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
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
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
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
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 De-Chang)
Yang, Edward World Cinema
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 (link lost)
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,
"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,
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,
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
Edward Yang | Obituaries | News |
Telegraph from the
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
Yang Dechang 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
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. -Andréa Picard
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
Taiwan Cinema in the 80s
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
Yang: Move over, Ang world class rival coming through ... Jonathan Romney from The Independent,
Arts: Darkness and Light Brian
Cinema from the
iFilm 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
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 John Anderson,
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
Posts tagged A brighter summer day at Cinematical Memorial tributes,
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,
Doc Films A Time for
Freedom: Taiwanese Filmmakers in
Transition, essay by
Martin Scorsese guides Cannes Classics Rebecca Leffler at Cannes from The Hollywood Reporter, April 28, 2009
Rational Mind: The Films of Edward Yang Simon Abrams from Slant,
TSPDT - Edward Yang They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They
Edward Yang in conversation Shelly Kraicer amd Lisa Roosen-Runge from CineAction, October 1998
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 in modern-day
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,
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.
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
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
Doc Films A Time for Freedom: Taiwanese Filmmakers in Transition, essay
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
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 dominant.
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
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 '
topic - Edward Yang Edward
Yang film reviews by zedz on the Criterion Forum,
Rational Mind: The Films of Edward Yang Simon Abrams from Slant,
Talking Moviezzz Sean Allan
THE TERRORIZER (Kong bu fen zi) A 96
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.
Set in modern-day
Time Out review Tony Rayns
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" (
Doc Films A Time for Freedom: Taiwanese Filmmakers in Transition, essay
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
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.
topic - Edward Yang Edward
Yang film reviews by zedz on the Criterion Forum,
Talking Moviezzz Review Sean Allan
Defining "Chinese" New Chinese Cinemas: Forms, Identities, Politics, by Yeh Yueh-yu from Jump Cut, December 1998
A BRIGHTER SUMMER DAY A+ 100+
An Incident on
This film is prefaced in a historical context, with the understanding that Chinese Taiwan was formed in 1949 with several million Chinese being forced 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
The film took 5 years in preparation, and although completed in 1991, it has never found a distributor, it involves a cast of over 100 speaking parts, largely non-professional teen-age actors, 92 different sets, it takes 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, family chaos, the constant threat of gang fights, the need for a good education, the idea that hard work can bring success, is seen as paramount.
The film features Xiao S’ir as the quiet, young boy who develops a crush on Ming, who was the girl friend of Honey, 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; 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, he is oblivious to this conformity. While walking to discuss a peace treaty with Shandong, the new leader of the 217 gang, Honey is pushed in front of a car, as he is shoved, the film immediately cuts back to the school auditorium where a Taiwanese band is performing “Don’t Be Cruel” to the absolute delight of the screaming kids, probably the happiest moment in their lives.
But this murder leads to acts of revenge, the
massacre in the night that takes place during a typhoon of rain during one of
In the middle of the night, S’ir’s father is arrested by the secret police for unnamed charges, they demand a full confession on all persons he’s ever encountered since he arrived in Taiwan, 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, the punishment begins. Some are forced to sit on large blocks of ice, 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 dream of salvation, I initially thought, 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, 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, his wife 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. Just as S’ir is kicked out of school for accumulating behavior demerits, his father loses his government job and all sense of family security, both 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. S’ir’s mother and father have an argument 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, S’ir sits silently in the dark outside the house with the 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 of his selfish behavior 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, when S’ir hears from others that Ming has had various affairs, including one now with Ma, 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. 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.
Time Out review 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.
SFIAAFF - A Brighter Summer Day
Tony Rayns from the
A Brighter Summer Day is a picture of
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 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
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
"The richest novelistic movie made by anyone during the 90s . . . A
Brighter Summer Day is arguably the greatest of all Taiwanese films."
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
A Brighter Summer Day Ed Gonzalez from Slant magazine
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 , 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
Doc Films A Time for Freedom: Taiwanese Filmmakers in Transition, essay
Even a brief overview
Pressured by foreign competition, mostly from the
With the death of
Chiang Kai-shek and the diplomatic isolation that followed the 1971 UN decision
to recognize the People's Republic of
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,
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
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
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
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.
and modernity in A Brighter Summer Day
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.
Two Chinese men of the
cinema David Bordwell from
Observations on Film Art.
topic - Edward Yang Edward
Yang film reviews by zedz on the Criterion Forum (Introduction),
topic - Edward Yang Edward Yang
film reviews by zedz on the Criterion Forum (Story and Structure),
• View topic - Edward Yang Edward Yang film reviews by zedz on the Criterion Forum (Style and Technique), August 11, 2008, which is followed by colinr0380’s postings August 12 of many of the film’s images
Twitch (Todd Brown) review Eight Rooks
Talking Moviezzz Sean Allan
Series Details New Chinese Cinema from UCLA Film & Television Archive
Top Ten List 1997 Eric C. Johnson
UCCA - Artist's Choice I: Last year at Marienbad & A Brighter ... Artist Qiu Zhijie recommends four films that have influenced his art
A Brighter Summer Day (1991) The Auteurs
“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
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 BRIGHTER SUMMER DAY), 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
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 CNW from Reverse Shot
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 Criterion disc).
Yi Yi became something of an international sensation earlier in the decade, winning Yang the best director prize at
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.
Criterion essay by Kent Jones
Senses of Cinema (George Wu) review April 2001
topic - Edward Yang Edward
Yang film reviews by zedz on the Criterion Forum (Page 2),
CANNES REVIEW: A One and a Two: Edward
Yang’s The Meaning of Life Mark Peranson at
Edward Yang (11/6/47- 6/29/07) Noel Vera also discusses BRIGHTER SUMMER DAY from Critic After Dark
Talking Pictures (UK) review Alan Pavelin
In These Times
25/09 -- A Family in Full
Joshua Rothkopf from In These
Reel.com review [3.5/4] Tor Thorsen
PopMatters review Lucas Hilderbrand
Rational Mind: The Films of Edward Yang Simon Abrams from Slant,
DVD Times [Criterion] Noel Megahey
Reel.com dvd review [3.5/4] Pam Grady
DVD Times Mark Boydell
Yi Yi Glenn Heath from Slant, Blu-Ray
FilmsDiversUK Philippe Serve reviews in English and French (review is at the bottom)
EXEUNT EDWARD YANG Jeremy Smith from CHUD
Jigsaw Lounge (Neil Young) review [5/10] a three-hour exercise in tedium
eFilmCritic.com (Greg Muskewitz) review [2/5] a long roll of over-exposed film
Guardian -- 2001 interview by Duncan Campbell Take Two, from The Guardian,
The History of Cinema. Edward Yang: biography, filmography ... a detailed film synopsis
Entertainment Weekly review [A] Lisa Schwarzbaum
Seattle Post-Intelligencer review William Arnold
The New York Times (A.O. Scott) review October 4, 2000
DVDBeaver dvd review Gary W. Tooze
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
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
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.
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
Turner Classic Movies review 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.
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.
Old School Reviews [John Nesbit] also seen here:
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 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 younger actors reprise their roles from CONSTRUCTORS. Aliya continually sees the world through a kind of magical realism where people are always smiling and happy, often seen performing dance routines, where this whimsical element is a stark contrast to the gloom that inhabits the rest of the picture. Forced to leave the city when they can no longer pay the rent, they move to a remote village where their deceased mother left them a house, carrying the deed to the property with them. Unfortunately it’s currently inhabited by Zhuba (Bauyrzhan Kaptagai), the alcoholic brute of a brother to the local police chief (Nurbek Mukushev) who has been living there illegally for the past 10 years. In this lawless frontier, possession takes precedence over any existing laws, as Zhuba wages an intimidation campaign and beats the crap out of John after he files a complaint with the police, while a visit to the housing ministry only results in the futility of trying to do anything about it, reduced to a portrait of comic absurdity, a throwback to a faceless and heartless Kafkaesque world where reason never prevails, where grievances remain in a state of limbo for months and problems are left to be resolved by hand-to-hand human combat, resorting to a survival of the fittest Darwinian universe where the weak are stomped on by more powerful Stalinist forces. It’s a bleak and hopeless existence where John eventually gets arrested, where despite the dubious nature of the charges, there are signs that he will never be released, and the younger siblings are forced to survive on their own, where all that is saving them at the moment are Aliya’s charmingly innocent visions.
