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    • CommentAuthorgrenville
    • CommentTimeJul 17th 2006
     
    I seem for once to have quite a bit of spare time on my hands. I go to meetings and then I go back to my apartment with the harbour and volcano views and write reports and then I watch DVDs on the HP2335 widescreen I bought. Western culture is different. You don't have to tell people what to do. They can do figure it out for themselves and use their initiative. Not like in Asia, where the stock response to inactivity is "we were waiting for you tell us what we should do now."

    Back to DVDs. Its just too damn cold for anything else here in NZ -- I've been too long in the tropics, I think.

    Sympathy for Lady Vengeance -- Chanwook Park's followup to Old Boy and Symp for Mr. Vengeance. Not as good as those two, but it grows on you after a couple of viewings. The ending has ran out of ideas written all over it, but sad/sweet film. I love Korean films. Christmas in August. Bugee Jumping on their Own. Take Care of My Cat. I watched the last one twice over the weekend. So good. No other country has made interesting, idiosyncratic films in the last decade as well as the Koreans.

    Nice relaxed place NZ.
    • CommentAuthorSamael
    • CommentTimeJul 17th 2006
     
    Neat!

    You've now given me a few more films to pick up. I've been interested to see Lady Vengeance, but I'll go in with modest expectations now. The first two were very good, so my expectations were running pretty high. I've been on quite the Asian film spree the last few months- 2LDK, Tale of Two Sisters, Koma, Samaritan Girl, Abnormal Beauty, The Locker I and II, Oldboy, Mr. Vengeance, Suicide Circle, Battle Royale, Bad Guy, Stray Dog, Versus, Iria: The Zeiram Encounter... I tend to agree, most of the Asian films I've really liked have been Korean, or older Japanese lately.

    Anyway, I'm definitely going to add those to my watch-list. It's getting to be quite a long list, at this point.
    • CommentAuthorgrenville
    • CommentTimeJul 18th 2006
     
    Ah yes. Older Japanese films. A few you mention I haven't seen which is incentive. Battle Royale is a classic. I see Hollywood is considering a version which is kind of baffling since the original couldn't get distribution in the US for obvious reasons. It really makes you wonder how it will turn if they do a remake. I love Takeshi Katano films -- Violent Cop (love that opening sequence where he kicks the shite out of the delinquent in his bedroom), Hana Bi (the best Takeshi IMHO), Sonatine...

    Of the Koreans, I've got Samaritan Girl (Sad, Sad. No Hollywood ending there), Bad Guy (leaves a bad taste in the mouth, but fascinating and original. No Hollywood ending there, either). If you haven't seen Barking Dogs Never Bite please do. Its about throwing dogs off buildings and eating them, academic corruption and a whole lot more. And Bae doona is so cute. Also One Fine Spring Day, Public Enemy and early Hong Sang Soo films especially Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Batchelors, The Power of Kangwon Province and The Day A Pig Fell into the Well (with very dodgy English subtitles though). And if you like romantic comedy then My Sassy Girl is great. I don't like romantic comedy, but there is a lovely story about a tree in that film. The girl who plays Sassy Girl can't act for shite and Korean sassyness is pretty lame by Western standards, but she sure looks good.

    I've got the complete Wong Kar Wai collection. Chungking Express, especially the second story, is sublime filmmaking. The amazing thing is you can't get good versions of his films in Hong Kong despite him being HKs greatest director. Get the US (Tarantino) version of Chungking and the region 2 or region 4 versions of everything else assuming you have a TV that can do PAL. Inner Senses is OK and Infernal Affairs I (skip II and III). One of the things I love about living in Hong Kong is walking around and realising you are in the street where they shot that scene in [name of film]. If you ever have a just a day in HK and want a good grounding then sign up for the movie tour -- can't go wrong.
    •  
      CommentAuthortallman
    • CommentTimeJul 18th 2006
     
    I really need to get my arse in gear and find some copies of the Vengeance trilogy to watch. I've heard so many great things that I can only hope they live up to the hype...

    I go through periods where I'll watch nothing but asian films. In college, a friend of mine used to cruse through Chinatown looking for new John Woo/Chow Yun Fat/Ringo Lam films (amongst other HK action staples). At the time, there was little to no distribution in the US for these films, so the translations were horrible and the tapes often seemed like copies (with subtitles being cut off, etc...). Still, it was a fascinating experience, as I had not seen much in the way of foreign films at the time. I'm partial to Johnny To's The Mission, which is a great movie (the only other of his movies that I've seen is Fulltime Killer, which seems to be more popular, but IMHO, is nowhere near as good as The Mission.)

