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My Short Films

Friday, March 30, 2007

Defending THE DEPARTED. I'm A Mindless Hollywood Drone?

**Warning: This post contains spoilers for THE DEPARTED and INFERNAL AFFAIRS**

My recent involvement in a new production, coupled with my month-long addiction to Final Fantasy 12 made me too busy to actually post much here. I know some occasional film reviews and a once-in-a-blue-moon videoblog entry, peppered with one or two of Justin's 'too bored to blog' posts in the past month hadn't really make this blog that interesting. So I intend to write something I've been feeling rather strongly about in the past week.

The kind of hate THE DEPARTED had generated from hardcore INFERNAL AFFAIRS fans since its victory at last month's Academy Awards had started to irk me. But then, their reactions towards THE DEPARTED ever since Brad Pitt bought the remake rights years ago hadn't been exactly exemplary. And I've always believed that everyone's been waiting for a chance to rip the movie apart, to nitpick at the smallest things, to throw rationality and objectivity in the wind and condemn those ignorant gwailos for defiling our much-beloved yellow culture.

I quote from my THE DEPARTED review here:

There are lots of contradictions, Asian film lovers hate the idea of Hollywood remaking the film, accusing creative bankruptcy, yet they won't be happy unless the remake is a frame-to-frame remake, regardless of the differences of cultures and styles. It's annoying


I was annoyed then, I'm annoyed again. My supposedly-dormant annoyance was triggered when I was having a look at the theCICAK, a peer-reviewed Malaysian political and popular culture online publication (or to make it sound simpler, it's a group blog), wondering what should I contribute to them after being invited to do thus by their managing editor Krystle Chow last year (an early idea was to write about my personal experience during last Monday's Malaysian Shorts when my short film was screened, check out my video of the event here).

I then came upon this article by Chan SHiJun aka Sigma, which, in truth, was really a rant against THE DEPARTED's victory. Let me quote a few paragraphs, and then follow them with my responses. I have actually left a comment at this entry, but I think it's better for me to expand upon my points.

The Departed won best film at the 79th Academy Awards. It also won best adapted screenplay.

I don’t care if the actors in it won stuff. But for those two categories above, I do take offence. How could a remake be awarded best film? I mean, since it’s based 95 percent on the superior Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs, maybe they should have just given that award to directors Andrew Lau and Alan Mak, and their crew instead.

Apart from great acting, the one main thing which made The Departed "good" among critics and cinemagoers alike was its terrific plotline of "double diametric moles." But this strength is directly 100 percent taken from Infernal Affairs.

Somewhere along the way I heard they wanted to position The Departed as a film that was only inspired by our story, rather than an adaptation … I would have hoped some new elements were being introduced to it,” said Mak, writer of Infernal Affairs, according to The China Post.

So how does it justify the movie winning best film?

And best screenplay? Oh my god, that’s even worse. It’s like taking my friend’s great Mandarin essay, paraphrasing it a little and translating it into English, and then winning an essay competition with it. Has William Monahan, the screenwriter for The Departed, no shame? What a hollow win for him. Luckily Hollywood was aware enough to award it Best “Adapted” Screenplay rather than Best “Original” Screenplay. For that at least we can be thankful.



Pause. Here's my reply.

Now, everything's a matter of opinion. Being Asians, of course we are more likely to declare IA as an unrivaled masterpiece. After all, the culture behind Infernal Affairs is closer to us. The in-jokes, the beliefs, the subtlety, we can relate to.

9 out of my 10 friends (all Asians) I asked said that they prefer IA over THE DEPARTED. I'm not surprised. The last one was the ever-objective and awesome Brian the Cinematographer, who shared my sentiments that both films are TOO different to really make any direct comparisons.

I love Infernal Affairs as much as any regular Asian cinema lover out there, I watched it repeatedly just like anyone here does. Showed it to female friends who came to my place, watched it for personal reference when doing an earlier short film, FORCED LABOUR, to the point where I could even memorize the lines.

Hey, I could even recognize the supporting actors, when I saw the guy who played the superintendent (you know, the one who played golf with Andy Lau in this one scene) at a seafood restaurant in KL, I joyously approached him and asked to take photos with him.

However, just as I've mentioned in my review, I enjoyed THE DEPARTED too. I liked what Scorsese brought into the movie, definitely believed that if a lesser director had chosen to do a frame by frame remake of the film (like Gus Van Sant did with PSYCHO), the movie would never had worked.

It's public knowledge that this is NOT Scorsese's best film, no one's comparing this with TAXI DRIVER, RAGING BULL or GOODFELLAS. And yes, his victory had a lot to do with him being screwed over numerous times in the past. No one's denying that either.

But compare THE DEPARTED with Scorsese's previous works, GANGS OF NEW YORK (... urgh, the only thing I liked about it was Butcher Bill's badassness) and THE AVIATOR (good biopic, but ultimately... just your generic well-made biopic), both blatant Oscar baits, THE DEPARTED was definitely less pretentious and more entertaining.

My recent discussion with Krystle showed our much contrasting views towards the film. To her, THE DEPARTED was NOT a film that didn't take itself seriously, and because of that, it was sorely lacking at those dramatic and emotional elements (basically, it lacked the wondrous Asian melodrama we saw in INFERNAL AFFAIRS), while to me, I thought THE DEPARTED was pretty much a black comedy, especially towards the end, when everyone started getting killed off. There were lots of chuckling and giggling in the cinema when I saw THE DEPARTED last year. (ask Justin)

I will compare this crucial scene that reinforced my opinion that THE DEPARTED really does not take itself as seriously as INFERNAL AFFAIRS did. The death scene of Anthony Wong/ Martin Sheen's character.

In the HK version:
Anthony Wong fell onto the taxi without any warning. Eliciting shock from audiences (my dad told me that my mom screamed pretty loudly when they went to see it). Then, slow mo of Tony Leung turning around, staring at the corpse. Sad hymn music began playing, then we see black and white flashbacks of Tony Leung and Anthony Wong during their happier moments. (... my horrid description made IA look like a non-cowboy Brokeback Mountain)

In The Departed
We can already see Martin Sheen falling off from the building (some gasps from audiences, who were mostly Aussies, thus having not seen the original film before). And hit the floor with a resounding SPLAT, and we have blood SPLATTERING on Leo, with blood-covered Leo gasping "WHAT THE FUCK??". Some of us in the cinema laughed. It was kinda funnier when the police who were hiding in the car had NO IDEA what just fell off from the building.

Seriously, did anyone really think that Scorsese was aiming to do what Andrew Lau and Alan Mak did with that scene? Maybe each individual has a different interpretation of a movie. So it's pointless for me to dwell into this.

However, anti-American sentiments are high, hating Hollywood is cool, so it’s unsurprising that dissing them for remaking Asian films, or accusing them of creative bankruptcy is the way to go. (Of course, we should conveniently try to FORGET the fact that all these years, Asian cinema had borrowed shamelessly from Hollywood, without even giving credit to the source materials. Sigh. That includes even the almighty Bollywood)

But since when THE DEPARTED should be penalized for being a REMAKE? Perhaps we should start spitting on MAGNIFICENT SEVEN because it's a remake of SEVEN SAMURAI.

