Friday, February 28, 2014

Joe Hisaishi Meets Kitano Films, and the importance of music in film...

I'm the type of person who can listen to any type of music and find enjoyment – I can listen to any type of rap, some rock, some R&B, and so on. Lately, however, I've found myself listening to soundtracks from some of my favorite films – I listen to the soundtrack to Memories of Murder and Oldboy at least once a week. It's not just film, though, I occasionally dabble in some video game music, like the soundtrack to Silent Hill 2. Most of the time, this is music without lyrics. One can argue this is the purest form of music, and I'd think I'd be the one to do so.

I recently purchased the album Joe Hisaishi Meets Kitano Films. This album celebrates the constant collaborations between iconic musician Joe Hisaishi and legendary filmmaker Takeshi Kitano by compiling select tracks from said collaborations. This is an important album. Not only does it show the significance of music in film and further bond each medium, it shows the power of the music itself. This shows that “movie music” can stand on its own, as well as work as a complimentary piece for the actual film. Even if you haven't seen every film, you can enjoy a soundtrack like this. In fact, you can enjoy any film soundtrack on its own, if it's well made and attractive to your mood or personality. Go listen to Joe Hisaishi's Summer and tell me you don't feel anything – I feel at peace, and it's a feeling only a film soundtrack has been able to evoke – now that's power.

Like I said before, Joe Hisaishi Meets Kitano Films isn't the only film soundtrack I enjoy. Another soundtrack that caught my ear was Hans Zimmer's Black Rain score. What really attracted me to the soundtrack, as it did the film, was the culture clash it represented. The film and soundtrack blend different cultures and styles to create one. I think it's more evident in the soundtrack, though. Listen to the soundtrack and it screams Hans Zimmer and his signature style, but with a noticeable pinch of Japan. Cultures blending and interacting like this has always fascinated me, and I feel the soundtrack really signifies this movement. It makes me wish more music would do the same, and it makes me wish more filmmakers would see blend cultures like Zimmer and Scott did with Black Rain.

I know music doesn't make a film, though. There are some great films out there with little to no music. In fact, I think it's an accomplishment to create a certain feeling without music; when a filmmaker can create suspense or evoke emotion without music, I think it's impressive. But, I think a fantastic soundtrack can help sweep you away much more effectively. I think music can also help create more feelings, I think it can amplify the emotion. I think music is a strong part of film-making and can even work as a redeeming element for some films; look at Argento's Dracula 3D (Review), it's flawed in almost every way, but the music kept me interested and even immersed. One more point: a soundtrack can also be detrimental to a film. I recently watched Special ID (Review), which featured an ill-fitted score – it really clashed with the tones of the film, creating an inconsistent film overall.

What is the point I am trying to make? I look back at this post and see myself rambling on and on, but, why? Maybe, I'm trying to promote Joe Hisaishi Meets Kitano Films? I suppose I might actually be trying to show the significance of film in music, and the significance of the music itself – I suppose I'm trying to create discussion and I might be trying to provoke thought. Regardless, I had to write this post, I just really felt inspired by the music to express myself in some way. 
Anyway, have you heard Joe Hisaishi Meets Kitano Films? Do you feel the same about music? What are your favorite film soundtracks? Leave a comment below and please share this post. Thanks for reading.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Film Review: Saving General Yang (2013)

Saving General Yang (Review)
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Streaming
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"The action is spectacular..."

General Yang (Adam Cheng) is caught behind enemy lines when he's sent to war with a scheming ally against the Khitan army, who hold a grudge against the general...

Saving General Yang starts off quickly and complicated. We're dropped into the middle of an internal conflict as two sons are punished by the elder Yang. We're quickly shown why, and even more rapidly introduced to the seven sons -- I don't think they even have names other than first brother, second brother, and so on. When Yang is sent off to war, he is betrayed by his ally and has to survive with his remaining soldiers behind enemy lines. So, his seven sons begin their quest to save their father; but, according to a prophet, only six will return. From there on, the story is fairly simple with action taking the forefront. The ending of the film is great, although a bit predictable and even a little cheesy.

Saving General Yang isn't a historical drama or some informative biopic. Generally speaking (Ha!), Saving General Yang is a popcorn action blockbuster epic. The characters are barely developed so there is a lack of genuine emotion, but the melodramatic elements help develop a sense of loss during some scenes; the concept of seven sons saving their father is enough to keep you hooked, though. The story is unnecessarily complex in the beginning, but the story is simple as a whole and entertaining enough. The action is spectacular, though. The large scale battles are often breathtaking, while the close quarters combat keeps you on the edge with some tense scenes. And the action stays consistent throughout the second and third acts of the film. I also liked the speed of the film -- this film is ferociously paced ending before a blink of an eye.

Adam Cheng is great as the titular character, showing the charisma and wisdom of the character. The rest of the cast is also great, but never get a chance to shine due to the amount of characters and the short runtime. The film is beautifully shot, the cinematography capturing the beautiful sets and costumes. The music was also great in capturing the setting, as well as creating its epic tone. Ronny Yu directs Saving General Yang; there are some problems in the introduction, as well as a compressing feeling during the second half, but he does a great job creating action and tension.

Overall, Saving General Yang is an epic action film. Those looking for an authentic interpretation of the legend may be disappointed, this is more of a mindless action blockbuster -- and I liked it. If you're an action fan and want to kill an hour and a half, Saving General Yang is an efficient time killer.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Film Review: Cold War (2012)

Cold War (Review)
Format Viewed For Review: DVD (Lionsgate)
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

" rewarding as it may be in the end, it can be equally punishing throughout."

In Hong Kong, the safest city in Asia, a bomb goes off and five highly trained police officers and their high-tech equipment disappear without a trace within the same hour, leaving the Hong Kong Police force shaken...

Cold War continues as rival Deputy Commissioners Sean Lau (Aaron Kwok) and Waise Lee (Tony Leung Ka-fai) are at odds concerning how to handle this crisis and who should head the operation titled "Cold War". The stakes are high with five hostages to rescue and a public image to uphold. Furthermore, the tension rises with the explanations or possibilities of the crisis: either there is a significant flaw in their technology and communication, or there is a mole in the police force. The first half focuses on the crisis at hand and the internal conflict, while the second half continues into a deeper conspiracy and features a surprising revelation. The ending of the film is a bit ambiguous but promising.

Cold War is a great addition to the dozens and dozens of great Chinese crime films. This crime thriller throws you into a complicated situation with little time to settle in, and it doesn't take much time to explain some of its bigger ideas. But, most viewers will be able to adapt eventually, and, when you do, the plot is very rewarding. There are a few action sequences, but, like Infernal Affairs, Cold War focuses more on suspense and tension through dialogue. One particular exchange between Lau and Lee left me impressed with the amount of emotion and tension it built. I was hooked from beginning to end, particularly thanks to this style of suspense building. As I previously stated, Cold War starts of complicated and it can be occasionally difficult to keep up later on the film; as rewarding as it may be in the end, it can be equally punishing throughout.

