Category Archives: Movie Review

Confucius the Movie

Well, Chow Yun Fat plays Confucius? Hmmm… I am confused. He will play Leon most excellently but Confucius? I was skeptical at first but after watching the movie, well, he is not too bad although I still feel that he doesn’t look like it. But it’s not a bad performance.

Confucius the movie is supposedly about the life and teachings of Confucius and all the trials and tribulations that he had to face in a society so brutal and hostile as the Spring and Autumn period in China (the time of Sun Tzu) which immediately precede the Warring States era, one of the most hostile era in Chinese history, until Shih Huang Ti unified all the states and formed the Qin dynasty, the first Unified Chinese dynasty as they more or less appear today, albeit expanded later (and where the name China supposedly came – or is it supposed to be Qina? hmmm).

To now realize that a person as Confucius to be able to preach and practice the idea of a “Gentleman”, the “Superior Man”, based on the ethical theories of rites and rituals, empathy and reciprocity (do not do unto others what you do not want others to do unto you), righteousness, etc. in an era of barbaric conquest is indeed something great. To put order back to a society so barren in order, to preach for the respect for people and trust and righteousness in an era where everybody is doing the opposite, these are great teachings indeed.

Of course, Confucius is no idiot as we can see in the movie. He is really good in archery and military deployments, and as we can also hear from the dialogue, he is well versed with Sun Tzu’s Art of War too (although I am not sure if he is really so – but I think a person of his learning, he would have known) – e.g. quotes from the Nine Terrains chapter is obvious.

So did the movie live up to its expectations? To many people, the movie seems slow and it dragged on and on. At a certain time in the movie, I find myself looking at my watch, which is not a good sign and I do feel the same, the movie is a bit draggy, and unnecessarily so. One could easily think of the movie A BATTLE OF WITS (which I talked about here). In that movie, we see yet another philosophy, Mo Tzu’s Mohism, in action. Mo Tzu’s time is after Confucius, and the peace-loving nature of that philosophy is similar to Confucius although the similarity ends there. Mo Tzu disagreed with Confucius’ hierarchical society and over attachment to rites and rituals and instead preached a philosophy of universal love where everyone is equal.

The production quality of the movie is very good and given the big budget movies nowadays (there is so much money in China for production!), high production quality is a given nowadays. Anyways, I would think that this is a good movie to go to if you would like to know a bit about Confucius and his life but if you already know about him, there is nothing much that this movie can offer. Maybe you would just want to watch it because it is a movie about Conficius and that it is quite a good production. But beware of the yawns.

There is something missing from the movie, and I think that is a smooth narrative flow and purpose. After the movie, what I felt was the movie is like a pictorial slideshow just to showcase Confucius’ teachings, and for that, the movie felt artificial. So if you want to go and watch it, go only for four reasons, 1. You want to know something about Confucius and knows next to nothing about him, 2. You like historical movies and likes well produced movies, 3. You are a huge Chow Yun Fat fan, 4. You’ve got nothing better to do and got lots of cash.

Other than that, don’t.

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Vengeance

Finally managed to find some time to go and watch VENGEANCE, the new Johnnie To movie. One could not but think of Park Chan-wook’s vengeance trilogy (SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE, OLD BOY and SYMPATHY FOR LADY VENGEANCE) and make mental notes.

However, I feel that Johnnie To’s motive is not the same as Park’s also touching on the same subject. Johnnie To is more inclined to make visually stunning movies, cool movies. Watch SPARROW. What a cool movie it is. Johnnie’s movies are more about brotherhood and honour, about being cool, about “Yi Hei”, which reminds one of John Woo’s brotherhood movies such as A BETTER TOMORROW, only that Johnnie’s films are more extravagantly cool looking (the killer’s black raincoat uniform even though it was not raining, the cigarette smoking scene in SPARROW, the umbrella scenes in both SPARROW and VENGEANCE, the bicycle shooting scene in VENGEANCE, etc. etc.)

In fact, Johnnie’s films has always been cool. The scenes always so idiosyncratic and memorable (remember the shopping complex shoot-out scene in THE MISSION?).

So what is this VENGEANCE movie about? The plot is simple. Everything is in the execution. The topic of vengeance was not touched upon the way Park Chan-wook did. The movie is just about a family got killed by some killers and the wife’s father came and wanted revenge. And he himself hired killers to hunt his enemies down. That’s all. But go watch and see for yourself how the film was shot.

