Todd McCarthy at
Meni Yaesh's gritty Critics' Week film owes much to early Chuck Norris movies as it follows three young Israelis patrolling their neighborhood with baseball bats.
What looks at the outset to be a straightforward vigilante movie about
a trio of hot-headed religious watchdogs in
A trio of twentyish skull-capped guys, Avi, Kobi and Yaniv, have taken
it upon themselves to police their
While they pursue Torah studies seriously with a notably inspiring and charismatic rabbi, the boys aren’t exactly exemplars of conservative behavior, as they smoke weed regularly and are generally unruly, answering only to their own overbearingly physical interpretation of doing God’s will. Long sections of the film play like a religiously charged American buddy movie devoted to noisy, rambunctious scenes of young bloods getting high, horsing around, listening to music and trying to find alternative outlets for their raging hormones.
The arrival of an attractive, independent-minded woman, Miri, into Avi’s life causes the expected, and resented, disruption in the young men’s dynamic. Ari wrestles with his desires in predictable ways, but where God’s Neighbors feels fresh is in he portrayal of his intense religious struggle. In a convincing and involving manner, first-time writer-director Meni Yaesh presents Avi’s inner turmoil through the character’s painful internal debate, as the young man attempts to reconcile his interpretation of God’s commandments, his habitual and violent implementation of them and his feelings for Miri and their future.
The result causes a moving and entirely plausible growth of character, one spurred—of course, since this is in part an action movie—by a final round of bloody violence. But the final stretch gives the drama a heft and impressive perspective that are not necessarily evident up to that point.
Director Yaesh freely admits he grew up loving Van Damme and Chuck Norris action movies and there’s more than a trace of this visible in his in-your-face style; if he had come of age in the heyday of Golan & Globus, there can be little doubt he would have started his career with them. But instead, he’s both used genre tropes and gone beyond them, resulting in a scrappy, hard-hitting debut.
Neighbours Jonathan Romney at
Israeli first feature God’s Neighbours brings a decidedly punchy touch to its sincere plea for tolerance. Adding a theological dimension to its boisterous take on contemporary Israeli society, Meni Yaesh’s film has energy and confidence to spare, but can’t quite decide how to pitch itself - as likeable comedy or gritty social drama.
The uncertainty is especially problematic since its protagonist veers between being an all-out nice guy and something much harder to accept, a violent religious bigot. The likeability of lead Roy Assaf helps offset the directorial awkwardness, but a schematic approach to the film’s moral issues makes for an ungainly, overtly polemical package. This won’t help sales prospects, though festivals, especially with a Jewish or ecumenical angle, will latch onto God’s Neighbours as a lively stimulus for debate.
Set in the Israeli city of Bat Yam, the film is about a young man named Avi (Assaf), who’s a pretty hip sort of guy - into smoking dope, creating his own dance tracks, and hanging out with his high-fiving buddies.
You’d meet a character like Avi in any streetwise contemporary urban drama - the only difference being that Avi is a devout Orthodox Jew of the Hassidic ‘Breslov’ branch. Together with his friends Kobi and Yaniv, he runs a neighbourhood watch team, which deals out summary justice, often with baseball bats, to anyone who disturbs the peace, breaks the laws of the Sabbath, or otherwise gets on the guys’ nerves.
At one point, they rather menacingly confront a young secular neighbour, Miri (Ziesman-Cohen), and berate her for not dressing modestly enough. But Avi also takes a liking to Miri and - perhaps improbably - she takes a shine to him. The question is whether he’ll have to bend his codes to hers, or vice versa, in order for the two to find happiness.
Continuing a cycle of recent Israeli fictions about Orthodox Judaism and its complexities (including Amos Gitai’s 1999 Kadosh and 2007’s Eyes Wide Open), God’s Neighbours is a direct, rather artless film that sketches its social milieu in bold colours. It offers an intriguing insight into Avi’s Breslov congregation and the Sephardic community he belongs to (in which Miri seems to be the only woman visible for miles).
The film is also strong on the cultural contradiction of Avi and his friends: while espousing the most austere moral values, they also identify themselves with the signs of modern international secularity (trainers, baseball caps, dance music et al).
As the film moves into its increasingly thriller-like final stages, the comedy banter between Avi and pals sits more and more awkwardly, and Yaesh strains awkwardly for hard-edged streetwise immediacy. The director-writer not surprisingly lists GoodFellas among his influences, and the theme of interracial confrontation (brought to the fore when the friends head for a rumble with an Arab gang) brings hints of Do The Right Thing or La Haine.
But the film suffers badly in misjudging its lighter registers: the increasingly cute-meet tenor of Avi’s tentative courtship of Miri is hard to swallow, while some support actors’ manic overplaying capsizes the tenor of realism. Yaesh has made his choice to entertain, but a more sober approach would have done justice to the contradictions of a complex and urgent theme.
MY SECRET CACHE
Japan (83 mi) 1997
My Secret Cache / Himitsu no hanazono Aaron Gerow for The Daily Yomiuri
Sakiko (Nishida Naomi), the heroine of My Secret Cache, loves money. Most of us do, too, but Sakiko is a bit single-minded in her affection. After all, when asked out for dinner, she usually just responds, "Why not give me the money you'll spend instead?"
So when Sakiko is kidnapped by bank robbers along with 500 million yen in cash and survives a car crash where the robbers die and the loot is lost in an unknown, watery grotto, it is not surprising that the recovery of all the loot for herself becomes Sakiko's all-consuming obsession.
Dismissed by all who think the money burned in the inferno of the crash, Sakiko stops at nothing to find that cash-filled cave. She goes through exam hell to enter a university geology department that knows that area best. She wins any sports contest she enters to secure its cash prize so she can finance her search. Sakiko will even lie, cheat and steal to get her hands on that hidden treasure.
Films in the vein of It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World would reproach her for such greed and avarice, but director Yaguchi Shinobu's slightly skewed gaze is much gentler. Money gives meaning and direction to Sakiko's life--it makes her endearing in her persistence, resourcefulness, and consistency. It even helps her do the impossible, even if it's just for money.
It also becomes the driving force behind the delightful comedy, My Secret Cache, a kind of vectoral progression running through the film similar to that in Yaguchi's other works. The high-school heroine of his debut feature, Down the Drain ("Hadashi no pikunikku," 1992), was also propelled in a straight line, only hers was incessantly downward as one trick of fate after another hurled her further and further into utter degradation.
But whereas she became victim of the downward velocity of that relentless black comedy, Cache's Sakiko takes that vectoricity and makes it her own. And despite falling down more times than one can count, her progression is ultimately upward, bringing good fortune to herself and to others in her wake. My Secret Cache is a much lighter film than Down the Drain. It is rhythmically woven with a pleasant artificiality epitomized by the intentionally campy special effects. Every shot seems posed and many of Yaguchi's hilarious gags stand alone as independent theatrical sketches.
The film skims along the surface like a hydrofoil, often propelled by transitionary gag lines and images that quickly hurl us from one scene to the next. Never deeply explored, Sakiko is as endearingly one-dimensional as the media images that she always seems to look at, appear in, or even makes, like the little "movie" she produces as she investigates her own kidnapping.
Yaguchi's film is in many ways a pastiche of other movies and TV cliches, wryly playing with images while never pretending to take them or itself too seriously. It treats those cliches and conventions in gentle but slightly warped fashion, always working, as with the casting, against type (this is a film, after all, in which perverse devotion to money is a positive trait). Fashion model Nishida ends up looking more like Hisamoto Masami than Esumi Makiko and the usually serious film director Riju Go is transformed into the womanizing but affable geologist Edogawa.
It is this crooked candy cane quality which may make some overlook My Secret Cache. Especially to many non-Japanese, Japanese cinema is either epically serious or personally tragic, evincing comedy only to ease the oppressive load. But from Enoken to the Crazy Cats, from Morishige Hisaya to Frankie Sakai, this country has a brilliant film comedy tradition both long and deep.
While most of his young contemporaries are filming dark, existential tomes,
Yaguchi is one of the few carrying on this comedy heritage. It is heartening
that Toho, in cooperation with Pia, has decided to support his talent through
Given Sakiko's determination to locate her treasure, it's now up to audiences to find the Yaguchi's own secret cache of comedy.
TORA-SAN 48 THE FINAL
Japan (110 mi) 1995
Otoko wa tsurai yo: Torajiro, kurenai no hana Aaron Gerow for The Daily Yomiuri
Just as the rather odd signs of Christmas, at least in
This year, Godzilla is dead, but Tora-san will seemingly live on forever as a Japanese institution.
Tora-san, for those of who have been paying too much attention to Zen and Kabuki to learn about popular Japanese culture, is the incorrigible star of the world's longest running movie series, "Otoko wa tsurai yo." In every episode, the itinerant salesman Kuruma Torajiro (Atsumi Kiyoshi), after making a mess of things at his sister Sakura's sweet shop in Tokyo's shitamachi, travels to different areas of Japan and falls in platonic but unrequited love with a local girl, a role that has been played by some of Japan's biggest actresses.
Director Yamada Yoji's skillful mix of humor and pathos, as well as reassuring predictability, has struck a chord with many Japanese, who have supported the series since its inception in 1969.
As a cultural institution, Tora-san embodies many of the contradictions of Japanese society. As an outsider, Torajiro cannot stand the strictures of Japanese work and family life, his straight-forwardness often undermining society's arbitrary rules.
shitamachi society they depicted. That an outsider serves to represent traditional urban culture is certainly ironic, but it is clear the Tora-san films can only give off their patented nostalgic warmth by depicting a world hopelessly gone. From Torajiro's clothes to the architecture of the Kuruma shop, most everything in these films is out of date. But Yamada acknowledges that, in part so as to sculpt out an idyllic, but petrified world that satisfies the nostalgic longings of many a Japanese.
Reaching 48 episodes with this year's Otoko wa tsurai yo: Torajiro, kurenai no hana, the series' nostalgia is beginning to center on itself. While still following the pattern, No. 48 is less a new adventure than a fond recollection of Tora-san's past.
Here he hooks up again with a "madonna" from days gone by: Lily (Asaoka Ruriko), the singer he fell in love with in episodes 11, 15, and 25. Lily, often compared to Tora in her itinerant ways, is the only woman who really loves him. The movie also takes up the problem of Mitsuo (Yoshioka Hidetaka), Sakura's son who had spent episodes 42 through 45 pining after his former classmate, Izumi (Goto Kumiko).
Izumi visits Mitsuo to tell him she is thinking of getting married. When Mitsuo is unable to raise any objection, she stubbornly decides to go ahead with the deed, until Mitsuo arrives to crash the wedding procession.
Run out of town, Mitsuo wanders half-suicidally down to
The story might be juvenile and predictable (what fool would bet on Torajiro marrying Lily at the end?), but the pleasure of watching Tora-san is mostly in recognizing a now familiar world. It is fun simply seeing Tora-san do what Tora-san does, and re-experiencing the pleasures and people we encountered in previous episodes. If our world transforms, it is nice to know that the life of the Kuruma clan does not.
Even when we see Tora-san, in a brilliantly funny take on Forrest Gump,
In certain aspects, the series is beginning to look old: Atsumi looks like he can't do much wandering anymore and Sakura's Baisho Chieko appears painfully aged. To many contemporary eyes, the films' values are conservative and unrealistic and the filmmaking bland and unoriginal. Yet it cannot be denied that the world etched out in the Tora-san movies has become a centerpiece of contemporary Japanese culture. Not because it faithfully depicts that culture: such a "traditional culture" has long since ceased to exist (if it ever did exist in the form Yamada portrays). Rather, it is because many Japanese feel a deep-seated need to believe such a world still surrounds them.
A CLASS TO REMEMBER
Japan (122 mi) 1996
A Class to Remember II / Gakko II Aaron Gerow for The Daily Yomiuri
Tora-san is dead and with him, one would think, an era. But don't pay your last respects just yet. Even if the popular "Otoko wa tsurai yo" series will end with the unfortunate death of Tora's talented performer, Atsumi Kiyoshi, the world embodied in Kuruma Torajiro's adventures will live on the work of director Yamada Yoji at Shochiku. Unfortunately, that is not necessarily a good thing for Japanese cinema.
In the last decade or two, interspersed between regular "Otoko" editions, Yamada has been turning out more "serious," "socially conscious" films like The Yellow Handkerchief of Happiness ("Shiawase no kiiroi hankachi," 1977) and My Sons ("Musuko," 1991) to critical acclaim. His A Class to Remember ("Gakko," 1993) in fact won many of the major Japanese film awards for 1993.
Playing off that film's success, Yamada has now churned out A Class to Remember II.
Not exactly a sequel, it shares the last movie's situation and lead actor, but
with a different location and cast of characters. A Class to Remember
featured the jolly Nishida Toshiyuki
as a dedicated teacher at a
Ryuhei (Nishida) and his colleagues, the seasoned teacher Reiko (Ishida Ayumi) and the neophyte Daisuke (Nagase Masatoshi), have their hands full trying to educate charges who, as if their disabilities were not enough, cannot seem to succeed in a world that has already written them off.
Bullies force Takashi (Yoshioka Hidetaka) to retreat into a shell and Yuya (Kanbe Hiroshi) only relates to others through violent outbursts. As is de rigeur in a Yamada film, however, human goodness sparks miracles. Takashi and Yuya, supported by the faculty, help each other overcome their problems. Even when the two abscond to see a Amuro Namie concert without permission (the film's framing incident), that just provides the occasion for more laughter, tears, and down-home communal warmth.
Both films offer Yamada the opportunity to address the burning issue of
Bullying, for instance, the pressing issue of our day, is mentioned in the film, but never seen. Visualizing it would seem to sully Yamada's pristine vision. While some characters may suffer the usual human foibles, no one in A Class to Remember II is cruel, or power-hungry, or coldly calculating. Everyone is basically good deep down inside.
It is this utopian vision that made the Tora-san movies delightful. Having no pretense to represent reality, they offered us a superior world to fantasize about. But by proposing to depict a troubled reality without ever showing it, A Class to Remember II is an utter failure as social problem film. Instead of being called to action, audiences just leave the theater with a teary-eyed glow, reassured that all of humanity is good, that reality is already utopia. Yamada's vision is deeply conservative, still producing communal portraits in the 1950s Shochiku-style, but without the brilliant irony of its best practitioners like Kinoshita Keisuke.
Wallowing in a feel-good humanism focused on individuals, his films bypass the truly frightening stories of institutional power, structural corruption, and oppression by the community.
In the end, Yamada is woefully old fashioned. His Up With People
world is like Father
Knows Best without the retro camp, a Reagan-Bush utopia of fifties
suburbia transplanted to shitamachi
THE TWILIGHT SAMURAI A- 93
A tender study of character development, highlighted by Hiroyuki Sanada’s beautifully understated performance as the “silent” samurai, very much in the manner of Kurosawa, a man who has lost his wife, whose senile mother doesn’t recognize him any more, but a man who finds more peace and harmony in the beauty of raising his daughters than the fierce combat any practicing samurai would face, so instead he leads a quiet, unassuming life. But a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do. This is, after all, a samurai picture. But the brief moments of action, some of which are superb, are overshadowed by a meticulous focus on the details of daily life, and the special affections that evolve between the characters. This is an unglamorous view of a modern day hero in an age of warriors, where a man’s conscience is his guide rather than his sword, but when caught in a pinch, his sword comes in pretty handy too. This is a well-written story with healthy doses of humor, it’s well acted, there’s beautiful photography, with a haunting musical score that provides a nice underbalance until the end of the picture when the credits roll, it’s as if a Japanese Barry Manilow sings an overly optimistic final ballad ("Looks like we MADE it!"). Just overlook that if you will, as it’s the only part of the film that meanders out of character. Otherwise it’s a joy to watch.
Time Out Tony Rayns
Former samurai Seibei (Sanada, last seen in Ring) has lost his wife to tuberculosis; he works as a stock clerk for his clan to support his aged mother and two young daughters. A formal introduction to his best friend's sister Tomoe (Miyazawa, radiantly demure) raises the possibility of remarriage, but Seibei considers himself too poor and Tomoe retreats in emotional confusion. But then he's 'volunteered' to duel with a recalcitrant clan member (Tanaka, a butoh veteran making his film debut) who refuses to commit suicide. He's forced to face this man with a wooden sword, having hocked his real one. Yamada (now 72) based this on three pulp stories by Shuhei Fujisawa and directs it with the same choked back sentimentality he brought to the Tora-san series, playing up the parallels with present day salarymen facing premature retirement and poverty. It looks great (inky chiaroscuro photography, a palette anchored in greys and browns), but it could have been made 50 years ago.
"The samurai's day is done," confesses a grizzled veteran swordsman before his showdown with the impoverished hero, Seibei (Hiroyuki Sanada), in the final moments of the elegiac "The Twilight Samurai."
Such scenes are traditionally played with a reverential sense of honor and ritual, but for all the bucolic beauty and gentle humanism in Yoji Yamada's delicate film, there is nothing romantic about this meaningless violence.
In the dying days of the
Just off screen, however, famine ravages the country (corpses of starved peasants float down the town's river) and the corrupt feudal caste system is on the verge of collapse and civil war. The Bushido code of the samurai, now wielded by the ruling class as a tool of social control, has become a matter of appearances. That makes the threadbare, rank-smelling Seibei a disgrace to the clan in the eyes of his uncle and a joke among his co-workers at the castle stores.
The philosophical Seibei cares little about what they think. His weary face glows with affection for his apple-cheeked little girls and only his crippling debt seems to stand in the way of happiness when his childhood sweetheart, Tomoe (Rie Miyazawa), comes to visit. She sweeps away the shroud of shadows and throws open the confines of their claustrophobic home.
Then the pacifist swordsman is ordered to execute the retainer of a rogue clan, a man sentenced to death for hewing to his ancient code of honor and loyalty.
Midnight Eye Nicholas Rucka
After dedicating a large portion of his life to the wildly popular Tora-san movies, Yoji Yamada seemingly comes out of the blue and creates a fantastic modern samurai flick. Twilight Samurai can best be described as being a kind of Unforgiven (Clint Eastwood's 1991 Academy Award winning western) of Japanese samurai movies. While firmly in the jidai-geki (period drama) genre and playing more towards realism than any sort of stylized samurai mythos, the film tells the story of Iguchi "Tasogare" Seibei ("Twilight" Seibei) a lowly 50-koku samurai who toils under great financial hardship to raise his two daughters and care for his senile mother, after his wife passes away from consumption.
Seibei is an incredibly sincere man with great personal pride and honor - an anachronism in the final years of the Tokugawa era - whom no one can figure out: he is always unkempt, is obviously under great stress, but never complains about his lot in life nor wishes anyone foul. When the beautiful Tomoe, an old childhood friend (and crush), returns to his life, he is conflicted by his feelings towards her and his understanding that because of his 50-koku status, he is unable to marry a woman of Tomoe's standing. But when Tomoe's ex-husband, a violent drunk, shows up and demands that Tomoe return with him, Seibei is drawn into a duel to protect her honor. What is discovered through this duel is that Seibei might appear to be a simple, unkempt man, but he is also a master short-swordsman. Quickly rumors of Seibei's might spreads across the land and he reluctantly is forced to accept a mercenary's assignment from the elder's in his Shogun's house, in order to save both his and his family's 'face'.
With incredible patience Yamada unfolds the tale of "Twilight" Seibei. The film is deliberate, concise and beautiful in its execution. The film harkens back to the heyday of jidai-geki but does so in a different and unique manner. The violence, while still dished out in sharp bursts, has a very real quality typically ignored in chanbara or jidai-geki productions: a perfect illustration of which has Seibei, towards the end of the movie, step over the body of a slain samurai assassin who is now frozen in rigor mortis and engulfed by flies. Somehow, by infusing the film with such 'realism' the story gets anchored and becomes more authentic. By the time we've reached the conclusion and the coda of the movie, we realize that what we've seen is not only the story of Seibei and his anachronistic code of conduct, but also how, (and this is the major similarity to Unforgiven) because of this, he (and his ilk) could no longer function in the rising modern world which regarded the West, material goods and modernization as things to be prized above honor. These themes resonate loudly in Twilight Samurai and helps to elevate Yamada's movie from a mere 'period picture' into something more profound.
Destined to be overlooked and underappreciated, Yoji Yamada's The Twilight Samurai is a mature, revisionist, Budd Boetticher samurai epic. The genre's battery of traditions takes an evocative, real-world beating; here, 19th-century bushi are shogun functionaries mired in clan accounting and haunted by financial problems. Yamada, a septuagenarian work-horse best known in Japan for his 27-year run helming some 46 contemporary romantic comedies in the "Tora-San" series, set out to make a "realistic" period piece, and so the tale turns on the ludicrous injustice of clan politics, complete with dog-eat-dog task work, managerial humiliation, and pre-scripted hara-kiri. Employees of the New World Order can easily relate.
Iguchi, the titular hero (Ringu vet Hiroyuki
Sanada), is a downtrodden nowhere man cowed by his low class stature, his
recent widowerhood, and the massive debt incurred because of his dead wife's
tuberculosis. With his petty salary garnished and his elderly mother all but
completely senile, Iguchi (nicknamed Twilight by his scoffing co-workers) finds
solace in his young daughters and apparently harbors, in a culture predicated
on manly aggression, no desire to improve his situation. Presumably shortlisted
Based on a novel by Shuhei Fujiwara, The Twilight Samurai is not a radical redressing of samurai formula so much as a sensible realigning of its priorities: Honor, ostensibly the end-all of the warrior myth, is matter-of-factly trumped by poverty, parental devotion, romantic love, familial responsibility, even complacent contentment. Yamada shoots his movie with a grandfatherly expertise, never squeezing the drama for juice or distancing us too far from the characters—it's a pleasure to see a movie that makes every shot count, narratively and emotively. (The unceremonious observation of work—Iguchi earning extra money by assembling bamboo insect-specimen cages, as well as meticulously prepping his sword for battle—is just another factor in the movie's commitment to reality.)
At the same time, it's hardly a gritty experience; Yamada's wide-screen images are as ripe and sweet as a Sirkian peach. Fujiwara's story, with its concise yet organic contest between happiness and society, is adroitly crafted, but Samurai's primary blessing is a sense of humane community, where relationships have unexpected depths and individuals' inconsistencies reflect the culture's irrational brutalism. Climactically, a would-be death-defying face-off becomes an exhausted heart-to-heart of commiseration and mourning—punctuated by one exasperated warrior absentmindedly snacking on a fragment of cremation bone. Here, as throughout The Twilight Samurai, the acting is grippingly genuine and several degrees more convincing than its genre can usually accommodate. That Yamada's film was actually nominated for an Oscar earlier this year shouldn't be held against it—even the Academy's import-selecting body can trip on its own Ferrari every now and then and elect somethingsubtle, grown-up, and nourishingly wise.
DVD Times Noel Megahey
Asian Cinema Drifter Tuna
filmcritic.com Don Willmott
DVD Verdict Erick Harper
hybridmagazine.com Vadim Rizov
Political Film Review Michael Haas
EyeForFilm.co.uk Amber Wilkinson
Kung Fu Cult Cinema Janick Neveu
Boston Globe Ty Burr
New York Times (registration req'd) Elvis Mitchell
LOVE AND HONOR B+ 91
An old-fashioned interior Japanese chamber drama, told with a delicately understated, yet thoroughly melodramatic touch. Dramatic sentiment is always underexpressed, occasionally rising to the surface, but this is something of a weeper. Opening with a little too much marital bliss, one can only surmise that this happiness is temporary, especially when we learn from the outset that the husband’s job as a low level samurai is to test the feudal lord’s food before he dines. Shinnojo (Takuya Kimura, from 2046) ridicules his own position, believing it is already an outdated custom, and yearns to open a swordsman class of his own. But he is immediately stricken ill from eating out-of-season shellfish and develops a high fever, lapsing into a coma which he survives, but is left completely blind. His beautiful wife Kayo (Rei Dan) is wise enough to hide his sword, as the mood of the film immediately turns dark and somber where Shinnojo starts entertaining suicidal thoughts, as a blind samurai is not only of no use to anyone, but instead becomes a burden to others, something that shames him deeply. When his family meets to decide his fate, they are more interested in maintaining their own customary lifestyle than thinking of him. When Kayo mentions that a fellow samurai Shimada (Mitsugoro Bando), now a local official who had designs on her before she was married, offered his sympathy and his help, they immediately feel relieved of all responsibilities. Some time afterwards, Shinnojo receives more than an adequate compensation from his lordship, a generous offer that surprises everyone. But this is followed by an amusing scene where Shinnojo and another samurai have to wait in the weeds for an official meeting to offer thanks to his lordship, where they spend the entire time swatting mosquitoes until his lordship walks by, pausing, recognizing their bows, but then continues on his way. This scene, though, defines what kind of film this is, as it meticulously details an official adherence to custom, class rank, and an arrogant disregard for those in a lower class.
Shinnojo himself has had a boyhood servant since his own father died, Tokuhei (Takashi Sasano), who turns in one of the better performances in the film, not just a loyal subject, but a humble, good-hearted man who spends his entire life accommodating others. Japanese films are filled with side characters like this, and rarely, if ever, are they recognized. But this film takes great care in developing Tokuhei’s importance to those he serves, where he constantly has to evaluate what he says, where truth is a variable depending on mood and stature, as he can’t exceed his place, but he can’t lie or disappoint either, so he’s always caught in a position where it’s more important not to offend than tell the truth. When Shinnojo discovers through a gossipy aunt that Kayo was seen with Shimada, Shinnojo throws her out of his house on the spot before doing the same to his wife after she is later seen again in Shimada’s company. At this point it turns into a revenge saga, where Shinnojo sharpens his swordsman skills with an old sensei (Ken Ogata) who suspects he intends to fight a skilled samurai and helps him prepare for the inevitable. Death and honor are common samurai themes, but through his sword, honor and pride have regained prominence over feeling like a helpless victim. A man alone, like any Sergio Leone caper, is the only way to prepare for battle, meeting Shimada in some abandoned ramshackle stable. Yamada has an obvious flair setting up this pivotal scene, well-paced, perfectly executed, never losing his objectivity in realizing the moment, which is what it is, and nothing more. The small details of this film characterize its charm, where the obvious isn’t the focus, as there’s no movement to challenge or change the existing structure, but instead what matters is what is often overlooked, where one must be blind not to see.
At 76, Japanese writer-director Yoji Yamada is still best
known in his homeland for a one-time Guinness Book record-holding series of
four dozen films (the Tora-san Series), all with virtually the same plot about
a traveling salesman who is unlucky in love. That resolute consistency carries
over to Love and Honor, the third leg in Yamada’s melodramatic samurai trilogy
(following the Oscar-nominated The Twilight Samurai and The Hidden
Blade). Here again are the familiar feudal class themes and low-ranking
samurai protagonist: Newly appointed to be a food tester for a local lord,
Shinnojo (Takuya Kimura) eats an out-of-season shellfish and goes blind. He
falls into suicidal despair, until a chance to exact revenge upon a head clerk
who has bedded his wife leads to the trilogy’s third mano-a-mano showdown. If
you’ve seen the others, you’ll know not to expect Zatôichi action in this blind
man’s duel; Yamada’s refined Merchant-Ivory approach to the
Based on the novel by Shuuhei Fujisawa, Love and Honor (aka: Bushi no ichibun, The Poison Taster) tells the tragic tale of Shinnojo Mimura (Takuya Kimura) a spoiled young samurai, a poison taster for a feudal lord, struck blind after a toxic meal. Thereafter rendered a “useless” person the samurai is rendered housebound, the once fiercely independent and proud man finding himself forced to rely on the kindness of his faithful servant and beautiful wife (Rei Dan), and subject to pity, ridicule, and opportunism by former friends and family. As is the way with things, troubles come in waves, and bad situations have a way of getting worse. Following one particularly despicable digression the samurai is forced to don a sword once more, and defend the honor of both himself and his beloved wife.
Elegant and straightforward in delivery, director Yoji Yamada’s Love and Honor is one of the most interesting and moving samurai films I’ve seen in quite some time. The performances of Kimura and Dan are top notch, perfectly conveying their understated love, and in turn amplifying the emotional impact of their most terrible of situations. Samurai action devotees may be off put by the film’s lack of conflicts, but the film’s finale provides intensity enough to rank with the best. A film of quiet beauty, and a captivating meditation on pride, love, duty, and integrity, Love and Honor is easily one of the best films of 2007. Seek it out.
Do we need to know everything? Would our lives be better if
there were certain things we didn't know? These are matters addressed in this
story of a samurai family and life in feudal
Love and Honor is the concluding chapter to director Yoji
Yamada's loose samurai trilogy. Personally, I have enjoyed the other two,
Twilight Samurai and The Hidden Blade, because they are extremely well made,
and have important stories to tell, rather than focusing its energies onto huge
action sets with plenty of sword wielding, and Love and Honor is no different.
Shinnojo Mimura (Takuya Kimura) is a lowly Japanese samurai, who's employed by his clan as a food taster. It's a dead end job with zero job satisfaction, and Shinnojo reveals in a conversation with his wife Kayo (Rei Dan) that he dreams of opening up a kendo dojo of his own, and recruiting students to teach regardless of their caste. It's a noble dream, but one that is cut short when he gets blinded during one of the food tasting sessions, eating sashimi made from fish which is poisonous when out of season.
Like its title suggests, Love and Honor is an intense love story based on those two themes. With Shinnojo handicapped, fears are abound within the family that without a job, they will lose their status and material wealth. And Shinnojo's growing negative attitude toward life doesn't help either. Stress befalls Kayo, and on the ill advice of her aunt, she seeks to find a powerful samurai Shimada (Mitsugoro Bando) to help them out of their plight.
No man enjoys his wife having to bring home the bacon on his behalf, especially not when it involves favours with another man who's vastly superior, not in feudal
Takuya Kimura, whom I last seen in 2046, has aged for this role. He looked mature and pretty much left his pretty boy days quite far behind to bring certain gravitas to his character. Rei Dan in a debut is on par with the recognizable female leads in the previous trilogy movies, and is excellent too in her role as like the other female characters, and a memorable one too. And not all's bleak in the movie, with Takashi Sasano's servant character Tokuhei bringing about some light hearted moments with his earnestness and wit.
Samurai movies have been possibly enriched by Yoji Yamada's trilogy contribution, and Love and Honor triumphs slightly over its predecessors to bring the series into a fitting close. Recommended!
Some directors, like the recently deceased Akio Jissoji, have careers that look from the outside to be wildly eclectic. Jissoji's filmography encompassed everything from the early "Ultraman" shows to the arty films he made for the Art Theater Guild in the early 1970s.
Yoji Yamada, on the other hand, would seem to be the ultimate journeyman, churning out 48 episodes of the Tora-san series from 1969 to 1996 -- a feat that lifted him into the Guinness World Records. In discussing the series, Yamada often compared himself to a noodle cook, who aims for consistency as well as quality.
But Yamada's trilogy of samurai films -- "Tasogare Seibei (The Twilight Samurai)" (2002), "Kakushi Ken -- Oni no Tsume (The Hidden Blade)" (2004), and the new "Bushi no Ichibun (Love and Honor)" (2006) -- differ from much of his earlier work not only in subject matter but treatment and sensibility. The folksy humor and sentimentality that were once Yamada trademarks are seldom in sight. Instead, the dominant mood is autumnal, verging on somber; the stylistics spare, if visually rich.
If Yamada was once a sort of Japanese Norman Rockwell, giving the big audience warm tinglies with his idealized, portraits of national archetypes, he has since become more like Andrew Wyeth: still popular with the masses, but striking deeper, darker emotional chords.
Based, like the first two films in the trilogy, on the fiction of Shuhei Fujisawa, "Bushi no Ichibun" also resembles them in its story arc. Once again, a low-ranked samurai faces character-testing difficulties that he overcomes with the support of a pure-hearted woman, culminating in a sword duel with a rival. In other words, a third serving of soba.
But just as one bowl of noodles is not like the next, "Bushi no Ichibun" stands apart from the other trilogy films. First, its star, Takuya Kimura, is not, like Hiroyuki Sanada of "Tasogare Seibei" and Masatoshi Nagase of "Kakushi Ken," a middle-aged screen veteran, but a youngish TV megastar with limited film experience. Rei Dan, who plays Kimura's wife, is a screen newcomer, in contrast to Rie Miyazawa and Takako Matsu, established stars who played the female leads in the first two films.
Also, the situation of Kimura's samurai, Shinnojo Mimura, is more dramatically desperate. A food taster for his clan's lord, he is poisoned by bad shellfish and goes blind. Though poor by samurai standards, Shinnojo and his wife Kayo (Dan) have a happy marriage, and his career prospects as an expert swordsman are bright until suddenly it all goes crash.
Kayo and the couple's elderly servant Tokuhei (Takashi Sasano) remain devoted, but Shinnojo feels worse than useless. He contemplates suicide, and turns bitter and violent. Kayo, an orphan who married up, can bring no allies to this struggle. Meanwhile, Shinnojo's relatives, beginning with his aunt Ine (Kaori Momoi), are selfish, coldly practical sorts who, at a family conference, tell Kayo to find a powerful patron. She remembers Toya Shimada (Mitsugoro Bando), a clan banto (captain) who had once expressed sympathy for her plight.
Shimada proves to be as good as his word, using his influence to allow Shinnojo to keep his status, income and house. All seems to be saved -- the once light-hearted Shinnojo cracks his first jokes in ages -- but he can't escape the feeling that Kayo is slipping away from him, into the arms of another man. When a rumor confirms his fears, he goes off the deep end -- this time, it seems, for good.
This material is ripe with melodramatic potential, but Yamada films it with a minimum of histrionics. He keeps his scenes, even ones in which crockery is thrown, simple and pointed, with plenty of strong emotion but little overacting.
This sort of paring down is common in films by older directors, but "Bushi no Ichibun" does not share other familiar features of "geriatric" cinema: staginess or outdated-ness. One reason is that Yamada's principal couple is young and he allows them to act that way, instead of sitting on their personalities in the name of auteurist rigor.
Kimura disappears into his role more completely than I would have thought possible, while Dan, a former Star performer in the Takarazuka revue, is a revelation -- thoroughly professional, refreshingly natural. Not an aughties idol or diva, but an actress who could have walked in from a Mizoguchi film.
Also, instead of falling back on the tricks of his earlier career -- Tora-san redux -- Yamada is working in what for him is still a new genre, using new approaches. Even Tokuhei -- whom Yamada could have easily turned into yet other lovable version of Tora-san -- is a hard-bitten character in his own right.
Viewers of the other trilogy films will recognize familiar tropes, including the climactic duel that, true to Yamada's keep-it-real code, has none of the fantastic flash of other films about blind swordsmen, including the "Zatoichi" series. The sword moves are the real deal, the battle intensely personal, the results grippingly final. That is to say, if you liked the first two films, you'll like this one even more. Cooks tend to improve with practice -- and Yamada's third batch of noodles is his best.
New York Times (registration req'd) Jeannette Catsoulis
BREAKABLE B 87
black & white Japanese ennui with surf guitar along with some haunting imagery
"For Yamamoto, Life Is by the Reel" Interview by Aaron Gerow for The Daily Yomiuri
Atlanta Boogie / Atoranta bugi Aaron Gerow for The Daily Yomiuri
Popularized at the turn of the 19th century as a means of training young bodies for the service of the state, the undokai or athletic meet has become a symbol of Japanese schools, companies and local communities--a delightful way to compete and work up a sweat while simultaneously strengthening the body politic.
The affluent residents of Todorokicho in Yamamato Masashi's bizarre new comedy Atlanta Boogie carry on this chauvanistic tradition when they vigorously protest a proposal that their mostly illegal, foreign neighbors be allowed to take part in the local undokai. By definition, such a Japanese institution is no place for them, they seem to say.
In the movie, gaijin participation is secured only when a nouveau riche power broker named Matsumoto (Furuta Arata) and the police chief (Tobayama Bunmei) deviously decide on the undokai as a way of ridding the town of unclean foreigners once and for all. Ignorant of the scheme, Shinohara (Kawamura Kamon), a small-time local shopkeeper and friend of the foreigners, asks the deadbeat Yoshi (Nozawa Hideyuki) and the tough bargirl Yuki (Suzuki Saiko) to organize a team around the inhabitants of Yoshi's cheap, but international boarding house, the Hotel Hyatto.
Their rag-tag team, however, looks to be no match for Matsumoto's gang of
hired guns, peppered with former major league and NBA stars. Undaunted,
Shinohara and Yuki raise the stakes, challenging Matsumoto to phenomenal bets
and hiring both a pro undokai supervisor (Lily Yi) and their own ringers
(including tarnished Olympian Ben Johnson--the real one). Events snowball until
Although concluding with the undokai, Atlanta Boogie is not just an absurd sports movie. Producer Hayashi Kaizo, known for his own international directorial efforts, has gathered together a multi-national cast of Senegalese, Pakistanis, Canadians, and Chinese, as well as a Pan-Asian crew that includes two veterans of Edward Yang's staff: photographer Li Yi-xu and lighting man Li Long-yu.
Epitomized by the eleven languages crisscrossing the film, Altanta Boogie is a cosmopolitan potpourri that follows in the tracks of several other recent "borderless" Japanese movies, from Otomo Katsuhiro's World Apartment Horror to Sai Yoichi's All Under the Moon ("Tsuki wa dotchi ni dete iru," 1993) and Iwai Shunji's Swallowtail Butterfly ("Suwaroteru," 1996).
Beyond focusing on the de-homogenization of Japanese society, such films also seemingly strive for a more international Japanese cinema, one that can survive financially by playing to a foreign, particularly Asian market.
Unlike Swallowtail Butterfly, which was two-and-a-half hours of pretentiously artsy torture, Yamamoto's film carries on the irreverent tradition of the first two. Musical numbers, absurd sets and Furuta Arata's hyperactive performance make Atlanta Boogie a frenetic if not sometimes out-of-control farce.
In fact, the dominant mood of Atlanta Boogie is of a raucous company undokai. In the spirit of other talent agencies turned movie producer like Hori Pro, Atlanta's production company Amuse didn't stop at casting some of its own musical artists in the major roles, it organized cameos by dozens of others, including Kishitani Goro, Tsukamoto Shinya, Nagase Masatoshi, and Bakufu Slump. The resulting musical score is one of the film's most enjoyable aspects.
In the end, Atlanta Boogie can be as fun as, but also as uneven as any undokai, with some performers missing the starting gun and not a few of the gags falling flat on the track. It's like everyone at Amuse just got together one day, ran to their heart's delight and put it all on film.
A skilled comedy director such as Kawashima Yuzo
could have pulled this chaos together into a film, but one has the impression
that Yamamoto, known for his more serious Robinson's Garden
("Robinson no niwa," 1987) and the unfinished Kumagusu,
is not completely up to the task. The producers may have had a laugh at a
Japanese symbol, but Todorokicho is far from topping
JUNK FOOD B 87
Junk Food / Janku fudo Aaron Gerow for The Daily Yomiuri
Street fashion is still in. Teens walk through Shibuya in
A film like Iwai Shunji's Swallowtail
Butterfly has celebrated this display of alienness. But even if Iwai's
decision to have his Japanese cast speak foreign languages may have presented
the image of a multicultural Japan, in the end, the "otherness" the
actors assume appears to be more of a pose than a reality. It is just as
superficial as the
Masashi, who started depicting
Yet Yamamoto is not naive enough to think his cinema can expose the truth of the urban jungle. Instead of giving us a serious lecture about reality, he presents a variety of stories, both tragic and absurd, in a myriad of styles that acknowledge the artifice of the present while revealing its hidden underside.
The first extended story, in fact, depicts less the streets than the
corporate office: the
Shot in a more professional style with professional actors, this section is appropriately the film's most artificial. It presents a schizophrenic world split between a clean facade and perverse inside, encapsulated by Miyuki who, after all she has gone through, can still return home at night and play the wife to her blissfully ignorant husband.
After this daytime tale, Junk Food moves on to its centerpiece--the stories of the night. There is Hide (Yoshiyuki), in town to pick up the ashes of a dead friend, and have a fling a prostitute named Myan (MIA); Cawl (Ali Ahmed), a Pakistani who stole money to marry his Japanese girlfriend, but then kills her and a fellow Pakistani after his plans go awry; Ryo (Onimaru), a gang leader forced to look for the girl of an unpleasant acquaintance; and more.
Now using a rougher, more documentary form, Yamamoto skillfully weaves these
threads together until Cawl and Ryo join Hide and Myan to help pour the ashes
of Hide's friend into
The fact that the friend died on the Yamanote Line, circling round and round before anyone noticed, is symbolic of both Yamamoto's whirling movie and a world that ignores the "junk" it creates.
The circle is the defining figure for Junk Food, in part because the two above "acts" are framed by short, video-shot scenes of a blind old woman (played by Yamamoto's own mother) performing her unchanging morning routine. As one day comes to an end, another just starts the whole process over again.
The old woman is, in one way, the mundane that contrasts with the extraordinary events of the other stories. But she is sightless, a disabled figure whom society usually locks away. If she embodies how the alien can become the everyday, Yamamoto's brilliant decision to turn the film back on itself--to have the stories encircle each other instead of moving linearly parallel--helps him to underscore how all that is "alien" to Japan is as much part of the normal as the facade that tries to substitute superficiality for substance.
Junk food, despite the bad rap it gets from the "good" forces of healthy society, is still food. And often tastes a lot better.
LINDA, LINDA, LINDA B 86
A quiet, affectionately told story about a few days in the life of some high school girls at a Japanese High School, girls that all wear the exact same uniform, a white blouse, occasionally a white short sleeved sweater over it, with a dark skirt above the knees with dark socks nearly up to their knees, as if they’re ready for a round of tennis. The pace of the film is slow, the vocabulary is nearly non-existent, with plenty of ums, yeahs, OK, sure, or just no answer at all, resulting in plenty of dead space, which is the charm of the film, as it establishes a feeling of authenticity. Much of the time the girls are just sitting around doing nothing. Despite the fact they’re all mildly attractive, each seems to dwell in a mindset of negativity about themselves, which results in extreme shyness, as no one is willing to take the first step. Instead, they exist in a state of inertia, which pretty much explains high school.
In groups, however, they at least feel like they’re having more fun, even when nothing’s happening. Several girls decide to participate in a pop music club, where they can actually perform in an all-girl band. But three days before the show, two of them get into an argument where the lead guitarist breaks her finger and the lead singer quits. The keyboardist switches to lead guitar and remaining three decide they will carry on if they can find a lead singer, which is done by random selection, another extremely shy girl who turns out to be a Korean exchange student who has never performed in a band before and speaks little Japanese. But not to worry, after being handed a Xerox copy of the lyrics, she takes the honor seriously, entering a karaoke club to practice singing, but she’s refused admittance unless she purchases drinks, which she refuses, but later we see her flailing away. Little do we realize from her initial renditions that the song they’ve selected is the title of the film, a catchy 3 or 4 note Ramone’s sounding tune that was the biggest hit for the Japanese punk band the Blue Hearts, which happened to be written by James Iha, a former member of the Smashing Pumpkins who also wrote the soundtrack.
While nothing earth shattering happens here, there are plenty of small understated moments that accurately reflect the unease of kids who are uncomfortable with themselves, as most of the time we do not see them rehearse the music, which would offer a jolt of high-end energy, instead they occasionally strum their instruments while waiting for someone who hasn’t shown up yet, or we’ll hear an entry chord on the soundtrack that repeats itself softly, like a whiff of a gentle breeze. Despite having little time to prepare, these kids appropriately spend more time together but don’t seem overly worried and easily get side tracked by occasional ventures with unexpected friends or the opposite sex, or several humorous asides, moments where it seems they have all the time in the world, expressed with a kind of carefree spirit that recalls the Beatles in A HARD DAY’S NIGHT. Once the obligatory performance takes place, it’s utterly in context with the established pace and feel of the film, reminiscent of THE SCHOOL OF ROCK, where the performances never feel forced or untrue, but where these kids earn every bit of their small moment onstage to shine. The finale is deliriously upbeat.
Linda Linda Linda was the biggest hit for Japanese rock band Blue Hearts.
Even for those who understand only the song's chorus -- predictably
"Linda, Linda! Linda, Linda Linda-a!" -- it possesses a catchiness
that almost defies logic. As I sit here, fully a week after I heard the song
for the first time, I can't remember a waking moment in which I was not
quietly singing it to myself. The fact that I'm not remotely annoyed -- let
alone suicidal -- is an indication of the song's charm, a trait it has very
much in common with the 2005 Japanese film that shares its name.