Aaron Kwok is a fantastic leading man; his performance is great, especially when it requires great emotion or tension, and he is very charismatic. Tony Leung Ka-fai works perfectly as his counterpart, as well, with an equally impressive performance. The music can be ill-fitted, but the score itself is great; a very epic soundtrack to keep suspense high. The film is beautifully shot, and the camerawork compliments the cinematography well. Writers and directors Longman Leung and Sunny Luk create a suspenseful film with an engaging story; however, the story feels like it could've benefitted from a longer run time as it does feel compressed -- the longer runtime could've added room for some explanation and clarification.

Overall, Cold War is a great crime thriller. It had me on the edge and guessing from beginning to end; it's a suspenseful and tense film, much like Infernal Affairs. It offers so much plot, though, I feel like it didn't have enough time to fully spread its wings; and, the short runtime indirectly contributes to the difficulties some audiences may endure, even I got lost once or twice.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Some strong violence and blood, some gore.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Film Review: Breaking News (2004)

Breaking News (Review)
Format Viewed For Review: Blu-ray (Pony)
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...action is spectacular with magnificent camerawork and choreography..."

When the mainstream media capture the humiliating defeat of a uniformed police officer by a group of bank robbers, Superintendent Fong (Kelly Chen) and the Hong Kong police force decide to capture these criminals on live television...

Starting with a ultra-stylish, single-shot shootout, Breaking News continues to follow Fong as she orchestrates this televised event, while Inspector Cheung (Nick Cheung) and his crew attempt to capture these armed bandits on their own; it also focuses on the uniformed officers under Fong's command, the group of robbers they are after, and an unsuspecting group of criminals caught in the crossfire. The bulk of the film takes place in a large apartment complex, with explosions booming through the small rooms and blazing shootouts occurring in the almost-claustrophobic hallways. Breaking News blazes through its short runtime to a good ending, although it could've been better.

Breaking News is so simple yet so smart. Of course, it is a film, so you do have to suspend reality; I know, much of the film, especially the action, is not plausible, but it's entertaining. The concept blends stylish, masterfully executed action and interesting social commentary. It features a well-developed psychological battle of wits as Fong and the robbers use the media to their advantages. Although its mostly a one-sided battle, its interesting and entertaining to see how each group manipulates the already manipulative media. The story is interesting, creative, and smart without sacrificing entertainment. The action is spectacular with magnificent camerawork and choreography to keep you on your toes -- and, it's very consistent. There is also some great humor mixed in -- two or so fart jokes and some quirky hostages to lighten up the film.

The story does have some flaws. As simple as it may seem, there were a couple of confusing plot points. The ending, for example, features some questionable actions from the criminals, which, in turn, leaves the audience assuming. Also, there are some character development flaws regarding Fong, which are mostly evident towards the end; the film basically drops her into a role she's not well suited for and would better suit the more charismatic character. These are minor flaws, though, and they are really only noticeable during the ending; it's not a film-ruining ending, but I'd say its the only part of Breaking News that is not excellent.

Kelly Chen plays her character well, but lacks some charisma needed for leading lady; aside from her performance, the writing for the character is a bit of a cliché, which isn't helpful for Kelly Chen. Nick Cheung shares less screen time but has a strong screen presence, and great charisma -- his performance is what you'd expect considering Cheung rarely leaves the role. The film is beautifully shot. The cinematography compliments the camerawork well, especially during its action sequences. The music is also very well fitted, and even unique enough to differentiate the film from other Chinese crime movies. Johnnie To is fantastic with his focused and creative direction; Johnnie To is a master of action who continues to push the genre in the right direction.

Overall, Breaking News is a fantastic action film with a well-executed and effective concept. I was hooked from its masterful introduction to its decent ending -- but, only the ending is decent, which is still good, while the rest of the film is brilliant. Definitely some of Johnnie To's best work, and a fantastic crime thriller for fans of the genre.

Score: 9/10
Parental Guide: Some strong violence and blood.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Film Review: Infernal Affairs (2002)

Infernal Affairs (Review)
Format Viewed For Review: Blu-ray (Vivendi)
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...I refused to take my eyes off the screen for even a second."

Police officer Chan Wing-yan (Tony Leung) goes undercover into a triad ran by boss Sam (Eric Tsang), while Sam plants a mole, triad member Lau Kin-ming (Andy Lau), into the police force.

Filled with surprises at every corner, Infernal Affairs is a film best watched with little known prior to your first viewing. So, I'll keep the synopsis to a minimum, and I'll avoid spoilers. The basic premise is the police infiltrating a triad, and vice versa. This concept holds well for the runtime of the film, delivering pure suspense and thrills consistently. Themes of loyalty, betrayal, and morals are evident. This tense thriller leads to an unexpected ending -- this is how you close a film, and other filmmakers should take notes.

Infernal Affairs is a Chinese crime thriller. It starts off a bit rough, with a lot of information to immediately absorb. However, the film straightens out quickly for a smooth ride. There are many suspenseful and tense moments -- these set pieces are masterfully executed to keep you at the edge of your seat, and they come often. In fact, the film is so engaging and twisted, I refused to take my eyes off the screen for even a second. The film is ferociously paced without filler, so it reached it's amazing conclusion quickly. It's the complete package, from beginning to end.

Tony Leung and Andy Lau plays opposites, and they excel with believable performances and strong screen presence. Eric Tsang plays mob boss, while Anthony Wong plays Superintendent -- both play their roles excellently. The music is great, aiding greatly in creating authentic suspense and tension. The film is also beautifully shot, especially during its set pieces. Andrew Lau and Alan Mak direct Infernal Affairs, and the pair deliver a masterfully-told suspense thriller. On the technical side, the film is exceptional.

Overall, Infernal Affairs had me hooked from beginning to end. It's a film that delivers a masterfully written narrative, with amazing suspense and tension, and a fantastic cast. This is a cinematic masterpiece, and one of the best crime thrillers China has to offer.

Score: 10/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Top 10 Best Chinese Movies on Netflix

China and Hong Kong. Mandarin and Cantonese. I understand they aren't exactly the same, but for the sake of listing and to avoid arguing semantics, let's just treat them as one. Anyway, China has delivered a fair share of masterpieces over the last decade, and throughout history, and some can be found on Netflix Streaming. From the best crime thrillers -- a real specialty in China -- to action-packed martial arts extravaganzas, China delivers on every count. Here's a list of my favorite Chinese movies on Netflix Streaming.

