Tag Archives: Movie Reviews

Cinema-Maniac: Mission: Impossible III (2006)

Mission: Impossible 3 would mark the feature film debut of J.J. Abrams whom before this point worked on the small screen on series like Alias, and Lost. The former of which Tom Cruise binged watch, and made him offer the directing gig to him. Given the generally mix reaction of Mission: Impossible 2 (2000) would explain the six year wait between sequels, but the profit gained from MI 2 also ensured another installment in the franchise was always possible. Perhaps the most interesting tidbit of this third outing is David Fincher almost directed the movie. However, he dropped out over creative differences. Like other before him, J.J. Abrams takes the mantle of the franchise providing his own spin on it exceeding where the two previous directors failed before him. Offering a story that will satisfy fans of the original, and providing blockbuster spectacles fans of the second outing expect into this entry.

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It’s time to come clean Hunt. Who’s Nyah?

Mission: Impossible 3 puts agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) into conflict with Owen Davian, a dangerous and sadistic arms dealer who threatens Hunt’s life and his fiancee in response. It might have taken three films, but here is where the series finally hit the mark on balancing its tone. Being neither too serious, or too over the top. Starting out strong with a great opening sequence that perfectly set up the stakes as well as serve as flash forward to were the viewer will eventually end up at. It’s a great hook that immediately gets the audience attention. Everything else that precedes the opening sequence does a fine job in the keep the viewer invested in showing Ethan Hunt personal life, banter between the team, some levity to prevent from being too serious, and some eventual mind games between our hero, and the villain. All this is done in its fast pace that never lingers too much on any scene. Being very streamlined in its storytelling while properly spacing out the action sequences infuse in itself as a blockbuster.

Another balance in the film is the handling of Ethan Hunt character. Making full use of not only his physical abilities, but also his intelligence in quickly thinking of a way out of a dangerous situation. Showing the audience him thinking on the spot to pull off a difficult task. Retaining his experience from the previous movie Ethan Hunt is still capable on the field, but you won’t see Hunt doing back flip kicks, or dodging bullets by taking cover on the side of his high speeding motorcycle with arm goons right behind him. With the addition of having someone to lose there’s a semblance of weight that returns to Ethan Hunt. Now that you know he has something to lose it makes those set pieces more engaging. A personal bonus I would say is the dialogue is a nice fusion of the serious story of the first one with a more tone nature of dialogue from the second film. Offering some memorable lines like the ones below to provide a few examples. Needless to say, the dialogue is on point.

Brassel: You can look at me with those judgmental eyes all you want, but I bullshit you not, I will bleed on the American flag to make sure those stripes stay red.

Luther: Look, I don’t mean to cross the line here, but was there something going on between you two? You and Lindsey?

Ethan: Lindsey was like my little sister.

Luther: And you’ve…never slept with your little sister? [Ethan stares at him again] Look brother, if I don’t ask you, who would?

Lindsey: I’m out, how many rounds have you got?

Ethan: [Checking his magazine] Enough.

[Ethan jumps out and fires in slow motion, killing the henchman with a single shot]

Ethan: [tosses the gun away] Now I’m out.

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Cruise keeps going, and going, and going….

The team dynamic is greatly improved from the previous entries. Hunt’s teammates are given roles in the operations with greater importance. Being more active in performing on the field, even computer expert Luther (Ving Rhames) becomes more of a active participant in the operations than he did before. Luther expanded role in this third outing works in favor for the film. Providing not only a character Hunt can open up to, but also provide levity to the story without coming across as a rewritten character. Most important of all, Luther gets the characterization he deserves finally given viewer more to his character. Instantly making Luther the most fleshed out recurring character in the series.

While the effort to humanize Ethan Hunt is admirable it also suffers the same issue that Mission: Impossible 2 suffered from; Ethan Hunt settling down with a wife comes across as rewriting the character instead of a natural change. There are a few scenes between Luther, and Ethan Hunt talking about their love life that try to remedy this. Luther provides insight on his failed relationship while not forgetting to mention why it likely won’t last. Hunt other team members tell him the same, but not quite as much as Luther does. This change doesn’t entirely work since Ethan Hunt is hardly shown being with his fiancee making the romance feel less genuine, and Hunts motivation to go back on active duty for the IMF is kept on a surface level. A person vendetta is enough to carry him, but not enough to justify why Hunt would actively put himself in riskier situations considering he loves that Julia reminds him of a life before IMF. In two instances, the movie overlooks details in order for the story to progress, and not come to a halt. Resulting in one escape sequence making you wonder how this voice changer was able to copy someone else’s voice so quickly when in a operation it took minutes to prepare. There’s also an operation in Shanghai which instead of seeing first hand will only witness the end result.

There’s also the return of a plot twist from the first movie, and it’s not the face mask usage that is the twist. It involves there being a traitor within IMF (again) which would have worked if the story better foreshadowed the twist. When the traitor is revealed, who it turns to be comes across convoluted within a film that is more narratively coherent than it predecessors. There’s also two new team members introduce in this movie, but unlike Luther, or Benji (Simon Pegg) who both manage to leave an impression despite their screen time the first time they appeared on screen. Declan Gormley (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), and Zhen Lei (Maggie Q) don’t offer anything in the way of personalities. They simply go onboard with what Ethan, or the story says. Coming off as mechanical when movie tries to hint at some intimacy between Zhen, and Gormley. With the already mentioned of the mole in IMF being reused also expect disavowed agent Ethan Hunt, and saving the world last minute, but they remain a stable in the series, and reuse in later installments. So me criticizing part three for these conventions would be unfair, but everything else around these plot points is fair game. Especially the happy ending that attempts to overlook the fact that Hunt’s wife is just cool learning about her husband secret.

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Helicopter flying through flames. Pretty cool in my book

Tom Cruise delivers his best performance in the franchise in this outing finally giving Cruise the perfect material that offered him plenty of range missing from the previous two movies. Providing plenty of scenes where Tom Cruise gets to show Ethan Hunt more vulnerable side. In particular, his sequences with Michelle Monaghan you get to see Cruise at his more vulnerable, and most uncertain than he ever portrayed Ethan Hunt. It’s this reason the opening sequence has the great hook that it does. When carrying the weight on the drama Cruise delivers some great comedic banter between his co-stars. Delivering his comedic lines perfectly with his reactions. He also gets some great one liners, and he delivers making them sound cool, even if they are cheesy. As with the previous installment, when it comes to the action sequence Cruise looks just performing them as he is in the acting department. Yes, like in all his movies, you will eventually get to see a long take of Tom Cruise running in the movie. Very few actors can make running look as good as Tom Cruise.

Philip Seymour Hoffman plays the film villain, and hands down is the best actor who played a villian in the Mission Impossible franchise. He is everything you want in a good villain; snarky, ruthless, and all around intimidating in his delivery despite his appearance. The intensity in the scenes between Hoffman, and Cruise are the best bits of acting this series will provide. Just witnessing the two of them be able to deliver intensity into the movie in a matter of seconds is a sight to behold. Easily being the most memorable villain on just Hoffman acting abilities alone.

Ving Rhames role is graciously expanded upon. Proving reliable, like he has before, of being able to deliver comic relief just fine. Rhames is just a joy to see on screen. Simon Pegg who eventually becomes a mainstay makes his first appearance here, but has very little screen time. Like Ving Rhames before him in the first entry, Simon Pegg is able to make an impression, and feel like a natural fit in the series. His smooth delivery of his comedic lines, and making expository dialogue fun to listen through his energy is why he stayed around. Michelle Monaghan does mostly play a supportive role in the emotional sense, but does get to perform in the action in the climax. Her character doesn’t offer her much to do, but she makes it work.

Laurence Fishburne, and Billy Crudup also make appearances in the film in supporting roles. Fishburne comes out looking good in the movie, somehow making his wholly serious portrayal work even he’s poking fun of the other co-stars. Billy Crudup is also good, until the climax where he becomes hammy. Jonathan Rhys Meyers, and Maggie Q on the other hand are the weakest link in the cast. Neither of them try to provide their characters with any sort of personality. Making them come off as bland.

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This is fantastic scene in the movie. Easily a highlight

J.J. Abrams helming the results in action sequences in that movie lack complexity in their choreography, but more than makes up for it in other areas. For starter, there’s a lot more stunt work involved in the sequences. In my favorite moment of the movie you Tom Cruise hanging from the side of a car trying to shoot vehicle pursuing him, and his team. Resulting in the vehicle crashing into a truck. In another moment, Tom Cruise character only has a single bullet left in the chamber of his gun, shoots a person, and they fall out of window. Small instance of stunt work like these make the action sequence appear more eventful. Doing as much as possible to minimize the usage of CGI. There’s some shaky cam involve, but nothing to outrageous. However, there are the rare occasion where the camera visibly is readjusted to get the frame of the shot right.

The film’s first big set piece in a factory that moves to a helicopter chase sequence escalate things in a manner. Abrams always keep the audience inform in spite of the chaos of endless gunfire that follows. Keeping things simple enough to follow. As the film progresses, Abram is able to keep the action set pieces large in scale. There’s a fantastic sequence on a bridge that shows Abram ability to get inventive in isolated location. Unfortunately, when it comes time to finally have the climax it’s the film smallest set piece. Abrams tries to remedy this by having Tom Cruise get tossed around the set, and having break many props in the process. In terms of scale, it’s small fry compare to what came before it.

Michael Giacchino takes care of composing duty, and his original music works for the scene they’re used. It’s unlikely you’ll remember a single track from the movie that isn’t “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge. Finally, yes this the last thing I’ll mention promise before ending this review. There’s a song called “Impossible” by Kanye West featuring Twista and Keyshia Cole which is an improvement over Limp Bizkit, but is also forgettable. That’s probably the reason why it wasn’t used in the opening credit sequence.

