Category Archives: Movies (Highly Recommended)

Bunohan, bunohen, bunoheh

It has been quite some time since I attended a movie screening, not to mention a premiere. Going to a movie premiere is like opening a letter from someone you have just sent a love declaration letter to. You do not know what is inside the reply. The girl might have rejected you and preferred to remain friends but the girl might also say yes and how long it was that she hoped you have written to her.

Hmmm… maybe that is a little dramatic but the point is that going to a premiere is very exciting. You have heard about the movie for some time, the hype is building up, etc. and now is the time for you to see it yourself.

This was what happened to me for BUNOHAN. The marketing and PR work was superbly executed, creating a lot of hype and anticipation. After months on end anticipating, the Malaysian premiere was last night and I was lucky to be able to watch it.

Not that many people cared about what I think about the movie but since this blog is a lot about what I do and what I think and since I do write quite a bit about movies, I just want to record down my thoughts on BUNOHAN.

Poetic. Complex. These are the two words that comes to mind immediately. The surface storyline does not sound extraordinary. In fact, if summarised to just a couple of sentences, it sounds just like any normal local movies. But as in all good movies, what is extraordinary lies with the execution of the movie itself.

At its core, it tells the story of a powerful conglomerate from Kuala Lumpur who wants to acquire a piece of inherited land and the things people do to protect that land and the things people do to acquire the land, by hook or by crook. Bla bla bli bla bla bla…..Yawn…..

But that is the McGuffin, nothing more. At the end of the movie, one wonders what is right and what is wrong, what is true and what is false. As Lao Tzu said, what is beautiful is in fact ugly, what is ugly is in fact beautiful. The use of folk lore and myths, the supernatural, adds another layer to the movie in the Jungian sense. Myths and symbols, the collective unconscious.

BUNOHAN can be appreciated at many levels. At the most basic level, one enjoys the story, the fighting, the beautiful mise-en-scene. The deepest level, I don’t know what. I have not really fathom so deeply but it inspires one to think, if he or she is willing. It tells about the society, about our own inner demon, about what it means to be family, about what it means to have a tradition and such.

The acting is superb, especially so from Faizal Hussein. The tempo at mid-way through is a bit slow and the story does not develop much midway through. The curiosity surrounding the story of Adil’s parenthood can be heightened. The fighting scenes can be made more exciting.

Let’s perhaps look at this compared to Farhadi’s A SEPARATION. It is also a story of a family and their struggles. It also has a Hitchcock-like mystery. The shooting style and mise-en-scene is very different of course. The tempo in A SEPARATION is much faster. But at the end of it, it is also about confronting our inner devil, about the society that we live in and how we, as a part of this society, fit into it or fight against it and try to make some sense out of it.

But the million dollar question is will it give OMBAK RINDU a run for its money? The answer is perhaps it does not need to. Malaysia needs talented people like Dain to lift it up another notch. We need good substantial movies. Others can go ahead and make a lot of money but at the end of the day, what remains and will be remembered of a civilization is its arts and culture.

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Bombay, Hong Kong, KL – Movies Movies Movies

Ah, here is another movie related post.

So the Astro Kirana Short Film Awards is happening on the 27th Feb night. I am elated that this is happening since I was responsible in putting up the first one, from proposing it to seeing it happen. It is a very good initiative from Astro to help aspiring filmmakers by giving them a platform to exhibit their work and to give an opportunity, via Tayangan Unggul, to further their career in film making.

Next on my “To Blog” list is the Hong Kong International Film Festival. YTSL alerted me that the programme is out and I immediately checked out the programme. Oh my goodness! Just look at the list of films, especially so the tribute to the 25th anniversary of Film Workshop where such great movies like SHANGHAI BLUES, PEKING OPERA BLUES, ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA, SWORDSMAN etc. are featured.

Also, look at the other programming, the tributes to Bergman, Antinioni etc. and the variety of films by new talents. It is an amazing festival, and needless to say, our Yasmin Ahmad’s TALENTIME will also be shown, despite the fact that the film is not yet shown in Malaysian cinemas, a huge shame.

I have written about SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE and since it really won so many awards at the Oscars, this film became ever more hot. However, I still do maintain my position that this film feels “fake” to me, despite the fact that I do like this movie in general. I have compared it with Mira Nair’s SALAAM BOMBAY! and I maintain that SALAAM BOMBAY! is a far superior movie.

SALAAM BOMBAY!, which is in my top 100 movies of all time (item number 10 in the top 100 movies list), is about a child that has to go through the difficult life in Bombay in order to make Rs500 so that he can go home to his village and see his family. In his quest to save the Rs500, he works as a tea delivery boy, amongst others, and met many other kids around the block. With them, he encountered prostitution, drugs, deceits and lies. He also found friendship and some happiness along the way.