Oh, and again, I try to keep these lists original. You've probably been searching for the best films of this region because you've watched some amazing or popular films from said region, like Ip Man or Ip Man 2, so there is no point in me listing them again. I'll try to focus on some films you might've missed. Let's get started:

10. The Sorcerer and the White Snake
Read The Sorcerer and the White Snake (Review) Here!
Watch it on Netflix Streaming!
This is a fast-paced and highly-entertaining action film with a welcomed performance from Jet Li. Stylistically, the film reminds me of a live-action anime -- and that's a good thing.

9. Saving General Yang
Read Saving General Yang (Review) Here!
Watch it on Netflix Streaming!
Although it's lacking a bit in story, Saving General Yang delivers magnificent action sequences and creates a wonderful world. It also moves at a ferocious pace!

8. Dumplings
Read Dumplings (Review) Here!
Watch it on Netflix Streaming!
Dumplings, despite a few flaws, has an unforgettable story/concept -- a truly skin-crawling, disturbing tale. I wouldn't classify it as a pure horror film, I'd rather call it a terrifying drama.

7. Dream Home
Watch it on Netflix Streaming!
Like Dumplings before it, Dream Home is a disturbing horror film amplified by it's insane gore and visuals. One of the most shocking slasher film in recent memory. Although it won't be for everyone, especially not the squeamish, Dream Home is a must-watch for fans of the genre.

6. Ocean Heaven
Watch it on Netflix Streaming!
Jet Li's second appearance on the list, Ocean Heaven offers a power narrative focusing on life, death, and family. This isn't an action film, but Jet Li and his costars manage to shine like the ocean.

5. Drug War
Read Drug War (Review) Here!
Watch it on Netflix Streaming!
Drug War is an suspenseful, epic crime film from genre master Johnnie To. The film features spectacular gunfights, and a very focused story. In fact, most of the suspense is built from suspense, which is a great accomplishment.

4. Aftershock
Watch it on Netflix Streaming!
Aftershock is much more than your average disaster flick. This tear-jerking, all-too-real drama starts off with a devastating earthquake, and a tragedy that lasts a lifetime.

3. City of Life and Death
Read City of Life and Death (Review) Here!
Watch it on Netflix Streaming!
It's an emotionally riveting, very insightful, and authentic account of the horrific Nanking Massacre. It's an aesthetically beautiful film of a genuinely disturbing subject.

2. Floating City
Read Floating City (Review) Here!
Watch it on Netflix Streaming!
Floating City is a powerful drama of a man's come-up by triumphing over discrimination and poverty -- aesthetically beautiful with an equally elegant narrative. Aaron Kwok delivers an amazing performance as the leading man.

1. The Stool Pigeon
Read The Stool Pigeon (Review) Here!
Watch it on Netflix Streaming!
The Stool Pigeon is a fantastic crime thriller. A masterpiece from Dante Lam. I like to think of it as a mixture of Infernal Affairs and Heat with a pinch of The Fast and the Furious.

Well, there you have it! A list of my favorite Chinese films on Netflix. I highly recommend all of these films. And, remember, some films were purposefully omitted, such as Ip Man, to keep the list fresh and original. Leave a comment with some of your favorites, and please share this post with your friends on Twitter, Facebook, or whatever you like to use. (the share buttons are in the gray rectangle below.)

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Film Review: Long Weekend (aka Thongsook 13) (2013)

Long Weekend (aka Thongsook 13) (Review)
Format Viewed For Review: Blu-ray (Vicol Entertainment Ltd.)
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"Long Weekend is really a film for the weekend..."

Thongsook (Chinawut Indracusin) is an eccentric young man who has a huge crush on his only friend, Nam (Natpassara Adulyamethasiri). Nam and her friends want to leave on a long weekend vacation on a seemingly deserted and creepy island, and Thongsook secretly follows along...

Long Weekend, also known as Thongsook 13, follows Nam and her friends as they escape to an old island for vacation. The trip was only intended for Nam and four friends, but, in a creepy, stalker-like fashion, Thongsook shows up for the party. They're told about the haunted grounds, and like many horror characters, they stupidly visit it anyway, all while tormenting poor Thongsook. So, all hell breaks loose, they're picked off one by one, and the only way to stop the killing is to stop the devouring spirit before midnight. Long Weekend leads to a predictable but well-appreciate ending -- it really helps the film come full circle as a true horror homage.

Long Weekend is a Thai horror, but a little more than your traditional installment in the genre. This film plays more like a homage to some classic horror films mixing elements of supernatural, slasher, monster, and gory horror films. It's also has some hilarious moments, really I couldn't help but laugh out loud during one kill sequence. It's not particularly petrifying, but it has enough to at least entertain most horror fans -- I'd be lying if I said I wasn't entertained. Since it's a homage to most horror films, almost a satire of the genre, much of the predictability and plot contrivances in the story are excusable, in my opinion. Long Weekend is really a film for the weekend -- a film to let loose and have a good time.

Chinawut Indracusin is great as Thongsook, a bit of a stereotypical performance but diverse and immersed. Natpassara Adulyamethasiri is also great in her role. The rest of the cast play there role's well, too. The film is shot well, some scenes are too dark too see, though. The scenery is captured beautifully, as well. I liked the music in the film. The film has some computer special effects, and they blend very well with the rest of the film; I watched 407 Dark Flight 3D before this, and Long Weekend has much better special effects. Taweewat Wantha directs Long Weekend with great skill, really creating a diverse and entertaining horror experience. The story does get lost in itself a couple of times, really becoming more bizarre than it should be, but that's more of a fault with some of the writing.

Overall, Long Weekend is a very entertaining Thai horror film. It has some suspense, jump-scares, spooky visuals, and grizzly gore. The story gets lost in its own satire, but it is still more than serviceable. If you're looking to kill a weekend, check out Long Weekend.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, and gore.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Film Review: 407 Dark Flight 3D (aka Dark Flight) (2012)

407 Dark Flight 3D (aka Dark Flight) (Review)
Format Viewed For Review: Blu-ray (2D) (Hong Kong) (Vicol Entertainment Ltd.)
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"Dark Flight unfortunately never takes off."

New (Marsha Wattanapanichj), a senior flight attendant, is deemed healthy and ready to fly again after her last disastrous job, which ended in a crash. But, her first flight back is on a recommisioned plane -- the same plane she insist caused the last accident...
407 Dark Flight 3D follows New, the passengers, and the rest of the crew of Flight 407 as they are surrounded by an ominous presence. Is it a supernatural presence or is it in their head? Ghosts or hallucinations? The story is straight-forward for the most part with some predictable mystery. There aren't any surprises, 407 Dark Flight 3D doesn't have any effective punches or cards up its sleeve regarding the story. Anyway, this fight for survival leads to an tense and entertaining ending.

Considering the story is by-the-books and predictable, you can expect 407 Dark Flight 3D to follow a traditional Thai horror path. The horror consists of some very light suspense, some decent jump-scares, and a barrage of crappy and creepy visuals. The visuals range from odd and ill-fitted, to ominous and spooky. In fact, you can say most of the horror in this film suffers from... turbulence. (Ha!) Really inconsistent with some highs and many lows.

