October 29, 2019
Kingdom is a movie about historic China, but the strange thing is that it is a Japanese movie. They speak Japanese thoughout the movie, and all the actors are Japanese. I’m used to historical films from China so I was curious what the Japanese take will be like , and also why they would make a movie about Chinese history without mentioning Japan at all.
The story is set in the Qin dynasty, and is about two slave boys who dream of being the greatest general in the world. They spend their time swordfighting after they’ve done their chores, and eventually become quite proficient. A chance encounter causes (only) one of them to enter the royal court, but his death causes the other to go on the journey that this movie is about.
Apparently, the story is from a manga, so a lot of the fighting and rhythm of the action feels like it came out of a comic (e.g., it is not real at all). And I had a real feeling that this movie was a setup for a video game/movie series. Each of the generals and other main characters felt like they were being introduced; and each had a single, unique ultimate move. There are factions, each with different attributes, and a grand quest to set out on. I’ve never read about the “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” series, and I’ll do that later when I have more time; but I can’t help but wonder whether this is the first chapter of that.
There was a distinct non-Chinese flavour about the movie, but it was enjoyable and I want to see more in this style, within the same universe. Four out of five stars.
August 23, 2019
This was a movie I never expected to see. I had heard about how The Wandering Earth broke Chinese box office records, and was supposed to usher a new age for China sci-fi. I read about how the Chinese author toured the US and explained how a movie like this would never work in the US/be understood by a western audience. But still, I was surprised that this movie made it to the World selection in the inflight entertainment.
The Wandering Earth tells the tale of a near future where the sun will supernova in 30 years. Earth decides that the best way to save itself is to move itself (the physical planet, not the civilization) out of the solar system. That’s a ludicrous proposition if you think about it. Gravity won’t work properly for one, the Earth would freeze being so far away and well you can find a lot of thing that don’t make sense if you start thinking too hard.
The story focuses on one family, the father who works on board a space station, and the son/daughter who lives on Earth. The story is driven by the family on Earth as the planet undergoes tectonic disturbances as it approaches Jupiter’s gravimetric field. Jupiter is the main protagonist in this story as it threatens to swallow up our planet.
Through a lot of struggles, we see how the strong Chinese spirit and ingenuity prevails while all sorts of other nations turn their tails and run. There are a lot of cliched scenes that stresses family and sacrifice for the greater good. In a way, this movie is a heavy China propaganda piece, but it is also interesting to see how a China-first blockbuster would work. Great for the insight, four out of five stars.
July 20, 2019
The Leakers is the name of a group of journalists who want to expose the truth about nefarious corporations. Their first leak is the obvious-to-the-watcher news that a pharmaceutical corporation has both created an outbreak and its cure. But their attempt to actually share this information and the evidence is convoluted and ends up involving a bunch of people in both Malaysia and Hong Kong. This is like the bad guys spending too much time explaining their scheme, causing them to get caught. If the Leakers just uploaded their leak to the internet, they would have saved a movie!
In any case, an interesting set of characters show up to try and solve the puzzle. Maybe it was the couple of previous movies that I saw, but I felt this movie had potential – and I wanted to see how the players would develop. The plot didn’t give them a lot of opportunity to do that though. But at least, it was able to earn The Leakers a three out of five stars.
July 13, 2019
I watched this cantomovie because I was curious about how it would meld the old historical Chinese era with modern day HK. But apparently, the Iceman in the title referred to the first movie in the series where they “travelled” through time by being frozen solid. Luckily, the beginning of the film played a quick “Last time on Iceman” segment to get me caught up.
This movie is a snooze. The time travel mechanics didn’t make any sense, fighting wasn’t great, and used a last minute Japanese villain to be the final boss in a battle that travelled through a CGI time tunnel. I guess this should be a one star movie even though I never thought about turning it off in the middle. I guess it is “good enough” for TV.
April 23, 2019
This movie takes place at the turn of the 20th century in Hong Kong as Dr Sun Yat Sen is meeting with several important individuals from inner China to plan the uprising that overthrows the Qing dynasty. Since I don’t know my Chinese history, I will just have to assume that those are real events at the right time. The movie tells about China’s attempt to assassinate him (hence the assassins, although it’s more like an army) and a local organization of rag-tag individuals that end up being his bodyguard. In the end, the powerful and resourceful arm of the Emperor kills all the rebels, so this plays out a lot like Rogue One.
