CeeFu, Where is the Asian Film?

Hey, it’s not my fault. Ok, it’s a little my fault, but not mostly my fault. It’s Netflix’s fault! At first, I thought it was my imagination. I was doing other things and my film watching habits suffered a bit. But then when I really investigated, I found out the truth:  Netflix has not updated its Hong Kong film list! The last film is from 2009. Let’s be real: we know there’s been films released in Hong Kong since 2009! For real, and the other Asian regions are even worse!

But that’s not all. I was in the middle of watching the Shaolin series with Sammo Hung, not even in the middle, on the first disc, and Netflix informs me that the other discs are “unavailable.” Wha?

I don’t know what has happened to Netflix. Can’t get new stuff. Can’t get old stuff. It’s putting a serious crimp in my Asian movie watching. I don’t want to get all illegal with it: those people work hard to make those films. So my Asian film watching will have to be limited to my disposable income, and legal online watching venues.

But that doesn’t mean that stuff isn’t coming down the pike. Can you say Shaolin (the movie, you know with Andy Lau and Nic Tse?)? Can you say Blades of Blood? Can you say Stool Pigeon? Netflix, you will not stop MEEEEEEEEE!

Words Can’t Explain…..

You know, I’m just going to put it out there:  THE BATTLESHIP YAMATO IS BACK!!!

Depending on your entertainment predilections, this may mean nothing to you. But if you were back in the day, you know the collective squee that this news bring and I don’t have to say anything else.  Released in theaters last week in Japan, I only have one question: how long before we get it here?

Trailer for Space Battleship Yamato:

 

My Asian Film Odyssey

I get this question a lot: what’s a nice girl like you doing watching a film like this?  Meaning, how in the world did you get into Asian film?

This is what I can piece together.  I have two brothers, and as a result it was obligatory for our family to go see Bruce Lee’s Fist of Fury.  Yes, I was barely born (don’t do that math!), but I distinctly remember being in a theater watching that scene where Chen Zhen finds out about those guys who poisoned his teacher!  In addition, there was a steady stream of samurai movies and Saturday kung fu theater in my house.

Fast forward to me, child prodigy slightly older with a job and disposable income. Probably as a result of those brothers, I continue to like those “boy” movies, so of course Jet Li and Jackie Chan came across my radar, and some guy named Chow Yun Fat.  However, I kept hearing rumors that their Hong Kong stuff was infinitely better.  And to my surprise, I found such treasures in my local video rental place, and later, on Netflix.  So I started my contemporary interest in Asian film by watching every Hong Kong  Jet Li, Jackie Chan and Chow Yun Fat film I could get my hands on.  See, when you watch Bullet In The Head, you wonder why The Corruptor was ever committed to celluloid.  Watching these films then  hipped me to other actors, like Andy Lau, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Leon Lai, Ekin Cheng, Aaron Kwok, Louis Koo, Nicholas Tse, Donnie Yen (DONNIE!) Tony Leung Ka Fai, Brigette Lin, Maggie Cheung, Lau Chin Wan, Takeshi Kaneshiro, etc, and directors like Johnnie To, Andrew Lau, Peter Chan, Dante Lam, Tsui Hark, etc.

Needless to say, traid and wuxia films are in heavy rotation, but I watch other stuff too.  Not crazy about mo lau tai comedies.  Love a good drama, thriller (not scary), like Memories of Murder (that was the bomb!). Contemporary Japanese stuff like Nana (I LOVE this movie), Densha Otoko, Honey and Clover, Hana and Alice, Kamikaze Girls, Linda Linda Linda, Samurai Fiction, Old School Japanese stuff like Street Fighter, Zatoichi, etc.  And then a friend of mine asked, “Have you seen Oldboy?” And then the world changed….

That began the Korean part of my journey:  Chan Wook-Park’s vengeance trilogy taught me a recurrent lesson: the Koreans are hardcore!  But I also like the quirky stuff like Attack the Gas Station, The Quiet Family, Marrying the Mafia, etc.

Now, except for horror and crazy, supercalafragilistic violence (I parted ways with Takeshi Miike a while ago), I’ll watch pretty much anything.  I watch stuff that people consider mediocre, and while I may not always watch stuff considered important (yes, Wong Kar Wai, this is only you), I do know why it’s important and eventually make my way to it.

What would I tell people who want to get into watching Asian film?  That’s hard, I know my tastes are all over the place.  I would say start with Hong Kong film, it’s more accessible than say, the Korean movie Save the Green Planet or the Japanese movie The Taste of Tea.  Something like Infernal Affairs (since Scorcese jacked it for The Departed, it may seem familiar.  Yes, I can’t let it go), or a romantic comedy like Needing You.  If you like a particular genre, there are lots to choose from.