Nobuhiro Yamashita's Linda Linda Linda is a straight-forward, deliberately understated movie about four girls who form a band for the talent show at their high school's annual Holly Festival. Due to injury and infighting, the membership of the band experiences a shakeup just a few days before the festival: The guitarist leaves with a broken finger, the keyboardist (Kei, Yu Kashii) switches to lead guitar, and a new singer -- a painfully shy exchange student from Korea (Son, Bae Du-na), no less -- is recruited. Lacking the time to rehearse and learn original music, the group decides to perform a set of Blue Hearts covers, highlighted, of course, by Linda Linda Linda. Faced with such a depressingly cliched plot, one could be forgiven for imagining shot after shot of adorable Japanese school girls, mugging cutely and giggling adorably over boys and rock stars. What's so wonderful about Linda Linda Linda, however, is how utterly wrong it proves us.
Instead of something glossy and loud, Yamashita's film is almost aggressively demure. The great majority of the shots of the girls are quiet and still, filmed from so far away that they're barely distinguishable from one another. The four spend a lot of time together and quickly develop a sort of awkward rapport, but there's refreshingly little bonding -- mostly they wait, silently, for one another to show up for rehearsal. Between rehearsals, though, there is time for the confusion of sexual attraction; the awkwardness of first relationships; the absurdity of love declarations, all handled with just the right touch. Not cute or self-conscious, these small scenes are agonizing and painful and funny and shrugged-off, just like they are in real life.
Scored by former Smashing Pumpkin James Iha with a lo-fi simplicity that underlines the film's languid pacing, Linda Linda Linda, is deceptively sharp. Though it has very little in the way of plot, the movie is carefully structured, dominated by contrasting scenes of characters hurrying through packed, busy spaces and slower scenes of isolation in space. As with many of the idle band scenes, the latter are almost uniformly shot from such distance as to render the individuals unrecognizable. They become instead simply figures in space; moving shapes that break up a single-color background. Combine these with the almost event-free sequences of the girls together, the periodic scenes of pre-Carnival bustle, and the footage of the drummer (Kyoko, Aki Maeda) rehearsing alone, and you have a director consumed by the rhythm of his film. And almost impossibly, given just how slow that rhythm is, Yamashita's composition turns out to be both arresting and completely winning. In the end, it's nearly as memorable as its namesake.
The press notes for Linda Linda Linda suggest a foreign regurgitation of stale conventions from the American teenage flick. Given that, it's difficult to not expect something of a J-pop remake of Bring It On that substitutes an all-girl cover band for sexed-up cheerleaders. Certainly a case of inappropriate advertising, this purported image inadvertently makes the work itself even more of a surprise—an emotionally attuned look at adolescent life amidst the invisible social structures of high school with an underlying emphasis on gender and cultural barriers to boot, all surprisingly free of manipulation. After the performance-inhibiting injury suffered by a former band mate, a newly assembled foursome of female students must learn a new playlist for the upcoming school festival—a difficult task even when weighed apart from their daily rigors and mandatory doses of high school drama. Linda Linda Linda's moderate adherence to formula is its one truly limiting quality, but even the traditional plotting tactics feel rather subdued and almost natural as a result of the sensitive evocation of time and place, which suggests a life essence to these characters that extends in all directions beyond the time constraints of the film. Director Yamashita has a knack for effective compositions that contrast static foregrounds with active backgrounds—or vice versa—while the understated, geometric framing devices give the characters much-desired room to breathe. There's nothing revelatory here, but the film's earnest indulgences are indeed refreshing, as are its often hilarious throwaway scenes (the funniest of which sees Son, the Korean exchange student recruited as the band's new singer, attempting to overcome her language difficulties in a restaurant where only paying customers are allowed to use the restrooms). More than anything, the film exhorts a sense of nostalgia for the stressful trials of youth that, while often seemingly insurmountable at the time, are so laced with freewheeling joy as to be missed dearly once they've departed (take that, Clerks II!).
Linda Linda Linda (8.0) Luna6 from Lunapark6
Shortly before their performance at the Shibazaki High School Rock Festival, a group of girls that were preparing to play together have now encountered big problems. Moe, the guitarist for the band, has broken two fingers and is now unable to perform at the show. Bandmates and former best friends Rinko and Kei are now not speaking to each other. Immediately after Moe injured her fingers, Rinko tried to recruit a boy into the band and Kei has not spoken to her since then.
When Kei is asked by another classmate if the band will still perform at the show, she decides that they will, but as a new band. Kei will now take over on guitars with former bandmates Kyoko on drums and Nozomi on bass. The girls decide to perform a cover of “Linda Linda Linda” by the Blue Hearts. The problem is that they don’t have a singer and there is only three days left to prepare. The girls decide to pick the first person that they see walking down a corridor from where they are sitting. The first person to walk by is a nerdish guy that wouldn’t fit in with the group. The next person is Rinko the vocalist from their prior band. When Rinko asks if the girls would like play the song that they were practicing in the previous band, Kei says its the Blue Hearts or nothing. Kei then notices another girl walking nearby, named Son, who is a Korean exchange student with only a limited understanding of the Japanese language. When she is asked if she wants to be a singer for their band, Son answers nonchalantly yes – without knowing what she is agreeing to. By the time she is informed exactly what she has agreed to…it is too late. The band is set and now they just have to learn to play “Linda Linda Linda” for the Rock Festival in three days.
The beauty about the film “Linda Linda Linda” consists partially of the things that the film leaves out. Linda Linda Linda is centered around four high school girls that just loves playing music together and the bond that is formed while they play together. The movie doesn’t have any hokey plot twists, overly dramatic events, or sexy scenes to sell the movie. What the movie has is the tranquil type of cinematography that recalls another very good Japanese film named “Sukida,” understated humor that will have you smiling from ear to ear on many occasions, and excellent acting by all four main actresses. There is also the captivating rock performances given by the girls that will have you wanting to jump up and down with their chorus of …”Linda Lindaaa! Linda Linda Linda!!!:
Although all four of the main leads were very good in their performances,
Bae Du-Na, as the odd & quirky Korean Exchange student studying in
The song that the band performed at their high school rock festival was “Linda Linda Linda” originally done by the Blue Hearts. Although I have never heard of the Blue Hearts before, I learned after watching the movie that the Blue Hearts were an actual Japanese punk rock band, popular back in the early 1990’s. I should also note whenever Kyoko (Aki Maeda / Battle Royale) would play the drums, whether it was her tapping out a beat on her textbooks or on the drumkit in their practice room, hearing her play the drums kind of gave me the chills. The same would apply when the band played together. During the finale, when the band finally got to perform in front of their high school, seeing Bae Du-Na give a huge smile to the audience while singing the lines “let’s sing an endless song…for this asshole of a world” was priceless! In case anyone is wondering, the band members could never decide on a name for the band, but at their performance at the festival, Bae Du-Na announced her band as “The Paran Maun,” which is Korean for ….The Blue Hearts. Also, James Iha, of Smashing Pumpkins fame, did an impressive job scoring the soundtrack to the film. The instrumental track that was repeated throughout the film really added a dreamy but uplifting feel to the movie. Kind of like something you would hear in a John Huges film meets New Order’s “Temptation” meets the Smashing Pumpkins “Today” meets Quruli’s “Highway” kind of a way.
“Linda Linda Linda” provides a sublime two hours of memorable moments shared between four very charming characters. For the younger kids that loves rock music, Linda Linda Linda could very well be an inspirational movie for them. For the older folks, Linda Linda Linda allows them to revisit the times when bonds between high school friends were created for the first time. 1, 2, 3, 4…
“Linda Lindaaaa! Linda Linda Lindaaa!!!”
Midnight Eye Tom Mes
THE DRUDGERY TRAIN (Kueki ressha) C+ 77
While director Yamashita is perhaps best known for his indie hit LINDA, LINDA, LINDA (2005), an upbeat teenage story about an all-girl high school band, this is about as far away from that film as you can get, perhaps reverting back to his early films which were studies in deadpan absurdity featuring fringe, loser characters who might also be called slackers. Adapted by Shinki Imaoka, this coming-of-age story is based on the Akutagawa Prize winning novel by Kenta Nishimura, a somewhat autobiographical look at a Junior High drop out, Kanta (Mirai Moriyama), who becomes an unskilled manual laborer spending much of his spare time as a prized customer in sex for hire clubs. While admittedly, this is a well made film, the subject matter is often gross and sensationalist, often uncomfortably so, with pee and fart jokes that may not be for everyone. There were plenty of walkouts during the screening, with some people shaking their heads afterwards. Part of the problem is the sympathetic portrayal of an uneducated sex fiend, the son of a convicted sex criminal forced to leave school early to support himself, who is such a maladjusted social deviant, one wonders what the original attraction is to the material? The rhythm of life is well established, especially the dreariness of the daily work routines, where at some point Kanta meets a friend, Shoji (Kengo Koura), a student in vocational school, quickly becoming drinking buddies. Shoji is more mannered, watches what he does or says, and remains somewhat embarrassed to go to sex clubs, but acquiesces out of friendship, while Kanta is raunchy and completely down to earth with no filter whatsoever, thinking his perverse sexual views are completely normal.
With Shoji’s assistance, Kanta meets the woman of his dreams, an extremely cute, used book store clerk Yasuko (Atsuko Maeda, from THE SUICIDE SONG (2007), who surprisingly agrees to be his friend, though they are polar opposites. She is thoughtful and kind, expressing a gentle nature, while he’s more of a brute completely lacking in social skills, literally driving everyone away with his crude nature. Their relationship is more a disaster waiting to happen, but initially, after a dreadful beginning, the film takes a near illusory turn, where the three of them have a swimming sequence that is a pure joy and delight, behaving like little kids. Nonetheless, the film is grounded in the monotony of work, where Kanta is well aware of his educational shortcomings, leaving him few job opportunities and destined, apparently, to live in tiny, over priced cubicles for apartments. When Shoji finds an intelligent and attractive girlfriend at school, his time with Kanta is more limited, who only worsens the situation by going on a thoroughly despicable drunken outburst with the couple that leaves him utterly humiliated, which only isolates him even more, which is followed by even more dreadful behavior with Yasuko. Devastated and alone, Kanta has driven away any semblance of friendship, which becomes even more excruciatingly painful when he encounters a former childhood girlfriend as a sex worker. The scene spiralling out of control into near farce reflects his own inner chaos, continually prone to violence, where his self-destructive streak literally defines his life. The film is bookended by deadpan storefront sequences in front of a sex club, accompanied by a strange musical arrangement by Shinco of “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” which is apparently very popular in Japan as a child’s nursery rhyme, where the same melody is given different lyrics, altering the meaning of the song from the drudgery of menial labor to a journey of happiness.
Helter Skelter, Drudgery Train, Umizaru 4: Brave Hearts, Paikaji ... Genkinohito’s Blog
Drudgery Train comes from Nobuhiro Yamashita (Linda, Linda, Linda), and is based on Kenta Nishimura’s Akutagawa Prize-winning novel Kueki Ressha. This character-study stars Mirai Moriyama (Fish on Land, Fish Story), Kengo Kora (The Woodsman and the Rain, Norwegian Wood), and Atsuko Maeda (The Suicide Song), a member of Team A in AKB48 and has got some great reviews. This has to be my favourite trailer from today.
An out-of-the-ordinary coming of age story set in 1988 Tokyo, The
Drudgery Train reprises the tongue-in-cheek coarseness and cruelty of Nobuhiro
Yamashita’s 1999 indie directing debut Hazy Life, once again
featuring an irresistible anti-social hero who refuses to become a productive
member of Japanese society. Though well directed, this often exhilarating
screen adaptation of Kenta Nishimura’s novel feels way too
long and under-edited; still, the hypnotic brashness of the young lead Mirai
Moriyama should go a long way towards holding teen viewers in their
seats until a final, unrevealable clincher rewards one’s faith in him. It opens
Charming young rogue Kanta (played by part-time model and emerging actor Moriyama) is a high school drop-out keenly aware of his educational deficit; in fact, between bouts of drinking, whoring, fighting, numbing work and peep shows, he is a compulsive reader in love with books. His back-breaking job as a manual laborer brings him into contact with the slightly better-educated Shoji (Kengo Koura), a hick with a Beatles haircut and puppy-dog looks who is just plain nice. Though they’re at extreme ends of the human spectrum, opposites attract. Kanta turns Shoji into his drinking buddy, and Shoji gives him the courage to reveal his attraction to college girl Yasuko (Atsuko Maeda) who works in a second-hand bookstore.
Director Yamashita shows fine control over tone, never letting scenes or characters sink into banality; Yasuko, for instance, turns out to be much smarter, deeper and hipper than the prim college girl she first appears to be. With the two boys, she shares a Jules and Jim moment on the beach that makes the heart sing. And when Shoji starts seriously dating a truly prim college girl that, too, feels right and even courageous for the man he’s growing into.
Scriptwriter Shinji Imaoka brings out the darkness not just in Kanta’s heart, but in the fate of the Japanese under-class whose dream of a better life seems like a bad joke. Typical is the story of an older laborer who is excited to find mussels growing along the dock and plans to sell them to restaurants, until he’s shot down by a cynical co-worker; later, an accident on the job puts an end to his optimism. Kanta’s unexpected encounter with his ex-girlfriend who has become a sex worker is along the same disillusioned lines, this time handled with a humorous realism that undercuts its pain. Throughout this over-long film, which drags Kanta over a lot of coals, Moriyama shows the crazy, defiant rudeness of an unconventional hero it would be good to see more of.
'Kueki Ressha (The Drudgery Train)' | The Japan Times Online Mark Schilling
Directors often find themselves boxed in by fan expectations. If a filmmaker who is known and loved for quirky pieces does a serious film or two, fans tend to complain he or she is sliding down a slippery slope toward dreaded respectability.
One who has blithely escaped those expectations is
Nobuhiro Yamashita. His early films, such as 1999's "Donten Seikatsu (Hazy
Life)," 2002's "Baka no Hakobune (No One's
Following his international breakout with the high school dramady "Linda, Linda, Linda" (2005), Yamashita could have indefinitely repeated its formula of observational humor served up with youthful energy and charm. Instead he tried different genres, such as comic murder mystery ("Matsugane Ransha Jiken [The Matsugane Potshot Affair]" from 2006) and 1970s-era political/personal drama ("Mai Bakku Peji [My Back Page]" from 2011), with varying box-office results.
His newest, "Kueki Ressha (The Drudgery Train)" is something of a throwback to his black comedy beginnings, but deeper as a character study and more adventurous as a film. Based on an Akutagawa-Prize-winning novel by Kenta Nishimura, "Kueki Ressha" resembles films that have been based on the semi-autobiographical fiction of American writer Charles Bukowski, from "Barfly" (1987) to "Factotum" (2005).
The Bukowski character in these films, Henry
"Hank" Chinaski, is viewed as a cool loner rebel, despite his
marginal existence as a drunk living in rented rooms and working at menial jobs
(when he works at all). By contrast, Yamashita's hero, Kanta Kitamachi (Mirai
Moriyama), is a loser with absolutely no social skills who blows his warehouse
wages on sleazy peep shows and cheap izakaya (pub) booze. He bad-mouths
nearly anyone in range once the liquor is in him, while groveling to his
disgruntled landlord for another couple days of grace on the rent. Obnoxious
and contemptible he is. Cool, he is not. It's hard to imagine Mickey Rourke
("Barfly") or Matt Dillon ("Factotum") clamoring to play
him in a
In fact, it's a wonder the film got released by major distributor Toei, since in almost every scene, Kitamachi violates the first commandment of a hero in a commercial film: Thou shalt inspire sympathy. But as portrayed by Moriyama, fresh from his success as the similarly socially challenged hero of "Moteki (Love Strikes!)," Kitamachi also happens to be funny and — as a seeming contradiction to everything I've just said, likable in his sheer cussedness.
The story has the ingredients of a typical coming-of-age drama. Kitamachi, a junior high dropout whose father was sent to jail for a sex crime, is toiling as a day laborer in a warehouse when he is befriended by Shoji Kusakabe (Kengo Kora), a new hire who is attending a nearby trade school. A good-natured, straight-arrow oddball, Kusakabe soon becomes Kitamachi's boon companion and social facilitator. When Kitamachi reveals that he has been eying a pretty clerk at a used-book store (without adding that he lacks the courage to say hello) Kusakabe smilingly serves as a go-between.
The clerk, Yasuko Sakurai (Atsuko Maeda), turns out to be interested in the same sort of mystery novels as Kitamachi, who is a devoted, if unlikely, bookworm. Miracle of miracles, they become friends and Kitamachi starts to dream the impossible dream: Unpaid sex with a willing partner. To top it all off, he gets promoted to forklift driver. Life, for once in his 19 so-far-pointless years, is wonderful. Of course it can't last.
In an ordinary film, the ensuing crises — mostly caused by Kitamachi's own rock-headed stupidity, would be growth experiences, leading to a wiser, happier hero. But working from a script by pinku eiga (erotic film) maestro Shinji Imaoka, an original talent in his own right, Yamashita turns this formula on its head, with inspired gags that subvert every "learning moment."
At the same time, "Kueki Ressha" has a realism not found in similar local films with women-less, prospect-less young male heroes. This goes beyond Kitamachi's many superficial resemblances to creator Kenta Nishimura, from his family background to his tastes in literature: He is not the usual slacker comedy cartoon, but a fully realized character whose blunders and crimes are painful as well as funny to witness, since his victims (including himself) are recognizably human and his actions have not-always-pleasant real-world consequences. But the film is not a downer drama, just as it is not feel-good entertainment.
Instead it's a lot like life — though I hope not like yours.
Nobuhiro Yamashita's commercial film departure Mark Schilling interview with the director
from The Japan Times,
Pacific Cinematheque (link lost):
on a popular story from Jia Pingao's Jiwowade renjia (The People of Jiwowa),
Yang, Edward (Yang Dechang)
Yang, Edward World Cinema, also seen here: Edward Yang Bio, Movies List - Famous Quotes and Quotations
Yang is often cited, along with Hou Hsiao-Hsien,
as one of the central figures of New Taiwan Cinema. Yang's visual and narrative
style is among the most distinctive and spectacular in recent Chinese film. His
films are quiet, slow, and use a minimum of dialogue. Western critics often
although Yang appears to resent the comparison. In
Notes from the Yang retrospective in Chicago, 1997 (link lost)
A New Day in Taiwan: The Films of Edward Yang
All 35mm Prints!
“A rare opportunity to see the films of an artist who may have more to say about the direction of modern life than any other filmmaker currently working.” —Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader
“Yang’s visual and narrative style is among the most distinctive and spectacular in recent Chinese film.” —James Monaco
“The hallmarks of any film by Edward Yang include sophisticated technique, deep seriousness of intent, a wicked sense of irony and humour, and a forceful, clear intelligence. He and Hou Hsiao-hsien have shaped the Taiwanese cinema into a prominent and incredibly rich international presence.” —David Overbey, Toronto International Film Festival
Edward Yang is one of two world-class filmmakers to have emerged from the contemporary Taiwanese cinema. The other, Hou Hsiao-hsien, is master of the rural family, village life, downbeat provincial towns. Yang’s milieu is the modern city -- specifically, Taipei. Taipei Story, the title of one of Yang's breakthrough early films, could be the title of any of his six features. But then, so too could A Confucian Confusion, the title of his fifth feature. Yang’s protagonists -- usually young, upwardly-mobile, middle-class business or professional types; sometimes wayward teens and minor criminals from lower social stratums -- live confusing, contradictory, chaotic, self-deluding lives cut off from the sustenance of their traditional Asian values and swept up in the soullessness and valuelessness of contemporary, urban, Westernized culture. His evocation of this rootless, alienated milieu, and the palpable presence of the alienating city in his films, has drawn frequent comparisons to the work of Antonioni -- although, improbably, Yang has cited Werner Herzog as his chief art-house inspiration. (“All my friend are billionaires now in Seattle,” Yang has joked. “If it wasn’t for Herzog, I’d be a rich man today!”)
Although Taipei may be the specific subject of Yang’s merciless social microscope -- and Taiwan’s unique social/political/historical situation, in the threatening shadow of mainland China, very much a part of the texture of his films -- Yang is a modernist and moralist whose clear-eyed, penetrating vision of contemporary urban life, and the contemporary search for meaning and identity, has universal resonance. His sophisticated narrative style, his complex weaving of seemingly disparate storylines into surprisingly coherent wholes, his intelligence and irony -- and, increasingly, the frantic, almost screwball, dark humour of his work -- mark him as a singular talent, and have earned him widespread recognition as one of the most important artists working in the cinema today.
This retrospective showcases all of Yang’s highly-acclaimed features, and includes a rare presentation of the full-length, Director’s Cut version of A Brighter Summer Day, widely regarded as Yang’s masterpiece.
A New Day in Taiwan: The Films of Edward Yang is a touring series organized by The Film Center at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Thanks to Barbara Scharres, Director, The Film Center.
Edward Yang | Obituaries | News | Telegraph from the London Telegraph, July 3, 2007
Yang, who has died in
Unlike his contemporary, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Yang made relatively few feature films, only seven in all. But at least two of them — A Brighter Summer Day (1991) and Yi Yi (2000), also known as A One and a Two — are recognised as masterpieces. The latter won him the best director award at the Cannes Film Festival.
and Yang, both originally from
Yáng Déchāng in Shanghai in
1947, probably on November 6, though some reference works list dates in
September of that year, he moved with his parents to Taiwan in 1949, when the
Communists took over the mainland. Educated at
1981 he returned to
The following year the Central Motion Picture Company, the state-controlled production and distribution organisation, commissioned a portmanteau picture called In Our Time, designed to put Taiwanese cinema on the map. It consisted of four separate, but eventually connected, stories by different directors. Yang's section, Expectations, depicted a girl on the threshold of puberty.
Taiwanese terms it was commercially successful, tracing the process of
modernisation in the country from the 1960s to the 1980s and its gradual
transformation from a predominantly rural economy to an industrial one. Edward
Yang identified the importance of In Our Time when he described it as
"perhaps the first attempt in cinema to recover
A striking aspect of the Taiwanese new wave was the readiness of its leading lights to co-operate with one another rather than compete. Hou Hsiao-hsien, for example, took time out from his own fast-developing career as a director to play the main role in Edward Yang's Taipei Story (1985). He went further with its successor, The Terroriser (1986), mortgaging his own home to finance his friend's picture. Three years later Yang repaid the compliment by producing Hou's film A City of Sadness.
first feature film was That Day on the Beach (1983). Ambitious in length and
treatment, it made extensive use of flashbacks and voice-overs to explore the
heroine's life in metropolitan
In essence it was a feminist picture, showing how a woman of strong convictions with an iron will could challenge and prevail over the constraints of a patriarchal society.
Taipei Story was an episodic survey of the progressive urbanisation of a once rather sleepy city and the erosion of traditional values in the face of consumerism. In this film the capital looks and feels brash, studded with skyscrapers and inherently stressful. This was the film that introduced Yang to a wider audience worldwide. His talent was immediately apparent, but better work was yet to come - for example, his next film, The Terroriser.
After 9/11, the title has inadvertently acquired overtones that were never intended, for this is a terroriser not a terrorist. It appears to refer to a prostitute who phones strangers, spreading malice. The film shows how this mindless prank affects a wide range of characters: a detective, a woman novelist with writer's block, a photographer, a salaryman in a dead-end job, a hoodlum.
It was as if Yang was deliberately taking a cross-section of Taiwanese society and illustrating how urban pressures tear lives apart; in fact, it can be inferred that the real terroriser is not the prostitute but modern life itself. This remains Yang's most complex film, not least because he leaves it open-ended. There are in fact multiple endings, in which a single pistol shot has several different consequences.
It was some years before Yang made another film, but A Brighter Summer Day was one of his finest. About a group of rebellious youths, its title is taken from the Elvis Presley ballad Are You Lonesome Tonight? and Yang admitted that to some extent it was autobiographical. The plot, however, is based on an incident that shocked everyone in 1961, when a young boy, suspended from school for joining a street gang, reacted in frustration and murdered his girlfriend.
film is set in the early 1960s, when the children of the mainlanders who came
Yang waited another four years before making his next film, but A Confucius Confusion (1995, his first comedy, satirising the cultural chaos in modern Taiwan, part Chinese, part pseudo-American) was not in the end as sharp as its witty title. Similar criticisms were levelled at Mahjong (1996), another ill-focused comedy about delinquents. But he made a spectacular comeback in 2000 with Yi Yi, a three-hour film at least as rich as A Brighter Summer Day.
It follows three generations of a family caught between a wedding and a funeral, and in particular the head of the family, who unexpectedly runs into an old flame on the day his mother-in-law becomes mortally sick. Can he - should he - try to turn the clock back?
Yi Yi explores all the characters in unusual depth. By the end it is as if we had known them all our lives. It is another comedy, but with a generosity of spirit missing in Yang's two previous pictures.
Edward Yang made no more films, but directed some plays and produced MTV videos.
later years he was based in
Along with Hou Hsiao-hsien and Wan Jen, Edward Yang stands
as one of the most recognized of
Also, as was the case with the French New Wave, the
Taiwanese New Wave (and, more recently, contemporary Chinese-language cinema
generally) benefitted from very fruitful collaborations among a coterie of
talented directors, scriptwriters, producers, and actors/actresses. Perhaps the
most striking collaboration in Yang's oeuvre, for example, occurred when the noted
director Hou Hsiao-hsien took the lead role in
Like members of the European New Wave of the 1960s, Yang
has a love/hate relationship with American culture, using it for complex
intertextual textures (for example, the use of Elvis Presley as a musical and
visual presence in A Brighter Summer Day), and aesthetically working
against Hollywood through the use of "dead," "negative"
space in which "nothing happens" in empty urban landscapes and
aggressively long takes. However, despite these similarities, Yang is also a
decidedly Taiwanese director, with a commitment to documenting the
peculiarities of contemporary
In most of Yang's oeuvre, women embody the key tensions of
Taipei Story continues in the same vein. Chin, an unemployed mid-level administrator who has moved into her own apartment against the wishes of her traditional father, must decide whether to marry her fiance, Lon, or move on with her upwardly mobile, female boss, leaving the "old" Taiwan of Lon and her family behind. The final scene, in which Chin is framed against the massive picture window of her boss's new headquarters in an eerily empty office building—a signifier of modernity—as Lon lies bleeding to death in another part of the city, again dramatically portrays the emergence of a new Taiwan in the character of a woman freed by the death of her more traditional lover.
This same theme has an even more bloody enactment in The Terrorizer. Chou Yufen, a writer married to a doctor, Li Li-chung, is cured of her writer's block by the anonymous phone calls of a young Eurasian girl, bored during her recovery from a wound sustained during a youth gang street battle, who tells her that her husband is having an affair. Armed with this lie, Chou Yufen writes a story about her plight and leaves her husband. Passed over at the hospital and misunderstood by his estranged wife, Li Li-chung commits suicide (perhaps after killing his new boss and his wife's lover). In New Wave fashion, the details of his death (or even the fact of his death) remain indeterminate. However, as in Yang's earlier films, as the central, male character fades away, the female characters emerge. However, Lin Chia-li, Chin, Chou Yufen, and even the marginal "White Chick," as the Eurasian girl is called, represent a new world tainted by a vacuous modernity, stripped of affect, and literally deadening.
In his work on The Terrorizer, Fredric Jameson sees
the film as combining a modernist and postmodernist sensibility to explore the
interpenetration of traditional, national, multinational, and transnational
spaces, and thus the hybrid identity that marks contemporary
EDWARD YANG’S TAIPEI STORIES Steve Gravestock and George Kaltsounakis from Cinematheque Ontario, Jan – Mar, 2008
“Yang is a major filmmaker — and filmmaking poet — by
anyone’s standards.” —John Anderson
“Along with Hou Hsiao-hsien and Tsai Ming-liang, Yang is one of the most visible faces of the Taiwanese New Wave, possibly the most brilliant filmmaking movement in the world today . . . Yang’s ability to show us the world afresh by virtue of his masterful framing and mise en scène cements his position as one of the world’s greatest filmmakers.” —Saul Austerlitz, Senses of Cinema
“The bombs we plant in each other are ticking away.” —Edward Yang
2007 was a trying year for
cinephiles. With the deaths of Ousmane Sembène, Ingmar Bergman, and
Michelangelo Antonioni (the latter two occurring, remarkably, on the same day),
three titans of world cinema ceased to live among us, and we were left to
ponder their extraordinary contribution. Each having lived for close to a
century, their deaths could hardly be surprising, though still, a blow. The
passing in June, however, of Taiwanese master Edward Yang (Yang Dechang) struck
with the tragedy of incompletion. Yang succumbed to cancer, at the too-young
age of fifty-nine, leaving several longstanding projects in limbo and a sense
of having so much more to say. With this complete retrospective, Cinematheque
Since our retrospective on Edward Yang in 1998, he completed only one more film, the nearly three-hour, multi-award winning YI YI (A ONE AND A TWO) in 2000. Perhaps only is inadmissible here. YI YI quickly became the filmmaker’s biggest commercial and critical hit, and announced, on a grand scale and despite his earlier sizeable achievements, a new talent to the world. Yang garnered the Best Director Award at
Born in 1947 in
Yang’s work is commonly split into three periods, his so-called urban trilogy (THAT DAY, ON THE BEACH, TAIPEI STORY, and THE TERRORIZER); his novelistic works (DESIRES, A BRIGHTER SUMMER DAY, and YI YI) and his sharp, social satires (A CONFUCIAN CONFUSION and MAHJONG). His first feature, THAT DAY, ON THE BEACH (1983), shot by then novice Christopher Doyle, and starring superstar Sylvia Chang in a breakthrough role, confirmed the beauty and modernist spirit for which his cinema has become known. Following THAT DAY, critics were quick to point out Antonioni’s influence, which Yang continued to deny, citing Herzog’s imprint instead. The episodic structure, irresolution, and female point-of-views that characterize THAT DAY drew comparisons to L’AVVENTURA (not AGUIRRE!), but in this instance, Yang is arguably closer to the Antonioni of IL GRIDO, and closer still to RED DESERT, where the use of metonyms drives the mise-en-scène, creating within-the-frame tensions between tradition and modernity. In fact, Yang’s oeuvre is rife with splits, serrations, diptychs, and delineations; his complex plots and multiplicity of characters revel in the dialectics of history and hierarchy, surely a result of his own amalgamated culture.
TAIPEI STORY and THE TERRORIZER are both pseudo-thrillers, with a gritty, realist feel to them, mordant in their ambivalence toward
His “Tolstoyesque” storytelling (John Anderson) reached its apogee in the elegiac A BRIGHTER SUMMER DAY which Jonathan Rosenbaum called “so uncommonly good that Yang’s other very impressive works pale beside it.” Several years in the making, the film, which placed number nine in our Best of the Nineties curators’ poll, combined a real life tragic news event with autobiographical childhood memories spent in Sixties Taipei, and used a troupe of actors whom Yang rehearsed for nearly half a decade. Its tale of street gangs, young love, and family struggle unfolds like a sprawling and speckled fresco whose quietly devastating impact can only compare with fellow new waver Hou Hsiao-hsien’s DUST IN THE WIND and A CITY OF SADNESS. From lamentation to frenetically-paced social satire, Yang’s A CONFUCIAN CONFUSION and MAHJONG display a wild “polyphonic ambition” (Jean-Michel Frodon) and strong, sexy female characters who both partake in and question the superficiality plaguing the Taiwanese metropolis. Its trajectory remaining unaltered, Yang’s career took on cumulative brawn and multi-dimensionality while revisiting many of the same themes. Following the lukewarm reception of A CONFUCIAN CONFUSION and MAHJONG, Yang returned to a calmer place (“maturity,” he called it) and gave us the gem that is YI YI. An elegant and virtuosic family drama with universal appeal and lessons to last a lifetime, Yang’s final film may not be as autobiographical as A BRIGHTER SUMMER DAY, but the filmmaker’s true talent lives on in Yang Yang, the little boy who doubly bears his name, and snaps Polaroids of the backs of people’s heads in order to show them what they cannot see. With a bit of yin, and a lot of Yang, YI YI is a perfect way to conclude, albeit much too prematurely.
Edward Yang: Facts, Discussion Forum, and Encyclopedia Article profile page from Absolute Astronomy
Yang, Edward bio from Chinese Film Directors
Filmbug Bio brief bio
Edward Yang - Senses of Cinema Saul Austerlitz, July 2002
Plural and transnational: introduction Gina Marchetti from Jump Cut, December 1998
New Taiwan Cinema in the 80s Douglas Kellner from Jump Cut, December 1998, also seen here: "The New Taiwanese Cinema," Jump Cut 42 - ucla gseis (pdf)
Context II: The Taiwan New Cinema Abe Mark Nornes and Yeh Yueh-yu in 1995 from Cinemaspace: A City of Sadness--a Hypertextual Multimedia article
Cinematic Remapping of Taipei: Cultural Hybridization, Heterotopias, and Postmodernity Yingjin Zhang, October 2000 (pdf format)
Jonathan Rosenbaum reviews of Edward Yang films Chicago Reader
YANG’S TAIPEI STORIES reviews of
Edward Yang films from Cinematheque
• View topic - Edward Yang Edward Yang film reviews ny zedz on the Criterion Forum
Edward Yang: Move over, Ang world class rival coming through ... Jonathan Romney from The Independent, April 1, 2001
Edward Yang: Take Two | Film | The Guardian Duncan Campbell, April 2, 2001
Arts: Darkness and Light Brian
Cinema from the
Connections: Asia & Pacific
Trans-Chinese Cinemas Past and
Present, essay by Peggy Chiao Hsiung-Ping upon receiving a lifetime
achievement award at the 2006 Osian's CineFan Film Festival in
Edward Yang Godfrey
Taiwanese director Edward Yang dies at age 59 Min Lee from Taiwan News Online, July 1, 2007
Daily: Edward Yang, 1947 - 2007.
House Next Door: Edward Yang: November 6, 1947-June 29, 2007 Keith Uhlich,
Paul Harrill Rest in Peace, Edward Yang, from
Yang (1947-2007) In Memory of Edward Yang, by Michael J.
Anderson from Tativille,
Ray Pride has commentary and an excellent round-up of links
about Edward Yang, Ray Pride from Filmmaker Blog,
Andrew Chan Edward Yang (1947 – 2007), Movie Love,
Edward Yang, 59, Director Prominent in New Taiwan Cinema, Is Dead ... Manohla Dargis obituary from the New York Times, July 2, 2007
What Edward Yang
Dechang meant to me Kevin Lee from
Shooting Down Pictures,
Edward Yang has died at 59 Jonathan Rosenbaum from The Chicago Reader Blog, July 2, 2007
ScreenGrab: The Nerve Movie Blog - Indie Film News, Reviews and Gossip Edward Yang, 1947 – 2007, by Vadim Rizov, July 2, 2007
Shaviro Edward Yang, 1947 – 2007, from The Pinocchio Theory,
News - Taiwan mourns Cannes-winning director Edward Yang's ... from the China
Edward Yang, 59; filmmaker focused on life in the modern Taiwan ... from the LA Times, July 2, 2007
Robert Williamson Edward Yang (1947 – 2007), Access All
Unlimited: Arts blog - film: I will miss Edward Yang Shane Danielson,
Robert Parks Edward Yang (1947 – 2007), from Framing Device,
On Hollywood: Obit: Director Edward Yang
Filmmaker Edward Yang Dead at 59 Kim
Voynar from Cinematical,
'Yi Yi' a celebration of life Glenn
Abel from DVD Spin Doctor,
Yang and the nature of art. Jesse Le
Yang -Times Online from The
| Edward Yang, 59, filmmaker with Seattle ties ... Jeff Shannon from the Seattle Times,
Asia Pacific Arts: From His Time to Ours overview essay by Brian Hu from Asia Pacific Arts, July 13, 2007
Edward Yang | Film | The Guardian
Ronald Bergan from The Guardian,
Yang Obituary by Tony Rayns from The Independent,
Globe Article (2007) An unexplored legacy of art and romance,
by Saul Austerlitz,
chiseen: R.I.P. Edward Yang Hong Kong Memorial Service photo, July 29, 2007
Edward Yang Follow Your Passion, a Eulogy to Edward T. Yang, by Patrick Y. Yang, August 2007 (pdf format)
on film art and FILM ART : Two Chinese men of the cinema Kristin and David Bordwell,
Posts tagged A
brighter summer day at Cinematical
Edward Yang was rebel of New Wave - Cannes Film Festival - Variety John Anderson from Variety, October 4, 2007
Yang Series Review (Eye Weekly) Edward Yang’s Taipei Stories, by Jason
Yang Series Review (NOW Magazine) Yang’s Taipei Personalities, by Norman
in the Darkness: Remembering Edward Yang Stan Lai from Inter-Asia Cultural Studies,
The Taiwan Stories of Edward Yang and Wu Nien-jen - Harvard Film ... Harvard Film Archive, Sep-Oct 2008
Retrospect: Edward Yang's Taipei Stories
Steve Garden looks at all of Yang’s films from The Lumière Reader,
"A Time for Freedom: Taiwanese filmmakers in transition" essay by Edo S. Choi and Paola Iovene from DOC Films, Spring 2009
Martin Scorsese guides Cannes Classics Rebecca Leffler at Cannes from The Hollywood Reporter, April 28, 2009
A Rational Mind: The Films of Edward Yang Simon Abrams from Slant, November 17, 2011
A Rational Mind: The Films of Edward Yang" on Notebook | MUBI David Hudson, November 21, 2011
EDWARD YANG: A RETROSPECTIVE – Hammer to Nail Nelson Kim, November 22, 2011
BOMB: Colin Beckett Edward Yang, November 29, 2011
Something like (a) life | coffee gone cold: to cinema, with love November 19, 2015
Surveillance in Asian Cinema: Under Eastern Eyes Taiwan’s Cold War Geopolitics in Edward Yang’s The Terrorizers, by Catherine Liu, 2017 (pdf)
Filming Critical Female Perspectives: Edward Yang's The Terrorizers 21-page essay by Kai-Man Chang, 2017 (pdf)
TSPDT - Edward Yang They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They
Edward Yang in conversation Shelly Kraicer amd Lisa Roosen-Runge from CineAction, October 1998
The Engineer of Modern Perplexity: An Interview with Edward Yang Robert Skylar interview from Cineaste magazine, Fall 2000
A Family Affair - Film - The Stranger, Seattle's Only Newspaper Interview by Andy Speltzer from The Stranger,
Guardian -- 2001 interview by Duncan Campbell Take Two, from The Guardian,
Scope | Issue 4 | Book Reviews Edward Yang, by John Anderson, a book review by Corin Depper from Scope, February 2006
Neither Personal nor Political Brian Hu book review of John Anderson’s Edward Yang, (128 pages), from Film-Philosophy, 2006 (pdf format)
on Taiwan film directors: A treasure island written by Emilie Yueh-yu Yeh and Darrell
William Davis (312 pages), book review by Chris Berry from Screening the Past,
James Tweedie review of Taiwan Film Directors: A Treasure Island book review by James Tweedie from the MCLC Resource Center, October 2007
YouTube - Edward Yang 1947-2007 YouTube eulogy, the final scene from Yi Yi, Yang’s last film ()
EXPECTATIONS (Guang yin de gu shi) B+ 90
aka: “Desires,” 2nd episode from In Our Time
Expectations Pacific Cinematheque
"Expectations" (also know as "Desire") was Edward Yang's contribution to the 1982 omnibus film In Our Time, a seminal work of Taiwanese New Wave cinema. Yang's piece is a formally impressive, delicately poetic sketch of a young teenage girl as she reaches puberty in the late 1960s. The focus on family trauma, adolescence and sexual awakening prefigures Yang's masterful A Brighter Summer Day. Colour, 35mm, in Mandarin with English subtitles. 30 mins.
IN OUR TIME (1982) is widely known as the film that evoked Taiwan New Wave
Cinema in the early 1980s, followed by a commercially more successful THE
SANDWICH MAN next year.
It's an episodic film written and directed by 4 new-comers: Teh-Chen Tao, Teh-Chong (Edward) Yang, Yi-Chen Ko, and Yi Chang. All of them have film education backgrounds. Tao gained a master degree at
The theme of IN OUR TIME deals with 4 stages in life. The first episode titled LITTLE DRAGON HEAD, directed by Tao, is a stylish depiction of childhood misery in 1950s
Second episode EXPECTATION, directed by Yang, is a simple realization of young girl's yearning for love, set in 1960s. Also sparked by filmic style, but not much dimension.
Third episode THE JUMPING FROG, directed by Ko, is fast-paced comedy about vigorous college life in 1970s. Some absurd vignettes adding to its flavor.
Fourth episode SAY YOUR NAME, directed by Chang, is a sitcom about identity problems of a young couple in 1980s. Interesting idea, fair performances, and tight direction.
What makes the movie so important in
On the contrary, IN OUR TIME is a conscious creation by 4 young filmmakers with high-level education backgrounds. They know exactly what they want in every single shot instead of telling stories written by others.
In Our Time is a portmanteau film, consisting of four films
by four different directors. Along with
The first segment, 'Little Dragon Head', was directed by Tao De Chen, and concentrated on a young boy who was picked on by his parents and his classmates. His only friend is a plastic dinosaur. One can't help but feel sorry for the boy as people and events continually conspire against him, but since the presentation is so subjective (even including a funny dream segment), is this perhaps no more a presentation of infant self-pity? The second segment, 'Expectation', was directed by the then unknown Edward Yang. It appears that his interest in telling women's stories was present from the very beginning. The main protagonist in this tale is a young adolescent girl, who lives with her older sister and widowed mother. One of her friends is a small, bespectacled boy, but when her family takes on a male student as a lodger, she becomes aware of her blossoming womanhood. This story is told with great sympathy for the main character, and is, like the first, presented subjectively through her eyes, elaborated by her imagination.
The third segment, by Ko I-Cheng (Ke Yizheng), takes place in college. The main character is a lively fellow, called 'Fatty' in jest, who spends his time exercising and working as a driver for women who have use of their husbands' cars, but cannot drive. Like the protagonists of the earlier tales, he too seems caught between hopes and dreams, and less promising reality.
The last segment, by Zhang Yi, was also the shortest. 'Say Your Name' is an amusing comedy about a young couple who have just moved into a new apartment in
There is a definite progression through the four films, in time (from the fifties to the eighties) and in the age of the protagonists (from early primary school to young, working adults). Though the four stories were essentially short films, characterisation was achieved quite well in all of them, at least for the main characters. The young non-actors did well in roles that required them to be themselves rather than impersonate someone else.
Also, the social context of the films is impossible to ignore. Along with the usual problems of growing up, there is also poverty and alienation, also music and traffic jams. Movies had suddenly become art and social commentary, rather than simple entertainment. These are the great strengths of this film. It is a triumph of youth over experience, energetic engagement over complacent distraction.
Having become accustomed to the New Taiwanese style of film-making, it is difficult to appreciate just what a breath of fresh air this film (and Sandwich Man) must have been at the time. Even in sections where production seems a little 'rough around the edges,' this is compensated for by ideas and inventiveness, by the sheer audacity of the experiment.
topic - Edward Yang Edward
Yang film reviews by zedz on the Criterion Forum,
Taiwan Cinema in the 80s
Doc Films A Time for Freedom: Taiwanese Filmmakers in Transition, essay
THAT DAY, ON THE BEACH (Hai tan de yi tian)
New Films From Taiwan Dennis Toth from Film Notes from the CMA
One of the most important and critically acclaimed films to
be made in
Generally credited with launching the Taiwanese New Wave,
Edward Yang's 1983 debut feature broke with conventional narrative formulas to
tell a dramatically ragged, formally opened-out story of generational discontent
DAY, ON THE BEACH Cinematheque
by Chris Doyle (who has also worked with Chen Kaige and Wong Kar-wai), this
contemporary epic about the position of women in Taiwanese society helped
change the face of Taiwanese film. Two women - Lin Chia-li (superstar Sylvia
Chang, in a breakthrough role) and Tan (Teresa Hu) - meet after many years.
Tan, a famous concert pianist, was once engaged to Lin Chia-li's brother, but
parental opposition broke up the romance; Lin Chia-li, on the other hand,
defied her parents and married for love. Her marriage is far from happy
however. As with Yang's other films, the characters are paralyzed by the
conflicting forces of modernity and tradition, a battle that wages both outside
and within them, especially in the case of Lin Chia-li. Her rejection of a tradition
she saw as oppressive has only left her feeling strangely empty. For many
critics, THAT DAY, ON THE BEACH is the widest ranging look at what it means to
be a woman in contemporary
That Day, On the Beach Pacific Cinémathèque (link lost)
Edward Yang's auspicious
first theatrical feature announced the arrival a major new directing talent,
and stands as a milestone in Chinese cinema. A complex, emotionally-charged
contemporary epic exploring the position of women and the conflicting forces of
modernity and tradition in Taiwan, the film stars superstar Sylvia Chang in a
breakthrough role as Lin Chia-li, an independent-minded woman whose
disappointing marriage appears to have ended by the presumed drowning death of
her husband. The framing story has her meeting old friend Tan (Teresa Hu), a
renowned concert pianist now living in
an impressive sequence in Edward Yang's debut feature That Day, on the Beach. Jia-li (Sylvia Chang),
trapped in an unhappy marriage, is stuck in an elevator with another woman. The
woman, dressed in fiery red compared to her dull black, is the paramour of her
husband De-wei (David Mao). The scene is tightly shot: Jia-Li is seen in the
foreground and through the elevator's mirror, we see the paramour. The
motionless scene is followed by their confrontation: the husband, who is abroad
for business reasons, has switched their letters and the paramour is returning
the letter to her while revealing her secret love affair with Jia-Li's husband.