Duped into signing away ownership of the house, lured by the false promise of John’s freedom, the director likes to line up all the interested parties and shoot them in a tableaux shot where once again they are seen as just actors, where this offers a temporary relief from the descent into oblivion facing this family. Perhaps part of the problem with this film is a similar one depicted in Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing (2012), where the collaborators and perpetrators of the heinous acts of genocide are seen as mere caricatures, lending a cartoonish aura of ridiculousness to their nature that not only influences but overshadows whatever horrors they committed. This exaggerated comical absurdity overwhelms the grotesque nature of their crimes, where the artificiality of style, expressed through extreme violence and Hollywood dreamlike dance sequences with saturated colors, allows them to portray themselves as fools, where they may hide and take cover within the mysterious ambiguities of artistic presentation, where fiction is as distorted as reality. The heartlessness of a Stalinist regime is prevalent in both Kazakh and Russian films, where the stone cold rigidity of the system remains intact, even under the authority of a different nationality. Yerzhanov then abandons any concept of realism and prefers to emphasize the darker more satiric elements of a Kafkaesque society, but in doing so the film makes so many tonal shifts that he loses any visionary claim to authenticity and begins referencing the stylizations of others, from early Kaurismäki to Fellini to Tsai Ming-liang to the comic invention of Wes Anderson, where there’s even a tribute to SCARFACE (1983) and Vincent van Gogh. While the film never seems to work, the fun is watching it stumble all over itself with clever ideas it really doesn’t know what to do with. Yerzhanov’s picture of an absurdly decaying system of authority is saturated in an unreal universe that becomes almost too magical, where there is no question that it is a compelling style, but it grows much too absurd. Does the artistic style of the film equate to emotional truths or human drama, or does it provoke ideas or complex thought? And while it’s visually quite strong and startlingly unique, there’s some question whether it actually offers anything new.
12 June (Chicago): As preparation for serving as a “mentor” to student film critics at the Edinburgh Film Festival, I watch online a film they’re assigned to write about, Adilkhan Yerzhanov’s The Owners from Kazakhstan. This is quite a revelation — at least for me, if not, as I later discover, for most of the students. Three city siblings arrive in the county to claim the ramshackle hut they’ve inherited from their deceased mother, and the tragicomic misadventures and forms of corruption that they encounter oscillate between grim realism, absurdist genre parody, and dreamlike surrealism, culminating in a doom-ridden yet festive dance in which both victims and victimizers participate. Unlike the hyperbolic violence that brutalizes the characters of Jia Zhange’s A Touch of Sin by reducing their humanity, Yerzhanov’s use of genre staples actually expands his expressive and emotional palette without foreshortening our sense of the people involved.
For the second year in a row, one of the standout movies at the fest is from
Two brothers and their sick sister move to their father’s beat-up country cottage after their mother’s death, only to find the aging village bully is squatting there, backed up by his gang of goons and the corrupt local cops. Their fight to keep it takes dark and twisted, near-Lynchian turns. Every frame is a work of art, from the police station where the policemen are dressed in conical party hats to the wheelless car sitting high on a rural plateau. And we haven’t even mentioned the sister’s hallucinations and the sinister man who lurks in a cellar.
The bizarre tale builds to a bleak crescendo, and a larger metaphor for the cruel absurdities that keep the former Soviet country circling in poverty. Bitingly funny, warped, and there’s even a reference to Scarface.
TIFF 2014 | The Owners (Adilkhan Yerzhanov, Kazakhstan ... Michael Sicinski from Cinema Scope
It’s difficult to evaluate a film as aggressively unusual as The Owners. Despite its grating quirks and featherweight jabs at social commentary, it cannot be summarily dismissed. This is the sort of film that is likely to garner not just defenders but a small coterie of genuine fans, folks who see director Adilkhan Yerzhanov as some sort of bizarre visionary. He’s certainly consistent in his preoccupations, as this is his fourth feature film to revolve around familial property rights. At its core, The Owners is a rather typical clash between interlopers from the city (in this case, the Kazakh capital of Almaty) entering a small village and facing systematic xenophobia. Three orphaned kids—eldest brother John (Aidyn Sakhaman), who has done time for petty crime; Yerbol (Yerbolat Yerzhan), the handsome, idealistic middle brother; and Aliya (Aliya Zainalova), the kid sister with an illness that remains unspecified until the final reel—come back to their late mother’s village to live in her old house, deed in hand. Only problem is, the police chief’s family has been squatting in the empty place, and these city kids’ claim means next to nothing in drunken, backwater Absurdistan. As The Owners progresses, Yerzhanov gleefully abandons any claims to realism, operating within an overdetermined, Kafkaesque register that I believe is supposed to read as black comedy. But tonally the film is all over the place, and as you find yourself noticing ideas cribbed from other filmmakers, the sheer incongruity with which they’re jammed together makes the experience something a little less than a game of Spot the Reference. Instead, it seems more like Yerzhanov is acting out of reflex, as if throwing Felliniesque peasant dancing and oily-faced grotesqueries next to a Kaurismäkian al fresco rhythm section, or a painterly play of light inside a ramshackle cottage straight out of the Pedro Costa playbook, is going to result in some rich stylistic mélange. (We even get a Hal Hartley coda.) None of it works, but it does show “work,” and lots of it. So like I say, The Owners will certainly impress a vocal minority. And in the end, that’s fine; Yerzhanov is hardly talentless and there’s nothing aggressively awful here worth getting fired up about. I’d just expect an artist to have a much more developed voice by Film #4.
'The Owners': Cannes Review - The Hollywood Reporter Stephen
Cannes Film Review: 'The Owners' | Variety Alissa Simon
It was another age, another lifetime ago, but at one point being a stewardess was actually a "glamour" job, one that applicants worked hard to attain. I must admit even today I am blown away by the linguistic skills of some flight attendants on east asian airlines, who must be at least tri-lingual to even be considered for the job. In 1959, they test the women rigorously, to see if they have the right spirit, and most importantly to see if they smile "from the heart." Next comes the "body check." None of this is sexist or anything, is it? And anyway, when's the swimsuit competition?
Lin Keping (Grace Chang) wants to be a stewardess, but her family wants her to get married. "I don't want to be a caged canary," she tells them, "I want to fly in the sky!" And of course, with a smile like hers, she's a shoe-in for the position. And that handsome man dressed as a pilot she met at a costume party, Lei Daying (Roy Chiao), wasn't in costume at all, but in uniform. Romance blossoms on the ground, though in the air Lei does a Jekyl and Hyde routine ("Don't neglect your service attitude!") he admonishes her, sternly.
Her friends, who have names but should probably just be known by their one dimensional character attributes (the shy one, the sexy one, etc.) all have their struggles and triumphs as well on the road to being flight attendants.
Sometimes it all just looks like a tourist brochure, as
inbetween flights the girls and boys date while sightseeing in
Grace Chang, of course, also happens to be a good singer, and she does a handful of musical numbers. While her singing is great, and the music is fun, the way the numbers are staged is painful, almost always involving a room full of people standing in a circle watching her quietly, while she sings with a big self-confident smile on her face. It's all somewhat annoying.
In the end, Grace Chang says words I long to hear a flight attendant say once more: "Have a drink." But alas, it seems even the free cocktails, the last little bit of extra care given to passengers for their fare, has disappeared.
She goes on to explain the moral of this romantic musical, in case you missed it: "It's comfortable, fun, and also safe to take the plane." Let's flying!
[The quality of the Panorama DVD is not very satisfying, with background colors occasionally "strobing" in a distracting, headache-inducing way.]
