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Protégé (2007)
harrowing, complex and surreal
12 May 2007
One of the best films I've seen in years. (The director, Derek Yee, wrote and directed the excellent ONE NIGHT IN MONGKOK)

Watching it was like going into a surreal alternate universe--part horror, part human drama, part cop story.

The plot description does not do it justice, as it sounds like a typical HK action drama, or at best a copycat of INFERNAL AFFAIRS, or TRAFFIC.

This harrowing film is complex and has its own vision. Addiction, despair and betrayal are at its core.

The cop-mole plot is only part of the story. The world of heroin is explored on several levels: poppy growers, "cookers", suppliers, an amazing sequence in Thailand in the heart of the "Golden Triangle", and --best of all-- a look inside the world of a young mother and heroin addict-- which is shot with such a dreamlike but gritty reality you are horrified yet entranced.

The cinematographer and production designer should be commended for creating such a fascinating universe for the actors to inhabit.

The actors all give strong performances, but it's Zhang Jing Chu who is mesmerizing and heartbreaking as Jane, who plays the heroin addict as if she were a "living ghost."
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Wonderful-- in part
26 February 2007
I so much wanted to give this film 10 stars.

It has the charismatic, world-class actor Shin Shin Ha-kyun (SAVE THE GREEN PLANET, MY BROTHER, NO MERCY FOR THE RUDE) and the story is deeply emotional.

However, the first part of the film plays too much like a TV romance despite the great acting. The music is incredibly sugary, and kept hammering that "this is an emotional scene." OK! We get it! Trust the actors and the story to get us there. Unless it's a musical, soundtracks in modern films should be nearly subliminal, added only as subtext.

This film must have been adapted from a novel (a good one, I imagine). It abruptly jumps POV to Soo-hee's life in Seoul, several times, which is fine in a novel, but disrupts the flow in this film. There are jump cuts in time and character's mentioned that are never shown so it's hard to keep the relationships straight. I'm a careful viewer, yet did not realize till midway that Soo-hee and Seung-jae were cousins-- I thought they were just friends/neighbors.

That said, the last 20 minutes of the film (starting shortly before the magical and heartbreaking underwater sequence) are brilliant, and make up for any defects in the rest of the film.

I'd recommend a watch simply on that sequence-- yes, it's THAT good. (I watched that part three times)

On a tech note. The DVD I rented said it was 174 minutes (almost 3 hours!) Fortunately, that is NOT correct. It's actually slightly less than 1 hour, 45 minutes.
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Oh, Yeah! (all 6 films)
25 February 2007
Oh, yeah, this is one brilliant, edgy, dark piece of film-making! It moves at the speed of light starting with the American Occupation of the devastated city of Hiroshima after WWII up to the early 1970's.

It has great actors playing complex characters, and cinematography and editing way ahead of its time.

Turn off your phone and don't look away for even a second, or you'll miss something critical. There are many characters and lots of information to absorb.

I've read that the script was based on the life of a real Yakuza, but whether it's fact or fiction, it's a hell of a ride.

And though it's a serious film, sometimes it's also hilarious-- intentionally so.

Warning--not for the squeamish. Unlike the Tarentino films this has been compared to, the violence here is NOT cartoonish or funny. It's brutal, bloody, and serious. (as it should be, in my opinion)
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Sir! No Sir! (2005)
25 February 2007
I thought I knew a lot about the Vietnam War protest movement, but obviously, not enough.

I knew some soldiers had thrown their medals on the congressional steps and gone to peace marches, but not that thousands of American soldiers were actively involved in ending the war from within. And not because they were afraid to die or get hurt, but because they realized that the Vietnam War was immoral, illegal and they were killing people in a country who had never done anything against the United States THEY are the ones who deserve most of the credit for stopping the Vietnam war, not the civilians at home. The soldiers risked beatings, imprisonment and even death to protest the lies and atrocities of the Vietnam war, not for financial gain or glory, but to preserve their sense of morality.