Mission: Impossible 3 successfully combines elements from it predecessors into a entertaining third outing. Providing a good story, great performances from lead actor Tom Cruise, and giving him a great villain to play of in Philip Seymour Hoffman, and delivering on its action set pieces. It’s a great action blockbuster that gives you what you expect, and a little bit more.

Rating: 8/10

Cinema-Maniac: The Debt Collector (2018)

In 1986, there was a Hong Kong movie called A Better Tomorrow that influenced a entire film industry, and was the first of many collaboration between actor Chow Yun-Fat, and John Woo. While it’s uncertain the collaboration between Scott Adkins, and director Jesse V. Johnson will have any kind of effect on the direct to video action business. They certainly are leaving a mark already. From Savage Dog (2017) an ambition action movie with a historical background that’s solid, to the surprisingly good comic good adaptation of Accident Man (2018), and now a film with direct inspiration from buddy cop movies with The Debt Collector (2018). Adding on to the list of good films under their collaboration.

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Sue: “See this towel? It’s for you after the beating I’ll give you.”

The Debt collector follows classically-trained martial artist French (Scott Adkins), who goes to work as a mob debt collector in order to save his gym. This synopsis sounds like something out of a early 90s action flick, and in some ways pays homage to that. Teaming French up with experience mob debt collector Sue (Louis Mandylor). Starting the relationship in predictable, but well executed fashion of the two not getting along, and over time striking a closer friendship. The banter between French, and Sue keeps the film proceeding events engaging when action isn’t on screen. Making wisecracks at each other expense, talking about the moral lines that should never be crossed in their line of work, sharing a bit about themselves, and some very subtle references to some of the actors previous works for fans to catch. Also, some tongue in cheek lines to the sorts of movies it burrows from.

What simply starts as a series loosely strung together events do lead up to a overarching story. It takes halfway through the movie before it gets there being more incline to be character driven than story driven. Slowly having French, and Sue engage in various scenarios all of which end up going south. Mixing tightly choreographed action sequences, comedy, and the occasional characterization into it many scenarios. Once the overarching story becomes a mainstay it’s also another predictable path. Leading to French to further if what the job requires of him is actually worth it. There’s the part of learning about his target making him reconsider his job. Coming together in a climax with a unexpected outcome for a movie starring Scott Adkins, and even more surprising is the ending. It’s an ending ultimately suits the story for how far both French, and Sue went for their job by having actual consequences movies it is homaging wouldn’t go for. Earning it’s ending by having its characters question what they do, and taking the time to delve into that. However, it does mean anyone expecting the usual triumphant Scott Adkins climax in this movie will be disappointed when not receiving it.

One noticeable misstep in its early goings is completely ignoring the whole save the gym motivation for French as the film progresses. It does kick off the plot in a organic fashion, but a more personal driven motivation would have serve a greater purpose in the long run, especially considering the course it final act takes. Briefly touching on the value French gym has to him will suffice initially since it’s a fun throwback action flick. That is until you reach the final act where it changes course, and the undercooked motivation weakness comes into full effect. Aside from this misstep in the beginning, just about the only other major drawback would be the uneven structure. Half of the movie is packed with action sequences one right after the other, and the other half takes a drastic turn into the dramatic side with some splices of comedy. Taking into account the story’s intention it misdirecting the viewer works in it favor. Well, mostly. Throughout the movie, you see stock footage of cows eventually being taken to get slaughter. It’s on the noise in it’s message delivery, and far from subtle as the closing lines hammer its point home.

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Despite low budgets, Adkins is always reliable on the action side for excitement

Scott Adkins takes the lead as French with his British accent. This role allows Adkins to stretch more of acting chops than his usual role, though isn’t given any heavily dramatic scenes. The most dramatic he’ll get is letting out a sigh of exhaustion. While his dramatic scenes are lacking what isn’t is Adkin capturing the straight man characteristic of his role. Managing to be convincing as someone out of his element. Where he does deliver the most is where it counts (besides the action sequences) is with his co-star Louis Mandylor. Adkins rough straight man attitude compliments nicely against Mandylor sleazy has been demeanor. Mandylor easily outshines Adkins since the material provides him opportunities for his character to be more intimate with those around him There’s also intensity in Mandylor which he captures perfectly in his eyes when he has to get his hands dirty. Their chemistry is the film biggest strength creating something that feels genuine in the actor comradeship with each other. It’s unlikely you’ll care a deal about the characters, but you’ll definitely find the duo entertaining if nothing else.

The supporting cast will largely go unnoticed since all of them get push to the wayside because of the film’s story. Only Jack Lowe is able to leave much of an impression in a small role since his character is begging for his life. Showing an ease to become a character with not a lot to chew on. Biggest surprise is easily Tony Todd. He doesn’t get plenty of screen time, but visibly has fun in his brief appearance. Then there’s Vladimir Kulich in a bigger role who also doesn’t have much screen time, though he’s enjoyable if only for the fact Adkins is once again playing a character who works for Kulich. Other than that, the supporting cast do fine in their small roles that do prevent nearly all of them from being able to shine does also mean the acting in general is better than average in your direct to video action films.

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This movie has a of Scott Adkins driving people

When it comes the action side, fight choreography is handle by Luka LaFontaine (also responsible for the fights in Savage Dog) goes for a more grounded treatment to better fit its movie. Meaning, restraining Adkins from using many of his high flying maneuvers in favors of a more brawler like approach. Thankfully, LaFonatine is more than capable to get creative with his fight choreography. Since Adkins typically fight with men taller, and bigger than him this makes fight scenes eventful as none of them go down easily. LaFonatine is able to corporate some clever counter moves into his grounded choreographed fights without them feeling out of place. Seeing Scott Adkins get fling into a wall when someone blocks his punches, or seeing Adkins get slammed multiple time on a bar table when the person he’s fighting him won’t let his go of his grip is nicely worked in. Adkins receives plenty blows in the film requiring his character to either fight out of a scenario where he’s out number 3 to 1, or use something in his environment to get the upper hand. The action choreography is perhaps the least complex Adkins ever performed, but it’s shot nicely, and edited together nicely to make them entertaining nonetheless. The film does have one gunfight towards the end, and it’s pretty laughable it continues the tradition of people constantly missing at point blank range in Adkins direct to video action films. It’s further highlighted by the fact that Adkin character background, but it’s still an enjoyable gunfight in spite of that leap in logic.

The Debt Collector proves that Jesse V. Johnson, and Scott Adkins compliment each other really well. Jesse V. Johnson molds a story, and character that are engaging while allowing Adkins a departure from his usual roles, and letting the action experts do their thing. Adkins is able to rely more on his acting, and is able to hold his own against Louis Mandylor who takes the spotlight from him. When it comes to the action side Adkins is always reliable on that front, but here it’s nice to see him shine in a different way. Jesse V. Johnson, and Scott Adkins shortcomings in their fields are evident, but their understanding of each other strengths compliment each other in the films they make, and that’s make them an effective team. Producing far better films than you would expect from the direct to video market.

Rating: 7/10

Cinema-Maniac: China White (1989)

I’ve seen many films, and been disappointed plenty of times even with reasonable expectations. Once you’ve seen the many noteworthy films in the action genre the more obscure titles you’ll have to take a gamble on. Granted, I haven’t written anything about a good portion of those noteworthy action movies, but sometimes the prospect of tackling something not widely discussed intrigues me more over something that is well praised, and regarded. Having a huge respect for action cinema than probably your average blogger/reviewer who writes about action cinema. Movies like China White further hammer in the point why action cinema is frequently criticize for their bad stories, and bad acting.

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In 10 seconds, Russell Wong avoids getting killed three times

China White follow brothers Bobby Chow (Russell Wong) and Danny Chow (Steven Vincent Leigh) want control of Amsterdam’s Chinatown for their drug trade in the midst of an escalating between the Italian, and Chinese mafia. Now, that sounds like a blast of an Hong Kong style action in a U.K. setting you might be thinking. The final product falls significantly short of its somewhat interesting setup due to its inability to focus on a single point. For starter, the character of Bobby Chow, and Danny Chow are developed decently in the story. However, the film isn’t interested in showing these two blood brother bond, and the struggles they must overcome in the violent criminal world they are a part of. Bobby, and Danny spend around half of the movie together, and then the other half both are separated from each other with the viewer only seeing Bobby side of events. When it wants to show some kind of drift between Bobby, and Danny it’s quickly brushed aside. Considering the movie spends a good chunk of the first half developing these two characters it’s misdirection in how it uses them effects the impact it desires to have.

While not required it does have a romantic subplot which yes litters action cinema in drove, even if the film could be stronger without such a thing. In the case of China White it got it partially correct. Bobby first interactions with Anne (Lisa Schrage) aren’t ones filled with romantic intentions. Starting off on the right foot in getting them to start out as friends. However (again), once Anne gets rescue in the film the relationship between Bobby, and Anne quickly takes a more romantic turn, and it’s unconvincing because it’s rushed. After Anne gets rescued there’s no recovery phase for her to get over her near death experience. It’s just brushed over like the development of Anne, and Bobby relationship. It practically goes from Bobby, and Anne having sex to the next important scene they are planning a trip to Paris before something tears them apart.

Another part of its grand story is the initial storyline of Bobby Chow, Danny Chow, and their comrades taking vengeance on the criminal boss who took out their father figure. This part of the story is pretty thin in actual value, but simply having them be themselves makes a thin idea work well. It easily gets across these people respect their father figure, and establishing a good sense of gratitude towards him. It’s unfortunate that after a flashback sequence which yes brings the movie to a halt that it is unable to expand on the idea. This is to blame on the romantic subplot, and also the subplot of the police officers trying to capture our main criminal characters. It’s unable to juggle all of it pieces into a coherent narrative easily  making things get lost in the shuffle. Meaning you have aspects of the story that start out initially working well, but deteriorate in quality as they go on.

