cinema to mirror classic martial art films from the era. However, by simply placing those classical story beats into the film his lack of understanding shows when he has no idea what made them work in the first place. While the film is superficially reminiscent of some classic martial art films with similar stories like Bruce Lee’s The Big Boss (1971), and Shaw Brother’s Boxer from Shantung (1972) it doesn’t build on its inspiration. It just ends up being typical in how it unfolds, and average as an homage that doesn’t illustrate what made its source of inspiration classic films in the sub genre.

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Philip Ng seen here channeling his inner Bruce Lee.

Philip Ng takes center stage portraying Ma Yongzhen in a role that is more demanding of his looks than his acting skills. Appearances wise, Philip Ng nails the expressions of a country bumpkin in his naivete optimism. Switching between badass martial artist, and your average joe seamlessly. Another aspect of his look that works to his advantage is fitting the bill of coming across the average joe. Sporting a look that is reminiscent of Bruce Lee from The Big Boss, and Jackie Chan from Battle Creek Brawl. When he performs in the fight scenes he’s convincing, though not impressive for his lack of speed in performing the fights. What Ng doesn’t share among the likes of Bruce Lee, and Jackie Chan are the charisma of those actors. Try as he might, but Ng simply comes across as trying to hard to look cool, especially in the end of the film. In terms of line delivery he’s okay. He doesn’t have the timing to be funny, nor the lack of understanding to ruin a joke. Ng doesn’t come across as someone threatening when he fights, but is alright in the moments he’s not need in combat. For the role Ng is in it’s adequate, even if lacking star power.

Next up is Andy On who plays Long Qi. His performance is also adequate. On doesn’t demonstrate very difficult emotions as scenes don’t linger much on complex emotions. However, he has style, and doesn’t phone in his acting. Much like Ng, Andy On fighting is convincing in the few times he fights. He also has good chemistry with Philip Ng making what scenes they share together the film best offering in terms of acting. It’s where the best moments come from as the two really sell their friendship, even if the writing is not up to par. Both actress Michelle Hu, and Luxia Jiang don’t get much to do in the film beside looking pretty. They’re both the love interests to perspective characters caring for their lover, and showing concerns. Not much to discuss. There’s also no well known legends in the west martial art film stars Kuan Tai Chen, and Hark-On Fung whom presence in the film are not noticeable unless you know your martial art films. Now if you’re exciting to see well known martial art legend Sammo Hung Kam-Bo, who gets top billing, he is barely in the film. Hung Kam-Bo doesn’t get to show much of his acting, and fighting prowess’s in the film as he fights only briefly in one scene. Unless you’re a fan of martial art films the lack of screen presence from Tai Chen, Hark-On, and Sammo Hung Kam-Bo will seem insignificant, but for those who do know them will make their inclusion in film lackluster of wasted talent.

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I used to be a magnificent butcher, but now I just cook food. 

The fight choreography is done by Yuen Woo-Ping whom name would be selling a point to fans of martial art films. Unfortunately in this instance a master of fight choreography isn’t at his best. A reason for this being with the exception for two, all the fight scenes are one sighted leaving no opportunity for counter moves, or complex maneuver to perform for the actors. Another aspects of the fights that take away from the fight choreography is them being overly edited. All the fight scenes have tempered speed which tends to ruin the flow of a fight scene when switching between fast, slow, and back to regular motion frequently. Applied with quick editing that changes up shots the editing doesn’t play to the fight scenes strength. If the speed of the fights weren’t tampered with Philip Ng (who performs in most of them) isn’t a quick a performer. Usage of wires are noticeable in some instances as one might take notice that defying physics, and taking yourself seriously don’t go hand in hand.

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Noticed I didn’t put any stills of fighting. Here’s one.

