Recently Seen, Part 21 (October 2018)


Member: Rank 4
Little Forest (Yim Soon-rye, 2018) was everything that I fearfully expected when I first saw the poster, with one major exception – it actually didn’t suck at all.

Based on the same manga that was adapted into a two-parter by Jun’ichi Mori a few years ago, the Japanese version was contained in two two-hour films, each divided into two separate episodes representing different seasons. The episodes themselves were presented partly as instructional cooking videos and partly as a gardening show, rounded out with segments where the host hangs out with her friends in her (fictional) home town, and shares with the viewer her reflections on her life, mainly in a voice-over narration but supplemented by flashback scenes. As the seasons unfold over the course of the four hours, this introspection gradually and gently becomes more personal and poignant, taking the viewer with her on a journey of self-discovery.

This Korean adaptation is a considerably shorter and more conventional film. Story-wise, the films appear to be pretty faithful despite the absence of a particularly strong narrative – a young girl abandons her life in the city to return to her bucolic childhood home, reconnects with a few old school friends, and, over the course of the year, tries to figure out where her life is going while spending time planting fresh food in a pastoral idyll, then cooking up her harvest. Whereas the relationship between the protagonist (played here as independent yet simultaneously cute-as-a-button by Kim Tae-ri) and her absent mother was the crux of the earlier movies, here the connection between her and her childhood friends, complete with the romantic tensions, provides the central drama.

The result is something that I imagine will be a lot more accessible to a general audience – it succeeds in largely capturing the same essence that was captured in Mori’s films, even if it doesn’t have the same uniqueness or depth. But the trepidation I initially felt when I saw what looked like (and turned out to be) a K-Pop version of Little Forest was misplaced.


Member: Rank 5
I finally finished Lee Chang-dong's Burning. It's 2.5 hours long and not that interesting. Bummer. The characters are wafer thin and the 'mystery' is a metaphorical sleight of hand. The film is getting 5 star reviews everywhere and I understand why. It's one of those films where thinking about it is more fun than watching it. The photography is beautiful, though.
Masturbating in the room of a pixie girl who seduced you and then skipped town is normal. To present it otherwise would be a narrative mistake. But don't leave a mess.

Ben is kind, thoughtful, generous--but rich, so he can be the vortex of metaphorical hate, just like pixie girl as a metaphorical greenhouse, a metaphorical spring of life. Ben's yawns were inauthentic, though.

If I were Ben I might not have noticed a big ugly truck following me in traffic (because I'm rich I don't notice these ugly plebe things) ... but down a dirt road in the middle of nowhere? I need a highfalutin' excuse metaphor for that.

The watch in the box was a cheap shot. The 'stray' cat? Ambiguity is cool but malicious misdirection is a club.

One small nit pick: the wack sound design of our anti-protagonist's labored breathing caused me to throw popcorn at the screen (metaphorically speaking).

I found the film uninteresting and unengaging but it's a film school student's wet dream. So masterfully crafted, Lee even includes a wet dream. How meta!


Member: Rank 3
Highly Recommended

Hereditary (2018) (American Horror) – After the family matriarch passes away, a grieving family is haunted by tragic and disturbing occurrences, and begin to unravel dark secrets. This is glacially paced, but has a very good overall quality and is also sufficiently sickening and unnerving at times. It also avoids most genre cliches, going instead for a deliberately disturbing angle about a family that is dealing with a tragedy. Probably a bit too long at 127 minutes, but this is legitimately unsettling.

Snow Woman (aka Yuki Onna) (2016) (Japanese Horror/Drama) – An adaptation of the classic legend, a wood sculptor witnesses the death of his master by a snow witch and is sworn to secrecy for the rest of his life. This is not a scary movie. It’s more in-line with classic Japanese horror films in that the horror content is expressed in a thematic way, not a visceral way. Some may argue that there’s not enough overt horror content to classify the film as such, but there’s enough beneath the surface. Stylistically, this film is fantastic and has a hypnotic vibe. This begins with a black-and-white scene in the forest, with a light snowfall, then switches to color. There are some great shots in this, many of which accentuate the natural environments during late autumn, winter, and early spring. The music uses Japanese instruments and is a mix of ambient sounds and percussion that is both soothing and intense at the same time. It’s a glacially paced affair that is not concerned with story or plot very much at all. (Viewed without subtitles.)