The confrontation retains the quaint and relaxed atmosphere; you can tell that
the sequence is simmering with repressed emotions but nothing is ever let out.
Life continues as it were, in a constant state of melancholy.
That's basically Yang's theme there. He fills the movie with these quiet moments. He dictates these moments with the clarity and importance of a historical event but none of the overstated dramatics. It is told with straightforward relevance by Jia-Li to her brother's ex-girlfriend (Teresa Hu) years after their last meeting. Yang's film is told through a series of flashbacks all relating to the titular incident in the beach wherein Jia-Li's husband was supposedly drowned to death. The body cannot be located, nor are they sure that the victim was indeed Jia-Li's husband but it is the moment wherein Jia-Li is gripped by a more palpable sense of uncertainty. All her life, she is dragged by the circumstances paved for her but at that exact moment, she's suddenly in a centerpoint in her adult life.
That Day, on the Beach is credited as the starting point of the Taiwanese New Wave and the career of Yang (it is also the first work of Christopher Doyle as cinematographer). It is easily representative of the distinct sensibilities of his nation's contemporary cinema (as continued by Yang himself, Hou Hsiao-hsien, and to a certain degree, Tsai Ming-liang). The film evokes a fathomable ache that inhabits the newly wealthy middle-class of
Yet above the subtle societal backdrop that Yang points out in the film, it is the empathetically portrayed story of Jia-Li that draws the most interest. Yang clearly understands Jia-Li's predisposition and dilemma. There are flashbacks within the flashbacks that show Jia-Li as a young girl and how she witnesses her mother's subdued nature against her father's sexual trysts. That quiet conversation with her brother just before she escapes from an arranged wedding conjures illusions of a promising future; yet the seduction of a free life does not deliver its supposed promises as Jia-Li furthers lower in the quagmire of shallow living.
But Yang does not dwell in melancholy (although he depicts melancholy so effectively). His interest is humanity's capacity to change which is the reason why Jia-Li's story is told in past tense rather than as a continuing experience. He understands the value of the past (how Jia-Li's decisions since she was a little girl has shaped who she is) but maintains an uncertain but more optimistic stance for the future. He reveals the scars of Jia-Li's life but assures that these wounds are either closed or closing. His confrontations are quiet, painful, and deep but in a way, they are relevant and important in letting go.
Jia-Li would conclude her tale with the death of her brother, wherein he leaves the world with a few acerbic messages on how he has led his life following his father's steps from the profession he chose to the girl she marries. It is an essential end to the never-ending questions that haunted the incomplete soul of the girl that character has abandoned for his decision to be perpetually dictated. It seals that undefinable what-if in the pianist's past, and sufficiently closes that chapter of Jia-Li's life wherein she has been subdued by the men in her life.
The act of communication and revelation releases both female characters from being imprisoned by their respective pasts and male tormentors. Yang plays doting master to his fractured characters that despite the melancholy of their scenarios, he breathes to them that human ability to heal and move on.
Edward Yang died at an early age of 59 leaving the world with films that depicted reality with brutal honesty but with tender humanism. Previous to That Day, on the Beach, I've only seen his quiet masterpiece Yi Yi (A One and a Two), a film that is so rich with nuances that it took me more than one viewings to at least appreciate his sage's interpration of several generations of life blossoming in slow and almost painful grandeur. His death has caused a wave of mournful odes from cinephiles worldwide. I cannot think of a greater way to mourn his sudden passing than to celebrate the feature film that began his illustrious career.
Rational Mind: The Films of Edward Yang Simon Abrams from Slant,
topic - Edward Yang Edward
Yang film reviews by zedz on the Criterion Forum,
TAIPEI STORY (Qing mei zhu ma) A 98
was Los Angeles?”
“It’s just like Taipei.”
—Lon (Hou Hsiao-hsien) from Edward Yang’s Taipei Story
There are moments of brilliance in this stunning, novelistic film, the second of Yang’s urban trilogy, and perhaps his most poetic, presented with several crisscrossing narrative strands, featuring a disintegrating relationship between director/actor Hou Hsiao-hsien as Lon, the only instance where he gives a lead performance, while also collaborating on the script, and Tsai Chin as his longstanding girlfriend Chin, a famous Taiwanese pop star from the 80’s and 90’s, where one of her songs, “Forgotten Time,” Tsai Chin - Forgotten Time - Duration - YouTube (2:41), is heard throughout the INFERNAL AFFAIRS TRILOGY (2002–03) as a recurring theme, and who happened to be married to the director for ten years beginning in 1985, the year of the film’s release, which might explain why she has such a luminous presence in the film. On the surface, they are an up and coming middle class couple that have everything going for them, both smart, prosperous, able to indulge in Western tastes, while pinning their hopes on immigrating to America, where Lon laments, “the worst that can happen is that we can’t go to America,” and then, of course, the worst happens. “I have been making some terrible mistakes lately,” he confesses, as each nurtures a profound dissatisfaction with life in the city of Taipei, an economically booming, neon-lit backdrop of confusion, undermining a sense of rootlessness and despair that affects three generations of residents. Between 1985 and 1988 Taiwan’s gross domestic product (GDP) nearly doubled, creating one of the most intense periods of industrialization the world has ever seen, a period when the oppressive authoritarianism of Taiwan’s government dissolved under the pressure of monetary growth, where the growing strength of the middle class led to the collapse of the one-party rule Kuomintang (KMT) military dictatorship in 1987 that had ruled uninterrupted for forty years since Chiang Kai-shek marched his troops from the mainland to the island of Taiwan in 1949, bringing with him national treasures, including Shang Dynasty bronzes and jades and Ming Dynasty vases from the Forbidden City. To the KMT, Taiwan was simply a way station, a temporary outpost until they could return to their rightful place in charge of running the mainland of China, where they held a deep contempt for the city of Taipei and the Taiwanese, having been a colonial territory of Japan, where everything in Taiwan was considered inferior to the cherished memories of grandparents and elders who held in such high praise their fading recollections of a better life in China, a place many of them would never see again. Over the passage of time, however, they began viewing Taipei as a treasured dream city, though it was also the site of popular protests and student uprisings against the government, culminating with Chiang Kai-shek’s son and heir, Chiang Ching-Kuo finally declaring an end to the KMT military dictatorship, opening an artistic doorway for Hou Hsiou-hsien’s A City of Sadness (Bei qing cheng shi) (1989) and a reclaiming of the city of Taipei emerging from the delusions of the past.
Described by friends as his “Wim Wenders film,” as Yang was deeply influenced at the time by New German Cinema, especially Wenders, Edward Yang remains one of the least seen of the great artists of our generation, described by French filmmaker Olivier Assayas as “the great Chinese filmmaker of modernity,” where a decade after his death and more than 30 years after the film’s release, TAIPEI STORY finally had an American release in March earlier this year in New York, something that was a long time coming. Shown twice in Chicago during a late 90’s retrospective, the film has been restored by The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project from an original negative provided by film director Hou Hsiao-hsien and the Taiwan Film Institute, reconstructing a title sequence that was missing in the original release while anticipating a DVD release. Both Hou Hsiao-hsien and Edward Yang were born in 1947 with the same ancestral home, Mei County in Guangdong province, with both families immigrating to Taiwan on the eve of the communist takeover of the mainland two years later in 1949, where Yang grew up in the urban center of Taipei, while Hou spent his formative years in a rural region of southern Taiwan. Yang and his fellow Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien were more friends and collaborators than rivals, working together early on, supporting one another and appearing in each other’s films, where Hou Hsiao-hsien actually took out a second mortgage on his home to finance Yang’s next film, The Terrorizers (Kong bu fen zi) (1986). Together, along with compatriot Tsai Ming-liang, they generated a Taiwanese New Wave in the 1980’s and 90’s, producing films that were more personal, often recounting events from their own autobiographies, including childhood memories or personal experiences, where a collective memory of the past became a thematic preoccupation. After a brief run, the movement fizzled out by the new millennium, producing less than twenty films a year, overshadowed by outperforming Hong Kong films, where theaters in Taiwan have long been dominated by Hong Kong and American films. A perfect example of this is the release of this film, which was not popular with Taiwanese audiences, as it screened in Taiwan theaters for three days before being pulled. Conservative critics railed against it, preferring the Hollywood model of more audience friendly films, where the slow pace, alienated characters, and ponderous nature of the films, often critical of contemporary society, were in direct contrast to the escapist mainstream entertainment that both preceded and followed the movement. But what these directors provided was real, recognizable, everyday people, inspired by Italian neo-realists, often using non-professional actors, removing all aspects of artifice and contrivance from their work while exploring their own lives and recent history. Yang provided modern Taiwanese audiences with something they had never seen before, multiple narratives that only grew more complex, with fleshed out characters whose problems resembled their own, often at odds at how to adapt to such a rapidly changing world.
With a cast and crew of nearly all non-professionals, including the two leads, yet the look of the film is dazzling, even sophisticated, feeling ultra contemporary, even now, thirty years later, where the two stars stand out, as Chin is arguably the most mature female role in Yang’s films, usually writing for younger, more adolescent women, while Hou’s enigmatic performance drives the film. Longtime lovers since an early age, the opening finds Chin, an upwardly mobile, independent career woman who has embraced American style bourgeois values, feeling a sense of liberation, perhaps even entitlement, in search of an apartment in new Taipei, with the young couple examining an empty apartment in the thriving modernity of Taipei, suggesting the possibility of starting something anew, where Chin already has a design in mind where she can put her things while Lon remains aloof and distant. Having recently returned from a visit to relatives in Los Angeles, running a successful fabric business, it’s only a matter of time before Lon takes the plunge and crosses the ocean to join them, as one of the byproducts of the economic boom is the opportunity to send so many Taiwanese students to America, hoping to make a better life for themselves, as there are more opportunities, including Yang himself, who studied and worked in the United States for more than a decade before returning to Taiwan to make films. Lon lives on his former glory as a former Taiwan Little League baseball player on the national team competing internationally at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, where currently Taiwan has won more titles (17) than any other nation, winning their first championship in 1969, where he still keeps in contact with coaches and former members of his team, including Wu Nien-jen, a screenwriter for Hou Hsiao-hsien in the 80’s and 90’s, and also the patriarchal head of the family in Yi Yi: A One and a Two... (2000), seen here as a luckless taxi driver whose wife has a habit of leaving their three kids alone to go gambling, where they act as assistants to the next generation of young stars. While Lon and Chin seem made for each other, something always comes between them, including, as is Yang’s tendency, a host of stories revolving around secondary characters. While in the U.S. Lon made VHS tapes of several baseball games for the coach to watch, but he is equally enthralled watching them himself. Chin, on the other hand, works for a high powered architectural firm as the personal assistant for an executive, Mrs. Mei (Chen Shu-fang), one of the major players who is exiting in an administrative restructuring. Refusing to be just a secretary, Chin gracefully exits as well, waiting for something better to come along, while having a secret affair with one of the architects from the firm, Mr. Ke (Ke I-cheng), who stares out the window overlooking a city of high rises while lamenting, “Look at these buildings. It’s getting harder and harder for me to distinguish which ones I designed, as they all look the same. So it doesn’t make much difference whether I lived or not.” There are occasional moments of humor, eying the new Japanese management team, with Chin being told the new owner is the one wearing glasses, yet every single one of them is wearing glasses. This is arguably Yang’s most Antonioni influenced film, as the relationship between character development and newly constructed architecture feels symbiotic, captured in the emptiness of glass and steel, where windows and glass reflections are a natural part of the landscape, even seen reflecting off Chin’s everpresent dark glasses, with repeated shots of empty rooms symbolizing the interior lives of the characters and the emotional distance in between, revealing a city caught between the past and the present. Similarly, according to Yang in an interview with New Left Review, from John Anderson’s book, Edward Yang - Page 37 - Google Books Result:
A lot of people have tried to brand me as a mainlander, a foreigner who’s somehow against Taiwan. But I consider myself a Taipei guy—I’m not against Taiwan. I’m for Taipei. I wanted to include every element of the city, so I really gave myself a hard time, to build a story from the ground up. The two main characters represent the past and the future of Taipei and the story is about the transition from one to the other. I tried to bring enough controversial questions onto the screen, so that viewers would ask themselves about their own lives when they’d seen the film.
On the surface, Taipei Story represents a kind of poetic or even melodramatic façade. But actually every element of the way we lived then was in the film. So that was the intention.
Great films explore complex contemporary events to help elucidate and elaborate upon intensely personal issues, fundamental issues that we can all relate to, no matter our backgrounds. As Melissa Anderson suggests in The Village Voice, Past and Future Tug at an Unstable Present in a Restored Masterwork ..., “the title of a Hou film from 1989 — A City of Sadness — would make a beautiful alternative for Yang’s portrait of metropolitan malaise.” While Ozu’s TOKYO STORY (1953) was about the abandonment of the elderly in the postwar generation’s pursuit of a new and better life, Yang’s TAIPEI STORY, in comparison, is about the neglect of the young, who are left to fend for themselves in a world their parents didn’t really want, with most of them thinking it was only temporary before they’d return to the mainland, leaving young people apathetic about their future, receiving little support or enthusiasm, where a war-style curfew was imposed under authoritarian rule to deny them what was rightfully theirs as the next generation, denied any and all hope, remaining in a state of limbo. A portrait of urban alienation, Taipei is viewed as a city of contrasts, like Chin’s new apartment with a Marilyn Monroe calendar on the wall and her parent’s dilapidated, old world home, sleek modern office space and old buildings being torn down to make way for the new, westernized bars and Japanese karaoke, where there are repeated scenes of congested street traffic, towering cranes, high rise construction, and modern electronic equipment, expressing confusion, anxiety, and the seemingly unstoppable power of societal transformation. Watching Chin in the old world environment of her father’s home is stunning, as she’s reduced to a subservient role of a servant, being ordered around by her father, providing the food and drinks while keeping her opinions to herself, unable to prevent her abusive father from drinking excessively and gambling the family’s money away. Much of the story is told through Chin’s point of view, as we watch her cope with Lon’s immaturity and ambivalence, seemingly unable to take that next step towards advancement, yet she has to rise above her own father’s abject failures, while also dealing with the ambitious demands of an executive boss. She seems thoroughly capable of juggling two or three things at once, even looking after her wayward younger sister Ling (Lin Hsiu-ling), a dropout, representative of youths who have lost all direction in life, a restless teenager begging her for money, likely for an abortion, while Chin is perfectly at ease hanging out with a younger, more rebellious crowd, seen driving through the city streets at night on motorbikes, passing by a statue of General Chiang Kai-shek in Memorial Square, where one of the young bikers takes unusual interest, literally stalking Chin, sitting on his bike parked in front of her apartment.
One of the scenes of the film is a party sequence, where the music is inexplicably “Footloose, Footloose Final Dance 1984 to 2011 - YouTube, showing the unbridled energy and pure decadence of youth, revealed in a brightly decorated scene with a youthful, impulsive exuberance, but Chin grows weary, becoming despondent, as the musical selection transitions to an unnamed Andante movement from a piano trio, adding a somber mood, exactly as Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata does in a similar scene in Yi Yi: A One and a Two... (2000), completely altering the mood of the film, as the characters grow more introspective, guarding and protecting their emotions, including a walk outside onto the roof, becoming silhouettes dwarfed by giant neon advertising signs that continually remind residents and viewers of the power of money, where there is no escaping this troublesome reality. A decidedly different tone than any of the earlier New Taiwan films, released the same year as Hou’s autobiographical A Time to Live and a Time to Die (Tong nien wang shi) (1985), Yang’s film is one of the first to depict Taiwan as a place with a burgeoning sense of its own identity, culturally distinct and independent of mainland China, becoming a ruthless critique of a fractured culture accompanying Taipei’s economic boom, equally split by a look back as well as forward, driven by a youthful urban angst and alienation, never feeling part of any success story. When Chin finds Lon watching tapes of a baseball game, what’s seen on the screen is a runner caught in a rundown between two bases, unable to move forward or backward, stuck in a no man’s land, reflecting Lon’s own paralysis, refusing to let go of the past, or move ahead, holding onto old friends, bailing them out of jams, including covering a substantial outstanding debt accrued by Chin’s father, handing over what amounted to their future together, a decision that causes deep divisions, perhaps even a mortal blow to their relationship. Angry at her because she still believes in romantic illusions, as if getting married or moving to America would miraculously fix things between them, he storms out of her apartment, more alienated and disconnected than ever, ultimately leading to his senseless death, confronting the stalker waiting out front, giving him a beating, but as the biker follows him on his cab ride home, Lon gets out and beats him up again along a desolate highway, but the young boy frantically stabs him, barely noticeable at first, leaving Lon bleeding to death alone at an isolated bus stop in the wee hours of the night, his only companion a broken down television set that has been thrown out as garbage. He sees his life pass before his eyes, replete with baseball images, superficial, unfulfilling memories unworthy of life or death, juxtaposed against Chin’s discovery of a new job with Mrs. Mei in what seems like acres of new office space in an otherwise empty building, which ends the film as it began, with a new couple inspecting an empty apartment. This film is a poetic, melancholy vision of an eerie void, providing a haunting view of grief and sadness, revealing a colossal amount of empty spaces waiting to be filled.
The film that introduced Yang's prodigious talent to the West is a quietly stunning drama which sees the various problems facing a rapidly modernised city reflected in the lives of a dozen or so subtly observed characters. At the centre are a troubled upper middle-class couple: a failed businessman lost in dreams of the past (Hou), and a budding executive whose reaction to redundancy is more in tune with the future. Though there's little in the way of story, Yang's insights and honesty about emotions ensure interest throughout; and it looks absolutely superb.
Edward Yang’s second feature stars Hou Hsiao-hsien (who cowrote the script and mortgaged his house to fund the production) as a former baseball player who has come home to manage the family textile business, and Tsai Chin as his property-developer girlfriend. “The two main characters represent the past and the future of Taipei,” said Yang. “I tried to bring enough controversial questions onto the screen, so that viewers would ask themselves about their own lives.” Taipei Story is early evidence of Olivier Assayas’s assessment of Yang, who died far too young, as “the great Chinese filmmaker of modernity.”
Taipei Story | Chicago Reader | Movie Times & Reviews Jonathan Rosenbaum
A turning point in the history of Taiwanese cinema, Edward Yang's 1985 masterpiece suggests a rough parallel with Abbas Kiarostami's Close-up in relation to Iranian cinema by virtue of featuring the other key Taiwanese filmmaker, Hou Hsiao-hsien, in a leading role, much as Mohsen Makhmalbaf is featured in Kiarostami's film. Hou, who also collaborated on the script, plays an alienated businessman working for a textile manufacturer who was an ace baseball player in his youth; when his girlfriend (pop star Tsai Chin) loses her job at a computer firm, their relationship begins to crumble. But this couple's malaise is only part of a multifaceted sense of confusion and despair that affects three generations of Taipei residents during a period of economic boom, and Yang's mastery in weaving together all his characters and subplots against a glittering urban landscape anticipates the major themes of his subsequent works. Essential viewing.
The title is entirely appropriate: the film is a chilling snapshot of Eighties Taipei, a frenetic boomtown where nondescript buildings go up overnight. Underneath all this apparent prosperity, Yang finds a crushing uncertainty. TAIPEI STORY records the break-up of the longstanding relationship between developer Shu-Chen (played by pop star Tsai Chin) and businessman Lon (acclaimed director Hou Hsiao-hsien). Initially, the couple appears to be riding Taiwan's newfound prosperity, but it soon becomes abundantly clear that they are barely scraping by, and one or two setbacks can completely change their lives. Yang expertly mixes this with a layered portrait of the contrasting values adhered to by the different communities that comprise modern-day Taiwan. The older generation bemoans the lack of morals of the current adult generation, but they're equally confused - and even more terrified. "[A] quietly stunning drama which sees the various problems facing a rapidly modernized city reflected in the lives of a dozen or so subtly observed characters" (Tom Charity, Time Out).
Film Comment: Dan Sullivan Festivals: Il Cinema Ritrovato, July 26, 2016 (excerpt)
Two discoveries, one well-known and the other not so much: The Film Foundation presented its new digital restoration of Edward Yang’s Taipei Story (1985), a masterpiece that historically hasn’t been easy to see in the States. A delicate work of low-key modernism, imbued with fragile melancholia and an astonishing turn by none other than Hou Hsiao-hsien in the male lead, the restoration of Taipei Story will likely go a long way toward reaffirming its rightful place as one of the key films produced in southeast Asia near the end of the 20th century, on a par with Yang’s towering (both in terms of stature and duration) A Brighter Summer Day (1991). Nico Papatakis’s Les Abysses (1963), digitally restored by Gaumont, was a thoroughly startling experience; based on the infamous case of the Papin sisters that also inspired Jean Genet’s The Maids and Claude Chabrol’s La Cérémonie (1995), Les Abysses puts viewers on notice from the get-go with a pre-credit montage that frenetically summarizes the entire plot, albeit in head-spinning disorder.
This rare revival of the great Edward Yang’s (YI YI, A BRIGHTER SUMMER DAY) second feature marks the first of several crucial screenings in Doc’s Taiwanese series. The film is notable for starring and being co-written by Hou Hsiao-Hsien, but more significant is the influence of world cinema on Yang’s aesthetic, of which TAPEI STORY is said to be the first mature example. Like Hou, who was born in southern China, Yang was not intrinsically Taiwanese: His family came from the Shanghai middle-class (Having fled just after his birth, during the Chinese Civil War of 1949), and he studied electrical engineering at the University of Florida. This helps to explain Yang’s depiction of Taipei as a distinctly global city—as well as the stinging sense of alienation that defines many of his characters. With the films of Michelangelo Antonioni as his chief inspiration, Yang cultivated a new Taiwanese film style that was, for the first time, in conversation with other national cinemas. Like Antonioni’s L’ECLISSE, TAIPEI STORY soberly contemplates existential angst within the world of modern business, following a woman’s gradual unraveling in work and love. Hou plays her boyfriend, a former Little League baseball star now running a factory.
Taipei Story Pacific Cinémathèque (link lost)
Edward Yang's second feature is an elegant, Antonioni-like tale of urban angst and alienation set in booming, benumbing Taipei, Pop chanteuse Tsai Chin and noted director Hou Hsiao-hsien (Taiwan's other world-class filmmaker) star as an upwardly mobile, profoundly dissatisfied couple. She's a successful career woman; he's a rep for a textile company, restless and clinging to past glories. Their prosperous facade of Western tastes and material comforts provides but flimsy protection when a series of personal and professional setbacks ensue, and their relationship begins to crumble. Yang extracts fine performances from the principals, and serves up a clear-eyed, chilling portrait of contemporary Taiwan adrift between traditional values and modern soullessness. Co-star Hou also collaborated on the script. "A refreshing, intelligent study . . . deftly presented in crisp, telling sequences" (Variety). "As always with the films of Yang, one thinks of Antonioni. The two directors share a rare ability to make cityscapes a major part of the emotional thrust of their films; they share an interest in the subtle tensions that arise in relationships, and an ability to make those tensions vital and dramatic. (Toronto I.F.F.) "A quietly stunning drama . . . Yang's insights and honesty about emotions ensure interest throughout; and it looks absolutely superb" (Time Out). Colour, 35mm, in Mandarin with English subtitles. 115 mins.
"A Time for Freedom: Taiwanese filmmakers in transition" essay by Edo S. Choi and Paola Iovene from DOC Films, Spring 2009 (excerpt)
Over the course of the decade, Hou Hsiao-hsien's films contemplated the space between the rural and the urban. By contrast, the films of Edward Yang in this period, with one exception, were resolutely urban. Sometimes described as a ``moralist'' because many of his characters seemed in search of ethical frames of reference, Yang was certainly ruthless. In recounting how a successful young businesswoman sees her career perspectives dissolve and her relationship with her boyfriend (played by Hou Hsiao-hsien himself) fall apart, Taipei Story (1985) displays Yang's uncompromising critique of the middle-class with its dissection of its heroine's emotional fragility, vainly disguised behind the sunglasses she sports day and night. As she flees the past, her boyfriend idealistically clings to it, a Confucian rigidity toward which Yang bears still less patience.
Striking a fiercely different tone from the New Taiwan
films that had preceded it, most of which depicted small town life and small
time dramas, Edward Yang's second feature mounted a ruthless critique of urban
Taipei Story iFilm Connections Asia & Pacific
Ah Lung and Shu-chen are lovers who go back a long way. Ah Lung is in the textile business, Shu-chen is a high-level executive. Ah Lung, a businessman of the old fashion, is a baseball fan and has trophies to prove his former prowess in the game. With Shu-chen, however, he is an emotional bankrupt.
Shu-chen's world is quite different from Ah Lung's. Her father is a failed businessman who spends his time hiding from creditors. He hopes that Ah Lung and Shu-chen will help him out of his financial predicament. Shu-chen's status is that of an upwardly mobile, independent career woman but she cannot disentangle herself from the problems of others close to her. Her younger sister is a dropout, a representative of youths who have lost all direction in life. For them, the economically prosperous environment affords avenues for escape in gambling halls, karaoke oars, discos, pubs, joy-riding, brawls, etc.
However, when the pressure of modern life falls upon any individual, young or old, he or she seeks a way to escape. When Shu-chen loses her job, Ah Lung has to swallow his memories of former glories. The two lovers drift apart in their cultural and social perceptions. Contradictions between them come out to the force. Ah Lung feels helpless in the face of dramatic change as his old-world values and morale give way to materialism, modernization and mechanization. As economic pressures press upon them, the relationship worsens and both feel there is no way out.
One night, in a chance dispute with a young man, Ah Lung is stabbed with a knife; unable to get help, he is left to bleed to death on a lonely street. Shu-chen has found a job with her former employer who thinks of starting big. Inside a large, empty office, Shu-chen contemplates a future even richer in material gains but without the intimacy of personal relationships.
Although all Edward Yang's films deal with similar themes, characters
and milieux, it has been common to divide his work into three relatively
distinct categories - the multi-character panoramas (e.g. 'Yi yi', 'A brighter
summer day'); the satiric comedies (e.g. 'A Confucian confusion'); and the
formalist, Antonionian studies in urban alienation (e.g. 'The Terroriser').
These latter are the most difficult to watch, with narrative rigorously
fragmented, characterisation distant, the ugly, monumental urban backdrop
On the surface, 'Taipei Story' seems to belong to this category. Its opening sequence is similar to the tone of 'the Terroriser'. A couple are checking out an empty apartment the woman hopes to move in to. Yang emphasises the inchoate nature of the apartment, its emptiness, its forbidding whiteness and angularity - the first thing you notice about an empty apartment is how many walls it has. The woman talks a lot about what she hopes to do with it, but the characters' expressions are as blank as the rooms that surround them. We wonder if the apartment is a projection of their relationship's hollowness, or a sign of its future, its beginning, something to be filled up with life.
Yang's way of filming his characters in this space, blocking them off from one another by walls, framing them in doorways etc., certainly seems to suggest a distance in their relationship. After all, the man is just about to go to America on a business trip - this very ritual of togetherness is shadowed by an upcoming rupture.
As in 'Terroriser', there is something almost metaphysical about this scene, which seems to be about the material (walls, floors etc.). There are traces of previous occupants. The woman talks about what she intends to do with the room. Yet between the past and the future, these characters exist in a very empty present tense, ghosts in the house of predecessors and future selves. This feeling of being and yet not being quite there is quite familiar in Yang's work - we see it in the dream narrative of 'Terroriser', for example. One of his most recurring devices is to film action in window-reflections or mirrors, visualising the theme of alienation so central to his work (alienation from family, work, city etc.), but domesticating it, showing that the bigger alienations start with an alienation of the self. The vast jungle of the skyscraper-laden city is thus a literally monumental backdrop for the human shadowplays that comprise the drama.
As in the best novels, the best films crystallise their thematic and narrative intentions in the opening scene, which is why this sequence is so important. It also structures the narrative to come, which will chart the fragmentation of the relationship, and the separate, doom-laden destinies of the lovers. But although everything points to 'Taipei story' belonging to the third category, there is a humanism at work that brings it closer to the first. In 'Terroriser', the characters' lack of character was a crucial thematic element, but made it difficult for the viewer to be interested in their fate, forcing him/her to concentrate on their formal properties as part of the overall mise-en-scene.
In 'Taipei story', as in 'Yi Yi', we are closer to 3-D characters, we are given insight into their personalities, their histories, their desires, their frustrations. We see them at work, at play, at home. We see them interacting with the city, even as they are defeated by it, rather than simply ground down by it. this is not to suggest a softening of Yang's formal rigour (there is none of the saccharine miramaxmusic of 'Yi yi' for instance), but in this case it is poignantly counterpointed by the characters, used to express their predicament, rather than a more abstract theme. Yang's greatest strength is the way he can turn a teeming city into an empty dreamscape, or turn the familiar everyday into something uncanny by moonlight. He could almost be a Surrealist.
Past and Future Tug at an Unstable Present in a Restored Masterwork ... Melissa Anderson from The Village Voice
A tiny wind-up toy shaped as a Pepsi-Cola can inching its way across a bedside table, Michael Jackson's "Baby Be Mine" emanating from an unseen jukebox while a tussle breaks out during a darts toss in a bar: Even the smallest details are ineradicable in Taipei Story, Edward Yang's aching and anomic second feature, from 1985. The film plays, in a new 4K restoration, for a week at BAMcinématek, in its first proper theatrical run in the U.S. (I first saw Taipei Story last June at a festival of rediscovered cinema in Bologna, Italy; the movie remains the most effortlessly summoned of the dozens of titles, nearly all of them delights of some kind, I took in during my week-long cine-binge of rarities and classics.) It's the third film by Yang — one of the luminaries of the New Taiwanese Cinema — following A Brighter Summer Day (1991) and The Terrorizers (1986), that the Brooklyn rep house has spotlighted in the past year, making available key works from a corpus too little seen in this country; only the intimate multigenerational epic Yi Yi (2000), the seventh, and final, film by Yang, who died in 2007, at age 59, was released stateside. Taipei Story is another study of close ties, or more accurately, of their fraying.
Set during Taiwan's economic boom and the dawn of liberalization in the Republic of China — still under but nearing the end of what would be 38 years of martial law, finally lifted in 1987 — Yang's film centers on the slow disintegration of a relationship, an erosion that mirrors the abrading effects of both tradition and modernization. Taipei Story's loose elegiac tone — never dirgelike, and supple enough to accommodate offhand humor and moments of pure pleasure — is immediately established as a couple walk through an empty apartment; it's unclear at first whether they're moving in or out, starting something or ending it.
Or perhaps doing both at the same time. Attired in mid-Eighties shoulder-padded office chic, Chin (Tsai Chin, a pop star who married Yang the year Taipei Story premiered) imagines where the furniture and appliances will go. "Then you can watch movies on the bed," she tells her boyfriend, Lung (Hou Hsiao-hsien, Yang's fellow eminence in New Taiwanese Cinema, who co-wrote Taipei Story with Yang and Chu Tien-wen and who oversaw the film's restoration). But Chin's vision of domestic coziness doesn't stir much in Lung, whom she's known since high school; pantomiming baseball swings, he's lost in a reverie of his past Little League glory.
Soon to start a new job as the "special assistant" at a property development company, Chin is invested in a future as fragile as the glass panes in the luxury towers that seem to be sprouting everywhere in the city, while Lung is tethered to a past that demands ever paralyzing loyalty. Together they exist in an unstable, overwhelming present. She quits her job after a lawsuit, stemming from sloppy architectural planning, forces the restructuring of her firm. "It's nothing. I need the rest anyway," she coolly announces to a new supervisor of her decision. But that self-possession is belied by her escalating anguish during her sabbatical, distress brought on by a joyless affair with a married former co-worker and by Lung's distance, whether physical or emotional.
After Lung's trip to Los Angeles, where he hopes to secure a position working for his brother-in-law — a voyage that occurs off-screen and chronologically follows the opening apartment walk-through — he returns to the capital city. Employed by a fabrics operation, he's burdened by doubts about his prospects in the States, a country he regards with ambivalence at best. Lung's recounting, calm but disquieting, of his U.S. relative's gun mania typifies Taipei Story's shrewd, understated sociological observations; that scrutiny becomes only more piercing after Lung, multiplying his psychic freight, agrees to help out a hapless Little League buddy and Chin's debt-deluged father — decisions rooted in a code of honor that promises nothing but further misery.
"This long together and you still don't know what I need or what I don't need," Chin cries one night to Lung, whose visits to her place — it becomes clear that he lives elsewhere — he usually spends rewatching the Major League ballgames he taped on VHS. The couple's unraveling, so minutely observed, may register as the tiniest shift in a metropolis that is rapidly morphing, the neon-flashing city an enormous and impassive witness to their tragedy. Chin will try to alleviate her pain by mixing with her kid sister's crew. While this group of teens and twentysomethings dance to "Footloose," she can feign interest in their collective ecstasy for only so long, dropping her head to her arm — a searing gesture of despondence in counterpoint to Kenny Loggins's aggressive cheer.
The presence of Hou, in one of his rare turns as an actor, deepens the melancholy of Taipei Story. In his 1983 film The Boys From Fengkuei, Hou would also explore the vast transformations of Taiwan as evidenced in their effects on a small fishing village; Yang and Hou, the two titans of New Taiwanese Cinema, established themselves as the respective geniuses of urban and rural milieus. But the title of a Hou film from 1989 — A City of Sadness — would make a beautiful alternative for Yang's portrait of metropolitan malaise.
Exiles in Modernity | Movie Review | Chicago Reader Jonathan Rosenbaum, November 6, 1997
Edward Yang's Taipei Story (1985) depicts a city of sadness and ... Fred Mazelis from the World Socialist Web Site
Senses of Cinema: Saul Austerlitz July 19, 2002
Edward Yang's Taipei Stories | The Lumière Reader a Yang overview by Steve Garden, December 22, 2008
A Rational Mind: The Films of Edward Yang | Feature | Slant Magazine an overview by Simon Abrams from Slant, November 17, 2011
EDWARD YANG: A RETROSPECTIVE – Hammer to Nail Nelson Kin, November 22, 2011
A restored Taipei Story offers a fresh chance to discover the genius of ... Ignatiy Vishnevetsky from The Onion A.V. Club, also seen here: Review: One Couple's Promising 'Taipei Story,' Slowly Undermined ...
• View topic - Edward Yang - Criterion Forum Edward Yang film reviews by zedz on the Criterion Forum, July 31, 2008
Taipei Story Archives – The Paris Review | The Paris Review Dan Piepenbring
A Living and Breathing 'Taipei Story' – The Highlighter Tristen Calderon
Taipei Story | Featured Screening | Screen Slate Angeline Gragásin
The Taiwan Stories of Edward Yang and Wu Nien-jen - Harvard Film ... Harvard Film Archives, 2008
Edward Yang Retrospective Unveiled, Including New TAIPEI STORY ... James Marsh from Screen Anarchy
Staff Picks: Taipei Story, Robert Altman, Samantha Hunt, and More Caitlin Love from The Paris Review
The New York Review of Books: J. Hoberman February 28, 2017
Taipei Story captures today's nuance, 32 years after release | Asia Times Richard James Havis, April 18, 2017
Review: One Couple's Promising 'Taipei Story,' Slowly Undermined ... Glenn Kenny from The New York Times
THE TERRORIZERS (Kong bu fen zi) A 98
I am sometimes convinced that film culture has yet to recover from Yang’s passing.
—Nick Pinkerton from Artforum, Nick Pinkerton on Edward Yang's The Terrorizers - artforum.com / film
THE TERRORIZERS is a deliberately ambiguous third feature, one of the most experimental films of the New Taiwanese Cinema, the third of his urban trilogy movies, following THAT DAY, ON THE BEACH (1983) and TAPEI STORY (1985), which examine the contradictions and tensions of urban life in Taipei, each film revealing less and less narrative form, becoming increasingly experimental in form, more subtle in its perception of urban fears, real or imagined, rootlessness, the lack of continuity with the past, a void in values, all adding up to a severe identity crises for the young and affluent urbanites whose shaky moral foundations leave them vulnerable when trouble hits, despite their so-called economic security. What distinguishes this film is the abstract narrative that weaves in and out of two worlds, one that is happening, and one that is being written about in a novel, so that eventually it is impossible to tell one from the other, a device that feels remarkably original. While this might be Yang’s contribution to the modernist cinema of paranoia, viewing Taiwan in a post-colonial light, where terrorism, violence, and loneliness ensue in an urban web of intrigue. There is a chance encounter from a rebellious Eurasian girl (aka White Chick) who wrecks a marriage with a prank call to a novelist housewife, claiming to be having an affair with her husband, which leads to the novelist’s need to turn to writing to explore her confusion, eventually leading to her marital break-up, causing the focus to then shift to her husband’s confusion.
Loosely following several couples and their unstable relationships, whose lives are affected by seemingly random, incidental events, the film uses natural sound only, creating a complicated seres of seemingly disconnected points of view, never linking viewers to a specific character, instead lost in a mysterious, stream-of-conscious ambiguity. There’s an interesting use of technology, but instead of making things easier to understand, it instead compounds the feeling of disconnectedness. The use of color and production design are striking, giving the film a unique look. Perhaps Yang’s most Fassbinder-like work, sort of his WHY DOES HERR R RUN AMOK (1970), as it uses dark humor and focuses on a married couple, professionals who have the rug pulled out from underneath them, revealing a very tenuous emotional state, very much like Fassbinder, who suggested the German economic miracle of the 1970’s was a mirage. Putting so much faith in monetary gain and status can leave you a prisoner of your own ambitions, a creature of the same habits and routines, a puppet whose strings are pulled by others, without an inner soul to fall back upon for needed strength in times of crises. The metaphor of marriage works very well here, as when a marriage starts to crack, what does one draw upon to reconnect or rebuild? Instead, one partner usually dominates the other, mostly to cover up their own insecurities, causing the other partner to retreat into near silence, as there is nothing to fill that inner void. Sometimes silence is more than some can bear.
Seen a second time around years later in a 16 millimeter projection, it wasn’t nearly as sharp and focused as the original 35mm print, despite some rather extraordinary cinematography by Chang Chan, particularly darkened interior rooms with only the briefest glimpses of light, paralleling the fragile emotional state. There is a beautiful sequence in a photographer’s room, a compelling mix of visual and emotional contrasts, as a young girl walks into the young photographer’s room in the dark, and the light flashes on to just her picture in the light on the wall, where he has sections of the woman’s face pieced together to form her whole face, but when she leaves, the breeze from the open door causes each piece to flutter aimlessly, so the woman’s face all but disappears in a gentle breeze of postmodern darkness and light, giving the sense of an encroaching void broken only by a few strands of light. This film is surprisingly much funnier than remembered, but this second screening was something of a disappointment, feeling more like we were viewing a working copy, largely due to the poor quality of the print, as experiencing it the first time was immensely pleasurable, viewed as something of an artistic revelation, while this viewing includes subtitles flying off the screen in a nanosecond before anyone could possibly read them, while the development of some of the characters is incomplete and sketchy at best, though this may have been exactly the intention. The subject of this film seemed more like an exercise this time around, as there are moments when it doesn’t seem to take itself very seriously, like the final shot, which is something of a joke. Instead, this film feels like a rehearsal for the phenomenal storytelling of A Brighter Summer Day (Gu ling jie shao nian sha ren shi jian) (1991), as the emotional breakdown of the male character in this film, as well as TAPEI STORY, is similar, covering up their inner vulnerability with out of control male bravura, which leads to violence or disaster. What was the line from S’ir’s sister? “You are out of touch with your inner calm.” Well, that pretty much explains this film as well.
The Terrorizers | Chicago Reader Jonathan Rosenbaum
Edward Yang's evocative and deliberately ambiguous third feature (1986) pivots on a chance encounter between a rebellious Eurasian girl and a novelist and housewife who decides to leave her husband, a lab technician. As Taiwanese film critic Edmund Wong has noted, the film offers "a refreshing look at Yang's theme of urban melancholy and self-discovery"--a preoccupation running through Yang's early work that often evokes some of Antonioni's poetry, atmosphere, and feeling for modernity. Well worth checking out. In Mandarin with subtitles. 109 min.
THE TERRORIZER Cinematheque Ontario (link lost)
Set in modern-day Taipei where the only constants seem to be ennui and police sirens, THE TERRORIZER is constructed around everyday acts of betrayal. A diffident, self-absorbed novelist coolly dismisses her lover and her husband with the same line; the husband, an ambitious executive, turns in his best friend in a desperate bid to get a promotion; a young hoodlum amuses herself by placing prank phone calls that turn people's lives upside down. The film's sparse style and seemingly disconnected narrative (which reflects the characters' disassociation and makes the film almost unbearably intense) established modernism as a force in Taiwanese cinema. "The film suggests that we all have our ways of “terrorizing” each other, and that we'd all like our lives to be as coherent and resolved as fiction. Yang reaches high, and his aim is true" (Tony Rayns, Time Out). "A dazzlingly accomplished film" (Bloomsbury Film Guide).
Yang's masterly film keeps numerous plot strands going in parallel, finds a high level of interest and suspense in all of them, and dovetails them together into a composite picture plausible enough to make you cry and shocking enough to leave you gasping. The characters span the full urban spectrum: a research scientist jockeying for promotion, a bike-gang hoodlum on the run from the cops, a woman novelist looking for a painless way to end her marriage. Yang sees each of them clearly and with consummate honesty, and notes how their taste in clothes and decor serve to underline their personalities and betray their histories. Neither sociological essay nor soap opera, it's an intensely cinematic movie, finding mystery, pity and fear in every life it scans. The title character is a girl delinquent whose prank phone calls spark off crises in the lives of other characters. But the film suggests that we all have our ways of 'terrorising' each other, and that we'd all like our lives to be as coherent and resolved as fiction. Yang reaches high, and his aim is true.
The Terrorizer Pacific Cinémathèque (link lost)
"There may not be Baader-Meinhof gangs in this part of the world," Edward Yang has said of his complex, highly controlled third feature. "But the bombs we plant in each other are ticking away." A coolly intriguing intellectual thriller in the best modernist tradition of European art cinema, The Terrorizer spins three separate storylines of urban alienation and betrayal from across the social spectrum, and then slowly, enigmatically converges them. A novelist, unhappy with her marriage to a medical researcher, contemplates resuming an affair with an old lover. An amateur photographer records on film a bloody police raid on a gang hideout. A delinquent teenage girl, on the lam from the law, makes a series of crank phone calls that turn people's lives upside down. "Masterly . . . Yang reaches high, and his aim is true . . . Neither sociological essay nor soap opera, it's an intensely cinematic movie, finding mystery, pity and fear in every life it scans" (Tony Rayns, Time Out). "A dazzlingly accomplished film . . . Yang utilizes a bustling urban landscape whose lurking terrors nestle in the souls of the various protagonists" (Bloomsbury). Colour, 35mm, in Mandarin with English subtitles. 109 mins.
Doc Films A Time for Freedom: Taiwanese Filmmakers in Transition, essay by Edo S. Choi and Paola Iovene, Spring 2009 (excerpt)
Over the course of the decade, Hou Hsiao-hsien's films contemplated the space between the rural and the urban. By contrast, the films of Edward Yang in this period, with one exception, were resolutely urban. Sometimes described as a ``moralist'' because many of his characters seemed in search of ethical frames of reference, Yang was certainly ruthless. In The Terrorizer (1986), Yang expanded this deconstructionist project, staging a collision of six characters across a post-industrial landscape, as a bored Eurasian teenager, convalescing in her apartment, implicates each of them in a monotonous pattern of reciprocal betrayals via a few well-placed prank calls. Famously characterized by Marxist scholar Fredric Jameson as the postmodern film, the film was likened by Yang himself to a puzzle where the pleasure lies in rearranging a multitude of relationships between characters, spaces, and genres.
The Terrorizer elaborated Yang's ambition to depart the structural limitations and narrowly domestic concerns of the New Taiwan Cinema. Via an intricate plot, interweaving the vectors of three couples tormented by an anonymous prank caller, and a poetic use of scenic framing, creating the sense of an oppressively circumscribed architectural whole, Yang envisions Taipei's violent interpersonal relationships as the emanations of greater global maladies and competing ideological discourses, a way of seeing that led Marxist scholar Fredric Jameson to call this work the essential postmodern film.