How about going one step further and start condemning ALL adapted works?

Lord of the Rings sucked because it was adapted from JRR Tolkien’s books and didn’t spring up from Peter Jackson’s loins… I mean, brains.

Or Star Wars sucked because it’s really a remake of Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress.

Now, I wonder whether we should crucify Kurosawa because he was sooooo unoriginal that he had to *GASP* STEAL Shakespeare’s King Lear to make Ran.

Speaking of Shakespeare, It’s fortunate that I never saw Shakespeare fans throw a hissy fit when The Banquet bastardized Hamlet. Oh, but then, being Asian cinema, I’m sure we can forgive them for anything they do. Even though The Banquet, aside some unintentionally hilarious moments, and Ge You's awesomeness, really sucked.

Poor Shakespeare, if only Asian viewers cared about you as much as they cared about Alan Mak or Andrew Lau. Or maybe he's not getting that much love cos' Billy the Bard's a gwailo.

Now, let me continue with Sigma's article:

Notice I didn’t bag-out Scorsese winning best director. I can still accept that, since a director’s job is to coax good performances from his actors, and he did that.

For the record, I am still saying that Infernal Affairs is the better film. The pacing, the suspense, the buildup, the ending and the cinematography was way better than in The Departed.


... being a filmmaker myself, I can definitely assure you all that a director's job is more than just coaxing good performances from his actors. But I'll let that slide.

Now, his preference for IA is purely subjective. If he was expecting THE DEPARTED to be a frame-by-frame remake of INFERNAL AFFAIRS, of course he was disappointed.

However, one thing I do not agree with most people is that the cinematography in INFERNAL AFFAIRS is better than THE DEPARTED. Because, seriously, they are too different to compare.

Now, I'm on Christopher Doyle's bandwagon just as much as anyone else, I find it a travesty that he didn't get any Oscar nominations AT ALL for the things he did in those Wong Kar Wai films (especially IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE, or 2046) or HERO. His work in INFERNAL AFFAIRS was to give it a slick, stylized MTV look.

Meanwhile, veteran cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, a long-time collaborator of Martin Scorsese (they worked together on GOODFELLAS, THE AGE OF INNOCENCE and GANGS OF NEW YORK) and also the guy who shot FABULOUS BAKER BOYS, WILD WILD WEST, AIR FORCE ONE, Coppola's DRACULA etc. was given the task of making the film more gritty and realistic.

Cinematography is not my expertise (maybe Brian will have more to say here), so I cannot really make any quick judgments. But I just want to voice out that just because Infernal Affairs went for the stylized MTV aesthetics does not mean that THE DEPARTED's cinematography is vastly inferior. Cinematography is more complex than that.

For example, CHILDREN OF MEN's had a really gritty look, as compared to PAN's LABYRINTH's dark stylish fantasy look, the Oscar went to the latter, but it's almost universal opinion that CHILDREN OF MEN was robbed.

I guess what I want to say is that... Good cinematography does not = making nice MTV visuals. There's more to it than that.

I am also maintaining that Scorsese bordered on dishonesty in not clearly acknowledging Infernal Affairs in his film. He should have done what The Lake House did and clearly stated that it was a remake at the BEGINNING of the film. It’s just not enough to do that in tiny fonts during the end-credit rolls.

And I’m not the only one saying this. The Australian also has readers who are pissed that The Departed won. They’re also pissed with the arrogant attitude of Hollywood and Scorsese in not clearly acknowledging Infernal Affairs in their film and during the Oscars. And the bitter sentiment is global!

So, which movie did you prefer? Infernal Affairs or The Departed? If it’s the latter, you’d better come up with some solid arguments to defend your stance.


Here's a part of Scorsese's acceptance speech.

"... I’ve got thank Warner Bros.’ Alan Horn and Dan and Jeff and I’ve got to thank our producers Brad Grey and Graham King and Mac Brown and my old friend Joe Reidy, we’re working for 20 years. And Rick Yorn and John Lesher and Chris Donnelly and Ari Emanuel. And that crazy script by Bill Monahan that got me in all this trouble in the first place. And Andrew Lau’s original film from Hong Kong, the wonderful Asian cinema."

Like Sebastian (who commented as well), Scorsese mentioned Andrew Lau in his acceptance speech and made it a point to mention that it is from HK in order to (subtly) correct the announcer who made the mistake of saying that the original version is from Japan.

To my consternation, it turned out that the author of the post was actually FURIOUS because Scorsese mentioned the name of the director, ANDREW LAU and not the actual film title, INFERNAL AFFAIRS. And not because Scorsese had completely ignored the existence of the film.

Pardon me, but when the author said something like "I heard Scorsese’s acceptance speech. No mention whatsoever about IA in there" as a retort to Sebastian's blog comment, I wasn't expecting his line to be that literal.

But my point is, if people are interested in the actual movie, they WILL find out about it regardless of whether Scorsese SCREAMED Infernal Affairs like a little girl, have the title flashing on neon signs, or whether he merely mentioned ANDREW LAU. It’s not as if the mere mention of INFERNAL AFFAIRS would actually have everyone flocking into the theaters DYING to see the movie.

(I'm one of the rare people in this planet who LIKED Vanilla Sky, yet I'm still not compelled to check out 'ABRE LOS OJOS'. Hell, I enjoyed Steven Soderbergh's 'OCEAN ELEVEN', I know it's a remake of an older film starring the Rat Pack, but I'm not interested to watch it.)

Let's face it, Scorsese was in a lose-lose situation. If he mentions INFERNAL AFFAIRS, I'm sure there are people who will throw a hissy fit and accuse him of NOT REMEMBERING THE NAME OF THE ORIGINAL DIRECTORS. Hell, I think even if he had mentioned INFERNAL AFFAIRS and ANDREW LAU, there are people who will be pissed that ANDREW MAK (... actually, I myself DID wonder why no one made a big deal about him not being mentioned that much at all when there were actually TWO directors for Infernal Affairs), ANDY LAU, TONY LEUNG, CHAPMAN TO, CHRISTOPHER DOYLE, KELLY CHEN, ERIC TSANG, ANTHONY WONG, blah blah, you know, the WHOLE CAST AND CREW of Infernal Affairs not being mentioned by Scorsese too.

I didn't like the tone in the last paragraph of the post. It felt like condescension and an inability to accept differing opinions. People who preferred INFERNAL AFFAIRS will be embraced like brothers, whilst those who had the misfortune of liking THE DEPARTED more had to 'come up with some solid arguments to defend their stance'?

What's up with that? It felt like a challenge. It's like:

If you like INFERNAL AFFAIRS more = pro-Asian, possesses "Malaysia BOLEH!" spirit!
If you like THE DEPARTED more = peon of the evil machinations of Hollywood.

I will quote Obi-Wan Kenobi for this.

"Only a Sith Lord deals in absolutes!"

Everyone in Asia, from filmmakers to hardcore film fans, from casual filmgoers to noodles-selling aunties have spent their time dissing the evil force known as Hollywood, so I'm not going to waste time with that. What for? There are times when I love mainstream Hollywood films more than some pretentious Asian arthouse fare, or opt to watch a mindlessly entertaining rom-com over some self-serious European sociodrama.