The setting is great, though. I also like how the setting occasionally changes as the film progresses, like it would in a Silent Hill video game or movie. There aren't many supernatural horror films that take flight, so 407 Dark Flight 3D is refreshing in this sense; a supernatural horror film on plane doesn't have to work as hard as a supernatural horror film in a house or apartment -- we've seen more than enough of those. However, the setting alone can't save the film from mediocrity. The story is still bland, the horror is inconsistent, the setting is underutilized, and the film overall stays on the border of a serious film and a B-movie.

The acting ranges from bad to mediocre. Marsha Wattanapanichj plays New, she is okay, but never really takes charge and lacks charisma. I think the cheesy acting ultimately negatively affects the horror. The special effects are decent; the plane looks great during most scenes; however, some scenes look out of place and ugly likely due to the 3D. The music was okay, but a bit too epic for a horror film. I felt the editing was odd, also due to the use of fades and odd music placement. Director Issara Nadee fails to deliver the horror throughout most of the film, but shows some promise and focus.

Overall, 407 Dark Flight 3D is a mediocre horror film, yet moderately entertaining. I love the setting, and it has some high moments. But it is hard to take seriously due to the poor acting and misplaced special effects -- Dark Flight unfortunately never takes off. If you can get your hands on it for a low price, it may be worth checking out for fans of Asian horror.

Score: 4/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and blood.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Film Review: The Sisters (2004)

The Sisters (aka Pee chong air) (Review)
Format Viewed For Review: DVD (Tokyo Shock)
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...a bland, bloated story ... suffers from poor storytelling..."

A group of young musicians check into a hotel outside of Bangkok only to find themselves cursed by a prostitute who died a brutal death in their hotel room...

The Sisters, a Thailand horror movie, continues with its basic plot as this group attempts to stay alive and get rid of the curse. It proves to be harder when things just don't seem to go their way, and they end up learning more about the victim who's possibly haunting them. There aren't many surprises regarding the victim/ghost and her story, unfortunately, and the story continues to follow a repetitive formula, regardless. Also, the story feels light yet bloated -- it's uneventful and too long. The Sisters leads to a predictable, unsatisfying ending. The monologue during the credits, however, is touching and somewhat redeeming.

The Sisters has a repetitive, "been there, done that" story. The concept could've been touching and emotionally effective. Unfortunately, it's neither. The Sisters fails to hone in on its use of, well... sisters, like a film such as A Tale of Two Sisters did before it. Aside from having a bland, bloated story, The Sisters suffers from poor storytelling; the complicated storytelling has little aesthetic value and unnecessarily complicates the story. As for horror, the film has some incredibly creepy visuals. For example, the air duct ghost introduction has a repetitive buildup, but the payoff is very satisfying. The eerie visuals are a highlight for the film, but there are also some decent jump-scares and some solid suspense.

The acting is decent, but every cast member seems to overact for most of their performances -- their reactions don't seem believable. The cinematography is decent, sometimes it's difficult to see what's going on. The different tints work well with the film, but are often unnecessary in creating atmosphere. The music is great in creating an ominous atmosphere and suspense, it's really a highlight for the film. Tiwa Moeithaisong's direction is lacking, the cast seems to be improvising without a target most of the time, and there is a lack of consistency.

Overall, The Sisters has some incredibly spooky visuals, some good jump-scares, and a few scenes with great suspense. However, the story never hooked me, the storytelling is sloppy, and the horror runs out of steam before the film reaches its disappointing ending. Being a fan of Asian horror, especially Thai horror, I just couldn't get into this film like I did a film like Laddaland.

Score: 4/10
Parental Guide: Some strong violence and blood, and a brief rape scene. (you only see the thrusting for a few seconds.)

Monday, February 17, 2014

Film Review: 9-9-81 (2012)

9-9-81 (Review)
Format Viewed For Review: Blu-ray (Hong Kong) (Vicol Entertainment Ltd.)
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...creates a very diverse horror experience."

Bride-to-be Wipawee (Patitta Attayatamavitaya) leaps to her death from the top of her apartment building...

9-9-81 is a horror anthology/compilation. The introduction shows Wipawee mysteriously committing suicide. Then, we are shown several different perspectives, from several different characters, of the event prior, during, and afterward. All of these short stories connect to develop a strong character for Wipawee, as well as to obviously explain the event that occurred. What we get is a somber supernatural tale. The final story, which follows a police officer's investigation into the matter, was a bit underwhelming, but didn't leave any more unanswered questions – so, it was good.

9-9-81 isn't exactly a traditional horror anthology, like Tales from the Hood or Tales from the Darkside. Instead, 9-9-81 uses the horror anthology formula to form one story. Anyway, each story has a different director – in some instances, different directors – and different forms of horror. Some stories focus solely on spooky visuals, others focus on jump-scares, and so on – and it's all very effective. Fortunately, this also creates a very diverse horror experience. 9-9-81 also features a very ominous atmosphere which I really enjoyed. Despite having multiple directors, most of the short stories feel eerily similar. Only one, maybe two, of the short stories really has a distinct style. Also, some of the pacing is inconsistent, where one story will move at full speed, and the next may move at a very slow pace.

Patitta Attayatamavitaya is the star of the film, appearing in each short story as a human or ghost, and she delivers a good performance. In fact, most of the acting can simply be described as good – and that's fine by horror standards, so I was more than happy. The cinematography is great in creating a dark yet visible film, a film with a really strong mood. The music is also fantastic, it's a blend of haunting chants and somber tones that really help develop the atmosphere and send chills down your spine. The directors do a great job at matching each other and forming a complete story through several short stories. For the Hong Kong Blu-ray, the English subtitles were great with very few flaws; the picture and audio quality were also up to standard.

Overall, 9-9-81 is a great horror film. It delivers the horror tenfold, and a great variety of horror, as well. The anthology-like storytelling worked well and kept me engaged, too. I do prefer Phobia 2 a bit more, though, as it was a bit more creative and versatile. Regardless, fans of Thai horror should not be disappointed.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Some strong violence and blood, some sexuality. (A young man has a panty fetish – not long or graphic)

Friday, February 14, 2014

Benefits Of Going To The Movies Alone

Who can I go to the movies with? We haven't made prior plans and I don't want to drag my friends to the movies. What if my friends see me? I don't want them to laugh at me. Where would I sit? I don't want to take up a seat, break up a group of friends, or look lonely. Why should I go see this movie alone?

The who, what, where, and why's of going to the movies alone. We've all thought about going to the movies alone while these questions run laps through our heads, but only a few of us have successfully completed the task. There are many reasons why you shouldn't go to the movies alone: you think your friends would laugh at you if they found out or caught you in the act, it might be boring, it might look desperate or lonely, and so on. But, really, are these valid reasons or silly excuses?

