Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Monday, September 29, 2008
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Curated by James Quandt and co-organized by The Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Cinematheque Ontario, the films will move on to several prominent institutions after screening in New York. Other venues include the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Pacific Cinematheque in Vancouver, Harvard FIlm Archive in Cambridge, MA, Northwest Film Center in Seattle, Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, CA, the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., and the George Eastman House in Rochester, NY.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Just a quick reminder that the documentary film Japan's About-Face has its premiere theatrical screening at Japan Society tonight at 6:30 PM. The film explores the shifting role of the military in Japanese society.
A discussion with director Micah Fink and Richard Samuels, Professor of International Studies, MIT, will follow the screening.
333 East 47th Street
New York, NY 10017
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
As I indicated just over a week ago in ACF 151, the Vietnamese action/drama The Rebel is coming out today in a Two-Disc Ultimate Edition from Dragon Dynasty. The film is set in Vietnam during the 1920s, when it was a French colony. At that time, the French used Vietnamese agents to combat rebel freedom fighters. The two main agents in the film are Cuong (Johnny Nguyen) and Sy (Dustin Nguyen). They capture a young woman (Veronica Ngo) who's the daughter of a rebel leader and use her as bait in an attempt to capture her father.
The movie is cram-packed with terrific action scenes. Many of the moves will be familiar to fans of Hong Kong kung fu films and of Thailand's Ong Bak, but there are a number of kicks and flying scissor moves that are unique to Vietnamese martial arts. Veronica has some particularly outstanding signature moves.
Johnny Tri Nguyen as Le Van Cuong
I found the dramatic element of the movie to be much better than what I normally expect out of such an actioner. I will say that at a certain point, the film does start to share some of the plot line of House of Flying Daggers. Fortunately, it's does not share the number of layers of that film's revelation upon revelation, like too many skins of an onion.Finally, the production values are excellent, somewhat surprising since as co-star Dustin Nguyen says in his interview, "the infrastructure for film-making [in Vietnam] is not quite there yet."
As always, the extras from Dragon Dynasty are terrific. The three separate interviews with the principal actors, all in English, are each over 30 minutes long, as is the making of featurette. Be sure to stick around after the credits roll at the end of the making of featurette; there's a neat song about film making sung (in Vietnamese with English subtitles) by one of the members of the crew.
Veronica Ngo (r) as Vo Thanh Thuy
A behind the scenes gallery offers a look at the shooting of 11 scenes. A short extra has star Johnny Nguyen, who also c0-wrote the script, co-produced, and served as action director, demonstrating some of the martial arts moves. There's only one deleted scene present, but for once it's interesting. Combined with some comments in the interviews, it adds to one's understanding of Sy's seeming invulnerability.
There's a commentary with Johnny, Veronica, Dustin and Asian cinema expert Bey Logan available as an audio option on Disc 1. (All the other options are on the second disc.) This is the only thing I haven't had time to listen to, but I'll bet dollars to donuts that it's fascinating.
Dustin Nguyen as Sy
I will say one thing that is surprising is the absence of an interview with director Charlie Nguyen, Johnny's brother, and of him on the commentary track. Kinda weird, but not really a biggie.
The Rebel is the highest grossing Vietnamese film ever made, which is interesting but not reason enough in and of itself to buy the DVD. No, the reason to buy it is that the both film and the extras provided are really great. You owe it to yourself to have this Vietnamese actioner in your collection.
Film: 3.5 out of 4 stars (highly recommended)
Extras: 4 out of 4 stars (top notch)
Saturday, September 20, 2008
Last month I had the honor and great pleasure of being included in an intimate luncheon for Ahn Sung-ki, the "people's actor" of Korea. Mr. Ahn was in town for the start of a one week tour of New York, Washington D.C., and the University of Georgia. The mini-tour was organized by Prof. Hyangsoon Yi, assistant professor of comparative literature at the University of Georgia, and it recieved generous support from the Korea Foundation. Prof. Yi also moderated the discussion and Q&A that evening at The Korea Society, which sponsored the luncheon I attended.
There were ten of us present on the afternoon of Wednesday, August 27th at Korea Palace, a lovely establishment on East 54th Street that I'd never been to before. We were ushered into a very nice, small private dining room. Besides Mr Ahn and Professor Yi, there were three people from The Korea Society present, four other guests and myself, the only person from print media and the blogosphere.
Of the 77 films listed in Mr. Ahn's filmography at IMDb, I had seen only three: Silmido, To the Starry Island, and Duelist. Still, I'd read enough about Mr Ahn to know that he'd started out at the age of five as a child film star, was one of the few to make the transition to a successful acting career as an adult, and that he has been one of the most popular actors in Korea for years, hence his informal title as the "people's actor."
