Archive for the ‘K YEAR OF PRODUCTION 2009’ Category

HIGANJIMA [PIANDO | 彼岸島 | 피안도]


JAPAN / KOREA 2009  Directed by: Kim Tae-Gyun Manga: Koji Matsumoto Written by: Tetsuya Oishi  Cinematography: Shinji Kugimiya  Editing: Hiroaki Morishita  Music: Hiroyuki Sawano Cast: Hideo Ishiguro, Dai Watanabe, Miori Takimoto, Asami Mizukawa, Koji Yamamoto, Fumito Moriwaki, Osamu Adachi, Tomohisa Yuge, Takahiro Tsutsumi

Akira’s brother Atsushi has vanished from the face of the earth about two years ago, leaving the family in despair. While the father has become a drunk gambling away Akira’s tuition fees Akira himself is trying his best to stay on a path of righteousness, not yet giving up hope that one day he will find his lost brother. One day though he meets a mysterious woman who appears to know a lot about him. She claims that she’s interested in him, and they end up in a love hotel, but nothing happens. Later he sees her again while walking around downtown with his friends, involved in what looks like a strange deal with even stranger men. Akira and his schoolmates decide to follow the woman, and soon they wish they hadn’t as they witness a vampire killing his victim right in the middle of modern-day Japan. When their cover is blown the vampire goes for Akira et al, luckily mystery girl comes to their rescue killing the bloodsucker at the end of a ferocious fight.

But it’s far from over: Akira learns that the woman is from an unknown island not shown in any map. One day a vampire started to kill everyone until all inhabitants were turned into vampires themselves. Running out of blood the vampires tried to lure more humans to the island, and mystery girl was one of their agents. Claiming she went rogue, the woman convinces Akira and the others to follow her to the island to fight the vampires. Her best argument: Atsushi is still alive, living on the island battling the vampire army all on his own. Akira and his friends decide to take a risk and travel to eerie Higanjima to find Atsushi and bring him back to his family.

Boy, had I been looking forward to HIGANJIMA. The kingkongesque scenario looked very exciting on paper, literally: Koji Matsumoto’s manga is playful but also dark and cynical, with his young heroes encountering samurai vampires on the godforsaken island, fighting for survival BATTLE ROYALE style and facing tremendous sacrifice in the wake of looming death. As so often the heroes are adolescent but they encounter a tough and rough fate that makes them grow up quickly. What is also important is the subtext of friendship, sacrifice, coming-of-age, consumerism and the value of humanity.

The main problem when adopting a manga for the big screen is that what looks good in black-and-white sketches doesn’t necessarily translate easily into color, real people and real locations. Also, dialogue that looks fine in written form may just sound less interesting when spoken by (semi-talented) actors. HIGANJIMA the movie obviously faces quite a lot of various issues.

The violent beginning promises a no-holds-barred, slice-and-dice-’em actionfest, and with the group of friends setting sail towards the island we get even more excited. So far, the story works, the characters work (most of all Akira and the girl), the action works, the mystery works (even if you’ve read the manga), so I thought I’m in for a hell of a ride.

What happens however is that gradually, or rather quickly, the movie turns into a teenage vampire flick with rapidly decreasing production value. As soon as the Uber-Vampire shows up it goes downhill, because the chief vampire is the chief problem: the character isn’t charismatic, or cool, or ever feels like a real threat (just like all the other vampires), instead he’s just a kid, a clown in a cheap costume (his look reminding me somewhat of Polanski’s THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS). The actor fails completely to create a villain that we can hate and fall in love with at the same time. Hardly ever was a movie further away from the truth that villains should be equally or even more charismatic than the good guys. You wonder why, without any further ado, they don’t just kick his sorry ass off the island.

Furthermore does the make-up department deliver one of the most horrible jobs in vampire film history: it’s really just white make-up they apply to all vampire-actors, which makes them look like, well, actors that act like vampires. It really feels like watching a Halloween party and not a feature film. On top of that the “blood” is too bright red (the little “real” blood they are using); I remember Tom Savini having serious issues with the color of the blood he used for DAWN OF THE DEAD. Kim should have learned from his insights. Last but not least the CGI effects that are almost exclusively used in all action sequences (despite HIGANJIMA being shot in a bloody forest where you could have spilled all the red juice you wanted) are repetitive and feel increasingly harmless.

Aesthetically and in terms of visualizing the action we’ve seen better elsewhere, but what can you expect from the DOP of MEAT BALL MACHINE and Kim whose only remarkable entry to his CV is VOLCANO HIGH? This is not saying that HIGANJIMA isn’t entertaining, but it lacks sophistication as well as determination. After the presswork hailing HIGANJIMA as manga-movie-milestone the actual product over-promises and under-delivers. Generously borrowing from Tsutsumi’s SAIREN, Kitamura’s VERSUS and BATTLE ROYALE it never matches its sources of inspiration, remaining a low-budget attempt to get away with a good story as main attraction.