Satan’s Slaves (2017) (Indonesian Horror) – After dying from a strange illness that she suffered for 3 years, a mother’s spirit returns home to pick up her children in this film by Joko Anwar. This is set in 1981 and contributes an old school aesthetic that is consistent with that time period. This has a conventional set-up and basic plot, but it’s very well executed. Direction and performances are solid across the board. There is a lot of horror content in this one, and the scare tactics are more dynamic than you might think. Even the early jump scares have a creepy after-effect.


Speed Racer (2008) (American Action) (repeat viewing) – A young driver, Speed Racer, aspires to be champion of the racing world with the help of his family and his high-tech Mach 5 automobile. This begins with an interesting montage of present and past events that works well. Visually, it’s very colorful and engaging despite the presence of some overly frenetic editing during the race scenes. There are lots of swiping scene transitions that I really enjoyed too. This movie has got a nutty style, that’s for sure. My favorite race scene is the one in the desert with all of the crazy weaponry (near the midpoint). I like the little kid and his monkey. Directed by the Wachowskis.

Dead Banging (2013) (Japanese Comedy/Horror/Drama) – This is about an all-girl metal band (which include real-life band “Gacharic Spin”) who recruit a zombie as a headbanger who wails once in a while during the songs. This is a nice little film by Eiji Uchida. It does not go over-the-top with its silliness, choosing instead to maintain a charming tone and even take itself somewhat seriously in spots. It benefits from this. There’s definitely a love for metal that is portrayed in this movie. The actresses are very energetic when on stage too. For a lower budget movie, this actually looks quite good from a production value standpoint. In terms of horror, there are some bloody neck bites, but nothing particulary gory. (Viewed without subtitles.)

Doubles Cause Troubles (1989) (Chinese Crime Comedy/Thriller) – Mismatched cousins just inherited a rental home from their late relative, but they must share it for one year before selling it. By chance, a gangster gives them a mysterious code before his death, which gets them into trouble. This is wacky and silly stuff, but Maggie Cheung and Do Do Cheng are charmingly funny, and give vibrant performances. Almost unbelievably, this good little comedy was directed by Wong Jing.

The Third Eye (aka Mata Batin, aka Zombie X) (2017) (Indonesian Horror) – A woman and her teenage sister move into a home but experience a relentless series of ghost attacks. This is a cliched film with stuff we’ve seen before, but this movie is loaded to the brim with horror content. It is essentially just a bunch of horror scenes strung together from start to finish, with a few discussions regarding ghostly rules that are peppered in. There are some jump scares, but there’s a lot of other stuff too (including some surprisingly violent physical attacks that contribute the most memorable moments). The finale is cool and spooky, probably my favorite sequence. There are also a variety of ghosts that have different facial scars. It held my interest for sure.

Adam Chaplin (2011) (Italian Thriller/Horror) – After his wife is brutally murdered, a man summons a demon to assist him in his journey of blood-soaked vengeance. This zero budget flick is known for its copious amounts of blood and gore, and it does deliver on that front for sure. This is disgustingly amusing stuff. The interaction between Chaplin and the demon is also rather interesting. However, there are certain things that prevented this from being an instant classic in my eyes. A significant portion of the middle section follows another protagonist who is blackmailed by the bad guys to go after Chaplin, but that entire subplot builds to a lame anticlimax. The camerawork uses too many damn close-ups and the action design is also repetitive. This is an entertaining affair, but I still feel slightly disappointed considering the online hype. “Judy” is the best Necrostorm film I’ve seen so far.

Bound (1996) (American Drama/Thriller) – Corky, a tough female ex con and her lover Violet concoct a scheme to steal millions of stashed mob money and pin the blame on Violet's crooked boyfriend Caesar. The dialogue during the opening half hour is awful. The sexuality is also very “on the nose” and almost cartoonish. Neither actress gives a good performance at all. Fortunately, the film gets significantly better when Joe Pantoliano takes over. There is also sufficient tension during much of the runtime. I liked some of the camerawork too. Directed by the Wachowskis.