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No one in the background looks suspicious at all

Lastly, the biggest downfall of the film’s story is the uneven pacing. The film’s act is paced well setting up the characters, and small bits of an overarching story in good fashion. Sure some of the dialogue is unnatural, though it has little hiccups in actually telling a story. Act one only big drawback is a flashback that’s bring the movie to a halt to provide some backstory. It’s well intended, but since the film is all over the place the flashback unintentionally harms the overall quality in the long run. There’s a lack of raising action due to the fact Bobby, and the gang easily obtain resources to launch their big plan for vengeance which skips plenty of steps. The final act is where the film suffers the most from rush pacing. Whereas the first hour of the film did somewhat well in holding itself together. It’s the remainder forty minutes where it all comes crashing down.

Plot points that were meant to resonate fall flat from glossing over character building rendering significant characters death lackluster. Raising action is absent spending an uneven amount of time between the main conflict, and the conflicts in its subplots which aren’t granted enough time to be properly fleshed out. Leading to resolutions to storylines that will make you feel nothing in the journey. There’s also the ending text crawl saying this movie was based around true events, even though it has cheesy elements ripe in the action genre like going oversea (half the time it’s Thailand) to expands drug trade, main villain having evil henchman doing their every bidding, villains & heroes being able to kill people in public (sometime in broad daylight) without long term repercussion, the protagonist love interest getting pregnant, and the police letting a criminal get away with a murder once against someone they hate to name a few.

I wrote earlier before the film’s does a somewhat decent job developing its leading characters, but its actors are plain wooden. Our lead is Russell Wong, and he is incapable being charming, and showing many range of emotions. His biggest issue is he’s mostly stoic in his facial expression, and there’s hardly a change in his tone of voice when delivery dialogue. When’s he meant to be tough he doesn’t come across as tough. If Wong is meant to be charming his wooden delivery, and stoic expression will make you question how he manage to get a woman with a lack of personality. The only time he’s somewhat convincing is during his action sequences because he has no lines to speak, and even those get ruined by some awkward choices. Also, he sounds really unnatural when speaking English dialogue. Almost robotic in delivery simple sentences. Russell Wong other co-stars fare about the same also sharing Russell Wong lack of range. Steven Vincent Leigh doesn’t come across much of a gangster, but since he’s given as much wide ranging material he fares better. He’s typically has to look upset, or tough in his scene. The only one in the supporting cast was Victor Hon as One Hand, and that was because he was at least trying to do his best in his limited role. The Chinese actors are largely speaking in their native language are fine, but sadly the stars speak English in a unconvincing manner making the bad performances stand out more.

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Even in bad movies, I do appreciate stunt work

Surprisingly, the film has superstar Andy Lau, Alex Man, and a surprise appearance by Fui-On Shing who just keeps popping up in a number of obscure Kong Hong movies I keep checking out. Despite appearing only in the ten minute flashback sequence Andy Lau doesn’t fare much better. He simply looks like he wants to exit the production. Allegedly, Andy Lau, and Alex Man were abducted by force by the triads to be in the film. I say allegedly because apparently a lot of sources claim this is real, but I’m unable to find the blog post by Manfred Wong who confirms this on the internet. As for Fui-On Shing he’s the typical baddie, and that what he so well at playing. He’s a highlight in the movie, along with a lackluster Andy Lau who is still more engaging to see than his other prominent co-stars.

The western cast of the film fare slightly better. Out of the entire cast Billy Drago comes out the best as the film’s villain. He’s one note in his performance, but it’s that one note he’s able to nail by hamming it up. Instead of portraying his character in a realistic manner Billy Drago simply revel in his evil nature. Lisa Schrage does okay with her haphazard material. She isn’t allowed any opportunity to transition from one aspect of her character into another. However, she’s able to pull off her none-serious scenes well. Frank Sheppard plays a cop name Rasta (I’m not kidding), and it’s a stereotype performance. Providing a Jamaican accent while throwing the occasional “I told ya man” whenever on screen. It’s passable at best. Saskia van Rijswijk plays the classic silent henchwoman who doesn’t appear much in the movie, and aside from one fight sequence she doesn’t get any scene to stand out.

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When mixed together, Chinese, and Italian gangsters are very explosive

Ronny Yu direction is one without confidence. He’s unable to make an assure experience being just as lost in juggling the film story just as much as the script. He’s also unable to overcome his actors weaknesses having long takes of his actors giving one bad performance after another. Where he partially does well is during the action sequences. The choreography in them is nothing special, but liven them up a bit. They would be exciting if it wasn’t for two things; Ronny Yu unnecessary use of slow motion, and his inability to show a connection between the camera & action choreography. For example, there’s a small skirmish between two criminals, and one of them pulls the pin of a grenade. The grenade isn’t seen with the only indication of a grenade pin being pulled being a sound effect. That’s not good action design. What’s also not good action design is some of the sloppy timing in the editing. There are a few instances where someone is shot, and takes seconds before the actor is shown reacting to getting shot. Sometime in slow motion!

When it infrequently comes together there’s nothing impressive about the action sequences. Gunfights are strictly of the cover, and shoot variety with little to visually make them interesting. Suffering from the cinematography not establishing the location, and what’s where. Not even the huge amount of sparks when bullets make impact liven things up. The brief instances of a choreograph fight are as good as it get because Ronny Yu tries to show them in a interesting way. Further hurting the movie is the film doesn’t know how to space out scenes evenly. The first half is evenly spaced out, but the second half saves it’s nearly absent until getting closer to the credits. When it gets to the climax, the action sequence is not worth the wait.

China White offers what you expect from a bad action movie from the rush writing in places, and the general bad acting from its cast. Feeling like the filmmakers weren’t yet ready to tackle a story with such big ambitions, and it shows throughout in the final product. Even action junkies won’t find much to enjoy in this mess of a movie.

Rating: 3/10

Cinema-Maniac: Massacre Gun (1967)

Massacre Gun follows Kuroda (Jô Shishido) a mob hitman who turns on his employers after being forced to execute his lover. Telling a lightweight story with little to grasp onto. This film is barebones in covering the essentials for competent storytelling; partial characterization, half baked exploration into the themes of brotherhood & the Yakuza code of honor, and proper escalation of story events. At it core it should be a crime thriller, but moves at a leisurely pace it becomes soothing to watch. Unfortunately, it is also attempting to tell a story about Kuroda friendship falling apart because of the ways of the Yakuza. Kuroda, and his best friend both being bound to violently resolve their war through their violent encounters, even if it against their personal intentions. This lays the groundwork for possible in depth characters who remain about the same when they are introduced sadly. Resulting in a storyline that should carry weight to it, but does not due to how little it does to create sympathy for anyone involve. A shame too since the film provide plentiful instances where expansion on character are hinted at. They are simple characters, and remain that way just like the film’s story.

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Getting cool shots even if in context it doesn’t make sense.

Familiarity is also an issue with the film, but only if you’re familiar with Yakuza movies. If you’re not, than the film is a good introduction into Nikkatsu’s Yakuza films. Covering the familiar of loyalty, blood brotherhood, unrequited love, not following the same wrong path, loosing oneself, and yep that’s about it. Character archetypes are here make the cast of characters; from the age old veteran wanting who is bound to his boss, the best friend in a rival gang beholden to loyalty over friendship, the partner thinking of calling it quits, and the upcoming youngest member desiring his chance to join the Yakuza. Those familiar with Nikkatsu’s Yakuza films will know what to expect, and Massacre Gun is more than comfortable with itself on that front. For newcomers into this kind of films it’ll serve a good introduction to get familiarize with the basics of Yakuza films in a more grounded state.

The only aspect of the writing that shines is the character of Saburo (Jiro Okazaki). He’s given a history, a dream, and conflict that gets expanded on as the film progresses. It initially starts a story about him being unable to become a boxer, and grows into Saburo finding himself again in life. Unlike the main storyline, Saburo has more to him that the film is more than happy to flesh out leading to him being the most engaging part of the movie. Unfortunately, his part is superfluous in the overarching narrative with his biggest contribution in the movie is having to be rescued twice in order to escalate events. Being a missed opportunity to add something more to the simplistic, and lightweight film.

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Another cool shot, but why the burning ships in the background I got no clue.

One aspect that is unquestionable about the film is that it has class to it. Without question, this has to be the classiest presented Yakuza movie I’ve seen unrivaled by any other. Helmed by director Yasuharu Hasebe he surprisingly shows no sign of inexperience despite it being his second directorial effort in his career. Giving the film the qualities of a cinematic experience that enhances what could have a basic film. Through his eye for visuals he is able to create a beautiful looking movie from the first frame. Do except the questionable visuals choices at times; like one where there are burning ships in the background for no reason, but thankfully odd visuals touches like that are sparse in the film.

What isn’t sparse is his careful attention to framing. Several sequences in the movie he’s able to perfectly show turmoil without dialogue. An example of this is during a wide shot scene when Jiro Okazaki is depressed, sitting down at a bar looking down at his bandage hand, and hearing jazz music being played. The elegant usage of lighting in crisp black and white, and atmosphere further empathizes the mood meant to be convey in this scene. Subtle touches like these to convey characters make the sillier moments, like a bomb being strapped to a dead body, be easily overlooked. Another highlight of the film is a sequence where a major character seemingly escapes a hit, and tricking the viewer that he has made a getaway only to realize that he’s trapped up against a wall surrounded by men with gun. Yes, it takes an absurd amounts of bullets before the man is down, but it’s a great sequence that gives cinematic quality to simplistic writing.