By the way, Wong Kar Wai’s ASHES OF TIME REDUX is now showing in the GSC International screens.

Also, I watched UP and love it! Don’t miss UP.

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Movies

Ah, a post about movies. Have been wanting so long to write a post about movies. There are currently so many summer blockbusters in the cinema and one really is spoilt for choice. Big bang movie lovers love the summer movies, for all the visual extravaganza and entertainment, doesn’t matter mindless or not, so long as one is entertained for that couple of hours. Life is hard enough eh, so why not spend some hard earned money on some good fun entertainment. And there you have TRANSFORMERS, HARRY POTTER, ICE AGE, etc.

But for a true movie lover, ahem, or movie snobs, movies like TRANSFORMERS can rarely satisfy them. I for one must admit that I enjoyed the fun in TRANSFORMERS, the visual and especially sound effects, all the running with extra focus on Megan Fox’s upper body, etc. But truly, in terms of substance, what is there in the movie? There is hardly any new ideas, nothing to stimulate thoughts and feelings (except perhaps for the extra adrenaline pump).

But contra this to DEPARTURES. Not many people in the movie hall though but all those who went, I believe, took home with them a certain thought, a certain feeling. Yes, the movie does not have big bangs and loud sound effects and stunning graphical effects, but what it has is something that touches us more deeply into our heart. A message that penetrates our being. It is like eating a really nice dinner compared to eating fast food.

I think I have mentioned before in a post about TOKYO TOWER that one feels like giving our parents a call right after watching the movie. Japanese movies have this kind of effect on me. It really touches me deep. Yes, I do love movies by European filmmakers, for example, but Japanese movies moves me a lot more. A family drama in the tradition of Ozu, DEPARTURES tells not only about family issues but also opens our eyes to a rarely, if ever, touched upon subject matter.

The performance is first class (oh the so cute and lovely Ryoko Hirosue whom I last seen in BUBBLE FICTION, – who is Megan Fox compared to her? Nobody!). The music is superb, with a very strong focus on the cello and we see Pablo Casals’ records everywhere.

It’s a wonderful movie and I hope that you would have seen it before it leaves the cinema. It will be a great treat for yourself and whomever you bring along to watch the movie.

On another note, I think I owe SELL OUT! a short write up here although I have commented on the movie on Facebook when an ex colleague in TGV asked me what I felt about the movie. As I have said in the Facebook post, SELL OUT! is a bold movie. It refuses to follow the more traditional “Malaysian” movies’ footsteps. It criticizes but done in quite an amusing way (although I only really laughed at the opening scene of the movie). It is sort of a musical and may put some people off (I remember watching EVITA and overheard someone at the back saying “oh my god, they are singing throughout the movie! aren’t they gonna say anything??”.) But don’t worry, there are dialogues in SELL OUT!

Anyways, for whatever its shortcomings, the movie did successfully interpret the many ills and problems with our society in quite an unconventional way and this deserves praise. We need more filmmakers that dares to get out of the box.

A side note, SELL OUT! was produced by my ex-company, ASTRO SHAW and for whatever insider stories I have heard about it, from the making to the marketing to the distribution, kudos will have to be given to the boss (I think it was Ralph Marshall’s call) for supporting filmmakers like this.

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The Battle of Chibi

The Battle of Chibi (or Red Cliff) is a decisive and important battle that led to the solidification of the Three Kingdoms, the historical period between around 180AD and 280AD following the demise of the Han Dynasty. Cao Cao rose to power in the Northern court, ruling over the puppet Emperor and by around 208, Cao Cao decided to march South and unite China by defeating his arch-enemies, Liu Bei and Sun Quan. This marching of the south campaign was when the Battle of Chibi happened and Cao Cao’s decisive defeat in this battle created the north-south divide and the division of China into three kingdoms, Wei (Cao Cao), Shu (Liu Bei) and Wu (Sun Quan).

The stories of this Three Kingdom period have been widely told, whether in Chinese opera or in literature and the most famous of them all is Lo Guanzhong’s “Romance of the Three Kingdoms”. Lo borrowed some historical material and romanticised the story, often exaggerating the characters especially that of Liu Bei, Guan Yu and Zhuge Liang and adding romance and magic (especially that of Zhuge Liang) to the story. John Woo joined the fray and made RED CLIFF and I was at the media screening today.