HOSTESS Keith from
Modernity, diasporic capital, and 1950s Hong Kong Mandarin cinema Poshek Fu from Jump Cut, Spring 2007
THREE FRIENDS (Sechinku)
This terrific first feature by one of
It is quite an incidence that Takeshi Kitano's 'Kids Return(1996)'
has all the same plot to this film and the same releasing date. Both films
investigate the serious problem(extremely competitive
college entrance and stereotyped curriclum regardless of student's talent and
interest) of second-level educational system in
Life is certainly not easy for social misfits in any
culture. But ''Three Friends'' suggests that to be young and different in
As misfits everywhere tend to do, these working-class youths cling to one another less out of mutual admiration and shared interests than out of desperation for companionship. Kim Taemoo (Kim Hyungsung), the hardiest, is a gifted cartoonist who becomes an apprentice for a company where he is humiliated with mindless drudgery and finds his original ideas stolen by his bosses. After quitting, he goes to desperate lengths to try to avoid the draft.
Cho Sein (Chung Heesuk), a delicate, effeminate youth, lives a hellish existence with his mother, a hairdresser, and an alcoholic, abusive father. The third friend, Kong Seungho (Lee Jangwon), is an obese, bungling video store clerk who fights off his terror of the future with food.
This touching movie, directed and written by Yim Soon-Rye, one of South Korea's only female film makers, is a compassionate examination of the shame that can devastate young people who, for one reason or another, are poorly equipped to play society's game.
At the same time, it offers a sharp critique of the conformist, militaristic culture that turns its back on them.
Lim Soon-rye's Waikiki Brothers, like Bungee Jumping and many other native narratives, is fraught with the intimate trauma of Korean public schools and the melancholy of outgrowing them. The film patiently observes the dissolution of a dancehall/wedding band as the various members face middle age poor, alone, and unsuccessful; by turns mature and pulpy, Lim's movie possesses a consistent rigor. The troupe's various debacles often take place a room away from where we see them, and always in uninterrupted takes; the start-it-up garage-band myth has never had such a witty and despairing redress.
It took nearly five years for Director Im Sun-rye to return to feature film since her brilliant Three Friends (1996). For anyone who appreciates Korean cinema, the long wait was worth it. Waikiki Brothers was, like Take Care of My Cat, largely ignored in its initial release, but has since developed a very loyal fan base, mostly out of strong word of mouth.
The film chronicles the fate of a shoddy nightclub band named, as you may have guessed, Waikiki Brothers. As it opens, the lead vocal Sung-woo (Lee Uhl), having run out of other options, reluctantly signs a contract with a hotel in his hometown Suanbo, a washed-up resort town, once famous for its hot springs. Along with him for the ride are a bear-like, soft-hearted drummer Kang-soo (Whang Jeong-min) and a lecherous keyboardist Jong-suk (Pak Won-sang). However, Sung-woo's plan for a fresh start is compromised by Kang-soo's addiction to gambling and drugs and Jong-suk's compulsive womanizing. Meanwhile, Sung-woo runs into his old schoolmates, who used to play together in their high school rock band (from which the current band's moniker originated), and the object of his teenage crush, Inhee (Oh Ji-hye). For Sung-woo, these encounters, instead of evoking nostalgia for good old times, serve as rather bitter reminders of the ravages of time, and how becoming an adult means paying the price of having to forget the carefree pleasure of making music.
Im Sun-rye's directorial style may initially strike you as old-fashioned naturalism. She keeps most of her compositions in middle or long distance: there are hardly any close-ups. Any type of technical razzle-dazzle that calls attention to itself -- even jump cuts or interesting color schemes -- has been rigorously excluded. The only flight of fancy she allows is the insertion of Sung-woo's flashback of the naked frolic with his high school buddies into the karaoke video played during the "orgy" sequence. And yet, her "distancing" narrative strategy does not result in the loss of empathy. We are denied voyeuristic pleasure, but we never lose intimate relationships with the characters.
Waikiki Brothers is not lugubrious. It has its funny moments, although none of it is overtly "comedic." During the screening I attended, the sequence where Kang-soo, now a bus driver, begins to uncontrollably weep while berating his erstwhile bandmate brought down the house. The humor rises out of the recognizable absurdity of the situation, not out of any calculated strategy to tickle the viewer's funnybone. On the other hand, without making any fuss, Im allows us to glimpse into the all-too-real suffering and sheer despair of the characters. For instance, Kim Kyung-ho as Sung-woo's guitar instructor presents one of the most convincing and harrowing portrayals of an alcoholic I have seen in any movie. When Sung-woo's former schoolmate (Shin Hyun-jong), fired from the city office job and suicidally depressed, asks him, "Are you happy? You are the only one who is doing what you wanted," the statement is like a stab in the heart. In the end, though, Im wraps up the film with a cautiously optimistic ending that seems to vindicate Sung-woo's dogged commitment to performing music. The movie is mostly cast with relatively unknown theatrical actors, but the acting is for the most part excellent. I only learned later that many small but not insignificant roles in the movie were in fact filled with non-actors: they blend seamlessly with professional thespians. Even Ryu Seung-beom, the only acknowledged "star" in the cast, plays a relatively subdued character, whose story arc has a witty, so-this-is-the-generation-gap-in-Korea resolution.
Waikiki Brothers is a tough, restrained but ultimately compassionate film that you may wish to revisit many times, to relish its flavor that, like good wine, gets better with repeated viewings.
Knitting Dan Fainaru at
An unlikely ménage a trios drifts on the margins of legality while struggling to make a living of sorts in Yin Lichuan's deliberately reticent film. If withholding information rates as an artistic achievement, then Knitting could make a mark in arthouse berths and find its way into the odd festival. But for most this exhausting film will be a struggle.
Daiping (Zhang Yi) lives with Chen Jin (Lu Yulai) when his former mistress Haili (Yan Bingyan) installs herself in their flat and almost takes over the household. She entices him into a series of unspecified petty crimes, while Daiping is left at home to sulk and knit shawls that nobody needs. When Haili leaves with a man from her past, Daiping gets pregnant but before the baby arrives Chen's luck runs out and he is kidnapped by gangsters. Haili returns out of the blue with a tentative promise that things might start getting better.
Yin Lichuan seems to be commenting on China's growing infatuation with money and commerce, how people are forced to stick together to deal with the problems life throws at them and that the streets of the city are not paved with gold, but the script is sketchy on information and makes none of this very clear. As for the characters, Daiping is a passive-aggressive personality and Haili has a good side despite acting like a bully while Chen is a hopeless man, deluding himself that he has authority and gambling his life away on impossible schemes which backfire on him. Nothing is explored nor developed in depth, as if any explanation would be an indulgence.
All three actors tackle their parts gamely, given the limitations imposed by the script, while technical credits are only satisfactory.
At Cannes, a Look at Italian Politics and a Peek at American Films ... Manohla Dargis from the New York Times
There are several South Korean films at
Winner of the FIPRESCI, NETPAC and other awards at
the 2005 Pusan Film Festival, The Unforgiven is a feature-length
graduation thesis film from undergraduate director Yoon Jong-bin.
Despite its rough edges due to technical limitations and a low budget, the film
was a smash hit at
Those who have seen Yim Soon-rye's 1996 masterpiece Three Friends might recall a disturbing sequence in which the protagonist asks one of his friends to smash his shoulder with a piece of wood so that he could avoid being drafted into military service. The reduction of all human relationships into a rigid hierarchy, experienced in the two years of mandatory military service, maintained through small and large violations of private space (both external and internal) as well as small and large mechanisms of enforcement, from casually handed-down insults and corporal punishment to sexual harassment (among men: women are not drafted), casts a very long shadow on the lives of Korean men. And yet, few Korean films, if any, have directly tackled the subject of what really goes on inside the military, and what the experience means for male Koreans. The Unforgiven manages to grapple with this difficult subject, with an admirable level of thoughtfulness and honesty.