It'll be hypocritical of me to lash so much at Hollywood when some people might caught me in a cinema, enjoying 300.

There are arguments that Asian cinema are much better than Hollywood fare. That Hollywood is definitely suffering from creative bankruptcy (god, how many times must I use this term?) To those who believe in this strongly, all I can say is... well, at least Hollywood didn't make something like TWINS MISSION or PROTEGE DE LA ROSE NOIR.

Okay, seriously, Asian cinema are deemed 'better' and more 'creative' than your typical mindless Hollywood blockbuster because, well, only the really good films get to travel overseas for international audiences. And because of that, many are quick to believe that anything churned out by Asian countries is gold.

Er, once again, TWINS MISSION, anybody? How about CONFESSION OF PAIN? How about DRAGON TIGER GATE?

Everyone's burning with righteous Asian fury, nationalistic pride, believing themselves to be the underdogs shut down by THE EVIL FORCE. But the truth is, there are just as much shitty Korean films as shitty Hollywood films. I say Korea because they've been at the forefront of Asian cinema in recent years.

For every single THE HOST or OLD BOY, we get countless rubbish like TYPHOON, BICHUNMOO or HI! DHARMA 2 or MARRYING THE MAFIA 2 (okay, the last one's kinda enjoyable). Actually, I would name more Korean crap films, but I usually strike them off my memory after watching them. For every INFERNAL AFFAIRS in Hong Kong, we also get... TWINS MISSION, or some cheap Wong Jing film.

I DON'T completely supporting Hollywood for their treatment of INFERNAL AFFAIRS, I fumed just as much everyone else when that moronic announcer called IA a Japanese film during the Oscars (in fact, if the article in THECICAK had focused more of its bile and venom towards that announcer's goof-up, I wouldn't be that annoyed).

I winced when they bought up rights to remake EXILED, wondering what Hollywood director could match Johnnie To's visionary brilliance and technical artistry when remaking a film like that. After all, EXILED is really more a director's film, being so thin on plot and such.

Face it, the reason why Hollywood's churning out so much crap and distribute them internationally is because THEY DO SELL. Don't just blame the filmmakers, blame the consumers too. Who were the ones who helped PEARL HARBOUR make 200 million in the box-office back then? Who were the ones who flocked into the theaters for GHOST RIDER and NORBIT now? Filmmaking is still a business, you know. Hollywood might stop making more shitty movies if the mainstream public stops giving a shit about them.

Perhaps my degree in marketing gives me a higher tolerance towards commercialism (I took only a one-year crash course in filmmaking after getting my degree) thus I am not artsy fartsy enough to demand all films to be made entirely for art and nothing else. Otherwise we'll have a film industry like Taiwan's, where commercial films are rare, and they are entirely dominated by your latest Tsai Min Liang film.

Of course, it's ironic that I would come up with something like the previous paragraph, considering that most friends and family had been accusing me of making short films that are too... arty and inaccessible. (it's slightly discouraging when people end up on my blog because they ran a Google search for the audience choice's award winners at MALAYSIAN SHORTS, and not because of my own 'GIRL DISCONNECTED', haha)

But then, maybe I'm just not a guy who like to take sides. And perhaps I'm a guy easily annoyed by fanaticism, generalization, stereotyping, bigotry and extremism.

Monday, March 26, 2007

VIDEO: Swifty At Malaysian Shorts (March 2007 Edition)



Just as I've mentioned here, my short film, Girl Disconnected, was one of the 10 short films screened at this year's first edition of MALAYSIAN SHORTS, held in HELP Institute. Once again, I was the only person representing the film. Unsurprising, considering that I'm the only one of the three Malaysians involved in the production who is still in the country. (Assistant director Yun Chin had gone back to Perth to finish her studies), the other, my actress, Grace the Rabbit Fairy, had seemingly disappeared in the past few weeks. Couldn't reach her via email, blog comments and Friendster messages. Worrying.)

All short films shown there were of high quality, and they were pretty different from one another. Don't really feel like reviewing them one by one, since I feel somewhat... wrong to review other films in a screening which my short film is part of.

I managed to meet Amir Muhammad, one of the country's leading indie filmmakers whose last two documentaries, The Last Communist, and Village People Radio Show were banned in Malaysia (he's possibly gunning for a hat-trick with his latest flick) and Zan Azlee, a filmmaker/ freelance journalist who interviewed me last month for SURF MAGAZINE (will inform you all when the issue with that interview is out). Chewxy and Abel were there again, they were also at Girl Disconnected's previous screening at FILMMAKERS' ANONYMOUS 2. My new boss, Kannan Thiagarajan, was also there. (he is now mentioned in three consecutive blog posts of mine, Swifty is a model employee?)

The top 3 films that got the Audience's Choice Awards were all entries (and winners), Kongsi Dalam Gelap, K-Hole, and Westbound, (no, no Girl Disconnected) of the BMW Shorties held recently. Was envious that they had such a large production crew for their films, while I had to make do with only, well, three (including myself). Haha. Of course, there are a few others screened there that were done with one-man-crews, so there's really not much to complain about.

Anyway, it was an interesting experience. Was a pity I couldn't join Kelab Seni Filem's Wong Tuck Cheong and the rest for some tea after the screening, my parents arrived early.

I'm at the beginning of the video, and the 4:15 mark.


Thursday, March 22, 2007

Swifty Reviews 'Mukhsin'

Mukhsin poster


Saw yesterday with Kannan Thiagarajan (director of the telemovie I'm working on as assistant director... to make things simpler, he's my current boss) and award-winning filmmaker Woo Ming Jin. Sorry, I just need to name drop :D MUKHSIN is the latest movie of Malaysian filmmaker Yasmin Ahmad's semi-autobiographical series that feature the character Orked. Basically, what she's doing now is rather similar to what Francois Truffaut did back then with the Antoine Doinel character. However, while Antoine Doinel was played only by the actor Jean-Pierre Léaud, from a child in 400 BLOWS to an adult on the verge of middle age in LOVE ON THE RUN, Orked, who was played by Sharifah Amani in the first two films, is played by Sharifah Aryana (Sharifah Amani's younger sister) this time. And this movie is about young 10-year-old Orked's prepubescent first romance during her school holidays with Mukhsin, a boy two years older than her.

(Quick recap to the uninitiated:

The first movie in the series, SEPET, which I reviewed here two years ago, is about 17-year-old Orked's interracial tragic romance with Jason, a Chinese boy.

The second movie, GUBRA, has Orked as a fully-grown married woman. Despite her seemingly blissful marriage, Jason remains an unresolved plot strand in her life. Until one day, she meets Alan, the elder brother of Jason... I never reviewed GUBRA last year because I watched it in on a plane and it didn't come with subtitles, and my rapidly declining Malay skills left me entirely clueless during the second story of the film)


In my SEPET review, I mentioned that I liked the film, and thought it was a good sign for Malaysian cinema in the future, but found it entirely difficult to get into the central romance between Orked and Jason, it may have to do with personal tastes, it might also have to do with the lack of restraint used by Yasmin to portray this romance. I thought it would have worked better if certain scenes were more understated and less melodramatic or sentimental. Some things are usually better left unsaid, otherwise they end up wince-inducing.

