Friday, January 26, 2007

Vacation Report

As you all know, I was on an extended vacation the past 4 weeks. In Japan, I couldn't think of much filming locations to go to, and I only saw one film (Letters From Iwo Jima). But once I was in Hong Kong (which is my home more than a vacation spot, really), I went all out and watched 7 movies and saw some popular (and maybe not-so-popular) filming locations.

The video store from Fulltime Killer

The famous escalator in a lot of Hong Kong films

The restaurant that Wong Kar-wai filmed both In the Mood For Love and 2046 in. As you can see, the owners have decided to cash in with a 2046 set meal, which includes rib eye steak, a nice soup, among a lot of other stuff. Unfortunately, I didn't have the time nor the company to go. Maybe next time.

I also managed to catch:
Curse of the Golden Flower - a beautiful looking but fairly weak film from Zhang Yimou. A strong performance from Gong Li and elegant-looking set design keep things interesting enough, but a charisma-less Jay Chou and uninspired direction in the first half keeps the film from beign a true success.

Confession of Pain - the new slick blockbuster from the team of Alan Mak and Andrew Lau is again overdirected, flashy, and full of nice-looking stars. However, even great production values can't save a misguided script that wants to both be a compelling mystery and, as Tim Youngs said, a depiction of how the perfect crime goes wrong. It has bright spots here and there, but an overall failure, nevertheless.

Paris Je T'aime - the omnibus of 18 short films by directors from around the globe is a lovely tribute to Paris, the city of lovers. Standouts include the surreal segment by the Coen Brothers, the hyper installment by Run Lola Run director Tom Tykwer (starring Natalie Portman), the 4-minute long take segment by Children of Men's Alfonso Cuaron, a bittersweet little segment by Election's Alexander Payne, among many others. The only really bad one I can remember is Christopher Doyle's, who ventures so deep into narcissism and artistic pretentiousness that it throws off the entire film for the duration of his segment. Other than that, a charming collection of short films that I would love to revisit. (A lot of these individual segments are actually on Youtube now, but I recommend watching this in theatres. It'll be released in May in the states).

Flags of Our Fathers - An examination of the effect of battle after the war rather than about the battle itself (that's more what Letters from Iwo Jima does), Flags feels like a minor effort from the master. The film itself works, but it loses focus along the way as it concentrate its screen time on the bond tour, making the battle itself an afterthought. Those who expect a true examination of the Iwo Jima battle is better off with Letters From Iwo Jima. It's a good film, but you heard right - it's not a great one.

Happy Birthday - Jingle Ma was never quite my cup of tea. His cinematography skills is nice (although i never liked his signature soft-lighting), but the man seems to have trouble with making a decent film. However, with the combined forces of Sylvia Chang and Teresa Tang (the original creator of the Sammi Cheng-Andy Lau film Needing You - she wrote the radio drama and the subsequent novel that I enjoy quite a bit) comes my favorite Jingle Ma film thus far. Starring Louis Koo and Rene Liu (who is in this because she wrote the original short story, but far too old for the role), Happy Birthday is a sometimes-affecting on-and-off romance that spans 10 years. It looks really pretty (even with that soft-lighting) and Rene Liu is quite good in her role (despite the aforementioned age problem), but it indulges in too many small details (a typical characteristic in Sylvia Chang's films) to the point that the film gets a little too slow. Still a very good start to 2007 and much better than Men Suddenly in Black 2, the last producing effort from Eric Tsang.

Kung Fu Mahjong 3- Let's pretend I didn't watch this one.

Marie Antoinette - It looks beautiful, and the soundtrack is great, but it's also a bit empty as Sofia Coppola relies on her visuals to compensate for a rather thin screenplay about the overindulgent queen of France. I wanted to like it, but I ended up being kind of bored most of the time.

I also bought a lot of DVDs, including Exiled, Blood and Bones (which is said to include a brilliant performance by Takeshi Kitano), Memories of Matsuko, some Japanese dramas, and the VCD for The World Except Japan Sinks. I honestly don't know where to start.

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