Would you let the fear of being seen alone stop you from the ultimate cinematic experience? Let's be honest, some of us may be fortunate enough to have home theaters, but even then it doesn't actually match the quality of a professional movie theater. So, there's your first reason to go to the movies alone: if you are anticipating a film, you should be watching it at the highest quality possible, regardless of who you go with. If you're bored at home, stuck watching b-movies on TV or Netflix, then why not get some fresh (popcorn and hot dog) air and step into an auditorium?

Will your friends or even complete strangers laugh at you if they see you alone? No, most likely not, on both instances. If they're your friends or acquaintances, then they won't laugh at you -- what kind of friend would do that? Maybe some teasing, but you're bigger than that, aren't you? And, strangers? They likely won't even notice you as they'll be preoccupied with their guests and the film. Being alone at a theater isn't something to laugh at, it's more like something to admire -- it shows clear attributes of confidence, and that's something many people lack nowadays.

Similarly, another benefit of going to the movies alone would be the possible increase in confidence. If you're reading this, you're either a fan of the site, or you need advice, or both. Going to the movies alone gives you time to reflect, and it takes you out of your safe zone -- your friends won't be there as a safety net to fall back on if you meet a new person. And this is okay, this will help you grow. I know it's weird thinking going to the movies alone will help you grow psychologically, but I honestly believe it does.

In other words, this is a fabricated issue -- it really has no importance. I place the blame on the heavy reliance on society -- everyone has to be seen with someone, or they'd rather spend the night in. Concurrently, I blame our generation for our constant overthinking -- this issue is all in your head, you're thinking too much! The benefits for staying home instead of going to the movie alone are actually excuses, the benefits of going to the movies alone are BENEFITS!

What do you think? Have you ever gone to the movies alone? Have I convinced you? Leave a comment below and let me know. Thanks for reading.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Film Review: Special ID (2013)

Special ID (Review)
Format Viewed For Review: Blu-ray (Kam & Ronson Enterprises Co Ltd)
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...Special ID seems very confused about its own identity."

Chi-Lung (Donnie Yen) is an undercover police officer with a special identity. Promised a job as a regular police officer, Chi-Lung teams with mainland Officer Fang Jing (Tian Jing) to catch an international criminal known as Sunny (Andy On)...

Special ID is a straight-forward, by-the-books undercover police officer action-thriller. The story follows an expected path with a predictable "I want out"-plot, the new partners bickering amongst each other with the potential love interests, a cliché super antagonist, and so on. On top of being very generic, Special ID is delivered with extra cheese -- really, some of the dialogue and situations are plain cheesy. The ending, for example, is as cheesy as it gets -- the final fight is exhilarating and memorable, but the actual final scenes feel so odd.

But... this is an action film, and it doesn't fail to deliver. It's not packed with action from beginning to end, like The Raid: Redemption, but it offers more than enough for action fans. The action is a nice blend, as well, featuring some slick mixed martial arts, some shootings, and a few chases; the final car chase scene is a fantastic mixture of all of the above, and it'll probably be one of my favorites of the last decade. The martial arts stills takes center stage throughout the film, and it does not disappoint, either. Donnie Yen is as nimble and fluid as ever in his action scenes, and Tian Jing does well on her own, as well.

I would like to point out that there was a feeling of conflicting tones throughout the film. From the cover and advertising, you'd be right to expect a dark, brooding crime thriller. And, it visually feels that way -- the film has slick and dark cinematography that you'd expect from a dark crime thriller. However, the acting and dialogue is often cheesy, and the music is oddly upbeat and energetic, which conflicts with the other tones of the film. I eventually grew accustomed to the music, and I don't mind cheese with my movies, but as a whole package, Special ID seems very confused about its own identity.

Donnie Yen plays a great gangster and a solid carefree cop. Tian Jing is charismatic and a real badass with her performance. Andy On was mostly great, but he seemed very off whenever he spoke English. The cinematography was good, and the camerawork was efficient. The soundtrack didn't match the mood or the tone of the film, likely because they were so static, but it does help differentiate itself from other films in the genre. The editing was also a bit off in both audio and video, some odd cuts and fades make the film seem like a Direct-to-TV film. The action choreography was great, even refreshing during some scenes. Writer and director Clarence Fok lacks focus for the actual plot and fails to build an effective atmosphere, but captures the action wonderfully. The English subtitles were good, often wrong but understandable, although they move by fast.

Overall, Special ID is a good action crime thriller. It delivers some great action sequences, but it is muddled by an inconsistent tone, a generic plot, and odd editing and music. I recommend the film for
action fans and die-hard Donnie Yen fans. I wouldn't recommend importing this film for a premium price if you're in the U.S., you should wait for Well Go USA's release in May.

Score: 6/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Film Review: Argento's Dracula 3D (2012)

Argento's Dracula 3D (Review)
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Streaming (2D)
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...has an attractive underlying charm that kept me hooked."

A young woman, Tania (Miriam Giovanelli), is attacked in the woods on her way home. Soon thereafter, Jonathan Harker (Unax Ugalde) is hired by Count Dracula (Thomas Kretschmann) to count books...

Argento's Dracula, although apparently not a faithful adaptation of neither, has a lot of story information to digest if you haven't read the novel (which I haven't) or if you haven't seen a faithful film adaptation (No, Dracula 3000 doesn't count.) Anyway, the story mainly centers around Count Dracula, and Jonathan Harker and his wife, Mina. Is it a tale of horror? A tale of romance? It's a bit of both, I suppose, although it is a bit distorted. The story ultimately leads to an interesting ending, albeit underwhelming and predictable.

Let's be honest for a second: if you've seen the trailer, you know not to expect a high-budget, masterfully-made horror film, right? And, you'd be right to adjust your expectations before watching this. The story and storytelling are messy -- it's also predictable, occasionally cheesy, and often unintentionally humorous. Not a confusing film, but odd. In fact, much of the film is odd in this sense, and it actually benefits the film. You see, Argento's Dracula has an attractive underlying charm that kept me hooked. I know it's not a great story -- it's riddled with clichés, bad acting, and terrible special effects -- but the film is strangely entertaining and engrossing from beginning to end. It's like a B-movie, but, at the same time, it's really not.

The acting, for the most part, ranges from bad to mediocre. Miriam Giovanelli is nude and bored through most of her performance, you can probably see how she got the role. Asia Argento is mostly mediocre but serviceable, didn't really seem into her performance. The only real standout was Thomas Kretschmann, who delivers an admirable performance as the charming yet sinister Count Dracula. The special effects are mostly terrible, mostly due to the unnecessary 3D. There were some practical gore effects that I enjoyed. The music is fantastic, I loved this soundtrack and it was one of the only redeeming factors of the film. The set designs are also great, very attractive and immersive, especially when paired with the lighting.