There’s a fight in the film that is done in one take which sounds impressive until I tell you the post production work that ruined it. The one take fight scene is sped up while typical for the film is more noticeable in this sequence. If performed well, and on time than the sequence wouldn’t need alteration. Then, there’s not framing half of the sequence correctly as there is moment where it does not show Philip Ng fighting against actors. The camera gets to close barely capturing some of Philip Ng blows as it continuously spins around until the fight scene ends. Before the fight scene occurs there are only three people visible ready to fight, but as soon as Philip Ng attacks, and the camera spins around more actors are suddenly in frame. This also creates a continuity error, though that isn’t anything unexpected for action scenes. Everything else in the film is adequate. For a film paying homage you’ll get the shots you expect, and the same applies to the music. Not much to be surprised by as director Ching Po Wong made generally safe choices. His only truly questionable is making the entire film gray instead of black & white. In few scenes there’s some semblance of color so it’s jarring why Po Wong simply didn’t choose to filter the film in black & white.

Once Upon A Time In Shanghai is wholly average as a movie, an average showcase of martial arts, and average anything you could think off. It takes the classic ideas associated with the “American Dream” in a crime a story along with the classic imagery one would expect from this kind of story. All without throwing its own flare to familiar ideas. As an homage it doesn’t disrespect old fashion cinema, but at the same time does nothing to represent the best elements of old fashioned cinema. Having too much on its plate, and not enough time to make all the ideas it has be put to good use. If you only want to see it for the action the fight scenes are edited heavily with motion of speed being played with in all of them, and virtually every fight being one sided in the favor of what the story demands. Choreography wise it’s okay with a few making little use of what’s in the environment, but the actors performing them aren’t as skillful as the stars they pay homage to. This movie doesn’t falter seriously, but neither excel in anything at the same time either.

5/10

Cinema-Maniac: Blue Exorcist The Movie (2013) Movie Review

My previous ventures into a film adaptation based on a anime series were usually first exposures to certain properties. Blue Exorcist is a different story with me actually taking time to see the anime series. Overall I thought the show was decent and anyone wanting to know why I say that there’s a link to a blog on my thoughts on the anime series at the end of this review. However, unlike the anime series Blue Exorcist The Movie is strictly for fans with little characterization, explanation on its world, and clumsy plotting will leave newcomer in the dust.

Blue Exorcist The Movie is about Rin coming across a seemingly innocent child demon with no memories and soon realizes what the boy really is and later understands why he was sealed ages ago. Understanding the simplistic story doesn’t require any level of knowledge on the source material. By removing itself from the anime series it could be view as its own creation following no continuity. However, what isn’t as accessible is basically everything else. It doesn’t bother to tell newcomers needed information about the world. You’ll wonder why some exorcists carry guns while other don’t will seem nonsensical. In the series it’s explained there are several advantages and disadvantages to combat a demon something the film sheds no light on. Another issue are the large cast characters that go wasted. Some characters make pointless appearances in the films that chew up screw time. Aside from the protagonist Rin and the demon child he takes care off characterization is left as is. Fans will have an understanding of the familiar cast of characters, but newcomers on the other hand will be given virtually nothing on why they should care for these characters.

When it comes to story Blue Exorcist has never been an expert on that front. It’s plot formula is given in the form of a children story in the beginning if done right would have been foreshadowing events and nothing else. Unfortunately the story reiterates the children story several times eliminating any mystery and making itself predictable. This is the first time I’ve seen a movie literally spoiling the plot itself. Blue Exorcist problematic writing unfortunately is a trait that is retained too. Much like the series, the film excels in building up to a big fight by slowly escalating the stakes. Like the series, the film has a disappointing resolution to its conflict and lazy writing in pivotal moments. For example, Rin Okumura and others attempt to exorcise a phantom train. Whenever it appears on screen it is proven difficult to defeat. That is until lazy writing pops up with Rin Okumura demonic powers serving as an easy getaway when things get rough. What is done properly are the personality of the characters. They’re down to Earth and easily relatable. The relationship are earnest and so are how they interact with one another. Most of the highlights come from the cast comedic antics often deliver laughs. Comedy relief is far superior to the film dramatic elements, but gets it across it points without any emotional gain for newcomers. Ending in a way that guarantees to adds nothing for either side as the ending made sure it leaves no impact on the series or the film itself.