Obviously this is not enough to make for an outstanding movie, but if average entertainment with a few above-average moments does the trick for you, just give it a try. It won’t hurt, as HIGANJIMA doesn’t bite.




Hong Kong / France / Ireland 2009   Directed & Written by: Tran Anh Hung Produced by: Fernando Sulichin, Jean Cazes, Jean-Pierre Marois  Cinematography by: Juan Ruiz Anchia  Editing: Mario Battistel   Music: Gustavo Santaolalla, Radiohead Cast: Josh Hartnett, Elias Koteas, Lee Byung-Hun, Takuya Kimura, Shawn Yue, Tran Nu Yen Khe, Sam Lee

Also for his latest work Tran Anh Hung sticks to his formula and delivers another exercise in style over substance filmmaking. If you know his earlier works you’ll be surprised though that I COME WITH THE RAIN features a more solid storyline, reshuffled via editing into non-linear order: ex-cop Kline (Josh Hartnett) is hired by the head of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical company to find his son Shitao. Shitao was last seen somewhere in the Filipino jungle raising money for an orphanage. Once Kline arrives to investigate it turns out that Shitao obviously has been shot while asking or donations. However, soon after that someone reports him showing up in Hong Kong, and as Kline follows his trail the story gets more and more mysterious, if not delirious.

From its weird opening I COME WITH THE RAIN makes it instantly clear that this is art house terrain and we better leave the popcorn at home: I COME WITH THE RAIN can only be considered entertaining if you enjoy the bizarre and obscure and indulge in extreme violence as well as extreme vagueness. As I said before the movie features what I consider Tran Anh Hung’s probably most conventional storyline – by his standards that is. Of course the story unfolds in a non-conventional manner thanks to editing, but once the movie’s over we can put all the pieces together easily.

The problem is that even then it seems several pieces are missing, but very typically for Tran Anh Hung he intends to leave many things unspoken: the audience will have to decide how far they are willing to follow his train of thought and how capable they are to follow it in the first place. Of course we all appreciate movies that leave room for imagination and reflection, and I COME WITH THE RAIN leaves plenty of room. Some of the relationships between characters are hard to grasp though and ultimately you will have to buy the main plot point as otherwise you’ll be utterly disappointed. Also, you’ll have to accept that there is no conventional ending or satisfying explanation waiting for you. Without giving too much away it must be noted that I COME WITH THE RAIN is not what it seems to be, but beyond its serial killer crime drama surface it essentially is a film about pain and healing, about belief and religion, about the scars life leaves on all of us.

I reckon that style still dominates substance in I COME WITH THE RAIN – it’s another visual delicacy from the master. The movie is very watchable for its aesthetics alone, with carefully selected frames, strong colors, sensual lighting and enthralling moments of love and death. On the other hand some scenes are so over the top that acting becomes overacting and instead of holding our breaths we begin to laugh out loud. It happened to me a few times throughout the film that I couldn’t take it seriously anymore. That doesn’t mean that the movie fails, but it’s a rocky road at times and you’ll have to turn a blind eye here and there.

I find it hard to make up my mind about I COME WITH THE RAIN. How can I complain about its gorgeous visuals, original story and great cast (by the way, Josh Hartnett is the better Collin Farrell) in view of so much lackluster productions coming to cinemas every year? How can I complain about Tran Anh Hung taking things to the limit and beyond in view of movies becoming more and more indistinguishable? On the other hand I COME WITH THE RAIN doesn’t really go anywhere and the essential points of the storyline elicit no more than a “so what”? There’s no conclusion in it for us, nothing much to learn, nothing that changes our perspective of things.

Having said that maybe it is true that beauty is only skin-deep after all. I COME WITH THE RAIN is a film by Tran Anh Hung for Tran Anh Hung. I don’t see that it has been created with an audience in mind. So I COME WITH THE RAIN is true art: highly imaginative, symbolic, perfectly crafted and utmost exciting, minus a purpose.




After the death of their mother one of two sisters disappears. The older one sets out to find her younger sister and arrives at a rest stop in Namkang where she meets various people who all seem to be searching something they have lost…

The mysterious drama is written and directed by Kim Jeong, the cast includes yang Eun-Yong, Kong Ye-Ji, Lee Ho-Young, Choi Hee-Jin, Kim tae-Hun and Mun Ha-In. Premiere was at the Pusan International Festival 2009, theatrical release is expected for early May.