Thursday, November 29, 2007

Invisible Waves

Love hurts.

Invisible Waves
Director Pen-Ek Ratanaruang
Stars Tadanobu Asano (Café Lumiere) / Kang Hye-Jeong (Welcome to Dongmagkol)
Ken Mitsuishi(The Vanished)

Grow up among nuns and you get real cozy with both the notion and throb of guilt, wear it like a scar that recedes but never really fades. It’s like a bitch monkey on your back, up there with regret, and often the same thing, for the vehemence of its nag and its bite - - - and man, can it bite. So you get how the blood on Tadanobu Asano's chef's hands is actually making him physically sick. You also get how his milieu's suddenly irradiated with bulletins of his sin - - -a decrepit hotel room in Phuket with graffiti that reads redrum, for instance. You get it mostly because he's your quintessential noir fall guy - - - works for a gangster, bangs the boss's wife, feeds her a spoonful of poison under orders, goes on the lam, gets shot to death, comes back to life, takes revenge - - - and we've seen remorse manifest itself as anxiety, paranoia and stomach disorder many times in many noirs. But this is only half the quintessential noir you think it is, perhaps even less, and those echoes of the noir piece it most closely hews to - - - John Boorman's great Point Blank - - - bouncing off the walls are only just echoes, and what Pen-Ek really siphons off to make weird green soup with is its ambiguous shadow instead- - - that Lee Marvin's resurrected hitman could be a ghost. Title alone's fat with metaphor- - -rebirth, purification, cleansing - - -and this isn't so much Pen-Ek headtripping on the vagaries of guilt but more on the currencies of atonement. Because guilt with no out is nihilistic and pointless. Grow up among nuns and you get real cozy with that, too. You can see the shape its arc wants to be - - - a sort of karmic coming to grace. And Christopher Doyle's palette isn't so much bleak as it is an opaque remove - - - everybody here's from someplace else, adrift and seeking anchor points, talking in a stunted English that evokes their unmooring. That entire first half on the cruise ship he escapes on with its malfunctioning cabins, bloodstained fishtank full of baby sharks, childhood friends he doesn't remember and repentant barkeep who's a ringer for his Dad going sensei on repentance has such a rich, purgatorial charge, you wish it never disembarked for the lukewarm second half that brings everything full circle back to Hong Kong, a cleavage it doesn't make it out of whole. Guilt is not a cul-de-sac and there's ecstasy in the promise of transcendence alone. But the impertinent, overlong confrontation with the double-crossing boss sucks the fatalistic conclusion of whatever measure of epiphany it might have shivered with, leaving nothing but metaphysical void. Withdrawal like that can sap you into a stupor. * * *

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Total Bangkok

Pen-Ek does shoe ads.

Home Pro

Pen-Ek does bathroom fixture ads.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Mad Detective

Around here, Johnnie To directing Lau Ching Wan again has all the bang to wet panties as Martin Scorsese directing Robert DeNiro again, John Woo directing Chow Yun Fat again, Seijun Suzuki directing Joe Shishido again.

Mad Detective
, then. Directed by Johnnie To. Starring Lau Ching Wan.

Coming soon to soil geek underwear planetwide.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Eye In The Sky

Simon Yam and Tony Leung in versus mode. If it looks like this is built on classic Milkyway chassis, that's because Johnnie To has his producing mitts all over it. His longtime scripter Yau Nai Hoi pops his directing cherry, threatens to be the next Derek Yee. Let's hope so.

Kantoku Banzai

Loopier than Takeshis from the looks of it. Funner, too. Big on the serene brutality of his noirs- - -Sonatine, Hana-Bi , Brother - - - as I am, I could live with Takeshi taking this phase of his a few more movies down the line. Has its own weird voltage,give it that. Funny, too. And the world needs a new Kitano movie as often as he can make 'em. Does wonders for the environment.