That’s where I’ve been.  Who knows where I’m going?

Anticipation!

It’s times like these where I want to pack it up and move to the other side of the planet.  This week sees the release of two films I want to see, as well as my discovery of a trailer of a third upcoming release!

So, who wouldn’t want a sequel to Fist of Fury, even forty-odd years after the fact? Bring on Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen!

The genius, the brilliance of this, is the pimp-slap to the impending Green Hornet movie with the mask.  I’ve been waiting for Chen Zhen to come back for years!  You know my luv for Donnie, and I’m satisfied that he’s doing the action direction, and Andrew Lau is directing.  Color me happy!

While searching for that, I had heard tell of this other movie, starring Andy Lau, Nic Tse and Wu Jing. IMDB had been keeping it under wraps, but that’s what the ‘net is for!  Bring on Shaolin!

See, that’s all you had to say: Andy Lau, Nic Tse, Benny Chan directing and Corey Yuen choreographing.  Did I mention the cameo by Jackie Chan, whom I’m being more nice to these days?  This isn’t due in theaters until January 2011, so longer anticipation!

Speaking of Andy Lau, eagerly awaiting the release of Tsui Hark’s Detective Dee and the Mysterious Flame.

That’s right, I don’t speak Chinese, but I know I’m going to see it anyway! It’s like CSI waaaaaaaaaay back in the day. In my opinion, Hark can be uneven with his work, but this is his thing!  And, I’ve long been of the opinion that anyone gets better looking in a goatee (go Andy! call me!).

So, I sit in anticipation.  Sure, they look good. All these movies may suck, but I’m no professional critic.  The only standard that counts is mine: do I like it? And I like a lot of stuff.  Then there’s the academic part: is it significant for various reasons? Again, this covers a lot of stuff. For example, last week I didn’t like The Good, The Bad and the Weird, but I think it is significant in its translation of the Western to Korean culture via a film set in Manchuria.  You know I’ll watch it regardless and report back.

Until then, me……anticipating!

Let’s Do It Again

I love a good remake.  Let me say this again: I love a GOOD remake.  I’m not down for “reimagining” somebody else’s film just because you think you can do it better (yeah, Scorsese, I’m talkin’ to you).

So I’m intrigued when hearing about some interesting Asian film remakes on the horizon.

Donnie Yen is supposed to be revising the angry young man theme in his remake of Fist of Fury. I like Donnie, so I’m looking forward to this and I’m particularly intrigued by what he plans to do with all that anti-Japanese sentiment from the original.  When Jet Li when this route, you practically forgot the Japanese were even in this movie.

Then there’s the Dragon Inn remake.  Yes, it’s supposed to star Jet Li but what I’m really interested in is who is going to reprise the roles that made me want to be Bridgette Lin and Maggie Cheung when I grow up.  Any suggestions?  Michelle Yeoh seems like an obvious choice, but I guess we’ll see.  What did Tsui Hark forget to do the first time around?  I hope this is better than his Seven Swords soiree.

But this is the most trippy of all:  the Korean version of John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow.  I found this trailer, and I don’t understand Korean, but I immediately could tell that this was A Better Tomorrow:

Now, just cause you put on a white suit and some shades and roll with a couple of guns doesn’t automatically make you Mark.  But given my penchant for Korean film, I’m willing to give it a shot. And given the tendency for Korean films to be crazy good, this may be one of those remakes I love.

Who Do You Want to Meet?: Actresses

Remember me telling you that while the actors were extremely difficult, the actresses would be easy?  Here we go……..

This barely merits deep thought:  Brigette Lin!  Booyah!

Don’t get me wrong, I like other actresses and even some of the starlets (i.e. who were those naked people in those pictures), but I will stop what I’m doing to watch Brigette Lin.  Here’s how deep it is: I will watch a Wong Kar Wai movie with Brigette Lin in it!

She just captures the screen like nobody, and nobody does the androgynous thing like Brigette. She not only makes you believe that women can be swordswomen, but they can be cool in the process.  There are just a few rules you have to remember.  Don’t lie to her (Bride with White Hair).  Don’t be a man and lie to her (Bride with White Hair 2).  Don’t mess with her musical instruments (Deadful Melody).  Keep it to the city (Dragon Inn).  Hands off her kung fu manual (Swordsman 2).

And it pains me that I have not seen Peking Opera Blues. Sniff.

She may not be the most prolific, but she is magic when she’s on the screen.

When I grow up, I want to be just…….like…….her.