As Mr Ahn speaks very little English, I used one of the Koreans present to ask him about making the transition from childhood to adult star. He said that actually he had stopped acting for several years during middle and high school, and during his period of military service. Thus when he returned to the screen, it was as a "new actor" making a new and fresh beginning.
Later I asked Yuni Cho, of The Korea Society, if Mr. Ahn had the image in Korea that Tom Hanks has in the U.S., that is, someone who's played a variety of roles but is generally regarded as the embodiment of an "everyman." Yuni, who I've known for several years, was sitting opposite me at one end of the table, and next to her was Brigette Noh of Chaos Theory Music. Brigette got very excited, saying she'd couldn't understand why she'd never thought of that. Yuni offered to put my question to Mr. Ahn, who replied that, yes, he'd describe himself as a Tom Hanks kind of actor in Korean Cinema.
I found out the next day that I'd made somewhat of an impression on Mr Ahn with that question. A co-worker at my "day job" had been at the discussion and Q&A that had taken place the night before (the evening after our luncheon). He told me that a woman had asked Mr Ahn what American actors he might compare himself to.
He turned to Yuni Cho and asked what was the name of that guy at lunch who had brought up the Tom Hanks comparison. She gave him my name, and he related how I'd asked about whether he'd consider himself like a "Korean" Tom Hanks, and that he'd thought it was a good comparison. Hearing from my co-worker that Mr. Ahn liked the comparison really made me happy.
As had my decision to take some time off from work to attend the luncheon. Mr. Ahn was so direct, accessible and unaffected. He passed food and later empty plates across the table, a totally unpretentious person. The food was very good and I certainly intend to make it back to Korea Palace in the not too distant future. All in all it was a truly delightful experience.
Thanks to The Korea Society (particularly Yuni Cho, who invited me) for the luncheon and for its role in bringing this wonderful actor to New York.
Sunday, September 14, 2008
The Rebel is the highest grossing Vietnamese film to date. Set in the1920s during the long period of French colonization, the film depicts the emergence of rebel forces attempting to disrupt the foreigners control of their homeland. In response,the French employ elite Vietnamese agents to destroy the rebels.
I expect to get a review screener prior to the release date. In the meanwhile here's some info about the DVD packaging:
- Commentary by Stars Johnny Tri Nguyen, Veronica Ngo, Dustin Nguyen & Asian Cinema Expert Bey Logan
- Empty Hand, Noble Heart: An Exclusive Interview With Leading Man Johnny Tri Nguyen
- Cry For Freedom: An Exclusive Interview With Leading Lady Veronica Ngo
- The Dark Destroyer: An Exclusive Interview With Leading Protagonist Dustin Nguyen
- One Man Army: A Martial Arts Demonstration By Johnny Nguyen
- Iron Jacket: A Deleted Scene From The Preview Cut Of The Rebel
- The Rebel: An Original Making Of Featurette
- Behind-The-Scenes Gallery
- Trailer Gallery
Street Date: September 30, 2008
Catalog Number: 81282
Run Time: 103 minutes
Languages: English Dolby 5.1, and Vietnamese Dolby 5.1, Vietnamese DTS
Subtitles: English and Spanish
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Members of the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Forces during Forest Light II training exercises in Hokkaido. [Photo Credit: Sawa Matsueda]
Cadets at the Japanese National Defense Academy during their entrance ceremony. [Photo Credit: Sawa Matsueda]
Japan's About-Face provides a fascinating look into the changing role of the military in postwar Japan. The filmmakers follow cadets at the National Defense Academy preparing for duties that may involve overseas deployment, meet with a group of peace activists on a grueling two-month 700-mile protest march from Hiroshima to Tokyo, and show footage of joint maneuvers with the U.S. Marine Corps, including surveillance flights over the Sea of Japan and the DDH Hyuga, the first Japanese aircraft carrier built since WW II.
Japan Society is located at 333 East 47th Street between 1st and 2nd avenues.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Monday, September 08, 2008
Directed by Gordon Chan
Action Choreography by Yuen Wo- ping
Hong Kong, 1994, 103 minutes
For those of you in a hurry, here's a quick two-liner with all you need to know:
The classic and fantastic Hong Kong martial arts film Fist of Legend will be available tomorrow (09.09.08) in a spectacular 2-disc DVD from Dragon Dynasty. Buy it!
If you have more time, read on.
The film is a remake of Bruce Lee's Fist of Fury (1972). Because of the vagaries of re-titling in the U.S., that film was called The Chinese Connection here. Further complicating matters, his The Big Boss (1971) was called Fists of Fury in the U.S.!!!