I have high expectations for RED CLIFF and I have been waiting for this movie for quite some time. This is what I thought after watching the movie:

1. I like the portrayal of the character of Zhou Yu, played by Tony Leung Chiu Wai. It showed him to be quite a personality, a great strategist with a great heart. This is unlike what is portrayed in Lo’s novel (although the movie draws a lot from the novel) and RED CLIFF is successful in avoiding the myopia created by Lo. However, I didn’t think that the bandaging part done with his wife, Xiao Ciao (played by the beautiful Lin Chi-ling) warrants such an extended screen time.

2. I thought that the movie dealt with some strategical aspect of the war quite well, in a way that the general audience can relate to.

What I didn’t like:

1. The main characters are over-played. I understand that the director would like each character to have very distinct personality but at the end, what we felt about the characters is this: Liu Bei (loser), Zhuge Liang (gay), Zhang Fei (clown), you get it? Yes, these characters are very strong, for example, I took greatest offense on the portrayal of Zhang Fei. He is a very brave, smart but sometimes loud person but the movie made him look so clumsy, stupid and stubborn. Another example is Liu Bei. He is a stateman who has a great heart for people and citizens, and that is the reason why great people like Zhuge Liang and Guan Yu followed him. But in this movie, this aspect of him has been so thoroughly exploited, he looked weak, meek, and a loser.

2. The movie sometimes look like a rip-off from a computer game, especially so the opening of the movie. The CGI work put me off initially but luckily the strength of the story pulled me back in.

3. The battle scene with the cavalry involving the Bagua formation is rather disappointing. I do not mean the execution of the scene, which is alright but the logic of it. Why would the commander risks the life of his greatest generals and put them to fight with the enemy troops while he still has many of his soldiers capable of surrounding and killing the enemy, especially so if the Bagua formation is so successful? To further exaggerate it, the commander, i.e. Zhou Yu, put his own life in jeopardy as well. This logic didn’t click with me.

Overall, I don’t think this is a bad movie but instead, I thought it is rather good, except that it can be better, for me at least. Also, the movie is in two parts and we can only watch the second part some time in December 08, so this is not much fun, even if I already know the story and how it concludes.

Ok then, initial top line thoughts. I think I will go and watch this movie again and maybe will comment about it more then.

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SEPI Comments

Sepi, 2008

dir: Kabir Bhatia

[There may be spoilers, so read on if you don’t mind]

I don’t know Kabir Bhatia personally but I have a feeling that he is a Wong Kar Wai fan. From his first movie CINTA to now this brand new movie SEPI, I cannot but feel the Wong Kar Wai in his movies. I may be over sensitive but dialogs like “expiry date of love”, running it off when one is down on love and the BLUEBERRY NIGHT shot between Baizura Kahar and Pierre Andre just jumps out. Anyways, Wong Kar Wai is a master when it comes to the theme of love and loneliness, so if this is taken as a tribute to him, then is is well justified.

SEPI, like CINTA, is made up of several different stories linked up by one event (sounds very WKW huh?). Okay, okay, enough of WKW references. Unlike CINTA that is made up of 5 seperate stories, SEPI is made up of only three. I thought quite highly of CINTA and naturally I have quite a high expectations of SEPI. Both movies are about love but the producer made it very clear upfront that the two movies are not related in any ways.

The stories in SEPI deal with lost and loneliness, but then it is also about love found and second chances in love. To me, it is also about love at first sight which I also believe to be the most impactful and strongest type of love there is, whether it is puppy love or not. By strongest, I do not necessarily mean strongest in terms of bonds or love to eternity type but more on the strongest assault on one’s heart there is. All three stories involve a love triangle, which again, to me, is the most real type of situation many people faces in real life, and is the most complicated of all.

The first story is about finding your true love and sticking to your heart. The second story is about love lost and found and the third story is about knowing what love means.

Afdlin Shauki plays Adam in the first story and his delivery is always on the dot. Unable to find his true love, he remained single until one day, the scent of a flower brings him to meet this woman, Ilyana played by the ever so beautiful Vanida Imran. To complicate things, Ilyana is already engaged before she met Adam and Adam has a very fierce admirer, Suzie – played by Nasha Aziz, whom he eventually promised to marry after knowing that Ilyana is already no longer available since she must honour her promise. This brings us to a very delicate scene where we see Afdlin in his very emotional self and a subtle scene where he looks at a sympathetic little girl with tears welling in his eyes. That is just a superb moment in the movie. With this, Adam is back to square one, a lonely person all over again. All sepi again.