This is an often gorgeous looking animated film, one with incredibly detailed backgrounds (some of the urban settings are really and scenes at the festival are spectacular looking in the film), as well as well done characters. Colors are very intense at times, running the gamut from bright, vivid primaries to more subdued pastels. Line detail is very sharp and consistent throughout this presentation. Exceeding in taking you into another world. Action sequences come in short supply, but it does offer satisfy. The few action scenes sports plenty of visuals flare whenever the combatant attacks be it with guns, demonic blue flames, and a simple strike display considerable amount of damage to their surroundings. Hiroyuki Sawano score is cinematically excellent. His score sells the somber moments of the drama and the lighthearted tone of the comedy. Perfectly pacing itself with the events of the story and exceeding the film writing in strengthening the tone of scenes where the writing does no justice. Simply hearing UVERworld track “Reversi” brought greater sense of emotional closure than the film ending. Voice acting is all around solid maintaining the same charisma that could be found in the anime as well. These performances aren’t movie level, but work because they stay in line with the anime series representation of the characters.

Blue Exorcist The Movie certainly could have been better if its writing was on the same level as its technical aspects. Animation is smooth and the world design is intricate, voice acting is solid, and the soundtrack is absolutely perfect enveloping you into the mood. It’s story is easily accessible for newcomers, but it’s clearly a film just for fans of the anime series or manga. Unlike the anime, Blue Exorcist isn’t given enough time to fix any of its shortcomings leaving everything introduce as is.

5/10

Cinema-Maniac: Snowpiercer (2014) Review

In many ways Snowpiercer possess many traits that could have made it a disaster. It is a South Korean production with director Bong Joon-Ho making a film in a language he’s not accustomed too. The language barrier and in some cases studio interference can ruin what could have been a potentially great film with the director vision being tarnished. This often quite often when Hollywood wants international talent helming on their very own production with various degrees of success. However, as is the case with Bong Joon-Ho’s Snowpiercer the English language never once is an visable issue creating a film that show’s his prowess crafting an intellectual blockbuster.

Snowpiercer is set in a future where a failed global-warming experiment kills off most life on the planet, a class system evolves aboard the Snowpiercer, a train that travels around the globe via a perpetual-motion engine. Bleak from the start “Snowpiercer” holds nothing back in its narrative. Acquiring the barest of plot essentials progression is always made much like the titled train it never linger in one place. Our characters are given, their background are given, our setting is given, the function of the world is given, and the conflict to achieving a single goal drives everything forward. Mindful of its physical limitations (its all takes place in a train), the narrative of the film is linear and straightforward. Following the protagonists’ movement through the train as they proceed from one carriage to the next, encountering and defeating various adversaries along the way. It’s less a single narrative than a chain of linked connecting set pieces with a intellectual story that respects its audiences intelligent. Nothing about its subjects, themes, characters, morals, nor motivation are simplified.

There’s no romance and precious little in the way of character-development; these people don’t change, and neither, for the most part, does the world they inhabit. For the filmmaker as for the train, velocity and momentum are everything; nothing is allowed to distract from the immediate objective. In the same way our characters move forward so does the elements that were introduced. Carriages serves more than a location layered with meaning in specially how its people live, the role they serve, and history of “Snowpiercer” creation itself. Nothing about the film story feels like it’s pandering to a specific audience. It always has the audience wondering what’s going to happen next as it unexpected turn constantly surprises with twists that work. Pacing is another key element and even though it goes fast nothing is left untouched. Merely it’s reinforcing the urgency of the character endeavors to reach their goal and the dire situation at hand.

Filming an ambitious sci-fi in confined spaces is no small feat and director of photography Hong Kyung-pyo has done a magnificent job of bringing each of the train’s carriages to life with rich and eclectic cinematography. Bong’s camera stubbornly refuses to violate the claustrophobic geometry of the narrow train cars, visually reinforcing how defined and unyielding the path is from one end of Snowpiercer to the other. Combined with Ondrej Nekvasil’s excellent production design, Steve M. Choe’s layered editing and Marco Betrami’s evocative and multifaceted score, the film’s technical specs are a feast for the senses. Set pieces serve the narrative, but also provides thrill their unique take on familiar action scenes. Despite the confined and limited spacing on a train arguably the most technically accomplished is a large fight between two class faction. It’s a bloody fight and also one where the director isn’t shy on showing a weapon make impact utilizing lighting, long steady shots, and a person angle to show the brutal battle. Other set pieces far and few in between never match the large faction fight, but are just as equally creative and tense as the director never shies away killing off a character when he sees fit.