I don't think Dario Argento is to blame for the mishaps and low quality of Argento's Dracula. Yes, I know, it's called Argento'S Dracula (<<That's supposed to emphasize the possessive portion, if you didn't get it), but I feel like Argento's direction is still great. He can still breath life into a film through engaging camerawork, set design, lighting, editing, and music. The writing, the special effects, and the cast, which all except Kretschmann seem miscasted, are more to blame for the film's shortcomings.

Overall, Argento's Dracula 3D is a decent horror/romance film. I know it has plenty of flaws, including the story, the special effects, and acting. Those who grew up with high-quality blockbusters will likely never give this film a fair chance, either. But, I would be lying if I said I wasn't entertained.

Score: 5/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, some gore, sex and nudity.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Film Review: Tormented 3D (2011) [Revisited]

Tormented 3D (Review)
Format Viewed For Review: Blu-ray (2D) (Well Go USA)
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...the Hot sauce of the Taco Bell sauces, if Taco Bell sauces measured horror."

After her younger half-brother, Daigo, kills an injured rabbit to take it out of its misery, mute Kiriko (Hikari Mitsushima) and Daigo are haunted by a large rabbit doll...

Tormented continues as Kiriko and Daigo are haunted by a large rabbit doll, who was unleashed from the big screen after Kiriko and Daigo watched The Shock Labyrinth in 3D. Tormented plays out a bit like a horror-mystery where you have to guess who's in the rabbit costume. Those accustomed to Japanese horror will likely recognize its predictable plot points; otherwise, your in for a couple of surprises. The rest of the story is filled with several dreamlike sequences and traditional J-horror elements. Tormented ends with a slightly confusing yet dark ending -- not bad at all.

Tormented is a slow-burn fantast horror. The slow-burn is noticeable, but not as effective as it should be. The fantasy consist of several dreamlike sequences, which I thoroughly enjoyed; many of these visuals are a real treat, using great cinematography and vivid colors. And, the horror includes some suspense, many jump-scares, and some creepy visuals. All-in-all, Tormented is a great improvement over The Shock Labyrinth.

However, there are still some flaws. Occasionally the film can feel uneventful or bland. The fantasy elements are underutilized, as well. And, despite having more horror than The Shock Labyrinth, Tormented is still not a very scary film -- it's probably the Hot sauce of the Taco Bell sauces, if Taco Bell sauces measured horror. And, finally, although most of the film moves at a great pace, the ending did start to drag.

The acting is also much improved. Although she only speaks during monologues, Hikari Mitsushima shows a lot of heart and enthusiasm with her performance; you can see all of her emotions simply through her facial expressions, which is great. Some of it still feels amateurish, but it's an improvement, at the very least. I like the cinematography -- the visuals, especially during some of the dreamlike sequences, are great to look at. The music is also great -- I always loved Japanese horror music/sounds, and, although not iconic or groundbreaking, this soundtrack does not fail. The special effects, again, look out of place, likely due to me watching the 2D version; regardless, the computer effects look cheap and tacked-on. Takashi Shimizu's directs this film with more direction, more focus than most of his previous work. In fact, this is probably Shimizu's best work since Ju-on: The Grudge.

Overall, I like Tormented -- I think it's a great J-horror film. It's got some scares, slick visuals, some unique and creative elements (you won't find many horror films with giant rabbits), and a great performance from leading lady Hikari Mitsushima. However, it's definitely not a film for everyone.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and blood.

Editor's Note: You're probably wondering: "Hey, Jonathan, didn't you review this film last year?" Well, yes, I did. But, I decide to watch The Shock Labyrinth and Tormented back-to-back to see if anything had changed -- both films are interlinked, and my first viewings for each film were over a year apart. I guess I wanted to see if watching both films, one after the other, would change my opinion on either. And, I got them both for $4 at Fry's, so I figured it would be a great time to revisit these films.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Film Review: The Shock Labyrinth 3D (2009)

The Shock Labyrinth 3D (Review)
Format Viewed For Review: Blu-Ray (2D) (Well Go USA)
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...riddled with flaws ... which ultimately lead it to a dead end. "

A friend, Ken, arrives for a friendly reunion after a long hiatus. The arrival of another friend, Yuki, who was believed to be dead, sparks the haunting memories of the group's past visit to the Shock Labyrinth...

The Shock Labyrinth blends two timelines to tell one story. So, we follow this group of friends in the present and as children during their first visit to this house of horrors, and the timelines interlink to create some interesting, yet occasionally confusing, moments. As interesting as it sounds, it really boils down to your basic ghost revenge flick. The storytelling and setting are really the only unique or creative aspects of the film. The Shock Labyrinth, which plays much like a maze, eventually finds itself at a merely decent ending.

The Shock Labyrinth is interesting and engaging. I like stories like this where everything connects, including some of the smallest details. The storytelling is creative and engaging, but it isn't flawless. Occasionally, I felt lost or confused, and I really shouldn't have been. When you get past the storytelling, you find a generic story. Been there, done that. More disappointing is the lack of scares; it feels very lightweight in this matter where it lacks the most basic jump-scares. However, the setting is great, I really like this house of horrors. And, there are some creepy visuals -- not exactly terrifying, but cool, for lack of a better word.

The acting is decent -- very amateurish and often wooden from some of the cast, but it is mostly serviceable. The film is shot nicely, I like the cinematograph; I really like the set designs, might be because we rarely see horror movies based in "house of horrors" type settings. The music is mostly by-the-books, but I did enjoy the sound editing and a few of the eerie songs/sounds. I didn't watch the film in 3D, but I can see the special effects aren't anything special. Director Takashi Shimizu, known for Ju-on: The Grudge and its remake, helms this film -- he's very ambitious, but misses his mark.

Overall, The Shock Labyrinth is a serviceable film. Don't get me wrong, I found it to be entertaining and occasionally creepy -- I especially enjoyed the setting. However, The Shock Labyrinth is riddled with flaws, from its generic and almost fright-less story to its barely decent acting, which ultimately lead it to a dead end.

Score: 5/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and blood.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Top 10 Best South Korean Movies on Amazon Prime Streaming

I made a list a couple of weeks ago of the Best South Korean films available on Netflix Streaming. This is more of the same, but these films will be found on Amazon Prime. As you probably know, your Amazon Prime membership gives you access to thousands of movies and shows to stream, and there are plenty of amazing South Korean movies available on Amazon Prime. I'll try to give this list some originality and identity by choosing some lesser-known titles, as well, and some of the big hits.

Oh, and what better way to shamelessly plug my new niche website again. Remember, all of my South Korean reviews are now posted on with updates every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Go bookmark that page!