Terrorizers, The iFilm Connections Asia & Pacific
A delinquent Eurasian girl, Shu-an, is kept under lock and key in her
room by her mother. To break the monotony of her "incarceration", she
makes prank calls on the telephone. Purely by coincidence, the number she calls
belongs to that of the authoress Chou Yu-fen.
The prank call arouses Chou's inspiration to create but it also leads her to question the condition of her seven year-old marriages. Ever since she resigned from her job, Chou has been a housewife. The boredom of being a housewife causes her to write. Her husband, Li Li-chung is a conscientious laboratory technician in a hospital. He yearns for a promotion and when a high-level position falls vacant, he resorts to ruthless means to discredit his rival in order to win the post.
Chou Yu-fen decides to move out of her apartment to live alone, ostensibly to avoid prank calls but really to develop an affair with an ex-colleague; she resolves to separate from her husband. Meanwhile, Shu-an has escaped from home and links up with a young boy interested in photography. The relationship is cursory; Shu-an returns to the fold of her ex-boyfriend who has just been released from prison. Both of them set out to swindle easy victims in a sex seam.
Chou wins a literary prize for her novel but her relationship with her husband worsens. Li consults with his childhood friend, a police inspector, about the prank calls - which he believes is the cause of his marriage breaking up. But the policeman is unable to do anything. Li also suspects that his wife is having an affair. Dejected at the turn of events (he has also lost his chances for promotion), Li steals his friend's gun and goes on a killing spree. The violence that subsequently occurs may be real but it may also be a figment of Chou's literary imagination.
It is unlikely that Edward Yang would quarrel with those who described
him as the Antonioni of the East. But this kind of comparison is perhaps more
damaging than helpful since it only engenders perceptions that have little or
nothing to do with the filmmaker. If we are to understand Yang at all, we must
allow his works to speak for themselves--they must succeed or fail on their own
terms. "The Terrorizer" is one of Edward Yang's most accomplished
works. In style, concerns, and methodology it differs significantly from the
masterworks of Antonioni. Whereas Antonioni prefers to work with a narrower
canvas, choosing to develop his characters until they achieve self-awareness,
Yang seems to eschew such conventions, offering instead a logic akin to the dream
world. "The Terrorizer" is indeed constructed very much like
Chuang-Tzu's tale about a man who is unsure if he was dreaming that he was a
butterfly or a butterfly who was dreaming that he was a man.
It would be a disservice to think that the ending of The Terrorizer is anything like O. Henry. It is perhaps more accurate to describe the ending as a faux denouement. The use of not a single but a double dream suggests that Yang is fully aware of his Chinese roots even when he is consciously quoting an outsider like Antonioni. It also indicates that he is less interested in the psychology of social behavior than in the actions taken by individuals and the effects they have on one another throughout the social network, regardless of their relations to each other. It is to this end that several couples in an unnamed metropolis of Taiwan are examined: a photographer and his girlfriend living off the wealth of their family; a teenage hustler and her pimp on a downward spiral of crime; an unhappily married novelist who embarks on an affair with a past lover. These three couples, in turn, are connected in some way, tangibly or peripherally, to a policeman, a law enforcer who is powerless to hold the city together, to keep it from coming apart. It is little wonder that everyone is constantly forging new relationships or alliances in a city where obsolescence is the rule.
Just as Antonioni uses dislocation as a means of conveying alienation, Yang chooses to use absentation--the absence of things--as a thematic device. Throughout the narrative one is reminded of the absence of fathers--both socially and politically. It is the absence of leadership. Elsewhere, absentation is employed when the photographer decides to turn an apartment into one huge darkroom which denies him the reality of time while permitting him to create a world of his own. At one point, a teenage girl whom he temporarily harbors asked him if it is day or night. When the camera finally peeps outside the apartment Yang gives us neither day nor night but that brief moment in time when light gives way to darkness or darkness breaks into light. It is here that Yang best captures the logic of that dream world: his protagonists are merely phantoms suspended in time. It is the absence of time. Throughout the narrative one is sometimes puzzled by the seemingly lack of explanations: the initial breakup of the photographer and his girlfriend (witnessed over the soundtrack of "Smoke Gets in Your Eye"); the return of the photographer's stolen cameras; the breakup of the married couple; the status of the policeman with no emotional or physical ties. It is the absence of elucidation. Unlike the works of Antonioni where there is always a central character whose viewpoint mirrors our own, functioning as a filter of reality, Yang denies us of such privilege. The impossibility of identifying with any character may be disorientating but it also serves as a metaphor of a city that has lost its moral compass. It is the absence of a central viewpoint. Absentation is clearly an effective tool in exploring the void that lies at the heart of modern culture--it is the black hole of the human condition.
When the film finally concludes it matters little what portion of it is real or a dream. Or for that matter who the dreamer really is. Fiction is perhaps no more than merely dreams, perfectly realized, and cinema the greatest dream machine ever built.
Surveillance in Asian Cinema: Under Eastern Eyes Taiwan’s Cold War Geopolitics in Edward Yang’s The Terrorizers, by Catherine Liu, 2017 (pdf)
Filming Critical Female Perspectives: Edward Yang's The Terrorizers 21-page essay by Kai-Man Chang, 2017 (pdf)
New Urban Spaces: Films of Tsai Ming-liang : Journal of the Moving ... Michelle Baitali Bhowmik finds Yang’s film as the basis for Tsai Ming-liang’s visual language, from Journal of the Moving Image, December 2008 (pdf)
The Seventh Art [Jimmy Weaver] 8-page essay (pdf), also seen as a video essay from indieWIRE here: VIDEO ESSAY: Edward Yang's THE TERRORIZERS, presented by ...
The City as Escape Room: Yang's 'The Terrorizers' Remains a Puzzle ... Michael Atkinson from The Village Voice, October 19, 2016, also seen here: The Village Voice: Michael Atkinson
Nick Pinkerton on Edward Yang's The Terrorizers - artforum.com / film October 19, 2016, also seen here: Artforum: Nick Pinkerton
Observations on film art : Readers' Favorite Entries - David Bordwell November 23, 2016
"New Chinese Cinemas" reviewed by Yeh Yueh-yu - Jump Cut book review of New Chinese Cinemas: Forms, Identities, Politics, edited by Nick Browne, Paul G. Pickowicz, Vivian Sobchack, and Esther Yau, December 1998
• View topic - Edward Yang - Criterion Forum Edward Yang film reviews by zedz on the Criterion Forum, July 31, 2008
The Terrorizers | Featured Screening | Screen Slate Jon Auman, also seen here: Screen Slate [Jon Auman]
Musings on Movies: Review – The Terrorizers Azrael Bigler
The Terrorizers (1986) Tom from The Crazily Obscure World of Cinema Review
The Village Voice: J. Hoberman December 06, 1988 (pdf)
Brooklyn Magazine: Michael Blum October 19, 2016
The Terrorizers: 'a masterpiece about Taiwan under the influence of ... Kaori Shoji from The Japan Times
A BRIGHTER SUMMER DAY A+ 100+
aka: An Incident on Guling Street
Taiwan (237 mi) 1991
Edward Yang, along with Hou Hsiao-hsien and Tsai Ming-liang, ushered in a new era of Taiwanese cinema. When a retrospective of his work premiered in Chicago in 1997, Yang was present for some of the screenings, acknowledging he lived on the West Coast and was friends and working associates with the Microsoft crowd, receiving a degree in electrical engineering. But a single event changed his life, watching Werner Herzog’s AGUIRRE, THE WRATH OF GOD (1972), which emboldened him to return to Taiwan and become a filmmaker. While his friends all became instant millionaires, Yang made films few ever saw during his lifetime, but they left a lasting legacy. Born in Shanghai but growing up in Taiwan, his background is similar to many others of his generation, like Hou Hsiao-hsien, who was born in the same year. A great admirer of Antonioni, Yang became associated with cinema of observance, mostly using medium to long shots, keeping the viewer at a distance from the characters, revealing as much of the surrounding vicinity as possible, allowing them to be judged evenhandedly. While he became recognized for his portrayals of contemporary urban life in Taiwan, tracing the lives of young, middle class workers who become devoured by their rapidly changing environment, often losing their place in life, eradicated by the enormous power of modern day capitalism to simply steamroll over worker’s inability to keep up with the rapidly changing cultural dimensions, leaving many devastated in the wake. Strangely, this film is the only one of Yang’s films to be set in the past, where the intricate layers and novelesque scope is what stands out, ultimately making this head and shoulders above everything else he ever created.
In the late 1980’s, the Taiwan film industry run by the Nationalist Government-owned Central Motion Picture Corporation almost ceased to exist, scaling back their activities, leaving a void for new young directors to fill. Yang’s initial efforts, THAT DAY ON THE BEACH (1982), TAPEI STORY (1985), starring Hou Hsiao-hsien as an actor, and The Terrorizers (Kong bu fen zi) (1986) comprise an urban film trilogy, examining the tensions and contradictions of urban life in Taipei, each one revealing less narrative detail, becoming more increasingly experimental in form. Interestingly, one of Yang’s techniques deliberately leaves out key plot details, intentionally hiding pieces of the puzzle, which forces the audience to involve themselves in the unraveling narrative. Viewed as appetizers for the main course, this film astonishingly took 5 years in preparation, and although completed in 1991, never found a distributor, initially languishing on the shelves unseen, involving a cast of over 100 speaking parts, largely non-professional teen-age actors, where Yang used his position as a drama teacher at the National Institute of the Arts to train most of the cast and crew himself, using 92 different sets, taking place in the poorer Taipei district in 1961, using the filmmaker’s own memories of his adolescence, shot at his high school, inspired by a true incident of a 14 year old boy murdering a 13 year old girl, the first juvenile murder case in Taiwan’s history, the film opens and closes with an old, broken down radio broadcasting the lists of graduating students. In this context of a repressive, militaristic government, the resulting family chaos, the constant threat of gang fights, the need for a good education, and the idea that hard work can bring success, is seen as paramount.
In a film that bears some autobiographic similarity to Hou Hsiao-hsien’s A Time to Live and a Time to Die (Tong nien wang shi) (1985), this film is prefaced in a historical context, with the understanding that Chinese Taiwan was formed in 1949 with several million Chinese being militarily forced by the Communist army to cross over into Taiwan from mainland China, into a world they knew nothing about, so they were required to build their new lives with great insecurity about the future, and this film is about their first generation of offspring. The anxieties of the parents created a world of anxieties for their children, who search for their own greater security and their own self-identity through the formation of street gangs, whose inner turmoil is largely a reflection of the world around them. The Taiwanese identity is revealed to be a sense of perpetual exile.
Edward Yang’s own father fled from Shanghai. Artifacts from other countries have great impact in this film, the use of Japanese samurai swords which are ultimately used as murder weapons, Russian novels are read by teenagers and understood as “swordsmen” novels, a family’s observation that the Chinese fought the Japanese for 20 years only to then live in Japanese houses, listening to Japanese music, an old tape recorder that has been left behind by the WWII American forces is used to adapt American lyrics and American rock ‘n’ roll music for the Chinese, the film features American doo-wop music, first love, cigarettes, gang violence, rebellious behavior, casual dress, the influence of Hollywood motion picture magazines and movies, the voice of John Wayne from Rio Bravo (1959) can be heard in one of the movie theaters, while the title of the film (ironically mistakenly translated) comes from the Elvis Presley song, “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” Elvis Presley- Are You Lonesome Tonight. - YouTube (3:19), a comment on the dark cloud hanging over everyone’s heads, hardly a brighter, summer day.
The film features Xiao S’ir (Chang Chen in his film debut), a fourteen-year old protagonist, the fourth of five children, continually switching back and forth between the two worlds he inhabits, at home with his family or in school, hanging out with various friends, where his best friend seems to be Cat (Wang Chi-tsan), a diminutive kid with plenty of swagger and braggadocio, whose favorite past time is having Xiao Sir’s sister translate Elvis Presley lyrics, where he learns to sing them in the original English language. All wearing identical school uniforms, where each has an identifiable number inscribed, their individuality is expressed in the variety of nicknames, like Threads, Sly, Airplane, Bomber, Tiger, Sex Bomb, Deuce, and even Underpants. S’ir’s father (Chang Kuo-Chu) is seen having to plead with a rigid school administrator, angered after his son is sternly issued a demerit, actually losing his temper, seen afterwards, each walking their own bikes, having a heart-to-heart chat about the implications of their actions, each owning up to their own personal failures while promising to do better, Brighter Summer Day (First Road Conversation) YouTube (1:50).
In an amusing scene, probably as a way to get out of school, both S’ir and Cat are seen high up in the rafters at a movie studio that happens to be right next to the school, as they watch a scene being filmed. While it grows more absurd, with the lead actress arguing about the color of her costume, the director then rightly complains that the film is shot in black and white, so who will notice? Nonetheless the actress insists, stepping behind a dressing screen to change costumes, where both boys get a look from their vantage point, but clumsily reveal themselves. As they are being chased by a security guard, S’ir grabs a large flashlight on his way out, which is used to great effect by the director, reappearing throughout the story, often with ominous implications. The length of the film allows viewers to become easily familiar with navigating the surrounding neighborhood, including the school, shown prominently both during the day and night, the club house run by the Little Park gang, the food stands and bookstores of Guling Street, the pool room and garage used by the 217 gang, and the homes of S’ir and his friends.
For the most part, S’ir is a quiet and studious young boy who happens to develop a crush on Ming (Lisa Yang), the girlfriend of Honey (Lin Hung-Ming), the leader of the Little Park Boys gang, but Honey has been in hiding after killing the leader of the 217 gang. When Honey returns, he befriends S’ir and tells him he spent his time reading “swordsmen” novels, citing War and Peace as his favorite, claiming: “When you look into the past, it looks like the gangs of today.” Honey is a cross between a young Brando and Fassbinder’s Querelle dressed in his sailor’s suit, where he seems to be in a completely different space and time, accentuated by his arrival to a school dance where the kids are standing at attention for the playing of the national anthem, yet he is oblivious to this conformity. Nonetheless we get a chance to hear the irrepressible Cat sing in falsetto, seen standing on a box to reach the microphone, Angel Baby YouTube (1:42). While walking to discuss a peace treaty with Shandong (Alex Yang), the new leader of the 217 gang, Honey is pushed in front of a car, but as he is shoved, the film immediately cuts back to the school auditorium where a Taiwanese band is performing “Don’t Be Cruel” Elvis Presley don't be cruel - YouTube (2:11) to the absolute delight of the screaming kids, probably the happiest moment in their lives.
But this murder leads to acts of revenge, perhaps the most artfully presented sequence of events in the film, the massacre in the night that takes place during a typhoon of rain during one of the many Taipei blackouts that occur periodically throughout this film, as well as another Yang film, TAPEI STORY (1985). Filmed almost entirely in utter blackness, with barely a sliver of light, boys are slaughtering other boys with samurai swords to the heightened sounds of yelling and screaming, yet little can actually be seen, one indistinguishable from another, as instead people are heard attacking, while others are falling, crying, and then silence. S’ir shines his stolen flashlight into the silent darkness, the beam of light leading him past bloodied, dead bodies to Shandong, who is lying on the floor covered in blood, moaning and gurgling with a meat cleaver in his hand. In this scarcest of light, the blades of S’ir’s knife and Shandong’s meet as the only light surrounded by total blackness, until Shandong is left to die. S’ir turns and walks away without a word, led by his beam of light which is all that can be seen until he leaves the room and all light disappears.
In the middle of the night, S’ir’s father is arrested by the secret police for unnamed charges, demanding a full confession on all persons he’s ever encountered since he arrived in Taiwan, including compatriots he knew on the mainland, with suspicions of lingering communist influence, initially allowing him cigarettes where he is alone with his thoughts in an empty room with beams of light streaming in, but then the cigarettes are taken away, the rules are enforced, and the punishment begins. Some are forced to sit on large blocks of ice, where they can be heard moaning, however as the father is a musician, his interrogation features an organ player in the corner singing a song in a boy’s voice that turns into that of a woman’s, soaring into the clouds, a surreal dream of salvation, perhaps, but Edward Yang mentioned there really are people who work with the interrogators as musical inspiration for full confessions. The father works feverishly all night on his confession until he is interrupted in the morning by the sound of someone entering the room, he waves him away claiming he is almost finished and he needs just a little more time, but the voice sternly tells him he can go, hurry, and get out. The camera pans around the room to an open door, which reveals, at long last, life outside, trees, gardens, and flowers. But S’ir’s father is humiliated by this experience, so eloquently expressed as he sits alone slumped over a noodle counter after the interrogation, having spoken to no one, where his wife (Elaine Jin) stops on the street and just stares at him, her eyes in disbelief that this once proud man is her husband, so utterly powerless and alone, looking so much like a stranger, but this incident will forever change their relationship.
S’ir promises to be Ming’s protector forever, and makes his declaration to the sound of a high school band playing an off-key militaristic march. Later, in another extraordinary scene, S’ir questions why Ming can’t just ignore the bad things that happen, this while a procession of tanks drives by, leaving them in a cloud of dust, an ominous reference to the repressive, militaristic government that simply cannot be ignored, A Brighter Summer Day / Gu ling jie shao nian sha ren shi jian (1991) Трейлър YouTube (1:27). Just as S’ir is kicked out of school for accumulating behavior demerits, forcing him to attend the less prestigious night school, his father loses his government job, and with it all sense of family security, both coming under rigid, unbending rules of repressive authority. Each time S’ir has gotten into trouble at school, his father has come to defend him, but this time, when he can find no words to stop the patronizing insults of the education moralizers, S’ir grabs a baseball bat and smashes a light bulb hanging overhead, again he is engulfed in a moral darkness. When he and his father walk home with their bikes afterwards, in a quiet, still moment of shared vulnerability, his father, a shell of his former self, actually blames himself for his son’s troubles.
The anguish, at this point, is only beginning to mount. While viewers are never privy to the business dealings of S’ir’s parents, which are discussed offscreen and intentionally left ambiguous, nonetheless we have some idea of some shady dealings going on, which precipitates an argument between S’ir’s mother and father in their bed, where she suggests he should cut off relations with an old personal friend, that the friend’s name was mentioned during the interrogation, at which point he screams at her that this friend actually helped the family move from the mainland to Taiwan, that women have no idea about the business of men, that loyalty to friends is a duty which must be maintained, a discussion which deteriorates into tears with each realizing now they have no one but each other. Equally haunting is another scene where the father explodes in the middle of the night over some fictitious home intruder, an alarming realization that he is losing all sense of himself. Later, the father loses all control when he brutally beats his eldest son in the mistaken belief he has stolen his mother’s watch, while S’ir sits silently in the dark outside the house with the full knowledge that it is his own theft, not his brothers, that is prompting a beating that his brother is taking on his behalf, which causes his religious, younger sister to remind him that he’s “out of touch with his inner calm” and urges him to accept the salvation of Christ, who absorbed the punishment for the sins of mankind.
S’ir has been studying on his own in an attempt to gain re-admittance to Day School, an unlikely prospect at this point, but achievable, when S’ir hears from others that Ming has had various affairs, including one now with Ma (Tan Chih-Kan), one of S’ir’s best friends, whose advice to S’ir has always been that getting into trouble or losing friendship over a girl is dumb, but S’ir flies into a jealous rage and threatens Ma to keep his hands off Ming, and waits on the street for him after school with a knife, only to encounter Ming instead who again lectures him on his selfish behavior, that he only pays attention to others because he wants others to pay attention to him, which sends S’ir into a blind rage and he stabs her several times right out in the open, in front of hundreds of passerbys who barely take notice. S’ir’s family reacts hysterically to the news of his arrest and is in utter disbelief. There is a beautiful, brief scene where the younger, religious sister is singing in the church choir, but she can’t sing, as tears are streaming down her face. Cat visits the prison where S’ir is incarcerated and attempts to share his joy in successfully contacting Elvis Presley in America, pleading with the guards to give him a tape of the music he sent, pleas that fall on deaf ears, as instead they throw it away, evidence of the missed communication that runs throughout the film. In the end, while the family appears to be cleaning and hanging their laundry out to dry, the radio announces the names of the those students accepted into the Day School, including Xiao Sir’s name, which simply freezes his mother in her tracks, paralyzed at the thought of all that has been lost, as the names continue over the end credits.
For all those Yi Yi: A One and a Two... (2000) fans who don’t understand the complexity of this film, let’s just remind you of the title, “A Brighter Summer Day,” as this is a film for which those words have no meaning, and unlike YI YI, which had the charming optimism of Yang-Yang, an as yet undeveloped child who has a future, YI YI is much more a “perfect” film, everything is neatly examined and explained, where there’s a perfect symmetry, as on whole it’s balanced and feels like a complete experience, but A BRIGHTER SUMMER DAY offers no such peace of mind, as it’s a raw emotional roller coaster where the last hour or so is filled with such complete anguish and despair, nearly all the family members have their singular moments where they are the focus of an unending torment of pain, where the understated personal horrors can leave one breathless. Most of the world’s viewing audience have been spared this kind of personal degradation, and therefore have no personal reference points to connect with such despair, but Yang, to his credit, spares no one. The film’s greatness lies in its complete lack of artifice, its meticulously chosen shot and music selection, brilliant imagery mixed with an equally brilliant narrative, a devastating portrait of children on the precipice of darkness, one of the more complex human examinations of the after-effects of a subjugated nation, which is still, at heart, a police state, yet there is a breaking out from the bonds of repression by rebellious teenage kids who have affectations of violence and above all a love of Elvis, freedom, and rock ‘n’ roll.
Time Out London: Geoff Andrew Geoff Andrew
Slow, elliptical, and for the most part understated, Yang's masterly account of growing up in Taiwan at the start of the '60s is as visually elegant as his own Taipei Story and The Terroriser, and as epic in scope as Hou Xiaoxian's City of Sadness (which Yang produced). On the surface, it's about one boy's involvement in gang rivalry and violence (on which level, it's often a little obscure, so numerous are the characters) and his experience of young love. On a deeper level, however, it's about a society in transition and in search of an identity, forever aware of its isolation from mainland China, and increasingly prey to Americanisation. The measured pace may be off-putting, but stay with it - the accumulated wealth of detail invests the unexpected final scenes with enormous, shocking power.
Cine-File Chicago: Ben Sachs May 20, 2016
Along with Hou Hsiao-Hsien's A CITY OF SADNESS and Tsai Ming-liang's THE RIVER, this is one of the supreme masterpieces of the Taiwanese New Wave. "Edward Yang's fourth feature retains an inexhaustible freshness that speaks to viewers the world over," Godfrey Cheshire recently wrote for the Criterion Collection. "Like a Taiwanese REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE made with the gravity and epic sweep of THE GODFATHER, the film, which has more than a hundred speaking parts, is above al a vision, in terms of both place and time. The place is Taipei, Yang's home and the setting and subject of all seven of his features. As for time, we might consider two meanings. The years depicted are 1960-61, a particular juncture in Taiwanese history. But the time we witness is also that of adolescence, with all its inner turmoil, outer self-consciousness, and obsessive quest for identity."
SFIAAFF - A Brighter Summer Day
Tony Rayns from the
A Brighter Summer Day is a picture of Taiwan at the start of the ’60s as reflected in the story of a 14-year-old boy who kills his girlfriend. This is a Taiwan caught between the pull of mainland China and the lure of the U.S., land of milk and honey where Elvis Presley sings (or does he?) of “a brighter summer day.” It’s also a Taiwan of Communist-spy scares, and a Taiwan where the kids from mainland families have formed street gangs to assert their own identity and to challenge each other for supremacy. Xiao Si’r (Chang Chen, in his first role) does not belong to any gang, although his best friends are members of the Little Park Gang—currently leaderless because its charismatic founder Honey has gone into hiding. When Xiao Si’r first meets Ming he keeps his distance; he knows that she was Honey’s girlfriend. But a friendship develops between them anyway, a friendship that eventually pulls Xiao Si’r to pieces. Edward Yang locates this story at the heart of a vast fresco crowded with warmth, humor, violence and a wealth of intimate detail. For once, “masterpiece” seems the appropriate word. “This film is dedicated to my father and his generation, who suffered so much for my generation to suffer less,” said Yang. “I hope they, the forgotten, can be made unforgettable.”
A Brighter Summer Day (1991) - FilmAffinity Jonathan Rosenbaum from The Reader (capsule review)
Film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum: "I have no doubt that the 230-minute version of A Brighter Summer Day--which I was lucky enough to see in Taipei, and which will play at the Film Center on November 15 and 20--belongs in the company of key works of our era: Kira Muratova's The Asthenic Syndrome; Bela Tarr's Satantango; Kiarostami's Close -up, Life and Nothing More, and The Taste of Cherry; and Hou's trilogy--City of Sadness, The Puppet Master, and Good Men, Good Women. (I should add that, ironically, A Brighter Summer Day may also be the easiest of Yang's features to follow as a narrative--even easier than the markedly different 202-minute version Yang was forced to create in order to find a distributor.) Indeed, Yang's film surpasses these other masterpieces in its novelistic qualities, richly realizing a physical and social world as dense with family, community, and other personal ties as any John Ford film, and furnished with more sheer physical presence (including characters, settings, and objects) than any other fiction film I know of from the 90s. It took Yang four years to prepare--much of the time apparently spent training his superb cast, which is mainly composed of nonprofessionals. In fact, this film is so uncommonly good that Yang's other very impressive works pale beside it".
A BRIGHTER SUMMER DAY Cinematheque Ontario (link lost)
A powerful epic shown here in its full-length version, A BRIGHTER SUMMER DAY is based on a shocking murder that occurred while Yang was attending high school. But it's less about a crime than it is a document of the social upheaval that followed the mass immigration from mainland China in 1949, played out to the beat of Western rock-and-roll. (The title comes from a mistranslation of the lyrics to Elvis Presley's Are You Lonesome Tonight?) Yang focuses on Xiao Si'r, a quiet loner who becomes involved with the local hoodlums, the Little Park Gang, and falls in love with the former leader's girlfriend, Ming. The relationship is doomed from the outset partly because Xiao Si'r is the archetypal adolescent male - he's a strict romantic, unwilling to accept any flaws. Some maintain that the film is both a critique and an elegy for a certain kind of male adolescent romanticism; others prefer to see the film as a portrait of social anomie and hysteria. In truth, no reductive reading could do justice to the grand scale, and even grander emotions, of A BRIGHTER SUMMER DAY. "The richest novelistic movie made by anyone during the 90s . . . . A BRIGHTER SUMMER DAY is arguably the greatest of all Taiwanese films . . ." (Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader).
A Brighter Summer Day Pacific Cinémathèque (link lost)
A work of grand scale and ambitious achievement, A Brighter Summer Day is Edward Yang's most acclaimed feature, and was recently selected in a Film Comment poll of critics and curators as one of the "Top 30 Unreleased Foreign-Language Films of the 90s." It screens here in its full-length, director's cut version, hailed by J. Hoberman of the Village Voice as a "nocturnal masterpiece . . . At once coolly distanced and desperately romantic, this four-hour teenage epic is like an Antonioni version of West Side Story or a Wenders remake of Rebel Without a Cause transposed to 1960 Taipei and set to the music of the Fleetwoods." Inspired in part by an actual murder case that rocked Taiwan, and set to a rockin' soundtrack of Western pop tunes (the title is a mistranslation of lyrics from Elvis's "Are You Lonesome Tonight?"), Yang's richly detailed film chronicles the coming-of-age of young Xiao S'ir, son of a stern civil servant, as he comes into the orbit of a local youth gang, and falls in the love with the girlfriend of gang's gone-into-hiding leader. The social/political milieu is a uneasy Taiwan teeming with millions of anti-Communist immigrants from the mainland, while its younger generation falls increasingly under the sway of American culture. Three years in the making, and featuring over a hundred speaking parts, A Brighter Summer Day is "a vast fresco crowded with warmth, humour, violence and a wealth of intimate detail. For once, `masterpiece' seems the appropriate word" (Tony Rayns, Vancouver I.F.F.). Colour, 35mm, in Mandarin with English subtitles. 240 mins.
"The richest novelistic movie made by anyone during the 90s . . . A Brighter Summer Day is arguably the greatest of all Taiwanese films." -Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader
Edward Yang's massive four hour epic "A Brighter Summer Day" is one of the true masterpieces of the 1990s and of the "New Taiwan cinema." It's ostensibly the story of a few rival street gangs in '60s Taiwan, but the film is about a single young man's rites of passage in an era in which his country was experiencing a major upheaval. The film is so meticulous in its construction and its feeling of community (its preparation, filming and post-production took several years) that at the same time its length automatically gives it an epic quality it is a remarkably intimate film that is about as far from an epic in the traditional (Hollywood) sense as possible. There are over a hundred speaking parts in the film and it is necessary to stay focused in order to keep track of what's going on and to whom, which is a good trick to make sure your audience is always paying attention. This is the type of film that is not simply watched but EXPERIENCED - the director demands nothing less from his audience. "A Brighter Summer Day" is a very personal vision that recalls both Yang's own childhood and an actual street murder that shook the nation. The film itself slowly and almost hypnotically builds towards this singular act of violence and at the end when it finally arrives it is both shocking and inevitable. "A Brighter Summer Day" keeps with the trend among the finest films to emerge from Taiwan in that it is very pared down - the cast are all nonactors and there is no non-diagetic music. It is beautifully shot, moving from the interiors of houses, schools, and cheap dance clubs to the open fields of the countryside in summertime. Alternating between violence and serenity, the film is a rhythmic and poetic evocation of a particular era. Its ironic title (in that there is no "brighter summer day" for these characters) is taken from an Elvis song that one of the kids sings at a nightclub. It is a truly exemplary modern masterpiece that got no distribution in the West but deserves to be hunted out at all costs by those who love and cherish the film art.
It's only natural that Edward Yang's A Brighter Summer Day begins with a shot of a barely-lit light bulb. On the set of a movie, a director reprimands an actress for harping on the color of her dress. "This is a black and white film," he says, one of many references to the symbolic darkness that overshadows the milieu of the film. A Brighter Summer Day is itself in color, but it may as well be monochrome. Much of the film's action takes place at night or inside dimly lit interiors, and it's not unusual for the characters to be confronted by light and its almost political implications. Some of the best images in the film (young boys staring at a rehearsal from a theater's rooftop; a basketball bouncing out of a darkened alleyway) pit light against dark—a fascinating dialectic meant to symbolize a distinctly Taiwanese struggle between past and present. From weapons to watches, objects similarly speak to the present. Like the light, these objects are constant reminders that the past can't be ignored and must be used to negotiate the present. In his article on Edward Yang for the Chicago Reader, Jonathan Rosenbaum praises A Brighter Summer Day's novelistic qualities and the way with which the director realizes a "a physical and social world as dense with family, community, and other personal ties as any John Ford film, and furnished with more sheer physical presence (including characters, settings, and objects) than any other fiction film I know of from the '90s." The film takes its title from a lyric in Elvis Presley's "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" (the singer himself once bemoaned the island's unknown status to the world) and loosely revolves around the death of a young girl by a male classmate. Over the course of the film, Yang evokes the way the military regime in Taiwan has disconnected the island's people—men and women desperately trying to figure out a way to relate to each other and their children despite the constant meddling (whether punishment or validation) of the government. In what is arguably the film's most memorable scene, a young kid in military school asks his teacher, "What should I do?" The emphasis on the "I" is important here and is indicative of Yang's concern for the country's oppression of its people and the limits of their personal freedom. Because Yang's compositions are so uncomplicated, it's easy to dismiss the director as a better storyteller than visualist, but that's to ignore the remarkable way he uses his camera to posit all sorts of emotional and political confrontations. It's in his generous, objective use of long shots and spare but startling close-ups that we see once again the influence of Robert Altman in Yang's aesthetic (see Yi Yi for more proof) and the struggle of the Taiwanese people to accept their history. In essence, Yang uses his aesthetic to bring into the light that which is dark.
Doc Films A Time for Freedom: Taiwanese Filmmakers in Transition, essay
Even a brief overview of Taiwan cinema in the second half of the 20th century must take into account its multilingual context. The majority of films produced in Taiwan in the 1950s and early 1960s were in Taiwan's native Southern Min language, and represented locally popular genres such as opera films and romantic comedies. By the 1960s Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist Party, the sole ruling party since its ousting from the Mainland by Mao Zeodong's Communist Party, was aggressively enforcing the teaching of Mandarin in schools and the use of Mandarin in cinema and other media. Launched by the state-owned Central Motion Pictures Corporation (CMPC), so-called ``healthy realism'' became the dominant genre. Mostly set in rural Taiwan, these films imagined a harmonious agrarian society, a vision which was often well-received by local audiences, but also represented the ideological whitewash of a repressive government.
Pressured by foreign competition, mostly from the Hong Kong industry, CMPC sought to diversify their production, experimenting with costume melodramas, comedies, and musicals. Pai Ching-jui's romantic comedy The Bride and I (1968) well exemplifies this attempt to compete with glitzier foreign products by toning down ideological content. One of the highlights of this important filmmaker's career and a box office hit, this delightfully self-reflexive work calls attention to the constraints that both political and commercial demands imposed on filmmakers at the time, thus combining light comedy and veiled cultural critique.
With the death of Chiang Kai-shek and the diplomatic isolation that followed the 1971 UN decision to recognize the People's Republic of China, the 1970s marked a dim, claustrophobic period in Taiwanese history, where cookie-cutter escapism prevailed, mostly in the form of adaptations of popular romance novels. But by the 1980s, facing ever-increasing competition from Hong Kong and Hollywood, CMPC inaugurated a ``newcomer policy'' aimed at attracting new talent to the local film industry. This institutional support was crucial for the emergence of the New Taiwan Cinema, whose exponents were given carte blanche, as well as the full wealth of the company's subsidies. Economic imperatives had at last superseded political ones, as the Nationalist Party gradually lost its grip on the country's imagination.
In 1980, Wu Nien-jen, a precocious novelist, found himself hired as a creative supervisor to reinvigorate CMPC's productions. The resulting project In Our Time (1982) inaugurated the New Taiwan Cinema with its quotidian tales of childhood mortification, sexual awakening, and urban maladjustment. It also occasioned the first film from a young former journeyman of television, Edward Yang. But it was Growing Up (Chen Kun-hou, 1983) that first attracted broad critical and popular attention to the movement. Penned by Hou Hsiao-hsien, eventually the movement's most prominent filmmaker, in his first of many collaborations (nearly every work of his career) with another novelist, a young woman named Chu T'ien-wen, Growing Up established some of the movement's key stylistic approaches and narrative concerns, with its subdued manner in relating the story of an adolescent boy grappling with everyday pangs amid Taiwan's fraught provincial context. The same year saw the release of The Sandwich Man, Wu Nien-jen's second omnibus film consisting of three shorts including Hou Hsiao-hsien's first personal project as a director. It was immediately hailed as a ``completely new start for the Chinese cinema of Taiwan.''
Most of the New Taiwan filmmakers, including Hou, Wu, Chu, and Yang were born in the late 1940s or early 1950s, and raised under a military dictatorship with a pro-Mandarin, anti-communist ideology at its core. They witnessed the economic take-off of the 1960s with its rapid social and political transformations. Each represented a different stratum of Taiwan society, and thus a different attitude towards its problems. For their parts the two writers Wu Nien-jen and Chu T'ien-wen were natives, and respectively represented that society's proletariat and literati cultures. On the other hand, the two filmmakers Hou Hsiao-hsien and Edward Yang both hailed from the Mainland, their families having fled the Chinese Civil War. The former's clan was rural and working class of the Hakka, a Han subgroup from Southern China, while the latter's family was urban bourgeois from Shanghai, settling in Taipei.
These four individuals outline a representative cadre of a larger group, some trained at home and some abroad. Drawing inspiration from the Hong Kong New Wave or international art cinema, or shaped by their work in television and the popular film industry, they emphasized a naturalistic acting style, location photography, and everyday depictions of Taiwan. Perhaps most importantly, their films returned to the use of Southern Min as their spoken idiom.
Over the course of the decade, Hou Hsiao-hsien's films contemplated the space between the rural and the urban. By contrast, the films of Edward Yang in this period, with one exception, were resolutely urban. Sometimes described as a ``moralist'' because many of his characters seemed in search of ethical frames of reference, Yang was certainly ruthless. As the decade came to a close, the lifting of martial law in 1987 allowed Hou and Yang to push these initial experiments in personal and social articulation even further, and to confront Taiwan's tortured history with even greater scope and honesty. Thus, in 1989 and 1991 respectively, they produced what many historians identify as the movement's finest works, as well as two of the greatest films ever made.
Yang's own synoptic masterpiece, A Brighter Summer Day (1991) in some sense constituted a self-conscious follow-up to Hou's work. Where the former focuses on native struggles, Yang's evokes those of disaffected mainlanders attempting to settle themselves at the dawn of the 1960s amid the crumbling infrastructure of the Japanese occupation, the advances of American cultural imperialism, and the Nationalist government's protracted Communist witch hunt. As with so many New Taiwan films, partly autobiographical, this initiation story focuses on a group of very scared children as they fumble to make sense of a shell-shocked world with only their parents' outdated intellectual hardware to abet them. Its vaulted shots through arches, doorways, and windows, construct an uncertain cosmos where an encroaching darkness threatens the spatial integrity of the action, placing characters perpetually on the brink of further calamity.
A stately theater in its perfect proportions and vaulted mise-enscène, a densely textured novel in its richly descriptive scenario and colorful characterizations, and pure cinema in its acute sense of time's inexorable duration, with frequent analogies to War and Peace, Edward Yang's four-hour Gesamtkunstwerk is one of two definitive works of the New Taiwan Cinema, and one of film history's great masterpieces. The narrative chronicles the experience of Taiwan's transplanted mainland communities seeking security at the dawn of the 60s, and the failure of Confucian morality to comprehend a changed world.
A modern classic made in Taiwan Tony Rayns from The Independent, April 7, 2000
The first title confirmed for competition in this year's Cannes Film Festival was the new film by the Taiwan director Edward Yang. A One and a Two... is Yang's best film since A Brighter Summer Day a decade ago, a funny/sad account of what it takes to keep on keeping on when new-tech companies are crashing, relatives are dying, lovers are fickle and brides are nine-months pregnant. It confirms Yang's status as a contemporary master, so it's good news that the best of his earlier films is finally getting another screening in Britain.
Between midnight and 4am on Sunday night, FilmFour is screening the "director's cut" of A Brighter Summer Day, a film now widely recognised as one of the landmarks of 1990s cinema. It's a lovingly crafted independent film on an epic scale, made in Taiwan at a time when the local film industry had effectively collapsed. This full-length version of the film had a few special screenings at London's ICA eight years ago, and hasn't been seen here since. Its only previous appearance on British television was in a version cut by nearly one hour, shown once on BBC2.
Inspired by real events, the film is set in Taipei in 1960-61. Yang himself was in his early teens at that time, and much of the detail and all of the emotion is drawn from his own memories. To Western viewers of the same age, the setting is oddly familiar and at the same time intriguingly alien. The main characters are high-school kids and their lives follow very recognisable patterns, from the problems with dating and the tensions with parents to the hairstyles, the threads and the Elvis 78s. What's less familiar is the political and social background - and the murderous ferocity of the rivalries between teenage gangs.
Xiao Si'r is a 14-year-old boy, the fourth of five children, a loner and a dreamer. More nights than not he sits up late reading and writing his diary by torchlight in bed, the lower bunk in what was once a linen cupboard. His parents (father a minor civil servant, mother a schoolteacher) are decent, hard-working and hard-pressed financially; they were part of the huge wave of immigrants from mainland China who fled to Taiwan when Mao's communists came to power in 1949. Their children were born in Taiwan, and don't share their nostalgia for a "lost" homeland. The film suggests that the main reason that the children of such parents formed gangs was to give themselves an identity they otherwise lacked as first-generation immigrants.
Xiao Si'r is not a member of a gang, although he's friends with Cat and Airplane, two juniors in the Little Park Gang, who cultivate him largely because his elder sister is good enough in English to copy down song lyrics from their new 78s. This makes him a bystander when trouble starts brewing between the Little Park Gang (whose leader Honey is hiding in the south after killing a rival) and the 217 Gang (the sons of military personnel, named after the number of their housing estate). But he's drawn in anyway when he befriends Ming, the girlfriend of the absent Honey and the most chased-after girl in school. It never crosses his mind to get intimate with Ming, but he feels close enough to her to get jealous when her name is linked with other boys. And this, ultimately, plants the seed of his own destruction.
Edward Yang constructs a vast fresco around these characters, crowding the screen with incident and suggesting how individual actions and screw-ups may be inextricably linked with political and social pressures. Xiao Si'r, for example, clearly takes after his father Zhang Ju, a blinkered and upright man who's unlucky enough to work in one of the 20th century's most corrupt bureaucracies. He teaches his son that he can be whatever he chooses to make of himself. But he himself is crushed the night when secret policemen arrive on his doorstep and haul him off for days and nights of nebulous interrogation about his possible connections with underground communists.
By the time he's allowed to go home, he's a broken man, his morale in shreds and his job in abeyance. Yang doesn't pretend to explain exactly what effect all this has on Zhang's family, but he insists, obviously correctly, that it has a direct bearing on his son's sense of right and wrong, not to mention his attitude towards authority figures.
The most amazing thing about the film is that it got made at all. It took Yang just over three years to research and write the script, find and train the cast (three-quarters of the actors were first-timers, as were two-thirds of the crew) and to shoot and post-produce A Brighter Summer Day - all on a budget not much over $1m. The next most amazing thing is that it sustains its inventions across such a broad canvas. There are nearly one hundred speaking roles, none of them stereotyped, underwritten or otherwise lazily conceived. The combination of complex plotting and Yang's preferences for elision and suggestion over bald denotation make it a film that very much rewards repeated viewings. There is, in any case, too much to take in at first glance and Yang's wide-angle compositions allow the eye plenty of room to explore the frame and find telling, hitherto unnoticed details.
At one level, this is a piece of revisionist historiography: a corrective to the bland official versions of Taiwan's modern history, and one which obliquely clarifies the result - the defeat of the ruling KMT - in the island's presidential election last month. At another, it's a prodigious reclamation of a vanished time and culture.
It's no surprise that the film means most to audiences who know something about Taiwan and especially the peculiar and fraught dynamics of the relations between mainland Chinese immigrants and native Taiwanese Chinese. But the film's international success and critical standing suggest that it means plenty even to those who come to it without that background knowledge.
The English title, A Brighter Summer Day, is a possible mistranscription of a phrase in Elvis Presley's cover of the old standard "Are You Lonesome Tonight?". (It does sound as if Elvis sings "brighter" rather than "bright"; the issue is discussed in one scene of the film.) Whatever, it's the optimism the phrase connotes which is operative throughout the film; every character is driven by his or her hopes for a better future.
In the widest possible sense, it's a film about education. Not just schooling and the pressure to achieve academic results, but also the ways parents bring up their children, peer groups influence individuals and circumstances shape character. That's certainly one reason why many already think of it as a modern classic.
Music and modernity in A Brighter Summer Day Saul Austerlitz from CineAction, Summer 2003
Fredric Jameson, in his essay "Remapping Taipei," describes the experience of modernity thus:
The social totality can be sensed, as it were, from the outside,
like a skin at which the Other somehow looks, but which we
ourselves will never see. Or it can be tracked, like a crime,
whose clues we accumulate, not knowing that we are ourselves
parts and organs of this obscenely moving and stirring zoological
monstrosity. But most often, in the modern itself, its vague
and nascent concept begins to awaken with the knowledge
function, very much like a book whose characters do not yet
know they are being read. (1)
Jameson describes the aesthetic sensation of modernity as requiring the existence of an omniscient presence, who, "rising over miniature roof-tops", (2) connects the disjointed, fragmented experiences of contemporary life, and provides sensations of connection, rhyme, and irony. This is the province of the artist, who alone is capable of converting the random events of daily life into "the material of storytelling, or Literature." (3) Edward Yang, in his 1991 film A Brighter Summer Day, endorses this view of the nature of art. His film provides its viewers with a large-scale vision of Taipei circa 1960 that is consistently denied to its characters. We are given a series of visual and linguistic repetitions and filmic echoes that make connections, which are invisible to the film's characters. A Brighter Summer Day's relationship to the artistic urge similarly reflects Yang's positioning film, literature, and especially music, within the world of the film as revelatory of the complexities of the characters' lives. Yang uses these arts, most importantly music, as a means of rising over those roof-tops, and providing an understanding of daily life impossible to achieve in the real world. Music becomes the central point at which all the characters' lives connect, and their relationship to music illuminates the normally unseen framework of 1960s Taiwanese life.