GUBRA is less about romance, and more about Orked picking up some pieces of her life. Unfortunately, as enjoyable and engaging as it was to me, where I felt Yasmin Ahmad's storytelling skills have developed further compared to her debut, there were still parts that border on melodrama that left me slightly turned off. Strangely, I realized that as interesting a character Orked is, I can never seem to feel much for her, and my feelings were reinforced in this movie, where I ended up feeling more moved by one simple scene that resolved the substory between Jason's parents, than anything else that happened to her.

Perhaps the character of Orked can only be appreciated by me in small doses, good thing that's what happened in MUKHSIN (since the young girl here alternates between being cute, precocious and sometimes really annoying). The avalanche of first love prior to the dawning of adolescence, the confusion that comes between two young children tiptoeing awkwardly between the line of friendship and romance. There is cuteness in their innocence, and their carefree existence made me envious. It is an unsentimental portrayal of young puppy love, and the relationship between Orked and Mukhsin is light and gentle like a breeze. This time, the movie does not jam emotions down my throat, forcing me to root for these two to be together, no more over-the-top histrionics, everything is more naturalistic and genuine. A tainted soul like I will find it hard to feel for this bittersweet (almost) romance, yet it will be more difficult for me not to appreciate it.

I tried to remember what was I like during my last three years in primary school. There was gradual interest in certain female classmates, aye, but whatever feelings that were forming within my heart would quickly be denied and suppressed, and things that could have felt better if spoken out were left unsaid. And with that, my memories of primary school, funny as they were, have always been tainted by slight regret. But then, I was just a plump oversized class clown back then, never taken that seriously by classmates of the opposite sex, whatever that made me as cool as I am now, as in, my wit, my creativity, my intellect, my artistry, my ego, my... shamelessness, they were just things that were developed over the years in high school and university.

Oh, oops, too much about myself.

Back to the movie.

So, like previous Yasmin Ahmad films, what I love most in this film is still the portrayal of family relationships and friendships instead of the romance. I like its wry sense of humour and the fact that it doesn't seem to take itself as seriously as the previous two films. The Kampung lifestyle. The clashing between the modern Western-influenced values (Orked's family), where they have no reservations in displaying their affections for one another in public, and the more rigid, conservative Malay values (the majority of the villagers, like this busybody bitch of a neighbour who makes snide remarks about Orked's family all the time). There is joy in this film, there is poetry too. This film is multi-layered, its characters never mere caricatures (said busybody bitch of a neighbour will earn just as much sympathy as ire from audiences as the film progresses)

Acting is fabulous. Mohd Syafie Naswip as Mukhsin, the aforementioned Sharifah Aryana, and then Sharifah Aleya (Sharifah Amani and Aryana's eldest sister) and Irwan Iskandar as Orked's parents. Definitely Adibah Noor as well. I want to give kudos to the actor who played Hussein, Mukhsin's brother, and also the actress who played Mukhsin's aunt. I don't have their names (sorry, anyone mind helping me out?), I thought they were great.

There are also numerous cameos of main actors from previous movies (won't reveal who, but by saying 'main actors', I think I've pretty much given everything away).

It is not perfect, but its restraint and subtlety (I hate using the same word more than once in a post, but well...) make this, to me, Yasmin Ahmad's best film thus far.

So, Yasmin, any plans in bringing an old Orked for a cyberpunk sci-fi epic?

Other MUKHSIN reviews worth reading are Pinkpau's and YTSL's. There might be others worth reading too, but I am unable to recommend them because I didn't read them, so, feel free to post the URLs to other MUKHSIN reviews here if you want to.

By the way, I recommend BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA (read my review here ) to anyone looking for something like this that comes from Hollywood. :D I know there's this other really highly-rated film called LITTLE MANHATTAN which is about prepubescent first love as well, saw it on DVD once, never bought it, kinda regretful now.


MUKHSIN trailer


P.S. Anyone else besides me who believed that the Chinese kid looking at Orked in her school was Jason?

Took an assistant director job for a television movie

This blog has slowed down considerably since those days when I could put up at least an entry or two a day. I don't even have the time to put up any vlog entries lately, the last one being a video of me playing the piano during my birthday.

There are numerous things I should be doing here, like finally putting the videos of my Indian vacation together (editing is actually a really time-consuming process, since I'm too much of a perfectionist to put unedited footages online for your viewing), reviewing the last two films I saw, Half Nelson and Mukhsin, and most of all, my time in Malaysian Shorts during monday night, when Girl Disconnected was screened.

The fact is, I've taken an assistant director job more than two weeks ago for a television movie meant for NTV7's Festival slot (basically, it's a program where local independent filmmakers are paid to make their projects to be aired on TV). The screenwriter and director of this telemovie is Kannan Thiagarajan (HEYA!!!!). I'm keeping the plot of the movie under wraps. All I can let you know is that it's a slow-burning thriller that takes place at the idyllic beaches of Port Dickson.

Port Dickson town


Filming begins on the 31st of March at Kuala Lumpur. But on the 1st of April, I will be going to Port Dickson (nearly an hour and a half of car ride away) for the rest of the shoot, and it will not end until the 9th, or the 10th of April. So I might not be able to be around during that period. Hopefully someone will fill in by then.

So far, for preproduction, my job as an assistant director is to do some scheduling, and preparing call sheets, which was something I didn't actually do back in Perth (I had my own assistant director back then), so working on all these paperwork and attempting to arrange the schedule for the shoot is actually quite a challenge. Still a good experience to work within a professional environment though.

There are also some attempts to apply for scholarships, which I'm not going to talk about that much, and also confirming my graduation from the filmmaking course I did last year in Perth (the two other students of my course had to ask for extensions, thus official results weren't out yet, but my teacher told me that Girl Disconnected, my graduation piece scored really really well with the examiners), in addition to that, my previous short film, Vertical Distance, and this other documentary I was involved in were screened for new film students (hopefully as good examples, and not 'things you shouldn't do in this course' examples :D), which is really nice. It's hard to believe that I actually made a bit of a difference during my short tenure as a film student in Murdoch University.

I had hoped for that, of course, being the Great Swifty, I've always hoped to reach for the skies, but when something is actually fulfilled, the feeling is rather pleasant.




Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Swifty Reviews 'Dreamgirls'

Dreamgirls poster


Second of the three movies I saw in Singapore.

Wanted to see DREAMGIRLS for a long time due to its pre-Oscar hype, and the furore over its lack of Best Picture nomination, and then Jennifer Hudson's victory (was also intrigued by Eddie Murphy's much-lauded dramatic performance).

Anyway, DREAMGIRLS, in my opinion, is more musical biopic in the vein of RAY and WALK THE LINE than something like CHICAGO or MOULIN ROUGE. Capturing the 60s and 70s era when black music reached crossover success by revolutionizing the mainstream all-white pop world (sort of a history of Motown), many should know by now that the film characters are loosely based on real-life figures, in fact, it's a fictionalized portrayal of Diana Ross and the Supremes.