They showed true bravery--saying "NO MORE!" and were able to stop the bloodshed--for at least a few years. Thanks, guys!!!!

This documentary also discusses the lie spread by right-wingers that protesters spit on returning soldiers, even ones on stretchers. A former Vietnam Vet investigated it thoroughly-- it DID NOT happen!

Every American soldier in Iraq should see this. It's from the mouths of thousands of their own.

On a technical level: The rare vintage footage is mastered at a very high level--audio is clean and clear. Interesting soundtrack, not the "Oldies" I'd expected, but modern, edgy--which was the perfect choice.

And, oh, yeah, just in case you don't get the message from the cover, this is not a pro-con view of the Vietnam War. This film is definitely Anti-war.
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Apocalypto (2006)
Brilliant storytelling
25 February 2007
APOCALYPTO is obviously not historically accurate, anymore than the Myths of Odysseus (Ulysses), or Helen of Troy, or King Arthur are historically accurate.

The film is not meant to be taken literally, it is told as a legend, and is a parable for the destruction of a culture from within by greed and blood lust.

This is made clear with a quote which comes up before the story begins.

I have never liked any of Mel Gibson's other films, but APOCALYPTO is a brilliant film all the way around-- acting, directing, cinematography, costumes, production design, you name it.

It's the one film Gibson should have gotten the Oscar for, certainly not the overrated BRAVEHEART.
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Gada Meilin (2002)
24 February 2007
I strongly recommend this epic, mythical and heartbreaking film.

Rich in details about the life of the nomadic tribes based on a real Mongolian hero in the 1930's.

Wonderful, charismatic actors, and great cinematography--specially a very early scene where a herd of horses passes in-between three men bathing in the river.

No CGI, just brave actors-- and very disciplined horses, I hope.

It reminded me of a Western-- told from the Native American's side, mixed with a bit of MUSA, THE WARRIOR(Korea), another great epic.

The DVD I rented described it as fullscreen, but thankfully that is NOT so! It is in the correct 35mm format. Not super-widescreen, but at least one can see the entire horizontal format the cinematographer intended without the horrible cropping of fullscreen.
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Citizen Dog (2004)
16 February 2007
I absolutely loved this film!

Difficult to describe, but like a cross between AMELIE (France) (without the super expensive CGI), TASTE OF TEA (Japan) and perhaps a bit of CHUNGKING EXPRESS (Hong Kong) (with quieter cinematography instead of Chris Doyle's kinetic style.)

So visually rich it can even be enjoyed without subtitles, although what it has to say is important.

I can't wait to see this director's other films: TEARS OF THE BLACK TIGER, and particularly THE UNSEEABLE, a supernatural horror that is getting rave reviews.

This film was shot on HIGH-DEF, yet looks better that most American films shot on 35mm.

It just goes to show that it is not budget that determines a great film, but TALENT, HEART and VISION.
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Unique vision. Whimsical and funny
10 February 2007
A truly unique vision of a whimsical, funny and gently-demented family. The actors do a wonderful job in fleshing out the quirky characters so that they are never cartoons.

The cinematography is fascinating-- sometimes simply beautiful; other times, bizarre. And sometimes the perspectives are distorted just enough so things take on a surreal appearance but you don't exactly know why.

This a character-driven story without a whole lot of plot. If you need a complex storyline, you may be bored, but if you like stories which reveal the inner life of a creative family, this is the film to see.
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a film of quiet power--lyrical but realistic
7 September 2006
A film of quiet power, beautifully shot and well-acted.

The deceptively simple story takes place during the French Occupation of Vietnam, shortly before the beginning of World War II.

Kim, the 15-year old son of impoverished Vietnamese rice farmers, must take the family's two starving buffaloes on a river journey to an area where there is still grass for them to eat.

Despite the tiny budget, the execution of the film is lyrical but realistic. It's hard to believe that this is the director's first film.

