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Heaven: To The Land Of Happiness (Hebeun: Haengbokeui Nararo, 행복의 나라로)

Director – Im Sang-soo – 2021 – South Korea – 101m

*****

A meds thief on the verge of arrest and an escaped convict inadvertently steal money from gangsters closing gala with a director Q&A as part of a strand of films celebrating actress Youn Yuh-jung at LKFF, the London Korean Film Festival which ran in cinemas from Thursday, November 4th to Friday, November 19th

The sexual frankness of director Im’s earlier A Good Lawyer’s Wife (2003) and The Housemaid (2010) is absent from his latest, a producer-suggested project more lightweight than his usual fare which nevertheless achieves a degree of poignancy. Its template is the German film Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door (Thomas Jahn, 1997) in which two terminally ill men steal a car so that one of them can visit the sea before he dies, the car unfortunately belonging to a gangster and carrying a quantity of cash in the boot.

Writing his own script around this loose premise, Im makes the man who wants to see the sea a convict, inmate 203 (Choi Min-sik from The Tiger, Park Hoon-jung, 2015; Lucy, Luc Besson, 2014; New World, Park Hoon-jung, 2013; Lady Vengeance, Park Chan Wook, 2005), sent to the hospital for an MRI scan where it’s discovered he has a brain tumour and two weeks to live.… Read the rest

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Ròm

Director – Tran Thanh Huy – 2019 – Vietnam – Cert. 12a – 79m

*****

An urban street kid works as a lottery runner to survive while a slightly older boy attempts to steal his turf – from the London East Asia Film Festival (LEAFF), on now

Spending his nights alone in his slum rooftop shack under the stars shooting tin cans with a catapult, young teenager Ròm (Tran Ahn Khoa) must live by his wits. The tenants of his block, like all the city’s residents, are obsessed with the lottery, the only chance any of them have of getting out of poverty. He spends his days going around collecting bets, racing to place them with the bookies on time then racing back equally fast to deliver the results as soon as they’re announced.

If the numbers win, people collect their money and he’s a local hero. If they don’t his customers may beat him up. It’s a challenging and desperate lifestyle, right down at the bottom of the social pile, yet a part of him seems to thrive on it, almost like some indescribable, youthful affirmation of life.

In the course of trying to impress the local, pool playing gangster, older homeless teeenager Phúc (Nguyen Phuc Anh Tu) – who took his name from a Westerner he worked for some time back who used a simiar sounding word a lot – attempts to muscle in on Ròm’s customers and turf.… Read the rest

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Tampopo (タンポポ)

Director – Juzo Itami – 1985 – Japan – Cert. 18 – 114m

*****

Plays in the BFI Japan 2021 season, December at BFI Southbank.

This review was first published on All The Anime.

This so-called ‘Noodle Western’ always sounded somewhat off-the-wall. It impressed when it first appeared in 1985 and viewing it again on Criterion’s new Blu-ray, Tampopo has stood the test of time well. “This’ll be famous in the history of cinema” says cast member Fukumi Kuroda in director Juzo Itami’s 90-minute edited diary of making the film, one of many excellent extras on the new disc. 

tampopo box

Kuroda plays the girlfriend of an unnamed, white-suited gangster (a pre-Shall We Dance Koji Yakusho) and the couple share a number of scenes involving sex and food. One involves him putting an egg yolk in his mouth which the couple then pass back and forth between them from mouth to mouth until it finally breaks and spills out onto her dress. You can find out the finer points of how they filmed this by watching the diary. Yakusho also gets a memorable death scene, bloodily gunned down by unseen assailants in a rain-swept. He then proceeds to tell his lady love about wild boar being hunted and turned into yam sausage on account of their diet, before he passes away in her arms.… Read the rest

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Black Medicine

Director – Colum Eastwood – 2021 – Ireland – Cert. 15 – 90m

*****

A black market Belfast anaesthetist finds herself crossing people it would be unwise to cross – this edge-of-the-seat thriller is out on digital platforms on Monday, July 12th

Jo (Antonia Campbell-Hughes from Bright Star, Jane Campion, 2009; Albert Nobbs, Roderigo Garcia, 2011; Kelly + Victor, Kieran Evans, 2012; Storage 24, Johannes Roberts, 2012; The Canal, Ivan Cavanagh, 2014;) drives her car up the levels of a Belfast multi-storey car park. At the top, she gets out and contemplates the drop to the street below. She smokes to calm her nerves. She drops the cigarette, watching it fall the several storeys. She contemplates climbing the railings. A woman and child come out of a door and walk along a wall. Jo backs off.

By this point, I’m completely hooked. Who is this woman? What is going on? The genius of this movie is that having gripped the viewer from the get-go, it never relaxes for the rest of its entire 90 minute running length. (Also, a minor carp: why is the car number plate PIA 1? That’s a wee bit too showy.)