Eja plays Marya in the second story, the story which I think is the strongest of all three and has the best conclusion to it. Sufi, played by Tony Eusoff, just lost his beloved wife in an accident and could not let go of his sense of guilt. He runs and runs so that he can run away from reality until one day he met Marya at the park. Love at first sight, sparks everywhere, but unfortunately, Marya is already a married woman. She craves for a child but so far, God has not given the couple any yet. Marya’s husband, Zain played by Riezman Khuzaimi, sells fish and is having financial difficulties. In a moment of losing his sense, Sufi tried to buy Marya from him but later, after knowing that Marya is pregnant, Sufi got to his senses and secretly helped out the family financially. Although Marya’s heart is with Sufi, she has to stick with Zain for the good of their child and after many, many years, we see Marya in her old age, and looked for Sufi in the park where they first met but is met by Sufi’s only child who told her that Sufi has passed away. Before he died, he told him to return something to Marya, and this something is the memento of their first love. A beautiful story.

The third story is set in a college where a young, brash and confident kid, Ean played by Syed Hussein, falls at first sight for Imaan, played by Baizura Kahar. Ean is good looking and is thrilled by the strong character of Imaan who didn’t fall on her feet like other girls do. In fact, she criticized him for lacking in the sense of artistic appreciation and said that he is a horrible stage actor. Challenged, Ean begin to want to know Imaan more and to also want to learn how to act. Through a series of encounters, Ean begin to truly fall in love with Imaan and Imaan begin to have strong feelings for Ean too. However, Imaan already has a boyfriend, Khalif played by Piere Andre, for whom she can do anything for, let alone getting rid of Ean. She proceeded to ignore Ean and in times of loneliness, Ean begin to understand what love is, what loneliness is and acted it out in the stage with this understanding. Imaan went to a celebration party after the show but saw Khalif outside. Afraid that Khalif will misunderstand, she rushes out but is met with an event that will change her life forever and bring her back to reality. There is a twist at the end which I will not divulge here.

Overall, although I would prefer that the director actually leave the stories as they are instead of showing us the candy eye endings, they are pretty good stories themselves. In real life, things are not as sweet as the ending of the stories in this movie and many people have gone through days of extremely loneliness and still not being able to find their love, let alone true love. Things are a lot more complicated and the final outcome of a relationship is most often not the one that is the sweetest. This is one reason why ASHES OF TIME is so great. Like in a lyrics of one Chinese song, “If this is the best conclusion, why are you still always in my mind?”.

Sepi will be in the cinemas on the 26th of June nationwide.

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Man of Marble

Man of Marble, 1977

(Czlowiek z marmuru)

dir: Andrzej Wajda

Halfway into this movie, three things come to my mind. First is Citizen Kane. Second is Mao Tse-dong and third is Amir Muhammad. Of course many other things got my mind to work, and movies like this one is great because it sets my mind free. It let’s me ponder on history, philosophy, politics, economics, film techniques, aesthetics, all at once. And by this, I mean real history, real politics, not some imagined settings which are not only biased but totally wrong.

There are not many Polish directors that are well known. One can actually count them with one hand. Roman Polanski is Polish but I don’t consider his movies really Polish, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Andrzej Wajda, Agnieszka Holland, Krzysztof Zanussi. Anymore that one knows, one then can be considered a learned world movie buff (actually there are a couple more names that should be quite familiar to people who digs world movies). These bunch of directors made some really interesting and good movies, including Polanski. Here’s a sample:

Polanski: KNIFE IN THE WATER; THE PIANIST (non-Polish films: ROSEMARY’S BABY; CHINATOWN)

Kieslowski: THE DECALOGUE; Three Colours trilogy; NO END

Wajda: ASHES AND DIAMONDS; A GENERATION; LANDSCAPE AFTER BATTLE; MAN OF MARBLE

Holland: EUROPA, EUROPA; A WOMAN ALONE

Zanussi: YEAR OF THE QUIET SUN; CAMOUFLAGE; POSSESSION

In fact, Wajda’s new film, KATYN, actually made it to the nominee list in the recent Oscars, so one should be quite familiar with him (in fact, I was offered the acquisition of the rights to KATYN and THE DECALOGUE plus a few other Polish movies, so stay tuned to the channel).