Not Recommended

Conjuring Spirit (aka Chung Cu Ma) (2014) (Vietnamese Horror) – When moving to a new apartment, a mother and her 5-year-old son keep being haunted by an angry ghost hiding in a music box. The ghost girl is caked in grey mud and has white eyes, and she acts more rabid than the Japanese onryo. There’s a scene with a fetus that I liked. Some of the horror scenes are pretty cheesy though, especially when they incorporate slow motion. The thing that the protagonist needs to accomplish to appease the ghost is about as generic as humanly imaginable. One of the twists is also lame and too melodramatic. This flick moves at a decent pace at least, but it’s simply not memorable enough. The lead actress has a dynamite body though.

Annabelle Creation (2017) (American Horror) – 12 years after the tragic death of their little girl, a dollmaker and his wife welcome a nun and several girls from a shuttered orphanage into their home, where they soon become the target of the dollmaker's possessed creation, Annabelle. David F. Sandberg previously directed “Lights Out”, which was terrible. This one is better, but very slow and generic, with boring filler, a wafer thin script, and a few obnoxious side characters, but at least it does not rely too much on jump scares. I liked the bedsheet scene and a few others, but this film is visually monotonous because everything is drowned out in blackness for much of the runtime. This has some of the worst lighting of any horror film in recent memory.

Jupiter Ascending (2015) (American Sci Fi Action) – A young woman discovers her destiny as an heiress of intergalactic nobility and must fight to protect the inhabitants of Earth from an ancient and destructive industry. There’s a pretty good quantity of action in this that incorporates futuristic weaponry and flying boots, but the action scenes come from out of nowhere, which limits anticipation. They are also shot so cartoonishly and frenetically that they feel rushed and somewhat random (the space battle during the second half is an atrocious mess of CGI crap that is constantly thrown at the screen). The story has similar problems because it’s essentially a smorgasbord of stuff that is thrown together without much depth or development. Because of this, the film gets monotonous and is non-impactful. With that said, it is dumb enough to be marginally watchable. Directed by the Wachowskis.

Insidious 4: The Last Key (2018) (American Horror) – Parapsychologist Dr. Elise Rainier faces her most fearsome and personal haunting yet, as she is drawn back to her ghostly childhood home, where the terror began. Lin Shaye is a terrible actress, and she unfortunately returns to this franchise that was never good to begin with. After a halfway-decent yet fairly boring 15-minute opening, the viewer is subjected to cheesy writing, lame humor, a sleep-inducing story, and cheap jump scares. The connections between the protagonist’s current investigation and her childhood are written in an amateurish fashion. The featured ghost in the trailer (with the key finger) has minimal screentime. This is really boring to watch.


Member: Rank 5
Hereditary (2018) (American Horror) – After the family matriarch passes away, a grieving family is haunted by tragic and disturbing occurrences, and begin to unravel dark secrets. This is glacially paced, but has a very good overall quality and is also sufficiently sickening and unnerving at times. It also avoids most genre cliches, going instead for a deliberately disturbing angle about a family that is dealing with a tragedy. Probably a bit too long at 127 minutes, but this is legitimately unsettling.
I wouldn't call it glacially paced, maybe 'deliberate'. It's a horror for sure. It's kind of classy, too, as far as horrors go, I think. Good actors. Toni Collette is wonderful. I loved the quick scene of her trying to get upstairs. wow

I've been waiting on subs for Snow Woman forever.

Daniel Larusso

Member: Rank 3
Tom Hardy is good and his interaction with Venom is fun to watch, but the action sequences and the script are very disapointing. Should have been more violent just like Deadpool.

Ant-Man and the Wasp
Ant-man is one of my favourite Marvel characters, but the story here feels like a b-side to the MCU. This film is supposed to take place before and at the same time of the events in Infinity War, but that link is never shown throught the film. Still a fun film, but not one to re-watch in the future.
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Member: Rank 5
I haven’t watched anything Asian (okay, anything actually) the past month and I felt my knowledge of Asian movies is cobwebbed. What’s my most favorite Asian movie again? Café Noir? Hehe anyway, back to work….