With its clever flashback structure, the film has the outline of a mystery, but it is at heart an intimate character study of two figures, Tae-jeong (the charismatic and handsome Ha Jeong-woo) and Seung-young (Seo Jang-won, pictured above, whose feminine beauty and vulnerable yet neurotic glances remind one of a young Christopher Walken). As the film opens, we see Sergeant Tae-jeong beating up a "junior" soldier in the restroom, mouthing tiresome I-am-doing-all-this-because-I-care-about-you cliches. One day he is introduced to Seung-young, a rookie. To their initial delight, they recognize each other as old school chums. Tae-jeong takes Seung-young under his wing and attempts to coach the latter in the "ways of military." But Seung-young, unable to tolerate the rampant unreason and you-gotta-do-it-no-matter-how-stupid- the-order-is (il)logic of grunt life, soon has himself pegged as a troublemaker. When Seung-young resolves to treat a spectacularly incompetent rookie Ji-hoon (played by director Yoon) differently from other "seniors," his stubborn sense of justice leads only to further problems for all concerned.
Director Yoon makes a number of shrewd choices that prevent the film from being mawkish or preachy. Seung-young's character, in particular, is well-drawn: he is not portrayed as a stalwart reformer but as a rather irritating, almost paranoid, nerd. His behavior, such as his refusal, for instance, to be photographed with a dika phone (cell phones with digital camera rigged inside), sets him apart from the rest of Koreans, whose sense of individual privacy is frequently dismantled by their sense of obligation to camaraderie or esprit de corps, or, perhaps more truthfully, their fear of ostracism. Some viewers might be desperately annoyed by Seung-young's inability to tell Tae-jeong just what he wants, but this aspect of his characterization resonated with me absolutely: the portrayal of a Korean man who simply cannot articulate his inner turmoil in an intelligible, rational language is dead-on. Director Yoon's own acting as Ji-hoon also deserves a special mention: he is transformed, without nary a misstep on his part, from a laughable dumb-clown figure, who seemingly "deserves" all the abuse and insults heaped upon him, to a wretched victim of emotional abuse and alienation, whose spiritual despair, when finally displayed in public, hits the viewer in the guts.
The Unforgiven is not without flaws, of course. The film's "mystery" plot and its resolution turn out to be something of a letdown (not to mention predictable), like the "revelation" about Jeong-hye's past in This Charming Girl. One could legitimately question, as Kim Young-jin (Film 2.0) does, the wisdom of Yoon's choice to rely on the "shock treatment" of a climax for generating desired emotional effects. Still, ultimately, The Unforgiven's virtues outweigh its shortcomings. It is neither a professionally polished genre film nor a didactic "message" movie. It is an honest, albeit confrontational, character-driven drama about two types of young men in South Korea -- one who learned to "adjust" himself to the military service and one who could not -- so common, yet so completely ignored by all of Korean popular culture, not just cinema. Whatever its critics may say about it, The Unforgiven is not a straightforward indictment of the Korean military: its "negative" depiction of the institution does not really go beyond describing what is "business as usual." The film's real object of inquiry, as it were, is the tragic price of denial, of shunting aside the absurd, horrid, unjust, and irrational aspect of one's life-experience into a small, dark corner and not talking about it.
Near the ending, Tae-jeong's girlfriend asks him, "How is, what's his name, your military buddy, doing?" and he answers casually, "He's doing okay." Tae-jeong then locks himself in the restroom and keeps repeating the phrase, "He's doing okay, he's doing okay... he is really doing fine..." with his haunted eyes fixed on himself in the mirror. Far more powerful than the J.S.A-like coda preceding the end credits, this scene is one of the most painfully honest renderings of young Korean men I have seen in a Korean film, whose souls are eaten away by the price they paid for having "adjusted" themselves to become good soldiers and upstanding "real men." The Unforgiven is a must-see for anyone who seeks to gain insight into the inner psychology of Korean men, and a stupendously promising debut for yet another talented Korean filmmaker.
Yorkin sets up a family drama with Hackman as paterfamilias, Burstyn devoted wife, Dennehy drinking chum, Madigan married daughter, Sheedy unmarried daughter. Having given us the satiric Divorce American Style two decades ago, he now serves up 'Divorce Serious Style', with Hackman falling for barmaid Ann-Margret. But while there is an admirable depiction of 'real' people at work or settling down for the big match with a six-pack, the material is still no more than the great middle class drama of adultery, worked out with its very familiar rows and guilts. The acting, however, is a fascinating primer in just who can handle the medium. Burstyn and Madigan come out as if born to the art.
Gene Hackman as a solid, plain-speaking, blue-collar family man; Ellen Burstyn as his emotionally shriveled, timid wife; and Ann-Margret as the vivacious, warmhearted widow with whom Hackman falls in love. Directed by Bud Yorkin (one of the dominant personalities behind All in the Family), this weightless melodrama exhibits the kind of condescending "fairness" (nobody's right, nobody's wrong--these things just happen, that's all) that is often taken for artistic maturity, but just as frequently reflects a reluctance to engage the material on a deep emotional level. Yorkin skitters along the surface, limiting the characterizations to blandly pleasant TV stereotypes, stifling the situations with psychobabble when the feelings threaten to become unmanageable. You only have to compare it to any random Cassavetes film to know how phony it is, yet this is the sort of comforting phoniness (Yorkin suggests that the wife is better off for being dumped--she'll be able to find herself now) that has always meant box office. With Amy Madigan, Ally Sheedy, Stephen Lang, and Darrell Larson; the screenplay is by Colin Welland (Chariots of Fire).
Everyday American life is so rare in the movies these days
that some of the pleasures of "Twice in a Lifetime" are very simple
ones, like seeing a family around a dinner table, or watching a kid sister
prepare for her wedding day. The rhythms of life and the normal patterns of
speech seemed almost unfamiliar, after all the high-tech thrillers and teenage
idiot films I've seen this year. This film was so sensible, perceptive and
grown-up that I almost looked for the subtitles. The film stars Gene
Hackman as a workingman whose marriage is happy in all the official ways,
and dead in the personal ways. His wife (Ellen
Burstyn) has centered her life entirely around her
home and family to such an extent that on Hackman's birthday she doesn't even
want to go out with him. She tells him to go down to the corner tavern and
enjoy himself. And she means it. There is a lot missing in this marriage.
At the saloon, Hackman meets the new barmaid (Ann-Margret), and begins a wary process of falling in love with her. He eventually decides to leave his wife and move in with this woman, and his decision causes upheaval throughout his family. His wife is devastated. But the angriest family member is his oldest daughter (Amy Madigan), who bitterly resents the way he's dumping them - especially when her kid sister (Ally Sheedy) is about to get married.
"Twice in a Lifetime" stacks its cards very carefully, and cuts the deck more than once. One of the strengths of the movie is that it allows us to see so many points of view. Hackman has not simply dumped his wife for a sex bomb; the Ann-Margret character has been around the block a few times and operates from a center of quiet realism. It is possibly true that the life and growth has gone out of his marriage. Perhaps he deserves another chance - although the movie is too hasty to assume that his wife does, too, if only she knew it.
The most complicated and interesting character in the movie is Amy Madigan's angry daughter. She's mad about more than the broken marriage. Her husband is out of work, and in her late 20s she feels somewhat trapped by her marriage and children. A lot of her hopes have gone into her kid sister. She wants her to go to college and make a future for herself, but Ally Sheedy is rushing into her own early marriage. Madigan acts as the contact point between the various parts of the story: loving her sister, exasperated by her, standing by her mom, resentfully excluding her father. It's quite an assignment, and as she tries to balance all those demands we see one of the most complex movie characters in a long time (have you noticed how many recent movies assign their characters one duty and one mood and think that's enough?).
The Gene Hackman and Ann-Margret characters are complex, too. They are attracted not by lust but by the promise of a new life. They both feel that when they get up in the morning there's nothing to look forward to all day. This movie knows one of the differences between young love and middle-aged love: Kids often are motivated by romance, but people in their 40s and 50s sometimes are inspired by the most romantic ideal of all - idealism, and the notion that they have found a mate for their minds.