MAN OF MARBLE is about a young lady, Agnieszka (Krystyna Janda), who is making her diploma film and picks a subject that interests her but the “authorities” would rather forget (reminds me of Amir Muhammad). Told in the CITIZEN KANE style, her subject is a person, Mateusz Birkut (Jerzy Radziwilowicz), a bricklayer who has been identified by the authorities to be used as propaganda tool to show the people the power of the labourers and the potential growth and prosperity of the nation under Stalinist rule. However, Birkut soon fell into disfavour and is then conveniently forgotten. Agnieszka is interested to know what happened to Birkut and went all out to look for witnesses and the people involved to get a true picture of this once hero. As she went further into the investigation, the authorities put an end to her work and stopped her from using the camera and films. Once steely and determined, we finally see her breaking down in the presence of her father who encouraged her to go locate where Birkut is now. Encouraged, she found his son and got to know what happened to Birkut.

This film is a study on the Polish society under Stalinist rule and how they manipulate and create icons and idols to support their political agenda. We see the same thing happening in Communist China under Mao Tse-dong as well, where a particular common citizen is chosen to be the example to the whole country. Sometimes, whole towns are made model-towns for propaganda purposes. Propaganda songs are sung everywhere (one particular song actually mentioned Malaysia, I think it is talking about Ching Peng’s struggle in Malaya – that gives an idea on what era this film is set). At the end, Wadja showed us how he reconstructed a made icon and found a man whose only objective is to be honest and work for the welfare of the people but is a sad victim of political propaganda and agenda, and then had to live a broken life which he didn’t really recover from.

Wajda is widely acknowledged as to be the forerunner of a new generation of Polish filmmakers after the second world war and shortly after Stalin’s death, made his first movie A GENERATION. The movie is a marked move away from the propagandist films made before and Wajda continued to push the boundaries further and further with his next movies such ASHES AND DIAMONDS. Together with Zanussi, they sort of started a movement called “Cinema of Moral Concern” with the expressed objective of morally examining modern Polish history and and modern Polish life.

MAN OF MARBLE is a truly fascinating film. Watch it if you can and if you are interested in history, politics, movies, you will love this film.

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Kungfu Movies

The Forbidden Kingdom, 2008

dir: Rob Minkoff

To start with, I have extremely low expectations of this movie. In fact, I have waited until yesterday to watch the movie, and I wouldn’t have gone to watch it if not for the complimentary passes. The channel did a joint promotion for this movie, due mainly to our good relationship with both the distributors, one of which is our sister company. But the main reason why I decided to do a tie up is because I know this movie will appeal to our main target audience, especially with Jet Li being so popular with this customer group, and with this tie up, it is a reward to our loyal customers. Indeed, it is true. The majority of the people in the cinema yesterday are Malays. And they really enjoyed it, as far as I can tell from the yells and the “Yes!”.

The funny thing is, I enjoyed it as well and thought quite highly of this movie. Maybe it is because of the low expectations. I find this movie an honest fan-boy tribute to kungfu movies. It is at once quite well made, with good-humoured and like-able characters, charming acting from both Jet Li (as Silent Monk and Monkey King) and Jackie Chan (as Lu Yan and Old Hop), superbly beautiful girls-with-weapons to kill (Li Bing Bing as Ni Chang and Liu Yifei as Golden Sparrow) while Michael Angarano is not bad too as Jason Tripitikas although his overly abundant chest hair can get a bit annoying.

It is quite nice to see familiar characters reappearing on screen – Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master and scene reminiscent although a bit short on the training on the horse stance, the Bride with White Hair (Ni Chang) – Wow! Li Bing Bing is soooo beautiful and charismatic – I wouldn’t mind her playing a sequel or prequel to THE BRIDE WITH WHITE HAIR, Cheng Pei Pei’s Golden Swallow – again, Liu Yifei is extremely beautiful too and same-same, I wouldn’t mind having her in a prequel/sequels/remake of COME DRINK WITH ME, the Monkey King etc. Weave all these together based on the story of the Monkey King, we have a well made fantasy-action-comedy movie.

How about the action and the fighting? The action choreography is directed by Yuen Wo Ping afterall. With Jet Li and Jackie Chan promising a duel, the action sequences should be top class, what more, with Peter Pau as the cinematographer ensuring that we see the actions well played out. The final result is that it is nothing much to shout about albeit fun to watch, and the various fighting sequences with the Tiger, Snake, Hawk methods is quite nice and reminds me of my own childhood where I was captivated and mesmerised by these Kungfu Stance and methods I took it on myself to perfect the snake stance, practicing with my dad who is a Chin Woo Martial Arts member.

All in all, this movie reminds me of the good old days where we, as kids, are captivated by kungfu movies. Watching this movie, I think to myself, “indeed it has been a long time”.

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