The traditional and the modern are in constant tension throughout A Brighter Summer Day. Symbols of the two modes emerge everywhere, and reveal a society on the cusp of massive individual and institutional change. A Brighter Summer Day's placement in Yang's filmography, after his critically celebrated films Taipei Story and Terrorizer, both of which are set in present-day Taipei, is worthy of notice. A Brighter Summer Day is a step backward, a journey into the past, and its relationship to the earlier Yang films is one of explanatory prequel. A Brighter Summer Day documents the social and cultural changes that create the modernized, late-capitalist life of 1980s Taipei documented in the earlier two films. Such a task allows Yang the freedom to explore a society on the brink of a great transformation, from a traditionally based way of life to a modernized, urban existence. While the film exists in a number of versions, throughout this essay I will be referring to the 185-minute cut (a 237-minute version is the fullest, and most difficult to find).
The other great transformation shown in A Brighter Summer Day is from cultural domination by a series of invaders, including the Japanese and the mainland Chinese, to a new culture primarily associated with the United States. The film's cultural talismans illuminate this complex intertwining of old and new, Japanese, Chinese, and American influences. A Brighter Summer Day's characters treat their surroundings as archaeological, digging to find artifacts relevant to their contemporary existences. Their commingled presence in the film creates a hybrid existence where the traces of past military invaders mix with those of future cultural invaders.
In a similar vein to Yang's later masterpiece Yi Yi, A Brighter Summer Day takes in a year in the lives of a prototypical Taiwanese family, the Zhangs. However, unlike Yi Yi, A Brighter Summer Day focuses less on family life and more on the trials of one of the Zhang family sons, Zhao Si'r. Si'r is an adolescent wrestling with the complexities of his life, both at home and in school. Due to school overcrowding, many of the less gifted or rowdier students are forced to attend classes at night, and Zhao Si'r is one of them. These students understand their position as relative second-class citizens within the school (and social) hierarchy, and take out their aggression by forming gangs. Si'r and his friends belong to the Little Park gang, whose primary rivals are the older, rougher members of the 217 gang, led by the ferocious Shandong. Little Park's erstwhile leader, Honey, has been exiled for some time at the start of the film, having joined the navy as a means of avoiding jail time. Temporarily replacing him is his younger understudy Sly.
Si'r's presence at the conjunction of family and society allows us a large-scale vision of Taiwanese society circa 1960. Life in the classroom and gang are constantly echoed in the greater society surrounding these small groups. The echoes of history are also always present. Taiwan's 20th century history of subjugation is a palpable presence in the film, with the traces of past invaders everywhere. Early in the film, Si'r's mother complains at the dinner table of the music drifting in from a fruit stand outside, saying, "We fought the Japs for 8 years, and now we live in a Japanese house and listen to Japanese music." Her tone is intensely hitter, reflecting the viewpoint that military victory is useless if followed by cultural defeat.
A Brighter Summer Day's setting in 1960 places it at a moment of triangulated cultural subjugation. The recollections of Japanese role clearly still weigh on the memories of the film's adults, and those familiar with Taiwanese history will immediately grasp that 1960 was during the rule of Chiang Kai-Shek's mainland Nationalists, who had been defeated by Mao Tse-tung and the Communists on the mainland in the 1948 civil war. Still early in its development is the impending cultural hegemony of American films, music, and style. 1960 is a year in which all these factors, those that have departed and those yet to come, can all be seen.
Si'r and his friends have their closest cultural relationship with American rock & roll. Taiwan, not quite a full-fledged member of the modernized world, seems to only presently (in 1960) be discovering the astounding early singles of Elvis Presley recorded in 1956 and 1957, including "Don't Be Cruel" and "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" The music of Presley and other early rock & roll stars galvanizes the adolescents' society, and becomes the primary distinction between themselves and the adult world. Two members of Little Park, Deuce and Cat, are the lead singers of the local band, and their performances become, in many ways, the heart and soul of A Brighter Summer Day. The relationship between performance and reality, between art and existence, forms the essential complex duality of the film.
Other arts are also present in the narrative of A Brighter Summer Day. The filmmaking world is the location of the film's opening scene, when Si'r and Cat hide in the rafters of the studio in the hopes of spotting the lead actress changing. The camera pans upward, slowly making its way up to the top rafter where the boys hide, and when it reaches them, they drop a book, and reveal their presence to the crew. The characters in the film are immediately identified as avid consumers of culture, rather than producers, a situation they attempt to remedy over the course of the narrative. In addition, the process of creative exploration is shown, in this scene, as a far from joyous affair. The lead actress is dissatisfied with the lack of respect shown her, the director is unhappy with his supposedly adolescent 40-year-old actress, and the cast and crew seem both dazed and bored, scanning the room in the hopes of finding a previously hidden exit. In a later scene, the director stops Si'r and his quasi-girlfriend, Ming, as they attempt to sneak out of the studio. He eyes Ming, and offers to give her a screen test, possibly seeing in her a freshness and authenticity absent from his aging, demanding actress. This, of course, is a point in favor of the film we are watching, whose lead actress is the very individual whom the fictional director singles out.
Literature, as well, makes a small but crucial appearance in A Brighter Summer Day. Honey, the returned leader of the 217 gang, talks to Si'r, and tells him that reading "swashbuckle novels" like War and Peace preserved his sanity during the difficult months in the navy. Honey also refers to Napoleon, and to a plot involving an enraged prince, which sounds suspiciously like Hamlet. Honey has discovered, in these works, a sense of history absent from his own life. Literature has imparted to him an understanding of life being lived in the context of history, all the more crucial to a Taiwanese people robbed of so much of their history by foreign interlopers. There is a humorous cineaste's joke in Honey's fascination with historical fiction, as his getup is reminiscent of nothing so much as the return of a particularly malevolent Jacques Demy sailor. Nonetheless, what Honey finds in these books is a sense of identification lacking in his surroundings. Literature identifies his place within the historical continuum, and allows him to take a step back from his own existence and grasp it as a whole. As he says, "I found people in the past were just like us in our street gangs." This discovery encourages Honey to reverse the equation, and provide a similar service to others like him. "If I could write, I'd write a novel for people like me to read in the future."
Yang grants wisdom to Honey, but it is a startlingly ironic bequest, for his understanding comes at the expense of a certain knife's-edge brutality, and he is soon murdered by his rival Shandong. Honey's enlightenment has revealed two important facts about the society he finds himself in: first, that such knowledge is an incredibly dangerous luxury in Taiwanese society of the time, and second, that no one in his immediate surroundings has any want or need for such a luxury. Enlightenment is something that the other members of the 217 gang, and the great majority of the characters of A Brighter Summer Day, cannot afford. Literature, as such, has a mind-expanding capability sorely lacking in any other aspects of these characters' lives, but the wide-angle portrait of society it provides also lessens the finely tuned attention to detail so necessary for survival. As we are shown, the pleasures of literature can be fatal.
Music, however, is the axis on which Yang's film turns. Yang frequently chooses cultural talismans as centerpieces for his films, from baseball in Taipei Story to photography in Terrorizer and Yi Yi. A Brighter Summer Day is the only film in his oeuvre, though, in which Yang expresses any interest in rock & roll as a cultural medium. Specifically, the characters in the film are tied musically and emotionally to the groundbreaking work of Elvis Presley. Elvis as talisman connects A Brighter Summer Day, in at least a superficial way, to American Graffiti and its scores of imitators among American films of the 1970s and 1980s. In this light, A Brighter Summer Day becomes a negative of those American films, a story of cultural and sexual awakening through music that runs parallel to its American cousins. By virtue of Taiwan's gnarled history, and the specific milieu of the film, the story it tells, while superficially similar, is markedly different in tone and scope from the Lucas film. The aura of nostalgia that the two films share is augmented in A Brighter Summer Day by pervasive reminders of the era's harshness- a reality principle absent from the sugar-coated fantasia of American Graffiti.
The relationship between music and life in Yang's film is continually complicated by the way one bleeds into the other. Each of the film's musical performances is surrounded or interrupted by details of the plot that reflect, in one way or another, on the music. In many of the scenes, the performances are ironicized, their yearning romanticism at odds with the threat of violence that is constantly swirling around them. In other scenes, however, the romantic, questing nature of the songs are only intensified by their surroundings, the performance of these songs a direct revelation of the characters' emotions, as in a more traditional musical. A Brighter Summer Day belongs to the backstage genre of musical, in that all the performances are justified by the plot- i.e., a character would never burst into song if not on stage before a paying audience, or emoting into a tape recorder. The songs the characters sing are all American pop songs of the early rock and roll era, and as such the subject matter is almost exclusively love and romance. The selection of these songs, their performance, and their placement within the body of the film, reveal much about the relationships in A Brighter Summer Day.
In the first musical scene, the bumpers to the performance indicate the precise relationship of song to life, and the ways that the songs articulate emotions too complex to be otherwise expressed. The scene opens with Si'r standing across the street from a house, gazing longingly at Ming, the object of his affections, as she enters. The camera is placed directly behind Si'r, aligning our gaze with his. As the scene progresses, there is a slow fade up on the soundtrack of a crooning singer. The singing gets progressively louder, until there is a cut from Si'r's point of view to an interior shot of the performance, with Deuce, one of the leaders of the Little Park gang, serving as lead singer. What is most striking about the band is their remarkable re-creation of an American rock band, circa 1956. Deuce wears a white T-shirt, rolled up to reveal his biceps, and the band's guitarist sports the clunky black glasses favored by American stars like Buddy Holly. Their stage presence is completed by the mural of a lone palm tree and flashing multicolored Christmas lights that serve as decoration. The replica of an American band, while slightly threadbare in stage presence, is assisted by the astonishing imitation of American singing in English, a language which none of the characters in the film (with the exception of Si'r's sister, their song transcriber) evince any ability to speak. Deuce and his sidekick, the falsetto Cat, emit a pitch-perfect imitation of American singers virtually indistinguishable from the genuine product.
Cat replaces Deuce after the first song, and his number is a litany of positive changes in the singer's life, keyed around the repeated phrase "because you love me." As he sings in his pre-pubescent falsetto, Deuce storms offstage and into the concert hall's kitchen, where he engages in a violent, angry altercation with Sly, the gang's other leader, over Sly's indiscretions with Deuce's girlfriend Jade. Deuce attempts to attack Sly with a garbage can lid, and is repeatedly held back from lunging at Sly. Cat dashes offstage between songs to speak to Si'r, standing outside, and informs him that the entire ruckus was his fault, emerging as a result of his having indiscreetly informed on Sly. After imparting this information, Cat dashes back onstage for the next song, whose chorus is, "It's just like heaven, being here with you- you're just like an angel, my angel baby."
The sharp contrast between the innocently romantic tone of the songs and the anguished, tortured nature of the romantic relationships on display is emphasized by Yang's thorough integration of the two realms in this sequence. Neither Si'r's feelings for Ming, nor the complex roundelay of jealousy between Sly, Deuce, and Jade conform neatly to the romantic cliches of pop songs. Music, and art as a whole, as a beautiful lie is a motif that recurs throughout A Brighter Summer Day. The elevated sentiments of the songs are overwhelmed by the violence constantly simmering underneath the surface.
A short shot during the concert sequence provides the key for understanding these adolescents' behavior. Sly walks into the concert hall with a girl on one arm, strutting and emitting a glow of cocksureness while jauntily smoking a cigarette. This brutal parody of gangster/businessman's behavior is an indication of the entire adolescent society's basis in emulation of the adult society surrounding them. The random brutalization experienced in school is repeated in their relationships with each other, with hostility and violence as the only acceptable solutions to the problems at hand. The aping of behavior swings both ways- in an early scene, Si'r's father and his more influential friend confer in a dark corner at a party about the possibility of a promotion, and there is a remarkable similarity between their conversation and that of Si'r and his friends in posture and attitude. We come to understand that they, too, are in gangs of sorts, and that their lives operate by codes just as binding and restrictive as those of their sons. The lives of Si'r and his friends become a microcosm of Taiwanese society as a whole, reflecting the confusion, uncertainty, and violence of everyday life.
In the second performance sequence, the same elements are present, but intensified. Honey appears uninvited outside the concert hall like an avenging angel, hell-bent on starting a ruckus. He arrives during the singing of the national anthem, while everyone is stock-still, standing at attention. Honey's smooth, gliding walk manages to convey the impression of each step being his last without ever pausing. Again, Yang cuts between the ever-escalating fight and the performance inside, utilizing a shot from the side of the stage that includes the swooning girls standing onstage as well as the performers. The third segment of this triangulated sequence (the song performed has a chorus of "it couldn't be anyone else but you") is of the repeated exchange of glances between Jade and Ma, Si'r's new friend. Love and violence intertwine here as in the first sequence, forever inseparable. The music fades out as Honey and Shandong walk together down the darkened, empty road. Honey is talkative and excited, while his counterpart silently lurks behind him. As a car passes them, Shandong shoves Honey into its path, and Honey lets loose a strangled cry in the moment before he is killed. Yang immediately cuts back to the concert hall, where a new band is performing "Don't Be Cruel," complete with Elvis' trademark vocal yelps. The threat and the sadness of violence are ever-present inside the performances of the songs. By virtue of Yang's cross-cutting, the audience possesses an understanding of the harsh undercurrents beneath the songs that the adoring crowds seem to lack. Yang's recurring shots of the cheering (mostly female) audience highlights the growing gap in knowledge between the approving crowds and the film's audience. We (the film's audience) are repeatedly allowed glimpses of the sadness behind the romance, the experience behind the songs' innocence. The songs are not allowed to stand as is, but are complicated by their relationship with the characters' lives, made deeper and sadder by their surroundings.
The only performances left in A Brighter Summer Day, following the two concerts, are Cat's, and both involve a tape recorder rather than an audience. In Si'r's sister's room, surrounded by pictures of Elvis on the walls, Cat records his performance of "Are You Lonesome Tonight?", complete with the mis-transcribed line that provides the film's title. Following the song, Cat tells Si'r about Ma's discovery in his house's attic- a Japanese samurai sword, and a picture of a young American woman. These two artifacts, in addition to the tape recorder, stand as indices of the presence of a melange of cultural imperializers in the film's Taiwan. The place of honor accorded to American music by A Brighter Summer Day's adolescents fits this pattern of Taiwanese cultural domination and reappropriation. These objects are constant reminders of Taiwan's inbetween status, caught between the Japanese, Chinese, and American empires. Rather than attempt to ignore this status, Si'r and his friends seek to celebrate the unique position of "this unknown place," as Elvis Presley refers to Taiwan later in the film.
A Brighter Summer Day shifts its narrative focus at this point, moving away from the members of the Little Park gang toward a concentration on the Zhang family. Si'r's father is taken away by the secret police and interrogated for a number of days, an experience that permanently scars him. He becomes a harsher parent, brutally beating his son Lao Er for the crime of pawning his mother's watch. Si'r is expelled from school, and must spend his days studying for the Day School entrance exam. In the meantime, separated from Ming by his expulsion, he becomes increasingly jealous of Ming's infidelities. His friends all seem to have changed as well- Sly, the former proto-capitalist hothead, has visibly calmed, not even flinching when Si'r slaps him, where in his first appearance in the film, he had brained a terrified boy with a brick. Si'r's frustration at his helplessness, and at the suffering inherent in the world, grows more palpable with each passing moment. While walking with Ming, she tells him to slow down his dogged pursuit of her affections, saying, "We have all the time in the world." Ming repeats word-for-word the interrogator's response to Si'r's father's complaints. The repetition draws a connection between Si'r's father's interrogation and Si'r's relationship with Ming, with both serving as trials by fire that neither can pass.
Si'r meets Ming one more time, promenading with her in a public square. Si'r offers his help in changing her for the better, which raises her ire. Yang cuts to Ming in close-up, angrily telling Si'r, "You're just like all the rest. You can't change me ... You want me to change? I'm like the world. The world will never change." Si'r, in response, stabs Ming, embracing her as the life ebbs from her, her head lolling on Si'r's shoulder. He screams at her, "You're hopeless and shameless," a retort that applies equally, in his equation, to the world at large. Yang cuts from the medium two-shot of their dance of death to a longer shot that takes in the activity surrounding them. The crowd of young people continues enjoying themselves, taking no notice of the catastrophe unfolding in their midst. Life flows on around them, oblivious to their personal tragedy.
In the film's crushing final two scenes, Cat brings his tape of "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" to the prison where Si'r is incarcerated. He pleads with the jailers to bring his tape to Si'r, and as he walks away, we hear the song, and the contents of Cat's letter. Over an image of the prisoners sweeping up the lushly green yard in the dappled midday sunlight, Cat tells Si'r about sending his recording to Elvis Presley, who responded that he was surprised to hear of his music's popularity in "this unknown place", and has sent him a ring. The letter and the song are harshly interrupted on the soundtrack, and Yang cuts from the placid prisoners' scene to the guards' tossing Cat's tape into the garbage.
In a subtle match, the prison guard has the same intricate tea glass as Si'r's school principal. Yang never shows the guard's face, shooting him from the back only, and as a result the two men are joined, becoming the same figure of corrupt, jaded authority. The junked tape stands for all the missed communication of the film, as well as for Taiwan's aspirations as a whole. "This unknown place" loses its innocence, its desire for wholeness amidst the detritus of other empires, in Si'r's tragic fate. We never see Si'r again after he is arrested- he exists only as an absence in the lives of those left behind.
In A Brighter Summer Day's final scene, Si'r's mother and sister listen to the radio as they hang laundry to dry. The camera follows his sister, then pans right to look out a window to the garden, where his mother unfolds clothes. In the middle of unfolding one garment, she freezes, having heard Si'r's name on the list of students accepted for enrollment in the prestigious Day School, in the foreign language department. The credits begin to roll over this final image of a woman frozen in the unbearable awareness of exactly what she has lost. Taiwan, too, has lost- lost its opportunity for change at a crucial moment, choosing instead to follow the path of continued cultural domination that will create the Taiwan of Yang's contemporary films. As per Jameson's dictum, Yang creates a book whose characters do not know they are being read, a realist document of Taiwanese society that provides a God's-eye-view perspective of their lives. In the confluence of the two concluding scenes, Yang provides a unity of the personal and political, cultural and social spheres of the film for a literarily fitting finale accessible only to his viewers, and not his characters. And across the continuum of Yang's oeuvre, the story of modernization, cultural confusion, and personal anguish will continue onward toward the present. The Zhangs will become the Jians of Yi Yi, perhaps more successful than their forebears, but equally disoriented as to their place in Taiwanese society, and the world as a whole.
(1) Jameson, Fredric. The Geopolitical Aesthetic. London: BFI Publishing, 1992, p. 114.
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'A Brighter Summer Day,' by Edward Yang - Review - The New York ... A.O. Scott from The New York Times, November 24, 2011, also seen here: New York Times [A. O. Scott]
Like all the books on Chinese history we studied, over 2500 years worth, and most of the recent Chinese-language films that depict the past, poverty and sufferings are central themes. Wealth was never really intended for the people in Confucian doctrines, which enforced more than anything else the central authority’s legitimacy with rigid social structures coated with moral justifications to stress conformism, discipline and personal sacrifices for social harmony and group security. Ironically, this conformism and discipline bore fruit to all these countries in their economic miracles and double-digit annual growths of the past two decades. Suddenly, as a result, we find ourselves in a position where we have run out of Confucian teachings, as well as Western solutions such as Democracy, from which to model ourselves. We may know how to tell the world what to do, as with the human rights issues, but do we know how to tell ourselves what to do for our own future? This confusion has created ever threatening anxieties in all the details of our daily lives...Some went to heaven, some went to hell, and some happily and surprisingly discovered that they had become decent and independent people... Fortunately we do have a word for choice. This is a film about treasuring this final resource of ours to create hope for the future.
Edward Yang's ambitious and satiric 1994 Taiwanese feature, set over a couple of frenetic days in Taipei, deals with some of the effects of capitalism on personal relationships, weaving a web of romantic, sexual, and professional intrigues among an energetic businesswoman, her reckless fiance, a TV talk-show hostess, an alienated novelist, an avant-garde playwright, and others. As the title suggests, the collision between ancient Chinese beliefs and current economic trends creates a certain sense of vertigo, and this dense comic drama catches the feeling precisely.
Time Out review Tony Rayns
Yang's brilliantly achieved comedy follows a selection of modern urban types through two fraught days and nights rife with misunderstandings and cross-purposes. The specific focus is on Taipei now, a city torn between me-generation aspirations and age-old Chinese ideas of social conformity, but almost everything here could equally well take place in neo-conservative London: Yang's semi-affectionate caricatures of civil servants, business and PR people and the arts crowd are all too recognisable. The new streamlined version of the film is tighter and more provocative than that which baffled most of the comatose British press corps (TO excepted) at Cannes '94; the creative energies that fired A Brighter Summer Day are sparkier than ever.
"It's a dangerous time for emotion," says one
character early on in the film, but the twenty-something denizens of A CONFUCIAN
CONFUSION are completely incapable of suppressing their emotions or their
greed. Sleek, chic and hysterical, the film owes more to Preston Sturges than
Michelangelo Antonioni, though all of the characteristic Yang themes are
present; only this time there is a more luxurious feel to the proceedings.
A Confucian Confusion Pacific Cinémathèque (link lost)
"It's a dangerous time for emotion," says one character in Edward Yang's fabulous first comedy, which follows a dizzying array of rootless characters -- young, upwardly mobile, highly Westernized types all, working in the arts, advertising, media and high tech -- through 56 fraught hours of career crises, shifting sexual relationships and gnawing self-doubt. At the centre of this tangled Taipei Story is Molly (Ni Shujun), head of the family PR business, who is facing an arranged marriage to the dim heir of another corporate fortune. Molly's firing of Feng, an aspiring actress biding time in her employ, is the catalyst that sets the film's chaotic, comic events in motion. A Confucian Confusion is "sleek, chic and hysterical, [and] owes more to Preston Sturges than Michelangelo Antonioni, though all of the characteristic Yang themes are present . . . The film's thesis -- stated by an overly earnest, struggling writer -- is that if Confucius returned to contemporary Taiwan, everyone would adore him, primarily because they consider him an influential and powerful fraud" (Cinematheque Ontario). "[A] brilliantly achieved comedy . . . The specific focus is on Taipei now, a city torn between me-generation aspirations and age-old Chinese ideas of social conformity . . . The creative energies that sparked A Brighter Summer Day are sparkier than ever" (Tony Rayns, Time Out). Colour, 35mm, in Mandarin with English subtitles. 127 mins.
When I first came across 'A Confucian
Confusion', I expected nothing much. I was wrong, very wrong. It turned out to
be a great movie. On one of your 'average' days, go to a video store, then rent
and watch it. I guarantee it will be the best thing on your day. ('Average'
here means the rest of the days when you don't win lotto or have a date of your
The film looks at a sample of modern Taiwanese life. Edward Yang the director, who won some awards for his later film 'Mahjong', focuses at a different part of the taiwanese society. If in 'Mahjong' he tells the story through the darker gangsters-like fraction of the population, here he puts a light above a 'whiter' group of people, mid to upper class men and women trying to cope with the fast living in the money-driven, ever growing Taipei. And that's all the film's about, a window to some
Although this movie is categorized as a comedy, don't expect to laugh out loud during this 90 or so minutes. The most you can get are some subtle smiles and a big one out of satisfaction five minutes after it ends, realizing what a great movie it was.
The comedy may come from some 'very interesting'(bizarre, weird, ultra square, whatever you call it) characters, which make a very interesting but incredibly believable premise. This is possible since the story circles around the showbiz, the 'funny' business.
Excellent performances add a hell lot of greatness to this movie. Well, I couldn't say more. You just have to watch it yourself to appreciate this wonderful film.
Steve Gravestock is a programmer at the Toronto International Film Festival Group, (link lost):
“The traditions of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living” — Karl Marx
The 90s will be remembered as the period when the traditional centres faded and the most unlikely countries established themselves as the key film producers, at least ethically and creatively, if not financially. American studio films have become increasingly tired and reactionary, grotesquely expensive productions that seem to have less and less to do with any reality. And the historical blindness of many of the films is repulsive and baffling. When else but in the 90s could CIA agents be presented as heroes without any trace of irony? The American independent scene has betrayed its earlier promise, turning into a farm system for the studios instead of an alternative voice. Even worse, many of the independent companies have the same ludicrous financial goals as the studios. (The turning point came with Quentin Tarantino’s glib genre rehash Pulp Fiction, which grossed in excess of $100 million, thereby irreversibly skewing the financial expectations around independent cinema.)
European cinema has caught some of the nastier habits of the American industry. The American mania for bloated productions has infected parts of the French film industry (witness the onslaught of costume epics in the last ten years). Other national movements have learned their lesson from QT, rehashing old tricks. Regardless of the potential benefits that Dogme 95 might offer, what after all is it but John Cassavetes on grimy video?
In vivid contrast, and with an amazing economy of means, Iranian and
Taiwanese filmmakers have exposed the failings of the dominant cinemas,
combining innovative postmodernism with startlingly humanist impulses. Abbas
Kiarostami’s Close-Up, arguably the first great film of the decade, is an
astonishingly sympathetic portrait of a desperate con man passing himself off
as Mohsen Makhmalbaf, posing questions about celebrity and desire. In Salaam
Cinema and A Moment of Innocence, Makhmalbaf plays himself as a tyrant, while
setting up an elaborate cat-and-mouse game of reality and illusion which
questions the nature of the filmmaking process itself and the power that can
come with it. Similarly, Tsai Ming-liang’s Vive L’Amour focuses on those left
Yet even within this group, Edward Yang stands out — largely because he is the only director to emerge in the past decade whose work seems inextricably tied to the period. No doubt, the work of these other great filmmakers also depends on specific historical developments, but formally and thematically their work shares unmistakable similarities with previous movements, from Italian neorealism to the French New Wave.
Conversely, Yang’s films — particularly his two masterpieces, A Brighter Summer’s Day (1991) and A Confucian Confusion (1994) — focus on a very specific late 20th century phenomenon: ahistorical man. Both films are dominated by characters caught in historical and social currents they cannot accept, understand, or discard. It’s this sense of historical alienation that makes Yang’s work seem so vividly contemporary.
Set in the early 60s, following a massive influx of immigrants from mainland
The fourth child of a low-level, ineffectual bureaucrat, protagonist Xiao Si’r isn’t a good enough student to get into day school, so he’s forced to attend school at night. Cut off from the adult world by schedules and sensibility, the teenagers in the film fend for themselves — creating their own power structure. The teen landscape is dominated by two gangs: Little Park (Si’r’s group) and the 217s.
Crucially, their behavioural models are drawn from Western movies and pop
culture/mythology. (The film takes place at the time of the American
occupation, and commentators have pointed out allusions and similarities to
At the centre of the various conflicts is a dizzying array of competing
cultural values that cannot be coordinated or resolved. The film is littered
with talismans from various periods of Taiwanese history. Si’r’s father listens
obsessively to an old radio which links him, not only to the mainland but to
the past and his peasant roots. Other items pop up that suggest dark periods in
Taiwanese history, periods of which the characters are only barely conscious.
Si’r’s friend Cat finds a samurai sword left behind by the occupying Japanese
forces, while Si’r’s family lives in a Japanese-style home built during the
occupation. Cat and the rest of the gang are obsessed with American rock and
roll — they also find an American tape recorder which they treat as a magic
object from the future. Yet they have no idea what the lyrics mean. (The film’s
title is a mistranslation of a line from “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”) Si’r’s
sister sneers at them for their interest and for not understanding English.
These markers suggest a
At the centre of things is Xiao Si’r, who, at first glance, may seem like an
odd choice for a hero. Inarticulate and morose, largely because of his fear and
confusion, he seems more like a cipher than a hero. But his character merely
underscores the confusion that permeates Yang’s vision of
A Confucian Confusion takes place three decades later, and things have only become even more confused. Art, business, and politics have become inseparable. Almost everyone is a philosopher and everyone is driven by one principle: self-interest. Money and emotions are interchangeable and indistinguishable. History and tradition are invoked duplicitously to justify characters’ actions. Rich kid Molly is engaged to even wealthier kid Akeem, as a result of an agreement between their parents. Not exactly pleased with the idea of marrying Akeem (who’s more than a little dimwitted and is easily manipulated), Molly strings him along, using Akeem’s money and the cloak of tradition to support her desultory attempts at a career and independence. Celebrated avant-garde artist Birdy uses the rhetoric of democracy to justify his attempt at greater commercial success.
Perhaps the most perfidious character, though, is Molly’s brother-in-law, an author who once wrote romantic bestsellers, but has now decided to be a serious (i.e., downer) thinker. His rebirth has less to do with an intellectual awakening than it does with a midlife crisis, and a vain attempt at self-aggrandization. His latest novel features a reincarnated Confucius who returns to Earth, only to find out he’s admired because everyone thinks he’s succeeded by lying. No one will believe him when he claims to be sincere. (One of the clues that isn’t to be taken at face value is the author’s clear identification of himself with Confucius.) Running throughout the film is the notion that sincerity is a useful professional tool, but a personal flaw. The most genuine character — Qiqi — is exactly what she seems to be, and by the end of the film she’s been rejected by everyone. The situation is even more dire than in A Brighter Summer Day — in the 60s, at least sincerity was possible.
Paradoxically — and Yang is nothing if not an artist consumed by paradox —
Yang has created a vision of the present that is both overwhelmingly specific
and surprisingly universal. In his films,
topic - Edward Yang Edward
Yang film reviews by zedz on the Criterion Forum,
Confucian Confusion, A Andrea Alsberg from iFilm Connections Asia & Pacific
Rational Mind: The Films of Edward Yang Simon Abrams from Slant,
According to Yang, whenever 4 people got together in the old days in China, they always ended up playing the game, Mahjong. This films follows the exploits of the contemporary Taipei underworld of various gangsters, hustlers, jet-setters, and Western expatriates, with names like Red Fish, Hong Kong, Toothpaste, and Little Buddha, Cat, from A Brighter Summer Day (Gu ling jie shao nian sha ren shi jian) (1991), one Westerner speaks English and was a last minute fill-in, so his character appears weak and out of sorts with the rest of the strong cast, but this film also features the incredible Virginie Ledoyen with English, Chinese, and French dialogue here in a collision of cultural identities, the chaos from which the search continues for identity and human value, in this case there is a similarity with the way present-day business dealings in Taiwan mix with the underworld, as represented by Hou Hsiao-hsien's GOODBYE SOUTH, GOODBYE, and the impact it has on Taiwan art cinema, some of which is financed by gangsters, clearly one of the focuses of this film, which features a son in search of his father, and when he finds him, offers: "You are the most shameless man in a shameless country," claiming there are only two types of people, crooks and dopes, repeating the mantra over and over throughout the film, "Nowadays nobody knows what they want. You have to tell them," suggesting TV commercials and advertisements simply tell people what to do. The film features a shockingly violent and powerful murder sequence, forces spinning out of control before changing gears entirely, resolving into a poignant, tender love story. This emotional mood change is part of what's reckless and exciting in this film, something I found to be a devastatingly cynical, and sometimes hilarious portrait of the dark underbelly of the world of finance and violent crime, offering only the tiniest glimmer of hope...
Time Out review Tony Rayns
Edward Yang's brilliant dark comedy weaves together many characters in present-day Taipei. One desperate businessman faces ruin; another opts out of the rat race and finds a kind of serenity with a woman not his wife. A gang of street-smart boys breaks up. A lost French girl, looking for a man who said he loved her, get a crash course in emotional truths and lies. And one confused boy tries to figure out whether he should love his father or kill him. The various strands of plot are interwoven with phenomenal mastery, and Yang's images are as effortlessly precise as ever. It's his sharpest funny/sad vision of city life yet.
Mahjong Jonathan Rosenbaum from the Reader
Edward Yang's angriest film (1996) follows various
gangsters, hustlers, jet-setters, and western expatriates in contemporary
Yang's angriest and most provocative film" (Jonathan
Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader) follows middle-class con men and petty
criminals who wind up getting involved with the real underworld, which turns
out to be far less romantic than they anticipated. Like THE TERRORIZER or A
CONFUCIAN CONFUSION, MAHJONG is made up of seemingly disparate strands that
eventually meet in surprising ways. The film centres on a young French woman
who follows her British lover to
Mahjong Pacific Cinémathèque (link lost)
Taiwanese master Edward Yang's darkly comic latest has been called his
"angriest and most provocative film" (Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago
Reader) and "his sharpest funny/sad vision of city life yet" (Tony
Rayns, Time Out). A wealthy
Mahjong (1996) is in many ways Yang's greatest
Satire, but has, at the same time, the beating pulse of a real dramatic story.
In plays on the perception of
The performances in this piece are great, and Yang really seemed to get a lot out of his actors. A lot of critics complained that the acting from the foreign thesps were inferior, but their performances weren't bad at all, and added a diverse and invigorating "global" flavor to an otherwise "Asian"/Taiwanese film. There is a great quote at the end made by the actor who plays Marcus, where he reflects on how
In addition, Ke Yulun (who made a guest appearance in Yi-Yi as the military-uniform-clad "Soldier" who Lily cheats on) puts out a great performance as a tortured interpretor, drawn by love to Marthe. Tang Congsheng (he's also in Yi-Yi, in a blue-shirt at the N.Y. Bagel Cafe) is also fantastic, and seems to be, in more ways that one, Yang's vehicle in expressing rage against financial/capitalist-driven greed.
The final violent outbreak by Tang Congsheng's character Red Fish is beautifully executed, and Yang could not use violence in a more perfect way. It is a great moment of cinema and is perhaps the most pure, honest, cathartic and emotionally-intense venting of range I have seen in any film of recent memory (or ever, for that matter).
Well, in addition, there are many nice city shots of the bustling urban
topic - Edward Yang Edward
Yang film reviews by zedz on the Criterion Forum (Page 2),
YI YI: A ONE AND A TWO... A 100
Why is the world so different from what we thought it was? —Ting-Ting (Kelly Lee)
Yang opened the 90’s with A Brighter Summer Day (Gu ling jie shao nian sha ren shi jian) (1991) and ends the decade with this film, another humanistic, novelistic masterpiece, nearly three hours long, a slowly evolving story presented sequence by sequence, event by event, in a slow moving, quiet elegance, unraveling layer after layer of the outer and inner worlds of the Jian family in modern Taipei, seen largely through the eyes of the two children. Yang wrote the notes for what would eventually become YI YI 15 years ago when a friend’s father went into a coma, stating: “I knew I was too young at the time, so I put it aside.” There are no spectacular, explosive scenes here, like the massacre in the night of A BRIGHTER SUMMER DAY, instead Yang has created a much more poignant, reflective work, a funny, quietly powerful portrait of an ordinary middle class family struggling with their own personal self-doubts and alienation, their long, pent up frustrations, their exploration to find love and meaning in their lives, elegantly presented, deceptively simple, again, as is Yang’s signature, without a hint of artifice, and with an underlying, deeply felt humanism. There is particularly effective use of off-screen sound, as nearly all the angry expletives, or the explosive, unhappy emotional scenes occur off-screen, even a murder sequence, which we never see, while the camera shows us the stillness of life, the rhythms and routines, where everything shown seems to resemble a universality of “normal.” Disappointed by indifferent reviews that continued throughout his life’s work, Yang refused to release the film in Taiwan where, amazingly, the film has never been screened theatrically.
Winner of the Best Director award at Cannes, the story encapsulates the various phases of life itself with excrutiating honesty, masterfully interweaving characters in the manner of Jean Renoir’s carefully observant THE RULES OF THE GAME (1939), finding rhythms of experience that speak to recognizable themes in describing the comic and tragic sides of the human predicament, from birth to first awareness, school, bullying, friendships, first love, break-ups, marriage, employment, infidelity, mid-life crisis, illness, and death, while also exploring relationships of children with their parents, marital partners, and with aging parents. What’s perhaps most surprising is the amount of humor to be found alongside such a full range of emotional tones experienced throughout this complex, yet seamlessly evolving drama. Yang uses non-professional actors for the two most poignant acting performances, the Jian children, Ting-Ting (Kelly Lee) and Yang-Yang Jonathan Chang). Yang himself is seen briefly in the film simulating playing piano at a concert performance featuring his wife, Kaili Peng, playing the cello. She is credited for the film’s music, including the classical piano sequences. A-Di (Chen Hsi-Sheng) and his pregnant wife-to-be (Hsiao Shu-shen) have delayed their wedding several times so that it can take place on the most auspicious day of the year, but as luck would have it, after a somewhat raucous wedding ceremony, things take a turn for the worse. Granny (Tang Ru-Yun) suffers a stroke and remains in a coma throughout the film, where various family members come to talk to her at all hours of the day and night, all except 8-year old Yang-Yang, who has yet to find his own voice, so eloquently expressed at the end of the film, discovering wisdom beyond his years, as he comes to represent the spirit and hope of the director himself.
NJ, played by Wu Nien-jen, 1980’s and 90’s screenwriter for Hou Hsiao-hsien, also co-writer of Yang’s THAT DAY, ON THE BEACH (1983), is A-Di’s brother in law and heads the Jian family, living in a modern, city apartment featuring giant windows overlooking the ever flowing lines of traffic, which are seen constantly moving outside, but are also reflected back against the glass windows. Struggling to find his own voice in a rigid society, NJ seems to be the only mature member of his business associates at a software company, always called the most honest looking in a floundering company heading for bankruptcy, where immediate cash from a new investor is required. NJ leans towards the extremely likeable and intelligent, though often eccentric, Ota (Issey Ogata – a Japanese comedian), a computer games designer, as they develop a friendship, which is conveyed when NJ takes Ota, who expresses an interest in music, to a karaoke bar, and Ota is a big hit, bringing in happy, paying customers while playing superficial hits like “Sukiyaki,” Sukiyaki (Ue o Muite Arukou) - Kyu Sakamoto (English Translation ... YouTube (3:09), but when he starts playing Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata,” Beethoven-Moonlight Sonata (Mvt. 1) - YouTube (6:08), this leads to utter silence from the patrons and the overall mood of the film changes instantly from exteriors to more deeply probing interiors. Despite his enthusiastic recommendation, the other more unimaginative business partners opt for a more flamboyant female CEO, chosen while NJ is still meeting Ota in Japan, causing embarrassment and humiliation, a merger that proves disastrous, eventually alienating NJ from the firm.
This company friction, along with the stress from Granny’s stroke, his wife’s mother, leads to a personal split between NJ and his wife, Ming-Ming (Elaine Jin, a Yang regular since A BRIGHTER SUMMER DAY), who appears to suffer a nervous breakdown, moving to a Zen mountain retreat. The business opportunity to meet Ota, however, takes NJ to Japan where he has what amounts to a second chance opportunity to see a young love Sherry (Ko Su-Yun, aka Kelly Ko) that he abandoned 30 years earlier, someone he just happened to bump into at the wedding. The Japanese sequence is visually one of the most beautiful, contrasting the fluid modernity of an upscale hotel to the stillness of ancient Buddhist relics, which matches the changing moods of the two individuals, who are caught in shifting patterns of darkness and light, beautifully expressed by cinematographer Yang Wei-han. Fond of shooting scenes through windows and glass doors, Yang also carefully keeps his distance from his characters, but evokes a genuine tenderness. This reunion parallels in perfect unison with Ting-Ting’s first date with Fatty (Yu Pang Chang), both occurring simultaneously as the older couple attempts to relive their youth, with conversation from the older couple heard while the young couple is shown onscreen, in a beautifully choreographed expression of dual similarities and overlapping identities. As it turns out, NJ makes the same decision he did 30 years earlier, explaining he wouldn’t need a second chance in life, providing a calm, intelligent voice of reason and maturity in this film, with Ming-Ming also discovering that life is not nearly as complicated as it seems.
While both parents are out of town, Ting-Ting, the 16-year old daughter who has been the go-between delivering messages between the next door neighbor Lili (Adrian Lin) and her boyfriend Fatty, gets the opportunity to go out with Fatty herself, eventually leading to a hotel room, Fatty dressed in black, speechless, with Ting-Ting dressed in white, speechless, until Fatty runs away, revealing “This feels wrong...” Fatty subsequently rebukes her on the street, calling her a dreamer, telling her to leave him alone, just before his troubles escalate off-screen to murder. Ting-Ting is heartbroken and spends hours crying silently in her room, tending to a small plant, a school project, where other student’s plants are already in bloom, but not Ting-Ting’s, so, for consolation, she talks to Granny, still in a coma, at all hours of the night, afraid to sleep herself, asking for forgiveness, believing she is responsible for the fall that led to Granny’s stroke, as she was taking out the garbage that Ting-Ting forgot. Ting-Ting is the heart of this film, and is at the center of one of the most beautifully constructed scenes where she is sleepless and heartbroken, home alone with Granny, only to discover her plant has finally bloomed, while in the next room, she hears a voice. In her mind, Granny is awake making a white origami butterfly and hands it to Ting-Ting, who lays her head on Granny’s lap while Granny strokes her hair. Ting-Ting tells her, “Why is the world so different from what we thought it was?” relaxed with the thought that she can finally sleep now that Granny has forgiven her, but Granny dies while Ting-Ting finally sleeps.
Little Yang-Yang is the soul and comic relief of this film, the stand-in and alter ego of the director, borrowing his father’s camera to take pictures of the backs of people’s heads, then showing them the picture saying it was something they obviously could not see, verbalizing the director's approach to filmmaking: “We only understand half of everything because we can only see what’s in front of us,” and Yang’s camera aptly shows us “the other side” of every situation, an acute artistic observation which parallels the slowly revealed revelations in the small sequences of the film, as one rarely sees the entire picture all at once, instead only bits and pieces are shown a little bit at a time. Yang-Yang is constantly picked on and ridiculed by older girls, one, the leader, is a girl swimmer, and Yang-Yang can be seen sitting in the back at the pool watching her swim. Later, he locks himself in the bathroom holding his breath while submerging his face underwater in the sink. Finally, he actually jumps in the swimming pool with his clothes on, apparently still practicing holding his breath. But Yang-Yang seems most content in a scene right out of REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1955), the planetarium sequence. Here, he is sitting against the wall, arms folded, in a darkened educational film room showing clouds and weather when his nemesis, the girl swimmer, opens the door and walks into the light, silhouetted against the screen as lightning explodes behind her, a brilliant scene depicting romance in the dark for a young 8-year old boy, scene from Yi Yi / A One and a Two (2000) - Edward Yang YouTube (1:29). Yang-Yang is perfectly delighted, but also has the final word in this film. He has avoided speaking to his comatose Granny throughout the film, leaving that to other family members, but at the funeral service, it is Yang-Yang who wants to talk to Granny, reading her a letter he wrote, in what is a tearful, yet eloquent, final testimony to sweetness, hope, and light, an elegiac affirmation that will stand as the director’s final testament, as he died from colon cancer before making another film.
YI YI Cinematheque Ontario (link lost)
“The work of a master in full command of the resources of his art. . . . As I watched the final credits of YI YI through bleary eyes, I struggled to identify the overpowering feeling that was making me tear up. Was it grief? Joy? Mirth? Yes, I decided, it was all of these. But mostly, it was gratitude” (A.O. Scott, The New York Times). Named film of the year by the National Society of Film Critics, YI YI also won Yang the Best Director award at Cannes and elicited a torrent of praise for its range of tones, intimate character portraits, complex yet uncontrived narrative, and the mastery of its mise-en-scène. (Yang captures the chaos of life with pitch-perfect versatility in medium shots teeming with hustle and bustle and, in one poignant scene, shooting a weeping woman through a reflecting window pane to emphasize her alienation and sorrow.) The film charts the rollercoaster lives of a Taipei family: deflated NJ, a middle-aged businessman who stumbles across his high school sweetheart; his emotionally volatile wife; their troubled teenage daughter; and Polaroid-toting, philosophically-minded young son, as they navigate weddings, funerals, suicides, illness, and heartbreak. As gentle as it is frenetic, moving nimbly between borderline slapstick and great undercurrents of sadness, YI YI is “wise, delicate and impeccably performed” (Edward Guthman, San Francisco Chronicle). “A marvel of delicacy and humor” (Pete Travers, Rolling Stone).
Yi Yi | Film Review | Slant Magazine Ed Gonzalez
Yi Yi is Edward Yang's celebration of cultural identity and family interaction. The film's brilliance emanates equally from its structure (the story is delicately bookended by two cultural rituals: a wedding and a funeral), the acuteness of its gaze, and Yang's acknowledgement of life as a series of alternately humdrum and catastrophic occurrences, like a flower that blooms in the summer and wilts in the fall; he hopes you will notice it, because seeing is what validates its unique extraordinariness. With the help of his camera, young Yang-Yang (Jonathan Chang) attempts to come to grips with the many dualities of the world around him. He takes pictures of people's backsides because he wants to show them what they cannot see. His desire is representative of the film's very philosophy: there is a second side to every story, and the perception of that side promises new awakenings. Yang-Yang's father NJ (Nien-Jen Wu) must confront the reasons why he abandoned his ex-lover at the altar when they find themselves growing closer again. He acknowledges and frees himself of pent-up pains and admits to still loving her. Though she leaves him this time around, her actions are not vengeful. This transcendent moment suggests that the past cannot be undone and that NJ's only hope is to improve upon his present. NJ's cycle of enlightenment ends with the death of his wife's mother, the family matriarch from whom everyone seemingly draws their every breath. Most appreciative of the old woman's loving warmth is NJ's daughter Ting-Ting (Kelly Lee). A flower is the evocative symbol of the girl's headlong search for inner peace. Her fellow classmates laugh at her for overfeeding it but the wilted plant comes back to life after a divine encounter with her grandmother. It's a remarkable moment that conveys the transcendence of the flesh and the transmigration of energies between the living and the dead. This is the essence of Yang's masterpiece, a film whose profound emotional and cultural resonance brings to mind Robert Altman's Short Cuts.