The way SALAAM BOMBAY! is told is so much more solid in that one can really feel for the children and from the little things they do to each other (for example when the little girl gave the hard-earned money after a hard day’s work to the boy because she knows that he needs it) and the occasional joy such as the dancing sequence to the scene where the little girl pretends to talk to the boy over the phone up to the final scene there the little boy sat on the pavement alone, missing his home, his family and friends and while playing with his top (gasing), started crying. We FEEL every moment of it. What a heart wrenching movie this is!!

For those who has not seen SALAAM BOMBAY!, I will say forget SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE and watch SALAAM BOMBAY! instead.

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Real Movie on Love and Loneliness

Can’t help it but wants to share it here. A scene from ASHES OF TIME. Can’t wait to watch the Redux!

********

Muyong Yin (played by Brigitte Lin): Who are you anyway?

Ouyang Feng (played by Leslie Cheung): Don’t you remember me?

Yin turns around and looked at Feng, mistaken him for her “lover”.

Yin: You once promised to marry me. Of course I remember you.

Feng: Did I really say that?

Yin: You passed by Gusu City the other day. We drank together under the peach tree. You touched my face…. And said you’d marry my sister if I had one. You know I am a woman in disguise. Why did you still say that?

Feng: A man can’t be serious when he is drunk.

Yin: Because of your promise, I’ve been waiting for you until today. I once asked you to take me with you…. But you refused. You said you cannot love two persons at the same time. Surely you love Yin! Why did you fall in love with another woman? Do you know I went to look for that woman? Because someone said that you love her most. I had wanted to kill her. But I didn’t in the end. Because I didn’t want to prove that she is the one you most love.

Yin: I once asked myself… whether I am the woman you love most… but now I don’t want to know the answer anymore. If ever I ask you the same question..… please don’t tell me the truth! No matter how unwilling it is for you to say it, please don’t tell me that the person you love most is not me!

********
Superb soundtrack. Superb cinematography. Superb acting from Brigitte.

“Ouyang Feng: I once heard someone say, if you have to lose something, the best way to keep it is to keep it in your memory.”

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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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Polish Films

Talking about Andrzej Wajda, it reminds me of an incident which is very funny and which I still remember to this day. In fact, this is one of the many, many incidences like this which truly brightens up my day. We have this so-called, often self-appointed and self-projected illusion, movie expert in the company and this person needs to be seen as knowing everything about movies, especially in front of the bosses. We were having dinner, with the boss of course, and a movie came up in the conversation when we were talking about movie censorship in Malaysia. The movie is PROMISED LAND and apparently it was banned in Malaysia. When the boss asks which movie is that, the person, who obviously doesn’t know about the movie, struggles and spoke some crap and I came in and ask if it is Andrzej Wajda’s THE PROMISED LAND. This person, in the trademark move, blinks the eyes continuously and said yes yes, it is Andrzej Wajda’s movie (pronouncing Wajda’s name exactly the same way I pronounced which amused me big time).

There are many moments that happened in the course of my work here with this person and whenever I caught that person bullshitting (which is a lot of times and characterised by an incessant blinking of the eyes and/or looking at other people around the table for rescue, and then giggle then change topic) I find myself laughing loud inside and definitely made my day.

So with this, here’s some notes on Wajda’s MAN OF MARBLE, a very remarkable film.

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 Chin 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, one of the films from the “cinema of moral concern” movement, 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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Attack Station

Attack the Gas Station!, 1999

(Juyuso seubgyuksageun)

dir: Kim Sang-Jin

The Korean New Cinema begins with movies like this one. They are unconventional, edgy and stimulating. Box Office takings soar, film exports increased and artistes get recognition at international festivals. As time goes by, Korean movies became more and more formulaic and thus getting more and more boring and unimaginative. The production quality has improved, no doubts, but the creative quality has gone down a mile.

The year 1999 is an important year for Korean cinema. It is the year where Koreans flock the cinemas and kick started the revival of the Korean movie box office hit phenomena. The movie that led this was SHIRI which eventually beat TITANIC at the box office but that same year also saw the release of TELL ME SOMETHING and ATTACK OF THE GAS STATION! The year also marked the release of critically acclaimed movies such as NOWHERE TO HIDE and MEMENTO MORI.