Who Do You Want To Meet?: Actors

Recently, the New York Asian Film Festival announced that it would give a lifetime achievement award to, among others, Sammo Hung. I contemplated long and hard making the trek just to see the kung fu godfather, but alas, my plans would not allow.  But it got me thinking: who would I jump in a car, drive all night just to see, in the flesh?  The answers may surprise you. (This is actors; actresses and directors to follow).

First, let’s just get the biggies out the way.  If Andy Lau, either of the Tony Leungs, Anthony Wong, Louis Koo, Simon Yam, Leon Lai, Lau Ching Wan, Donnie Yen, Jet Li , Takeshi Kaneshiro, Chow Yun Fat, or Jackie Chan came knocking, I’m not going to protest.  So with the usual suspects out of the way, let’s get started.

Roy Cheung!   This man is one of the most underrated Hong Kong actor.  He takes those small parts he has, and turns them into GOLD!  The Mission? YES!  And how could I forget he was in Storm Riders (musta been blinded by the reflection off of Ekin Cheng’s hair).  The epitome of evil in one of those Young and Dangerouses (I lose count).  He’s one of my favorite people to see in a film.

Lam Suet!  Mostly because he is a chameleon, and I want to know what kind of Faustian bargain he’s made with Johnnie To to star in nearly every film he does.

Stephen Fung! He intrigues me.  While I know he has multiple careers going on, he takes on interesting roles.  I liked his character in All About Women.  He seems like an accessible guy. (Stephen, call me!)

Let’s be clear: I’m not turning down ANY opportunity to meet any of my Asian celluloid heroes, but these particular guys strike me as different.  The actors are difficult to narrow down. The actresses are remarkably easier.

So, who do you want to meet?

There Must Be Some Mistake….

This happened to me, and it may happen to you too.  I ordered this movie called The Storm Warriors, and there is clearly a mistake, because I don’t know what movie they put in my DVD case.  It vaguely looks like The Storm Warriors….it’s got the same characters from The Storm Riders, but what the heck is this?  Who let the Pang Brothers loose on this story?  Way to kill a franchise!

I suppose I should say something nice.  It is a visually interesting film, I will give it that.  Lots of the wind and flying hair we’ve come to love about Wind and Cloud. Interesting use of different techniques, especially in the battlefield scenes. But it’s dark…not dark in tone, but DARK, like you can’t see a whole lot dark.  What’s the use of action sequences when you can’t see the action?

I think my biggest complaint is with the LACK OF PLOT.  I mean, I know we are supposed to know Wind and Cloud, and I love Wind and Cloud (from Storm Riders), but I don’t care about Wind and Cloud in this film. C’mon, if you are going to jack the film (Pang Bros., I’m talkin to you), then at least give us something new.  Anyone with a modicum of film-watching experience  could have seen this coming a mile away.  Wow, Cloud is moody and Wind is sensitive.  Really?

And what is up with Heart?  You know Nicholas Tse is my boo (and you can tell him), but his character is completely wasted here. Don’t get me started on Simon Yam.

And can we please dispense with the naive female swordswoman who gets knocked down even though she’s hanging out with legendary swordsmen or is the daughter of a legend?  Please?  PLEASE!?!?!?!??!

Looking for the Next…..

Ok, so I was surfing the net, and discovered that Jackie Chan had a contest to find an “apprentice” that he would train to be the next big kung fu star in Hong Kong.  He chose one guy and some sidekicks who were runners-up I guess.  This got me to thinking about the occasional complaining and whining about  where the next Jackie Chan or Jet Li or Collin Chou or Donnie Yen or, hold your breath…Bruce Lee, is coming from. 

Let’s dispense with the obvious, yes, no one can replace Bruce.  But I’d like to talk about the legacy he left, which is the kung fu star that also has personality.  C’mon, go back and watch Way of the Dragon. I would argue that the reason why people luv Jackie and Jet is not just for their martial arts prowess, but also for their personalities.  They do both.  Remember Jet Li in Fong Sai Yuk?  He could play a character, and a comedic one at that.  Then turn around and be super-serious in Once Upon A Time in China.  Same for Jackie Chan, although more on the comedic side.  And thanks to directors like Corey Yuen and Tsui Hark for providing vehicles for them to be able to act and do crazy martial arts action.  I would say that there are lots of them out there, like the under-appreciated Vincent Zhao (who I hear is supposed to be in a Yuen Wo Ping movie soon–yay), but circumstances are preventing them from coming to the fore.  That’s just what I think, I have no evidence to support this claim. 🙂

So I would suggest that we’re not just looking for the next kung fu star, but a kung fu star with personality, that certain something that Hong Kong films used to do well, and maybe not as much of anymore.  I’m not one of those who are saying the Hong Kong film industry is irretrievably lost, but I think that it can have more of what it used to have.