Edward Yang, 1947-2007 | IndieWire CNW from IndieWIRE, July 1, 2007
When I first read that Edward Yang, the Taiwanese director of Yi Yi
(A One and a Two) and A Brighter Summer Day, had passed away this
weekend at the age of 59, I was selfishly upset -- as a moviegoer, I was angry
that an artist of Yang's talent and stature should die at such a young age,
taking with him the many movies he had yet to make. Most of Yang's films are
difficult to see in this country, and my one hope today is that his death will
result in their wider availability. It's small solace that, though we won't get
new films, there are still so many Yang films for most of us to discover beyond
Yi Yi, the one Yang film available on DVD here (on a fantastic new
Yi Yi became something of an international sensation earlier in the decade, winning Yang the best director prize at Cannes in 2000 and a best picture award from the National Society of Film Critics the following year, cementing Yang's status as one of the greatest and most important figures in world cinema. No one would have guessed that Yi Yi would end up being Yang's final film (he was working on an animated feature at the time of his death), but in hindsight, it's a fitting close to his career. A film of breathtaking intimacy and sweep, Yi Yi is a small family drama -- it opens with a wedding; it features a birth at its midpoint; it ends with a funeral -- that, in its quietly beautiful, unassuming way, seems to capture the essence of human life as it's lived: the wonder of childhood, the thrill of first love, the desperate loneliness of the city, the frustration of missed opportunity, the sting of lost love, the grace of old age. Almost every shot of the movie is like a work of art -- the astonishing loveliness of Yang's long-shot, long-take compositions can't be put into words. I can't write about Yi Yi without recourse to overused superlatives -- it is, indeed, sublime, a masterpiece in every sense of the word, one of three or four great masterworks of this decade. It's a film that moves me to tears. Warm and funny, enveloping and sad, Yi Yi is a film I'll always treasure, and for that, I'm incredibly grateful.
BFI | Sight & Sound | Emotional Engineering Nick James from BFI Sight and Sound, April 2001
Edward Yang's new panoramic, multi-strand slice of Taiwanese city life A One and a Two... is a uniquely insightful, purely cinematic form of melodrama. Nick James wishes the west could make films as exquisite and artful
The scene is a Taipei wedding just after the ceremony. The party spreads out amid tranquil greenery. Photo smiles are freely sprung, but the jovial air vibrates with more than the usual tension. Manically effusive in a red bow-tie and cummerbund, the groom laughs too loud (this is Taiwan, remember) and the young bride, cunningly draped in white, seems swollen as much with indignation as with unborn child. When the immediate family repairs to the hotel to set up the reception party, a hedge of pink balloons is still being puffed into place.
We begin to work out who is who. There's a small, placid, sad-eyed boy of eight whom taller girls love to pester. The imperturbable middle-aged man of compact build in a discreet grey suit is the boy's father. His wife seems composed but distant. His daughter, a slim teenager in red, attends to her careworn grandma, who is sitting apart. Then the murmur of preparations is broken by a newcomer. A woman in a black dress carrying a briefcase insists on seeing grandma. Soon she is wailing a plea for forgiveness, calling herself unworthy, referring to "that pregnant bitch" as she is half-pushed, half-dragged from the room.
You have to be alert and very observant during the opening minutes of an Edward Yang film. Few, if any, concessions are made to the expectations raised by western cinema. There are no close-ups, you're not nag-narrated by voiceover, no one will explain plot points in the dialogue, and none of the cast will be well known to you. Yang's films are as rich in domestic trauma as EastEnders, but his melodrama is nothing like soap opera. It's a process of tender, sensitive, gradual adult revelation; a cinema that seeps steady doses into your system until you're overwhelmed by its poignancy.
A One and a Two.../Yi Yi won Yang the Best Director prize in Cannes 2000 and has gone on to attract high praise around the world, becoming the first of Yang's many films to be distributed in the US. Watching it for the second time in the same week that I'd seen previews of Captain Corelli's Mandolin and Bridget Jones's Diary - two Miramax-assisted British films - it's undeniably the contrast that strikes home. Regardless of whether the Mira Brits are effective in their own right, I can't help wishing some British cinema would go as much against the prevailing grain. For the only rough western equivalent to the panoramic, allusive films made by Yang and Hou Hsiao-Hsien - directors who came out of the 80s Taiwanese 'New Cinema' - would be the Robert Altman of, say, Short Cuts (although French director Robert Guédiguian's La Ville est tranquille is also in the same ballpark). But Yang's best films, A One and a Two... and A Brighter Summer Day (1991), make Altman look lightweight. I can think of no clearer indictment of dumbed-down Britain than the fact that A One and a Two... has to rely on a limited release by ICA Projects, while in the US it's fairly well known. It should be a must-see film for anyone who claims to be interested in what cinema can attain.
The pivotal figure is NJ Jian -the man in the grey suit in the opening scene (played by Wu Nianzhen, himself a writer of note in Taiwan and the writer/ director of 1994's A Borrowed Life). NJ is a disillusioned computer engineer who works with the groom A-Di, a brother of NJ's wife Min-Min. He wants out because no one, least of all A-Di, takes his sense of integrity seriously. A-Di is impulsive, foolhardy, superstitious, untrustworthy and debt-ridden -which explains why he's marrying Xiao Yan, the new office girl he made pregnant, instead of Yun-Yun, his devoted long-term girlfriend. It is Yun-Yun who upsets grandma at the wedding, so NJ has to drive his mother-in-law home to the family apartment where she'll shortly be found unconscious beside the rubbish bins.
Having dropped grandma off and then taken his son Yang-Yang to a burger outlet because he won't eat the banquet food, NJ is about to board a lift back at the reception hotel when the doors open on Sherry, the sweetheart he jilted nearly 30 years before. She now lives in the US with her American husband, she tells him, handing over her card. They part politely, but shortly after, as NJ waits again for the lift, she comes back, upset, demanding to know why he didn't turn up "that day". He has no sensible answer. But this event parallels Yun-Yun's story.
Meanwhile grandma has had a stroke and is already in hospital by the time NJ and family get back to their apartment. When she's eventually brought home she's still in a coma. Ting-Ting, NJ's teenage daughter, believes it is her fault. While watching her new neighbour Mrs Jiang's daughter Lili embracing local boy 'Fatty' (who is very thin) on the street, she left a rubbish sack on the apartment balcony which her grandma must have then tried to take down to the bins. Min-Min can't cope. The doctor's suggestion that she speak to her mother every day to aid the recovery process exposes the bleakness of her own life. She moves out to study at a temple, leaving grandma to a hired nurse and the rest of the family. Yang-Yang too has nothing to say to grandma because, he says, she already knows what he's thinking.
This lengthy exposition gives some indication of the novelistic complexity of A One and a Two..., but it barely covers the first hour of its near-three-hour running time. Though the film is packed with incident, it's mostly of the everyday, emotional variety. Scenes are often viewed at a distance, through windows, half-closed doors, slender openings, in reflections or even from way off. Ting-Ting's balcony scene, for instance (which happens during the credits), contains just three set-ups. Ting-Ting, while taking the first bag of rubbish out, has just seen Lili meet Fatty by the rubbish bins. From a slightly angled mid-shot of the whole balcony we see Ting-Ting come outside where she drops small rubbish bags into a larger sack. The first cut goes to a full-on long shot of the neighbour's window, which is at a right angle to the balcony, with a huge motorway overpass system in the background. Lili's mother opens the window (on the day she's just moved in) to get a better reception on her mobile phone. The second cut is to a very long shot from the balcony's POV of Lili and Fatty below, tiny in the distance, embracing beneath the flyover. The third cut returns to the first position, where we see Ting-Ting on the balcony gazing down. Then her father's voice calls her from within and she forgets the sack. What's effective about this simple scene is that not only do you get a sense of the neighbour's neglect of her daughter Lili, but that Ting-Ting's switch from doing the chores to contemplating the romantic attachment is more of a revelation because it's divided into separate images, with the moment she notices the couple left off screen.
Yang's script structures insist on such quiet revelation. Each scene peels off like the skin of an onion, giving away only so much at a time. When you get to the core you feel as if you know precisely what it's like to live in the Jians' seemingly average Taipei apartment block. As a former engineer and one-time prize-winning cartoonist, Yang prefers to produce scripts of careful shot descriptions backed by comprehensive psychological character profiles, using collaborators to turn these into the conventional screenplays producers need to raise money. The script's architecture is so strong you feel you understand how each compartmentalised life fits with the others and the way each character achieves a means of escape back into the personal when necessary. Yang keeps sympathy with everyone, without judgement. For instance, though A-Di is shown to be the antithesis of NJ, he is at least a man of action. He makes things happen, even if they are mostly ill thought-out, and the chaos in his wake is churned up with the best intentions.
Music is used adroitly to access the inner life of this model middle-management family and its neighbours (and to give a further clue to the pervasive all-American influence in Taiwan evinced in such fast-food outlets as NY Bagel). Lili plays her mournful cello facing the wall, Ting-Ting plays 'Summer Time' on the piano to her comatose grandma as puberty awakens, NJ sings along to 'Baby It's You' while listening on headphones and bonds with the Japanese games designer Mr Ota at a karaoke bar. The compromise between solipsistic concerns -NJ's hankering to start his life over with Sherry, Ting-Ting's burgeoning puberty, Min-Min's flight to a temple, Yang-Yang's attempt to begin to understand the world -and communal responsibility (taking out the rubbish, talking to a woman in a coma) could hardly be more perceptively drawn than by Yang's insistence on master shots that by maintaining a certain distance give as much weight to the environment as to the characters' state of mind.
Both NJ and Yang-Yang seem to be partly autobiographical. Like NJ, Yang himself was a computer engineer - in Seattle having given up film-making after a year at USC's film school. Only when he'd turned 30 did he decide he'd made a mistake (after seeing a screening of Herzog's Aguirre, Wrath of God), returning to Taiwan in 1981 to write the script for a friend's movie. NJ's son Yang-Yang, as his name would suggest, is A One and a Two...'s auteur figure. Through his struggles with girls and teachers he also supplies most of the comic counterpoint (and this is, at times, a very funny film). Given a camera by NJ, he makes photographs of invisible mosquitoes and the backs of people's heads that are mocked by his teacher as "avant garde". The film's most transcendent moment is his too, when the girl he idolises (the teacher's pet, called "concubine" by the others) stands gorgeously lit and framed by an audio-visual presentation of an electric storm.
There's a lot of mature philosophising in the dialogue as grandma's stroke proves the catalyst for an all-round reassessment. This collection of individuals is coming to the end of one phase of their lives each feeling helplessly alone in the face of the threats and opportunities the future holds. The strong friendship NJ strikes up with Mr Ota, whose designs could solve his company's problems, proves more important to his well-being and life choices than any business arrangement. Meeting Ota -with English as the intermediary language -and sharing their mutual mistrust of the consumer industries and love of music helps NJ to make sense of the way his life has come apart since A-Di's wedding. Ota is the magician of the story; he knows the position of every card in the deck. Yet even he has been burned.
To some extent, then, NJ and his family are suffering the typical aftermath of the Asian economic meltdown. It seems no accident that Yang should make such a mature, reflective and controlled film at such a time. If the frantic social satire of his A Confucian Confusion (1994), which mocked Taiwan's obsession with consumerism as the Tiger economies cranked into top gear, proved an apposite barometer of an economy out of control, the sobriety and tender grief at the passing of harmony in the much more successful A One and a Two... are surely pointers to the means of slow recovery.
That's not to say that the film lacks anger. Only that compared with Yang's other major achievement A Brighter Summer Day - a doom-haunted 60s period epic about a teen crime passionel half remembered from a real incident in Yang's youth (echoed here in the relationship between Lili and Fatty) - A One and a Two...'s sense of a Taiwanese identity crisis between native and mainland Chinese populations and US and Japanese mercantile influences is put more profoundly in a global, perhaps even universal context through the film's use of an 'ordinary' technocrat's middle-class family. Yang still sees Taiwan's insistence on drilling its youth to study science and engineering rather than the humanities as an imposition and a weakness. His quarrel with government agencies and Taiwan's film-funding mechanisms has been almost perpetual, stretching back to the days of military censorship. Now that Taiwan has no film industry to speak of, the struggle is even fiercer.
Yang's way round this in the mid '90s was to form his own company with friends and make use of the young talent he uncovered through his teaching post at the National Institute for the Arts. Since then he has built enough of a network for this director with a self-confessed "very strong will" to persist in film-making under the direst of circumstances. For the moment Yang remains faithful to Taiwan because he says "the costs are rather low." Whether the international critical success of A One and a Two... would tempt him to work in other contexts remains to be seen. He has the example of US/Taiwanese director Ang Lee's more mainstream career with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon on the one side, and the more rarefied trajectory of Hou Hsiao-Hsien with Flowers of Shanghai on the other. If he remains true to form, we can be certain Yang will plot a path of his own along the edge of the abyss.
Alone in a Crowd [on YI YI] | Jonathan Rosenbaum March 2, 2001
The Big Bang | L.A. Weekly Manohla Dargis from The LA Weekly, November 29, 2000
Yi Yi: Both a One and a Two • Senses of Cinema George Wu, June 13, 2001
Best of the Decade #13 - Archive - Reverse Shot The Humanistic Condition, by Andrew Chan, December 16, 2009
Edward Yang (11/6/47- 6/29/07) Noel Vera also discusses BRIGHTER SUMMER DAY from Critic After Dark
Yi Yi: The Best Film You've Probably Never Heard Of – BIG OTHER Greg Gerke from Big Other, January 18, 2013, also seen here: An appreciation
Asia Pacific Arts: Unseen Pleasures Brian Hu from Asian Pacific Arts, July 13, 2006
It's All Relative | Village Voice J. Hoberman, October 3, 2000
Sunday Editor's Pick: Yi Yi (2000) - Alt Screen November 21, 2011
Images - Yi-Yi David Ng from Images
“Yi Yi” - Salon.com Charles Taylor, December 1, 2000
Yi yi - Alternate Ending : Alternate Ending Timothy Brayton, April 1, 2008
With 'Yi Yi' Edward Yang Presents a Rich Tapestry of Modern Life ... Sara Boslaugh from Pop Matters, March 23, 2011
Borderless Cinema: Edward Yang's YiYi - The Toronto Review of Books Mark McConaghy, May 9, 2013
Something like (a) life | coffee gone cold: to cinema, with love November 19, 2015
YI YI Steve Erickson from Chronicle of a Passion
In These Times
25/09 -- A Family in Full
Joshua Rothkopf from In These
PopMatters review Lucas Hilderbrand
Passion for Movies: Yi yi – A Resplendent Character Study on Our ... Arun Kumar, August 11, 2015
Yi Yi (A One and a Two) Movie Review by Anthony Leong from ... Anthony Leong from Media Circus
Yi Yi Review | CultureVulture Gary Mairs
Yi-Yi (A One and a Two) (2000) - Patheos Jeffrey Overstreet
A Rational Mind: The Films of Edward Yang an overview of Yang films by Simon Abrams from Slant, November 17, 2011
A One and a Two - Talking Pictures Alan Pavelin
New York State Writers Institute - Yi Yi Film Notes Kevin Hagopian
Jigsaw Lounge (Neil Young) a three-hour exercise in tedium
Film @ The Digital Fix - Yi Yi: Criterion Collection Noel Megahey
Film @ The Digital Fix - A One and a Two (Yi Yi) Mark Boydell, Region 2
Yi Yi, 2000, Edward Yang | Criterion Close-Up Aaron West from Criterion Close-Up
DVD Times Mark Boydell
DVD.net : Yi Yi (A One and a Two) - DVD Review Madman Cinema
Yi Yi Blu-ray Review - Blu-ray.com Svet Atanasov
Yi Yi | Blu-ray Review | Slant Magazine Glenn Heath, Jr.
Yi Yi - Criterion Collection (Blu-ray) : DVD Talk Review of the Blu-ray Jamie S. Rich, also seen here: CriterionConfessions.com [Jamie S. Rich]
YI YI Criterion Blu-ray Review | Collider David Lane
Yi Yi: A One and A Two (2000): “Why is the world so different from ... Anna from Film Grimoire
framingdevice » Edward Yang, 1947-2007 (Yi Yi review) J. Robert from Framing Device
Yi Yi - Cinescene Chris Dashiell
CANNES REVIEW: A One and a Two: Edward Yang’s The Meaning of Life Mark Peranson at Cannes from indieWIRE, May 17, 2000
eFilmCritic.com (Greg Muskewitz) review [2/5] a long roll of over-exposed film
Film Comment's End-of-the-Decade Critics' Poll - Film Comment Listed at #3, January/February 2010
A Touch of China: The top 10 Chinese films - The Metropolist Listed at #1 by Jean-Baptiste de Vaulx, August 9, 2014
BBC: Oggs Cruz Listed at #8 for Top Films of the 21st Century, August 23, 2016
The Guardian -- 2001 interview by Duncan Campbell Take Two, from The Guardian, April 3, 2001
Yi Yi The Movie movie site
The History of Cinema. Edward Yang: biography, filmography ... a detailed film synopsis
The Engineer of Modern Perplexity: An Interview with Edward Yang Robert Skylar interview from Cineaste magazine, Fall 2000
Entertainment Weekly review [A] Lisa Schwarzbaum
Edward Yang: Take Two | Film | The Guardian Duncan Campbell, April 2, 2001
Golden Scene a group of Asian film reviews, May 2001
Seattle Post-Intelligencer review William Arnold
A Masterwork From Taiwan / "Yi Yi' a compelling, classically made ... Edward Guthman from The San Francisco Chronicle
A Second Look: 'Yi Yi' - latimes Dennis Lim, March 20, 2011
The New York Times (A.O. Scott) review October 4, 2000, also seen here: Movie Review - - FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW; Of Taiwan's Bourgeoisie ...
The New York Times (Dave Kehr) essay ["The Asian Alternative"] June 6, 2009, also seen here: Dave Kehr
aka: XIAO JIE (Little Alley)
The literal translation of the title of this film is: The
Smile of the Bitter Person.
This movie made in the first year of the reform in
Movies in China Tani Barlow and Donald M. Lowe from Jump Cut
Admittedly a generous grade, since this documentary's
subject matter is inherently interesting to me. Given that all of Chinese pop
culture was reduced to these eight Maoist musical extravaganzas during the
Cultural Revolution, how did the Chinese people make sense of them? In
exploring this topic, Yuen adopts an essayistic approach, and in some ways this
is to the detriment of her film. Granted, a more linear format wouldn't be
capacious enough to accommodate some of Yang Ban Xi's finest moments,
such as the Spike Jonze-like music videos featuring 21st century Chinese kids
(hair spiked, ears multiply pierced, wearing ripped t-shirts and baggies)
performing hip-hop numbers that interpolate portions of "The White Haired
Girl" and "The Red Detachment of Women." That is, Yuen provides
a cross-section of urban
A return to form in the Potter film category, opening right off the bat with one of the best sequences in the film, where a sense of dark foreboding literally steps out of the sky in the form of two Dementors whose soul sucking intentions come after Potter and Dudley Dursley, catching all of us off guard, as we’ve barely settled into the film. But it’s a creepy little number reminding us what Harry’s got to deal with *all* of the time, which is a bit unsettling. We catch our breath when the Dursley’s, of course, blame the whole shenanigans on Harry, who has to run away again, but this time only after receiving a strange letter from the Ministry expelling him from Hogwarts for utilizing wizardry in front of a muggle, despite the fact that his actions were required to save their lives. Welcome to what feels like 1984 at Hogwarts, cast in a loathsome totalitarian police state pall, where Harry is placed on trial by the Ministry who are in utter denial over his explanation that a certain Dark Lord has returned, but with the help of Dumbledore, Harry is reinstated, however his life at school is lonelier than ever, as Ministry generated newspaper rumors spread suggesting Harry has fabricated the truth for his own convenience, leaving him feeling completely isolated, a man alone against the universe, which is exactly where Voldemort wants him. So from the opening moments of the film, Harry’s feeling backed into a corner, where he continues to remain throughout the remainder of the film until an unnecessary feelgood ending is tacked on at the end. His precarious state of mind seems to be the focus of this film, much of which is visually dazzling, shown through dream state imagery that includes flashbacks, all alerting him to the presence of evil.
While an inevitable storyline is developing from the opening bell, all leading to another face to face encounter between Harry and the Dark Lord, where it’s prophecied this time that the world isn’t big enough for both of them, that one of them has got to go, which sends Harry into a neverending brood of personal anguish and moodiness, where Dumbledore feels the need to authorize Professor Snape, no less, to provide dream therapy to help Harry eradicate the debilitating yet awesome power of his bad dreams, which seem to be sent by Voldemort, which allows a great deal of suspense to develop through the considerably appealing use of reality alteration. Add to this the Ministry’s hand picked choice for Professor of the Defense Against the Dark Arts, Imelda Staunton in the choice role of Dolores Umbridge, the prudish lady in pink who bristles at the thought that students need to learn any spells and instead teaches that there’s no need for learning any defense, as there’s nothing out there to fight against, where anyone offering a dissenting point of view is immediately disciplined under her sadistic measures. Umbridge eventually has Dumbledore silenced, requiring his magical escape to avoid arrest, placing Umbridge in charge of Hogwarts, who builds a wall of ever expanding rules as a constant reminder that students have no rights, and anything they may choose to do is against the rules. All of this leads to insurrection within the ranks.
Enter the Three Musketeers, who along with a small cadre of students decide that if Hogwarts isn’t going to prepare the students against the dark forces, then they’d have to learn it themselves, appointing Harry in charge of teaching secret lessons of defense due to his accumulating experience in already having to deal with dark powers greater than his own. Fortunately, these are well staged sessions that actually add some fun to the proceedings, allowing kids to be kids again, but it also gives Harry a chance to cozy up next to Katie Leung as Cho Chang, his brief love interest, while also introducing the most surprising newcomer of the movie, enter Evanna Lynch as Luna Lovegood, perhaps the most unique character in the entire series, as she’s more of an outsider than Harry, a character who feels completely outside everyone else’s comprehension, as if she lives in a mysterious universe all her own, similar to Moaning Myrtle in the second episode. But Luna is never predictable, whose spacy, ever mysterious kind-hearted nature disguises her uncommon wisdom, and she’s perhaps the best friend Harry has in this film other than his godfather Sirius Black, the last surviving member of his family who tries to rally his own forces, the Order of the Phoenix, with Harry’s, Dumbledore’s Army, to defend against the inevitable. Even more than the third book, a similar theme throughout is Harry calling upon the strength of his father in times of need, an idealized image which would be hard to stand up to reality, resurfacing most amusingly from Snape’s imagination to explain his utter contempt for the Potters, as Harry’s dad bullied the little brat as a young boy.
Umbridge, of course, discovers the secret meetings with the aid of
Malfoy, Cho, and others who confessed during Umbridge’s “truth interrogations,”
where she interrogates all the students using truth serum, leading Harry to
part ways with his first love, but when she sacks Dumbledore, Harry’s strongest
ally, it forces Harry’s hand to act immediately or the events he perceives in
his dreams would become reality, or so he believes, which leads him to the
Ministry of Magic’s Department of Mysteries, the source of the crystal ball prophecy and the battleground for the return
of the Dark Lord, who has commandeered his own forces of evil incarnate. The wands fly fast and furious with wizards
flailing in every direction, where in the saddest moment, Harry loses Sirius
just as his Order of the
The Onion A.V. Club Scott Tobias
The latest installment in the Harry Potter series opens with a storm gathering precipitously over the young wizard's head, portending an attack by the Dementors, those soul-sucking wraiths that circle their prey like buzzards. It's moments like these that show how far J.K. Rowling's hero has come from the beginning, when he was delivered from a Dickensian home life into a gee-whiz world of flying broomsticks, whimsical creatures, and other magical enchantments. Now, dark clouds follow him around like Pig-Pen's filth, and being a wizard has become a joyless burden, a destiny that he grimly accepts as his lot in life. Though there are moments of levity scattered throughout Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix, the workmanlike fifth entry in the franchise, the overall feeling is that it sucks to be Harry Potter, and it's only going to get suckier from here on out.
Though he fends off the Dementors, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) gets expelled from Hogwarts School Of Witchcraft And Wizardry for using a forbidden curse in the presence of a "muggle." He wins back admittance on appeal, but many members of the Ministry Of Magic refuse to accept his contention that the evil Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has returned and plans to engage the forces of good in a battle royal. As a measure to keep Harry and his cohorts in line, the Ministry installs prim taskmaster Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) as the new professor of Dark Arts, and she keeps them busy with grueling memorization and paperwork. Harry revolts by creating Dumbledore's Army, a group of rebel students who harness their powers in a secret training room. He's also introduced to the Order Of The Phoenix, a clandestine faction preparing for a showdown with Voldemort.
While not all Harry Potter movies are created equal, consistency has been a major priority for the series, to the point where it's become the Prozac of blockbuster franchises—few highs or lows, just a general baseline of pleasing competence. Granted, there's a significant difference between the flat literalness of Chris Columbus' first two entries and Alfonso Cuarón's fanciful Prisoner Of Azkaban, but the films are telling one long story, and inspiration is often sacrificed for continuity's sake. Directed by David Yates, who has a background in British television, Order Of The Phoenix feels a little too complacent at times, though it has moments of visual wit, and it doesn't soft-pedal the dark mood that has eclipsed the series. Save for the thrilling opening sequence, there's not much to remember about the film beyond Staunton (Vera Drake), who masks her bottomless malevolence behind a pasted-on patrician smile. During this transitional stage, Dumbledore's Army and the Order Of The Phoenix prepare for bigger fights ahead—and presumably, more exciting movies, too.
It's a blasted earth, this green that holds Hogwarts now, and during a scene
where our hero wizard is being tortured into forgetfulness for his own good,
director David Yates cues a blanket of forgetful snow to fall. Harry Potter
and the Order of the
I can't judge whether neophytes would enjoy the film without having seen the others--there doesn't seem much in the development of Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint), or Hermione (Emma Watson) beyond that Harry, after witnessing a murder in the previous instalment, is consumed with impotent rage throughout the first half of the picture--but the story is so steeped in primate logic (sex, blood, vengeance, shame) that a primer is likely unnecessary. Issues of class and race resurface here as they tend to do when the Harry Potter series is at its best, and Harry's much-publicized first kiss with love interest Cho (Katie Leung) is resolved fascinatingly with betrayal and unresolved vindication. But the highlight of the piece finds Harry, in a fit of pique, turning the tables on an inquisitive Snape (Alan Rickman) and discovering that his father as a young man (Robbie Jarvis) was Snape's bully. It's an amazing moment, astonishing in its coldness and complexity--this robbing of a child's illusions of his father existing comfortably shoulder-to-shoulder with an unflagging love of that parent, sobered but un-tempered by the baseness of the father's humanity. There's religion in that revelation--a compassionate religion at that, the father/martyr's transformation into the body of a man making his sacrifice not less but greater. I can't count a lot of instances where I've been more gratified by a children's wonderland, because while Harry Potter 5 tackles a boy's reverence for his father with nonpareil transparency, it makes time to address unjust administrations, the power of an unfriendly press, and the ills of a judicial system hijacked by politics and fast fashion.
The children return centre-stage for this one, freed of the actor's workshop
tips imposed on them by Newell. They have an earnestness about them that plays
out like what it is (children pretending to be big), but I don't know that
children asked to be big would act any differently. Michael Gambon and Imelda
Staunton stand out as the two duelling headmasters of
The picture is wicked in its satire but not without purpose. It's that rarity of a special effects spectacular that integrates its phantasms into the mundane of the characters' existences, and when it does show off, as in a scene where the students summon their protective avatars, there's real wonder to it. A film that deserves to be called a fairytale (as the third entry did) for all its darkness and useful enchantment, it fulfills its mandate to be exciting in beautifully-crafted set-pieces in a warehouse of glass globes and a circular arena around a whispering portal where wizards mad and divine engage in alien tactical warfare. I like that it ends on a field of sand for its tactile contemporary link to our own imbroglio; and I like that at the end of it, there's a sense inescapable that if Harry should die fighting his shadow, it's because he didn't learn his lessons of control and tolerance well enough from the people he saw as enemy and the situations he perceived as perilous. Harry Potter 5 is the series' The Empire Strikes Back: the good guys get the tar beaten out of them and learn not only that they're a mirror's thickness from being the bad guys, but also that the fathers they're destined to become are not always the heroes of their stories. A film about a lot of things, it draws its power from the Gordian complexity of crafting a legacy through the belief--when every other system and bedrock is filthy with rot and cynicism--in the ability to forget.
eFilmCritic Reviews EricDSnyder
At a mere two hours and 18 minutes, "Harry Potter and
the Order of the
British TV director David Yates is the latest man to walk
through the series' revolving door (he'll do "Half-Blood Prince,"
too), and he brings with him an admirable work ethic. Chris Columbus' first two
entries were rambly, and Alfonso Cuaron and Mike Newell had a great deal of fun
putting their own imprimaturs on Nos. 3 and 4. If Yates has an identifying mark
to his directorial style, I missed it. He's a for-hire director who gets the
job done with the appropriate levels of humor, energy, and thrills, but without
a lot of time-wasting foolishness in between. Get in, get 'r done, and get out.
And it works. As satisfying as it was to see someone like Cuaron make a movie that was unquestionably "his," I realize now that it's also a pleasure to see someone make a movie in a serviceable, cheerfully anonymous style. Yates, working from an adaptation by new-to-the-series Michael Goldenberg ("Peter Pan"), does just that. The movie works the way a Harry Potter movie ought to. It's not perfect -- a few ends remain loose, a few characters get shafted -- but it's very good.
This episode finds Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) more sullen and tormented than usual. Dreams of Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) plague his sleep. Cornelius Fudge (Robert Hardy), the head of the Ministry of Magic, has spent the summer planting stories in the Daily Prophet that paint Harry as a liar for proclaiming Voldemort's return. "All is well!" cry the headlines. Fudge has staked his career on the false pretense that the wizarding community has nothing to worry about.
To that end, he sends Hogwarts a new Ministry-approved Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor. She is Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton), a deliciously sweet-seeming little woman clad in pink and always wearing a smile on her plump, grandmotherly face. She is, as you might expect, evil incarnate, albeit a kind of evil Harry has never dealt with before. She earnestly believes the party line that Voldemort is gone and Harry is a liar. It's her devotion to goodness that has made her a villain and a zealot. When she turns Hogwarts into a police state, abolishing all extracurricular gatherings and encouraging students to rat on one another, she seems to be doing it out of a genuine (though misguided) desire for law and order.
Part of her campaign is to stop teaching any actual defensive spells in Defense Against the Dark Arts. Everything she teaches is theoretical. After all, since Voldemort is no threat, why on earth would you ever need to use a defensive spell in real life?
Since Harry, Ron (Rubert Grint), and Hermione (Emma Watson) know the truth -- that Voldemort is out there and rapidly recruiting his followers -- they assemble an underground group called Dumbledore's Army. Under Harry's instruction, these students practice defense against the dark arts in secret, preparing for the battle that the Ministry says will never happen.
As usual, the adults are the most entertaining figures in the film. Imelda Staunton is a gleefully wicked addition as Umbridge, and Alan Rickman continues to steal every scene he's in -- often with no more than a raised eyebrow -- as Professor Snape.
But the kids are doing well, too, with Daniel Radcliffe really coming into his own as an actor in this installment. A brief flashback to the previous film reminds us how much he's matured just since then, and he plays Harry's conflicting emotions with impressive range. A significant part of this film's climax deals entirely with Harry's internal struggles, and Radcliffe pulls it off with great maturity.
As I write this, the world is once again experiencing a
bout of Potter-mania, with the final book in the series due just 10 days after
this film opens. Most of us are probably more excited for that book than we are
for this movie, since the book is an unknown commodity and the movie is merely
a reenactment of stuff we've already read. But as an appetizer for what's to
come -- and a reminder of how magical and entertaining the Harry Potter
universe is -- "Order of the
The Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Film Review Richard Scheib
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is the fifth of the films based on J.K. Rowling’s phenomenally popular series of books. These led to an also enormously popular series of film adaptations starting with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone/Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001) and continuing through Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002), Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005).
I have never been a huge fan of the Harry Potter books or films. You have to credit J.K. Rowling for the fact that she managed to get children reading again in an era of increasing illiteracy. But there are other children’s books that are far more deservous of such success. Rowling’s writing tends to the simplistic and over-written. Her plotting is also heavily reliant on contrived and convenient deus ex machina. And the films, particularly the first two, tended to bury the stories under a surfeit of visual effects, while the increasing length of Rowling’s books (some of the later ones have headed up towards Stephen King-sized tomes clocking in at 1000 plus pages) have meant that the films have come across as hurried in their plotting or with elements that seem confusing to those in the audience who have not read the books first.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix opened to some rather negative “Has Harry Potter lost its magic?”-type reviews. The film was called too dark – clearly by people who have never read the book it is based on – and David Yates’s direction lacking in imagination. Contrary to any of these, I rather liked Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. In fact I’d in fact go so far as to argue that it is the best film in the series so far, even surpassing Alfonso Cuaron’s The Prisoner of Azkaban, which by general consensus remains the popular favourite of the series.
There are some really good things to report about The Order of the Phoenix. It feels like the first of the Harry Potter films to have grown up. While the other Harry Potter films seem caught up in the child-like wonderment of magic tricks and cute effects flying around quidditch fields and the like, this is the first of the films to have placed its focus not on the effects but on the emotions of the characters. (Not that The Order of the Phoenix denies the effects side of things, but they aren’t allowed to overtake the story as they did in Chris Columbus’s two entries).
The emotional journey that the film takes us on is quite a dark one. Where the characters tended to being fairly black-and-white in the earlier films, here their journey contains a good deal more in the way of shades of grey and confronts some quite adult issues. If you want comparisons, you could say that The Order of the Phoenix is to the other Harry Potter films what The Empire Strikes Back (1980) was to Star Wars (1977) – a work that took the light adventure focus of the first film into darker, much more interior and soul-searching places. I particularly liked the speech that Daniel Radcliffe makes where he starts to teach the pupils, telling them there is a difference between what they learned as lessons in class and in having to use this to fight for their lives.
Furthermore The Order of the Phoenix is the first of the Harry Potter films that feels like it works satisfyingly as a story. All of the other films had the feel of being adapted from a book. They often felt like they were hurrying over plot points to bring the film in at a reasonable running time, either that or they dragged dramatically because the film was adhering too faithfully to the book. This is not something you feel you could ever say about The Order of the Phoenix. It feels like a story that exists in its own right as a film. Nor does J.K. Rowling’s writing seem as driven by convenient plotting deus ex machinas as it usually does. You can see the centaurs and Grawp the giant being set up early on in the piece and they conveniently do turn up to get Harry and company out of a scrape, but the rest of the film comes with a feeling of natural dramatic ease.
This is also the first of the films to give more time over
to the minor supporting characters and allow them depth and growth. The new
character introduced this time is Imelda Staunton’s Dolores Umbridge.
For all the criticism that has been made of British tv
director David Yates’s handling of The Order of
The Sci-Fi Movie Page James O’Ehley
A Nutshell Review Stefan S
Back to School Andrew Roberts looks back at 70 years of British boarding school movies from Sight and Sound
Harry Potter and the Four Directors Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott from the New York Times
'Harry Potter,' Dissected Using video clips, Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott contrast themes from the first five Harry Potter films
“Harry, once again I must ask too much of you." —Professor Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon)
Enjoyable and entertaining, though not much action or suspense, as Voldemort is nowhere to be found in this episode, instead Harry turns into a stalker, Ron a love god, and Hermione a blubbering broken heart. Perhaps the first movie in the entire series which is not a stand alone project, which requires some knowledge of the Harry Potter stories, as there is no introductory backdrop explanation. Accordingly, this movie starts in the middle somewhere without a real connection to what came before. This one also seemed to take forever before anything adventurous happened, and seemed instead to content itself with familiarizing ourselves with some of the old characters, now a bit older, especially Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), and introducing a completely new potions instructor, the scatterbrained Professor Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent), who himself has a connection with both Harry’s parents and Voldemort as a young lad named Tom Riddle (Hero Fiennes-Tiffin, Ralph Fiennes’s nephew), having instructed them all at Hogwarts. With the help of Harry, Professor Dumbledore is successful in luring Slughorn out of his cozy life in retirement, with an alternative motive, of course, as Dumbledore is puzzled by one of Slughorn’s memories that takes place in a conversation with Tom Riddle, one that appears to have been altered by Slughorn himself. Dumbledore, interestingly, keeps a cabinet full of glass vials, each one containing a significant memory which can be emptied into a pool of water and observed, and challenges Harry to try to draw this original memory out of him.
As always, it’s a murky world with signs of immediate danger everywhere, as even Muggles are disappearing, supposedly at the hand of Lord Voldemort.
Arriving late to class, Harry grabs the last text, an old beat up copy which is filled with corrective yet meticulous notes with an inscription, property of the Half-Blood Prince. Even Hermione’s investigative prowess reveals no leads into a possible identity. Harry, however, has got the jump on all his fellow students, as the book is a gold mine of potions. In the meantime, in rather sluggish fashion, Ron has a groupie, Lavender Brown (Jessie Cave), who’s in love with him and drapes herself all over him, including sending him a neverending stream of flirtatious glances, each one of which makes Hermione want to vomit, especially when she can see he’s actually attracted to her. In earlier episodes, Ron would have called Lavender’s behavior “mental,” but now a little older he appreciates all the attention. In much the same fashion, Ron’s sister Ginny (Bonnie Wright, horribly cast in my view because of all the characters in the entire series, she’s perhaps the least interesting), and fellow member of the Quidditch team, becomes the object of Harry’s thoughts. In both instances, Ron is completely oblivious to the feelings of his two best friends. So goes the Three Musketeers. Malfoy, meanwhile is tinkering around in a hidden storage room making things appear and disappear in a secret vanishing cabinet, practicing, we suspect, for some horrible deed, as earlier we see him meet with some of the Death Eaters, an act which has piqued Harry’s curiosity throughout the entire film.
In this version, Professor Snape comes out of the closet, Alan Rickman on his most insidiously worst behavior, delectable to see as pure evil at last, has made a pact with the Death Eaters to carry out Malfoy’s plan (whatever that is), should he stumble. Harry and Draco have a little tête-a-tête in the rest room, with no sign of Moaning Myrtle, by the way, who appears in the book to help revive him, but is left out of the movie version, so it’s up to Snape to bring him back to life after Harry nearly kills him. At a school with rules and punishment, it’s unheard of that Harry was not reprimanded, or even questioned thoroughly, about the near killing of a fellow student. Most students would have been thrown out of school, but not “The Chosen One.” What Dumbledore has stumbled upon is not really explained well, and is only introduced near the end of the film—the magical power of horcruxes, a piece of one’s soul which can be obtained only in the act of killing someone, but which can be stored as an object in the vanishing cabinet allowing a possible re-entry back into the wizard world even after the body is gone, a method which could grant Voldemort immortality. Dumbledore has produced a book and a ring, two of the seven horcruxes, where collecting all seven are needed to finally kill him, once and for all, and leads Harry to a distant underground cave which likely holds a third. Of course there’s no explanation for how he found this place. This is the first real suspense in the entire episode, but it happens all too quickly, as soon we’re back at Hogwarts. Helena Bonham Carter is really excellent as the dementedly evil Bellatrix, who in sing-song fashion reminds Harry that she killed Sirius Black, and has her hand in the burning of the Weasley home. But she was just warming up for the most foul deed in the entire series so far, which was carried off rather matter of factly, without a great deal of suspense, an event which simply ends the movie, as the Three Musketeers solemnly vow to fight on.
Easily the best thing in the film, though barely seen, was once again Evanna Lynch as the notoriously bizarre Luna Lovegood, a girl who mystifyingly remains an outcast at Hogwarts, where Harry is her only friend in the world, but who is without a doubt the most unique and original character in the entire series, along with Moaning Myrtle, of course. The entire Harry Potter mystery seemed to sprout from kids just like her who didn’t fit in, who seemed stuck, not really a part of their parent’s adult world, yet at times outcasts in the kid world as well. Where could they turn? To a world of imagination, of course. To see Luna wearing a lion’s head affixed to the top of her head to attend a Quidditsch match was utterly hilarious, as was nearly every line of dialogue that came out of her mouth. Despite being a space cadet, she has her own self-assured style, perhaps seeing the world behind wildly decorative psychedelic eyeglasses, a seemingly dumb blond bimbo who turns out to have such extraordinary sentient awareness that she’s really the brightest one in the room. She helped save Harry’s life once, and if I was him, I’d certainly add her to the Three Musketeers, but of course, that’s not the way it’s written. She certainly elevates the interest factor in the movie versions, as with perfect comic timing she presents herself as an exotic creature, as if she’s an extinct species from another planet, but she also delights and tantalizes everyone with an unearthly sensuality and an equally amazing sense of awareness where she can sense what’s undetected by others before anyone else can figure it out. This seems to work in the area of feelings as well, as she’s always the most candid and direct character in the film. She obviously sees the world through her own rose colored glasses. Harry would do well to keep her nearby.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Cliff Doerksen from The Reader
Like its predecessors, this sixth installment in the behemoth fantasy franchise outstays its welcome by a bum-numbing half hour; unlike them, it devotes about half its screen time to chaste, multisided romantic intrigues, the boy wizard (Daniel Radcliffe) and his coed cohorts having attained exquisite young adulthood. As usual, the residuum of plot involves Harry's meandering pursuit of various supernatural MacGuffins, without which the forces of darkness are bound to triumph. Director David Yates presides over some gorgeous CGI set pieces, but all the real magic comes from the scrum of ace British character actors (Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane, Timothy Spall, and the always brilliant Jim Broadbent, who steals the show as a dithering Hogwarts don come out of retirement). For what it is, it's fine.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Bill Stamets from
The Warner Brothers logo looms into view as a gray iron gate. Not quite like the “No Trespassing” sign outside Charles Foster Kane’s Xanadu, but still, any unsuspecting soul who wanders into the sixth episode of this fantasy franchise without first reading the source novel by J.K. Rowling may need a wand to unveil throughlines of the ongoing mythology. Sooty aerial wraiths called Death Eaters—whose name suggests they ought to shit everlasting life—conspire to upset a school of kids learning how to wave their wands. There’s a new Professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts on the faculty, and his horny charges are brewing the equivalent of date-rape potions. The title lad (Daniel Radcliffe) wins a vial of Liquid Luck by cheating in class. Teen make-out drama offers respite from a rote plot of good wizards versus bad wizards over ancient grudges and eternal dominion. Screenwriter Steve Kloves and director David Yates shortchange fans of the inventive grandeur that charmed early Potter product. All I look forward to in the seventh film is more screen time for the lovely weirdo Luna, played by Evanna Lynch. With Jim Broadbent, Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane, Warwick Davis, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Timothy Spall, David Thewlis, Julie Walters, and the expertise of weather consultant Dr. Richard Wild.
At Hogwarts in year six, a young wizard’s thoughts turn to the hot chick in Incantations class, and the potions most of interest are love potions. While Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) skulks around moodily looking strangely like David Bowie in the Thin White Duke era, Harry (Radcliffe), Hermione (Watson) and Ron (Grint) spend an inordinate percentage of Half-Blood Prince obsessing about who’s snogging whom.
Yes, there’s that whole Voldemort problem to deal with, and certainly people are disappearing mysteriously while Dumbledore (Gambon) rumbles darkly but unhelpfully about the dark secrets of Tom Riddle, the boy who would become Ultimate Evil. But the teen leads engage in the rather thin plotting only intermittently, and screenwriter Steve Kloves happily follows their lead.
For Potter-ites, there are plenty of satisfactions to be had, but the fun mostly comes from recognizing plot points from the novel merely suggested onscreen. When Harry finally gets engaged in some action, the climax is suitably exciting and dark, but it feels oddly tacked on after two-plus hours spent mostly in the world of high-school romantic intrigues.