When the film numerous actors aren’t wearing suits to class things up the soundtrack composed of Jazz keep things classy. With numerous musical interludes, and (somewhat) erotic dancing splice during the movie makes it come across as elegant. From a technical standpoint, the music used shouldn’t work, but it does. On the violence side there’s not much of it. Same with the body count not being close what a person would consider a massacre, but the action sequences are fine being carried by smart direction. Except for one that takes place on a ship; the sequence is finely crafted, and confined until the two major characters escape from a trap. The characters are corner on all direction, and there seems no way out. This action sequence ends when one of the two major characters shoots the light, and then cuts to the two running out of the ship. Due to how it was framed it’s impossible to tell how exactly they escape a constant barrage of gunfire when surrounded. Aside from this slip up, the old fashion action sequences are pretty well done.

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No one here likes the what the future holds for Nikkatsu studio

The only actor in the film who I felt shine was Jiro Okazaki. It helps that he has the most fleshed out characters, but even without that his screen presence is simply attention grabbing without being commanding. He has all the charm to pull off his character with ease, and the dramatic chops to subtly act out the inner separation of his character. He’s a delight to see on screen, even if his supporting role ensures he’s not given the center attention.

Jo Shishido stars in the film, and delivers a solid performance. His botox cheeks gives him a recognizable look, but in terms of acting here he isn’t allowed much range. Always being bound to restraint any emotion to just being collected. Tatsuya Fiji is a bit more loosed, but has the same problem with the material being too limited. Also, a moment in the film has him slapping a woman several, and having sex with her which the woman complies with. It was a different era, but luckily the direction prevents that moment from being worse than it could have been.

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Got to say it again, film is beautifully shot

Hideaki Nitani is the second standout in the film playing Jo Shishido friend in a rival gang. Emoting his characters complex emotions with ease. Takashi Kanda portrayal as a Yakuza boss is simple; just come off as evil, and over controlling which he does. Aside from that, the other remaining in the cast from Yoko Yamamoto, Tamaki Sawa, and the rest of the actress simply act concerned over their men. They don’t get much to do either, much like Ken Sanders who plays the jazz player Chico, but make the most with what they can.

Massacre Gun is an above average movie whose only stand out is Jiro Okazaki performance, and its classy direction from Yasuharu Hasebe elevating what could have been a mediocre Yakuza movie. It’s a evident case of style over substance that for those familiar with Yakuza movies make it worth looking into a little. While for newcomers it serves as a good introduction into Yakuza films having all the traits other Yakuza movie past, and future would retain. It might not offer anything unique besides it’s style, but it still makes for a solid viewing experience.

Rating: 6/10

Cinema-Maniac: The Tigers (1991)

Today’s film, The Tigers (1991), might simply come across as just another obscure Hong Kong film forgotten by time. However, it’s the star studded of the Five Tiger Generals of TVB that will ensure it place in Hong Kong cinema history, even the reason is superficial. The Five Tiger Generals of TVB consisted of Michael Miu, Kent Tong, Felix Wong, Andy Lau, and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai who were the most popular young actors in Hong Kong during the 1980s. If you’re a fan of even one of these actors than eventually you’ll stumble upon this film on their filmography, and like me, be surprised by the amount of talent in the film. Sadly, whose in the film is about as interesting as it ever gets. While some of the Five Tigers of TVB have gone off to star in some classic films that have become landmark films in Hong Kong cinema. The Tigers (1991) is going to be a footnote in it stars legacy.

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Hong Kong’s Finest

The Tigers follows fives Cops that find their careers, and their lives in jeopardy when they spend a gangster’s bribe money after releasing him from custody during a drug bust. The movie’s premise immediately falls upon when it decided our first introduction to our characters sould be them betting on horses while on duty. It’s this initial irresponsible impression the film is unable to shake off becoming detrimental in its failing. Before the whole “should we take the money” plot point comes into play. Everything leading up to that plot point paints our officers as goofy, and easy going. Not treating what case they’re currently assigned to seriously. So when the officers are considering whether, or not to take away a suitcase filled with money, and not report it to anyone of course it comes across something they would do without question. Except for the fact it wants to present this fall into temptation with shades of grey, which you can’t do when only one out of the five characters presented actually appears to be taking their job seriously.

So seeing one officers who’s remaining silent on the matter, and not telling his superiors talks to another corrupt officers to remind him why he became an officer is sketchy. For starter, the silent officer values his friendship more so than upholding justice, and yet this character thinks he holds the higher ground when compared to his friends who actually took the money, and spend it. Obviously, just because the character sees corruption in his line of work, is in a position to prevent it from getting worse, and not participating in it doesn’t make him an upstanding officer. If the characters were more fleshed out in terms of caring about their jobs than maybe all the conversations about how they will make things right might actually hold some weight.

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Missing from this still image, slapstick humor.

Another weakness from the writing is the uneven characterization for its large cast of characters. Most of them can be defined as easy going officers whom want to make more money. Some of the characters are decently developed, and some fleshed out with their own subplots most of which don’t matter in the long run. However, on the other half you get characters who just come across as background fodder despite being established as good friends. There’s also the noteworthy weakness that none of the officers are given traits to stand out. All are jokey, partially serious, and slowly crack under pressure. Homogenizing nearly all the characters unknowingly. Also, since the film is incapable of developing characters the “mind games” the corrupt officers take part in against the film’s villain feels dragged out. When the “mind games” portion start around the end of the first act virtually no progress in the story is made until the climax of the movie comes. This is because it feel like the story is prolonging the inevitable by having scheme, after scheme failed in either getting the villain killed, or getting the police officers locked up.

Dialogue doesn’t fare any better being the routine “what does being an officer mean to you”, “what separates your action from criminals”, and “we are bound to uphold the law, not break it” variety with conversations going where you would expect them too. The issue with this are the characters participating in these conversations never had the high ground. From the opening that showed the officers not taking their line of work seriously, even during a police raid making sex jokes, all the way to the end these officers simply come off as irresponsible, and stupid. You would think characters who’ve all been serving various amount of years in the police force would know how to hide the fact they illegally acquire a huge sum of money during a raid. Apparently not since the characters aren’t able to hide their tracks for simple reasons like buying an expensive car that can’t be bought on their budget, or giving a daughter a large sum of cash for her to start her business. Made even stupider by the fact they mentioned earlier in the movie they wouldn’t do these of things to because they could caught, yet still do it.

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Seriously, we’re surrounded by fog, and looking over mountains, and you still wear sunglasses!

Now comes my biggest point of criticism in the writing; it’s inability to represent morality in shades of grey, or black and white. The villain of the film for instance uses his hold over the officers for his own needs. Never at any point in the film is he given a fair shake that would allow him to be sympathetic. This cartoonish villain doesn’t belong in the same story that is attempting to make police officers that took bribe money appear morally grey. A villian who enjoys giving our main characters a difficult time, and takes pleasure in killing some of them muddles it’s execution of being morally ambiguous. You end up with a film with a cartoonish villain who has nothing much going for him besides being evil. However, when one of the police officers takes the stolen money to pay for his brother education it’s meant to be a noble cause. You simply can’t do that because then the villain becomes justified for demanding the police to do his bidding for taking the money he made through (likely) illegal means. This issue could have been easily remedied if the film didn’t attempt to make what the police did with some sense of righteousness.

As for the actual story of the film that’s hard to discuss because nearly all character arcs are never balanced out in its nearly 2 hours runtime. A subplot revolving around an old police officer trying to reconcile with his daughter that doesn’t add much to the movie. It would have helped if the reconciling part wasn’t resolved by a third party after one conversation that basically amounted to “Your dad does care for you, have you considered that”. Another storyline would be an officer finding his brother during a raid doing shady activities. That plot point feels like it just disappears after its brought up. Instead of using this moment to create an interesting dynamic between the brothers it chooses not to do anything with it because it’s not a well written movie. There’s also another officer who worries about getting killed because it’ll mean his family will be left with no money. This officer is hardly ever shown interacting with his family rendering what could have been an emotional drive seem shallow.

When it tries to be thrilling it fails because inevitable sequences are dragged out; like the police releasing a gang leader from custody in order to get the villain killed, and there being a fight that breaks out. Whenever the story acts like whatever it does is a big deal it gets boring over time before realizing you still have over forty minutes left in the movie. Tonally, there’s no balance in it. It’s somewhat comedic in the beginning of the film, and than suddenly turns dark before the first act ends. The writers had a bunch of ideas about what story they wanted to tell, and just called it a day before developing them into something cohesive that would work in anything it attempted to do.

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Cool moment brought to you by Andy Lau.

Despite my gripes with the story my actual biggest disappointment from the movie is generally the weak performances from its star-studded cast. Sure, maybe Hong Kong superstar Andy Lau is the only name you recognize, but Tony Leung, Felix Wing, Miu Roi Wai, and Ken Tong aren’t small players either. First of all, Andy Lau performance in the film is weak. Usually he can make the most even out of cardboard characters. Sadly in this movie his usual charm is nowhere to be found, and when it comes to his dramatic chops the poor direction hurts him. For example, there’s a sequence where he sees one of his friend getting killed, and while he’s mourning a song he sang for the movie is inserted into the sequence with on the nose lyrics about how conflicting his character is. It made a dramatic scene unintentionally funny, and it’s doesn’t help either the song used in this sequence is also used to close out the movie further hammering the point in.

There’s the beginning of the movie where most of the cast are acting goofy. Andy Lau during the brief lighthearted moments appears to be having fun. His dramatic acting is the opposite delivery scene after scene like he’s directly reading of from the script without adding his own touch. Becoming robotic in nature when delivery his scenes. Rarely does he deliver a scene in the movie that feels natural because once the lighthearted moments end he always looks pissed off. This could have been remedied if the writing included more moments of Andy Lau character expressing how conflicting he was about the turn of events. While Andy Lau does have the acting chops to play a unrepentant character the direction gives him little on how much to convey in scenes.