    I haven't seen Battle Royale, but I have seen Fukasaku's Yakuza Papers (aka Battles Without Honor and Humanity), which were 5 good, if a little bewildering, gangster flicks. Not action packed, and the relationships between the gangs are a little hard to follow, but the series is well done.

    I've seen Wong Kar Wai's 2046, which was a gorgeous, if a little disappoinging movie. Infernal Affairs was pretty good, and though I usually don't like American remakes, I have to admit that I'm intrigued to see what Scorcese does with the story...

    I actually haven't seen much in the way of Korean films, but it does seem like there's a lot of buzz coming out of Korea from the past 5 years or so. I saw A Bittersweet Life at the Philly film festival, and it was pretty good (I gave it **1/2, though it might be better than that in hindsight), but a bit of a disappointment. As I said, I need to go see Chanwook Park's films, and it looks like there are some other gems on your list too.

    Thanks:)

    ~tallman
    • CommentAuthorSamael
    • CommentTimeJul 18th 2006 edited
     
    The rumor is that the reason we haven't seen a Region 1 version of Battle Royale has more to do with a group who kept purchasing the American rights and refusing to let it be released. I tend to find that more believable than that it was outright banned, given the number of other films that have seen Region 1 releases (like, say, Man Bites Dog).

    -edited 11:07- According to wiki, it's mostly been a problem of Toei's demands about an American release. Smaller studios couldn't afford the demands, and bigger studios weren't interested in what they saw as a film too controversial to touch. New Line has the rights now, though, and are supposedly working on a remake. Meh.
    I have my copy (questionable subtitles in the extras, and all). I wonder if Tartan video's release was any good? They released an all region version over in the UK. I have a few Tartan releases, and they've been fine. Might be worth checking out.
    -end edit-

    I'll definitely have to check some of those out. I agree completely with you about Bad Guy and Samaritan Girl (although, honestly, I though that the last act dragged a bit, and I sort of wish that the direction the film had taken was a little different. I was much more interested in what she was thinking and feeling, and the reactions that the men were having to her, and a lot less interested in her father's reaction. Oh well). Bad Guy was really good, but definitely fucked up. I felt... eh... kind of dirty after watching it. Not "dirty old man" dirty, but more like, grimy dirty.

    I'm really intrigued by "My Sassy Girl" now, btw. I'm not a big romantic comedy fan... but how often do you hear someone say "there is a lovely story about a tree in that film"?

    Tallman: I think that you've hit on something- there's definitely a lot of buzz on Korean films. One thing that I've noticed is that the willingness to tackle some really difficult subjects or to try some really ambitious projects is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you end up with some really cool stuff that, as gren points out, would never see light over here because of the way the studio system makes movies. On the other hand, there are inevitable times when the films just can't keep the momentum going, or where an ambitious idea just doesn't quite work out in the end. I think I was fortunate to have hit upon a couple of real gems right off the bat, so I was more willing to work through some that weren't as effective. Still, there are definitely some interesting things coming out over there.

    I'll definitely have to check some of those out.

    And the list just keeps growing, as my wallet keeps shrinking. =P

    Oh, and you can skip Iria, by the way. Total crap. Also, The Locker is only so-so. It's got some fine moments, but it's definitely riding the wave of movies like Ju-On, Ringu, Dark Water, etc. If you've seen one of them, there's not much in The Locker to surprise you.
    • CommentAuthorgrenville
    • CommentTimeJul 18th 2006
     
    Not all Asian films are great. We are talking about probably 5 percent of them. The other 95% are complete and utter crap. The average yearly Hollywood output is quite high in quality by comparison. The quality of Asian DVDs (except some in Japan) are also terrible. Unless there is no other version available I stay well away from region 3 discs. DVD production values in Asia are years behind the US, Europe and Australasia. A lot of them are quicky transfers from a grainy, blurry, jumpy video that looks like its had 500 viewings.