Leading man Chris Evans is secretive, noncommittal, yet ultimately a strong and resourceful leader – something the audience never honestly doubts for a second. Evan is compelling bringing to life a very complicated and difficult character. Under her false teeth, wig and pasty makeup, Tilda Swinton is uproarious as the train’s unhinged prime minister. Measured and full of delightful ticks, her memorable Yorkshire madam steals every scene she’s in. John Hurt’s performance as the elderly patriarch of the tail section is marked by raspy gravitas and a mournful gaze. Bong stalwart Song Kang-ho effortlessly keeps up with his English-speaking co-stars, strutting and shuffling about, providing comic relief and a dash of cool as the train’s incarcerated former chief of security.

Snowpiercer is a perfect sci-fi film offering everything you could possibly want; an intellectually fast pace story with subtle commentary, a dystopian future only it can offer, set pieces that thrills, an excellent cast that disappears into their roles, and plenty of entertainment. Technically impressive and narratively captivating there’s very little flaws to find being more than capable to stand proudly with the sci-fi genre best films.

10/10

Cinema-Maniac: 47 Ronin (2013) Movie Review

In films there are usually certain characteristics that help decide what seen regardless how it turns and one of those is the Samurai. In work of fictions or based around true events Samurai films have provided some of my personal favorite characters and stories. Alongside with an interest in Samurai culture in films “47 Ronin” was inevitable to be seen. Unfortunately this interpretation of the classic story butchered everything that made the original story timeless.

47 Ronin tells the story of a band of samurai set out to avenge the death and dishonor of their master at the hands of a ruthless shogun. The first and immediate problem with the film is the departure from the source material which is based on true events. It was emblematic of the loyalty, sacrifice, persistence, and honor that people should preserve in their daily lives especially during a time where the Samurai class was struggling to maintain a sense of itself – warriors with no war, a social class without a function. Important details like that turned an epic story of revenge into an influential story of the importance of self worth and honor. This adaptation is a literal trainwreck in every sense of the word. Taking an established story and giving a Western touch that severely damages it identity. Understanding of the Samurai code is nonexistent as it leaves audiences in the dust. Unless you have minimal understanding of Samurai culture and their code of honor none of what the Samurai expresses come across with any meaning. Down to the basic details such as explaining the significance behind the title of a Ronin (a masterless Samurai/someone who is without a home) aren’t touched upon. Without getting across the bare essentials it’s doom upon arrival. Since the writers don’t know how to implement Eastern culture into the film both sides are left unsatisfied. Those unfamiliar with the story will misinterpret its intention and those familiar with the story will be infuriated by not only the liberties that were taken, but how ignorant it is to what made the “47 Ronin” legendary.

If it were be taken as pure fiction it has all sign of life stripped away. Fantasy elements that were meant to be exuberant are lifeless. Dry dialogue tells us of an Japan that is home to dangerous monsters, witches, and fearless warriors. Main problem being hardly implementing fantasy elements in a story that clearly didn’t need any of it. Every time an element of fantasy is introduced they are blatant metaphors that hammered their point across. An important scene in the Tengu (a legendary creature depicted with both human and avian characteristics) Temple where the ronin go to gain swords serves as the creation of the film’s black hole. Our non-Japanese protagonist immediately tells the leader how to pass the test given to him defeating the whole purpose of testing his leader loyalty to his men. Not only that, but it’s also introduces the non-Japanese protagonist to a supernatural abilities which he uses only once later on in the film. Everything portrayed is meant to hammer a single point further establishing the one dimensionality of every single thing in its writing.

Obviously a two hour film can’t developed 47 individual characters into three dimensional characters, but without a single worthwhile character ensures emptiness. Kai, the protagonist (a work of fiction) is simply a tool in the film. He’s not a white man who leads Japanese to reclaim their honor. No, Kai is a man who’s constantly told to annoying extremes that he’s not a Samurai and a half bread. Beating the protagonist down with secondary characters has two effects; the first being it makes Kai unlikable because he’s given little reason to stick with his fellow ronin who constantly show no respect and the second being it makes our heroes as equally dislikable as the villain. Speaking of which we’re only told through the ronin words he’s a terrible man and yet never once do we see any reason to hate him. Given how poorly it establishes how deeply Japan values honor the heroes motivation is just as easily missable. Romance is severely half baked. Since most of the film is spend on the ronin preparation to avenge their master what little time it spends to establish a romance early on in the film is fades away and reappears later carrying no weight to the overall story. Detracting from Kai journey to save her seeing his love interest is simply a flat plot device.