Although (besides Jpop) R & B was something I listened to most while growing up, my knowledge of its history is pretty limited, so the following is a list of main characters in the film and their real-life counterparts (I think).

Deena (Beyonce Knowles) = Diana Ross
Effie (Jennifer Hudson) = Florence Ballard
Lorrell (Anika Noni Rose) = Mary Wilson
Curtis Taylor Jr. (Jamie Foxx) = Berry Gordy Jr.
James "Thunder" Early = James Brown + Marvin Gaye

There are also numerous references to singers of that era, like Jackson 5. That political single James Early recorded is similar to Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" etc.

Weird that Jennifer Hudson was regarded as the 'Supporting Actress' of the film when it's so blatantly obvious to me that Effie White is the actual protagonist of this film (Deena didn't really take centerstage until, well, she replaces Effie as the lead vocalist of the Dreamettes halfway during the film). Oh well, Hollywood politics.

My thoughts on this film? It's a really good film. Nice acting (Jamie Foxx deserves just as much kudos as Hudson and Murphy), nice music, nice producing, nice pacing, Jennifer Hudson's performance of "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" is just as good as everyone had said, raised goosebumps, probably one of the most powerful performances I've ever seen captured in a musical. I almost had to resist the urge of standing up and clapping, I would have done it... but the audiences around me were too damned silent.

And Eddie Murphy, my god, all my years of watching him since I was a kid, from the early BEVERLY HILLS COP and COMING TO AMERICA days, to his 90s comeback with NUTTY PROFESSOR and DR. DOLITTLE and I've never expected him to bring so much gravitas and poignancy to his role as James Early during the second half of the film, when his career starts to go downhill, and he becomes addicted to cocaine, the cockiness and swagger shown at the beginning are replace by desperation, vulnerability and defeat. Okay, there was some poignancy in NUTTY PROFESSOR, but he was in a fat bodysuit...

However, while this film managed to reach greatness at times, it doesn't hit me emotionally like WALK THE LINE (or even RAY, despite the fact that it drags at times) did, due to its simplistic characters and plot, the amount of singing kinda distanced me from the characters, stopping me from feeling more during the dramatic parts, and just when I am about to care for them, the film ends.

Maybe it is too mythological. Maybe it's the fast pace.

Maybe it has to do with the fact that the Deena character isn't fleshed so well. She seems merely like a personality-less fembot who does everything she is ordered to do by Curtis (who later becomes her husband), that when she finally lashes back at Effie, I actually felt good for her.

Maybe Jake Gyllenhaal ruined it for me because he showed me that he could sing "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going" just as well as Jennifer Hudson did.



Seriously, it's Jake's fault. I was constantly haunted by icky images of his performance throughout the movie.

Oh, and I want to see Eddie Murphy in more dramatic roles.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Swifty Reviews 'Paris Je t'Aime (Paris, I Love You)'

Tom Tywker's segment in Paris Je T'aime


Paris Je t'Aime is an omnibus film where 18 (originally 20) directors from around the world were asked to make short films that serve as a love letter to Paris, the City of Lights and Romance.

Over the past few months, my friend, the lovely Krystle Chow of theCicak had told me repeatedly about how awesome this film is. I could only sigh in resignation, valiantly trying to shake away the overwhelming feeling of envy I had for her. After all, she saw the film in a film festival, the film was only traveling in international festival circuits, and then shown in limited screens (just arthouse theaters). It seemed highly unlikely that I would get the DVD of this film over here in Malaysia. (if I were still in Perth, there might be a slight chance that this would be available at the Murdoch University library someday, unfortunately, I'm not in Perth anymore)

Yet it was actually screening in Singapore! So, knowing that this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance, I immediately bought the ticket and dashed into the cinema (thank you, Orchard Cineleisure!), I could barely contain my excitement.

Of course, that wasn't all. Two days later, returning from Singapore, I managed to get myself a copy of the DVD when I was in Johor. I was shocked (I don't expect many casual Malaysian DVD buyers would give a damn about the film... although to be fair, not many are aware of its existence).

Anyway, I highly recommend this film. Being an anthology film, it's obviously pretty uneven, some not that amazing, but some are pretty mind-blowing, it's like sitting through a short film festival, kinda brings back memories of Sony Tropfest. Ahhh...

Anyway, I'll rank the segments based on my own preferences. (Put up some of the segments that were uploaded on Youtube by some people, go watch it before it's taken down)

1. PIGALLE – Richard LaGravenese
I was surprised how immensely moved I was by this segment. A tale of a middle-aged couple (Fanny Ardant and Bob Hoskins) who were once in love, trying hard to rekindle their romance. Ending made me choke up (even during the second time I watched it on DVD). Kinda corny, but sweet! The film is pretty simple and understated, relies entirely on the two lead performances. Besides that, it even made me go off and download the MP3 of 'Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye' by the Casinos right after this. This isn't technically the best segment in the film, but it touched me most.

Kiss me each morning for a million years
Hold me each evening by your side
Tell me you'll love me for a million years
Then if it don't work out
Then if it don't work out
Then you can tell me goodbye

- Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye, The Casinos (1967)


(Richard LaGravenese had written the screenplays for The Fisher King, The Bridges of Madison County

2. BASTILLE – Isabel Coixet
A man decides to leave his wife for his mistress, but changes his mind when he finds out she's terminally ill. By acting like a man in love again, he becomes a man in love again. It sounds mawkish and melodramatic, but the film is handled in a humorous and bittersweet manner. It was amazing how many things the director could tell in so short a time. Good lesson for me.

(Isabel Coixet's most well-known film, I think, is My Life Without Me, which I've never watched because, well, it's also about a dying woman, and I'm incapable of handling such depressing fare :()

3. 14TH ARRONDISSEMENT – Alexander Payne
Alexander Payne is one of my favourite directors, and major influence (though most who had seen my stuff will probably stare at this statement in disbelief). Sideways... sigh...

But anyway, this film is like a condensed version of his films. A lonely American tourist wandering in Paris. Both funny and sad, pondering about loneliness and mortality. The ending was actually more moving the second time I watched it. I think if I watch this again, it might actually end up on the top spot. Margo Martindale is fantastic here (... I can't even believe she was the one who played Hilary Swank's selfish mother in Million Dollar Baby, damn, she's one hell of an actress!!!!!!!)

(Once again, you people MUST watch either Sideways, About Schmidt or Election... Alexander Payne rawks!)

4. PARC MONCEAU - Alfonso Cuaron
This segment was amazing, to me, because it was done with only one long tracking shot of a middle-aged American man (Nick Nolte) and a young French woman, walking down the streets at night, discussing about this man who suddenly came into the woman's life. Really funny twist in the end. Nothing deep, but loved the punchline. Hahaha!

(If you still haven't watched Alfonso Cuaron's Children of Men (my review here)... you ought to be ashamed of yourself)

5. PLACE DES FÊTES - Oliver Schmitz
A new paramedic (Aissa Maiga) learns how fleeting love can be while treating a stab victim (Seydou Boro). Does pull some heartstrings, but a bit too overwhelming for my tastes towards the end. Although yeah, brief encounters can sometimes be pretty sad. I am sometimes haunted by memories of those hot babes I saw at shopping malls.