Then Stevie (Lalor Roddy from Robot Overlords, Jon Wright, 2014) phones.… Read the rest

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Voice Of Silence (Sorido Eopsi, 소리도 없이)

Director – Hong Eui-jung – 2020 – South Korea – Cert. 15 – 99m

****

Things go from bad to worse for a mute forced to look after an 11-year-old girl for her kidnapper when the latter disappears in this ostensible crime drama – screened as a teaser screening for the London Korean Film Festival

From its opening this appears a crime film, but somewhere along the line, while remaining a crime film about two men involved in executing a kidnap who are increasingly out of their depth, it turns into…well, it’s hard to say. A drama? A comedy? One of those films like The House Of Us (Yoon Ge-eun, 2019) where the children seem far more important than the adults?

Chang-bok (Yoo Jae-myung) and Tae-in (Yoo Ah-in from Burning, Lee Chang-dong, 2018; Default, Choi Kook-Hee, 2018) drive their lorry into town to sell their eggs to anyone who’ll buy. Then the pair dress for their other job. In cagoules. To project their clothing from the blood. They work as a clean-up crew for gangsters – putting protective sheeting on the floor, cleaning up the mess afterwards. Not, however, the actual dirty work of killing, of which they keep well clear.… Read the rest

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Jellyfish

Director – Che Chun Hei – 2018 – Hong Kong – Cert. N/C 12+ – 30m

****1/2

A gangland sniper’s shooting of his designated target leads to a friendship with a dog and further unauthorised killings – online and Free To View in the UK in the Fresh Wave short films strand of Focus Hong Kong 2021 from Tuesday, February 9th to Monday, February 15th

Gangland boss Shing (Lau Kong) sets up a sniper (Bowie Chan Wai Wing) in an apartment in a block overlooking a patch of waste ground. Every day, a man walks his dog over this patch. The man is the sniper’s designated target. So the sniper sets up his gun, passes the time, tries to get a decent signal on the TV, smokes, relaxes on the sofa, anything but look through his viewfinder and watch the man and dog pass.

Finally, the order “today” comes though his pager from Shing. One shot and the guy is dead. The dog just sits there, remaining where his master fell. A black van rolls up. Two guys. One has a revolver and thinks of shooting the dog, but doesn’t do it.

The sniper feels for the dog. He takes it food.… Read the rest

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Lucky Grandma

Director – Sasie Sealy – 2019 – US – Cert. 15 – 87m

***1/2

An old woman in New York’s Chinatown happens upon a bag of mob money and hires a bodyguard from a rival gang to protect herself – on VoD including BFI Player from Monday, November 9th

Grandma Wong (Tsai Chin) goes to have her fortune read. “Carps jumping over the Dragon’s Gate”, says the lady fortune teller. “So auspicious”. But Grandma’s life doesn’t feel that way. Fiercely independent, she lives in a small flat in New York’s Chinatown. Yes, she wins the occasional bag of rice as the 88th customer of the bank. And she goes on a day trip with a bunch of like-minded old people to the casino, where she does okay.

And then, on the three hour coach journey back, she sits next to a man who quietly dies in his sleep, leaving a bag of money. Ignoring the dragon tattoo on his neck, she surreptitiously takes the bag home.

From then on, two Red Dragon gangsters Little Handsome and Pock-mark start showing up to ask about the money. So she approaches the rival Zhongliang Gang to hire a bodyguard, beating the boss down from $8 000 to first $5 000 then $2 000 for the services of gentle giant Big Pong (Ha Hsaio-yuan).… Read the rest

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First Love (Hatsukoi, 初恋)

Director – Takashi Miike – 2019 – Japan – Cert. 15 – 108m

*****

A boxer with no fear of death. Japanese yakuza, Chinese triads. A bag of drugs. A girl sold into prostitution. Miike orchestrates his potent cocktail with pace, panache and energy – cinemas Friday, February 14th, home video Monday, February 24th

And yet, as its release date implies, First Love is also a Valentine’s Day-friendly date movie. Not, admittedly, your average date, but Miike has never been your average director. High-profile titles released in the West like Dead or Alive, Ichi the Killer and Yakuza Apocalypse give an certain idea of what he’s about – life, death and gangsters. This is only one facet of a career which also boasts samurai epics and a musical. If you count his made-for-video features of the early 1990s, Miike has now made over a hundred films. Many are highly entertaining and one or two, such as Audition, the sweet romantic film that turns into a terrifying horror thriller, might justifiably be termed great. First Love may not quite be Audition, but it’s arguably his best film for years… [Read more]

Full review at All The Anime.