Geeky Love: Densha Otoko (Train Man) (2005)

New month, new film!

See, it ‘s not all gunfights and swordplay.  This is movie for the geek in ALL of us, and one of my favorite Japanese films.  It’s about a guy, who is a geek, who saves a woman from a rude man on a train (when no one else would, you’ve been there if you’ve traveled on public transportation).  He is painfully shy, but ends up working his way into several dates with her.  He looks to an online group for help in what to do next and analyzing each of the momentous dates they have.    It’s supposedly based on a maybe true story about a guy who chronicled his own experience in a Japanese internet forum.

It’s so funny, and if you are a geek ( or have geek tendencies, or are a “former” geek, or know a geek, or have heard of geeks), you know Train Man’s experience all too well:  your tendency to talk about things nobody else knows or cares about (I know that look the lady gives him when he gets all enthusiastic about The Matrix–this happened to me at a research presentation on The Matrix just last week), your tendency to over-prepare for the simplest social events (he scouts out the restaurant for their first date and tries everything, and makes notes and takes pictures!), your tendency to get left out of other social gatherings, etc. And his online friends aren’t the most socially adept people either:  a nurse who uses her time to chat online, a teenager who never leaves his room, three guys who hang out in an internet cafe all day every day and a couple who are both in the same chat group, but they don’t know it.  

What I like about this film, (in addition to identifying in some ways with its lead), is that it gives us a different take on technology and socializing.  Most people decry the internet, texting, and email because it contributes to the further isolation of individuals, but this film shows how technology not only allows Train Man to find a community of like-minded individuals and get help, it also shows how his story then in turn motivates them to change their own lives.  You know, it doesn’t matter how unlikely the ending may be, because by that time the film has you so invested in Train Man. So, sometimes, technology can be your friend.

The Mission (1999), Dir. Johnny To

Ok, so those who know me will not be suprised that the first film in the Liang Shan Lounge is Johnny To’s The Mission.  As with most films that will wind up here, I like the film…..ok, I love the film.  I love it because it is not like other triad films.  Sure, you have hitmen hired to do a job for a gangster, some gunplay, and somebody who messes it up for everyone else.  But the film is very…..quiet.  It’s great because it assumes you’ve seen so many triad films, and it’s going to show you something different, or at least not show you what you are expecting.

I showed this film to my class, and after seeing A Better Tomorrow and Infernal Affairs, I guess they were expecting something super-spectacular.  About 20 minutes into the film, I thought they were going to riot.  You see, I told them that The Mission is probably one of my favorite Hong Kong films ever.  As I watched it with them, for a moment I wondered if I had unduly persuaded myself that this was one of my favorite films ever.  Then it happened.  That scene were Anthony Wong pays a visit to a low-life whose bothering Francis Ng so much he can’t do his bodyguarding duties correctly.  THAT is when I was like, oh yeah, this is why I like the film.  You just don’t see it coming, and if you blink, you might miss it when it happens.  Then my class understood why I liked the film so much.  Yeah, I need a hairdresser like Wong.

The Mission probably initiated my love affair with To films; I like his aesthetic.  I don’t know what Simon Yam and Suet Lam have on him, because they’ve been in practically every To film I’ve seen, but that’s ok.  I love the Mission, right down to its cheesy theme music!

Ladies………

You know, I’m tired of the people who market Asian films to solely to men.  They act like only men, especially men in the golden demographic of 18-35, matter.  I got news, people…….women watch Asian film.  And not just the fluffy romantic comedies or coming-of age, angst-ridden teen dramas.  I’m talking serious triad and revenge-laden fare.  The recommendation for me to watch Chan-Wook Park’s Oldboy came from a Korean-American woman.  So what’s up with that?  Why do women like the genres of Asian film distributors and critics alike claim as the purview of men?

Well, I can’t speak for all the ladies, but I can tell you why I love films like Johnny To’s The Mission (See the Liang Shan Lounge this month), John Woo’s heartbreaking Bullet in the Head, and the Young and Dangerous series.  I like the idea of brotherhood, that is, I get it.  It’s not just for men.  The idea that you have someone, or a group of people, who have your back.  However, in most posse dynamics, there is always somebody who has to muck it up.  What do you do?  Well, you could whack them, or the sense of loyalty could be so strong that you are willing to overlook such, um, indiscretions.  I like that tension that occurs when loyalty is one the line.  Who do you trust?  And who are you going to have to take out?  Decisions, decisions.

Of course, there are women who just like to see people get messed up in the worst way.  Me, I’m trying to cut down on the superkinetic violence found in films directed by the likes of Takashi Miike.  But women are watching them.  Be afraid, be very afraid.