End hero worship. Cue trailer.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Sakebi (Retribution)

Hideo Nakata’s got game but not even he can touch Kiyoshi Kurosawa as J-horror overlord. Visual intelligence alone gives Kiyoshi dibs. And the way his movies - - - Kairo, Cure, Charisma- - -get under your skin and stay there until it grows cultures of unease. I give. I've been stealing from him wholesale, and shoplifting bits from Nakata as well, over the last month doing this scriptwriting gig. He's been out of the horror loop for a bit. Sakebi is his comeback. Goody.

Sunday, July 01, 2007


As ghost milieus go, haunted hospitals have mileage. Spiffy come-on for something possibly classic . . .or possibly a pile of dog poo. Director's a newbie who's done time with Park Chan Wook so we can worry less. Let's just hope those hair strands near the end are just design elements.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Tonari No Totoro

Yummy fur.

Tonari No Totoro
Directed by : Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away)

The whimsy's there if that's your thing and there are days this is like a down blanket for me, something to keep warm in - - -that bus stop vignette and my wanting to play it over and over again as if looping would somehow enable me to cross over, there's no way you can break that down to a science, no way to peg why it works in the way it does, no way to do it again, not even Miyazaki himself tried. Could be the wet, shimmery palette's what makes it - - -and the whole piece ,really - - - so immersive, a kind of hush. Also the absence of anything going on in the usual sense of anything going on - - -two sisters billeted in a country house, their mother in a hospital and oh, next door lives a family of snuggly tree spirits that help them plant a tree, take them on a bus ride and later flying through the night. It's ambient, almost. The magic circle aura holds until you get the sense that the supernatural never overwhelms the natural, that there's a certainty to the creeping uncertainty in its peripheries- - -and you get it. Miyazaki would go on to do more ornate work - - - wiser, prettier,better. But what he nailed here that he won't nail again to such a degree is what Erice nailed in El Espiritu De La Colmena : that blinding headrush of what it's like to be a kid - - - and the sense of wonder and threat that come with it. And he nails it not because the magic he taps into makes those wisps of foreboding go away, like they do in neo-Disney mollycoddle. But precisely because it doesn't. * * * * *

Post Written for the Ghiblogathon.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Saibogujiman kwenchana

Crazy in love

(Saibogujiman kwenchana) I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK
Director Park Chan-wook
Stars Rain (Full House) / Lim Soo-jung (Tale of Two Sisters)

Not entirely a surprise for PCW. Lady Vengeance already had the funnies, Old Boy the fantastic. But I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK doesn't have the cohesive narrative of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. Understandably so, the movie is about a girl who has delusions that she is a cyborg, Terminator-lite with machine gun for fingers, built to decimate the Initiative, well, the home, who took her grandmother. In the institution, Young-goon (Lim) refuses to eat human food and she is dying. Il-soon (Rain) who "steals" itches, ping-pong tricks and memories from the other crazy folks makes it his mission to help Young-goon eat. And this is where PCW takes his time to animate the sagging middle with explosions of surreal quirkiness. Booster socks. Sing-along mirrors. A whole bunch of crazies. I had fun with these, but I did hit the pause button a couple of times to make a sandwich and grab a drink. This is a long movie with a thin plot with too many detours. Still, there are scenes that remind you what PCW is all about. In this movie's case, it's the quiet ones. That bit at the basement, where Il-soon carefully upgrades Young-goon, the confusion of the trembling touch. Love at first byte. ***
Two By Pen-Ek

Last Life In The Universe (Ruang Rak Noi Nid Mahasan )

Director: Pen-Ek Ratanaruang (Ploy, Invisible Waves)
Starring: Tadanobu Asano (Ichi The Killer, Cafe Lumiere), Sinitta Boonyasak (Bite of Love)