Remaking such a classic was somewhat risky, to say the least. Faced with such Hollywood fare as Jurassic Park (1993), Fist of Legend didn't do all that well at the Hong Kong box office initially. But time has proved it to be a classic in its own right.
The film is set in the 1930s, when Japan was beginning to expand its influence and control in China. Jet Li stars as Chen Zhen, a Chinese studying in Japan, who returns to Shanghai when he learns that his martial arts teacher, Master Hou. has died in a challenge match with a member of the Hong Kong branch of the Japanese Black Dragon Clan. Once there he figures out that his master was not defeated in the match, but had been poisoned.
Chin Siu-Ho plays Hou Ting-An, the son of the dead master and the new head of the school. He's a bit of a wastrel and is jealous of Chen's popularity amongst many of the students, but his essential good nature eventually comes to the fore. Chin co-starred with Jet in 1993s Tai-Chi Master, a.k.a. Twin Warriors. (See ACF 137 for my review of the Dragon Dynasty DVD release of that film.)
Kurata Yasuaki is Fuimo Funakoshi, a decent and admirable Japanese martial arts master. The actor was also instrumental in getting other Japanese actors for the film, as he did for Heroes of the East, another Dragon Dynasty DVD which I reviewed in ACF 138.
The main cast is rounded out by Billy Chow as General Fujita, a fanatical Japanese militarist who stokes the fires of anti-Chinese sentiment. He's also referred to as "the so-called killing machine." The climax of the final showdown pits Jet Li's character using a belt against Chow's General, who has grabbed a sword.
The fighting sequences are fast and furious, and there are a hell of a lot of them. All the action sequences were choreographed and directed by the legendary Yuen Wo-Ping. Gordon Chan, the film's director of record, handled the dramatic scenes and has done a very fine job with them, providing viewers with a richer than normal story for such Hong Kong fare.
It's been awhile since I've watched Bruce Lee's original, but I seem to recall it was pretty much unremitting in its depiction of all Japanese as vile, dastardly and underhanded. Fist of Legend is a bit more even-handed, not ony with Kurata's Funakoshi, but also with two other characters. Shinobu Nakayama, as Mitsuko Yamada, loves Chen Zhen, even to the point of perjuring herself to save him after he's been set-up for a murder he didn't commit. The Japanese ambassador, played by Toshimichi Takahashi, is also a sympathetic figure who deplores the General's tactics and behavior.
There's also a screen fighting seminar at Kurata's action school and a featurette with director Brett Ratner and film critic Elvis Mitchell. This duo did similar duty on Dragon Dynasty's DVD release of Tai Chi Master, and their comments again are quite interesting. (Mitchell, who wrote movie reviews for The New York Times, currently has a weekly podcast called The Treatment, interviews of people in the arts, primarily film. It's available in iTunes.)
Rounding out the extras are five deleted scenes and two trailers.
Fist of Legend gets a four out of four star rating (highest recommendation), both as a film and as a double-disc DVD release. See it, you must (as Yoda would say), but own it you definitely should.
Finally highest praise is due to all those at Genius Products, The Weinstein Company, and Dragon Dynasty who have once again presented us Asian film fans with a magnificent DVD release. More and more it seems like these people can do no wrong.
Read Grady Hendrix's Kaiju Shakedown entry about the Fist of Legend release and other Dragon Dynasty news.
Saturday, September 06, 2008
In my May 3rd email interview with Korean director Lee Chang-dong [see next to last link at the end of this posting], he declined to comment on his next project, saying only, "There's something I'm thinking about. But I don't think it's the right time to reveal it yet."
Well, the time has apparently arrived according to a recent article in VarietyAsiaOnline.com [link also below]. Lee's next project, which he will produce and direct is entitled "Poetry." It's about a woman looking for meaning as the end of her life approaches.
Filming is to start at the end of 2008, and while the cast has not yet been announced, consider the following:- Moon So-ri won honors at the Venice Film Festival and the Seattle International FIlm Festival for her role as a young woman with cerebral palsy in Lee's Oasis (2002).
- Jeon Do-yeon won awards at the Cannes Film Festival, the Asian Film Awards, the Blue Dragon Awards, the South Korea Grand Bell Awards for her role as Shin-ae, the grief-stricken mother in his Secret Sunshine (2007).I'd say this track record of actresses in Lee's last two films bodes extremely well for whoever is selected for the lead role in "Poetry."
If you've read any of my previous writings about Lee here at AsianCineFest or in Asian Cult Cinema magazine, you know that I think extremely highly of him. Though he's only directed four films to date, they've all been so good (especially Oasis and Secret Sunshine, the most recent two) that I regard him as one of world cinema's all-time great director's.Believe me when I say that I'll be making every effort to see "Poetry" as soon as I can.