Keanu Reeves performance is wooden. His character is written in a way that he shows little emotion as possible in which Reeves delivers on his front. Always looking broody and down on his feet when interacting with the rest of the cast. Reeves here comes into focus in action mode making him appear cool as his dialogue is among the simplest of the cast. The Japanese actors have trouble saying their lines in English. It’s made very evident (five minutes in no less) that the Japanese actors aren’t comfortable speaking in English. Their line delivery is awkward and sometimes difficult to comprehend. Only sounding natural when speaking in their native language. Action scenes are a dull affair utilizing the best in random swinging. Sword techniques are fluid requiring careful reading of your opponent movement and speed; something not made evident in the film sword fights. Our ronin simply strike without planning resulting in a stalemate of pointlessly clashing swords. More characters are killed by projectile than a slash of a blade lessening the effect of the main weapon in most of the action scenes. All of this with editing that has a tendency to exist scenes abruptly. I appreciate the editor wanting to make the film end more quickly, but doing so did more harm than good to the way the film plays out. Just about the only compliment that could be given to “47 Ronin” is it cinematography. It’s varied in location and has some good looking scenes (especially ones involving fire). Nice visuals can’t make for bad acting, unimaginative action, horrid editing, and a plot that has sign of life to be found.

47 Ronin is a misinterpretation of an Eastern story told by Westerners that don’t understand it. Combining Japanese folktale, American empty set pieces, Japan Samurai culture, and American lazy writing creates a fusion of a culturally unsatisfying film. It’s more than a bad adaptation, it’s more than a awful movie, and more than a generic blockbuster, but it’s a complete butchering representing the worst in Eastern and Western filmmaking.

1/10

Cinema-Maniac: GYO: Tokyo Fish Attack (2012) Movie Review

Films that have a run time that is below an hour and half are a risky endeavor. Usually the length of a film isn’t a solid indication of a film quality, but tell its audience how much of their time is either going to be rewarded or wasted on it. GYO: Tokyo Fish Attack falls in the category that is left for individual viewers to determine for themselves. As someone who enjoys seeing films with wacky premises both it strengths and weaknesses arrive from the writing.

GYO: Tokyo Fish Attack is follows Kaori and her friends vacation to celebrate their upcoming graduation, when suddenly an infestation of mysterious walking fish forces them to reevaluate everything they care about in order to stay alive. It’s a premise that demands very little thought and has even less intelligence. For starter it plays against following a single genre rules switching it up as it goes along. Starting as a slasher film, than turning into a siege film, a mad scientist film, and ending with post apocalyptic. As clever as the structuring might be keeping the story interesting with it different paths it corners itself when it comes to telling the story. Characterization is easily the weakest aspect of the film. Characters simply represent a shallow theme hardly building upon it for any meaningful insight. Attempts at genre riffing are made clear without anything clever to say about them simply acknowledging their existence. The lead herself plays against the damsel in distress by being the heroine of the film. This in turn also undermines giving her a compelling journey. The whole got to save my fiancee motivation is easy to get behind, but learning very little about the protagonist just makes her part of the scenery and without knowing much of heroine fiancee it questions if he’s worth fighting against a mutated spider-shark. Explanations on the question presented are intentionally left unanswered. Spending more on getting to the next set piece and less on developing it’s no surprise the explanation given are bizarre. Hinting at possibilities to an answer, but never confirming leaving it a mystery. Some will scratch their head, others will think nothing of it other than it was fun, but the intention to cause fear with the ending fails because of how it told was story.