Bodyguards and Assassins is very over the top. Gratuitous blood and over embellished fighting. It kept my interest because of the how the movie portrays turn-of-the-century Hong Kong, as the East meets the West. Again, who knows whether it is accurate or not. If you expect a cliché HK movie with two-line character sketches then it is a run-of-the-mill three out of five stars movie.
February 15, 2019
Another movie that has been hanging on my “to watch on a flight” list, and survived until I actually had time to watch it; given its longevity, I thought that Bleeding Steel must be a masterpiece with a lot of views amongst flyers. I mean, it has to be good if the synopsis is that Jackie Chan fights a bunch of bionic bad guys, right?
As you can expect, it was a bit weird. It wasn’t a serious movie but whatever attempt at incorporating HK cinema humor got lost in translation somewhere. Instead, what they did bring was the B-level villains from Chinese period films into a production that was like The Adventurers – a Chinese film set in the Western world. The majority of the film takes place in Australia and the language was fluid – I didn’t keep track of how often they switched between Mandarin and English, but I did notice the accented English from the Chinese actors.
I’m not sure that this movie would play well with theatre-goers as the only thing it has going for it is Jackie Chan (and isn’t his brand of comedic Kung Fu fighting getting tiresome?) Two out of five stars for me
December 13, 2018
After watching Crazy Rich Asians, this felt like the opposite movement in film. Chinese films have been trying to break into Hollywood forever, but this movie felt like a different strategy. Instead of converting or accommodating a movie for Hollywood, The Adventurers is a film that is fluid and presents itself without explanation. The movie is set entirely in France, half of it is in English (all the “local” French people speak English instead of French) and Chinese people inexplicably are woven into the French population (winery owner, insurance agent, etc). The language goes back and forth – which is OK for me to understand, but could be disconcerting for someone who only understands one. Also, as you can expect, everyone has an accent. Andy Lau does ok, maybe he wants to follow Jackie Chan and Chow Yun Fat.
The story centers around a thief, his final heist and redemption in the eyes of his loved one. As with most Cantonese films, it’s not going to win any awards with its script (although has your typical HK humor). You watch this like a Bond film: car chases, gadgets and action sequences. It is pretty engaging until we get to the plot twist where it then makes no sense. The ending explains how it happens, but not the why – which is the big question and confusion for me when the plot twist happened.
Oh well, I enjoyed this HK cinema situated in some random place in the world. Three out of five stars.
December 11, 2018
I have been exposed to a lot of press about this movie and the underlying themes of what it represents for the Chinese dispora in North America. I don’t know if it is going to be a one-off or lead to a strong sub-culture of Chinese-American films. That’s a topic for someplace other than my blog. But I can tell you what I think about the movie without the pretense that this is a potential society-altering film.
How I see this film is that it takes a culture and brings it to a wider audience, much like the way a Marvel film might bring comics to the mainstream audience. I am versed in the Marvel universe and Chinese culture, and in Crazy Rich Asians I felt like I was beaten over the head about Asian family obligations vs American independence. I think some more subtlety or sophistication in this theme would have helped.
I also thought the film started out slow. When watching the parts with older Chinese folks, I wanted to hear it in Chinese. Also the gratuitous extravagance was grating and the comedy wasn’t funny. I thought that the movie would end up being a 2 out of 5 for me. Fortunately the movie got a lot better once they moved on to real human issues and began dealing with the relationship. That’s the kind of writing that I expect from a movie plot these days.
While cliche, the ending played out satisfying and didn’t feel cheesy. Crazy Rich Asians didn’t have to be stocked with Asian actors to be popular, it stands on its own as a decent movie. Three out of five stars.
May 10, 2018
The promise of this Chinese movie was good, lifelong gambler and escort need a big night to pay off debts. However, the story and acting are just bad. I felt like turning this off 10 mins in, but stuck with it out of laziness. There is a contrived story that explains why the pair were thrown together but that doesn’t redeem the film. One Night Only is a 1 out of 5 movie.