In a certain hotel, halfway up the stairs, he happened to pass her. In the afternoon her face seemed moonlit. Following her with his eyes (they hadn't even a nodding acquaintance) he felt a loneliness such as he'd never known...
- 'Moon'
Ryunosuke Akutagawa
(Never seen anything by Schmitz before)

6. TUILERIES - Coen Brothers
An American tourist waiting for the train in a Metro station looks to the people around him generating a series of funny situations when his looks are not well interpreted.
This one rocks because... well, STEVE BUSCEMI played the tourist.

(The Coen Brothers are cooler than the Wachowski Brothers)

7. TOUR EIFFEL – Sylvain Chomet
Mimes freak me out, the humour also kinda freaked me out, since they involve, well, mimes, but I love the visuals in this one, especially towards the end. Soooo beautiful!

(Sylvain Chomet did the animated film, The Triplettes of Belleville. Haven't seen that though.)

8. PÈRE-LACHAISE - Wes Craven
Light and funny. Two lovers visit Oscar Wilde's tomb. Squabbles. Ghost of Oscar Wilde gets involved. Rufus Sewell in a rare non-asshole role, Emily Mortimer plays the fiancee, Alexander Payne as the ghost of Oscar Wilde.

(Didn't expect something like this from Wes Craven...)



9. QUARTIER DES ENFANTS ROUGES – Olivier Assayas
Story of an American actress and her crack dealer. It's a sort-of love story. It's ranked this high up because Maggie Gyllenhaal is badass.

(Olivier Assayas did Clean and Irma Yep with Maggie Cheung, neither films I've seen)

10.
LES MARAIS – Gus Van Sant
A French young man meets a guy of the same age in some kind of art office, and tries to keep up a conversation with him. The other guy never says a word and the French guy ultimately reveals he's interested in him and gives him his phone number. Then... the ending's funny.

(I still haven't seen Gus Van Sant's Elephant even though my DVD's been lying nearby for years. I wish he'll make Good Will Hunting 2: Hunting Season)

11.
QUARTIER LATIN – Gérard Depardieu and Frederic Auburtin
Old man and old woman (Gena Rowlands, who wrote the script for this) went to restaurant for the 'eve of their divorce'. Civil conversation turns to funnily sarcastic gibes. The ending felt... deep.

(I have nothing to say. )

12. QUARTIER DE LA – Vincenzo Natali
Elijah Wood as an American tourist who runs into a beautiful vampire late at night. Pretty out there.

(Nothing to say either)



13
. FAUBOURG SAINT-DENIS – Tom Tykwer

From Tom Tykwer's site: 'A telephone rings. Thomas starts and feels for the receiver. He is blind. The loud voice of a woman sounds down the telephone. It is Francine, his girlfriend. She tells him she's going to leave him. The receiver drops back onto the cradle. In a storm of images, his thoughts race through memories from the time they met to the moments of greatest intimacy and the moments of the little mistakes which lead to people becoming estranged from one another. But Thomas gets another chance.'

Many people liked this, unfortunately, I couldn't. It's Tom Tywker pulling his visual tricks and acrobatics from Run Lola Run, but somehow, to me, the style overwhelmed the substance, and I felt a bit underwhelmed. Even with Nat Portman in it. Sigh...

(I like Run Lola Run as much as anyone else, but still wondering whether I should watch Perfume.)



14.
QUAIS DE SEINE - Gurinder Chadha

Three boys are sitting near the river Seine, watching the hot babes who pass by. Then comes a Muslim girl who falls in front of them and they start laughing and making fun of it except one of the boys, François, who helps her. Basically about how racial and religious stereotyping are stupid. Reminds me of how annoyed I was early last year back in Perth when I was eating rice
with fork and spoon and this not very bright white chick sitting next to me gasped loudly and asked why I wasn't eating with chopsticks. Not being very good with chopsticks, I was only thinking of stabbing her nose with one.

(Gurinder Chadha did Bend It Like Beckham and Bride And Prejudice. Being an Indian director, I wonder why didn't she throw in a Bollywood musical sequence in this one? Oh, oops.)




15.
MONTMARTRE – Bruno Podalydès

Minimalistic. Nice opening of the movie. Guy finally gets to park his car. Launches into a monologue about how he's unbelievably single, then a woman faints in front of his car.
Makes me want to go to Paris and do the same thing.

(Bruno Podalydès wrote, directed and starred in this. Perhaps someday I should start starring in my own films instead of cameoing)

16.
LOIN DU 16IEME - Walter Salles

This one's more socially conscious. Pretty sad and ironic. Depicts the gulf between the life of a poor immigrant servant (Catalina Sandino Moreno) and that of her bourgeoisie employer. Catalina Sandino Moreno is pretty, but this ain't my cup of tea.

(Walter Salles' The Motorcycle Diaries made me want to BE Che Guevara, well, except for the whole getting assassinated part. Also, Central Market is pretty moving.)

17.
PORTE DE CHOISY - Christopher Doyle

Some either love it for its incoherence surrealism, some think it's nonsense, some think it's too "WTF"-ish to generate an opinion. I think I may belong to the third group of person.

18. PLACE DE VICTOIRES – Nobuhiro Suwa

It has Juliette Binoche as a mom grieving over the death of her son. It has Willem Defoe as a mysterious cowboy gives her one last chance to say goodbye to her son. Yet it's too derivative for my liking. Perhaps I might rank it higher if I've never seen something like this before.

(Suwa seems like a Japanese who makes movies in France, hmm...)

Well, there you go, my opinions. Anyone else who had seen the film? Tell me what your fave segments are!


Saturday, March 17, 2007

Girl Disconnected Screening At Malaysian Shorts, March 2007 Edition.

Wiler (played by Justin) Reaching For Maya (Sarah Corbyn)I'm back from Singapore!

My short film, Girl Disconnected had been chosen for screening at the March 2007 edition of Malaysian Shorts!

DATE: 19th of March, 2007
TIME: 8pm
VENUE: HELP INSTITUTE AUDITORIUM, Pusat Bandar Damansara

ADMISSION IS FREE!


I'll be there for the Q & A session, although if I really get the chance to speak, I'll try not to babble as much as I did during last month's Filmmakers' Anonymous 2 (I was, ah, both excited and nervous at the same time then, being its Malaysian premiere and all, you see).

For the whole line-up of that night, I'll copy and paste directly from Amir Muhammad's message I got from the Malaysian Cinema mailing list.



* Vote for your 3 favourite shorts of the night!

curated by Bernard Chauly

10 shorts (out of 26 entries):

1. HELLO GOODBYE (Chi Too / 2007 / Malaysia / 5m29s
The short takes the cue from 'Parallel Lines', a song by King of Convenience.

* Chi Too is a talented young director whose spiritual home is also in Indo-China, specifically Laos. He has screened several times in the Malaysian Shorts programme.

2. WESTBOUND (Kubhaer T. Jethwani / 2007 / Malaysia / 18m)
Suren is rushing from Kuantan to Kuala Lumpur for a casting role. He would be perfect for it, save for the fact that he doesn't speak Mandarin and that his car broke down. What next?