Animation is passable at best. There’s no complicated sets, movements, or designs that makes it visuals leave much of an impression. Usually empathizing on facial expressions is done well even if the viewer and character feelings are different about the current situation. Leaving a lot to desire it moves smoothly. The 3D animated fish come across with mixed results. They work because they stand out an oddity against the hand drawn backdrop, but at the same time hardly integrated into the film. There are shots where dozens of 3D fish are roaming the streets although the lack of prominent screen time containing very few scene where sea creatures are attacking the city. Voice acting is decent granted the cast had shallow characters to work with. Given the roles the voice talent were given they come across as solid at best putting more emotion in a character that’s one dimensional.

GYO: Tokyo Fish Attack has a specific audience in mind alienating many by concealing its weakness. Having very little in terms of characters and not even bothering to build on its idea the intention is clear leaving little to experience in between. With no worthwhile investment to come from the characters, story, genre riffs, or it deluded execution towards it goal results from a film that leaves you empty handed.

4/10

Cinema-Maniac: The Terror Live (2013) Movie Review

My feelings towards the news outlet is represented by the film “Natural Born Killers” in which it depicts news media commercializing violence. Sure not all news media outlet are out solely seeking profit, but it has become less trustworthy with facts distortion, false story testimony, hypocritical political stance that change on a whim, and hundreds of other issues. “The Terror Live” yes does to a degree support my views on the news media outlet; however, as a film it achieves all the high mark needed for a perfect rating. Excellent writing for the story it’s telling, high production values regardless of budget, a magnificent cast, and a key understanding of what genre fans want while also making it accessible for the average viewer.

The Terror Live follows Young-Hwa Yoon, once a top national news anchor attempting to get his title back through an exclusive live broadcast with a terrorist. One thing to note about “The Terror Live” is the amount of creativity put into it taking entirely place in just one broadcast room. Starting things simple and low key for the introduction of protagonist Yoon as an unhappy radio host. It builds beyond that point doing the basics of introducing the premise, the characters, and the conflict setting them immediately in placed. Developing in real time we’re able to witness everything fleshed out right before our eyes. Being an immersive experience that’s often not capture by written words. For this reason we bare witness the now common practice report it first get it right later mentality of web journalism with the disillusionment and frustration that come from it. It’s not far fetched concept nowadays nor is the way how the film tackle this too refrain from reality. Motivations for a live terrorist broadcast make senses from the characters angle going beyond the underline that in the end it’s about money. Never does it tell you swallow it owns views rather ask how reliable news reporting is up to the viewer to determine for themselves. For the first two act there’s very little to complain about (some of the character development is conventional, but it’s better than nothing). Slowly building up to its climax for the two act are flawlessly written keeping the story essentials engaging while building upon what already placed. What will ultimately determine how your reaction on the film as a whole will be with the third act. Revealing the terrorist and his rather disappointing reason behind his actions, though even in context his action could be perceived as overblown. Yet these complaints would automatically be labeled as flaws sneakily tie into how preconceived the media in the film. How much of we what see and hear is reliable from the sources we get this information from and how much do we accept of it as the truth and a work of fiction.

Writer/director Kim Byeong-woo had a taunting task of not only writing a film in just one setting, but also filming it. What instantly catches the eye is the camera being constantly in motion and creating momentum. The camera serves as a tool showing details among the cast anxiety of the situations to creating a feeling of entrapment with little to no influence to change its outcome. Alongside with editing effectively emoting the anxiety felt by its protagonist. Kim Byeong-woo makes great use of all his available resources and intelligently knows how to use them properly. For example, the bridge that has partly collapsed can almost at all times only be seen from a distance and thus the CGI effects look always looks great. Star Ha Jeong-woo does good work in revealing Yoon’s motivations through his performance instead of solely through dialogue, and his arc is clearer because of it. Gradually upping the dosages of anxiety and doubt he injected Yoon’s smug veneer, the actor has managed to portray a man quickly losing his moorings, but having to at least pretend he’s putting up a good fight. Staying on him almost exclusively straying only to offer glimpses through windows or to TV screens, and he carries the responsibility with energy and believability.

The Terror Live fits the term masterful filmmaking in all category. It’s an intelligent thriller with a fresh and new concept not widely seen that keeps your attention right to the very end. Doing more so entertaining its audience its asks the bold question of who are the real terrorist in a depiction that purely gray where no simple answer in sight.

10/10