More Asian Cinema, a.k.a. Tony Leung Chiu-Wai is superhuman (minor spoilers)

So I’ve been watching lots of Asian cinema recently. Not sure why it’s been such a heavy concentration lately. But there you go.  Here’s a quick run down:

Hard Boiled. Always heard it was an action masterpiece, so I decided I better watch it. The film is directed by John Woo and stars Chow Yun-Fat and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai. Chow Yun-Fat’s character is a trigger happy cop nick-named Tequila whose parter gets killed during the investigation of Triad gun runners. In the course of the film he hooks up with Tony Leung Chiu-Wai’s character, an undercover cop named Alan, who’s in deep with the gun-running underground. That’s the setup, and I don’t plan to give another single thing away, because if you like action films, you have to watch this movie. John Woo demonstrates how it’s done. But kick-butt action scenes aside, what really works about this movie is Alan. Undercover work hasn’t been kind to him. He’s a guy who’s had to compromise everything he stands for to sell his cover. And it isn’t pretty. Hard Boiled is an action extravaganza with a substantial body count. But it’s also the story of a guy who got in deeper than he would have liked, and the toll it takes on him.

Hey, it's Tony Leung Chiu-Wai again!

In the Mood for Love. Not an action film. Quite the reverse. Directed by Wong Kar-wai and starring Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai (yes) this film is set in Hong Kong in the 1960’s. The movie follows a romance that blooms awkwardly and a bit painfully after the two main characters discover their spouses are having an affair. Together. They vow never to behave like their cheating spouses, and even as they fall in love with each other, keep their relationship chaste. What I loved most about this movie was how it’s shot. Kar-wai shoots the film so that we end up being voyeurs, peering at them from inside a closet, or through a door. I felt as if I was viewing something personal and private, and it connected me to the characters, while at the same time heightening my discomfort over their awkward situation. The actors contribute an achingly subtle and understated performance, which combined with a stunning soundtrack amount to a beautiful film that explores the often complicated and dissonant relationship between the emotion of love and the social institution of marriage.

Lust, Caution. I meant to see this film when it came out, because I heart Ang Lee. But I was, frankly, stupid, and I decided to wait to get the DVD because I got wind of some less than stellar reviews. Pish Posh. That usually does not stop me, and I don’t know why it did in this instance. At any rate, I watched it recently and was bowled over by how completely entranced I was watching this film. Set in China during the Japanese occupation, the larger plot of the film follows a resistance cell as they plot to assassinate a high-ranking official in the collaborationist government. We follow this story through Wong Chia Chi (Tang Wei), a young college student who becomes involved with the resistance. She is to lure the target, Mr. Yee (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, surprise!) to an unguarded location where the resistance can kill him. Easier said then done. In the course of infiltrating Mr. Yee’s home, we watch Chia Chi (now posing as “Mrs. Mak) descend deeper and deeper into a troubling relationship with Mr. Yee. And while Lust, Caution is, on the surface, a film about espionage and resistance, it is also about the transformation? destruction? liberation? of Chia Chi. Which is it? Is it all three? I will be adding this film to my DVD collection. I hardly noticed the long running time (although most negative reviews gripe about it) and highly recommend the film.

Grave of the Fireflies. This film is Japanese, and does not star Tony Leung Chiu-Wai. But that’s okay! All I have to say about this film is: Just see this movie. Show it to your kids. It’s heartbreakingly sad, but its intensely personal portrayal of the horrors of war make it a film everyone should watch. Written and directed by Isao Takahata, adapted from the semi-autobiographical novel by Akiyuki Nosaka, Grave of the Fireflies is an animated tale about a young boy and his sister who are left to fend for themselves after their town is firebombed in a WWII air raid. The animation is not as stylized as most anime, favoring more realistic renditions of people and the environment. The animation adds a strange realism to depictions of bombers flying overhead, dropping incendiaries on various towns. Perhaps it’s because seeing that kind of thing for the first time must seem a bit unreal. So the animation capitalizes on that fact, and every time I saw a shot of the bombers flying over head, I felt fear, and even found myself wondering what it would feel like to see bombers flying over Salem. That’s not something a film has ever made me stop and think about. This film is kind of a kick in the chest. On the one hand you watch this young boy (Seita) looking after his little sister (Setsuko) and you get what love is. The film is a tear-jerker for sure, but there are a lot of moments where the film will make you feel genuine happiness and overwhelming joy. On the other hand it takes place during a war. A nasty one. And on a large scale, we all know why war sucks. But it’s the small scale consequences of war that are easy to forget, and sometimes, when faced with them, the hardest to bear. Because on a small scale war isn’t about the ideologies that that nations fight over. It’s about the people who are trying to survive. So add this film to your Netflix queue. You’ll blow through a lot of tissues watching the film, but in the end you’ll probably be glad you did.

