Archive for the ‘TITLE C’ Category



JAPAN 2009  Directed by: Tsuyoshi Shoji  Written by: Fukushima Yoshiki  Editing by: Tsuyoshi Shoji  Cast: Chika Arakawa, Kumi Imura, Rika Kawamura, Akari Ozawa, Yu Tejima, Hoshina Youhei

Now it’s not that we ever expected anything inventive from the live movie adaptations of the ONECHANBARA franchise, quite the opposite: if anything, the ONECHANBARA movie had to rock, and it was very disappointing to see the first installment fail so miserably.

ONECHANBARA: THE MOVIE was a timid, half-hearted attempt to bring the essentials of the game, namely blood, guts and heroines in skimpy outfits, to the big screen. It was unfinished business, a rushed, sloppy video-game-goes-J-splatter exercise, and surely one of the most dissatisfying genre movies of that year.

ONECHANBARA: THE MOVIE – VORTEX must therefore be considered one of the few sequels that actually correct most of the mistakes of the original film. That is even more surprising as it is a direct-to-video release. Just about everything turns out to be better though: from production value to the story, the action choreography to the dialogues, ONECHANBARA: THE MOVIE – VORTEX is far more solid, thought-out and homogenous, or simply speaking, it’s outright fun.

Nothing spoils the viewing experience (like was the case with the predecessor), but just don’t expect a new genre milestone: this is still action on a shoestring budget, but they know how to work around it this time. Take the special effects, for instance: hardly any physical “blood” is spilled, most of it is CGI, based on a conceptual post-production approach, but it has impact and gets the job done in high-paced fashion.

The bottom line: if you had to pick one of the ONECHANBARA movies, make sure you avoid the first one and skip straight to ONECHANBARA: THE MOVIE – VORTEX.







JAPAN 2010  Directed by: Tetsuya Nakashima Written by: Tetsuya Nakashima  Novel by: Kanae Minato  Produced by: Yuji Ishida, Genki Kawamura, Yoshihiro Kubota, Yutaka Suzuki  Cinematography by: Masakazu Ato, Atsushi Ozawa  Editing by: Yoshiyuki Koike  Music by: Toyohiko Kanahashi  Cast: Takako Matsu, Masaki Okada, Yoshino Kimura, Mana Ashida, Kaoru Fujiwara, Kai Inowaki, Sora Iwata, Daichi Iwata, Daichi Izumi, Karin Kato, Takuya Kusakawa, Ayaka Miyoshi, Hiroki Nakajima, Yukito Nishii, Hotaru Nomoto, Rena Nonen, Naoya Shimizu, Tsutomu Takahashi, Makiya Yamaguchi, Kasumi Yamaya, Ayuri Yoshinaga

Life’s not always butterflies and rainbows. Sometimes it’s so-so, then you die. When a teacher’s daughter drowns in the pool of a school it is ruled as an accident. But at the end of the term, and at the end of her engagement at that school, Yuko Moriguchi, the teacher (played by Takako Matsu) reveals to her class that it wasn’t an accident, but cold-blooded murder indeed, committed by underage students who are in the room now. Without naming the culprits she meticulously goes into every detail of the bloody deed and her findings, knowing that the murderers cannot be punished as they are protected by the very law that should actually put them behind bars. Finally, at the end of her revelations, it turns out that she has decided to take the law into her own hands and avenge her daughter’s death in an unorthodox, yet very efficient way. But what’s a shock for the culprits as much as for the classmates is just the beginning of a vicious game with unpredictable outcome.

Yuko Moriguchi’s confession (in one of the most memorable openings of any movie I believe) is just the first of many to follow. KOKUHAKU is structured episodically with each confession concentrating on one of the main characters. The movie finishes on a high, with a climatic ending that will definitely blow you away. KOKUHAKU is an enormously satisfying and intense viewing experience, from the first frame until the credits start rolling, not least thanks to the very sophisticated script (based on the equally sophisticated novel by Kanae Minato), a superior plot engine as well as meticulous direction, cinematography and editing.

Despite many trademark features of revenge flicks or Japanese end-of-the-world movies KOKUHAKU is more of a theological discussion on the values in life, and the worth of life itself. It also debates the state of the nation and the future of Japanese society, which could as well be a universal discourse applicable to any other place out there. Choosing the form of a psychological drama KOKUHAKU is also, or first and foremost, a nail-biting thriller, even if most of it is dialogue, not action.

The dark and sinister world of KOKUHAKU is the perfect place for broken characters and leaves little room for normality as we know (knew) it. It is not easy to identify with any of the figures, mostly we tend to agree with what Yuko is doing, but the way the script portrays the villainous characters is rich, brilliant, borderline genius. The fascination even for the most despicable person is one of the outstanding achievements of KOKUHAKU, and the way the film finds a lyrical tonality to describe evil reminds of Bret Easton Ellis. You can feel the presence of the literary source throughout.