Tony Chiu-Wai Leung who plays Tai-Pi fares worse than Andy Lau. Whereas Andy Lau will have moments that displays the strength of his acting abilities. Tony Chiu-Wai isn’t allowed that luxury as he suffers the most from jarring tonal shifts. He overacts the comedic bits of his character so whenever he does any serious scene it’s difficult for him to come off convincingly. Seeing him be overly goofy detracts from his dramatic scenes, and in return almost comes off the worse among the star studded. Also, his goofy clothing dressing up like a teenager with his baseball cap adds to the problem.

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Yes that’s a dummy, but in a boring movie this moment is a highlight.

There’s Miu Kiu-Wai who unlike Tony Chiu is simply wooden. His lack of effort to emote eventually makes him disappear into the background, and make you forget the fact he’s in the film. At least Felix Wong Yat-Wah who is constantly just making an angry face for the entire film stands out a bit. Sure, Felix Wong unmoving angry face makes it impossible to care for him, but he puts effort in emoting when it he has too. Tony Chiu is the weakest link in the film in terms of acting.

The only actor who delivers a good performance in the film is easily Ka-Yan Leung as Uncle Tim. Unlike the rest of the cast, his performance is more grounded, and in line with the film’s end goal. He never borders into the realm of silliness like his other co-stars thanks to his committed performance. He never lets up on his serious portrayal being one of the oldest actor in the cast, but when requires he’ll loosen up a little bit in moments that don’t require him to be serious. In these moments, it’s not jarring seeing him having fun, and most importantly refrains himself from being overly silly like his other co-stars. There’s also a surprise appearance by Shing Fui-On who keeps appearing in obscure Hong Kong movies I write about, and here he’s once again casted as a criminal. He’s does fine, but I find his appearance more amusing more than it actually should be. There’s also Philip Chan as a superintendent which is another surprise.

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Not a fan of Tony Chiu (guy in red cap) look in this movie. Just comes across as someone trying to recapture their youth.

Ken Tong plays the villain in the movie, and typically over acts in virtually all his sequences. His character is to dislike, but it’s biggest drawback is falling into the annoying category. When Ken Tong starts taking up more screen time as the film progresses so his obnoxious evil laughter. Over acting while constantly laughing is a recipe for annoying. Sure, it makes you want to see Ken Tong gets killed quickly in the movie, but when’s far from subtle in his acting it diminishes the payoff. His over acting further highlights weakness in the writing going out of his way make his character detastable by any means. In a ironic way Ken Tong succeed in bringing to life this over the top villain, but at the cost of being increasingly annoying.

If you’re expecting any thrills from this film you’ll be disappointed. Aside from the fact the script is terrible written, director Eric Tsang doesn’t know how to rack up tension. I’ve already went into lengths about a majority of the actors inability to balance the tone of their material, but Eric Tsang is just as responsible for that. Committing mistakes that an amatuer is more likely to make; like inserting a song from Andy Lau during a death scene, and the right on the nose lyrics (paraphrasing) “I know I’ve done wrong, so let me take the blame” is not how drama should be delivered. While on music, it’s largely forgettable. His biggest strong suit is obviously comedy since he felt the most comfortable helming those scenes, and simply having fun, even if the humor was off. However, the absence of tension is noteworthy, especially if you’re making a mind game between two opposing forces, and the only thing you could think of to raise tension is by having loud music play more frequently throughout the movie. There’s also the lack of action, but since it’s more in line of a crime thriller the lack of them isn’t a criticism. Although, the poor quality of them is. From a shootout that is ruined by slapsticks to the climatic sequence in a mall that relies to heavily on making its villain nearly invincible to make it exciting. It’s a climax not worth sitting through a chore of a film.

The Tigers only appeal is the star studded cast of actors whom headline the movie, but even than only Ka-Yan Leung comes out looking good. It’s just a complete mess in representing it’s morality, handling its characters, and especially building tension for what’s meant to be a thriller. For something that has a star studded something better should have been expected than what was given. Even if you’re not a fan of any of these actors, this film doesn’t come close to being a worthwhile watch by any means.

Rating: 1/10

Cinema-Manic: Best of the Best (1992)

Best of the Best follows Dee (Jacky Cheung) a member of the SDU, Hong Kong’s version of SWAT, who engages in a personal vendetta when his new girl Heidi (Sammi Cheng) turns out to be the daughter of evil triad Ngan Kwan (Paul Chun). If this synopsis sounds like an interesting movie to you, sorry to say, but it’s a slough of a movie to get through. Before the title card of the movie comes up, it shows Dee enjoying a birthday as a kid with his brother, and father resulting in a tragic incident resulting in the death of his brother. The person responsible for accidentally killing his brother is Little Ball (Ng Man-tat), Dee’s own father, whom hit his own son in the head with a gas cylinder during a scuffle with a criminal. At first, I thought the story was going to take the route of being more of a drama with some action sequences sprinkle in. This sequence while rushed sets it up that way. It doesn’t happen as the film is neither about redemption, forgiveness, and moving forward. Instead, what’s the movie focuses on romance that feels undercooked despite the amount of time dedicated to it. On top of that, opportunities that could have taken more advantage of the premise to the romance eventful isn’t taken.

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I could also use drink after watching this movie.

So dumbfounded by this, imagine my surprise less than half an hour into the movie seeing meandering scene, after meandering scene to only realize it’s going to focus on the romance aspect of its story. Confusing since the movie takes a while before even introducing the love interest Heidi, yet feels compel to rush the growth of the relationship. It takes so long before the actual main story props it head in making previous events feel disjointed. Going from a rescue mission inside a mall to a date doesn’t make a good transition between directions. Granted, action logic dictates a damsel in distress might fall in love with the hero after saving her from four gun wielding masked goons, and pulling her out of a car seconds away from exploding. However, action movie logic doesn’t excuse the rushed romance, the lack of direction, tonal inconsistency, and especially boredom. Half the reason for my boredom results in the same the couple simply talking about daddy issues, and the other time talking about running away when both characters grown adults. They don’t have the same restrictions applied to them if they were teenagers meaning they have less obstacles in their way if they both choose to run away together.

A major reason for this feeling like a chore to me was the lack of involvement with the characters. For example, Dee works with SDU, and no point considers putting his father, or any other love ones under some sort protection from  Ngan Kwan once his men attack him more frequently. Pointlessly endangering people around him that shouldn’t be caught up in it just because he’s head over heels for Heidi. Then there’s also Heidi who also doesn’t go to police to ensure her lover safety. Heck, she could have threaten her father to that she would tell the police incriminating details about his dealings just to make sure he backs off. She doesn’t do this either. Aside from not getting help when available, there’s also the lone that Dee’s conflict with Little Ball remains underdeveloped for the whole film. Once the time skip occurs, there’s no expansion on the trouble relationship between Dee, and his father. There’s no step forward for Dee to finally forgive his father, and there’s no progression in forgiving himself for the incident that push his son away from him.

There’s also the untapped potential of exploring years of hatred Dee has against his father action as a abusive police officer. If explored, it would explain why Dee is dedicated as he is to being a good SDU officer. Bringing me to the gift his brother gave to him before he died. While the sentiment is nice to have its main character carry around a memento he cherish from his brother it’s no point used to further expand on anything. There’s a point in the film where Dee’s loses the gift his brother gave him while dealing with his drunk father on the streets. Instead of using as another hurdle that has to be overcome, or Dee finally letting go of the tragic event. What the film does is simply play some sad music, close up on Jacky Cheung being sad, and end. Scratching my head wondering what was the point of establishing Dee’s brother gift as something significant if the story itself doesn’t do any with it.

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Jacky! Don’t asleep on duty!

Characterization is fairly handle well. While the romance of Dee, and Heidi suffer because it’s chooses to rush instead of building it is their weakest point. As individual characters their some interesting ideas surrounding them. Sadly, that all they end up being, ideas that could have been. For instance, the film after the timeskip is somewhat lighthearted during it romantic scenes, but the film progresses it slowly get harsher. However, because of the opening sequence the harshness immediately goes into lighthearted, and back into harshness instead of just being a steady flow from one tone to another. Then finally, despite the 90 minute length of Best of the Best half of it simply feels like it meanders around. This could be due to several reasons; it’s nearly half an hour before the main storyline even gets established, information that be given out quickly take longer than needed, and around half of the plot points don’t go anywhere. Even when there was action on screen the feel even made those boring due to a lack of urgency stemming from characters disappearing, and appearing inconsistently in the story. One thing it is consistent at is failing to create anything remotely engaging.

Jacky Cheung plays SDU officer Dee, and his acting is above average. It isn’t good because simply feels like he directly reading from the script instead of being the character. There’s many moments where Jacky Cheung is meant to be saddened by certain events, but puts on a sad face, and calls it a day. However, the limited material him (along with the rest of the cast) is his biggest hurdle. In that sense, he what is required of him adequately enough. However, it is a rather poor showing of his acting abilities when he comes across no differently in his tearjerker scenes as he does in his romance scenes.

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Looks like someone else is drinking their troubles away as well.

Sammi Cheng plays Heidi it’s underwhelming. When she’s meant to be cheery she is cheery. When she has to be sad she is sad. In this movie at least, she’s not capable of doing much with her material coming off unconvincing whenever she is required to be serious. Her only decent moments of acting are when the film picks up a lighter tone. However, as soon as that disappears her delivery feels robotic. Paul Chun plays Ngan Kwan, and with the exception of one scene in the climax he’s even worse. Given the direction wanted to do something serious, Chun over acting is out place in the movie. He can’t make a one dimensional character any fun, or hateable since he simply just shouts all his lines, and hoping scary sounding music will help mask some of his stoic line delivery.

