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Animation Movies Shorts

Golden Conch (金色的海)

Director – Wan Guchan – 1963 – China – Cert. N/C U – 36m

*****

A mermaid falls for a poor fisherman and moves in with him arousing the wrath of her sea goddess mother available to rent online from Friday, February 12th to Wednesday, May 12th in the UK & Ireland as part of the Shanghai Animation Film Studio Retro in the Chinese Cinema Season 2021

A coral island, drifting mists, drifting faerie maidens. Underwater. Every morning, says the female narrator, a fisherman goes out in his boat and sings to these mermaids. But their mother the sea goddess doesn’t like to be disturbed so she hides the girls from him by increasing layers of blue fog. 

The fisherman goes about his work and his net keeps picking up a conch shell which he keeps throwing back in the water. When he returns home, there is food prepared on his table, which is odd because he lives alone. 

Next day when he’s out, the camera closes in on his simple cottage. Inside there’s an urn, inside the urn floats the golden conch (the image distorted by patterned glass) which lap dissolves into a faerie maiden. She walks round the house, magics a fire alight in his stove and opens the window to marvel at his singing. … Read the rest

Categories
Animation Art Movies Shorts

Where is Mama? (Xiao Ke Dou Zhao Ma Ma, 小蝌蚪找妈妈)

Director – Te Wei – 1960 – China – Cert. N/C U – 15m

*****

The watercolour paintings of Qi Baishi are brought to life as a group of newly-born tadpoles search for their mother – available to rent online from Friday, February 12th to Wednesday, May 12th in the UK & Ireland as part of the Shanghai Animation Film Studio Retro in the Chinese Cinema Season 2021

This has a fairly simple plot which small children might enjoy as much as adults. A frog births some tadpoles, but while it is away they hatch and go around searching for her, not knowing what she looks like. Each creature they encounter – two chicks, two crayfish, three goldfish, a crab, a turtle and, finally, a catfish – gives them a slightly more accurate description than the one before. Eventually – spoiler alert! – they find mama. “But we don’t look like you!”

On some level it works as a children’s story which you can imagine being turned into a picture book for the very young. (There’s a long tradition of animated shorts which fit this bill, some of them are even adapted from already existing children’s picture books.) But that’s not really the film’s strength. Nor is it the Chinese actress’ voice-over which seems to be squarely aimed at little kids.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Movies

The Monkey King: Havoc in Heaven 3D (Da Nao Tian Gong, 大闹天宫)

Directors – Wan Laiming, Cheng Tang – 3D Restoration, 2012 (originally Part One, 1961; Part Two, 1964) – China – Cert. N/C PG – 92m

****

The Jade Emperor assigns the Monkey King to a series of lowly Heavenly positions to keep him out of trouble and mayhem ensues – available to rent online from Friday, February 12th to Wednesday, May 12th in the UK & Ireland as part of the Shanghai Animation Film Studio Retro in the Chinese Cinema Season 2021

In a blink and you’ll miss it moment, the Monkey King Sun Wokong breaks out of the rock in which he’s been imprisoned to realise he needs a decent personal weapon and talk the Dragon King out of his prized, giant Golden Ringed Wishing Staff, shrinking it to manageable size. The latter complains to the Jade Emperor, so to keep him out of further trouble Monkey is named Great Sage, Equal Of Heaven and assigned to a series of lowly Heavenly positions in charge of first the stables then the Queen’s peach orchard.

Upon learning that the Queen and her companions are unaware of his title and have failed to invite him to their upcoming banquet, Monkey turns himself invisible, causes the guests to fall asleep and takes the food back to his Fruit And Flower Mountain home on Earth to distribute it among his boy monkey subjects.… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Movies Shorts

Fishing Child (Yu Tong, 渔童)

Director – Wan Guchan – 1959 – China – Cert. N/C U – 23m
*****
A Catholic priest attempts with the help of a local official to steal a magic, wealth-producing bowl from a poor fisherman – available to rent online from Friday, February 12th to Wednesday, May 12th in the UK & Ireland as part of the Shanghai Animation Film Studio Retro in the Chinese Cinema Season 2021

Animation has long proved effective as a vehicle for mythology, fairy stories, folk tales and suchlike. This little film proves it again. Made using traditional 2D Disney style backgrounds and camerawork augmented with 2D cut-out characters, it’s also a visual marvel in which can also be seen the influences as diverse as Chinese art and UPA cartoons. 

