Thursday, March 26, 2009

Gump in India – Slumdog Millionaire

To win the “Best Picture” in Oscar, you need to show the committee some “pictures” that they are interested in, like the last emperor of an ancient oriental country tortured by some communists, or a cute little boy dumped in a pond of s**t. Really, you don’t need to be Shakespeare, cuz everybody knows what he did, -- they just want to see sth “different”, different enough to give you a little golden statue.

Basically this is just a Bollywood version of Forrest Gump, both in the story itself and the way that they told the story. A piece of sari (the traditional clothes for women of Hinduism and Islam in areas like India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, etc.) waved with Indian scenes, Indian music and Indian actors and cameos didn’t change the Caucasian face under that, esp. when we saw the scene that how an American tourist couple saved Jamal from the angry driver and poured some green notes onto him to show him the “American style”. They didn’t even trust a local leading guy, but cast a BBI (Britain-Born-Indian) teenager soap drama actor instead.

Although the story as a whole was rather pale, there were some nice scenes here and there. My personal favorites are those ones between Jamal and the police inspector. Their conversation reminds me Catch Me If You Can, and some other great police-and-criminal movies. The scenes about Salim could be made better actually, for it was such a complicated role.

Since this was a Bollywood-style movie, you can surely expect some Bollywood-style songs and dances. I have to say that the last “group dance” (which is almost a “must-have” for all Bollywood movies) was just not necessary. But other songs and music throughout the movie were quite nice, and fit for the movie itself. And after the Oscar ceremony, now everybody is familiar with the prelude of the theme song, for it was played so many times that night…

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Nice Popcorn Movie – Race to Witch Mountain

Although it’s just a quite predictable popcorn movie, Race to Witch Mountain is still quite good because it has tried its best to be as good as possible, with the routine story and not-so-strong cast. Compared to the disappointing Dragon Ball and Street Fighters, it just earned itself some applaud.

Such a “ppl on Earth helped E.T.s to go back home” story is really nothing new to Hollywood, and obviously “The Rock” is not a match for Keanu Reeves in the sense of exploiting some complicated roles. So it’s quite natural that this movie took the other route to the box office, -- visual effects.

The car racing is not new either, but the scene that Seth (Alexander Ludwig) “crashed” an SUV into parts and pieces with his E.T. body is quite refreshing. Now we have a clear understanding of what a “crumple zone” is. We shall also admire that yellow submarine, for it could still running at 140mph after being crunched by 3 SUVs! One thing pity is that the deadly race of one taxi, one train and one UFO in the tunnel (look at this combination!) was just too plain.

Another impressive scene is when all four main roles (Seth, Sara, Jack & Alex) were hand-in-hand standing in front of the UFO to “stop” the bullets. We did see that recently in Push, but here you can see how a bullet is slowly distorted and finally turns into just a small piece of metal. Again, the staff did whatever they could to polish this movie.

The writers also did a good job, esp when the big story had been set to such “old” topics like environment, government plot, etc. Quite some wise and funny lines appear here and there, making the whole movie not that boring.

But the two E.T. teenagers, Seth and Sara (AnnaSophia Robb), were nothing but “typical” teenagers. When you compare them to Dakota Fanning in Push, you will know the difference between “children actors” and “genius children actors”. Neither did I find anything exciting in The Rock (as Jack the taxi driver) or Jack’s girl Alex (Carla Gugino) – basically these two roles are just guardians of the under-aged.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

X-men in Hong Kong – Push

I just can’t understand why the publishers of Push so ignored the Asian market (esp. Chinese-speaking market) by “ignoring” the most characteristic part of this movie in any profile that they released to the Singapore media – This whole (Hollywood) movie was shot in Hong Kong! (OK, they didn’t even bother to give it a try in mainland China cinemas…)

In a nutshell, this movie is like an X-men in Hong Kong. According to the director, he selected Hong Kong because it’s like a 21st century version of Casablanca – den of criminals, just like Casablanca in that 1940’s classic, yup, Casablanca.
Well, Hong Kong government will definitely disagree with him about such a judgment, but that did not prevent them from issuing him a filming permit. Although due to the always crowded streets in Hong Kong, most scenes were shot in a “guerilla style”, i.e., using “hidden” cameras and no staff member was visible to the public and the actors did the scenes in all long takes.