ATTACK THE GAS STATION! is a black comedy and is set in the course of one night, like Johnnie To’s PTU. It also reminds one of movies like Guy Ritchie’s LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS. Four friends, each with their own dark history, got bored and decided to rob a gas station. They have actually robbed the station the night before but since they are so bored, they decided to do it again. However, the station’s boss is smarter this time and hid the cash.

Seeing that there is not much money in the till, they put the boss and his teenage employees captive and run the station themselves under the direction of their leader (played by Lee Sung-Jae). Clumsy as they are since they do not know how to pump gas, they manage to get some cash out of the station’s customers, and in the course of doing so, also kidnapped customers that annoys them.

The situation becomes more chaotic when local gangs are involved and the four guys, who are all excellent fighters, made captive of these gangsters. By now, you will imagine what it is like in the room where all these people are held captive, the station employees, the arrogant customers and local gangsters, one of whom has a grudge against one of the station employees. It is quite a spectacle to see the shift in power among the captives which is at once comical but is so true to human behaviour.

Then the four guys decided to order Chinese food and got the delivery boy involved in the chaos. The delivery boy felt that he was insulted and gathered his big gang of delivery boys to teach them a lesson. Here, we see the role of the “lower” income group/blue collar workers in affecting the politics of the country, that is if you wish to see this as a metaphor and commentary on the state of the Korean society.

The final scene is a huge ensemble of gangsters, delivery boys as well as cops and the standoff is comical. Of course, the four guys got away and the incident was then forgotten but the movie sticks in my mind. The shooting style and look and feel is edgy, one cannot but see the decay of youth and the rise of the lower income class and all these within a movie that many will consider comedy. Movies like this one makes my heart pump faster and leaves me feeling refreshed. They make me love the movies more. It is very satisfying.

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Seventeen Years

Seventeen Years, 1999

(Guo Nian Hui Jia)

dir: Zhang Yuan

It is always easy to want to read a movie and this is even more tempting if the movie is from a country that imposes stringent censorship laws and thus a lot of “messages” cannot be explicitly shown on the screen. Zhang Yuan is widely considered as the fore-runner of the new Chinese Underground movie-makers with his first docu-movie MAMA in 1992 and followed that up with the provocative BEIJING BASTARDS the next year. Together with Jia Zhangke, Lou Ye and Wang Xiaoshuai, they are now widely regarded as the pillars of China’s 6th Generation filmmakers.

However, watching SEVENTEEN YEARS is a different experience compared to watching BEIJING BASTARDS. In fact, EAST PALACE WEST PALACE is already different as the movie feels more formal and better produced, marking an end to extreme low budget production.

His latest movie, LITTLE RED FLOWERS, is similarly well produced and actually had its theatrical run in Kuala Lumpur but I doubt many have actually gone to watch it, due a lot to the lack of publicity as well as support from the media and movie reviewers. It is easy to read a lot of things from this very simple movie as well but I will leave my commentary of this movie for another post focusing on just that movie.

SEVENTEEN YEARS is about a person who has lost 17 years of her prime age in prison, from being a teenager and then released from jail in her thirties. These precious years are lost just for the sake of 5 Yuan. It happens in a family where the parents are both from a divorced family and brings to their new marriage a daughter from the previous marriage. We are then shown that both parents love their own daughter more than the other and to add to the tension, both sisters are not really in good terms with each other.

The daddy’s girl (Yu Xiaoqin played by Li Yun) studies hard and looks very decent while the mummy’s girl (Tao Lin played by Liu Lin) is brash and tomboyish and wishes to work in a factory. However, an unfortunate incident involving 5 yuan (about RM2.50) puts Tao Lin in jail for apparently killing Yu Xiaoqin and after 17 years, she is allowed to return to her family for a short holiday to celebrate Chinese New Year. The film reaches this point fairly quickly but the best part of the film is what follows.

A young and good hearted prison captain brings Tao Lin home as after so many years in jail, she has no idea how things worked. Her parents have been informed but they didn’t turn up to pick her from the station. So the captain took pains to locate the parents as all the old Hutongs have been demolished to give way to modern development.

The new dwelling was finally found but the young captain was made to witness a family drama so intense, it shocked her. Can the step father forgive her? Can she forgive herself? Did she steal the 5 yuan? What actually happened?

We the audience are treated to something rare in cinema, the portrayal of human emotion so intense, the players don’t have to act so as to act. The acting is so believable, so un-bombastic (give this to any Hollywood actors/actresses and I guarantee they will blow it by making the characters look so emotionally bombastic!), it strikes a chord in our heart and we feel the characters.

For me, this is one of the best movies that has come out of China, such a little film but so emotionally powerful. Well executed, well directed, well scripted. Neat! For me, this is cinema as perfect as can be.

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