The least-defined character in "Twice in a Lifetime" is the wife, played by Burstyn. Her husband has made his decision and left her to make hers. At first she is simply lost. Eventually she starts picking up the pieces, and she gets a job in the local beauty parlor. She even gets a new hairdo (in one of the movies' most durable cliches). By the end of the film she has started to realize that she, too, was trapped by the marriage. But there is the slightest feeling that her realization owes more to the convenience of the screenplay than to her own growth.
The movie does not have a conventional happy ending. Life will go on, and people will strive, and new routines will replace old ones. The movie has no villains and few heroes. But it has given us several remarkable scenes, especially two confrontations between Madigan and Hackman, one in a bar, the other at a wedding rehearsal, in which the movie shows how much children expect from their parents, and how little the parents often have to give. Growing up is learning that parents are fallible. The people who find that hardest to learn are parents.
Consuming Families, by Elayne Rapping from Jump Cut
Read the New York Times Review » Janet Maslin
aka: The Guest Who Came on the Last Train
Yu Hyun-mok, described by some as the most
intellectual filmmaker of
Yu presents his group of characters in an objective fashion, without focusing too closely on any one person. The characters are linked together in various ways, with their relationships all affected by issues of money. Although we get a sense of their similarities, various walls go up between the members of the group, sometimes with tragic consequences.
An accomplished filmmaker, Yu is very particular about his mise-en-scene, with each scene carefully composed with regard to objects and color. Inanimate objects such as faucets or calendars often take on a meaning of their own, giving us clues about our characters' inner states. On a purely visual level, the film is also quite surprising in the beauty it draws from everyday settings.
Among the large cast is featured two of the most
popular stars of the era, both members of the famous "troika" of
actresses who first appeared in 1966. The part of Bo-young, a woman who moves
in with a stranger and gradually falls in love with him, is played by Moon Hee,
a beautiful and much sought-after actress. The first scene of the film, when
Bo-young appears in the darkness and follows a man home, is one of its most
memorable. The other troika member is
In an interview, the director noted of this feature, "I thought it rather interesting to present a theme characterized by a repeated process of loss and the restoration of humanity through each of the three main characters. They are people who are one step behind others in society; they are the passengers who hurry gasping onto the last train." At certain points in our lives we can all empathize with that image, however much we may differ with the characters in this film.
Guests Who Arrived by the Last Train
("Makcha-ro on sonnim-deul"). Directed by Yu Hyun-mok. Screenplay by
Lee Sang-hyun, Lee Eun-sung. Starring Moon Hee, Lee Soon-jae, Sung Hoon, Kim
Despite my nagging sense of responsibility, I emphatically do not want to
see In the Realms of the Unreal for a second time. In my tarrying,
there is silent protest amid internal debate, because my memory, alas, is
imprinted, not with images but frustration and hostility toward a film I saw
nearly a year ago in a hectic setting at the Cleveland International Film
Festival, and which I mistakenly kept referring to as In the Realms of the
Senses. The film was Jessica Yu’s much-lauded In the Realms of the
Unreal and my slip of the tongue should not be forgiven. (The film was
reviewed semi-favourably in the last issue of CinemaScope, as well as
enthusiastically in countless publications upon its North American release,
effectively reminding me of my objections.) Ostensibly an investigation into
the mysterious life of
In the Realms of the Unreal does not plunge us into the parallel worlds of Henry Darger, as the film’s press kit claims. Instead, it recounts, in staid and unsteady interviews, what precious little is known about a reclusive shut-in who produced what is likely one of the largest manuscripts of fiction, weighing in at a hefty 15,145 pages. Uncovered upon his death in April of 1973 by Darger’s landlords, The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What Is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion was bound by hand and in 15 volumes. Three additional books were found, containing over 300 drawings, including 87 multi-sheet horizontal panels, many of which feature illustrations on both sides, probably a result of Darger’s relative poverty. Alongside a 5,000-page sequel titled Adventures in Chicago, as well as a 3,000-page autobiography, they form Henry Darger’s body of work—a posthumous discovery that consequentially sent minor ripples through the often picayunish terrain that is art history. While the literary work continues to be read and dissected by a group of scholars, the illustrations have penetrated certain prestigious art circles. His naïve, fantastical drawings have left an indelible mark on contemporary drawing styles, which often blend a childlike aesthetic with dark, suggestive psychological undercurrents, or cutting satire (see, for instance, the collective works from Winnipeg’s Royal Art Lodge, or Torontonian Shary Boyle). This renaissance has found summation in the remarkable success of the graphic novel. Illustration seems to have surpassed painting and photography within a fair number of gallery settings. As contentious and vague (and objectionable) as it is, the term “outsider artist” is most often used to describe untrained (i.e., unschooled, unmentored) artists, sometimes poor and disenfranchised, and those with mental illness. Henry Darger probably fits all of the above criteria, and the air of mystery surrounding his life (few photos of him exist, few meaningful encounters are remembered, etc.) make him a prime cult candidate, not to mention a challenging subject for documentary.
With a significant amount of newfound interest in his life and work, Darger
has spawned theatre productions; a few books; an all-girl British band called
the Vivian Girls, named after those prancing Coppertone baby princesses with
penises who lead the rebellion in Darger’s epic novel; and now Yu’s
documentary, five years in the making. Only recently (say, the last ten years),
he has been referred to as the “best outsider artist
Add a sadder ending to a sad life when these thoughtful, understanding
landlords somehow become the beneficiaries of his estate and give in to the
pull of greed. Wouldn’t Darger’s unpublished work, both literary and visual,
fall to the State of
In the Realms of the Unreal cannot escape similar accusations. Who granted Jessica Yu the right to animate Darger’s drawings, which were most decidedly not storyboards, not meant to be motion pictures? With what legitimacy did she engage child star Dakota Fanning to lend voice to the Vivian Girls, a shocking appropriation of Darger’s work, altering its meaning irrevocably for those who have not encountered his work prior to seeing the film—surely a vast percentage of the audience. It’s not only shameful but ethically wrong. The animation constitutes a significant transformation (read: bastardization) of Darger’s work. With flights of fancy, his drawings leap up off the screen in a real motion that he never intended, adding swift sequence to the two-dimensional illustrations. Naturally one can think of Darger’s drawings as accompanying illustrations to his novel, and they do employ chronology and exhibit typological import. They are most vivid in recounting the story Darger has astonishingly dreamed up, perhaps as a means to escape his own dreary life of solitude, inexperience, and inopportunity. To animate his work, to give his characters voice and plunge them into an orchestral world of sound is to violate his creation. What right does the filmmaker have to interpret his work in such a bold way, all the while repudiating the idea of “interpretation” or “criticism” so not as to lend pretension to her own project? “Eschewing expert opinion,” the press kit proudly declares, the film seeks to immerse us in Darger’s antic world of whimsy provoking a purely emotive response. Yu, consistently throughout the documentary, depicts Darger’s interior battles, as reflected through the drama of both his make-believe and his real worlds. Plenty of inarticulate implications are made in the realms.
While Walter Benjamin long ago signalled his clarion call against mechanical
reproduction and its destructive effect on the aura of an original work of art,
Yu has systematically stripped the aura from Darger’s work by using it in ways
it was probably never meant to be experienced and shown. The fact is, we’ll
never know for sure. When I saw the film in
To reconstruct a life is one thing, to do it respectfully is another—think of the authorized versus the unauthorized biography. Perhaps I’m arguing in favour of the memoir, which needn’t necessarily be laden with truthfulness. The best memoirs harbour an unassuming mix of fact (candour and quiet) and fiction (exaggeration, false recollection, embellishment, and open-faced lies). The two bleed into one another, creating an ambiguous heightened form of expression. It becomes almost beside the point to believe everything described in brilliant memoirs like George Steiner’s Errata, J.M. Coetzee’s Youth, and Martin Amis’ Experience, to cite rather recent examples. Books like Speak, Memory annihilate their own truth through pretension and self-aggrandizing myth. Even then, truth doesn’t matter so much, does it? Rather, the verbosity and swaggering feats of a seven-year-old Nabokov did not find that hidden, strange distance of reflection. That painful, sour taste of yearning is oddly absent in Speak, Memory , eclipsed by an abiding precociousness in the throes of self-creation. The telling is too clean, too predicated, too assured. Self-doubt is coloured in self-doubt, clothed in it, but not endured. There is madness in this greatness and it fights with time, against the expiration of consciousness, not existence. Funny that.
