Posts Tagged ‘chinese movie reviews’

AFTERSHOCKS a.k.a. AFTERSHOCK [TANGSHAN DADIZHEN | 唐山大地震]

2010/08/26

http://www.mediaasia.com/aftershock

CHINA 2010  Directed by: Xiaogang Feng Book: Zhang Ling Written by: Su Xiaowei Production: Hua Yi Bros.  Cinematography by: Yue Lu  Editing by: Xiao Yang  Music: Li-Guang Wang  Cast: Zhang Jingchu, Daoming Chen, Yi Lu, Jin Chen, Fan Xu, Chen Li, Zi-Feng Zhang, Ziwen Wang, Lixin Yang, Li-Li Liu, Mei Yong, Tie-Dan, Guoqiang Zhang, Zhong Lu

How do you dramatize a disaster that has actually happened? It probably depends on how interested you actually are. How much you care.

AFTERSHOCKS is honest cinema that has little to do with special effects orgies. The film instead chooses to deal with the decisions a catastrophe like the earthquake of Tangshan forces upon people, and how this incident affects everyone’s life in the long run. AFTERSHOCKS spends very little time on the earthquake itself, and why would it: it happened, and it is non-negotiable. There’s little that needs to be dramatized, or stylized for that matter (although the moment of the quake certainly leaves an impression). A dialogue later on reveals a crucial point: you don’t need to run from a small earthquake as no damage will be done, and you also don’t need to run from a very serious quake as you can’t escape anyway.

AFTERSHOCKS has understood that very well and consequently avoids any of the familiar disaster film clichés. What’s more important for the movie are the scars the quake leaves on people, the impact it has on their lives. The English title AFTERSHOCKS is very befitting, because life after the earthquake is no longer like life before. The disaster is hour zero, and everything after that is a very long aftershock that rocks the foundation of people’s very existence. For decades, smaller and larger shock waves will bring back not-so-fond memories and raise uncomfortable questions. Tangshan knows.

AFTERSHOCKS tries to fathom how the earthquake distorts reality, how it makes a family drift as the father dies, the mother is made to choose which of their two kids to save and the daughter who is believed to be dead is separated from the family for decades and grows up with step parents. It may only be one story of many, but like so often, if told well it can represent the story of them all.

AFTERSHOCKS succeeds in telling its story without complication or tricks, it speaks to us, personally involves us in the suffering we see. AFTERSHOCKS presses all the right buttons (not to say that was its objective): sometimes it observes, but is also very cinematic, sometimes it’s dramatic, but also authentic. AFTERSHOCKS respects the characters and their story at all times (a rarely seen integrity), but it nevertheless manages not to bore the audience (I wouldn’t want to call it „manages to entertain”). On the contrary, with increasing running time you’ll forget the time.

The ending may seem like a frequently seen happy end, but it is consistent and perhaps a necessity. After all that we have witnessed and gone through for more than two hours, any other denouement would be intolerable. And the way AFTERSHOCKS unwinds the threads isn’t fatuous by any means, but in fact perfectly rounds off the film.

Talking about perfection: many years ago we admired the aestheticism of Zhang Yimou, while today China’s far away from its heyday as a film nation. It is noteworthy however that AFTERSHOCKS is an extraordinarily sophisticated, detailed, precise and simply impressive film, a film so elegant and beautiful that most of what comes from Hong Kong (and elsewhere) fades in comparison.

AFTERSHOCKS is one of the most important Chinese films of the year, and I can only hope that more producers and directors will abandon political propaganda or purely commercial interests in the future and instead tell touching, relevant stories that have the power to move and deeply affect audiences far beyond the borders of the People’s Republic, just like AFTERSHOCKS does.

J.

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AU REVOIR TAIPEI [YI YE TAI BEI | 一页台北]

2010/07/12

http://www.facebook.com/pagetaipei

USA / TAIWAN 2010  Directed & Written by: Arvin Chen Produced by: Wim Wenders, In-Ah Lee, Wei-Jan Liu, Oi Leng Lui  Cinematography: Michael Fimognari  Editing: Justin Guerrieri Cast: Jack Yao, Amber Kuo, Hsiao-Chuan Chang, Ko Yu-Len

AU REVOIR TAIPEI takes place over the course of a single evening in Taipei: Kai, whose girlfriend has left for Paris dumps him over the phone. Hoping to be able to visit her he had spent most of his nights at a bookstore studying French, which now comes in handy as he plans to fly to Europe and get her back. It happens that a local mafia boss offers him a job in return for a plane ticket – taking a mysterious package with him to Paris –, and so a series of events is set in motion during which Kai and a friend of his are getting in the middle of a double-crossing game between the nephew of the mobster and the mafia boss himself, while at the same time Kai and Susie, who is a staff at the bookstore, are being chased by a local detective who believes they are involved in an international criminal operation. At the end of the night everyone’s life will take a new direction.

AU REVOIR TAIPEI follows a familiar concept, but it has its own charm: unpretentious instead of overly intellectual, Arvin Chen’s debut feature captures the tristesse of Taipei and puts it into stark contrast to the dreams and aspirations of Taiwan’s youth. From Kai who works in his parents’ noodle shop to his friend doing night shifts at the convenience store or Susie who finds her inspirations at the bookstore, everyone’s in pursuit of happiness but isn’t sure where exactly to find it.

As much as I like AU REVOIR TAIPEI and find it unassuming, there also can be no doubt that it is CHUNGKING EXPRESS light. Moreover it is at least a 3rd generation copy as in between 1994 and today there have been numerous attempts to ride the wave Wong-Kar Wai had started back then. Thing is, that some of the better films like LOVE IS NOT A GAME, BUT A JOKE (1997) have simply more personality and a better cast, let alone more inventive script.

AU REVOIR TAIPEI never really explores the human complexity: neither does it show the characters’ multiple facets, nor does any of what happens have a real impact on the protagonists, leading to a change of mind or a process of self-reflection (we witness the beginning of that at best). It’s all just really “nice” and harmless; there are no archetypes that function as a mirror for the audience, only guys and girls with their own problems.

While AU REVOIR TAIPEI is likable entertainment it ranks very low on the relevancy scale: it’s a far cry from the original and Taiwan’s more reputable films alike. Sandwiched between the genuine and the masterful, it is a vintage too young to make a lasting impression.

J.