10. The Mafia, the Salesman
Read The Mafia, the Salesman (Review) here!
Watch this film on Amazon Prime!
Not a masterpiece by any means, The Mafia, the Salesman still offers some lighthearted and black comedy with plenty of quirky and bizarre characters. Perfect for alternative comedy lovers, and perfect for a night in.

9. Missing
Watch this film on Amazon Prime!
Missing is a brutal and tense thriller with a chilling ending. Featuring a sinister performance from Moon Sung-geun, and graphic torture and violence, Missing really leaves a mark.

8. Be With Me
Watch this film on Amazon Prime!
Be With Me is a horror anthology with three stories held together by one frame story. Although I didn't enjoy the frame too much, this horror anthology has plenty of variety and creativity, as well as plenty of scares and some humor.

7. To Catch A Virgin Ghost
Read To Catch A Virgin Ghost (Review) here!
Watch this film on Amazon Prime!
Bizarre and quirky, To Catch A Virgin Ghost is a wild comedy with horror elements. This film is absolutely hilarious with its quirky alternative comedy and lovable cast of characters.

6. The Doll Master
Read The Doll Master (Review) here!
Watch this film on Amazon Prime!
The Doll Master is a very creepy film. The film uses vintage dolls with lifelike features to send chills down your spine, along with some great slow-burn suspense and a few jolting jump-scares. If you hated your grandparents' vintage dolls, you'll be in for terrifying treat!

5. Friend
Watch this film on Amazon Prime!
Friend may seem like a familiar concept, but it is executed masterfully. The tale of childhood friends who take different paths throughout life only to become enemies. I recommend watching this now as the sequel has just recently released.

4. A Little Pond
Watch this film on Amazon Prime!
Opposite of Welcome to Dongmakgol, A Little Pond aims to inform through a dramatic retelling of an atrocious incident during the Korean War.

3. Crying Fist
Watch this film on Amazon Prime!
A spectacular sport film, Crying Fist delivers in the emotional and action departments tenfold. It also features a magnificent performance from Choi Min-sik, one of my personal favorites and I think he'll be one of yours soon, too!

2. Welcome to Dongmakgol
Watch this film on Amazon Prime!
Inspiring and meaningful, Welcome to Dongmakgol blends hilarious light-hearted comedy with a war background and proudly proclaims love for each other, regardless of color, birthplace, etc.

1. Unbowed
Read Unbowed (Review) here!
Watch this film on Amazon Prime!
Unbowed is an incredibly engaging and informative courtroom drama based on real events. The movie moves at a ferocious pace, features great tension, suspense, and drama, and two amazing lead performances.

Like this list? Share it with your friends on your favorite social media sites using the social media buttons in the gray rectangle below. Also, follow me on Twitter @JonathanCA_KMR for daily updates and recommendations!

Want more lists? Leave a comment with a suggestion and I'll eventually get to it, or check out some of my earlier lists below:
Top 10 South Korean Films You Probably Haven't Seen On Netflix
Top 10 Best Foreign Dramas On Netflix

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Film Review: Man of Tai Chi (2013)

Man of Tai Chi (Review)
United States/China/2013
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Streaming
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...a fantastic, thrilling fight at every corner..."

Tiger Chen (Tiger Hu Chen) is the final student of Ling Kong Tai Chi. He is powerful, but has not fully accepted the teachings of his master. When he is contacted by the mysterious and wealthy Donaka Mark (Keanu Reeves) for lucrative "security" job, Tiger spirals into a battle for survival and a battle within...

Man of Tai Chi is a straight-forward martial arts action film. Tiger Chen begins fighting in an underground fight club where his skill is tested against opponents with different styles. Tempted by the money and fame, Tiger also has a battle within himself. Meanwhile, a Hong Kong detective (Karen Mok) is hot on the trail of this fight club. The story is a bit cliché and predictable, but it is action-packed with little filler. The ending feels like it's leading up to something epic, but substitutes that with a merely decent fight -- I was genuinely disappointed.

Like I said: Man of Tai Chi is a straight-forward martial arts action film with a cliché and predictable plot. But, it's forgivable. Man of Tai Chi has a refreshing old-school vibe blended with some cheesy elements, which make it much more entertaining and tolerable. In fact, this style really hooked my into the film and kept me hooked until the end. And, it also has incredible contemporary martial arts. There is a fantastic, thrilling fight at every corner to satisfy action fans. It is also ferociously paced, so it reaches it's ending quickly. The climax is disappointing, though.

My main gripe with the story was the incredibly predictable, unfortunately unnecessary, and ultimately intrusive police subplot. The predictable and unnecessary complaints are self explanatory, but let me explain the intrusiveness of this subplot. (Potential *Minor* Spoilers) If you do any preliminary research before watching a film, as I do, you'd know Iko Uwais is listed in the cast. Now, if you know Iko Uwais, its understandable to expect a fight between Iko and Tiger -- and it does build up to that. In fact, Iko is treated as Tiger's final challenge, so imagine my anticipation. Unfortunately, due to this subplot, and whatever purpose it was trying to achieve, it never happens -- it interferes. Iko Uwais appearance is less than 3 minutes of trying to fight -- they never actually fight, though.

Tiger Hu Chen is a fantastic fighter -- he doesn't have much charisma or emotion, but he's serviceable for the role. Keanu Reeves is as wooden as ever, but it kind of fits his character this time around. The music is a great blend of different styles and tones, and it works well with this story. The cinematography is great, and I like the engaging camerawork. The fight choreography is great, it's fast, realistic, and engaging. The editing also contributes to the realism of the fight scenes. Keanu Reeves makes his directorial debut with Man of Tai Chi, and he does a great job; he create the perfect vibe and captures the fights perfectly, but the added subplot is detrimental to the experience.

Overall, the bulk of Man of Tai Chi is fantastic. It's a ferociously paced, highly entertaining action extravaganza. The police subplot fails to serve a purpose, and I feel it's to blame for the disappointing climax. I recommend this film for fans of martial arts and action fans.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Film Review: The Bell Witch Haunting (2013)

The Bell Witch Hunting (Review)
United States/2013
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Streaming
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...not nearly enough horror to warrant a feature length film..."

The Sawyer family moves into their new home in Robertson County, which is haunted by a legendary demon...

The Bell Witch Haunting is a basic, by-the-books found-footage horror film. The story follows a family that moves into their new home, which is supposedly built on haunted grounds. Brandon, the son, is an aspiring filmmaker, I think, and he decides to record everything. Things go bump in the night, lights turn on by themselves, and so on. The ending is predictable and cliché – aside from being a disappointing narrative, the ending also features an almost unbelievable goof/mistake.