    My perception is that as money comes into filmmaking the artistic quality declines. I think that is true of recent Korean films. They invest more, which means higher production values, which means more compromises to appeal to a less demanding audience which means a generic Hollywood-type film. There is a global taste which is pretty low. A good example is Running Wild, a recent Korean blockbuster -- a bog-standard buddy cop actioner, horribly overacted and without any artistic merit whatsoever. Awful film. I think it did quite well at the boxoffice. My observation from living and travelling widely in Asia is that cheap and vulgar makes up a bigger percentage of the population than it does in the US, Europe or Australia/NZ. Asians like a lot of syrup in their mass art. They don't like to think too much, either. The "elite" able to discuss Hong Sang Soo or early Wong Kar Wai films is tiny. I'm not optimistic about Asian cinema as the place grows richer.

    I was disappointed by 2046. I've got the Region 4 two disc special edition with a metal case. Pity about the film. Pity his early films don't get such lavish DVD treatment. He is retracing what he did in some of his films from the 1990s/early 2000s but it doesn't quite work. The film scholar on the commentary track thinks its a Wong Kar Wai classic, but few agree. I agree with Tallman's view -- georgeous and disappointing.

    Sammy: My Sassy Girl is an intriguing film. Bumbling engineering student on commuter train sees drunk girl make fool of herself and throwup on passenger. Before she passes out she reaches out to him and says "honey". Everyone on the train thinks she's his girlfriend and he is now responsible for looking after her. He carries her to a cheap motel (and no he doesn't rape her or steal a kidney. This is not a Chanwook Park film). Its a great premise for a film. Its actually based on some guy's internet stories. Odd sort of film. If, as you say, you like romantic comedies then you'll love this film, and the tree subplot adds something special to the mix. There were a couple of things that marred it for me. One being a diversion about Sassy Girl's script writing attempts. The other being Sassy Girl's acting ability. They say playing drunk is the most difficult thing to do in acting. Even really good actors can fup a drunk scene. This film is the best example I've seen of a bad actor playing a really bad drunk -- worth a look just for this. She look's great though. Korea has the best screen tottie in the world IMHO (not that tottie is that important in high-end cinema, but Asian actress tottie is important to me -- yellow fever syndrome). You should be able to get it from respectable Asian film dot coms. I have the HK region 3 version which is OK quality.

    Battle Royale. Interesting story on the distribution. I have the either the Region 2 or Region 4 of BR and its reasonable quality with good subtitles. Compression is a bit high, but they packed in lots and lots of interesting extras. It could have done with a two disc.
    •  
      CommentAuthortallman
    • CommentTimeJul 18th 2006 edited
     
    Yeah, it's funny because a lot of people like to bitch and moan about American films and point to all these foreign classics as if we're not seeing the best of the best. I'm no expert, but I think it would be reasonable to assume that the foreign films that get distribution here are generally pretty good (obviously this is subjective - what I mean is that some businessperson must think there's a market for something to release it here.). Still, when you get sick of Hollywood, there's nothing like hitting up a foreign film genre like Italian Horror or Hong Kong action.

    Regarding quality versus budget, have you ever read David Foster Wallace's FX Porn?

    http://www.ptwi.com/~bobkat/waterstone.html

    ""T2" is thus also the first and best instance of a paradoxical law that appears to hold true for the entire F/X Porn genre. It is called the Inverse Cost and Quality Law, and it states very simply that the larger a movie's budget is, the shittier that movie is going to be."

    hehe

    ~tallman
    •  
      CommentAuthortallman
    • CommentTimeJul 18th 2006
     
    Interesting, Battle Royale is available on Netflix:

    http://www.netflix.com/MovieDisplay?movieid=70004548

    And it's in my queue...

    ~tallman
    • CommentAuthorgrenville
    • CommentTimeJul 19th 2006
     
    Good article on quality versus budget. Its true, I guess, in most kinds of business. I find in my work as a consultant that projects that have a lot of money involved tend to be pervaded by a sense of responsibility and fear that saps any innovation or element of risk.

    I like the deals where there is not so much money involved. People are prepared to take risks. Though, to be sure, in Asia they are too often cautious about even small amounts of money which is why they copy rather than innovate. They only bet on what they think is a sure winner and burn lots of insense just to make sure the Gods know this too.