April 25, 2018
Another Chinese movie, but unfortunately not a Cantonese one. Coincidently though, it features 2 of the same supporting actors as the previous Cantonese one I saw. Cook Up A Storm is not a direct sequel, but I guess it is somewhat related to the God of Cookery series. Which meant, a lot of food shots and probably a bad idea to watch when the time zones are messed up and you’re on a plane where they are not serving food yet.
This movie is a little different than the usual God of Cookery series in that instead of focusing on the final competition (there still is one), it’s positioned as multiple battles between different styles. West vs East, gastronomy vs tradition, Michelin vs street, New civilization vs the village, etc. There is also the unique element of having a Korean actor play the antagonist (which is why the movie is in Mandarin). Also, there’s the concept of growing up in the shadow of their father. Man, this film just barfed out themes.
But overall, it’s a fun an entertaining film. There’s no magic and all the cooking is “real”, but boy does thinking and watching this movie make me hungry – although not in a 4 star sense. This movie is just a 3 out of 5 star.
March 1, 2018
February is usually the coldest month of the winter, and this year I thought it would be especially bad – the weather folks have been saying that this winter would be a tough one. Remember, winter started early and strong so it seemed like February would be extra rough.
Of course, it turned out February was pretty mild. Even the groundhog was fooled. About halfway through the month, the temperatures decided they had enough and fluttered around 0°C. It got even warmer towards the end of the month with highs in the teens (that’s the positive teens). I suspect that winter’s not done. We’ll probably get a snowstorm in April or May.
Chinese New Year synced up with Family Day this year so that was a weekend of busy-ness. It was actually like a mini-Christmas with all the family gatherings. We also did a lot of activities during that weekend to celebrate both Family Day and the New Year (Joyride, CNY at ROM, and Auto Show). CNY actually lasted 3 weeks with events the week before Family Day and some school stuff the week after. Earlier in the month, I had an almost-day trip to NYC for work. Aside from that, the month went by pretty quickly without any major events.
October 10, 2017
This is a giant in HK cinema which I had never watched, even though I watched the referential 2046 many years ago. I’ve heard it mentioned over and over with regards to its cinematography and after watching it, I think it lives up to its billing.
I think a comparable to this movie is The Godfather. The pacing is slow but not boring, and there are so many music and scenery shots. I can’t imagine them making a movie that can convey mood in the same way nowadays. Not only that, the dialogue is smart and complements the camera. Not everything is mentioned but the careful watcher can see the subtle hints in the story.
I also enjoyed the look at 60s Hong Kong which is near my parents’ era. Watching the film now, it doesn’t feel dated but more like a period piece.
I came with high expectations, and have probably seen Wong Kar-Wai’s influence in countless movies but was still impressed by In The Mood For Love. This deserves four out of five stars.
January 26, 2017
This is a completely fantasy Chinese movie that is half CG. That might sound a lot like Monster Hunt but I actually enjoyed this a significantly more. The reason is because League of Gods doesn’t treat itself as anything other than a vehicle for superhuman Kung Fu/Chinese movie fights.
The premise is that there is an evil & bad King who uses an oracle’s eyes to see how he will rule the world, except he sees his own ruin. A renegade faction/city also sees this and sends a young apprentice to seek out the Sword of Light that can defeat the Black Dragon King. The protagonist has some special powers, but he finds a couple of additional warrior buddies to help him complete his quest.
All sorts of battles break out, but its mostly magical and martial arts against straw men and paper swords. Once that is over with, the heroes even have to fight an enchanted troll that is similar to the one in Lord of the Rings. After all of that fighting, the heroes get the sword and some guy who looks like Jet Li (but isn’t, as he plays someone else) turns into the Golden Dragon in order to battle the Black Dragon King.
But do they defeat the Black Dragon King? Nope! Because that’s the end of the movie. I guess League of Gods is a series of movies – and its really frustrating when they only put one episode on the inflight entertainment system. Overall, this is a fun romp so it is a 3 out of 5 rating from me.
September 25, 2016
Korean Air has a small movie selection so I didn’t have a lot of things I was looking forward to watching. I read through basically all the movie descriptions and Book of Love was the 2nd best choice – that’s how bad the selection was!