And from the movie you can see the most real life to common Hong Kong ppl: old style public flat built by government, garbage on the sun-shelter, traditional market, mini soccer court on roof top, and even the water village. I really admire the courage of the Hong Kong government: they don’t mind “losing face” by allowing the film to be shot with such scenes, which is very unlikely to other Chinese-culture governments like mainland China, Taiwan and Singapore.

Dakota Fanning and Chris Evans made up an interesting pair in this movie – they seemed to be able to “trigger” each other’s potentials, both in and out of the scenes. So if there’s gonna be a sequel, pls, make them a real pair (of course, we don’t mind waiting for a couple of yrs when Dakota turns 18). Camilla Belle, a.k.a. the “girl” for Evans in the movie, looks nothing quite much more than a doll.

The story was meant to be interesting and novel, but unfortunately the writers seemed to be a bit lazy. They didn’t put enough effort in the logic parts, while simply summarized in the ending part that all those tricks and surprises were due to the “design” of Cassie (Fanning)’s mother.

The special effects were minimized to give way to traditional stunt, which they did quite a good job. I particularly like the part that Nick (Evans) and Cassie were running in a seafood market while the “shouting brothers” were using their weapon, larger than life voice, to try to kill them. The explosion of those glass tanks filmed with slow motions reminded me the classic Police Story series from Jackie Chan.

Monday, March 16, 2009


The judgment upon Dragonball: Evolution is greatly dependent on the audience’ background. To a western viewer with no idea about the original comic, or the “Wuxia” culture in China, Japan & Korea (the so-called “CJK area”), or the RPG game culture in this area, would find this movie quite interesting. But on the contrary, if you grew up with such culture like me, you would find this movie just another lousy try of “translating” the Eastern world to Western.

The story is really nothing new to any CJK ppl born after 1980’s (actually we have a special name for them, “post 80’s”), even he or she never read any single page of the original comic (which is, actually quite unlikely). There are a whole bunch of other comics, games and even novels following the same pattern: a “normal” kid, some day found out that he (yup, most likely to be a “he”) was actually very “not normal”, and got a big task to accomplish (like, save the world); so he set off for the adventure, and got some team members gradually on the way; they practiced their kongfu or chi or magic or all of them, and beat some bad guys or monsters of ghosts or all of them, bought or found or even robbed some brilliant weapons or armors or tools or all of them, and finally there would be a dual with the biggest bad guy (we have a nickname for those guys, “boss”, quite funny, huh?). OK, even if you are not a CJK kid, as long as you are a kid, or once to be a kid, that got some experience in the game world, you will know what I’m talking about.

The task of making a Dragonball movie with human actors is not like that of making a Harry Potter or LOTR movie. In the later ones, there were only books of pure words available, so using “live” landscapes and moving ppl and animals was good enough to milk the cash cow of the fans. But for Dragonball, there had been the popular comic books, TV and all other related commercials, and if you had nothing new or very impressive, you were doomed. Take the Batman series as an example: The original comic book and TV were there, so the first movie version got some new weapons for the dark knight, and the following sequels got either some new stories, or new roles, or upgraded vehicles and weapons, even the mask was designed to follow the latest fashion trend! Unfortunately, I couldn’t see such effort in this Dragonball movie. It’s more like a “recession version”: The total length of the movie is even less than 90 min!

Another big problem with this movie is very common to any Hollywood movie that trying to use some “Eastern elements”: Those “Eastern elements” are just not “Eastern” to real eastern ppl, but to Hollywood only. Like Lucy Liu is the China Doll forever to Hollywood, Jamie Chung (As Chi-Chi, a.k.a., girlfriend of the leading role, Goku) was cast to be a representative of eastern beauty, but trust me, no CJK boy will really thinks that she is prettier than most girls in his classroom. Don’t even mention Justin Chatwin as Goku – We just cannot imagine why Hollywood producers could not accept a really Asian-blooded boy (preferably CJK blood) to play this role. Although Goku was actually the reincarnation of Ozaru (literally “big monkey” in Japanese), which means he could be any race, the minds of most fans have been already set. I mean, can you imagine that we got Jackie Chan to play Spiderman?