    I once saw this Hong Kong businessman at an advertising campaign meeting. He pointed to a page in Vogue or some other fashion magazine and said "I want one just like that". And he got it because he was paying. The photographer had come out from the US specially and was not best pleased (he was a bit of a has been and needed the money so he ate his pride). Needless to say, the result was awful. If the talent don't enjoy what they are doing the result will suck.
    • CommentAuthorSamael
    • CommentTimeJul 19th 2006
     
    Oh, I totally agree with the above. I've had arguments along these lines with people dozens of times. Every time I hear someone say "Oh, tv now sucks compared to what we used to have" or some variation wherein they're basically saying "Look at all the crap out now, and think of all the cool stuff we used to have." The reality is that at least 90% of the stuff that comes out in any medium is probably crap. 90% of the books written are total garbage. 90% of the tv shows you can watch are stupid. 90% of the movies that get released are practically unwatchable. Probably a higher percentage, actually.

    I hadn't really thought about the cost to suckiness ratio of movies beyond some of the really obvious examples- Waterworld, ID4, etc.

    I can definitely see that, though. It does seem like a big budget makes it a lot easier to a film to fall into the suck-trap. I think gren hit it right- the more money becomes involved, the less people want to take risks, because there's more on the line.

    Speaking of low budget films- have either of you seen Primer?
    • CommentAuthorgrenville
    • CommentTimeJul 20th 2006
     
    Primer. No. New one on me. Tell us more.

    I've watching two Warren Beatty films recently -- Shampoo and The Parallax View. Both minor classics IMHO. Niether has particularly dated. Both were made early 1970s -- the brief golden age of American cinema -- when American films had an edgy, slightly subversive quality. Reflected troubled times I guess. Why no repeat now, I wonder? Shampoo is actually as funny as hell in its way. I love the character played by Jack Warden.

    I also watched Syriana. I don't quite know what to think of it. Boring? Confusing?

    I've got lots of time on my hands. The boss in London thinks I'm pulling down 50 hours a week like in Hong Kong. Its about 25 tops.
    • CommentAuthorSamael
    • CommentTimeJul 20th 2006 edited
     
    I thought Syriana was interesting, but waaaay over-hyped. I don't remember who said it... it may have been tallman? but it's the sort of movie that thinks that being deliberately vague and pretending to have tons of hidden subtext and meaning makes a movie smart.
    It doesn't.
    It makes it vague and slightly confusing at times, but not particularly intelligent.

    It wasn't bad, it just wasn't really as deep as people have made it out to be.

    Primer is very cool. It's a low-budget sci-fi movie about time travel that actually does a hell of a job pulling it off. Don't get me wrong, it has some weak aspects, but it's still a pretty big success in my book. The focus is on the applications of the discovery and how it alters the personalities of the two main characters, and not on some kind of crazy special effects extravaganza (by which I mean, of course, that there are really no special effects). I had to watch it twice to really figure out what was going on, which may be a strength or a weakness, depending on your point of view. I definitely recommend it- not everyone ends up liking it, but it's a serious sci-fi movie that doesn't rely on a big budget to pull it off, and it works, and can definitely be taken seriously, which seems like a rarity these days. The biggest problems with it are some shakey performances, inconsistant filming, and a little bit of pacing. Despite that, it deserves a lot of praise.

    At the same time, I can also give 11:14 two thumbs up. I'll be honest, I went into this one expecting it to totally suck, because it's full of suck-ass actors, but it ended up being really good. I was watching it with my roomie, and both of us were like "Wow. That was fucking cool."

    Intermission is a Brit movie I liked. It's got a really great opening scene. It's sort of a dark comedy... almost as if Very Bad Things and Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels had a baby. Not as good as Lock Stock, though, imo.

    Oh, and watched the French film, Cache'.
    Meh. The pay-off isn't that good. It starts off pretty interesting- a guy and his wife keep finding tapes sitting on their doorstep that are just recordings of the front of their house from a weird angle. They can't figure out who is doing it, or why, but they're wrapped in crudely drawn (think, "as done by a six-year-old") images of violence- a guy covered in blood, a man with his head cut off, that sort of thing. It seems like it's going to be something pretty cool, even though the pacing is a kind of slow, and then.... nothing.
    I will say this, though. It had one of the greatest "Holy shit!" moments I've ever seen in a movie. You know, one of those scenes where you're watching the movie, and something so completely unexpected and surprising happens that you go "Holy shit!" really loud?
    In fact, it's probably worth watching, just for that.
    Oh, and it probably makes the movie a little better if you know that it's sort of a metaphor for the treatment of Algerians by the Western world (France, in particular).
    Still, it's not nearly as good as the hype around it would lead you to believe. Oh well.
    •  
      CommentAuthortallman
    • CommentTimeJul 20th 2006
     
    My thoughts on Syriana (post starts about the Matrix, but moves on to Syriana). The operative phrase is "Playing obscurity for depth."