The Bell Witch Haunting is nothing new. If you've seen any found-footage films in the last few years, you've likely already seen The Bell Witch Haunting. However, that's not a reason to complete ignore a film, so I decided to watch it – I'm not bias in any way. The story is bland. It's by-the-books and plays it safe. It is actually riddled with cliché characters and dialogue, which further hurt the already generic narrative. And, there seem to be a handful of inconsistencies with the storytelling and the timeline. There is a little more going on than your typical Paranormal Activity film, though. There is some suspense, I actually liked two or three of the jump-scares, and there are some decent visuals. There's not nearly enough horror to warrant a feature length film, though.

The acting ranges from terrible to mediocre. There aren't any outstanding performances, they're all pretty bad. In fact, some of their performances, along with some of the writing, is unintentionally hilarious. This is a found-footage film, so expect the same cinematography as the last found-footage film you watched. One of the worst parts of the film was the incredibly sloppy camerawork – the actors can't seem to hold the camera still to save their lives; it is, at times, nauseating. The better half of me wants to believe they left out the credits to keep an authentic-vibe for the film; the cynical half wants me to believe this crew didn't want their names tainted by this work. Too bad. Director Glenn Miller has an offensive lack of ambition and vision, and really should have had more control of his cameras.

Overall, The Bell Witch Haunting is a bad found-footage horror film. There are some redeeming scares, and some spooky and creative visuals, but they are outnumbered by the severe technical flaws. I applaud it for having more going on than Paranormal Activity 4 and Absence, which were terrible found-footage horror films. I was close to giving this a 4/10, but the camerawork and ending are too detrimental to the experience.

Score: 3/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and blood, some brief nudity. (Some women flash their breasts during a pool party.)

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Film Review: Cure (1997)

Cure (Review)
Format Viewed For Review: DVD (Homevision)
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...can really give most horror films a run for their money..."

Police detective Kenichi Takabe (Koji Yakusho) investigates a string of bizarre and grizzly murders with odd similarities -- every victim has a large "X" carved across their necks and chests.

Cure continues as Kenichi and his team continue to investigate the murders until they are lead to an odd man (Masato Hagiwara) with extremely short-term memory loss, who seems to have been around before the murders occurred. However, he is not treated as a suspect because he didn't kill them, and as a witness, his constant memory loss becomes frustrating. The plot continues with some sharp turns into more madness, better left for your initial viewing. The ending is interesting; I enjoyed what it implied, but I wish it had clarified some of the question it left lingering...

Cure is a slow-burn crime thriller. It's grizzly and bizarre themes, its nightmarish symbolism, and violent murders can really give most horror films a run for their money, though. The plot is very engaging, thanks to its storytelling and camerawork, as well as the plot itself; and, you really have to stay engaged to absorb as much information as possible and for the most rewarding experience. Unfortunately, I felt like the film occasionally lost its grip -- it can feel uneventful and sometimes the very slow pace may make your mind wander. Trust me, it'll pay off if you can stick with it, although it's completely understandable if you occasionally wander off. Like I said, the film is often tense and brutal, but the masterfully crafted ominous atmosphere is really the anchor for the film. The film has some elements I feel are open-for-interpretation, and I like this approach.

Koji Yakusho is great as detective Kenichi -- his performance starts off strong and only gets better as his character delves into madness. Masato Hagiwara delivers an eccentric and occasionally creepy performance -- perfect for his character. The cinematography is great, and the camerawork is very engaging. The storytelling is clear, despite some plot points lacking clarity, and the editing is consistent. The pace, however, is occasionally too slow -- this is coming from someone who loves slow-burn films. The direction from Kiyoshi Kurosawa is fantastic in crafting the ominous atmosphere and telling a disturbing tale. The writing felt like it had some inconsistencies, but that may have been me wandering or my own misunderstanding.

Overall, Cure is a genuinely slow-burning crime thriller with a magnificently ominous atmosphere -- the film really gets under your skin and makes you think, which is a good thing. There are some flaws that I couldn't get over from my personal taste, but that doesn’t stop Cure from being a great film, at the very least. This is recommended for fans of slow-burn crime films, and films that really make you think -- for these fans, it's a rewarding experience.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, some brief nudity.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Film Review: Villain (aka Akunin) (2010)

Villain (aka Akunin) (Review)
Format Viewed For Review: Blu-ray (Hong Kong) (CN Entertainment Ltd.)
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

" leaves you truly wondering, who is the real villain?"

Yuichi (Satoshi Tsumabuki), a lonely blue-collar laborer, meets Yoshino (Hikari Mitsushima), an insurance saleswoman, through an online dating website. One night, when he sees Yoshino's true colors, Yuichi makes a fatal mistake...

Villain continues as Yuichi meets up with another woman, Mitsuyo (Eri Fukatsu), who works at a men's clothing store and leads a lonely life. They find comfort with each other, but Yuichi's prior actions come back to haunt him. And so, Yuichi and Mitsuyo spontaneously go on the run, where they learn more about each other. The story is straight-forward, while its themes dig deeper into a complex situation. The ending of the film is bittersweet, and tied up the loose ends neatly; it leaves you truly wondering, who is the real villain?

Villain, through its entirety, addresses all possible villains. It really explains why one character might feel like a villain, only to have another tell them they are not; this cycle continues as each character faces blame or feels responsible for the incident, and it actually feels very effective and unbiased. This is done through some effective character development; so, you can say Villain is a character-driven drama. At the same time, it feels like it's going in circles and it also feels like it's dragging its feet while doing so. It follows a repetitive formula to get a point across, and the point feels like its drilled into your head by the end -- some subtlety would've been beneficial. Other themes are addressed as well, such as morale, social status, responsibility, and loneliness.

Don't get me wrong, Villain blends its themes well with the plot to create a meaningful film -- a film that can be discussed, which is something that you can't say about most films nowadays. I applaud the film for addressing the issues within society -- universally, through every culture, we're slowly becoming disconnected and uncaring, and it's nice to see a film address this theme. Concurrently, it feels like it has too much filler and repetition. This, coupled with a naturally slow-pace, makes Villain feel unnecessarily bloated and uneventful. I love slow-burn films, like Confessions, but the slow-pace simply works against the film in this case.

Satoshi Tsumabuki is great as the lead delivering a strong yet restrained performance. Hikari Misushima, now with a speaking role unlike Tormented 3D, and Eri Fukatsu are also great -- Fukatsu almost steals the show. Although the entire cast is more than serviceable, I mean really great, there some clear instances of overacting -- not detrimental, but worth noting. The film is shot beautifully, and the score by Joe Hisaishi is beautiful -- the music is also a bit repetitive, though. Director Lee Sang-il captures the film well, focused and inspired.

Overall, Villain is a great drama. The characters are well-developed, and the film has a strong message -- in fact, it makes many strong statements. It is, however, hindered by a repetitive plot, a handful of bland moments, and a notable pacing issue. It's definitely a film worth watching and discussing, maybe it'll grow on me on a second-viewing.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Some strong violence and blood, partial nudity and sex. (there are two sex scenes, you see the thrusting and hear the moaning.)