In the Realms of the Unreal takes the form of the unauthorized biography, and deep within it lurks a lengthy memoir (little used in the film) and a huge creative cropping (without evaluation or context). Like most overzealous biographers, Jessica Yu has found a sneaky way to invade the world of her subject, but unlike the often-seductive demimonde of most celebrated subjects of biography, the drudgery of Darger’s life remains safely untethered. The alliance is struck through an imposed dialogue with the work, a question of appropriation rather than affinity. Darger is thus resurrected and defeated yet again.
It is difficult for a single review adequately to represent Yu Lik-wai's Love
Will Tear Us Apart, but such an extraordinary film is worth the effort. It
has so far received decidedly mixed reviews, given its remarkable history to
date: it premiered in a "New Asian film and video" sidebar last April
at the Hong Kong International Film Festival, and then leapt directly into the
Yu Lik-wai is a Hong Kong native, Beijing-resident cinematographer (of Jia Zhangke's remarkable Xiao Wu (1998) and Ann Hui's Ordinary Heroes (1999)), who has won awards for his 1996 documentary Neon Goddesses. Love Will Tear Us Apart is his first feature, supported by a grant from the Hong Kong Arts Development Council and by prominent producers Stanley Kwan and Tony Leung Kar-fai (it stars the latter).
If I had to fix Love Will Tear Us Apart on the Chinese film-making map, it would be somewhere between Fruit Chan's romantic meditations on post-1997 HK (for theme) and Taiwanese director Tsai Ming-liang's essays on urban anomie (for style). The film follows 4 main characters, all former mainlanders resident in HK (reversing the direction of Yu's own migration). Yan Ying (Wang Ming) is a prostitute in her 20s, recently arrived from the North East via Shenzhen. Ah Jian (Tony Leung Kar-fai) runs a small porn video shop. He lives with Yan (Lu Liping), a former dance instructor on the mainland who now, in HK in her 30s, is an elevator operator at a restaurant. And Chun (Chow Chi-sang) is an elevator repairman.
The story follows these four characters, throwing them together in various combinations, testing their reactions to each others' presence. Among the incidents: Jian, rejected by a young lover, threatens feebly to kill himself. Later, he catches sight of Ying shoplifting, and decides to pursue her. Chun is assaulted by Jian and a crony when he declines to rent a porn video. Later, in revenge, Chun attempts to firebomb Jian’s video shop. Yan tells Ying the story of the car accident that killed her son and caused her to lose her right foot. Later, she tells a different version of the story to Chun, who is fixing the elevator where she works. Jian closes his shop. Ying returns to the mainland.
Lu Liping, one of
A film like Love Will Tear Us Apart deliberately defies description. It is not at all a "whole" film: it shuns narrative, avoids character (in the sense of a character as a consistent, developing sort of identity), is both puzzlingly vague and utterly specific about place, and has an almost casual attitude towards chronology. But these features are what make Yu Lik-wai's debut feature such a striking, impossible to ignore crisis-call in Chinese cinema.
On the surface, it is a chamber piece with essentially four actors, juxtaposed in various ways; and it all takes place (barring a couple of significant excursions, and flashbacks) in what looks like a particularly grim and seedy part of Mongkok. Apart from this surface, what holds it together is its visual style. That and a kind of formal organisation (if it is appropriate to use the word) built out of echoes, recurrences, reverberations of images, colours, situations, and words, that wind their way through the film, lightly touching various characters as they are contained, briefly, in each one's ambit, then passed on, or around, to others, never quite settling, never finally pinned down.
Some of these circulating images:
-- a series of windows, barred with grills, but decorated gracefully, and painted in a gorgeous blue back light, in front of which Ying lingers
-- songs that the characters stop to listen to, rapt, temporarily transported: Teresa Teng ballads, a contemporary HK pop song, a bizarre glitzy TV number, a Maoist anthem
-- faces, obliterated and observed: those of Ying and her roommates, completely masked by a thick white paste; '40s film star Bai Ying's portrait, pinned down in Jian's memory as the perfect face, caught by Ying in a coloured postcard, then scrawled over by Chun
-- dance: anonymous couples in an anachronistically gilded ballroom; Ying's solo, rhapsodic ballet; Yan's memories of teaching social dancing on the mainland; finally, Ying dancing alone in the middle of a mainland disco crowd
-- radio and television, offering a soulless, background illumination and chatter for Chun, Yan, and Ying, and offering each of them a window out of their solitude, though one mediated by mass media's kitsch (the dull call-in sex radio show that Jian listens to, and Chun calls up; Yan's favourite televised epic PRC movies and tacky dance spectaculars)
These sequences of objects, sounds, and lights, knit carefully into the fabric of the movie, restore what is withheld from plot and characterization: the sense of a sustained, comprehensible, fully developed trajectory or structure. As if the film dares not only to show us empty lives, marked by boredom, vacancy, pointlessness, solitude -- lives drained of meaning -- but also refuses to stop there. It's not by any means a boring, affectless film, though it can be challenging for viewers, who have to suspend a sense of narrative expectation, and either fill in the "blanks" themselves, or wait until, eventually, Love Will Tear Us Apart fills one for them, though sometimes with more than one possible "answer".
It is as if the film gives to its viewers, but not its characters, a visible and audible scaffold, full of rhymes and repetitions, saturated with potential "sense", if only we could learn how to unpack it. Jean-Michel Frodon in Le Monde has described Love Will Tear Us Apart as an essay at synthesizing HK and mainland film, which is apt, I think .Hong Kong cinema has been looking outwards, towards the mainland, with a mixture of dread, anticipation, excitement, and denial since the early '80s. As that impetus for filmmaking finally plays itself out, Love Will Tear Us Apart shows a whole new world of possibilities, HK observed from the outside in, through "mainlanders'" eyes.
It is a point of view that fractures, dissolves (tears apart, even) what it
finds there. But in doing so, opens up a space for once unimagined (or
unimaginable) possibilities. This is the first film I am aware of that dares to
map out a way in which a synthesis of
A revised version of this review appeared in Cinemaya: the Asian Film Quarterly, no. 46, 1999
Where would you see a film like this except at a film festival, as there’s no distributor so it’s not likely to be coming to your neighborhood real soon. While there is a certain amount of daring experimentation, especially in the extraordinary visual palette, someone should consider getting this director a better script to work with, as he has talent galore, but it’s wasted in this hokum. The big surprise for me was the mention of Jia Zhange-ke as an executive producer, even though the director is Jia’s frequent cinematographer, and also the name of Shelly Kraicer (Chinese Cinema Site, by Shelly Kraicer) as a person to thank on the closing credits. I’m more intrigued by their connections, two of the more notable figures in Chinese cinema, than this film itself, which just falls flat. This feels like an experiment gone wrong, a Chinese-Brazilian cultural exchange, where the attempt to make a Hong Kong style gangster movie in São Paulo, Brazil utterly fails to materialize, using a wretched macho drama about who rules the global street markets of mass producing the cheapest, pirate products, drenched with large doses of artificiality that banks on mixing a heavy dose of violence with lurid sex, usually a lethal combination, but much of this is so hopelessly inept, filled with sullen disconnected characters that may as well be interchangeable parts, as this guy just hasn’t a clue with character development. Stuck in a clichéd story with no one to care about, despite occasional visual flair, this film is something of an embarrassment that just goes nowhere, a step down from his equally numbing and ultimately forgettable earlier film ALL TOMORROW’S PARTIES (2003) which at least had a satiric political slant to it.
