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Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Dear Pyongyang

Director – Yang Yong-hi – 2005 – Japan – 107m

****

The return of a Japanese-Korean woman’s brothers to North Korea, encouraged by her parents, causes her considerable grief over the years – online in the UK as part of Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival (YIDFF) from Monday, January 17th to Sunday, February 6th, 2022.

The Zainichi are ethnic Koreans living in Japan. When that latter country was divided into North and South Korea, the Japanese required Koreans to designate themselves accordingly. Thus, they were forced to choose one side or the other and it reinforced their identity either way. From 1959 onwards, some 90 000 North Koreans returned from Japan to Korea in full expectation that it would be only a matter of time before North and South were reunited as a single nation once again. That still hadn’t come to pass by the time this documentary was completed, and it still hasn’t today some 15 years on.

As a six-year-old, Yang Yong-hi watched her three older brothers get on a one-way boat trip to North Korea, the country her dad designated their Fatherland. However, it wasn’t the world in which they – or she – had grown up. She was born in the Japanese town of Tsuruhashi where a quarter of the population was Korean.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

West Side Story (2021)

Director – Steven Spielberg – 2021 – US – Cert. 12a – 156m

*****

This reimagining of the landmark 1961 musical feels fresh and completely different, yet strangely familiar at the same time – out in cinemas on Friday, December 10th

The original adaptation of Broadway show West Side Story (Jerome Robbins, Robert Wise, 1961) is widely reckoned one of the great movie musicals. It’s basically Romeo And Juliet reworked with rival houses replaced by rival ethnic gangs, the Jets and the Sharks. From the moment a former member of one gang falls for a young girl from the other ethnic group, their romance is doomed.

As well as remarkable songs (music: Leonard Bernstein, lyrics: Stephen Sondheim), the thing people remember is the incredible, almost otherworldly choreography. If this had not been a musical but a straightforward teenage youth drama, the gangs would have walked or run through the streets in packs. Here, though, they dance and glide as a synchronised group, and the never less than magical result proves highly effective.

So if you’re going to remake West Side Story, you’d better have some pretty good ideas because a carbon copy would be pointless. Enter Steven Spielberg. Like many people, he’s grown up with the 1961 movie and knows it intimately.… Read the rest

Categories
Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Daughter Of Shanghai

Directors – Michelle Chen Miao, Hilla Medalia – 2019 – China – Cert. N/C 15+ – 90m

****1/2

A chronicle of the life and on-off career of Chinese-born, RADA-trained actress and screen legend Tsai Chin – available to rent online until Wednesday, May 12th in the UK & Ireland in the Chinese Cinema Season 2021 as part of the Approaching Reality documentary strand

“I was born in a trunk when my parents were on tour in Tianjin.” The daughter of legendary Peking Opera star Zhou Xinfang, Tsai Chin came to London towards the end of her  seventeenth year when she was the first Chinese person to be accepted at RADA where she found herself alongside the likes of high-born, Welsh socialite Elizabeth Rees-Williams who in footage alongside her now husband Jonathan Aitken is one of the main interview subjects here. As well as a recent interview with Tsai Chin herself, the other main interviewee is the late lawyer Carlo Colombotti, a personal friend and a wealthy lawyer who moved in the same London circles in the sixties.

Her story, although it contains specific international and cross-cultural reference points, is, basically, an actor’s life: early success on stage and screen through the fifties and sixties, followed by a period in the seventies and eighties in relative obscurity and a later period when her rediscovery by Hollywood in the nineties restarted her career.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies Music

Mogul Mowgli

Director – Bassam Tariq – 2020 – UK – Cert. 15 – 90m

****

A UK British Pakistani rap artist is stopped in his career tracks by an auto-immune system suppression illness – in cinemas from Friday, October 30th and on BFI Player Subscription Exclusive from Friday, February 5th

This opens with British Pakistani rapper Zed (Riz Ahmed, who also co-wrote the film) waiting in the wings then going on stage to perform before a massively enthusiastic New York crowd. I had fairly high expectations and my heart sank. Ahmed’s performance as the singer was leaving me absolutely cold. (To be fair, I’m not a huge fan of rap music.) Happily I was much more impressed with almost everything that followed.

This opening performance turns out to be the final leg of a tour. Zed has a major European Tour planned imminently. Back in Britain, he gets into a street fight with a fan/stalker and in the course of the resultant fight starts to experience severe stomach pains. He wakes up in the local hospital to learn that he’s suffering from an auto-immune system suppression illness and consequently will be unable to tour. He’s horrified by the the suggestion from his trusted manager Vaseem (Anjana Vasam) that his admirer and rival performer RPG (Nabhaan Rizwan), whom Zed despises, can cover for him on the European Tour.… Read the rest