Harry shaves! Harry snogs! But stay
your wand, there are other forces of darkness besides late adolescence which
are afflicting the poor orphaned wizard of Hogwarts and his hormone-raging
contemporaries. For one, Voldemort’s allies, the aerial, ink-trailing Death
Eaters, are ravaging London. Ping! Pling! There go the stanchions of the
Millennium Bridge! And Harry has hardly been re-admitted to school, following
the departure of Mrs Umbridge, last term’s knit-robed Robespierre, when
Dumbledore teleports him to Tudor-relic Budleigh Babberton to meet and recruit
one-time Potions Master Horace Slughorn (Jim
Broadbent, disguised as a sofa).
False-memory syndrome is at the heart of this next stage of the fight against evil forces: Dumbledore’s phials of stored reminiscences have been polluted, and it is sly Slughorn’s recall of his past tutoring of a Horcrux-fascinated student which may hold a necessary and life-saving corrective.
Longer than the last, the sixth episode of the adventures of the increasingly burdened magic warrior of Privet Drive is a more human affair than its predecessors. It’s as full of the romantic dalliances of the maturing students as it is of warring set-pieces, creature shocks and detours down dark Dickensian alleys. We can already sense the two-part seventh and final saga on the horizon, and the whole less-frenzied affair is tonally and emotionally suggestive of a post-battle re-grouping before a final cinematic assault.
To this end, scriptwriter Steve Kloves, back after a one-film sabbatical, has ably summed up the JK Rowling doorstopper by omitting a major battle and axeing at least one character. Also, the fine, less showy work by new DoP Bruno Delbonnel and Nicholas Hopper’s non-strident second Potter score are in tune with director Yates’s laudable refusal to underline too forcefully moments of triumph and disaster. Togther, they allow space for as much human detail, intimacy, humour and, indeed, pathos as a family magical/fantasy action adventure will allow.
Thus – thrillseekers beware – the film’s memorable scenes are, interestingly, not necessarily the most momentous: the sad, assembled Weasleys regarding their crooked Norfolk tower; a lionine, wind-tossed Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) framed in the Hogwarts tower with all the grandeur of Powell and Pressburger’s ‘Black Narcissus’; poor Emma Watson’s Hermione crying in solitary heartbreak; blonde bombshell Draco Malfoy pitied in a picture of isolated evil. Rupert Grint’s Ron is still the leavening star – striking funny, victorious poses in the series’s last game of Quidditch – but Daniel Radcliffe’s less self-conscious and more self-deprecating Harry runs him a close second.
Entering his sixth year at Hogwarts, Harry Potter may not be able to see the finishing line, but he knows it's coming.
In "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," the sixth film in the Potter series, he's like a marathon runner who senses that he's got this course beat: He's still pacing himself, but there's a definite spring in his step.
Potter's confidence seems to be a product of Daniel Radcliffe's authority in the role as much as anything. He's decided he's the hero of the piece, and he's happy with that; Radcliffe plays him with such implacable conviction and such lightness, it's becoming harder to worry about the character's plight.
He can be reckless and impatient, but by now he's essentially untouchable. His chums may be prey to hormonal surges -- buckets of screen time is devoted to Ron's love life and Hermione's lack of same -- but our Harry stays focused. While Ron moons over his girlfriend, every night Potter takes a textbook to bed with him.
This battered book of potions comes with scarily insightful scribbles by a former student, the titular half-blood prince, giving Potter a distinct edge over his classmates and that increasingly conflicted bleached blond, Draco Malfoy. More important, it also gets him in good with this installment's designated dodgy faculty member, Professor Horace Slughorn.
We know the drill by now: Slughorn has special knowledge that Harry must prize out of him, while the teacher's own leanings remain tantalizingly ambiguous. A special guest star in all but name, Jim Broadbent plays this mildewed academic with appropriately Dickensian panache and an undertow of sympathy (first spotted disguised as an armchair, the suspiciously solicitous Slughorn maintains at least one foot in the closet).
Adapted by Steve Kloves and directed (like Potter V, "The Order of the Phoenix") by the efficient, self-effacing David Yates, "Half-Blood Prince" is as brisk and nimble as J.K. Rowling's two-steps-forward, one-step-back narrative stratagems allow.
It risks annoying some fans by axing one significant character and a potential action show-stopper, but it's actually the overarching storyline that feels skimpy; the movie is replete with lovely, inventive design details and idiosyncratic effects work, while Yates' reluctance to pump up the bombast might be counted sweet relief after the latest bout of blockbusting overkill.
A trio of evenly spaced set-pieces do generate enough excitement to make this an iffy proposition for parents with younger kids; in particular Dumbledore and Harry's climactic cave expedition is an intense, nightmarish standout.
But for all this series' constitutional doom-and-gloom, what's truly charming about the Harry Potter movies is the rare privilege of seeing Radcliffe, Rupert Grint (Ron), Emma Watson (Hermione) and the others growing up before our eyes.
We've now had eight formative years -- the first film came out in 2001 -- telescoped into 15 hours or so of tumultuous screen time, and anyone who's stayed the course with them will feel a connection.
Soon it will be time to let these kids go and find their own way in the Muggle world, but what rich, strange and wonderful home movies we'll have to look back on.
CBC.ca Arts review Rachel Giese
The Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Film Review Richard Scheib
Cinefantastique Steve Biodrowski (with spoilers)
Film Freak Central review Walter Chaw
Slant Magazine review [2.5/4] Nick Schager
A Nutshell Review Stefan S.
hoopla.nu review Mark Lavercombe and Stuart Wilson
Channel 4 Film Catherine Bray
The Hollywood Reporter review Kirk Honeycutt
Entertainment Weekly review [A-] Lisa Schwarzbaum
Harry Potter fans damn Half-Blood Prince film after test screening Ben Child from The Guardian, March 13, 2009
Amy Raphael gets to the beating heart of The Half-Blood Prince Amy Raphael from The Observer, June 21, 2009
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Andrew Pulver from The Guardian, July 4, 2009
Peter Bradshaw reviews Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince The Guardian, July 17, 2009
Philip French reviews Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince The Guardian, July 19, 2009
Blog: The curse of Harry Potter is infantilising the world David Cox from The Guardian, July 20, 2009
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince world premiere, London photo gallery from The Guardian
The Independent (Ella Thorold, aged 15) review [3/5] July 8, 2009
The Independent (Anthony Quinn) review [2/5] July 17, 2009
The Globe and Mail (Liam Lacey) review [3/4] July 23, 2009
Boston Globe review [2.5/4] Wesley Morris
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Roger Ebert from The
These are dark times, there is no denying. —Rufus Scrimgeour, Minister of Magic (Bill Nighy)
The lads have lost their baby fat, their innate cuteness, and their youthful cheery dispositions, turned into young adults through the decade of filming this 8-part series, going all the way back to 2001 for the first release, with the final installment due next summer, making it ten years exactly. Harry is more gaunt than ever, while Ron towers over him both in size and heft, while Hermione continues to remain the most reliable one of the group. What sets this movie apart from the others is it’s completely set apart from Hogwarts, where instead they roam the various countrysides of the world, each one a CGI configured enchanting place, as they keep Harry hidden from Lord Voldemart who has regained his powers and has announced his interest in finding the Chosen One, more than ever resolved to put an end to Harry’s life, something he couldn’t do when he was a baby. As the Dark Forces meet to consider their strategy, Voldemort, showing peculiar favor to his monstrous pet snake Nagini, grotesquely feeding it a captive human to devour, an ominous foreshadowing of things to come, also decides he needs a different wand, as his and Harry’s are veritable twins, thinking this is the missing ingredient to do the job. Infiltrating the Ministry’s plans to hide and protect Harry, Voldemort and the Dark Forces are waiting for him when the Minister of Magic (Bill Nighy) announces the need to move Harry to a safe location, accompanied by Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane), finally showing his gargantuan size, and the ill-tempered “Mad-Eye” Moody (Brendan Gleeson), who casts a spell turning a half a dozen willing suspects into temporary Harry look-alikes, all designed to help confuse the enemy, but instead they are laying in wait and catch Harry offguard, creating significant havoc, even managing to kill Moody and the Minister of Magic right off the bat, both immediately replaced at the Ministry by Voldemort’s minions. In such dour times, the rest of the film is spent trying to hide Harry from the Death Eaters and the opportunistic Dark Forces.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment following the death of
Dumbledore in the previous episode is seeing the sadistic Dolores Umbridge
(Imelda Staunton) and her goons return to her former position at the Ministry,
where all the evil forces are rounding up citizens while she relishes her one
true specialty, “truth interrogations.”
With posters lining the Ministry declaring Harry Potter as “Undesirable
#1,” the threesome makes a daring visit in search of a Horcrux while disguised
as lower Ministry officials, where once detected, their deliriously mad escape
with evil henchman Peter Mullan hard on their heels is one of the best action
sequences in the film, as now even more on alert, the Dark Forces rally to make
a final purge of the powers of good.
Hermione is the only one prepared for this doomsday strategy, bringing a
handbag filled with unending tidbits that come in handy, while Ron and Harry
are completely flabbergasted at being so easily discovered, relying on Hermione
to find them a safe haven. Establishing
a mood unlike any other episodes in the entire series, what this brings is
isolation and quiet reflection in remote forest locations, where Harry senses
that he needs to follow Dumbledore’s previous instructions for bringing down
Voldemort, which requires finding and destroying the Horcruxes, each of which
contain a fragment of his soul and are the source of the Dark Lord’s power and
quest for immortality. Ron grows
instantly weary and frustrated that Harry doesn’t have more clues or useful
information to help track them down, actually believing Harry is probably
hiding something from him, growing ever more impatient, until the two have a
row and Ron actually leaves the side of his best friend, disappearing for a
good portion of the film. That leaves
Harry and Hermione to struggle alone, including a momentary improvised dance
While there are deceptions, foul play, and evil spells in the midst, one that nearly drowns Harry under the ice while also scaring the pants off of Ron, taunting him with a threatening dark cloud filled with foul images of Harry and Hermione in a naked embrace after they both fully reject him as a friend, all while seeking the missing Gryffindor sword, which may hold a clue in the near impossible destruction of a Horcrux. A new character is introduced, the fashion challenged father of Luna and editor of the magazine The Quibbler who goes by the name of Xenophilius Lovegood (Rhys Ifans), who explains the context of the Deathly Hallows, expressed through charmingly innovative silhouettes that play out like an animated puppet show. Perhaps the most pleasant surprise is the return of Dobby the elf, easily one of the more original characters in the entire series, but one who is only sparingly seen. As always, he figures prominently in the action, showing bravery, heroicism, and gratitude, the kinds of human qualities needed to overcome the powers of evil, perhaps best represented in this episiode by the presence of Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter), a tricky little customer with a penchant for getting her way, a trademark of the Dark Forces. In that vein, Voldemort is seen robbing the grave of Dumbledore where he believes he’s found the most powerful wand ever created, where his instincts tell him he can now rule the world, which sets the scene for the final showdown, which will be continued in Part 2, expected to be a fullblown 3-D finale.
Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 Review. Movie Reviews ... Tom Huddleston from Time Out
Anyone who complained that the
previous episode in the ‘Harry Potter’ saga felt too much like scene-setting
for the final showdown will be equally disappointed with ‘Deathly Hallows Part
1’. A film with no beginning and no end but a whole lot of expository middle,
this is the least satisfying instalment in the series since Chris Columbus
folded up his director’s chair.
Bill Nighy’s dour, dandified Minister of Magic sets the tone with a barbed speech bemoaning the state of the magical nation: murders, disappearances and raids are becoming commonplace and no one, it seems, is safe. Least of all our bespectacled hero, who bids farewell to the suburbia of his youth before being whisked away in the film’s only outright action sequence, a dizzying high-speed flying-bike chase through the Dartford tunnel.
The ensuing half hour is business as usual: an entertaining balance of sorcery, slapstick and sweetness, enlivened by a handful of scary scenes and a surprisingly sadistic streak of black humour. But once the kids decide to break out on their own, setting off across the shattered English countryside on the trail of the four remaining shards of the Dark Lord Voldemort’s soul, things take a bleaker turn, and they never quite recover. Part of the problem is JK Rowling’s source material: there are too many characters, too much backstory and too many magical Mcguffins to keep track of. The episodic plot wanders as aimlessly as the children, culminating in the would-be tragic death of a character we’ve barely been introduced to.
On this evidence, the producers’ decision to cut the final movie in two feels like a mistake: despite some undoubted highlights, ‘Deathly Hallows Part 1’ feels like the weaker half of a still-promising film.
One of the most remarkable aspects of the Harry Potter movie franchise has been the way it’s held onto its core cast, letting audiences watch the actors mature along with the characters and J.K. Rowling’s progressively darker material. But nothing else about the films has been as consistent. Each new director has brought in his own look, tone, and sensibility to book-to-film adaptation. In the latest installment, David Yates (who helmed the previous two films, as well as the final one, due out in July 2011) takes his serious approach to the material to new extremes, making it into the oddest Harry Potter yet: an awkward mating of action-fantasy and a self-reflective indie movie.
Like its immediate predecessor, Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 1 makes no bones about being part of a longer work rather than a stand-alone film. It begins mid-speech and ends mid-story. With Harry’s chief protector dead and his enemy Voldemort openly taking over, Harry and his closest friends isolate themselves to fight behind the scenes. Lacking allies or sanctuary, they become depressed and aimless, prompting long sequences in which they stare moodily into space; have strained, muttered, pause-packed conversations; or in one case, share a spontaneous melancholy dance to Nick Cave’s “O Children.” A long middle sequence of wandering (and grim, gloomy posing) is set against glorious, Lord Of The Rings-like natural backdrops, which unfortunately just heighten the stiffness. The pacing is endlessly aggravating: It’s just as well Yates didn’t attempt to cram the final book’s action into an eviscerated single film, and it’s admirable how he attempts to stretch out, to patiently build a mood and let audiences feel the characters’ directionless anxiety. But the result is a herky-jerky movie that alternates glacial brooding with unwieldy chunks of exposition and frenzied, rushed battles.
It’s hard to fault Yates too much; apart from a few tweaks, he’s largely following the original book, which also alternated draggy frustration with reams of exposition. But Yates and series screenwriter Steve Kloves only intermittently find ways to make the material spark onscreen. Most of the content of this film is wheel-spinning or conscious setup for the final installment, and that feels apparent at every melodramatic moment.
Philip French's review The Observer
The adjective "dark" has always suggested something sinister, often associated with the Prince of Darkness. But more recently in popular culture, and especially in the movies, it's come to mean deep, serious, mature, dangerous and altogether more truthful, more worthy of intelligent consideration than anything categorised as "light" and thus frivolous and deceptive.
Penumbrously lit by Portuguese-born French cinematographer Eduardo Serra, the latest and penultimate film in the Harry Potter cycle (in fact the first half of JK Rowling's final book) begins with an ominous, Sergio Leone-style close-up of Bill Nighy telling us: "These are dark times." He sounds like any member of the coalition cabinet at the dispatch box, but he is, in fact, Rufus Scrimgeour, minister of magic.
Not long after, he's presenting the orphaned messiah Harry Potter and his two wizardly chums, the upper-middle-class Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and the lower-middle-class Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint), with mysterious inheritances from Dumbledore, their mentor and former headmaster at Hogwarts School for Wizardry. These gifts will assist them in their imminent apocalyptic encounter with the evil Lord Voldemort that will settle the future of mankind.
Now a decade in the telling, the Potter saga is getting a trifle thin, while its heroic trio are developing bags under their eyes and behave like schoolchildren wondering whether they should spend their gap year chasing dragons or hunting for the Holy Grail. Dumbledore is dead and most of the adults make only token appearances, the chief exception being Helena Bonham Carter as Bellatrix Lestrange.
The forces of evil, with Ralph Fiennes's Voldemort in the chair, gather to decide who'll kill Potter, while the forces of good assemble at Potter's suburban home to plan his rescue and transfer to a safe house. After this, Harry, Hermione and Ron are on their own working out how to find the Arthurian sword (predictably lying at the bottom of a frozen lake) that will enable them to vanquish the Horcruxes, Voldemort's airborne cohorts.
Most of the time, the kids are in the wilderness, a dark,
wintry place either on the Pembrokeshire coast or in the
In the absence of the eccentric, outlandish staff of Hogwarts and Voldemort's wicked crew, the film becomes a rather pale affair. Harry, Hermione and Ron, personable as they may be, and the bickering adolescent interplay between them, are not sufficiently interesting to hold our attention. The film's succession of remarkable state-of-the-art special effects resembles a fabulous firework display put on by rather spoilt, ageing children at a dull Guy Fawkes party where the adults have all slipped off inside for a drink.
There are some good scenes. In one of them, entirely dependent on special effects, Alastor "Mad-Eye" Moody (Brendan Gleeson) gives a special potion to Harry, Ron, Hermione and half-a-dozen of their contemporaries that turns them all into clones of Harry to lead the Horcruxes on a merry chase around the country. This is "I am Spartacus" Hogwarts-style. In the one truly magical scene in the film, Harry, Hermione and Ron encounter a new character, Xenophilius Lovegood (Rhys Ifans), a Welsh wizard who explains to them the meaning of the sign of the eponymous deathly hallows and relates the resonant fable behind it.
A quest in the Grimm manner in which three brothers are each granted a wish from Death, his story is accompanied by a breathtakingly beautiful animated sequence combining Indonesian shadow theatre with the silhouette figures used in innovative German animator Lotte Reiniger's fairy tales of the 1930s.
Otherwise, Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows Part 1 is an inchoate thing that doesn't stand alone and ends abruptly in medias res. It's overlong, padded out and, to one unacquainted with the novel, incoherent. It is also obvious that a number of scenes were planned for 3D, including the opening, in which the camera floats through the Warner Brothers logo, and an impressive shot of a giant snake crawling down Voldemort's conference table to swallow a victim and with her the audience in the cinema.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One movie review ... Wesley Morris from The Boston Globe
How should we treat “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’’? Warner Bros. offers the instructive “Part One.’’ J.K. Rowling, of course, did no such thing. “Deathly Hallows’’ was the seventh and final novel of the series, and though it weighed the same as a school bus, that, ultimately, was that. The film has split the book, rather crassly, in half. “Part One’’ features the most deliriously inspired moviemaking since “The Prisoner of Azkaban,’’ from 2004, but I’m not sure I believe Warner Bros. is ready to part with a franchise that’s pulled in the equivalent of the gross domestic product of most of the islands in the Caribbean.
They’ve promised to deliver “Part Two’’ next July. But based on the way this first half stretches to 146 minutes, with credits, one can easily imagine Steve Kloves, who’s adapted most of the books, and the talented David Yates, making his third “Potter’’ film in a row, wringing hours of movie from a single page.
“The Deathly Hallows’’ ends as it begins, in Lord Voldemort’s creepy thrall. But the film has enough moments of silence and shots of its three heroes doing nothing so much as looking spiritually put-upon to pass muster at European art houses. On one hand, scenes of Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson), and Ron (Rupert Grint) trekking through the woods and across moors are precious filler. On another, they’re daring. Before it culminates in a showdown with Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), who murdered Harry’s parents, the “Harry Potter’’ series detours into a quest narrative in which Harry hunts for and destroys Voldemort’s soul-possessing “horcruxes’’ while Voldemort hunts for him. It’s been impressively divided between derring-do and downtime.
It’s hard to think of another blockbuster devoting so much of itself to its young protagonists’ existential and hormonal angst. (And so little music: Alexandre Desplat’s score often consists only of sounds, and, occasionally, the remote braying of a lone brass instrument.) Ron’s angst is a comic blend of attraction and repulsion. Before he slays a particularly nasty horcrux, he must endure the fantasy it generates, staring at his crush, Hermione, going at it with Harry. The shocking sensuality of the image enrages him enough to destroy its source and will force a few older moviegoers to retrieve eyes popped out of young heads. For Ron’s part, it’s for him to spend the rest of the film thinking what certain paying customers are: She's really hot.
That make-out session looks like a computer made it, but it’s more convincing (and more physically intense) than the big 3-D love scene in “Avatar.’’ In a display of mercy, plans to convert “The Deathly Hallows’’ to 3-D were scrapped. Could no one manufacture enough Real-D glasses to resemble Harry’s? In any case, bits that would have been gimmicky in 3-D are now legitimately scary: Voldemort’s enormous, professor-eating serpent lunging at the screen, say.
Voldemort himself is a diabolical piece of work. One of the achievements of the “Deathly Hallows’’ is that it’s one of the few “Harry Potter’’ films not to feel like a Halloween ball. The actors have always inhabited their roles with requisite whimsy or seriousness. But Fiennes’s Voldemort is a figure of almost biblical proportions. Indeed, the opening scene, with him at the head of a table, presiding over the series’ hideous regulars — Helena Bonham-Carter as Bellatrix Lestrange; Jason Isaacs and Tom Felton as the Malfoys; Alan Rickman as Severus Snape, who appears from ribbons of smoke; the wonderful, growling Peter Mullan as Yaxley — feels like a last supper. (Only the snake eats, but never mind.)
Fiennes’s face remains his behind walls of clammy prosthetic that turn the character into a yogurt-covered peanut. Yet, he emits an evil you rarely experience in mass-market entertainment. It’s all too real. When he says he intends to kill Harry, he means it. That table scene is a brilliant note to strike so soon. Voldemort has always hovered over these movies. But this is the first time Fiennes’s performance has, too. It’s a shame that we spend so much time running from him. We’re appalled and yet seduced.
Luckily, Yates can compensate for a physical lack of Voldemort with a wonderland of set pieces that range from the apocalyptic to the fantastic. An animated interlude explaining the film’s title is told in silhouettes that turn expressionist as the flat surfaces swell in foreboding dimension. The palette and textures are simple — sepia, char, gossamer, lace, and gauze — but unspeakably beautiful.
Like Alfonso Cuarón, who made “Azkaban,’’ Yates and his crew are as visually
descriptive as Rowling was with language. One chase through the Ministry of
Magic, a vast, unnavigable government space that Harry, Ron, and Hermione visit
in disguise, is ingenious, suspenseful entertainment. No direct route exists
for any destination. Elevators, for instance, travel laterally before they
shoot down or up. The building projects government bureaucracy not simply in
its structural convolutions but in its visual conception. The space is a
flipbook of modern design history (futurism, rococo, Art Deco, Surrealism)
whose open and confined spaces and gleaming black surfaces are an architectural
dream of Fascist Italy, Terry Gilliam, and an onyx-tiled Oz. But the ministry’s
legislative and prosecutorial doings suggest a heavier, darker conflation:
Capitol Hill and
After all these movies, Kloves has found a way to let the adaptations breathe without Rowling’s life-support. The previous film, “The Half-Blood Prince,’’ was abundant with sexuality, hallucinogens, and magic. But its ultimate purpose was to get us to “The Deathly Hallows.’’ Now we’re here, ready to mourn the end, only to have to come back next summer. Why not one 4 1/2- or 5-hour movie? “Harry Potter’’ readers have buns of steel. For a studio so clearly willing to take risks with so many of its movies, this particular movie has a whiff of exploitation. Rowling wrote one epic funeral that Warner Bros. requires us to attend twice.
BFI | Sight & Sound | Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows ... Sophie Mayer from Sight and Sound, November 26, 2010
Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 1 Review: The Magic of ... Stephanie Zacharek at Movieline
Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I (2010 ... Brad Brevet from Rope of Silicon
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 Review | Everybody ... Daniel Carlson from Pajiba
Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 Film Review at Future ...
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 - QNetwork ... James Kendrick
DVD Town [James Plath] theatrical
'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1' Review: An ... Todd Gilchrist from Cinematical
New York Magazine David Edelstein
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I, The Next Three Days ... Joe Morgenstern from The Wall Street Journal
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I Pam Grady from Box Office magazine
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 review | Screenjabber Jennifer McKenzie
Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 | CineSnob Kiko
Filmcritic.com Christopher Null
Anthony Lane - The New Yorker (Page 2)
Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 -- Film Review - The ... Todd McCarthy from The
Peter Bradshaw's review The Guardian
The Guardian UK Xan Brooks
New York Times
(registration req'd) A.O. Scott,
You and who’s army? —Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis)
Pt. 2 begins pretty much where Pt. 1 left off, with Voldemort assuming the seemingly invincible powers by attaining the world’s most powerful wand by raiding Dumbledore’s coffin, leaving the wizard world in a state of flux and Harry still searching for the missing Horcruxes, the secret to dismantling Voldemort’s alleged invincibility. Action sequences are fast and frequent in this segment, where right out of the gate the gang of three are off on another mission together, following clues and tracking down secrets into the farthest corners of the earth, this time leading them to the bank vault of none other than Bellatrix Lestrange, Helena Bonham Carter, easily one of the best characters in the entire series, as the unbridled joy she takes in her malevolence is unsurpassed by anyone. Using the invisibility cloak to hide Harry and a goblin as his accomplice, not to mention ingenious disguises where Hermione assumes the look of Bellatrix, they simply walk right into Gringott’s bank to have a look, where the entry in resembles one of the world’s greatest roller coaster rides. Of course, all doesn’t go exactly as planned, where Hermione even makes a joke about how their ideas never work out as planned, yet it’s a clever opening, a masterful extended sequence, probably the best in the entire film, filled with ups and down delights and surprises, as the audience is immediately reeled into this final chapter.
The title character is given plenty of legroom in this one, with Ron and Hermione fading from prominence, showing up only as needed rather than initiating much of the action. Interestingly, much of this plays out in Harry’s head, where he has past recollections, strange, otherworldy visions, intuitive thoughts about where to seek out Horcruxes, which all but abandoned him in the last meandering episode, but also visions of the current whereabouts of Voldemort, where much of the film turns into what he senses is happening around him, where he’s actually tuning into the totality of his entire life. Hogwarts has been taken over by the dark side, surrounded by life-sucking Death Eaters, with Professor Snape (Alan Rickman) named the headmaster, where students are marched around with military precision like concentration camp victims, ordered by Snape to provide information about Harry Potter sightings or be severely punished, yet the entire group has facial wounds that suggest they have already been tortured. Nonetheless, Harry sneaks into the grounds searching for Horcruxes, where he runs into Dumbledore’s mysteriously bitter brother Aberforth (Ciarán Hinds), also a sister (Hebe Beardsall) that lives inside a painting, who seem to still be holding a grudge against him, where there are illuminating flashback sequences that shed light on their childhood. Still, another Dumbledore joining the fray has to reap positive benefits, even if reluctantly.
Voldemort uses his own version of mind control at Hogwarts, which begins with young girl students screaming in agony at the pain in their ears before an unseen but all powerful voice overwhelms them all, amounting to little more than bullying. However when Harry shows himself, along with his own band of self-taught supporters, Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith) seems rightfully pleased and aids him in a wand to wand encounter with Snape that runs him off the premises, allowing a spirit of joy to re-enter the premises, at least for the moment. Aligning all the remaining wizard powers of good, McGonagall creates a spell that brings out giant stone chess player like protectors who were created for a moment such as this, as a spell encircles Hogwarts, like a protective bubble, while Voldemort and his Army gather on a nearby hill with a taste of victory in the air. The skies are darkened throughout this final installment, given a very ominous, Macbethian tone which foreshadows the inevitable confrontation of the young wizard and the Dark Lord, where a bloody price is ultimately paid. When his troops charge, the ensuing battle scenes are certainly reminiscent of the filmed version of LORD OF THE RINGS (2001 – 3), which contained an Iliad-like insatiability for blood. But when the spell initially holds them at bay, Neville chortles with joy, claiming yeah, You and Who’s Army?, an amusing reference to a song made famous by Radiohead in 2001, six years before the final book was released, seen here: Radiohead - You and Whose Army? (). The protective bubble is short-lived however, as a near massacre ensues, leaving Hogwarts resembling the look of Rome, London, or Berlin in the aftermath of World War II, with rubble dominating the landscape.
However, behind the scenes, Harry is vigilant in finding and destroying the Horcruxes, each one of which wounds Voldemort, leaving him less confident and overpowering, the first time we’ve seen any hint of weakness on his part. But Harry seems equally drained by each destruction, as if he’s killing off a piece of himself in the process. There’s some interesting unfinished business with Professor Snape, some quite surprising and even a bit confusing, also more examples of the ruthlessness of Voldemort, before the inevitable confrontation has a bit of the magic potion texture of Romeo and Juliet, where life is suspended momentarily to climb into one of the Harry Potter visions, even as he appears dead to the rest of the world, giving Voldemort the apparent victory he has always sought, delighted at the idea he has finally killed off his young nemesis. Neville Longbottom, of all people, the “witless wizard” that conjures up laughs in the Voldemort camp, seen as a weakling throughout the entire series, finally rises to the occasion and sets off a student insurrection against the dark side, refusing to go easily, reuniting Harry’s friends, if only in spirit. Like Tinker Bell, after drinking the poison in Peter Pan, this positive spirit seems to raise Harry from the dead, providing the impetus needed to cross the finish line alive and in one piece. The finale is filled with wizard battle sequences, where even Ron’s mother gets into the action, actually calling Bellatrix a bitch before finishing her off with surprising gusto, but bodies line the grounds afterwards, the inevitable price of war. The aftermath (19 years later) is surprisingly sentimental and a bit lame, suggesting all things end back at the beginning where a new group of wizards has the chance to do it all over again. One of the fundamental disappointments of the finale was the near absent use of Hermione, a post feminist force, Muggle-born, yet considered the most ingenious young wizard in the art of potions, still relegated to the background through most of the final installment along with Ron, though holding hands at the end. Their picture of domestic bliss is more laughable than believable, like something out of the Silent era films 100 years earlier.
In reflecting on the entire series, the cinema itself has not been that outstanding or revelatory, hardly what one would call masterpieces, where only Alfonso Cuarón in PRISONER OF AZKABAN (2004) seemed to be having fun expanding the artistic palette of such a dark and mysterious world, creating a bleaker look, subjecting the audience to deeper terrors, not afraid to delve into the horror genre. The casting has been particularly ingenious, allowing walk on opportunities for some of Britain’s finest actors, bringing their theatrical exaggeration into a children’s realm, as these characters will be forever etched into people’s minds and imaginations for generations, as the success of Harry Potter in books and the movies easily make it the most influential children’s saga in history, having far reaching effects on the benefits of children having an imaginary world that they can continue to explore well into adulthood, where unlike Peter Pan, they can bring much of the charm and magic with them as they grow up. The real standouts in the series are the initial casting of the three friends, as we all watched them grow up and took a decided interest in their real lives as well, as they seem like genuinely good hearted and well-balanced kids where we can only hope for the best, though Daniel Radcliffe as Harry seems bound and determined to build a career outside this series, while the always beautiful Emma Watson as Hermione Granger is already a tabloid sensation, but may find it harder to break away from her brilliant, overly studious character.
Alan Rickman, the sinister man in black, made Professor Snape’s malicious character deliciously humorous, conniving, always overly critical yet intriguing, but also complicated, as he divided his allegiance between the darkness and the light in order to survive the enveloping madness surrounding him. Dumbledore, as written, is the heart of the magical end of the story, divided by two actors due to the premature death of Richard Harris, handing over the duties to the less flamboyant Michael Gambon. The Hogwarts professors are an eccentric lot, but Robbie Coltrane as Hagrid is easily the most lovable, the devoted giant who brought Harry into the wizard world, letting him know how special he was, something every child needs to hear, while of the eccentric friends, no one comes close to the offbeat humor and charm of Evanna Lynch as Luna, a girl who always turned up in strange places where her friendship and loyalty to Harry was unmatched. Julie Walters as the adoring mother of the Weasley clan couldn’t have been more lovingly affectionate. On the dark side, Helena Bonham Carter as Bellatrix proves once again that not only is she a brilliant actress, but her flair for the character enriched everyone else’s part, almost always upstaging Ralph Fiennes as You Know Who, or He Who Must Not Be Named. As for the animated characters, Dobby was simply a wonderful expression of kind-hearted sadness, whose moment of freedom was nothing less than sensational. Perhaps the lamest CGI creation was the completely uninspired Grawp, Hagrid’s dimwitted brother in ORDER OF THE PHOENIX (2007), while the most artistically inspired moment in the entire series was the surprisingly original animated puppet play explaining the origin of the Deathly Hallows in PT. 1 (2010). In the end, however, it’s the inventiveness of J.K. Rowling’s original creation that will stand the test of time, as she invented this strange and fabulous world filled with lovable characters who are forced to stand up to the dark forces, often at their own peril. It’s not often you can grow up with a movie series that takes you through an entire decade of growth development, but this is one of the real successes of the movies, the audience’s identification with the characters as if their lives actually mattered, because for so many kids, they do. That is the sign of exquisite writing, where the unforgettable, magical world they live in, with all the attention to detail, will likely live in our collective imaginations our entire lives.
The boy wizard (Daniel Radcliffe) clashes with the evil Voldemort
(Ralph Fiennes) in this bang-up conclusion to the long-running franchise.
Wraiths help and confound Harry as he comes to grips with his own dark side and
risks the lives of his classmates and teachers by chasing down long-buried
clues to Voldemort's weakness. Cinematographer Eduardo Serra underscores the
sense of dread with a rich charcoal palette, and the outstanding CGI and 3D
effects make the otherworldly threats more corporeal. The scene in which the
dark wizards flame-bomb Hogwarts castle recalls the
“I need to talk to the goblin,” the young man says firmly, no longer a boy or even a teen, really. He’s obeyed instantly. Obviously, we’re still in J.K. Rowling’s wizardly world, but Daniel Radcliffe steps into this one with a decade’s conviction: We’ve seen him shuck off cutesiness and wrestle with adolescence—director Alfonso Cuarón’s third installment, The Prisoner of Azkaban, was a standout. But the final Harry Potter movie, above all others, supplies Radcliffe with the gravitas of not just an epic story come to completion, but some real dramatic heft. Not so bad for a Hogwarts dropout.
Even for those not under Rowling’s spell (how’s that abandoned mine shaft working out?), a noticeable uptick in adult intrigue will be clear: Said goblin conversation is a tense negotiation, followed by knotty chats with a whispery wand-maker (John Hurt), an orotund dark headmaster (Rickman, still killing it with the evil voice) and, eventually, Old No-Nose himself, Lord Voldemort (Fiennes). The latter is still hunting Horcruxes, as are Harry and the gang—these are the bits of treasure that draw them closer to their long-telegraphed death embrace. This time, though, you can actually feel the scrapes of regret and sacrifice on our hero, as well as on one unlikely villain.
Finally, we’re in a siege at a school, Voldemort’s voice echoing scarily in the hallways. This series is so much more than a generation’s stamp; it’s been its escape from a frightening world. And still, Harry’s story is one of embracing destiny and relinquishing power; stewarded by the actorcentric director David Yates and scored by Alexandre Desplat’s supplest orchestral strains, this fleet, triumphant sequel puts people first. I’d call that growing up.
Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
Tom Huddleston from Time Out
Talk about transcending your roots. In ten short years (and
eight rather long instalments), the Harry Potter series has gone from harmless,
derivative boarding-school hi-jinks aimed squarely at bookish pre-teens to
Julie Walters calling Helena Bonham
Carter a bitch before killing her in cold blood. And that’s not even
the nastiest bit – there’s some business here with Alan Rickman
and a mean-tempered snake that’ll have even the toughest Potterphiles hiding
behind their popcorn buckets.
But despite the increase in bloody violence – and the deaths of several major characters – ‘Deathly Hallows Part 2’ has little of the picturesque doom and gloom that sank its glum, tent-bound predecessor. This is an action movie, plain and simple, and all the better for it: from the breathless opening heist on Gringott’s magical bank to the hair-raising battle of Hogwarts which occupies most of the second half, this is crammed to the rafters with sword-swinging, expletive-hurling, dragon-riding magical mayhem.
The opening act is patchy but enjoyable, as a confusing, backstory-heavy dialogue scene leads straight into the aforementioned bank raid, a spectacular but rather rushed set piece. There’s just enough room for the obligatory introduction of another superfluous supporting character – in this case, Dumbledore’s crotchety brother Aberforth – before Harry and chums break back into Hogwarts and the main narrative kicks in.
Everyone brings their A-game here, notably director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves, who balance the source novel’s head-spinning blend of action, emotion and narrative intrigue with absolute confidence: one lengthy flashback sequence midway through is arguably the dramatic high point of the entire series, and even the sugary sweet coda, so mawkish on the page, becomes a thing of quiet beauty. The SFX are phenomenal, bringing to the magical shenanigans a tactile solidity which has been missing in previous episodes, while Yates’s use of 3D is never intrusive, and occasionally breathtaking.
But, as with most of the Potter films, it’s the cast who really deliver: the young leads have never been better, and it’s great to see
‘Deathly Hallows Part 2’ is far from a perfect film – the central plot point, the revelation of Harry’s destiny, is badly fudged, and there are a few too many key questions left hanging. But while it’s unfolding, this is just terrific fun: eye-scorching, ear-battering, heart-pounding cinema of pure spectacle.
After a perfunctory couple of shots lifted from the end of the first installment of The Deathly Hallows, the film begins in earnest with a scene of slow, quiet urgency at an oceanfront cottage that could have been imported from Jacques Rivette's Out 1. The Harry Potter franchise's winding-down films, all four directed by David Yates, rely heavily on such calm-before-the-storm moments as the hour of Voldemort's inevitable defeat draws nigh. As the director himself has evolved from an efficient and vaguely stylish, yet unsure, functionary into the greatest director of blockbuster cinema since Steven Spielberg, the sense of unhurried, supple balance rarely departs from even the busiest, most deafening, most f/x-laden sequences. As a firestorm rages through a seemingly infinite attic space, Yates's camera (presided over by Eduardo Serra, who lensed seven of Claude Chabrol's last eight feature films) circumscribes enough screen space to anchor the chaos to a stabilizing, grounded structure with reassuring x-y axes, giving the viewer the pleasure both of frantic motion and its container.
If that's a little too egghead-cinephile for you folks, bear with me. Essential to understanding the magnitude of Yates's achievement is to deliver him from the lukewarm deathblow of "workmanlike," which is perfectly appropriate for Mike Newell's turn at bat, and far too kind to the toxic Chris Columbus. The fact that Yates marshals a mile-long grocery list of business with the grace and poise of an orchestra conductor, and makes it look easy, isn't just flattery, it's an indication of his method. The unavoidable flurry of activity and getting the treasure and escaping certain death and all that, the prostrate-before-Rowling, infernal importance of each "from the book, do it right" moment, the prestige of a project this scale, all of these symptoms of prideful self-commemoration are inseparable from a nonchalant, wistful distance, an attitude of smallness that calms it down, and gives us, as Ratatouille's Anton Ego might say, a little perspective.
These two indices of scale (macro and micro) are never far apart from
one another. There's nothing new, for example, about a horde of bad guys
getting ready to storm the good guys' stronghold (curiously, every face in the
horde seems to have a sufficient fill lighting; hey, aren't you supposed to
make CGI effects dingy and hard to see, as demonstrated in Peter Jackson's
movies?), but Yates pivots the whole, expensive panorama on a furtive single
step, the squeak of one leather boot as the chief baddie tests Hogwarts's force
field. For Yates, casualness and abstraction are inextricable from the
emotional force of his direction. Images that have been worn to a nub from
overuse (the Cloak of Invisibility, Dementors, Disapparating) reacquire
elegance, if they ever had it to begin with. Even the image of Lily Potter
being struck down—only one of a thousand moments
Deathly Hallows: Part 2 also sounds strange. The horcruxes emit a steady, maddening, low whine, similar to the one heard throughout Lars von Trier's Antichrist. The goblin custodians of Gringotts wield what looks to be a U.S. Army version of a baby's rattle to rend a pale, keening dragon into submission. The alarms at the same institution sound like the protest of a thousand alley cats. There's also the combined timbre of half the British stage—a crowd from which Rickman, Maggie Smith, and Ralph Fiennes distinguish themselves. Sometimes the acting is that of high, dry, scene-stealing camp, and sometimes it's like Yates has read my mind and knows that all I want every now and then is for a character to stand completely still and not say anything.
That in itself may prove a divisive issue. Some will complain that the film doesn't explain every last thing that's happening and why, or provide ample context, blithely assuming you've read the books, and simply plows ahead. Good. I haven't read more than a few chapters of any of the books, except for The Sorcerer's Stone, and that was over 10 years ago, but for a finale like this—in stark contrast to the never-ending conclusion of New Line Cinema's Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Based on the Novel The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien—it's safe to say that less is more. A lot more. Is the story really of such paramount importance at this point? Hogwarts becomes Precinct 13 and Voldemort is the Death Star—there you go. The big picture is backdrop, as Yates, while gently weaving the shuttle of parallel editing between these two major movements, finds limitless opportunity to depict smallness and stillness in the chaos and hubbub, reshaping the bombast and branding around the most minute contours.
It is finished.
That Biblical reference is fully intended when considering "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows -- Part 2," the final installment of a movie series that surely owes part of its astronomical success to its rich symbolic underpinnings of sacrifice, resurrection and redemption. Feeling at once like an anti-climax and a spot-on send-off, the ultimate Harry Potter movie embodies all the elements that have made the franchise such a sturdy enterprise, from its cream-of-the-crop British cast to its lavish but unfussy illustration of a story that will always be captured best in readers' imaginations.
Picking up precisely where its first installment left off, "Deathly Hallows -- Part 2" finds Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) burying his dear friend Dobby, "A Free Elf," as the tombstone describes him, and setting off on yet another grim journey to find the Horcruxes containing tatters of Lord Voldemort's soul and destroying them, the better to weaken and ultimately defeat the force of darkness also known as You Know Who.
Harry's moment at Dobby's grave sets an apt tone for a largely cheerless quest that will take Harry, Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) from Shell Cottage to the bowels of Gringotts Bank and finally to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) holds sway as the school's humorless headmaster and where Harry will meet his Calvary at the hands of Voldemort, once again brilliantly portrayed by Ralph Fiennes (with that disconcerting blur where a nose should be).
Eight movies into the decade-long series, an outsider might wonder:
Where's the joy in "Harry Potter?" Where's the fun? They're there,
but couched in weighty millennial struggles between Good and Evil. And by now,
such questions are clearly beside the point in a franchise, based on J.K.
Rowling's best-selling novels, that has uncannily tapped into the mood of its
age, growing up along with a generation that watched the
To their everlasting credit, Warner Brothers and the filmmakers behind the "Harry Potter" movies -- especially screenwriter Steve Kloves -- have taken their stewardship of a generation's ur-myth seriously, infusing the adaptations with the solemnity and meaning that Potter fans expect and deserve. Like its predecessors, "Deathly Hallows -- Part 2" unfolds with the handsome, high-class production values and somberness that have come to characterize the series, creating a movie of adventure, drama and spectacle that, miraculously, never overreaches. (Although this viewer quibbles with the decision to present the final chapter in 3-D, an add-on that feels more like a distraction than an enhancement.)
If early scenes at the beach and the bank feel like so much perfunctory throat-clearing (albeit with a slyly amusing turn from Helena Bonham Carter impersonating herself at Gringotts), the action takes irresistible hold once Harry and his team reach Hogwarts. It's the castle, after all, that defines the spiritual center of the "Harry Potter" movies and that, with Voldemort amassing his troops nearby, stands in dire danger of being overrun. And it's here that Kloves and director David Yates allow Harry and the audience to say goodbye to so many of the series' beloved supporting characters, from the improbably heroic Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis) to a calvacade of indelible witches, wizards and magical apparatchiks, including Minerva McGonagall (Maggie Smith), Sybil Trelawny (Emma Thompson) and Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent), as well as Albus Dumbledore's bitter brother Aberforth (an impeccably cast Ciaran Hinds).
"Deathly Hallows -- Part 2" features even more surprise appearances by characters past, adding to an appropriately valedictory tone whereby no loose end is left to flutter. While Harry dutifully seeks to destroy Voldemort and save the wizarding world, he even has his version of a "Luke, I'm your father" moment, when through the mists of a device called a Pensieve he discovers the true nature of one of his most reliably hostile adversaries.
In "Deathly Hallows -- Part 1," Watson's plucky Hermione stole the show, winning the day through cunning and understated capability. Here, and again appropriately, the movie belongs to Harry and Harry alone, as he faces down ultimate evil and tries to save his world from carnage and destruction. That may not be entirely possible: The film's set piece is a fiery, furious battle scene wherein Voldemort and his Death-Eating minions lay waste to Hogwarts. But in Harry's world, rebirth is always in the offing, even when it takes place in the pristine-white environs of an otherworldly King's Cross station.
Watching Radcliffe in this scene is to wonder at the taste, perception and sheer luck of finding three actors who could age from 10 to 21 with such poise, grace and -- not to put too fine a point on it -- attractiveness. Who could have predicted that Radcliffe, Grint and Watson would turn out to be good actors? What are the chances they all three would manage to grow up without losing the appeal that first drew viewers in? Indeed, who would have thought that, especially in Watson's case, she would only grow more fetching, more focused and composed, as the years went by?