* Kubhaer Jethwani, 25, is an Assistant Director doing commercial. He was originally part of AKSHEN, a young theatre collective that created waves a few years ago. Westbound is Kubhaer's 1st short and was a finalist at the recent BMW Shorties.

3. VROOM-VROOM & BOOT-BOOT (Law Gwo Yunn / 2007 / Malaysia / 5m10s)
It was love at first sight for both Boot-Boot, a Vespa and Vroom-Vroom, a BMW. Alas, their owners drove separate ways. . .

* Law Gwo Yunn is a freelance Production designer / Art Director.

4. GIRL DISCONNECTED (Edmund Yeo / 2006/ Australia-Malaysia / 14m)
A young woman takes a train to the moon to seek her Internet love. She is accompanied by her platonic male buddy/ sidekick who secretly loves her. Throughout their journey, they meet all sorts of strange denizens of the moon.

* Initially a self-taught filmmaker, Edmund Yeo ended up taking a Graduate
Diploma course on Media Production during his last year in Perth after finishing
his degree for the sake of sharpening his skills and fulfilling a lifelong
passion.


5. RODA-RODA (Akashdeep Singh / 2007 / Malaysia / 1m41s)
Something seen outside the car window puts the journey in a different perspective.

* Akashdeep Singh's two previous shorts, The Wait and Pintu, were audience favourites at the last two editions of Malaysian Shorts.

6. BAS AJAIB (Adam Raslan / 2005 / Malaysia / 6m)
Everyone needs a little magic in their lives.

* Adam Raslan hails from Pontian, Johor.

7. IDIOT NATION (Tan Meng Yoe / 2007 / Malaysia / 9m)
Idiot Nation is set in fictional Faltasia and takes place during the peak of the general election season. The four remaining candidates, including the incumbent, have a chance to address the nation on television, live.

* Tan Meng Yoe is a communications graduate from Monash University Malaysia who adores mainstream blockbuster movies, reads comic books in huge doses, and indulges in all things mass-related.

8. MINUS (Chris Chong Chan Fui / 2000-2003 / Canada-Malaysia / 3m)
Hand processed film (16mm) created to experiment and test the core of light and composition.

* Chris Chong studied in Canada but is originally from Sabah. Tuesday Be My Friend, one of his more recent shorts, won Best Film Prize at the Goethe Institute Short Film
Competition 2006.

9. KONGSI DALAM GELAP (Melissa Saila / 2007 / Malaysia / 11m20s)
What happens when two people are trapped in a unit? Bare confessions and truth meet when two strangers share the same fate. Where are they? Will their newfound mission take off?

* Melissa Saila is no stranger to Malaysian screen or stage
as an actress. Men In Darkness is her directorial debut and was a finalist at
the inaugural BMW Shorties.

10. K-HOLE (Zahir B. Omar / 2007 / Malaysia / 16m)
Mobility - the ability to move from one place to another, a journey. Mobility comes in two forms. Voluntary mobility where you are in full control of the situation and choice of destinations; and involuntary mobility when you are still on a journey, but are totally stripped of any decisions or opinions.

* Zahir Omar, 24, is a freelance commercials director. K-Hole recently won the Jury Prize of the inaugural BMW Shorties competition and walked away with the RM50,000 prize. The theme of the competition was Mobility.



Established in 2002, Malaysian Shorts is the premiere platform to showcase the newest works from students, animators and indie filmmakers in Malaysia. In fact, some of the most well-known names of Malaysian independent cinema, like Amir Muhammad, Tan Chui Mui and James Lee have had their short films showcased here before (check out the list of short films and winners of previous editions). Hence I was pretty thrilled when I found out that Girl Disconnected was selected for this.

Noticed that the majority of the listed short films were entries for the recent BMW Shorties competition, will be interesting to see what they are like.

So yeah, if you happen to be free on Monday night... well, you know where to go. :D

The screenshots of Girl Disconnected were recently used on a Malay Mail article about Filmmakers Anonymous 2.


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Utterly Bored with Everything - Resigning from Blogging?

I apologize for the relative lack of updates recently. I think the interview with Quentin S. Crisp contained all of my thoughts on everything; consequently I've been content to leave it at that. And, moving to Japan has taken up most of my time.

But my reservations about new reviews are more serious:

1) Most books are terrible. 90% of published fiction does not contain interesting prose or any ideas. There is no point in reading 90% of books. Also, most books are too long. Everyone feels the need to produce enormous 500+ page heaps of shit. I think Tanizaki said something like "The Western novel is full of too much irrelevant shit." Okay, he didn't use those exact words, but I remember him saying something like that. Recently, I don't have the time to provide lengthy analyses of fiction - and neither do I especially want to. Opinions vary, but I don't think there is a single living American writer whose work I admire. The only living Japanese writer I like is Wataya Risa (Kurahashi Yumiko died a few years ago, sadly).

2) Most movies are terrible. Jonathan Weiss, the director of the film version of J.G. Ballard's 'The Atrocity Exhibition', criticized mainstream cinema as being merely 'filmed theatre.' By that, he meant that rather than take advantage of the full potential of cinema (i.e. video editing and its use of sound and image), 90% of movies are just filmed dramas. I agree; I think there are only about ten movies I really like, if that, and all of them err pretty far from being 'filmed theatre.' If I'm watching a movie, I want to see images and hear sounds, not watch human beings having conversations in rooms. I can see that in real life quite easily without needing to pay exorbitant ticket prices.

2) I think I've reached a standstill with music. I'm starting to go back and listen to old music rather than just constantly getting new music. Does this mean I'm getting old? I don't know. Recently there doesn't seem to be so much interesting new music, or maybe I've just listened to too much.

The message is clear: books, films, and music have lost their appeal.

Therefore, new entries may not be forthcoming for a while. When they do come, they will probably be about something entirely unexpected.

Now I think I'm going to go down to Shibuya and buy that new Sifow single, Carat. Only Sifow's thin, monotonous voice can ease my troubled mind...

Swifty Reviews 'Bridge To Terabithia'

The misleading Bridge To Terabithia poster


I am awed by the marketing tactics used for Bridge To Terabithia.

The trailer (which didn't really impressed me that much, frankly) made this seem as if it's a fluffy adventure fantasy film where two kids went into some fantastical magical world, encountering all kinds of wonders, getting into battles to save this land. And then, lots of emphasis about this film being from the producers of Narnia.

To my horror, this film is FAR from what it is advertised to be.

Although these marketing tactics were necessary to reach a wider audience, it is in fact VERY misleading.

The truth has to be revealed!

Bridge of Terabithia is a coming-of-age drama where all the brief fantastical scenes we saw on the trailer were merely imaginations of the two protagonists. So, this is not an adventure tale! This is a story of a friendship between two kids, Jesse Aarons (Josh Hutcherson, seemingly one of the busier child actors around, last saw him in RV and Zathura) and Leslie Burke (AnnaSophia Robb, who looks eerily like a chibi Keira Knightley!!!!!!), and how their friendship allows them to overcome the many problems children have to face, like school bullies, distant relationship with parents, sibling rivalries. He is an artist, she is a writer, with their imagination, they created a magical land called Terabithia on a dry creek bed with an old crab apple tree, in this land, they can escape from everything miserable and painful about real life, ruling as king and queen, being able to do anything they want.