The best actor is Ng Man-tat, and that’s simply because he comes off as the most pathetic out of the cast. Man-tat character is constantly depressed whenever he talks to his son, and attempts to be happy when he’s not around. During his dramatic scenes, he pour everything he could into those scenes more than the writing actually did. Convincingly getting across he’s a tortured soul who still wants to be a good father, but doesn’t know the right path. It’s Ng Man-tat who is the one bright spot among the better than average acting. Sadly, that puts everything else beneath him.

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One of the film’s few rare moments of not being boring.

Final thing worth even bringing are the action scenes, and they are all poor. Director Herman Yau simply wanted to get them done as quickly as possible. Making what little action is has seem underwhelming because there’s no coordination in it. There’s also a lack of creativity in them; like a chase sequence that requires Jacky Cheung to run away from a dozen armed goons. A majority of the chase sequence simply has him running through alleys, throwing some objects to throw his pursuers off, entering a more confined place to get a lead, and just barely making it into a taxi to getaway. There’s other action sequences like these, but very few have of them have me as bored as Best of the Best. The climax suffers from a lack of proper staging as Jacky Cheung simply goes into a wide open public area, start shooting baddies, and enters a building to confront Paul Chun. This whole climatic sequence doesn’t have much happening in it. The one stunt that occurred in this scene involved a stuntman laying down in a incinerator of sorts for a couple of seconds before the camera cuts. It’s not spectacular in execution, but it’s something eventful that required effort to capture. This is one of those films where even the action won’t keep you awake.

Best of the Best aims to be more than your standard average action, but ends up being worse as a whole because of it. It’s a half baked drama with boring characters, a romance that overtakes the story forgetting it’s intention, and becoming a total mess of a movie by the end it. It’s a movie that doesn’t accomplish anything, nor rewards viewers with much for their investment in it.

Rating: 2/10

Cinema-Maniac: Coco (2017)

Despite living in the west, my interest in Western animation is usually on the low side. A major reason for this being a majority of animation produce in the West, specifically the US, tend to be comedies, and there’s hardly much to consume in other genres. Due to this, I find viewing animation outside the US far more interesting. However, Pixar is the only animation studio that has me still giving western animation a chance. Unlike Disney, whenever Pixar releases a movie I look forward to it, even if it doesn’t match up to their great films. Their films usually have efforts put into them, and no matter how familiar their story feel never once do I get the impression they’re factory produce, or soulless like I typically do with Disney animated movies. Especially from the 2010s which is easily their worse decade for animation. With today’s film, it doesn’t break away from the path of familiar storytelling, but when you have filmmakers whom believe in their product wholeheartedly, and have a understanding of good execution it’s all you need for a good film.

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So, this is where Disney passion for animation is at. 

Coco follows aspiring musician Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), confronted with his family’s ancestral ban on music, indirectly entering the Land of the Dead during Day of the Dead festival. Now, Miguel has to find his great-great-grandfather, and get back home to his family in the real world before the sun sets. In terms of writing, the story isn’t anything special. Things you expect from a company owned by Disney are here; a plot twist to reveal the villain, a misunderstanding of events leading to hatred of a major character, a time limit for main character to return home or stay alive, an adult who hates the profession of the main character is pursuing, and yes, the host of silly side characters, and a silly pet. These plot points, or plot devices alone don’t harm the film in the long run. The good execution of a familiar story is what helps overcome anything predictable. For starter, when it comes to Miguel great-great-grandfather it’s obvious to veteran movie watching where the plot actually goes. What prevents the eventual plot twist from harming the movie is characterization. Throughout the movie, several moments in the film are dedicated to displaying the importance of family, and remembering the dead. By having Miguel experience hardship with his family, and seeing there’s more to the Land of the Dead than he original thought. It minimizes the damage the plot twist would of had otherwise if certain aspect of the world weren’t shown. 

 

Another positive is the whole theme of family the movie obviously enforce is heartfelt, even if it won’t make you cry. Miguel family bond is the foundation of the movie, and so whenever it goes for any big emotional scene it feels earned. The natural progression of conflict always remain personal to its characters. As well as add some interesting ideas into the fold. For example, there’s the consequences of being forgotten being shown in a scene in the movie. While the character it happens too won’t make you feel sad for it, it does get across the consequences perfectly. One such thing isn’t rarely ever shown as a negative in family films is the pursuit of a dream. In Coco, it shows how the pursuit can impact the people whom love you, and in a lesser way shows how success can influence those around you negatively. 

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Eating sandals still beat eating Spanish food XD

There’s also the balance of humor, and drama thrown into the mix. It slightly prefers going for drama, but the great pacing always ensures a balance of both. Being able to easily take seriously, while not getting the tone diminish with its humor. Tonally being balanced for the whole film. One slight irritation for the film is some of the Spanglish dialogue. It makes sense nearly all of it would be spoken in English since it’s an English production, but for some unfathomable reason there is the odd Spanish word thrown in. In context it makes sense since it takes place in Mexico so Spanish is abound, but at the same time a country whom primary language is Spanish has a majority of people speaking English. That’s more of a deliberate decision that won’t hurt the film in the long run. What does, like mention earlier, is familiarity. It doesn’t do anything against your expectation for these kind of stories. So it’s really depended on your familiarity with movie watching, but even than it not huge knock against the film since it’s executed right.

 

The voice cast of Coco do a good job in their roles. Anthony Gonzalez (the youngest in the cast at 13) does good in his role. It helps that he doesn’t have to carry the heavy dramatic scenes for someone his age. However, he’s still display range of emotion convincingly. Mostly thanks to him being given good direction, and not simply shouting his line like younger age actors would tend to do. His delivery is also like that of true professional. Treating voice acting as seriously as he would if he were doing it in front of a camera in live action. His best moments are easily when his dialogue revolve around his passion for music, and his delivery comes across as passionate. Expressing the joy music brings to him, and the disappointment that he can’t share it with his family.

Gael Garcia Bernal, who is a pretty good actor, is no surprised that he turned in another good performance. He carries a majority of the film heavily dramatic scenes on his shoulder. Just like he’s able to in live action movies I’ve seen him in, when it comes to voice acting he’s able to bring a high caliber performance into his role as Hector. Coming off as a convincing goofball in the beginning of the film before turning into a tragic character as it progressed without it feeling jarring. Bernal is so good that even in scenes when he does an 180 he pulls it off with ease without ever feeling like he’s breaking the film’s tone. His best scenes are easily the ones when he speaks about wanting to see his daughter again. During these scenes, you simply feel the heartache in Bernal words in his line delivery for some effective dramatic scenes. Needless to say, I’m a bit of a fan of Gael Garcia Bernal as an actor despite me not seeing Spanish language movies frequently. His voice acting performance in Coco, makes me keen to see if he’ll try voice acting again.

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Here’s Miguel playing the cords of the Simple Plan song “I’m just a kid”

Supporting cast also do a tremendous job in their role, though Anthony Gonzalez, and Gael Garcia Bernal are the standout. Only other standout performance is Alanna Ubach who is just as good as Gael Garcia Bernal, but with a good singing voice. Hearing her unexpectedly sing in the movie was a nice surprise. The animation isn’t flashy, but the world, and character designs are colorful. Everything in the Land of the Dead is given such vibrant colors to make it pop on screen. It wears it’s Mexican influence in design in pride from the clothing of the characters, to having music players play correct cords on their guitar strings, to capturing the way the people speak. The music in the film is good, though stuff I typically don’t care for. Despite my background of being Hispanic, I actually don’t care for Spanish music.

Coco doesn’t hold a candle to Pixar great movies in terms of writing, but the execution makes it better than it should have been. It has a colorful world that is filled with likable characters, and a heartfelt story about family. It does more than enough right that it’ll make taking the trip worthwhile regardless of age.

8/10

Cinema-Maniac: Ready Player One (2018) Review

Ready Player One is set in a future where a virtual reality world called the OASIS is the biggest thing on Earth. One of its deceased creator challenges its users to find all his Easter Egg to give the winner his fortune. An unlikely young hero named Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) decides to join the contest, he is hurled into a breakneck, reality-bending treasure hunt against evil corporation IOI. Very sloppily written, the best time Ready Player One shines is when it doesn’t try to encompass everything out of reach, and simply focuses on being a piece of entertainment. It’s breakneck speed ensures there isn’t a dull moment to linger on in its nearly two, and a half hour runtime. Something else that’s somewhat of a positive are the pop culture references, for the most part, are simply there. Not drawing too much attention to them despite the large number of iconic characters to be seen on screen. There also isn’t a reliance on pop culture knowledge to understand the story itself. Granted, even knowing just a little bit helps add to the appeal of Ready Player One. For me, it was the The Holy Hand Grenade reference from (possibly the greatest fantasy film ever made) Monty Python, and the Holy Grail that was a nice surprise.

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Not even a DeLorean capable of time traveling can outrun the almighty King Kong.

When it comes everything else this film does plenty of things that works against itself. Mostly how it feels disingenuous in delivery its “experience the real world” message. For starter, the lack of proper world building in the real world. Sure, the OASIS is a fantastical place where a majority of people go to avoid the harsh reality of their life, but those harsh realities are simply ignored in the film. Most you’ll get about the hardship of this future is the main character Wade lost his parents, and his current living conditions. There are also other aspects of the real world that are explained, but just like Wade parents, they come across more as decoration since it rarely shows the real world effects on its people. I sound like I’m being oblivious that this was the intended effect, but when Wade himself doesn’t show any concern for a family member dying within the film why should I care. Wade obviously doesn’t since all he does is simply acknowledge his caregiver has died, and moves on from it. Nothing about that plot point was handle properly making it seems like constant addiction to escapism is great.