My e-mail interview with Lee Chang-dong is in ACF 108.
Friday, September 05, 2008
Bangkok Dangerous, the new action feature from the Pang Brothers and starring Nicolas Cage, opens today nationwide. I, for one, am really excited about it, even without having yet seen the Pang's original 1999 thriller upon which this remake is based.
Trailers have been showing up on TV a lot over the past few days, and the film looks great. There's some two-handed pistol shooting by Cage that brings to mind Chow Yun-Fat in John Woo's Hard Boiled (1992). Some other shots on rivers or canals reminded me of one of the Roger Moore Bond movies. (I think it was The Man with the Golden Gun, but I'm not sure and don't care to spend the time to check out such a minor point.)
Don't get me wrong, I'm not accusing the Pangs of ripping off anybody. But certain comparisons seem to me to be unavoidable, given what's shown in the trailers and previews.
I'm just hopeful that the film lives up to its look. It has high production values, what looks like fantastic action sequences, and Nicolas Cage as an expert hitman, a role similar to the one he played (outstandingly in my opinion) as Castor Troy in Woo's Face/Off.
Download the Bangkok Dangerous Featurette! It has scenes from the movie and some interview segments with the principals. [Note: It's a fairly large file that may take awhile to download, but wait it out. Your patience will be rewarded.]
For downloads of the trailer and a clip of the "Water Bottle Shootout," and a link to an article in Wise Kwai's Thai Film Journal, get yourself over to ACF: 142.
Wednesday, September 03, 2008
Director Pinkaew and action choreographer Rittikrai, the team who thrilled Asian Cult Cinema fans with Ong-Bak a few years ago, are again providing us with what seems sure to be a terrific new action film.
Zen (Juja Yanin) is the shy autistic daughter of cancer-stricken Zin (Ammara Siripong), who was exiled from a powerful Thai crime syndicate because of her affair with a Japanese gangster. When a friend finds a list of outstanding debts owed her mother, Zen goes out to collect from the unwilling-to- pay-up debtors.
Zen has intuitively learned to fight from years of playing martial arts video games and watching action movies on TV. Think of her as a kick-ass, female "Rain Man." Plenty of fantastic action sequences are sure to be had as Zen goes about her task of collecting the money needed for her mother's medical care.
Yanin was already a black belt in taekwondo, which she began studying when she was eleven, when she started training in Muay Thai boxing. She put in two years of study in this new martial art form before filming of Chocolate began. Her approach of "no stunt double" harkens back to the glory days of Hong Kong cinema, a comparison reinforced by the montage of outtakes at the end of the film.
There will be two public screenings of Chocolate at the Toronto International Film Festival on Saturday, September 13th, 2008.
Those not lucky enough to be able catch it there (myself included), will have to keep your eyes peeled. I'm sure this film will be having a wide theatrical release and will come out on DVD at some point in the not-too-distant future.
Tuesday, September 02, 2008
I'm expecting a review copy and will put up my impression of the actual release as soon as I can. But Dragon Dynasty has been putting out such impeccable product that I'm very confident that this is going to be dynamite also.
Monday, September 01, 2008
It's almost here, the September 5, 2008 release of Bangkok Dangerous. The film is directed by twin brothers Oxide and Danny Pang (The Eye) and is based on their 1999 Hong Kong actioner of the same name, which they both co-wrote and directed. The new film sports a screenplay by Jason Richman.
Nicolas Cage stars as Joe, a top assassin who travels to Bangkok where he's to execute four enemies of Surat (Nirattisai Kaljaruek), a ruthless crime boss. Joe hires a street punk and pickpocket named Kong (Shahkrit Yamnarm) to run errands for him. Joe starts to questions his plans and sense of self as he falls under the spell of the city and a local shopgirl.
Cage, of course, is coming off the very successful National Treasure actioners. Personally, my favorite of his performances was his dual role as Castor Troy/Sean Archer in John Woo's Face/Off (1997), which I regard as one of Hollywood's all-time greatest action pictures. So Cage can definitely carry a film in this genre.
And from what I've seen in the trailer and the "Water Bottle Shootout" (see download links below), Bangkok Dangerous looks like it's going to be terrrific: solid, interesting story, an exotic locale, and fantastic set-pieces. Here's hoping it lives up to its promise.
To download the trailer, click here.
You can also download a clip of the "Water Bottle Shootout."
Here's a link to a recent article in The New York Times about the Pang Brothers.
And here's a link to a Bangkok Dangerous article at Wise Kwai's Thai Film Journal.