There are also other problems with the details, such as the “Kame-Ha” looks more like Tai-Chi for old ppl, and the dragon in the final scene seems to be pregnant. Don’t wanna list them all here. The point is, is it really that hard to ask every staff of this movie to read just one volume of the original comic?

BTW there are some “hidden scenes” after the list of the cast and staff, which are the “triggers” of the sequel. I missed it, cuz the movie was so not exciting, that I just wanted to leave as soon as the first name came out on the screen.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Those Weird Guys (2) – The Good, The Bad, The Weird

Kim Ji-woon was previously considered as a horror movie director. So when he did A Bittersweet Life in a gangster style story-telling, ppl got a fresh eye on him. Then here comes this The Good, The Bad, The Weird, a tribute to those 50’s cowboy masterpieces.

The story was set to be happened in 1930’s Manchuria (the north-eastern part of China), a land of gangsters, thieves, Japanese, Independent Korean Movement, and, of course, local Chinese. When a mystic treasure map was leaked to the “market”, everyone wanna grab a piece of it. The fighting started from gun shooting in the street, all the way to heavy machine guns and canons shouting after horses and motorcycles on the Manchurian Plains. Really cowboy, right? But the movie also got some Asian style of humors, like how a whole group of Japanese cavalry men were shot down by a dead man behind a heavy machine gun. Some of the tricks can be even traced back to my long-time favorite French movie La Grande Vadrouille.

“The Weird” was actually a train robber, who happened to take the map in a “routine job”. Instantly he became the target of various gangster and military groups. On the run he appeared to be a funny guy yet with excellent shooting skills, which, at the very end, you would find out why. Song Kang-ho is a regular to international movie awards and has impressed the world with films like Joint Security Area (a.k.a. JSA), The President’s Barber, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, The Host and Secret Sunshine. He is specialized in those grass-root roles that playing big in certain circumstances. This time definitely he did a good job in his regular shoes.

“The Bad” was a cold-blood killer, who killed his own boss and grabbed the leadership of the whole gang. During the hunting for the map, he showed no mercy to anybody or anything. Lee Byung-hun is one of the “heavenly kings” in Korean TV dramas, who tried to find a bigger fame on the bigger screens. Although he got a Captain-Jack-Sparrow-like eye makeup, he didn’t seem to have the same ability as Johnny Depp to take such a complicated role.

“The Good” was a bounty hunter, who was paid by the Independent Korean Movement to find the map, and on the way he also wanna arrest The Bad and The Weird for the bounty. Pity for Jung Woo-sung is that he got only one scene to show some acting skills. In most of the time he could be replaced by any stuntman. Not a successful try for this romantic topic regular to step out of the comfort zone.

The gun shooting scenes are essential for cowboy movies, as well as this one. But some scenes just seem too incredible, like Jung blasted a guy’s head with a shot gun in one hand while doing some Tarzan swift with the other hand. But the final “triangle dual” scene was quite classic.
As a Chinese, I really dislike the dialogues in Chinese in this movie (and in most Hollywood movies and U.S. TV): I could not even understand them! On the contrary, they did quite a good job in those lines in Japanese. So can I say that the 50 yrs’ occupation by Japanese did teach them sth.?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Fatal Smile – Watchmen

Honestly, I never read the original comic, or even heard about it before the ad of this movie began to appear everywhere. The first promotion poster appeared in Singapore media (the movie magazine First) shows only a huge “smile” badge, with a drop of blood on it. Back then I know nothing about the Comedian, so the first thing came to my mind is “Murder in Carrefour”… (Employees in Carrefour here sometimes will wear that badge to show their commitment to “smiley service”.)

It was said that this comic was too complicated to be filmed. Although it was finally filmed after more than 20 yrs, the movie itself IS very complicated. From 1940’s to 1985, including so many big event in the world like WWII, Vietnam War, Nixon all the way to the Afghan crisis, plus the love affairs, mid-life crisis, friendship, etc. of the Minutemen, -- this is not an easy job for any director.