The 8-Year Engagement (Japan, 2017)- Okay the fact that this is a true story melts my heart. If it were fiction, I wouldn’t recommend this. But it’s a heartwarming story of real couples! I’m glad that it didn’t feel like watching the film for 8 years too. The runtime is just enough without dragging too much nor too short to understand.

The story is monotone—meaning a single mood is retained all throughout (no shock/plot twist element).

This reminds me of the movie April Bride. Mai and Hisashi (Takeru Satoh—why I watched this hehe) met casually. They soon became a couple and then got engaged. However, right after engagement, Mai exhibited symptoms of some neurological disorder. She forgets things, screams out of nowhere, breaks down, then gets seizures. Upon check-up it was revealed she has an ovarian tumor that affects her brain’s functions (????? Didn’t know that could exist). She falls into a coma and vegetable state. All through out, her parents and Hishashi were with her. Her parents even told Hisashi he was free to let Mai go as it would be hard for him to be with her when her future was uncertain. But he stayed with her during those times (my heart just melted----yes I have a heart too) and never cancelled the wedding preparations. He believed she could make it…even if it took years.

Again, this is a love story so if you don’t feel the mood to hear “I, once again, fell in love with you”, and “I’ve always stayed in love with you”, don’t watch. I was not in the mood to hear those lines too until the credits rolled and the picture of the couple were shown (which signified that it’s a true story). I’m happy I have seen this.


Member: Rank 4
Dragon (aka Wuxia) (2011)

Every time I see Donnie Yen, I just get more and more amazed. Amazed at what a great martial artist he is, both in pure skill and in action choreography, and how his presence in a film is such a joy. And I'm amazed that he pretty much looks the same as he did 20+ years ago when making films like Butterfly & Sword and Wing Chun and Iron Monkey. I haven't seen him in anything real recent, but the Ip Man films and now Dragon, within the last 10 years, he's been totally on top of his game. Plus, in interviews and such he seems like a genuinely nice guy.

So, Dragon. Yen plays a family man (Jin-xi) living the peaceful village life circa 1917, and who we soon learn has an extremely violent past. Shades of Viggo Mortenson in A History of Violence. Takeshi Kaneshiro (who I've seen in House of Flying Daggers and Red Cliff) is a police inspector who comes to the village after Jin-xi kills two robbers terrorizing a local business. Jin-xi downplays his actions and basically comes across as almost an accidental hero, but Kaneshiro doesn't believe it for a second, and his investigation leads him to uncover some truths about Jin-xi's skills...and his past.

The first half of the film is the police procedural described above, but then we learn more about the violent past, and the movie goes all Jimmy Wang Yu (in more ways than one!)

I really liked this. Not only because of Yen, but the story is told very cleverly and with a unique style. Especially in the first half (which I found a bit stronger). But the whole movie was a joy. The DVD bonus features, especially the interviews with Yen, were also quite interesting, if too short.

4 stars (out of 5)


Member: Rank 4
Isabella (2006)

Chapman To plays a somewhat morally compromised detective in Macau who seems to spend most of his time picking up girls at bars. Eventually he comes across a girl about 16 or 17 that gives him more than he bargained for.

I've seen Chapman To in gangster films and comedies, but never as "gone to seed" as here, as the down-and-almost-out detective. He knows he's one step away from being indicted and sent to the pokey, and it wears on him. Isabella Leong (as the girl) is perky. Both actors did a really good job in their roles. (And, no, actress Isabella does not play a character "Isabella." In the movie, "Isabella" is a dog.)

But I didn't like the movie.

I didn't hate it, but it was frustrating to watch. Somber and slow moving, I thought I must have dozed off and woken up in a Kar-Wai Wong movie by mistake (and, with a few exceptions, I'm NOT a Kar-Wai Wong fan). The emotions I was obviously supposed to feel at certain scenes (and if you can't figure out what you are supposed to be feeling, the music sledgehammers it into you), just never reached me. A lot of ho-hum. I re-ran the first 15 minutes twice because I couldn't make sense of who was who and where was where and who was hitting whom, until I realized the director was being obtuse on purpose.

Of course I don't mind obtuseness and misdirection and flat out drama--if done well. A LOT of folks think this movie was done well. It won some awards, and most of the IMDb reviews are toward the top of the scale. But it missed my sweet spot.