The images lingered in my mind long after the film ended. Hope to see more from this director.
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A truthful look at how the world is run
2 August 2006
I hope that, someday, this powerful documentary gets on DVD. I bought the 3-part VHS set many years ago, and recently transfered it to DVD as the tapes were falling apart.

Naturally, the sound and image quality is not very good, so I'd love to buy a "real" DVD.

Though it deals with political issues from the 1980's it is particularly relevant in these dangerous times.

The interviewees range from former CIA Ops, mercenaries, and congressmen.

The Congressional hearings are disturbing. The arrogant Richard Helms (former CIA director) is so blatant in his disrespect for the power of Congress it tells you that he will do exactly what he wants when he wants, no matter what the laws of the land are. (sound familiar?) Former CIA director William Colby is unintentionally hilarious during an interview. All he says is "I don't know" no matter what he is asked.

However, this is not a "talking heads" documentary. The archival film used includes amazing footage of the Iran revolution against the Sha, and the bombing of the Chilean presidential palace during Allende's assassination.

A must see.
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Rudraksh (2004)
Saturday Night Fever meets Indian Myth (may have a tiny spoiler)
12 July 2005
Warning: Spoilers
This movie is proof that even the most interesting concept can be destroyed and made into an (unintentional) comedy by a crass producer.

Not even Roger Corman would take a story about the destruction of the world by demons and cast Baywatch-type babes as scientists or have recurring dance numbers breaking out between "dramatic" scenes of murder and mayhem. The sets are so incredibly CHEESY, the wigs and fake beards so obvious, the babes so "Pamela Anderson", I started thinking it was intended as a comedy... but NOOOOOOO- it's meant to be serious.

In the "Final Battle" the Evil Demon, (Sunil Shetty) is dressed like John Travolta in Saturday NIGHT FEVER. He multiplies into more "disco dancers"-- one of them in a pale blue suit(!!!!)

IDEA: Someone do a remake as Woody Allen did in "WHAT'S UP TIGER LILY". Make it into the comedy it was never intended to be, but should be!

I felt sorry for Sanjay Dutt, who played Varun. He's a serious actor and deserves better. I hope he got paid big bucks for that humiliating experience.
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The I Inside (2004)
interesting Puzzle-Box
18 May 2005
There should be another category to describe films that don't exactly fit the accepted genres of horror, supernatural or psychological thriller.

I call it the "Puzzle-Box" genre. Puzzle-Box films challenge you to think and discover the answers, rather than spoon-feeding them to you. Not everyone enjoys that when going to the movies. Classifying a film as a Puzzle-Box would make it easier for that film to find its audience.

THE I INSIDE is one of those films. Others are MULHOLLAND DRIVE, IDENTITY (same writer as THE I INSIDE), JACOB'S LADDER, and many modern Korean films, such as OLDBOY, HYPNOTIZED, TALE OF TWO SISTERS, and the brilliant but obscure SPIDER FOREST. And to a lesser extent, MEMENTO, which is fun on the first watch, but bored me on the second, since no new clues are revealed.

THE I INSIDE give more answers at the end than OLDBOY or MULHOLLAND DRIVE, but it is still a fascinating film.

This is is Ryan Phillippe's most challenging role, and he does an excellent job, but the standout for me was Piper Perabo-- she went through some tricky personality quirks (I'm purposely leaving things vague) which added to the mystery.
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Sorum (2001)
Masterful, disturbing
26 January 2005
An obscure brilliant film, but not recommended for the faint of heart.

Yoon Jong-chan's masterful first feature film is a vision into the "heart of darkness" which relies on brilliant acting, cinematography and directing-- not gratuitous gore-- to tell a disturbing psychological horror story which hints at the supernatural.

The beautiful and painterly visuals transform a drab tenement into a hallucinatory house of horrors without ANY special effects, cliché jump cuts, or loud sound effects.

One of the best films I've seen in years. Left me thinking and questioning reality long after the film ended.

Check it out-- if you can find it.
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