The beginning is actually pretty good: the 300 style of slow motion and hardcore fighting for the death of the Comedian, and the “flash back” of those important incidents happened from 1940 to 1985. My personal favorite is the “remake” of the “V Day Kiss”. But when the storyline spreads out, it seems that the director doesn’t want to (or dare to?) discard any detail from the comic. Too many names and stories keep popping up from ppl’s memory, so sometimes it even looks a bit messy. And the total length of the movie is, naturally, very long, -- 2 hrs 45 min according to my watch.

To prevent ppl from leaving the cinema in the middle of the movie, the director shows you some bloody or sexy or both bloody and sexy scenes almost every 15 min. Whether these scenes are really necessary, or really necessary to make them like that, is arguable to me. Anyway finally the movie got a M18 rate in Singapore.

Compare to those bloody and sexy scenes, the fighting scenes are not that cheering up. Although the previous 300 is a whole hardcore stuff, this Watchmen looks like a 1980’s Hollywood style of stunt most of the time. Come on, where are those Hong Kong guys?!

Due to the long-term lawsuit around the copyright issue, the cast had almost “traveled around” all stars of Hollywood. Finally the selection was a surprisingly B-class group. Maybe the production company wanted to save more money for the special effects? Fortunately the special effects did a pretty good job, especially the Dr. Manhattan’s “blue ray” body. The fact that the actors didn’t have the burden of fame might actually do sth good for the movie: So they could act as actors, not stars. The almost only leading actress, Silk Spectre II, was not quite exciting on the contrary, except for her sexy body.

The ending is the best part of the whole movie. A trillion-dollar question was raised: Is it correct to sacrifice millions of ppl’s lives to save billions’? If the number is just 15, 150, or even 1500, I believe that most ppl will answer “YES!” without hesitation (remember United 93?). But when this number turns to 15 millions, I don’t think that anyone can give an answer that easily. And the worst thing is, you even need to protect the “bad guy” behind the scheme, cuz if he is exposed, the whole world will be back to war again. It’s really cruel that a “good guy” has to die to keep this secret. That reminds me the old “hara-kiri” tradition in Japan: Sometimes you need to kill yourself (or let someone help you with that) to protect certain things like justice, dignity, etc. Although it seems to be a “happy ending” in the end, I don’t think anyone really feels happy when stepping out of the cinema.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


The “July 20 Plot” has actually been filmed several times. My favorite is the 1990 version of The Plan to Kill Hitler, in which the late handsome Brad Davis was playing the leading role, Count Stauffenberg. Even I only watched this movie once some 15 yrs ago, I could still recall the scene that Count Stauffenberg was practicing how to clinch the “pencil” with his three remaining fingers. I expected to see sth similar or sth even better in the latest Valkyrie. Unfortunately, Tom Cruise totally turned me down.

Maybe it was because that the leading role was played by Tom Cruise, all other actors and actress, roles, everything, just became “less important”. But the director tended to use a whole European cast to portrait the German officers and official. So you just found out that the mega-watt smile was surrounded by a group of ppl holding Emmy’s and other “theatrical” awards in both hands. Of course Tom Cruise got several awards and nominations in Oscar and Golden Globe also, but the thing is, compared to the highly competing theatre culture in Europe, Hollywood looks more like a kids’ playground.

Actually it’s quite arguable whether Count Stauffenberg was really the core of the whole plot. A wise director should try to dig sth from other roles as well. Obviously the director of Valkyrie is not wise enough, so that he put everything on Tom Cruise and expected that he could save the movie. And in the movie sth looks similar: Everyone put everything on Count Stauffenberg, expecting that he could save Germany. And since he is the ONLY hero, you could expect those exciting speech, cool movements, wise quotes, etc., all around him, only around him. Pity for all other actors and their roles – they are simply ignored.

Compared to the big picture, the director seems to put more effort in details like the German officers’ uniforms, the famous Nazi buildings, and the “broken” arm and fingers of Tom Cruise. Yet he definitely forgot the music, which should be quite essential for such a historic topic.
BTW Tom Cruise claimed that he resembles Count Stauffenberg quite much. Well, see it with your own eyes:

Monday, March 9, 2009

Those Weird Guys (1) – Match Point

I used to mistake Match Point with another movie about tennis and love, Wimbledon, and so I never really paid attention to it. What a HUGE mistake!