Good and bad seem like twins in KOKUHAKU, but eventually you will realize that they actually don’t exist. The longer you search for the thin red line that divides the two, the more the movie points towards a possible conclusion, the more you come to understand that good and bad are concepts based on human belief, and they exist only as far as society replicates these values through its members day in, day out. But what happens in KOKUHAKU is that there is no one left to believe in anything, and society evaporates right in front of our eyes, because good and bad are all the same to all of them and so they cease to exist.

The same happens to the concept of revenge: it requires a specific angle to work, and that angle is very hard to find in a world without values, norms or any form of social fabric, a world, where suicide is a commodity, if not a blessing, for many. Eventually, Yuko gets her revenge, makes the murderers’ existence take a turn for the vaguely complicated and brings them down to their knees, almost – or really – lose their minds. Or so it seems. “I’m just messing with you”, those are the last words she says to one of them, and they are also the last words of the movie that’s been messing with us all along, but not without a point.

KOKUHAKU does not promote eye-for-an-eye mentality, and neither does it leave judgment to the lord or into whose jurisdiction this responsibility falls in your case. It’s essentially humanism against nihilism, with humanism winning at the end against this overwhelming urge to succumb to the same sick logic that teenager tries to seed.

Does all that change the world we live in? I am not certain. Does it make us understand why and how society can fall apart? Yes. Does it make sure that we won’t let some deranged adolescents piss all over us? Absolutely. KOKUHAKU is a battle cry: it’s the last line of defense against ignorance, stupidity and people or attitudes that are just totally fubar. I hope I did not forget to mention that KOKUHAKU is also a truly exceptional movie, in every aspect. I’m not messing with you.














VIETNAM 2009  Directed by: Le Thanh Son  Written by: Johnny Tri Nguyen  Produced by: Jimmy Pham, Thanh Truc Nguyen  Cinematography by: Dominic Pereira  Editing by: Ham Tran  Music by: Christopher Wong  Cast: Johnny Tri Nguyen, Thanh Van Ngo, Hieu Hien, Hoang Phuc Nguyen, Lam Minh Thang

Once upon a time Thailand was the rising star of martial arts cinema. Those were the days of raw energy, no-holds-barred filmmaking, stunts without wires or safety net and a good portion of disrespect towards genre conventions. But the only constant is change, and maybe it’s time for a reality check.

Looking at one of the latest productions coming out of the kingdom, BANGKOK KNOCKOUT, it becomes apparent that times are a-changing indeed: in a forum, amid all the expected and undifferentiated praise for another “martial arts masterpiece”, one member pointed out correctly that all there was to the trailer was “wirework and sped-up frames”. Even though the film does not rely on trickery alone, it is also a fact that current Thai martial arts films are not true to their origins any more. What once made Tony Jaa and co. successful has been replaced by a more commercial, “convenient” approach that can easily satisfy the masses without breaking bones and risking lives anymore. It’s the beginning of a McDonaldization of Thai action cinema: mass production of something that feels just like the real thing to the casual viewer, but really isn’t.

Now watch CLASH for a change and you will see a lot of the qualities that many Thai movies are missing nowadays, and we have missed for a while. That’s not saying that CLASH wouldn’t resort to trickery as well, but the result is substantially different: CLASH hurts and gives you little reason to believe that it’s not for real most of the time. Legibility of intricate action is not about the better choreography (arguably, CLASH features better choreographed action sequences indeed, even though they are very much inspired by the Tony Jaa school), or better technology, or the better cast, but is about attention to detail: Thai action flicks have never been especially refined, but lately they are increasingly sloppy, careless and almost solely eying a quick ROI, believing good enough is good enough.

CLASH, on the other hand, is getting almost everything right: the action is not always spectacular, but raw and realistic, the script above average with a lot of detailed, well-rounded character description and clear rationalization; then, the cast can do more than just deliver great stunts, and the editing and direction are clearly more crafted than anything Prachya Pinkaew has delivered in all those years. Add to that a significant dose of 80’s Hong Kong gangster film flair and you have a smooth genre blend that is entertaining, gripping and romantic (that goes for both, the love stories as well as the deaths). Oh, and it also has Ms. Thanh Van Ngo, something missing in most Thai actioners I believe.

Nearly a decade after ONG-BAK Thai martial arts cinema is not such a potent symbol for the success of action made in Asia anymore, as it seems too content with its own achievements and leaves innovation and honest filmmaking to others. It is with a bit of regret that I notice that Mr. Nguyen is leaving for Hollywood, dedicating his skills to X-MEN: FIRST CLASS; then again, he wouldn’t be the first one returning to Asia rather sooner than later (not that we don’t wish him good luck).

It is more likely however that we will see the ascendance of Hong Kong cinema once again, rising from the ashes; but whatever Asian cinema will be claiming or reclaiming the martial arts throne in the future, it will have to prove its dominance in other areas than just stunts and grunts, and take both its subject and its audience more seriously than most recent films from Thailand.