Another issue is not enough time is spend in the real world itself for its message to be meaningful. Wade, and the other characters are rarely seen in the real world absorbing its actual beauty like it proclaims it has. You can claim something all you want, but when you don’t actually show it the results is disingenuous. Where’s the connection Wade makes with the real world, and its people. Absent within the film. Bringing up another point that if it wasn’t for Wade constantly ignoring the real world he would have never made the connection with his online friends in the OASIS. Reiterating, “experience the world” in this movie is forced. Why would people prefer to live in the real world if they live in slums over living in the OASIS where they can obtain anything they want. There’s a case to be made for living in the harsh real world, though you won’t find it here.

Speaking of disingenuous, all the pop culture references in the film just feel like they exist. While I’m sure Spielberg, and his crew has some connection to some of the things he references, all of it becomes homogenize. There’s no connection to a majority of it. If you notice something you love on screen chances are high it’ll disappear as just quickly. This issue applies with the pacing disregarding characterization. The most fleshed out characters are the creators of the OASIS; Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg), and James Halliday (Mark Rylance) whom are given more characterization than the main cast themselves. Morrow, and Halliday also have a more fully realize conflict that gets explored as the film progresses unlike the main storyline that refuses to evolve. A big contributing factor to this is Halliday, and Morrow storyline deals with a trouble friendship whereas the other main storyline becomes save the world ordeal from the onset.

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Even the main character more engaged in this subplot than their own.

When the movie begins, the OASIS users are competing against each other, and evil corporation IOI desires to win the grand prize. By the time the movie gets to it climax, this storyline has hardly evolve into anything beyond its introduction. Contributing more to a lackluster storyline is the writing makes the villains idiotic, and a plot point later on in the movie removes the whole underdog trait of its hero. It’s simple for IOI to find Wade Watts address, but it’s nearly impossible for the same group whom seemingly have dozen of drones ready to blow up anything be able to find Wade later on in the climax. This includes the fact there surveillance cameras seemingly all over the world which is a bigger leap in logic that IOI can’t find them. Like I wrote earlier, when Ready Player One is simply a film focusing on being a piece of entertainment it succeeds, but when it wants to capture the emotional investment it fails. If you removed the whole “experience the real world” message from the writing than issues regarding the lack of world building is gone. Instead, it prefers escapism over reality, and during the portion of the story it actually accepts that part of itself is when it’s a good film.

Tye Sheridan plays Wade Watts, and while his performance here didn’t impress me as much as he did in Mud (2012), he’s fine overall. While his enthusiasm for the OASIS is an aspect of his character he sells to the viewer successfully, everything else about his character ain’t as easy to sell. Some of this can be blame on the screenplay, like the scene where Sheridan is supposed to mourn the loss of a family member for less than a minute before it moves onto something else. When this happens, it’s reasonable he wouldn’t be able to emotionally capture what his character is feeling, and portray that in a way where the viewer can become further invested. Other times it’s purely his fault, like typically falling back to wide eyes facial expression to constantly show how he’s in awe of everything he sees. Showing some more enthusiasm would help him, though he also lacks the ability to get across the urgency when the film needs it.

Tye Sheridan co-stars are a bit better in balancing the area Sheridan lacks. Olivia Cooke for example is able to properly get across the urgency of a scene. There’s a moment in the second half of the film where she discovers where she’s being held captive, and her reaction is something appropriately out of a horror movie. She’s more rounded as an actor in this movie because she’s able to do a lot with little. There’s Ben Mendelsohn, T.J. Miller, and Hannah John-Kamen whom play the evil adults. As expected, they play the evil adults as you would expect. Mendelsohn especially comes off the most slimy, though the direction is a bit confused if he should be over the top evil, or humanized evil. Making it impossible for Mendelsohn to be memorable as a villain. T.J. Miller, and Hannah John-Kamen are the opposite simply being over the top in their portrayal. Being more than comfortable to make their characters come off as cartoons, and it works surprisingly well in the movie because of the already silly nature of the movie. There’s also the remaining co-stars of Win Morisaki, Lena Waithe, and Philip Zhao that make up the rest of the heroes. These three actors material are the most limited making them go into autopilot acting when the second half hits, but they do their best. Not on one point did I feel these three actors were phoning in their performance in spite of the thankless material.

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This has to be the strangest assortment of characters I’ve seen in movies recently.

The two best actors in the movie without question are Simon Pegg, and Mark Rylance. Simon Pegg took a while for me to notice as it’s simply something I didn’t expect from him. Relying more on his dramatic side as a actor Pegg eases his way through scene after scene. Being effectively dramatic in everything without ever over acting, or stepping out of bound in his role. However, Mark Rylance is even more impressive in his performance. Without question he is the complete package as an actor in the movie; sincere, funny, believable, and captivating all at once no matter what scene he is. Rylance, and Pegg scenes together are easily the best in the movie, but Mark Rylance presence alone is something that hugely benefited Ready Player One. Without MarK Rylance in the movie, what would be missing is the only actor who is able to capture something heartfelt within a script that feels artificial with it dramatic scenes.

Steven Spielberg visuals aren’t convincing, but within the context of the movie they are more than fine. Since everything takes place in a virtual reality world accepting the plastic looking visuals is easy. What’s not easy is the blurriness that comes whenever the camera moves quickly. Whenever there’s too much going on screen it’s difficult for the camera to stay focus, especially in the climax of the movie where the blurriness makes it difficult to spot the many pop culture figures. However, during the action sequences the freedom of placing the camera wherever Spielberg wants leads to some visually stunning setpieces. In particular, the racing sequence in the beginning in the movie is a sight to behold, especially the amount of effects on screen all at once. My favorite set piece involved obviously involved Mecha-Godzilla (because I grew up with the franchise) fighting against two other iconic robots which I won’t spoil as it best to experience that fight blind. When it comes to music the original pieces of music was during the climax, and a orchestrated piece played that sounded similar to the classic Godzilla theme music. Aside from the obvious insert classic songs from The Bee Gees, Blondie, Prince, and a few other from the era. Music in the movie is nothing that stands out.

Ready Player One is a decent blockbuster made by Spielberg, but misses the magic that made blockbusters like Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, and Jurassic Park special. Missing is the heart, and the connection the filmmakers had with these creations, and recreating the joy it brought to them to a whole new audience. Gone is the wonder, missing is the heart, and absent is the emotion the story attempts to capture, but gave up on at some point. Whenever Ready Player One isn’t pretending it’s something it is not the film is enjoyable experience, and thankfully it’s like that for a majority of the run time. Disappointing yes, but also very entertaining.

Rating: 7/10

 

SPOILERS BELOW ON SOMETHING THAT BUGGED ME

I didn’t know where to put in this my actual review since it’s not detrimental enough to cripple the movie quality, but it did bug the Hell out of me. When the climax draws to a close, and Wade Watts bids farewell to James Halliday. Wade asks Halliday what he is, and Halliday simply leaves without answering. If Wade encounter with Halliday was simply explained away with it being programmed for whoever won the challenge than I would have been okay, but Halliday says it not. So, either James Halliday became a sentient being that somehow managed to live in a video game, or Halliday actually alive somewhere in the world, and is a big dick for making his best friend, and everyone he cares about that he’s dead. Either way, that minor detail bugs me to end.

Nitpicking A Joke (Contains Spoilers)

When the heroes are off visiting the world of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, there’s a moment where Aech, whom is presume to be male at this moment, making out with a corpse he temporarily sees as a beautiful woman. Once it reveals that Aech is a woman, the scene immediately didn’t make sense. I mean, there wasn’t anything in the movie to indicate she’s bi-sexual, or a lesbian. It was something that left me scratching my head. Sure I laughed when I saw it, but when thinking on back on it. This moment just feels like it got overlooked during the writing process.

Cinema-Maniac: First Shot (1993)

I always disagreed with the notion that there’s a set number of ways to write stories. However, there are times where it does feel like that is the case. Not just in movies, but in general media that I consume. It also doesn’t help in the little time I did spend in college taking classes on writing further expanded my knowledge on fictional writing. One thing I didn’t need to learn in my classes is that execution is key. No matter how many type of stories you write, or experience understanding how to make those elements work together can lead to making a good product. Hence, today’s movie while overly familiar for viewers who’ve seen The Untouchables execute the same general story into a decent film.

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Alright, time for another full body checkup from the entire force.

First Shot is set during a time of widespread police corruption, Wong Yat-chung (Ti Lung) is a stubborn cop who takes on both the mob and the political establishment. In terms of story, it’s lifts from heavily from Brain De Palma’s The Untouchables (1987). If you’ve seen that film than you more, or less will know what to expect from First Shot. However, if you haven’t seen The Untouchable, here’s a couple of lifted plot points. In both, you have a good guy cop against the corrupt police system, the main character recruiting at a academy to ensure the officer they recruit aren’t corrupted, the struggle to maintain a key witness safe from the film’s villain, a scene with the main character departs from his family to put them in police protection, a vocal confrontation between the film’s hero & villain surrounded by the press after a ally of the protagonist gets killed, and both leading character getting betrayed by other high ranking officers. Also, both movies are based around true events. To call the writing of First Shot uninspired would be an understatement.

Now that the similarities have been brought up, the area they stand apart in are easy. First Shot is significantly less subtle with its portrayal of factual events. For starter, all the corrupt police officers have no qualm about showing how corrupt they are in public. Dialogue goes of it way to reinforce this fact in several scenes. There’s the slimy villain whom typically who to do something evil whenever he’s onscreen. Making the preceding events in the story a basic good guys versus bad guy story. It keeps the viewer engage in its predictable story by fleshing out its heroes, and going through fulfilling character arcs. Just like in The Untouchable, no one in this film safe from death, and it’s uncertain who is exactly next up on the chopping floor. The cast of First Shot aren’t fleshed out enough to ensure you’ll care about them, but you will see beyond them cannon fodder.