2 stars.


Member: Rank 5
Dragon (aka Wuxia) (2011)
I enjoyed this one too. I'm indifferent to Donnie Yen because, frankly, how well someone does martial arts isn't as interesting to me as how well someone cooks tofu and sings kumbaya. But Yen does have a nice screen presence. I actually wrote up this film in detail somewhere, but alas ... gone with the tide.


Member: Rank 4
re: Dragon:
I actually wrote up this film in detail somewhere, but alas ... gone with the tide.
That's too bad, b/c I would have loved to read it.

re: Isabella
One of the things that confused me about Isabella is that on-screen graphics kept referring to police corruption indictments in 1999, but the characters kept referring to the "upcoming Handover." Since I knew the "Handover" was a 1997 event, I kept trying to view the movie as depicting events in two timelines, like it was jumping back and forth between pre-1997 and 1999.

I'm not sure how or when I finally figured it out, that the 1997 Hong Kong Handover was NOT the one being referred to in the film. It seems Macau was handed back to the Chinese in 1999 (from Portugal, not Britain). Any Chinese / Macauan viewer would have known this, but not my dumb white ass. No wonder the movie was so problematic for me! (It still wasn't all that good, though, even understanding the timeline)


Member: Rank 5
Amores Perros (Mexico, 2000)--This one is a challenge to the stomach but I’m glad I did not bail out and finished ‘til the end. Animal cruelty, domestic violence, gore, sex, they’re all here. Heavy themes of heavy stories of 3 seemingly different lives brought together in one place after a life-changing vehicular accident that happened in the streets of Mexico.

Octavio and Susana, Daniel and Valeria, El Chivo and Maru—three colorful lives complicated by circumstances unique to each pair. Octavio lives in a dysfunctional family with his brother, Ramiro, and his wife whom Octavio has feelings for, Susana. The amount of dog cruelty in this part was alarming, so let’s hope it stays on the movies. Octavio aggressively takes Susana for himself, but the latter is blindly submissive to her abusive husband. Octavio involves himself in dog matches-for-a-bet (akin to cockfighting in the Philippines), and when a match turned wrong almost kills his champion dog, he stabs the culprit and runs away using the vehicle. The same vehicle that hit Valeria’s car……………

Daniel is a married man with an extra-marital affair with Valeria, one of Mexico’s hottest models turned paralyzed after the vehicular accident. Daniel leaves his wife and lives with Valeria in an apartment with her dog, Richie. Their relationship is tested after Valeria’s predicament………….

El Chivo is a guerrilla/fugitive who shots and kills his ex-wife’s new husband. He exiles himself from his family but in secret, follows what happens to them and watches his daughter from afar. He sidelines as a gun-for-hire man. On the day of the vehicular accident, he happened to be on that street because he was following one of his prospect victims that’s why he was on the scene (while taking advantage of the commotion and stealing the winning monies from Octavio).

Small plotholes are around (like how robbers and killers who rob and shot at broad day light still freely roam the streets) but I didn’t mind.

2-hour movies can be long but this one didn’t feel so. There’s everything happening at almost any given time. The plot isn’t complicated but its heavy you feel you are captured into its web and you can’t leave without knowing how each of their lives will turn out. I’m glad I made it past the disturbing scenes, if not, I wouldn’t have had the privilege to see this masterpiece in its entirety. I haven’t seen a lot of films from Mexico, but this one certainly deserve the recognition it got.

Highly recommended.


Member: Rank 4
Dragon (aka Wuxia) (2011)
I finally got around to seeing this - I had caught the opening fight scene years ago on TV, and had always meant to have another look. A few random notes:
  • I agree with your comments on Donnie Yen - I think everything I've ever seen him in, he's playing someone so goddamn likeable that you can't help rooting for him. Possibly the only exception might be the first SPL film, where he was annoyingly likeable.
  • The first half of the film was by far the stronger. The Takeshi Kaneshiro character was the most interesting, and I thought the second half lagged a bit until he came back in.
  • I wish Tang Wei had been given more to do. I was expecting her character to play a bigger role, but she kind of petered out. Pity.