    Primer is in my queue. It seems to me to be the most recent "Pi" (i.e. low budget, mind bending science fiction).

    Haven't seen Intermission or Cache, though I probably will at some point...

    ~tallman
    • CommentAuthorgrenville
    • CommentTimeJul 20th 2006
     
    Syriana was directed by the guy that did Traffic -- a much better film -- where the documentary-like interlocking stories about drug trafficing worked better. It doesn't work so well with a subject as complex and layered as the oil trade and Middle East politics. It manages to make everyone a caricature despite the attempt to avoid reducing them to caricatures. The attempt to humanise muslims succeeds only in reinforcing the caricature we have about them, for example (even though there is quite a bit of truth in the caricature). The oil execs and Washington politicians/lawyer-types get caricatured too. I've bumped into the few of these guys in HK/China and elsewhere and, to put it kindly, Syriana gives them way too much credit for smarts and cunning -- these guys just aren't smart enough or knowledgable enough to run a successful global conspiracy. I don't believe in conspiracies anymore since I started mixing with the folks said to be responsible for global conspiring.

    I've been neglecting European movies since I went Asia/Pacific but I'll look into those ones. Cache sounds familar. I might even have it on a towatch list somewhere.

    I don't know if anyone has seen the Brit movie I'll Sleep When I'm Dead. Clive Owen plays a chronically depressed ex-gangster who has escapted to the country but who goes back to London to find out why his little brother killed himself. Malcolm McDowell plays the nastiest luxury car dealer ever. Clive Owen is a natural at depression. He was quite good in Croupier. Mike Hodges directed both films. His Get Carter is one of my all time favourite films in the gangster genre. Michael Caine is insurpassably good in that film.
    • CommentAuthorSamael
    • CommentTimeJul 20th 2006
     
    I saw "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead."
    Honestly, I didn't really like it. It had some really good moments, but I felt it spent a lot of time just kind of plodding around. I just couldn't get into it- it took so long to get rolling.
    You're right, though- that guy was nasty.
    What a right son-of-a-bitch.

    "I don't believe in conspiracies anymore since I started mixing with the folks said to be responsible for global conspiring."

    Maybe that's all part of the conspiracy? =P

    Ah, yeah! That was the line- playing obscurity for depth. That describes it perfectly.
    •  
      CommentAuthortallman
    • CommentTimeJul 20th 2006
     
    "I don't believe in conspiracies anymore since I started mixing with the folks said to be responsible for global conspiring."

    I don't know who came up with the saying "Never attribute to malice what can more easily be attributed to incompetence," but the more I see of things, the more I subscribe to that theory.

    ~tallman
    •  
      CommentAuthorDyre
    • CommentTimeJul 20th 2006
     
    I've seen most of 11:14. One of the cable channels I get was showing it a lot a couple weeks back but I kept missing the beginning. What I saw I liked... not enough to go rent it to see the whole thing, but if it's on again I'd watch it. You're right, it's definitely better than you would think looking at the cast. It's a fun concept too.

    I've seen Intermission as well. Not a bad film but there were little things that bugged me about it. It's been a while since I've seen it but I remember some of the scenes just didn't click well with me. Like I could understand the motivation of the characters to get into these situations, like when the bus driver tries to run over the kid with the rocks and how they all end up doing the hostage thing, but even keeping in mind there's supposed to be comedy to it as well, the characters actually taking out those actions seemed off to me, like it wasn't quite how they would actually have done it, if at all. But, like I said, it's been quite a while since I saw it.

    I haven't seen any of the other films mentioned. I've been wanting to see Primer. Cache sounds like it has a good concept driving it. Too bad it came out disappointing for you, Sam.

    I did watch a kung-fu flick called Master of the Flying Guillotine last night. It was great, in an awkwardly translated, there's-a-guy-who-uses-an-owl-as-a-projectile kinda way.