Though it’s a tired, overworn cliché to even suggest this, I’d say this film suffers from the Brazilian CITY OF GOD (2002) complex, perhaps the template for commercially successful films shot in the slums of Brazil, a film that uses such calculated visceral imagery to glamorize violence that it borders on the cynical manipulation of an advertising campaign—that and a horrendous script in this movie where the audience rarely gets a reprieve from the nihilistic monotony of characters who, when things go bad, simply yearn to die. In a gang infested lifestyle where the rich die young, Anthony Wong (pretty much showing the same hangdog facial expression throughout the entire film) as Yuda is the gang overlord along with his protégé, Kirin (Jô Odagiri) who runs the street operations, using the capitalistic principle that only fake merchandise makes money, so they’ve cornered the market. When competition rolls into town, things get ugly fast. Somewhere in all this are themes of loyalty and betrayal, accentuating the father and son relationship between the two primary gang leaders. Yuda also runs a prostitution ring, where Kirin is linked to one of the girls, Rita, the exquisitely beautiful Tainá Müller (somewhat in the Jayne Kennedy mold), who dreams of obtaining her freedom from this life. This is the kind of film that when Yuda gets arrested and sent to prison, he has his own personal bodyguard serving time with him. Perhaps a bit overwhelming is a metaphoric jungle scenario, literally transplanting part of the film to the jungle where only the strongest survive. All I can think of are cliché’s to describe this world turned upside down, a dark and deeply depressing film, whose only allure is the visual artificiality occasionally on display, such as a choreographed gang revenge fight set atop a giant pedestal looming over the city which has an entirely futuristic look to it just bathed in aesthetics. Shot by Yiu-Fai Lai, the colorful visuals only intermittently jump out at you, as the rest of this overly dour film follows the same sappy narrative that never seems to end, only prolonging the agony.
Special Note – cinematography Yiu-Fai Lai
Armed with spectacular images (directed by Jia Zhang-ke
cinematographer Yu Lik-wai) and a killer premise (“who owns the globalized
Yu co-wrote the film, and perhaps that's the problem; he has no ear for dialogue, no sense of pacing, and no larger vision beyond the individual canvases of each shot. I often couldn't wait for the camera to change positions because an astonishing composition or visual idea would be guaranteed. But the narrative just would not end. Anthony Wong (on autopilot) and Jo Odigari (exuding otherworldly hotness, but otherwise on autopilot) play a makeshift father/son on the run in the jungles of
First, let's dispel some of the misinformation about this
film. It's not "like 300" (there is a scene in the film lasting a few
minutes which emulates the aesthetics of "300", which itself mimics
the "bullet time" technique in "The Matrix"). There is no
relation to "
The story in "Plastic City" revolves around a counterfeit goods smuggler named Yuda (played by Anthony Wong) and his adopted son named Kirin (played by Jo Odajiri), who are facing the end of their business as a result of the economic and political changes of globalization. To facilitate Brazil's integration into the global economic system, Brazilian politicians have initiated an anti-piracy and anti-counterfeiting campaign to clean up the country's international image that threatens the livelihood of some of Sao Paolo's most impoverished communities who depend on this illicit economy for a living. Meanwhile, with permanent relocation of production facilities to third world countries where the cost of labour and production are cheaper, the demand for affordable brand-name and designer products traditionally supplemented by illicit counterfeit merchandise is slowly being filled by surplus or "left-over" goods coming from the factories contracted by brand-name companies that have fulfilled their quotas. A Taiwanese businessman approaches the father and son with an offer that would help their "business" transition from counterfeit import to surplus import (equally illicit). Yuda resolutely rejects the offer, thus starting a "war" that mobilizes politicians, street gangs, and mercenaries.
This premise could have been developed in any number of interesting directions. The problem is that Nelson Yu seems to have gotten bored with just making a political commentary, and decided to focus on telling a story about the relationship between Yuda and his adopted son (that unfortunately turns out to be not very interesting at all). The story ends up being poorly paced as a result of the fixation on interpersonal relationships (that do not always advance anything related to the plot), with the last 1/3 the film stitched together by a series of disconnected scenes meant to convey certain symbolism and metaphors about "tradition vs. modernity" that, quite frankly, I couldn't be bothered to make sense of because neither the story nor the characters made it worth the effort. Anthony Wong does what he can, given the script and the direction he has to work with. Other than admiring his performance, there isn't much else I found entertaining about this film.
First time movie director Nelson Yu Lik Wai gave his very
best shot with his full length feature,
Anthony Wong and Jo Odagiri plays Yuda and
Facing the pressure from the police, Yuda abandons his business and starts a new life. On the other hand,
Being a new director, Nelson Yu was given the opportunity to film
In some way,
There is no flow in the storyline, which is hard to swallow. Storyline without any connection and linkage worsens the overall feature of the film. To make it more confusing, scenes were presented in some flashbacks, and a bit of MTV style presentation.
Anthony Wong and Jo Odagiri uses Portuguese for most of their lines, which unfortunately, were performed by the professional dubbing artists. With more than 60 percent of dialog in Portuguese, one can easily spot the movement on the lips failed to match with what was heard. This is a letdown to the audience as one would expect their lines to sound as original as possible.
In overall, Plastic City is only worth watching when you are left with nothing but plenty of F-graded rubbish around you, since you can't go wrong with the acting skills of the two professional actors.
A Nutshell Review Stefan S.
Twitch (Todd Brown) review Pat Dahn
The Hollywood Reporter review Ray Bennett
The Japan Times Kaori Shoji
Asian Cinema Drifter Tuna from Asian Cinema Drifter (link lost)
Making its rounds on the festival circuit over on this side of the world,
Mind Game is turning heads and blowing minds as a hybrid narrative and
experimental anime that recalls anything from Yellow Submarine to Waking Life.
Nothing has ever impressed me more
than its complete smorgasbord of 2 and 3 dimensional animation styles coupled
with an utterly surreal mood that bounces around just as much as the visuals.
Don’t fret though because Mind Game’s narrative is more grounded than we'd
expect, beginning with the chance meeting of two childhood friends on the
subway. Nishi, your average, timid, manga artist loser and Myon, the
kind-natured, big-breasted girl he has been in love with since age 9. Having
had previously little contact, they talk and Nishi discovers Myon is preparing
to marry a simple truck driver named Ryo. Later on, when Nishi, Myon, Ryo,
Myon’s sister Yang, and her father are all in the family-owned yakitori bar, a
couple yakuza crash the dinner and things go downhill.
And cue a plot that takes us flying through the streets of Tokyo in a high-speed chase, up to heaven to meet the constantly shape-shifting God, down into a whale’s belly to meet a thirty-year long inhabitant, and all around jumping through time in beautifully jarring montages as bookends to the film. The film is a ridiculously fantastical journey that tackles the metaphysics stylishly reminiscent of Waking Life, but with a clear narrative to keep us in touch. It takes a simple drama about a loser reaching back out to his life-long love and making personal changes himself, but drenches it in unique flashbacks, trippy dreams and very magical realism.
However, no one deserves more credit than the animation production company Studio 4°C, who do everything and anything to deliver the visuals to mold the script’s insanity into something tangible. While Production I.G.'s Ghost in the Shell 2 made its mark with a gorgeously slick CGI and 2D mix, Studio 4°C channels a multitude of styles, blends them nearly seamlessly and creates a plain, shocking experience. The variety recalls Gainax's 6-episode FLCL series for sheer creativity, but Mind Game never seems as random as robots growing out of children’s heads.
Mind Game's only detriment for viewers may be its speed and momentum that can be anything from disorienting to unintentionally brisk in fleshing out the characters. Along with that, when it slows down for the final third, we can feel the drop-off from the prior act’s charm and energy and it becomes almost tedious being stuck there along the characters. But along with that, comes the film’s ability to twist the audience’s emotions. It slows down because it wants us to slow down. It wants us moving alongside the main characters on the adventure, and the execution is perfect. It’s this section of the film that answers all of our questions, including the ones we'll ask later, frolics in mindlessly colorful explosions of circus-type clowning around, and sets-up the longest, most frantic climax possible in anime.