Woody Allen is a guy that would most likely impress you with the word “weird”. Here we saw a portrait of the English high-end life in a Pride & Prejudice style at first, followed by a piece of love and lust scenes that you would see in almost every Hollywood movie nowadays, and guess what, we were lead to the CSI lines! Everything is 99% predictable, but just that fatal 1% uncertainty caused the literally fatal result.

The ending is good for both Chris (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) and Woody. For Chris, this looks like a final compensation after he lost so many unlucky match points in the tennis court; For Woody, it successfully gives the audience a second thought about the movie after stepping out of the cinema: An obvious murder was dismissed by English police, for what? The old school English way of thinking that those high-end families are “untouchable”? The reality that right and justice are not always maintained? Or just ppl are soooo lazy? Whatever, you think about it, and one point for Woody.

I particularly like the England, or I should say, London accent of English in this movie. Compared to American, Aussie, Indian (don’t even mention Singlish), it’s elegant, it’s soft, it’s nice. And sometimes it even reminds me my nightmare in college with those “Step by Step” tapes. (For those who never need to worry about learning English as a foreign language, this is a series of listening course, and the narrators are almost all bearing heavy accent from those remote parts of England. I’m the only one among my friends who got enough patience to finish all those tapes…) And Meyers finally felt free to use his Ireland accent.

Scarlett Johansson (just found out that she got the same birthday as mine!) showed a somewhat different face here as a woman tortured to half-insane by an affair with a married man. Among a whole group of well theatre-trained English actors and actress (including Meyers), she seemed to be trying very hard to “act”. But I always think that a good actor or actress actually does not “act”, they “live” in their roles instead. Looks like Scarlett just could not fit into them, just like Nola (her role in the movie) could never fit into the English “noble” way of living.

Using operas and old songs from those old black discs is really a brilliant idea. You could never expect such things in a “normal” Hollywood blockbuster.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Dreams Come True? – The Wedding Game

Some celebrities get married. Some celebrities play getting married on the screen. Some celebrities play pretending to get married on the screen. But not every pair of celebrities play pretending married on the screen right before they get married in real life.

Fann Wong (You might remember her in Shanghai Knights, as the younger sister to Jackie Chan) and her long-time lover Christopher Lee (not that famous white guy, of course…) are the “Princess & Prince” celebrities in Singapore, hence their wedding looks like a “dreams come true” to the popular audience. So, some guys are naturally thinking about, “Why not we make some money out of this?” Then, here comes the movie, which hit local box office during the “double celebration” of Chinese New Year and Valentine’s Day. BTW, according to Chinese tradition, the 15th day of January in lunar calendar, i.e., “Yuan Xiao Festival” (literally “the festival for rice dumplings”, cuz rice dumplings are traditional food for this day), is also a day for love and dating…

You may have seen such movies in an “American Sweetheart” style, so nothing is really new here. They just added in some oriental sauces like the “kampong dancing” in a Malaysia village and the South-Eastern Asian accent English. And to make the movie “politically correct”, the leading roles got very “honorable” reasons to fake the marriage -- just hope they don’t do that in real life…

In order to raise enough money for the production in a short time (the movie was set up after they announced their engagement in mid 2008, and finished production no later than Christmas of the same year), there are a hell lot of advertisements in it, and almost all of them are local brands: from snacks, beverages, restaurants, all the way to a condominium! So you can also classify this movie to a big ad project actually.

You will find most of the fun during watching the first half, esp the part that how the celebrity couple “pretended” those sweet scenes. My personal favorites include one scene that they turned a wrestling fight into a chilly spicy hot kiss as soon as they found paparazzi outside the window. And the following lines literally made the whole cinema bursting into laughters: (roughly translated)
Gigi (a.k.a. the girl): From now on, in this house, you must keep 12 inches away from me!
Jack (a.k.a. the guy): Don’t worry, mine is only 10.5!
(OK, if you don’t get it, then so be it…)