Another advantage to the film is the chase itself to lock up the villain. Seeing the heroes coming inches close to lock away their man is an engaging part of the film. Same with the deviation whenever it goes away from it source of inspiration. Alleviating the serious with some comedic scenes which generally tend to be less over the top than films typically produce in Hong Kong around this time. Resulting in a dynamic cast of heroes who makes the film somewhat worthwhile when action is absent.

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Man, looks at that face on the left

What garner mix results are some of the subplots. While characters are generally fleshed out, minus the villains, some of the subplots come out of nowhere. In the middle of the film’s climactic action sequence, one of the character reveals he’ll take revenge against the man who killed his father. This plot point was never brought up beforehand making it a convoluted way to add tension in the climax. There’s also the romantic subplot which isn’t as bad, though doesn’t come across as tragic as the film expected it to be. Would have probably helped if it didn’t immediately switch gear into a climatic action sequence over lingering on the fact an important character just died. There’s also the unexpected gay bar scene where the heroes have to undercover to gather intel, and it’s um, something odd to place into the movie to get a quick laugh. I’ll leave it at that.

What it lacks in writing quality it makes up for it in star power. For starter, the usually great Ti Lung delivers in being a good leading man. While nowhere near his best work, Ti Lung in First Shot becomes the embodiment of his character making the typical good cop feel more human. Unlike the writing, Ti Lung imbues more emotion into scenes than what would have been required of him. For example, when he’s confront Simon Yam in alley it would have been enough if Ti Lung just come across as a bitter man. However, Ti Lung comes across as more understanding, and disappointment from how he deliver his dialogue. Of course, Ti Lung partakes in some action sequences, but there’s not much of them here in terms of gunplay. What there is in fight sequences are also brief, though well put together to make up for the lack of action. I wasn’t expecting Ti Lung to partake in a choreograph fight sequence against Waise Lee in the climax, but I welcome that.

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Do you feel lucky punk? Well, do yah?

Simon Yam delivers the best performance in the cast as Sam Mok. Portraying a police officer who seeks redemption for his misgivings. He comes across the most humane out of his co-stars. While other actors also do a good job, they do feel samey since the script doesn’t offer much differentiation between them. Yam is the exception convincingly turning around a character whose fearful for his life as a officer, and seamlessly transform it into an officer looking to do right. Portraying the film’s closest thing to a complex character in a natural progression despite having to share the screen with several other actors. All the while never losing his charming side to him that makes him likable.

Maggie Cheung in the film doesn’t offer much in her role. He does well, but unfortunately unlike her male co-star she only gets one moment to portray any sadness for her character. She given much of the exposition to deliver, although she does make the most of what she can in a thankless role. Then there’s Canti Lau, and Andy Hui playing the young cadets who are best friends. While the script never capitalizes on the potential of these characters the actor sure do. It’s unlikely you’ll be shedding tears whenever one of these two bites the dust, but you’ll care to some degree. Canti Lau does pretty well in his fight scenes.

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Diner scenes, typically the most dangerous for criminals

Waise Lee plays the film villain, and chews the scenery in all his scenes. He holds nothing back in comically playing his playing role as serious as possible. He lacks much in the way of facial expressions aside from looking angry in every scene he’s in. Same thing applies to Batt Leung-Gam who plays a silence henchman. He lacks the menacing presence for his type of character, but makes up for his appearances with his fighting abilities in his action sequences. Director David Lam does a competent job helming the movie, but nothing to elevate the movie unlike his cast of actors. Finally, Lowell Lo composed the music for the film. While the only piece of music in the film that stands out is the one that plays the movie out during the ending credit it’s all around serviceable. It’s hardly noticeable, but does the job fine.

First Shot is a solid crime action flick in its own right. It doesn’t come close to matching it’s source of inspiration, The Untouchable, on any level. What it does do is execute a similar story into a straight forward action movie with mild success.

Rating: 7/10

 

Poor Subtitles Quality

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My favorite badly sub line of the movie

In the off chance you somehow manage to find a viewable copy of this by any means the hardsubs are very poor. Several times throughout my viewing of the film would there be grammatical, and spelling errors. Other points portions of the subtitles would be cut off making it easy to lose vital information. Considering at the time of this posting I’ve yet to find any other official release of First Shot. The poor subtitles will be a drawback for anyone with a passing interesting to view it, or unintentionally fun by how bad it is. Either way, take that in account you plan on viewing First Shot at any point.

Cinema-Maniac: The Isle (2000) Review

Art house films is a part of the whole spectrum of movies that I don’t care for to be honest. It’s pretty obvious by the movies I choose to see. The challenge of seeing such a film is not a turn off, but the absent of substance I tend to find is. Art house cinema, unlike everything else related to movies I encounter, is the likeliest home of some of the most shallow piece of filmmaking that I can find. In particular, the smugness of these filmmakers that become present in their work thinking they made something deeper than it actually is. With this kind of mentality being equally common in art house cinema as the thought-provoking films that stick with you I’m happy engaging in it as little as I do. Preventing viewing experience like the one I had with The Isle from being a frequent thing.

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Suh Jung recreating my reaction watching this movie

The Isle is about mute Hee-jin (Suh Jung), who operates a fishing resort, forming an unlikely bond with shady customer Hyun-shik (Kim Yu-seok). What little there is too the story is underwhelming. This is one of those art house movies that pad out their runtime by showing you every single action of their character not related to the story. Typically, it would be characters walking long distances, but this case its seeing Suh Jung drive people, or herself in a boat around the fishing resort. Things that take up minutes of screen time with little substantive dialogue to connect a theme, or a message of any sort. Being more damaging in this movie since entertainment is not a focus of the film. There’s also numerous occasions of seeing people do random activities at the fishing resorts whether it be seeing them poop on the resort, or attempting suicide. It’s the mundane atmosphere of nothing visually exciting happening that make the “shocking” scenes “hard” to watch. It’s easier to be shocked by something when the film has nothing happening in terms of story.

Characters simply go through the motion of events, and are more about displaying abstract ideas with nothing concrete to center the characters. One can ponder why a woman would shove a several fishing hooks up her vagina, but one can also be bored by such a sight when the only thing gather about its characters are abstract. Same with the abstract characteristic thag Hee-jin becoming possessive when saving a suicidal man’s life. Maybe Hee-jin is possessive, but with little foundation to her as a character she could also simply be a woman overstepping her boundary in preventing a suicidal man from taking his own life. Either of these notions could be correct. By doing so, it would defeat the movie intentions when simply throwing non-correlating interpretation at it, but when there’s no foundation for characters to connect to themes anything goes.

Hyun-shik character best gets across the clumsy writing of the movie. His shady background once reveal involves him being a wanted man, along with the brief details of the crime committed. By the way the story is written this revelation is just mundane. By choosing to remove raising action, and the essence of conflict from the writing everything seems equally dull. It’s not the intention of the film to portray such events, or people as dull. Rather it has something to say about the human state of suffering, and the way different ways people communicate is more sincere, even if against the familiarity one is use too. I know, that’s quite a mouthful of a sentence. In the movie itself, it doesn’t come off that way. Unlike great art house movies, you’ll won’t find working pieces that connect everything together. It has substance, but it’s all over the place that’s more than likely to leave your pondering what was the point than being provoked by it.

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The Isle (2000) can look beautiful at times.

Actress Suh Jung despite playing a mute delivers a fantastic performance. Conveying an arrange of emotion, and inner turmoil of her character through her body language. Bringing to life a tragic character of its own kind rare to be seen in films. Taking pleasure in portraying the more sadistic side of her character, and improving the movie with her presence. She might lack any memorable lines of dialogue to speak, but when she’s as good as she is there’s no need for it. Aside from the cinematography from Seo-shik Hwang, Suh Jung is practically the only thing the movie has going for it.

Actor Kim Yu-seok whom plays Hyun-shik does well in portraying a lost soul, wandering soul. Awkward, sincere, and crazy are the impressions he’ll give you with his performance. When it comes to his acting he best shines with Suh Jung whom together create a strange onscreen couple. One’s that is odd as it is fascinating, and a bit charming when fish hooks, or knives aren’t around. Much like Suh Jung, Kim Yu-seok is also able convey the same inner turmoil of his character to similar success. There are other actors in the movie whom do adequately in their roles, but Suh Jung, and Kim Yu-seok are the only actors with substantial material to dig into.

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Kim Yo-seok: “You see your life story, but all I see is my pet bird in a cage”

Director Kim Ki-duk (whom also wrote the movie) creates a visually alluring film that is absorbing. Almost dreamlike with the mist covering the water resort to add to its surreal mood. Using a wide variety of camera angles to show its beauty, setting the atmosphere accordingly enveloping the viewer into a trance with the calm mist, and smoke above the water to put them in a trance. Consisting of primarily long takes to provide the viewer more than enough time to absorb everything in, and out of this fishing resort. It’s easily an alluring movie displaying beauty in the mundane. Granted, when the “disturbing” scenes came around I wasn’t grossed out by them, but with fantastic dreamlike cinematography I can’t anyone who found the grotesque moments hard to watch.

The Isle is a visually absorbing movie with a fantastic performance by Suh Jung, but that’s about its only outstanding features. With a emphasis on minimalist storytelling, and acting it’s one of those up to interpretation type of art house movies. Why it doesn’t work is simple, it doesn’t center the substance, or themes to anything concrete to cohesively connect the dots. It won’t provide much to think about when it comes to themes, characters, or interpretations. Instead, all you will remember are certain scenes that might make your stomach turn.

Rating: 4/10