Boiled down, this is about opposites attracting - - - chaos and order, scatterbrained and anal, free spirit and suicide fetishist. The arcane physics of desire. Also, the milk of every other hackneyed formula love story. It pushes the same buttons: the soft electricity of attraction, the sweet endorphin of emotional rescue, the wistful possibilities of happiness. But the (mis)matching of Tadanobu Asano’s bookish nerd and Sinitta Boonyasak's flighty hostess is bonded more by ghosts of shared regret than anything sexual (but we get there eventually) or romantic, stranding them in a hermetic world of their own design , speaking in fractured tongues as they fumble to master that inarticulate speech of the heart, the last lives in an impossible universe that isn't forever but, for a brief shining moment ,is magic. * * * * *

Mon-rak Transistor
Director: Pen-Ek Ratanaruang (Fun Bar Karaoke, 6ixtynin9)
Starring: Supakorn Kitsuwon
(Tears of the Black Tiger, Suriyothai), Siriyakorn Pukkavesh (Adventures of Iron Pussy)

Village kid meets village girl, they fall in love, she gets pregnant, he gets drafted, she gives birth, he deserts the army and becomes a pop star. Then their troubles begin. Screwball for the way it crams surfeits of melodramatic incident that could bloat two telenovela seasons then plays them for absurdist pleasure. Satiric for the way it harbors a nostalgic fondness for such overwrought soap opera tropes at the same time appearing to take affectionate digs at them. But there are genuine emotions fueling these soap opera tropes we malign. It's what makes them persist. Those flitty-tatty feelings we're all oh-so ironic ,or probably just too chickenshit, to express. And later, all artifice and agenda is dropped. A picture on the wall speaks volumes of regret. A damburst of tears and a tentative hug speak of a love that's too scared to come out of hiding. And the climactic ,inevitable reunion disarms then stabs me with the flitty and the tatty, full-on, guard down, right through the heart. Pow. And I'm a mass of blubber. Nice trick, Pen-Ek. Crafty bastard.
* * * *

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Haepi Endeu (Happy End)

High Infidelity.

Haepi Endeu (Happy End)

Starring: Choi Min Sik (Oldboy), Do-Yeon Jeon (No Blood, No Tears)
Directed by: Ji Joo Chung (Sarangni, If You Were Me 2)

The ferocious shagging has grab. Another time and place, it might've amounted to softcore jollies, ticket bait. Here, it amounts to emotive brunt. Here, it means to hurt. And does it. To the soap opera potboiler of meek salaryman Choi Min Sik losing his job and his headstrong careerist wife Do-yeon Jeon getting it on - - -way, way on - - - with her high school sweetheart behind his back, it butters the melodrama with harm, like saltwater to fresh wounds. Infidelity not as moral abstract but as messy object ,the shadowy taboo forming into familiar bodies - - -so yeah, things get sticky and prickly. And makes your belly knot - - -at how much of a dork meek salaryman is,at how much of a bitch headstrong careerist wife is, at how much you want that title to be ironic for her. You grasp the economic subtexts , and the chill of its repercussions , but it's the primal urges - - yours and the piece's - - - that make this throb. The female of the species is more deadlier than the male. Right.
* * * *

Monday, March 05, 2007

Gwoemul (The Host)

Here Be Monsters

Gwoemul (The Host)
Starring : Song Hang-Ko (Memories of Murder, The President's barber)
Directed by: Bong Joon-Hop (Barking Dogs Never Bite)

It's a given that you imprint the monster in monster movies- - - that corrosive interloper that usurps and upsets the status quo and rallies humankind to restore order to the universe - - -with whatever you want its intrusion and threat and carnage to stand in for. The slime-black Lovecraftian reptile here comes encoded with toxic dumping and not a little wary xenophobia for intrusive Americans. But when it abducts a young schoolgirl ,and her bickering family of four - - - grizzly grandpa, buffoon dad , stoic archer aunt, hairtrigger drunk uncle - - - grudgingly coheres into a combat unit , it's the dysfunction of the family dynamic that full-hogs and heightens the drama. It's no crawl , mind, as it's steeped in another monster movie given: set piece upon set piece of rampage - - - glorious, gorgeous and (here's the killer blow) emotionally resonant rampage at that. But this creature feature's ultimately about fatherly love and the lengths blood will go to to keep its own from harm. * * * * *