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The Eight Hundred (Ba Bai, 八佰)

Director – Guan Hu – 2019 – China – Cert. 15 – 149m – IMAX

****1/2

Hopelessly outnumbered Chinese soldiers take a last stand against the Japanese in a Shanghai warehouse – – available to rent online in the UK & Ireland as part of the Domestic Hits strand in the Chinese Cinema Season 2021 which runs until Wednesday, May 12th

1937, the Sino-Japanese War. The Chinese have fallen back to , Shanghai as the Japanese advance. Rounding up Chinese deserters, Colonel Xie (Du Chun) and his men of the National Revolutionary Army (NRA) hole up in the Sihang warehouse on the other side of the Souzou Creek from the International Concession from which the horrified civilians compulsively watch the conflict unfold.

A Western movie covering such a subject would likely introduce us to specific soldier characters at some length, possibly derailing the larger narrative to do this. The Chinese here do it rather differently. They take the overall sweep of the story and drop the characters in to it. There are deserters, there are brave and heroic fighters and there are men who move from the former to the latter group. The writers also sketch civilian characters living across the river.… 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

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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

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Features Live Action Movies

Detention (Fanxiao)

Director – John Hsu – 2019 – Taiwan – 12A – 103m

****

Two Taiwanese students find themselves trapped in their school overnight under that country’s White Terror regime in 1962 – from the London East Asia Film Festival (LEAFF), on now

This is a real oddity: an adaptation of a video game set in a specific historic period of political turmoil. That period is Taiwan’s White Terror (1949-87) under which, among other things, numerous books were banned by the ruling Kuomintang party on the grounds of promoting left-wing or Communist ideas. Merely reading some of these books could provide grounds for execution.

Like the video game, the film is set in the Greenwood High School. It’s 1962 and boy and girl students Fang Ray-shin (Gingle Wang) and Wei Chong-ting (Tseng Jing-Hua) find themselves trapped overnight in the school building after flood waters destroy the access road to the school. What follows isn’t particularly linear in terms of its narrative as school corridors, walkways, rooms and halls are visited by various supernatural beings and become scenes of terror, torture and execution.

The elliptical and sometimes repetitive nature of the storytelling and its component images mean that the film isn’t always that easy to follow, at least not to Western audiences familiar with mainstream Hollywood narrative.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

The Bold, The Corrupt And The Beautiful (Xue guan yin)

Director – Yang Ya-che – 2017 – Taiwan – Cert. 15 – 112m

*****

A dysfunctional family, a property investment scam and sex and drugs meet head on in this impressive, female character-driven Taiwanese drama-thriller – exclusively in these cinemas for three days from Friday, September 4th

One family, three generations of women, each with their own demons. Middle aged matriarch Madame Tang (Kara Wai) is in the process of setting up illicit property deals with a network of corrupt state officials to the tune of $3m Taiwanese. Her scheming daughter Tang Ning (Wu Ke-Xi, writer and star of Nina Wu / 2019) is involved in sexual intrigues and addicted to a lethal mixture of drink and prescription meds. Teenager Tang Chen (Vicky Chen Wen-chi) seems both incapable of forming healthy relationships of any sort with other people and constantly spying on them through gaps in doors or curtains – or just by being in places she’s not really wanted.

Tragedy befalls the Lins, one of the families involved in Madame Tang’s scheme, when they are shot dead in their family home by intruders. Somehow their teenage daughter Pien (Wen Chen-Ling) survives the massacre. Her boyfriend Marco (Wu Shu Wei) is the murder suspect.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Eat Drink Man Woman (Yin shi nan nu)

Director – Ang Lee – 1994 – Taiwan, US – Cert. PG – 124m

*****

Originally published in Home Entertainment.

Ageing restauranteur Chu (Lung Sihung) lives in Taipei with his three daughters – Christian schoolteacher Jia-Jen (Yang Kuei-mei), high-flying businesswoman Jia- Chien (Wu Chien-lieu) and teenage fast food assistant Jia-Ning (Wang Yu-wen). His problem (as with the mother in Lee’s Sense And Sensibility/1996) is that none of his daughters are married – and the clock is ticking.

Opening (scooter) traffic shot boasts encompassing sound, later rivalled by such DS subtleties as hymn singing (on a wonky Walkman) and a playground full of kids. Better yet are the cooking noises – bubbling, frying, pouring, steaming – rendered more mouth-watering still by accompanying oriental cuisine visuals. Should be watched with a lavish meal ready for consumption by the time of (or even before) the final frame.

Film 5/5

Sound 5/5

Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 1994 (67th) Oscars.

Originally published in Home Entertainment.