Anyways, this movie is a Chinese film that tells 2 separate stories, and one meta-story. One story focuses on a addicted gambler/hostess in Macau who is in a perpetual borrow money/payback cycle and the other focuses on a real estate agent in LA trying to sell houses to overseas investors and astronaut moms. Of the two, the latter was much more interesting to me because who ever makes a movie about that?? The meta-story is that they are both single and come across a book called 84 Charing Cross which is about 2 people starting a relationship by writing letters. They start doing so and find that that is the solution to their own love problems.
I felt the meta-story was kind of weak. Until the end of the movie, it was used as a plot device to comment on each character’s love life, which occurred at the same time as their individual stories. There were too many primary stories that the watcher had to focus on and the meta-story lost since it wasn’t visualized. When the movie had time to focus on the meta-story, then it had some impact.
I felt the movie was messy because of this, but had a bunch of novel situations so I would give this a 3 out of 5 stars (but still would rather watch a summer action blockbuster instead of this one!)
August 18, 2016
I watched this movie because it is in the “God of Gamblers” franchise which I had enjoyed when I was a kid. Some quick researching seems to indicate that this is the 7th movie in the franchise (even though it has a 3 in the name). Since I wasn’t an avid follower of the series, I wouldn’t be surprised if I didn’t know or understand a lot of the backstory.
I was surprised that this movie is completely wack. It is no surprise that the gamblers have some sort of supernatural powers (i.e., they are super heroes and villains) but I was expecting something more in the vein of the swordplay in olden day Chinese films.
As an aside, on my flight to Korea, I also (re-)watched Hero. I wasn’t sure whether I had watched it completely or not even while I was watching it – some of it was familiar but I had to check after I got back and noticed that I blogged about it previously. The sword play there is unnatural and unreal but it feels like a choreographed dance between the opponents. Similarly, I expect the gamblers to channel some sort power to change cards on the table or whatnot.
Instead, the protagonists have completely crazy powers that make this movie more satirical than anything else. It’s not even a parody of action films like Austin Powers, it’s just completely made up. Maybe the plot is grounded in some sort of story if you watch the previous ones but watching this objectively is somewhat pointless.
I guess one redeeming feature is that the plot keeps moving (because who knows what crazy thing is going to happen next) so it’s not boring. However, it’s subpar even when compared to the plots of summer blockbusters. I’ll give this movie a 2 out of 5.
May 12, 2016
I ran out of movies I wanted to watch, but not out of time on my flight, so Lost in Hong Kong was the movie I decided to fill in some time. It’s actually a terrible movie in which I’m not sure whether it’s trying too hard to be funny or it’s a very poor satire. Regardless of which, it is not funny. Given that there are a lot of ridiculous scenarios and potty humor, it’s terrible when the writing don’t warrant a laugh.
While it was horrible, it wasn’t horrible enough for me to just outright turn it off – although I thought about doing it on occasion. There was a tease of possible redemption because one theme in the movie was a character taking a video of what is occurring. I thought those videos might get re-cut into a neat character redemption movie.
I was going to rate this movie a one out of five stars, but I think I’m going to upgrade it to 1.5 stars. The catharsis by the protagonist near the end of the movie saves it, but it doesn’t save it enough to make it two out of five stars (that would be a dis-service to other quite watchable two star movies).
February 5, 2016
On my outgoing AC flight to SFO, the headphone jack on my seat was broken (I think someone snapped their plug off in the jack) so I was kind of stuck in terms of what entertainment to keep me occupied (the power outlet was also broken but forunately I brought my e-reader and iPod). Since I couldn’t get any sound, I ended up watching a Chinese movie with subtitles.
Monster Hunt is a strange movie, but it was a huge hit in China. It’s a comedic period piece set in the Kung Fu days but the interesting thing is that it is a real-time mix of CG and actors (all the monsters are CG). The story is that humans defeated monsters long ago and now the monsters have to wear human skins so they don’t get caught. Of course, there is a coup in the monster world and the old dynasty’s scion is about to be born or killed. So a band of unlikely partners have to protect him while the villains try and kill him.
The movie has the usual over-the-top Kung Fu fighting, lame Chinese romance/comedy and a unlikely mom storyline. It’s definitely not going to win any awards but the CG didn’t hamper the movie and it is kind of fun to watch. I’d give it three out of five stars.