And the film's final ten minutes is pure bliss as we reach this perfect level of understanding and appreciation for every little detail, every image, and every second of Mind Game’s soundtrack combining pop, rock, jazz and orchestral arrangements to compliment the experience. The finale is the ultimate overload that has its way of leaving you gasping for air, and poised as ever to re-watch the film the minute you can get your hands on it.
I AM A SEX ADDICT Steve Erickson from Chronicle of a Passion
Caveh Zahedi has struggled to make four features in 15 years. With “I Am a Sex Addict,” he’s inadvertently stumbled onto something trendy. This film combines the voyeurism of reality TV with the comedy of embarrassment purveyed by Larry David on “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and Ricky Gervais on “The Office” and “Extras.”
The film’s central character is Zahedi, who plays himself. With “I Am a Sex
Addict,” Zahedi calls to mind the early work of Albert Brooks, whose first
three films—“Real Life,” “Modern Romance,” and “Lost in
Zahedi shows himself in numerous cringe-inducing situations, as when he goes
around to every
“I Am a Sex Addict” begins at Zahedi’s third wedding. He recounts the
problems that led to the collapse of his first two marriages. However, the film
adopts a digressive style, incorporating elements of documentary that allows
for direct address to the audience. While in an open relationship at Yale, he
met Caroline (Rebecca Lord), a French woman who needed a green card, and
started seeing her. Zahedi split up with his other girlfriend, married
Caroline, and moved to
Zahedi’s style adopts the rhythms of addiction. Characters often repeat lines from his voice-over immediately after he says them. He shows the passage of time by filming actors in the same position but wearing different clothes. He also calls the film’s relation to reality into question. Zahedi shows stills and home movies of the women his characters are based on and offers information about the actors’ lives. Like her character, one has a drinking problem. He only learned Caroline has appeared in porn when he found her picture on a website after filming her performance; she told him she was a makeup artist.
Why would someone make a film as personal and intimate as “I Am a Sex Addict”? Zahedi doesn’t make it an easy question to answer. He’s both self-deprecating and self-serving. Even at his worst, he’s full of rationalizations. While these are largely full of crap—and he’s self-aware enough to know that—he always seems sincere. The first two-thirds of “I Am a Sex Addict” play like a Brooks film, with the telling difference that Zahedi is trying to charm the audience; in that, he’s closer to Woody Allen. He’s pretty good at it; the film’s very funny. His exhibitionism is deliberately uncomfortable, but there’s a large, disquieting dose of narcissism underneath it. Zahedi seems addicted to self-absorption as much as sex, an obsession that doesn’t stop when he attends Sex Addicts Anonymous meetings.
He eventually comes to an epiphany on an airplane after a disastrous trip to
“I Am a Sex Addict” becomes a lot less convincing as drama when Zahedi tries to turn his life around. Its ending is horribly rushed—his second marriage receives about 30 seconds of screen time. The use of documentary techniques makes one wonder what a film depicting the same relationships, made by Zahedi’s ex-girlfriends and wives, would be like. Even if he’s anything but unwilling to criticize himself, there’s something unsettling about the way he uses actors to speak for a group of real people whose photos he flashes on-screen. Like Allen at his worst—as in “Deconstructing Harry”—“Sex Addict” purports to offer a serious self-examination, but can’t break out from its creator’s overwhelming fantasy life.
I Am a Sex Addict Gerald Peary
New York Times review Nathan Lee
http://blogs.indiewire.com/caveh/archive/007799.ht... a back and forth between the filmmaker and the New York Times film critic Nathan Lee
An enjoyable enough movie, more entertaining
than informative, but not nearly what we expect and deserve when it comes to
something as profoundly historical as the black migration to the north, forming
a pipeline from the Delta directly to Chicago, leading to an explosion of great
blues bands, many of whom were recorded by Chess records in Chicago, a no
nonsense, blue collar establishment that housed some of the greatest blues
players in American history. Made about
the same town as another movie telling the Chess records Chicago story
featuring the Hollywood elite cast in CADILLAC RECORDS (2008), starring Beyoncé
(Etta James) and Cedric the Entertainer (Willie Dixon), among others, so this
movie was put on the shelves and not released until more than a year later, and
even then to a very limited release.
Even the title was changed from the original CHESS to WHO DO YOU
LOVE. Having not seen the original, finding
Beyoncé too artificial and tabloid driven to be taken seriously, as that movie
was surely all about Beyoncé, this smaller indie version is mildly intriguing,
perhaps more historically accurate, but still suffers from the same problem,
having to release a glamorized version of the birth of the blues clubs on the
South side of Chicago, where from the late 40’s to mid 50’s Muddy Water’s
country blues evolve into a more urban sound, leading to the pulsating rock “n”
roll rhythms of Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry with full-scale electric
guitars. Chuck Berry was left out
entirely in this version, as were actual Chicago locations, including any
reference to the
But in this version as well, there’s little
authenticity of the raw and gritty nature that became associated with Chess records,
how their sound actually captured the hard living feel of the blues, and how
their music became associated with south side
The life and times of Chess Records founder Leonard Chess, and the outsize personalities of his signees—Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Howlin' Wolf, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry—would make a terrific movie. In fact, it did, and it was called Cadillac Records. Well, who wants leftovers? There was obvious wrangling over rights between the dueling Chess biopics: Cadillac got Chuck, and Who Do You Love? got Bo. Etta James is herein rechristened "Ivy Mills" (Megalyn Echikunwoke) and cruelly dispatched with a plot-handy heroin overdose. Chess, played by Alessandro Nivola, is now a far more central figure—or does everyone else just seem more marginal?—while Love?'s restoration of redundant brother/partner Phil Chess shows exactly why he was written out of Cadillac. Nivola plays Chess's self-assurance as off-putting clamminess, and a running gag that requires him to greet everyone as "Motherfucker"—supposedly, this endlessly bemuses black musicians and lets them know he's not like other white guys—goes from awful to insufferable. Also free with its facts, Cadillac understood the complex tangle of personal, racial, and familial loyalties that were behind putting electric blues on wax. Who Do You Love? solves segregation with a harmonica duet, suggesting its proclivity for hot air.
"Who Do You Love (2010)" provides a great look into the world of music during the 50's and 60's, showing the audience how Blues became extremely popular and how Rock and Roll was created, so if you can expect anything walking in, it's fantastic music. The cast, including Alessandro Nivola (Leonard Chess), David Oyelowo (Muddy Waters), Chi McBride (Willie Dixon), Jon Abrahams (Phil Chess), Lisa Goldstein (Sheva Chess), Megalyn Echikunwoke (Ivy Mills), and Robert Randolph (Bo Diddley), all put on phenomenal performances, all those that did use their musical vocals singing the classic songs that influenced generations as if they were their own. Jerry Zaks, who as a director has spent most of his career so far on television, has proved to handle a feature film quite well, using very good shots and angles as he had with his three episodes of "Two And A Half Men" (Episodes include "Tucked, Taped, and Gorgeous", "Aunt Myra Doesn't Pee A Lot", and "And The Plot Moistens"). Of the movies I have seen that were written by Peter Martin Wortmann and Robert Conte, this is by far their best, with catchy, funny dialogue and smart, well thought out characters and events (even though based on a true story). The movie depicts the start of a new world of music, something that went on to develop and change into a large amount of mini-genres and has shown all it's listeners a new way to express culture, feelings, actions, opinions, and the world in general. "Who Do You Love" is recommended to everyone, but is a must see for lovers of old blues and classic rock and roll as well as the older audience. 7.6/10
The second feature film effort from theatrical director Jerry Zaks after a long lapse (the so-so Marvin’s Room was his film bow), Who Do You Love is a satisfying, nicely crafted fact-based riff on pop-music history with a number of tweaks. In its tale of how Chicago’s Chess Brothers—older brother Leonard especially—changed music history, the film, boasting such classics as Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love” a