A poor, coastal village is blockaded by foreign (i.e. European) ships preventing the local fishermen from pursuing their livelihood. That doesn’t however stop a local official from tormenting an old fisherman by demanding he pay Fish Tax. The man is flabbergasted since the blockade prevents him from working and therefore earning money, but the official insists, threatening to chop up the man’s boat with his axe if payment is not forthcoming the next day. 

Thinking as the rain pelts down, the understandably worried man decides to go out in the storm as the ships won’t be looking for fishermen and catch fish to pay the tax.… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Features Live Action Movies

Zu Warriors From The Magic Mountain (Shu Shan – Xin Shu shan jian ke)

Director – Tsui Hark – 1983 – Hong Kong – Cert. 12 – 98m

*****

One of the greatest special effects action movies ever made, this groundbreaking epic delivers non-stop, near unbelievable, visually entrancing vistas of Chinese mythology – online in the UK as part of Hong Kong Focus 2021 from Tuesday, February 9th to Monday, February 15th and available on Blu-ray

There are films which seem almost single-handedly to define cultures. There are plenty of elements in Zu Warriors From The Magic Mountain that can be found elsewhere in Hong Kong cinema – martial arts stunts, flying wire work, period costumes, stock figures, airborne drapery – and yet the precise way this mixes these elements up then adds in others and adds in lots of 2D effects animation makes it a unique work, even by Tsui’s extraordinary standards.

With the ancient world in which he lives in a state of chaos due to constantly warring human factions, a man gets swiftly out of his depth when he sidesteps all that to follow a hero in the hope of becoming his disciple as the hero battles the forces of evil. If this sounds very highbrow… well, perhaps it is. Or perhaps it’s just an excuse to put together a series of truly extraordinary special effects action set-pieces that transport the viewer to mythological otherworlds the exact like of which have never been seen onscreen before or since.… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Features Movies

White Snake (Baishe: Yuanqi)

Directors – Amp Wong, Ji Zhao – 2019 – China – 99m

****

A young man falls in love with a demon resembling alternately a woman and a giant snake, in this Chinese animated feature – now available on Amazon Prime

Conceived as a prequel to China’s White Snake legend which has spawned numerous adaptations including Green Snake / Ching se (Tsui Hark, 1993), this computer animated Chinese epic concerns demon sisters Blanca and Verta (voiced by Zhang Zhe and Tang Xiaoxi) who look to all intents and purposes like beautiful women but are actually demon snakes in disguise – a white snake and a green snake as you might guess from their names. With her power and form enhanced by her sister’s gift of a green hairpin, Blanca leaves the demon world and visits ours for a showdown with a human General trying to prove his worth to the Emperor by dabbling in occult rituals involving snakes. When the showdown doesn’t go as planned, Blanca finds herself alone and suffering a complete loss of memory as to who (and indeed what) she is.

She awakes in a small, human, rural village where the local economy is built on catching snakes for the General.… Read the rest

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Animation Documentary Features Live Action Movies Top Ten

Top Ten Movies (and more) 2020

Work in progress – subject to change.

Top Ten (UK theatrical + online movie releases 2020)

All films received either a theatrical or an online release in the UK between 01/01/20 and 31/01/20. I’ve never previously included online releases (well, maybe the odd on or two as a special case) but this year the film distribution business has been turned upside down by COVID-19. How 2021 and beyond will look is anyone’s guess.

Please click on titles to see reviews. (Some links yet to be added.)