And finally, we don’t talk about television on this blog as a rule, but since this is a post about all the Asian stuff I’ve been watching lately, I might as well give a short mention to Samurai Champloo (roughly meaning Samurai Mash-up). It’s a 26 episode anime series written and directed by Shinichiro Watanabe, who also directed the anime hit Cowboy Bebop. It follows a young woman who, after saving a reserved ronin (Jin) and a extroverted loose cannon (Mugen) from execution, presses them into helping her find a samurai who smells of sunflowers. So far it’s pretty hilarious and has had some great fight scenes. Although I usually recommend Cowboy Bebop or Wolf’s Rain to people who want to try a little anime, I think Samurai Champloo would be a good starting point as well. Like Cowboy Bebop, the characters are fun and the soundtrack is always great!

Coming up: 2046, a sequel to In the Mood for Love.  I hear it features time travel, which I would normally be into, but find strange since In the Mood for Love did not feature any such sci-fi mainstays. But Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, that stud of Chinese film, reprises his role. He is pretty dreamy. And a damn fine actor. So that’s a big plus. We’ll see how it goes. ;-) Until next time!

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Blindness

Blindness is an amazing movie. Granted, when Fernando Meirelles (the man who directed City Of God) makes a movie, you kind of expect it to be. His newest is based upon the book of the same name by author José Saramago and is simply gorgeous. The premise is that a strange disease causes people to suddenly go blind and infects the population worldwide. It’s a movie less about the disease and more about how people react to losing their sight.

Blindness has a very bleak outlook on human morality. What happens in the movie is that most people turn into vicious disgusting animals who’s only goal is self preservation. It’s one of those movies that is disturbing and depressing while at the same time makes you question yourself and your own moral compass. It really makes you wonder what your limits are.

I’ve read some mixed reviews about Blindness and truthfully, that kind of confuses me. It’s difficult for me to think of a single bad thing to say about this movie. Well, I guess some might criticize that there are no answers to any questions you would have about the disease. Where it came from, how it spreads, anything of the sort gets thrown to the wayside. Like I said, it’s a film about people, not a sci-fi scary disease movie.

It seems to me like every time someone had something bad to say about Blindness was when they were comparing it to the book. Fair enough, I guess. But the movie is still truly fantastic and visually gorgeous. If you’ve read the book, watch the movie with an open mind. It can’t be that bad. And if, like me, you haven’t read the book yet, do yourself a favor and see the movie first. That way you get to love the movie and then you can go read the book and love that, too.

Flatline Film Fest & Cinema Cafe

We apologize if you’ve been missing our movie reviews lately. However, it’s not because we’ve been slacking. Just the opposite in fact. We’ve been working hard to provide all of the Cinema Salem patrons with the coolest October ever.

We put together the Flatline Film Fest which includes plenty of horror movies throughout October and all 5 Harry Potter movies. We’ll be showing Slither, Candyman, The Blob, Rocky Horror Picture Show, and a bunch more every weekend. For all the details and showtimes, head over the the Flatline website.

Also, we’ve had a few setbacks with the Cinema Cafe, but it should be open for the weekend of the 17th and 18th (we mean it this time). There will be lots of delicious espresso drinks, smoothies, a granola bar, cookies, brownies, and lots of other stuff.

All of this has taken up ridiculous amounts of our time. Hardly any time to watch movies, let alone write about them. So with that in mind, here’s hoping October will be awesome with scary movies and yummy drinks.