"Harry Potter" may be about wizards and wands, Dementors and dragons, spells and sorcery, but the real magic lies in its stars. And with its heartening final note of hope and renewal, "Deathly Hallows -- Part 2" provides an altogether fitting finale to a series that has prized the fans above all. For that, the "Harry Potter" movies deserve thanks and praise -- genuflection optional.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 (2011) Tim Dirks Filmsite, also see earlier reviews here: The Harry Potter Films: 1-7
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 James Kendrick theatrical review from Q Network
'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2′ Is Pure ... Cole Abaius from
Vancouver Film Blog Robert Sandy
Filmcritic.com Bill Gibron
Harry Potter and the Fantastic Finale - Wall Street Journal Joe Morgenstern
Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 2 | Review | Screen Mark Adams from Screendaily
smartcine.com Cine Marcos
Fiennes says Harry Potter's evil Lord Voldemort just 'lonely' Ben Child interviews the actor from The Guardian,
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 – review Phillip French from The Observer
Harry Potter is a badass Amanda Marcotte from The Guardian
Harry Potter and the end of a pop-culture phenomenon Tanya Gold from The Guardian
Danielle Elizabeth Tumminio: The theology of Harry Potter The Guardian, July 12, 2011
great Harry Potter viewing marathon
Charlie Lyne from The Guardian,
Harry Potter and the A-Z of magic Tom Lamont from The Observer, July 10, 2011
Time Out review Tom Milne
A thriller which begins, as it means to go on, with a bang. Only minutes after the preliminaries are over, a door bursts open, a shotgun is fired, and the victim is blasted clean off the bed into the wall behind him. The plot, concerning the battle of wits between an honest cop and an ambitious politician for possession of the key witness in a Mafia exposé, is serviceable but nothing special. But the action sequences are brilliant, done without trickery in real locations (including a great car chase which spawned a thousand imitations) to lend an extraordinary sense of immediacy to the shenanigans and gunfights.
Steve McQueen is one of the first names that comes to mind
when we hear the phrase "
Steve McQueen took his love for cars and just plain wildness to the next level by almost always performing his own stunts in his films. Movie producers didn't exactly like his insistence on putting his life at risk during shooting, but this resulted in a finished product that was much more genuine than those in which it is obvious that the movie's star isn't performing the daring deeds.
Unlike Dean, Steve McQueen's early death (he was only 50) wasn't the direct result of his wild personal life. While Dean died in a car accident, McQueen died of lung cancer, the form of which could have been caused by exposure to the asbestos that was in his race car safety suits. Then again, McQueen spent time in the Marines, and could have been exposed to the harmful material then. While Dean's death was pretty cut and dried, McQueen's death remains somewhat mysterious, relegating both legends as cult icons as well.
Arguably the actor's largest success and most memorable film, Bullitt was unleashed in theaters in 1968, giving birth to the term "gritty cop drama," which is thrown around a lot these days. Steve McQueen stars as Frank Bullitt, a no-nonsense
This wonderfully exciting, true classic of a film is best known for the car chase sequence that occurs near its halfway point. With McQueen behind the wheel during this exhilarating sequence, he soars through the hills of
The events surrounding the big chase scene are quite compelling as well, featuring a career-making performance by McQueen, and great work from Robert Vaughn, Robert Duvall, and Jacqueline Bisset. This is a tight action-packed thriller that will have you rooting for one of
Revisiting this classic film today brings about the obvious comparison between Steve McQueen and Clint Eastwood, and, more specifically, between Bullitt and Dirty Harry. Both projects were huge successes for their star actors, almost singlehandedly making them
Bullitt - TCM.com Rob Nixon
Car chases have been a staple of American film ever since
the appearance of the Keystone Kops in the silent era. The ten-minute pursuit
(1968), up and down the steep streets of San Francisco (which gave some viewers
motion sickness with its dizzying visuals), is regarded as one of the best ever
put on film along with those in The French Connection (1971) and The
Road Warrior (1981) and remains the one thing most viewers remember about
But Bullitt is worth repeated viewings for more than just its most famous sequence. A precursor to the explosive action movies of the eighties and nineties, the film brought a modern, technically advanced style to the tough detective movies of a generation before. And Steve McQueen's portrayal of the taciturn, mistrusting police lieutenant is considered one of his best and certainly most iconic.
Frank Bullitt is not your conventional cop, even for so unconventional a city as
By the late 60s, McQueen had become big box office on the heels of his success in The Magnificent Seven (1960), The Great Escape (1963), and The Sand Pebbles (1966). In just a decade, he had risen from TV star (Wanted: Dead or Alive, 1958) to an internationally famous actor with enough clout to form his own production company. Producer Philip D'Antoni had optioned Robert Pike's book Mute Witness for Spencer Tracy, hoping to cast the aged actor in the central role of the luckless
McQueen also gave the front office headaches by insisting on doing all his own stunts (a skill and bravado immortalized by playwright David Mamet in his 1985 short piece "Steve McQueen"). Yates insists the actor did his own driving (at speeds up to 110 mph) for the chase sequence; other sources say McQueen was furious to awake one morning and find most of the driving had already been shot. Whatever the facts, the film has become part of the legend of the tough, tortured star who enjoyed his success but wanted to be known as a versatile actor, too. Several years later, at the opposite end of the spectrum from Bullitt, McQueen made himself almost unrecognizable behind a beard and heavy clothing to play Dr. Stockmann in his film adaptation of Ibsens's drama An Enemy of the People (1977). The picture was shelved, however, and remained unreleased by the time McQueen died in a
American Cinematographer dvd review Jim Hemphill, October 2005
DVD Review: BULLITT Nathan Williams from Being There magazine
The Onion A.V. Club [Noel Murray] The Essential Steve McQueen Collection
One of the film discoveries of my youth, a quiet European-style film where nothing happens, the kind of film that would never be financed today as there’s simply no action of any kind to speak of and audiences would most likely find it boring, as many did even when I saw it in the theaters nearly four decades ago. Dustin Hoffman and Mia Farrow star in a one night stand that leads to mostly unanswered questions about one another the following morning, an interior chamber drama influenced by the French New Wave, mostly in the jump cut flashback sequences told out of order or the amusing use of interior monologues where each character thinks something out loud to themselves while what’s said is something altogether different. In this manner, we realize the awkwardness of the characters, but also their plotting, carefully calculated intentions. Both are educated white middle class, fertile Woody Allen territory, who spend most of their time in Hoffman’s roomy New York City apartment which has an unheard of spacious architecture to it, rooms to get lost in with gigantic windows including a circular metal staircase leading to a loft. Mia Farrow especially couldn’t be more charming and is the benefactor of the best lines throughout, written by prolific theater writer John Mortimer who wittily adapts Mervyn Jones’s novel, honing it down to its bare essence. Shot immediately after COWBOY (1969), which was an actor’s showcase for Hoffman, this is dialed down to near wordless minimalist scenes, as the entire film is exploratory in nature. Despite being nearly unanimously panned when it came out, due to the timeless relevance of the script and the brilliance of the two leads, it has a surprising inner intensity, as it plays out like an Eric Rohmer relationships study.
Only in the flashbacks do we get any hint of what era this is filmed in, as everything else takes place in the hermetically sealed walls of Hoffman’s apartment. It’s interesting how certain scenarios play out in extended scenes, yet they turn out to be daydreams, thoughts that happen in an instant before reality clicks in. Each has had previously failed relationships that continue to play out in their minds, which feel amusingly dated, like some bad Love Boat connection, where there are references to the Vietnam War, Godard’s WEEKEND, angry demonstrations, out of touch politicians who usurp slogans like “make love not war,” but then Cleavon Little has a brief appearance as a young man with a movie camera obsessed with cinéma vérité, who films anything and everything around him claiming it’s teeming with real life! In structure, this resembles the interior architecture of Dreyer’s GERTRUD (1964), also initially thought of as a failure, where characters are unusually guarded and suspicious about entering into another relationship, carefully feeling one another out with skepticism, reflected in shots down long hallways where characters become lost or miniaturized from the exaggerated dimensions of the use of space. Both are considering rearranging the interior designs of their lives but instead talk about the furniture, George Frederick Handel, the advantage of organic eggs, what they would like for lunch of dinner, anything but themselves. People looking for common sense or logic to prevail will be missing the point here as this film is all about the awkwardness of searching for honesty.
Part two of Peter Yates' step-by-step demonstration of his abilities to Hollywood: first the cars (in Bullitt), here the characters (in the archetypal late '60s morning-after-the-night-before movie). Hoffman and Farrow awake to each other in a New York bed and interminably worry, via chat, fantasy, flashback and some trendy cultural reference, whether they should do it again.
Yates's small and unambitious New York character study has Hoffman and Farrow as a pair who meet, have sex and then have to decide whether they should ditch the baggage they are carrying and start a relationship, or leave it as a one-night stand. There are unforgivably charmless performances from the two fine actors, but they are not helped by the director's fussiness, able to fetishize the city and urban accoutrements, while not giving a damn for his characters. If the main participants in this drab affair come across so uninspired, it will be hard to find an audience who will care.
Like Anna Karina’s Sweater
[NB: In the interest of full disclosure -- John and Mary was actually released in 1969, but it's a 70's film in spirit.]
This is the simple premise behind Peter Yates' 1969 film, John and Mary. The genesis of a relationship in the course of a single day. Filmbrain doesn't know how or why this film escaped him for so many years -- it's not only a wonderful film, but a small piece of screenwriting heaven as well. (File under: they don't write them like this anymore!)
The film is somewhat of a precursor to the current day RomCom, just much more intelligent, and not so much Com. Instead of the painful artifice of Nora Ephron types (Harry/Sally), here we have two very real characters navigating their way through the day after a one night stand, trying (subtly) to learn more about each other while at the same time working through their own relationship fears and anxieties. What keeps the film interesting is the non-linear structure -- at times we're not sure if a scene we're watching is in the past, future, or simply imagined. Screenwriter John Mortimer keeps the dialog flowing, but it's short, sharp, and precise. We are granted the luxury of hearing both John and Mary's inner thoughts -- a technique that can be (and often is) disastrous or cloying, but here is used to great effect. The verbal tennis match between the two is quite natural -- this isn't meant to be Edward Albee or William Inge -- rather it's the subtlety of their dialog that winds up revealing more about them. Filmbrain greatly prefers this approach to the Before Sunrise/Sunset model, which (while not bad films at all) feels the need to have the characters constantly saying something interesting and/or profound. Awkwardness between characters is a wonderful thing, and this is what Filmbrain often strives for in his own screenplays.
Both John and Mary are very much products of the time. Mary's a liberated woman who chooses to have one-night stands (something John feels is fine for men, but not women) and is at the same time involved with a married man. She speaks openly about sex, her desires, etc. John, on the other hand, is quite reserved. He lives in an apartment so clean and stylish that Mary is convinced he's married. He likes to cook, listens to classical music in the afternoon, jazz at night, and brass music in the morning. Mary's initial thought is that he's a bore. He, on the other hand, sees her as a wild sex freak who is simply trying to worm her way into his apartment -- something his former girlfriend did, nicely incorporated in a series of flashbacks. Each is continually trying to trap the other one into saying something that will give justification to their doubts, rather than confronting their own cynicism. It's a joy to watch, and doesn't seem dated at all. Relationships, and the angst associated with them, hasn't really changed much since the end of World War II.
What adds to the film's success is the casting -- both Hoffman and Farrow are so suited for their respective roles, and there's a wonderful chemistry between them that never seems forced. Director Peter Yates (a Brit, though many of his films were made in the states) is probably best known for the Steve McQueen film Bullitt, though he did go on to direct a few other interesting films in the 70's, including The Hot Rock, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, and the Oscar nominated Breaking Away.
John and Mary is sadly not available on DVD, though it does air regularly on The Fox Movie Channel. Filmbrain would love to hear from others about the film -- please feel free to comment.
This flawed but intriguing little film has been maligned a bit over the years as a forgotten dud, made about a year after three of the principles - stars Dustin Hoffman, Mia Farrow, and director Peter Yates – had achieved major box office stardom in The Graduate, Rosemary's Baby, and Bullitt, respectively. The film did nothing to improve nor harm their careers (except perhaps producer Ben Kadish, who more or less disappeared into TV soon after), but its premise of a couple who start getting to know each other after a one night stand is a clever hook.
Based on a novel by Mervyn Jones, John Mortimer's screenplay follows the awakening couple through a roughly 12 hour period, and Yates indulges in some effective flashbacks and flash edits that juggle the time frame to offer a bit of irony between the characters' present day observations on each other – some verbalized, and some heard as narrated thoughts.
The narration is perhaps the least effective indulgence, mostly because the actors' nuances, beautifully milked through editing and superb compositions, convey what we already perceive from our own personal experiences of unsaid, reticent thoughts kept quiet under benign smiles. More audible and balanced in the DVD's pseudo-stereo remix, the narration feels like a gimmick, and may have been written into the script out of fear that the tempi of whole scenes would've been rendered deadly slow (which, given the film's extant pacing, isn't an unreasonable assumption).
The flashbacks, smoothly edited by longtime Yates cutter Frank P. Keller (Bullitt , Murphy's War, and The Hot Rock), also open up the recent and distant past of both characters, and slowly explain reasons for specific suspicions, and counterpoint their hasty assumptions based on biases or hidden prejudices.
Key contemporary elements – Farrow's Mary is a bit of a free-thinking, carefree student, living with a pair of equally sexually rambunctious roommates (including a very young Tyne Daly), and is having an affair with a married Senator – do date the film, particularly a student rally scene where the Senator addresses the student body and attempts to bond with impatient brats wanting justice ‘now!' but her character is clearly meant to offer a stark contrast to Hoffman's John – a furniture designer whose life mandates order, simplicity, and a taste for unadorned art forms, like Bach's brass concertos, which he plays for Mary on his high-end Marantz stereo and linear tracking turntable. (In a bit of obvious product placement, it isn't a coincidence that Yates has cinematographer Gayne Rescher frame receiver's the back-end so ‘Marantz' is crisply visible to audience.)
The problem with John and Mary lies in the play-like banter that also lacks a certain edge; it doesn't need to be verbose, profane, or provocative, but if stripped of flashbacks, what's left feels like a filmed play, lacking the kind of potent, sharp wit that elevated similarly underappreciated gems like Straight On Till Morning and Hoffman – play-like dramas strongly infused with elements of horror, mystery, and bent romance.
Dustin Hoffman and Mia Farrow are pretty charismatic as the titular couple, and regardless of how one feels the story should end, their volleys and sidesteps provide some humour, intrigue, and frankness in a production clearly designed to exploit the popularity of two stars with an audience wanting an upscale hippy vs. square romance, with overtly adult elements (including references, behaviour, and nudity).
For the DVD, Fox adds a trailer and a set of still galleries (with some of the great poster art, and premiere stills with aging Fox Czar Darryl F. Zanuck among the guests), but the label really should've contacted director Yates for a commentary track, as these tend to be the films directors regard with a certain affection; for Yates, John and Mary was an odd rest between action and caper films, and for the actors, the script was free from the demons, psychoses, and novelty romances in recent films.
Quincy Jones' score is pretty threadbare – aside from Bach extracts and some original source songs (including one by Jeff Bridges!) – but the characters clearly inspired Jones to write one of his best themes that's oddly underused in the finished film. (The soundtrack album contains four theme variations and reconfigurations, including a brassy, Bach-like end title version dropped from the film that would've coloured the couple's situation at the end quite differently.)
Olympia Dukakis has a small role in a flashback as John's mother, and Cleavon Little pops up as a wannabe film director in a super-brief scene. It's easy to dismiss John and Mary, but one gets a sense it managed to affect a few audience members, as the film's first reel is basically a brilliantly choreographed montage: after separately waking up in John's bed, each better half tries to peek at the other's private objects – purses, clothes, bathroom paraphernalia – and Yates has fun without using any dialogue. It's a textbook example of sublime montage, and the sequence was somewhat copied and interpolated in a key seduction scene in Steven Kloves' sultry and very witty The Fabulous Baker Boys, with Jeff Bridges and Michelle Pfeiffer nosing through the other's bedroom and bathroom clutter.
Time Magazine December 19, 1969
Donald E Westlake, who also writes under the name of Richard Stark, has quietly been providing material for some of the better American thrillers for some years. Point Blank, The Split and The Outfit, all with similar plots and themes, were adaptations from Stark novels. Like Cops and Robbers, The Hot Rock is by Westlake. Both of them touch on the themes of teamwork and capitalism, crime being just another form of free enterprise. Redford and Segal are both good, parodying their normal images, as the thieves who steal the Sahara Stone from the Brooklyn Museum and spend the rest of the film chasing after it. Like Cops and Robbers it's a lightweight film, but enjoyable nonetheless.
If I may borrow a line from a classic Frank Sinatra song,
in 1972 when Robert Redford was 35, "it was a very good year."
Within a span of twelve months, the future godfather of Sundance starred in
three terrific films: Jeremiah Johnson,
the witty and still relevant The
Candidate (to which a sequel is being mulled) and the highly
underrated The Hot Rock,
based on Donald E. Westlake's popular book of the same name.
All recently released ex-con, John Dortmunder (
So much for prison rehabilitation.
However, there is a twist to this robbery in development; a caper with a cause, you might say. In the center ring of the
Since Andrew is a lock shop owner, he's an instant first pick for John's support staff as two other candidates are considered: Stan Murch (Ron Leibman), an eclectic auto mechanic with a wild streak and a flair for the dramatic. On the opposite end of the spectrum, explosives expert Alan Greenburg (Paul Sands) is so low key, he makes Steven Wright look like Pee Wee Herman. Satisfied with their talents, our dream team's complete, with the first order of business is surveillance, to get an idea of just how much security surrounds the building, followed by the plotting of distraction scenarios and determining weak points.
Heist night arrives and the opening stanza is a doozy. In the grand tradition of knowing how to make an entrance, Murch careens onto the grounds via a perfectly executed car crash that should merit honorary stuntman hall-of-fame status. Emerging out of the wreckage, fake blood and all, Stan hams it up for an audience primarily consisting of museum guards while John and Andrew (already decked out in their snazzy guard uniforms and bemusedly watching from the inside) make their way toward that "hot rock."
Meanwhile, Alan supplements Murch's award-caliber theatrics by playing doctor and creating further diversions up to a point, then changes into security threads to assist Dortmunder and Kelp. But a rousing round of luck gets K.O.'d quickly, thanks to a weighty glass overlay protecting the diamond that the three cannot maneuver properly with Andrew getting bubbled up inside. While attempting to free him, the real guardsmen put two and two together and a melee ensues. Alarms blaring, house lights now illuminated, Kelp makes it out in the nick of time tossing the stone to Alan as the three make a break for it. While John, Andrew and Stan manage to flee, poor Greenberg’s not as lucky, but in an inspired move, he swallows the diamond just before being cornered (who says Three Stooges shorts can't be educational?).
So, it's back to square one as our trio has to figure out where to go from here. Adding to the pressure is the meddling of Alan's sleazy lawyer (Zero Mostel), who says his client will cooperate only if he's successfully sprung from prison. If not, he'll testify against his pals for a lesser sentence. Although not without thrills and chills, the prison daring-do goes a little bit more smoothly than the
If you appreciated the offbeat humor of the original Ocean's Eleven sprinkled with a touch of whimsy, The Hot Rock is built to please. Although mainly hailed for his more romantic roles and "films with a conscience,"
Peter Yates' (Bullitt, Breaking Away) slick direction combined with a witty script penned by Oscar® honoree William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President's Men) and atmospheric cinematography from Edward R. Brown (including a breathtaking aerial sweep through NYC featuring a now-bittersweet shot of the World Trade Center undergoing finishing touches) add to the effectiveness of a ripe-to-be-rediscovered gem.
Bright Lights Film Journal Gary Morris
Divine Trash documents what many have suspected — that its subject, John Waters, is the key figure in the post-1960s indie movement, single-handedly creating the movie, busting every taboo imaginable including the fecal nosh, and eclipsing other, more respectable contenders like John Cassevettes or John Sayles in showing how a personal vision can trump a shoestring budget. This insider look at Waters’ career offers loving testimonials from Jim Jarmusch, Hal Hartley, Richard Kern, and other indie superstars, but the real fascination is in the interviews with Waters’ friends and foes and rare footage taken on the “sets” — often little more than a Baltimore sidewalk, hippie crash pad, or broken-down trailer — of his early films. The “filthiest director alive” emerges as a bit sadistic in his dealings with his absurdly accommodating actors but thoughtful and witty in reminiscing about his glory days as a bargain-basement huckster-artiste. The film focuses mostly on Pink Flamingos and its surreal production circumstances that included stolen props, church screenings, pothead actors starved or nearly incinerated, and a $200 budget. Among the interviewees is everybody's secret favorite character in the film, the “singing asshole,” who appears in shadow, and doesn't “"sing” this time.
When John Waters' Pink Flamingos was reissued for its 25th anniversary in 1997, gross-out comedy was just beginning to regain momentum in American multiplexes, with each new entry shrewdly calculated to tip the sacred cows left standing by the previous one. In an environment in which no taboos were left unshattered, the remarkable thing about the underground classic is that it hadn't lost its eternal power to shock. Waters' backwoods carnival of horrors—Edith Massey's shrill woman-child devouring eggs in a crib, the singing asshole, drag queen Divine's notorious shit-eating grin—drove a new generation of jaded viewers to the exits. A fellow Baltimore resident and longtime friend of the director, Steve Yeager brought his camera on set, and his revealing behind-the-scenes footage threads Divine Trash, an exhaustive and laudable documentary that carves out a niche for Pink Flamingos in cinema history. Yeager, who appeared briefly in the film as a reporter, spends a lot of time addressing Waters' formative years, from his boyhood obsession with The Howdy Doody Show to his first viewing of Herschell Gordon Lewis' Blood Feast through binoculars outside a drive-in. At a time when Lewis, Andy Warhol, Kenneth Anger, Russ Meyer, and Jonas Mekas were emerging as cult icons, Waters and his growing troupe of outcasts were pushing well beyond the boundaries of good taste. Though Pink Flamingos is no more shocking in content than the giant-lobster rape or the crucifixion/rosary-job sequence in his earlier Multiple Maniacs, its puerile genius marked Waters' newfound discipline as a sleaze auteur. Divine Trash assembles a fascinating gallery of talking heads, including cast and crew members, film critics (Mekas, J. Hoberman, Dennis Darmody), and indie stalwarts (Jim Jarmusch, Steve Buscemi, Hal Hartley, David O. Russell) indebted to his on-the-fly, outsider aesthetic. And, of course, there's Waters himself, who handles his role in Yeager's tribute with characteristic modesty and wit. Opening and closing with the dog-feces scene in Pink Flamingos—one subject calls it "the gulp heard 'round the world"—Divine Trash makes a good case for this moment as the ultimate showstopper, a pinnacle never to be equaled or repeated.
Twenty-five years have passed since John Waters gathered his merry band of Baltimore friends and filmed Pink Flamingos, the outre comic melodrama about the filthiest people alive (with its gross pinnacle being the ingestion of a live dog turd by the 300-pound, drag queen/star Divine). The hilarious and notorious film went on to become a bonanza, a cult classic which stands as one of the watershed movies in the canon of American alternative cinema. Divine Trash documents not only the filming of Pink Flamingos but also the interdependent evolution of the careers of John Waters and Divine, and furthermore provides some context by which to understand these cultural phenomena as subsets within the colorful history of independent filmmaking.
Steve Yeager, the director of Divine
Trash, is uniquely positioned to document the whole phenomenon. He was
there at the beginning, back before
Indeed, Divine Trash reveals to us the young, long-haired John Waters, well before he morphed into a dapper icon of weirdo cinema on late-night TV talk shows. Through on-camera interviews with Waters, various of his filmmaking cohorts, and knowledgeable commentators, we come to understand the formative elements that shaped the director's career. We learn such things as how Waters was obsessed with filmmaking since he received his first camera at the age of 16; how as a toddler he cajoled his parents into taking him to junkyards to ogle mangled car wrecks; how as a teenager he sat on a high hill by his house and watched gory Herschell Gordon Lewis movies at the drive-in through binoculars; and how as a young adult he'd drop speed and take the train up to New York to watch three films a day. "I think John knew what he wanted to be when he was 12 years old," comments Yeager. "How incredible is that?"
The influences on Waters' filmmaking
are many - he absorbed everything from classic European art films to
Insight is provided by such diverse interviewees as Waters' parents (who provided Yeager with fascinating home movie relics, saying "Here, don't tell John"); underground film stalwarts Jonas Mekas, George and Mike Kuchar, and Ken Jacobs; above-ground fringe filmmakers Paul Morrissey, Herschell Gordon Lewis, Jim Jarmusch, and Steve Buscemi; Waters associates Mink Stole and Mary Vivian Pierce; and indie film observers John Pierson and J. Hoberman.
Divine Trash was awarded the documentary Filmmakers Trophy at January's Sundance Film Festival. It's the award chosen by other directors, a testament to Divine Trash's ability to ignite a passionate contagion for the practice of independent filmmaking.
Divine Trash Gerald Peary
New York Times (registration req'd) Stephen Holden
Jaffa (Kalat Hayam) Dan Fainaru at Cannes from Screendaily
Stylistically, the very definition of subtle, a film which at first seems technically shoddy (“Was this shot out of focus?”), then just negligibly “realistic,” with no discernible style at all. But soon, you realize exactly how much control and expression Yee is bringing to bear, with shallow focus lending most everything in the frame an internalized glow, as if conjured from a warm memory. Yee also undercuts the surface realism with masterful staging of actions which mutate unexpectedly into something else (e.g., Kerou and Shihao scraping the pilfered mash note off the playground floor with their feet, a gesture which becomes an awkward, vaguely chicken-like pas de deux). It recalls the unobtrusive formalism of early Edward Yang; tonally, it’s the kind of film that Lukas Moodysson’s fans claim he makes, but to my mind really doesn’t – open-hearted, tender, and generous with every last character. At times, it even exhibits shades of Hal Hartley, with its deliberate blockings and repeated, circular dialogue. All the performances are distinct and exacting, especially the two leads. Kerou (Guey Lun-mei), like Hartley’s male heroes, is driven yet impassive, nearly blank. This deadpan strategy plays perfectly against Chen Bo-lin’s Shihao, the affable cool-guy-bad-boy whose reserves of feeling and compassion seem to surprise even himself. Not perfect (a major plot development was so unexpectedly elliptical as to make me wonder if a reel was missing; I’m still on the fence about the tinkly piano score), but a wonderful surprise. The moral of this story: trust Froilan Vispo.
Prisoner Without A Name Argentine Nightmare, by Hal W. Peat from Jump Cut
THE LAST FILM FESTIVAL
USA (90 mi) 2015 Official site
Dennis Hopper has been dead for six years, and the vehicle for his final performance, “The Last Film Festival,” is pretty close to it, showing few signs of what most of us would call life. Hopper plays a film producer named Nick Twain, whose latest movie is so awful, he can only get it shown at the “O’Hi” film festival run in a high school gym by an undertaker. “The Last Film Festival” runs ninety minutes. I wish I had run in the opposite direction with unseemly haste. (It bears no relationship to Hopper’s fascinating excursion into the jungle, “The Last Movie.”) Emmy-winning veteran director-producer Linda Yellen’s lowercase, let’s-play-dress-up stab at the ensemble likes of Robert Altman’s “The Player” and David Mamet’s “State & Main” got advance blurbs from Manhattan antiques Liz Smith (ninety-three), Rex Reed (seventy-seven) and Roger Friedman (fifty-nine), which may say more about her social circle than the critical acumen of this trio of jokers. “The idea for ‘The Last Film Festival’ started with a laugh Dennis and I shared at the Sundance Film Festival,” Yellen was quoted when her film was acquired for distribution. “That spirit of fun and spontaneity that is uniquely Dennis carried through the filming and onto the screen. He would be so pleased that what started as one laugh will now result in so many.” “The Last Film Festival” was completed via Kickstarter. For dogged completists only. With Jacqueline Bisset, Chris Kattan, Jobeth Williams, Leelee Sobieski.
It is hard to root against roguish independent producers like Roger Corman, William Castle, and Robert Evans. Nick Twain is definitely cut from similar cloth, but he has fallen on hard times late in his career. Nevertheless, he carries on. In his case, that means flogging a dog’s turkey titled Barium Enigma. Only one film festival has standards low enough to accept it, but a pro like Twain can still spin it into PR gold, if the so-bad-its-baffling film sweeps the awards. Twain intends to make sure of that in Linda Yellen’s The Last Film Festival (trailer here), the late, great Dennis Hopper’s final film, which opens this Friday in LA.
It should be busy festival for Twain. He thinks he has cut a deal with the politically ambitious mayor of O’hi, Ohio to deliver a clean sweep of the O’hi Film Festival’s Golden Spindles (yarn is a big deal in this burg). However, since his ex, the gracefully aging Italian sex symbol Claudia Benvenuti, who largely financed the picture is up for best actress against her co-star, Twain’s current unfaithful starlet lover, somebody is bound to be disappointed.
Further complicating matters, Twain’s Tom Cruise-ish star is missing and a trench coat wearing woman keeps stalking him, claiming she is his love child. That last part is a little embarrassing for Twain, but it will not prevent him from receiving the festival’s humanitarian of the year award—and justly so.
Sadly, Dennis Hopper passed away seven years ago while still filming LFF, unintentionally leaving Yellen in a bit of a bind. Yet, you wouldn’t know it from the final cut. Hopper (who reportedly thought he was in remission until he suddenly and precipitously fell ill), looks reasonably hale and hearty and just oozes devilish charm. He seems to understand all of Twain’s lines are funnier because he is Dennis Hopper (director and star of The Last Movie)—and he’s okay with that. It is just jolly good fun to watch him chuckle his through the film.
Hopper also forges some deliciously arch chemistry with Jacqueline Bisset, a good sport perfectly cast as Benvenuti. In a way, LFF would make a weirdly appropriate double feature with Truffaut’s Day for Night, in which she played the scandalous British starlet. On the other hand, the charismatic Leelee Sobieski is woefully under-utilized as Twain’s possible illegitimate daughter, but it is entirely possible she had more involving scenes with Hopper that were sadly not to be. Unfortunately, Chris Kattan is as annoying as ever as Harvey Weinstein, O’hi’s namesake undertaker and camera-phone snooping film festival president.
The humor of Yellen & Michael Leeds’ screenplay is definitely hit or miss, but again, it is possible many of Kattan’s gags had to stay, due to Hopper’s untimely demise. Frankly, it is rather remarkable how Yellen and the editors, Bib Jorissen and Steve Kraftsow cobbled together such a smooth narrative flow. Ironically but perhaps fittingly, Hopper’s Twain explains to his youthful agent how King Vidor solved a similar problem when Tyrone Power died midway through Solomon and Sheba.
It is nice to finally have LFF gracing screens. It is not perfect, but the overly broad comedic excesses never stick to Hopper (or Bisset). Frankly, it further burnishes his reputation, allowing us to see a sly, slightly screwball side of Hopper we rarely saw in his largely dark filmography. Recommended for Hopper fans and those of us who have been around a few oddball fests, The Last Film Festival opens this Friday (9/30) in Southern California, at the Laemmle’s Royal and Playhouse 7 theaters.
“The Last Film Festival” is selling itself as the final starring appearance for legendary actor Dennis Hopper, which is really something to celebrate considering the man died in 2010. It’s been a long road to release for the film, and stress shows throughout the effort, which arrives with good intentions but seems unfinished and unfocused. The feature aims to be a satire of the festival experience, taking in the diverse personalities and temperaments of those who participate in such public celebrations of cinema. It’s a topic worthy of an extensive pantsing, playing up anxiety felt by creative forces and snobbery shared by attendees. “The Last Film Festival” doesn’t have the precision to successfully slap around the setting, but it does have Hopper, who’s part of an ensemble trying their best to make sure co-writer/director Linda Yellen has something to work with.
Movie producer Nick (Dennis Hopper) is in a tight spot, trying to drum
up interest in his latest production, “Barium Enigma,” which stars one of his
mistresses, Chloe (Katrina Bowen). Bringing the picture to the O’Hi Film
Festival in Ohio, Nick is stunned to find the title attracting little attention
from the press, coming down on an agent (Joseph Cross) in charge of spreading
news about the title. Hoping to bring some stardom to the Midwest, Nick flies
actress Claudia (Jacqueline Bisset) into town, but her diva antics prove to be
overwhelming, adding to the producer’s headache, who’s already worried about
his production’s ability to find positive buzz. While festival president, local
undertaker Harvey Weinstein (Chris Kattan), inches closer to Claudia, his
object of desire, Nick’s woes multiply with the arrival of The Stalker (Leelee
Sobieski), a young woman claiming to be his daughter.
It’s been quite some time since “The Last Film Festival” was shot (production dates are unclear, but it looks like it was made around 2009), creating an unusual viewing experience where film festivals weren’t a weekly event, blogs were a desired publicity “get,” Paula Abdul references were hot, and everyone had a flip phone for communication purposes. There’s a time machine aspect to the picture, but Yellen gets down to business quickly, catching up with Nick in his car, juggling priorities as he makes his way to the O’Hi Festival, trying to keep Claudia and Chloe interested in attending, despite their distaste for each other. It’s the big debut for “Barium Enigma,” and no other festival wanted the movie, leaving Nick with no choice but small town Ohio, working his charms on Mayor Marion (an amusing JoBeth Williams) to turn the screening into an event, and one that’s given live coverage by the local news.
Nick’s management of mishaps takes up most of “The Last Film Festival.” He’s struggling with visibility, chastising the agent who doesn’t build up excitement around “Barium Enigma.” There’s a subplot devoted to missing leading man ZZ (Agim Kaba), who gets lost on his way to the premiere, caught up in his own misadventures on the road, leaving the producer with limited star power to entice audiences. And there’s a question of paternity, watching the Stalker emerge from the shadows with a special claim that Nick can’t handle on such an important day, blurring his headspace as an affair two decades ago results in an uncomfortably public introduction between father and daughter. Nick’s plight is passable, but “The Last Film Festival” is better with inside jokes and satiric jabs at festival organization, with O’Hi taking place inside the local high school. Classrooms are turned into screening rooms, and Yellen showcases the variety of pictures on display, some to empty rooms. While humor is lukewarm throughout (Donnell Rawlings portrays a black director who insists on the distinction “African-American” for everything he does), the helmer does find the absurdity of the situation, which is enough to engage, even without laughs.
“The Last Film Festival” could do without condescending jokes about Midwestern ways, finding pokes at Ohio simplicity lame (e.g. Claudia discovers lunch providers aren’t aware of fruit), taking time away from pure Hollywood razzing. Yellen is better with the cast, who deliver adequate work as the helmer struggles with her semi-Altman ambiance, leaving most of the picture’s appeal to the actors. The big draw is Hopper, and he’s committed throughout, delivering a spirited performance that helps “The Last Film Festival” move along, tracking Nick’s increasing panic. Yellen has slapped the effort together with hopes and prayers (and help from Kickstarter), finding various technical deficiencies throughout the viewing experience, but she does have Hopper, and he’s enough to charm, shining in a feature that tees up a promising premise, but lacks sharp humor to follow through on its potential.
How Dennis Hopper Made His Last Movie: Behind the Scenes of 'The Last Movie Festival' Anthony Haden-Guest interviews the director from The Daily Beast, October 4, 2016
It was at the Sundance Film Festival in 2009 that Linda Yellen met Dennis Hopper. Yellen is a producer with twenty credits, including such well-regarded low budget movies as Jacobo Timerman: Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number and Liberace, and she and Hopper were soon deep in movie-talk.
A crowd coagulated around them.
“It became so absurd that I said to Dennis, ‘This is one of the best film festivals in the world. I wonder what it’s like at the worst?”
Hopper’s reaction was unexpected.
“He said, ‘That’s a very funny idea. If you like I’ll do it.’
“I said, ‘Seriously?’”
“He said, ‘Of course! If I like the script.’”
It took Yellen two months. She called the movie The Last Movie Festival and the character she created for Hopper was a movie producer called Nick Twain.
“He’s a once-great producer,” Yellen said. “He knows all the tricks and has to turn around the greatest failure of his career. Otherwise he’ll never work again”.
This was, as Yellen knew, a provocative role to offer Hopper. He had well and truly been there—and less than a year and a half after their first meeting he would die, at the age of 74.
Hopper was born in Dodge City, Kansas, in 1936 and was still a child when the family moved to Kansas City, Missouri. As a child he liked painting but determined to become an actor, so moved in LA in his teens and shortly got cast in Rebel Without A Cause with James Dean in 1955. He was in another Dean movie, Giant, the following year.
In 1961 he married Brooke Hayward, who he had met while playing opposite her on Broadway. His youthful interest in art resurfaced and he became a collector of contemporary art, as he revealed in a 1999 interview.
He bought a Warhol Campbell’s Soup Can print off the wall of the dealer, Virginia Dwan, for $75 and posed for one of Warhol’s Screen Tests series in New York. He also bought a camera became an excellent photographer.
In 1963 Hopper shot a youthful Warhol, David Hockney, Henry Geldzahler and Jeff Goodman as a foursome and would shoot portraits of the artists Ed Ruscha and Roy Lichtenstein.
Brooke, the daughter of the producer Leland Hayward, was the first of Hopper’s five wives. They divorced in 1969, which was a busy time for Hopper, because being also when he directed Easy Rider, the movie in which he co-starred with Peter Fonda, and which he credited with introducing cocaine to America.
The overwhelming success of Easy Rider enabled Hopper to lay back. “He partied for about four years” said Yellen. He was producer and director on his next project, The Last Movie, and starred in it as “Kansas”.
It was released in 1971, got a prize at the Cannes Film Festival but was trashed by the critics, and you’ll find it listed as one of 20 Banned or Otherwise Unavailable Movies You Can Only Watch Online where it is described as “such a flop, the studio tried to erase its memory from the face of the earth.”
Hopper abandoned Hollywood and spent much of the 70s in a haze of drugs and alcohol.
The rebuilding of Hopper’s movie career began when he played a pothead photojournalist in Coppola’s Apocalypse Now.It continued with such movies as Blue Velvet.
He and Yellen’s project was greenly and they began shooting in 2009. It should be noted that, as with The Last Movie, an impending divorce darkened the shoot, but Hopper’s divorce from his fifth wife, Victoria, was way uglier, with her questioning his mental balance and Hopper accusing her of stealing his art.
The shoot nonetheless was tranquil.
“He was extremely polite,” says Jacqueline Bisset, one of the co-stars, a Brit, and longtime Los Angeleno. “He kept to himself. There was a certain tension about him.”
“None at all. He could be a little testy. Nothing out of the ordinary.”
The shoot was close to the part of Forest Hills, Queens, where Yellen grew up.
“We would walk around my old neighborhood and talk about anything but the film,” she said. “I once asked him if there was anything ‘that you never did that you wished you had done.’ He said, ‘I’ve never gotten relationships.’”
She confirmed Hopper had occasional spurts of ill-humor, one occasioned by the fact that it was a low budget movie, and she wanted to work quickly.
“I had given him eight pages of dialog. And he was furious,” she said. She added wistfully, “He was shooting pictures all the time. He had so many pictures and so many rolls of film. We all long for those pictures.”
The Last Movie Festival, is appropriately replete with sly movie references, as when the ”baby agent”, as played by Joseph Cross, somewhat channels the Tim Robbins character in Robert Altman’s The Player, the movie which shattered the industry wisdom that movies-about-movies always cratered.
But the most striking such reference has an eerily unintended reference and that is when ”Nick Twain,” played by a gleaming and robust-looking Dennis Hopper, is talking about his beginnings in Hollywood, which included work on King Vidor’s movie, Solomon and Sheba, and how the star, Tyrone Power, had died during the shoot.
The baby agent asks the Hopper character whether Solomon and Sheba was a hit?
“No. It was a flop,” he says.
Dennis Hopper took a break before the shoot was finished to do a commercial in Italy. He returned very unwell. ”He thought he had SARS virus,” Yellen said.
Hopper still had scenes to shoot but wasn’t up to it and left to recuperate in Taos, New Mexico, where he shared a house with his children. “He lived in a rebuilt cinema,” Yellen says. “How appropriate is that? We were in touch all through his illness which was three months, four months at most.”
Hopper died on May 29, 2010, at his home in Venice, Los Angeles.
The cause, Yellen learned, was a recurrence of prostate cancer.
Yellen, who had recently lost her father and a couple of close friends, one being Lynn Redgrave, was so stricken that she decided the movie was a goner.
The death of a star affects each movie project differently, Tyrone Power vanished from Solomon and Sheba and was replaced by his friend, Yul Brynner.
Natalie Wood, who drowned before shooting had finished on Brainstorm she was replaced by a stand-in on a few scenes and by sound-alikes for voice.
Bela Lugosi overdosed on formaldehyde after Ed Wood had only shot a few reels of Plan 9 from Outer Space. The lore is that Wood replaced him with his dentist to whom he owed money, ignoring the fact that he was a foot taller.
When Heath Ledger died, The Dark Knight was already being edited and when Philip Seymour Hoffman died most of his part on The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 2 had been shot.
“But you can kinda see in the last scenes that there’s something missing from his performance,” Yellen said.
Her down mood on The Last Film Festival dissipated. This was in part because of frequent inquiries about “what was happening to Dennis Hopper’s last movie” and mostly because so much material existed.
Other actors on the project, who included Bissett, Donnell Rawlings and Leelee Sobieski, supported a Kickstarter campaign, which raised the necessary moolah, and Yellen settled down to post-production. “There were plenty of out-takes with Dennis,” she said. “And there’s so much else going on in the movie. I don’t think you ever do not feel his presence.” It is seamless, also sexual and rowdily funny—so much so that I rather wondered what the reaction has been from the circuitry of film festivals. Had there been any resistance, I asked.
As it happens, yes. “We have found great sensitivity,” Yellen said. “Some of the bigger film festivals have felt it was indecorous to make fun of a smaller film festivals and have privately told us that. Rather than just join in the fun of it they have felt it was politically incorrect. And some of the smaller film festivals have felt that it maybe it shows too much. Because most film festivals are in the business of bringing business to that community, they don’t want anything that shows that it might be anything less than grand.”
That said, The Last Film Festival will be in the Santa Fe festival at the end of October.
“Dennis spent a lot of time in Santa Fe and Taos. And Taos is where he is buried,” Yellen said. The movie just opened in Los Angeles and Chicago.
“Dennis was buried in an American-Indian graveyard,” Yellen said. “You know what happens at Jim Morrison’s grave in Père Lachaise [the famous Parisian cemetery]. I can see that happening with Dennis. People will bring bandanas from Apocalypse Now, bottles of Jim Beam—things that reference that extraordinary career.”
The Last Film Festival Clip For Dennis Hopper's Final Film | Indie Liz Calvario from indieWIRE
The Last Film Festival' Review | Hollywood Reporter Sheri Linden
'The Last Film Festival' is not a fitting tribute to Dennis Hopper - L Robert Abele from The LA Times
THE OWNERS B- 82
A portrait of miserablism, poverty and gloom, as seen through a surrealist lens where tragedy and dark comedy intersect, where it’s worth noting that the remote nation of Kazakhstan, known as one of the least densely populated nations on earth (only Canada and Australia are lower) with less than 15 people per square mile, yet it has produced two of the most weirdly unusual films to hit film festivals in the past two years, with this coming after Emir Baigazin’s Harmony Lessons (Uroki garmonii) (2013), one of the best directed and edited films from last year. Both are young directors that have graduated from the Kazakh National Academy of Arts, so New Kazakh cinema has become a breeding ground of originality and novelty. Actually THE OWNERS is a follow-up to his previous film, the 67-minute black and white short film CONSTRUCTORS (2013) Constructors | Stroiteli | FIFF | Fribourg International Film ..., shooting in wildly exaggerated colors, where both are low-key, absurdist treatments of the difficulties encountered by individuals that strive to maintain any sense of dignity when they are swallowed up whole by the apathy and indifference of a Kafkaesque Eastern European bureaucracy that may as well be the remnants of a Stalinist Soviet system left behind, as Kazakhstan was the last of the Soviet republics to declare independence following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. While the overall effect is a bit like Kaurismäki, with similar deadpan acting, but it’s not Kaurismäki, leaving something to be desired, namely the wit and zany characters that inhabit a Kaurismäki film. It may be closer in tone to the Yorgos Lanthimos film DOGTOOTH (2009), though stylistically quite different, as both are interested in creating a weird and entirely unusual universe that seemingly exists on its own, as if floating on air, where much of it carries a fantasy oriented atmosphere of surrealist caricature.
Our three orphaned protagonists are introduced by a child’s drawing where we see 25-year old John (Aidyn Sakhaman), the reluctant patriarch, an ex-con who has done time for petty crimes and remains unemployed, his younger teenage brother Yerbol (Yerbolat Yerzhan), a handsome aspiring actor who retains his sense of idealism, and their sickly 12-year old epileptic sister Aliya (Aliya Zainalova) who remains the most innocent of all, where the two young