1. Parasite (S.Korea) reviews one and two

2. Coup 53 (UK)

3. A Hidden Life (US/Austria/Germany)

4. Akira (1988, IMAX reissue) (Japan)

5. The Eight Hundred (China)

6. Possessor (Canada) reviews one and introductory link to two

7. Misbehaviour (UK)

8. Dick Johnson Is Dead (US)

9. Away (Latvia, no dialogue!)

10. Snowpiercer
(2013, Eng lang, S.Korea, UK theatrical release in 2020 – finally!)

11. Run (UK)

12. Sócrates (Brazil)

13. County Lines (UK)

14. First Love (Japan)

15. Parasite (Black & White) (S.Korea)

16. The Vast Of Night (US)

17. I’m Thinking Of Ending Things (US)

18. Over The Moon (US/China)

19. WolfWalkers (Ireland) reviews one and two

20. Sheep Without A Shepherd (China)

21.… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Features Movies

No.7 Cherry Lane (Jiyuantai Qihao)

Director – Yonfan – 2019 – Hong Kong – Cert. 12A – 125m

*****

The tutor of an 18 year old girl falls for her mother who hired him against the background of the 1967 protest marches in Hong Kong – sumptuous Closing Gala film from the recently wrapped London East Asia Film Festival (LEAFF)

Insofar as this is like anything else – which it really isn’t – it’s like a reworking of The Graduate (Mike Nichols, 1967) filtered through In The Mood For Love (Wong Kar-wai, 2000). Oh, and it’s 3D rendered then 2D animated. Broadly speaking, The Graduate is about a young man seduced by a much older, bored housewife before later becoming romantically involved with her daughter. In The Mood For Love is set in early 1960s Hong Kong and includes a sequence on a sloping pedestrian street where a man passes a women walking in the opposite direction, the whole thing charged with a sense of romantic longing. There;’s a similar scene in No.7 Cherry Lane, although it’s considerably less central to the plot than the one in In The Mood For Love.

Yonfan, here making his first film in ten years, would certainly agree that filmic and literary references abound in the film.… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Features Movies

WolfWalkers

Director – Tomm Moore, Ross Stewart – 2020 – Ireland, Luxembourg, France – Cert. PG – 100m

*****

An adventurous English girl from Kilkenny encounters a wild Irish girl in the woods who can change into a wolf in groundbreaking 2D animation – on BFI Player as part of the BFI London Film Festival 2020 on Saturday, October 10th, 18.30-19.00 start, in cinemas from Monday, October 26th, then on Apple TV from Sunday, 13 December

This is co-director Moore’s third production based on Irish mythology for Irish animation house Cartoon Saloon following The Secret of Kells (2009, about the making of the Book Of Kells) and Song of the Sea (2014, about selkies / mermaids).

Irish WolfWalkers mythology concerns humans who can transform into wolves and back again, while mankind’s relationship with the wolf down the ages has to do with destroying its natural habitat and a fear of the animal derived largely from its attacks on small animals such as pets and, very occasionally, children. These two ideas are combined in the film WolfWalkers along with Oliver Cromwell’s conquest of Ireland as Lord Protector, although historical accuracy clearly isn’t the intention as not only is his name left out abut also what happens to the Lord Protector here is very different from what happened to him in real life.… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Features Movies

WolfWalkers

Subdue the forest

Wolfwalkers
Directed by Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart
Certificate PG, 100 minutes
Previews from 26 October, released 30 October, then on Apple TV from 13 December

The tree cutters attempting to clear the forest around the walled town of Kilkenny, Ireland, live in fear of wolves. They also believe in WolfWalkers – human by day, wolf by night – who appear in daylight to call off wolf attacks on humans. Ireland is under English rule, administered by the God-fearing Lord Protector (Simon McBurney) through his northern English officer Bill Goodfellowe (Sean Bean), charged with clearing the forest of wolves. Bill’s young daughter Robyn (Honor Kneafsey) dreams of slaying wolves with her crossbow. However, children are barred from leaving the city.

This prohibition doesn’t prevent Robyn from sneaking out to the forest, however, where her wolf hunting goes disastrously wrong… Read the rest

Review for Reform magazine.

See also my BFI London Film Festival 2020 review.

Previews from 26 October, released 30 October, then on Apple TV from 13 December.