Befriending this new girl in school (who beat him in a race!), the once-introverted (and spineless) Jesse manages to start bridging a gap between his family and schoolmates, he also has to learn to deal with the sudden and devastating loss of a loved one.

Film is based on a Newbery-winning novel by Katherine Paterson (her son, David Lord Paterson, is one of the film's screenwriters and producers) that I didn't read.

Despite the misleading advertisement, I think this is a really fine film that deserved watching after I left the cinemas. Immensely moving, I actually choked up in certain scenes, but then, noticing that the man sitting next to me in the cinema, along with a few women in front of me were busy sobbing, I felt less embarrassed.

Yet ultimately, this may not be a film that appeal to mainstream tastes (in Malaysia), and people with preconceived notions of the film based on its marketing campaign will be extremely disappointed by its lack of, well, thrills and fight scenes. The man sitting next to me may have wept, but his girlfriend fell asleep, waking up during the end credits and asking what happened.

Josh Hutcherson and AnnaSophie Robb from Bridge To Terabithia"Uncultured swine!" I thought.

Later that night, when I had dinner with my friend and his girlfriend, they spoke about the film, telling me that they had just seen it the day before. They thought it was a horrible film, comparing it to... Twins Mission, questioning the logic behind it, declaring that there wasn't a point at all.

Of course, the film's slow pace immediately prevented it from being the kind of film your usual casual movie-goer would really enjoy (... please readers, prove me wrong!) So I can accept his dislike of the film, yet our ongoing discussion made me understand more and more the futility of being an indie filmmaker here. Some points that floated in my mind were once discussed in Yasmin Ahmad's blog.

Why is it that people expect only to see a story when they watch movies? Since when has it become so difficult to feel a movie instead of just watching it? How come plot is considered everything when there are so many different elements of a film that can be appreciated? How about its craftsmanship, for example, the acting, the cinematography, the production values? How about the atmosphere and feeling it evokes? How about looking deeper into the film to find meaning by yourself? Why is it wrong to overanalyze a film?

To me, the whole point of the film is to watch Jesse's growth, Bridge To Terabithia serving also as metaphorical bridges that close the gap between those who were once distant from him (like his dad, his younger sister May Belle, the bully Janice Avery, his teachers, Ms. Edmonds and Mrs. Myers). I was exceptionally moved in a scene with Mrs. Myers reaching out to Jesse after a tragedy occurred, during their conversation outside the classroom. At the beginning of the film, in Jesse's eyes, Mrs. Myers was merely a caricature, a stern, boring teacher. But together with Jesse, we learnt that Mrs. Myers is much more than what we thought she was like.

What is so pointless about a film with such themes? What is so pointless about a film about children learning to deal with loneliness and loss? Must films be solely escapist entertainment? Then what is so wrong about watching two little kids indulge in their own escapist entertainment? It wasn't the imaginary land of Terabithia that was magical, but the moments Jesse and Leslie shared everyday in this imaginary land, right after school, that were magical. Does it even matter that everything was just part of their imagination?

Films like this will most probably slip under everyone's radar (I'm emphasizing Malaysia here, at least in the US, it's doing pretty good business, hovering at the top 5 top-grossing films in the past few weeks, getting really good critical reception, 81% in Rotten Tomatoes now). People will most likely be furious with the misleading ad campaign to appreciate the film for what it is. Which is a pity, considering the fact that one of the oft-repeated quotes in the film, by Leslie Burke, was 'close your eyes, but keep your mind wide open'. Just keep an open mind and check this film out. I recommend it.

By now, you should know what kind of film this is, if it's not your cup of tea, just go watch 300.

I love to hear what others have to say about this film.

Oh, right, here's a music video of the song 'Keep Your Mind Wide Open' by AnnaSophia Robb.




Bridge To Terabithia's MISLEADING trailer!


BTW: I think T-1000 himself, Robert Patrick, is becoming really good in playing dad characters. (WALK THE LINE, that ELVIS miniseries, and now this)

Swifty Reviews 'The Pursuit of Happyness'

Poster of The Pursuit of Happyness


When the credits of The Pursuit of Happyness started rolling, everyone in the cinema begun applauding.

I've never seen that happening in Malaysian theaters before (nor Singapore or Australia). In fact, applauding after a movie was something I've witnessed only when I was in U.S. I guess people were really moved by this film, and it also helped that the most touching (in my opinion) scene of the film occurred in the ending.

The Pursuit of Happyness is one of those films elevated by really great acting from its lead actor. Will Smith definitely deserved his Oscar nomination here as Chris Gardner (more so, in my opinion, than his first nomination for his portrayal as Muhammad Ali in 2001's Ali), it also helped that he has great onscreen chemistry with his real-life son, Jaden Christopher Syre Smith, who plays Chris Gardner's son, Christopher.

This film is based on a true story (although, obviously, creative liberties were taken). I'll just borrow the summary from IMDB because I am lazy.

Chris Gardner was a struggling salesman in little needed medical bone density scanners while his wife toiled in double shifts to support the family including their young son, Christopher. In the face of this difficult life, Chris has the desperate inspiration to try for a stockbroker internship where one in twenty has a chance of a lucrative full time career. Even when his wife leaves him because of this choice, Chris clings to this dream with his son even when the odds become more daunting by the day. Together, father and son struggle through homelessness, jail time, tax seizure and the overall punishing despair in a quest that would make Gardner a respected millionaire.


And that's it, we see one misery after another happening to Chris and his son, and how he struggles to overcome them all. I do agree with Sebastian's review. that the film itself is far from Oscar material, I was thankful that the film never really descend into sentimental schmaltz, no cheesy manufactured father-son bonding scenes forced down our throats, nor over-the-top show-stopping rousing speeches from Will Smith, just (sort of) gritty realism, which makes things (to me) more genuine and less manipulative. I guess Italian director Gabriele Muccino's understated style made it different from your usual slick Hollywood film. (good thing this didn't become something like... Patch Adams)

You'll either think that it's boring and uneventful, or you'll feel that it's pretty inspiring and moving. To me, it's a good movie with great performances from the two leads. If I ever get the chance to make a biopic, I guess I myself would stick with the underdog theme too, it's always more appealing.

I've always liked Will Smith since his Fresh Prince of Bel-Air days, and was excited to see his meteoric rise to superstardom with Bad Boys, Independence Day and Men In Black. Then clunkers like Wild Wild West, Bad Boys 2 and Men In Black 2 briefly turned me away from him, I thought he might have damned himself by pulling a 'late to early 90s Eddie Murphy/ Sly Stallone, and any film with him in it will suck badly. But then, Hitch came, and he won me over again (maybe starring in a comedy which pokes fun of your own image is really the best way to go for superstars who are becoming way too big... hmm), but I definitely didn't expect him to be this good in Pursuit of Happyness.


Interview with the real Chris Gardner at 20/20 (Part 1)


Interview with the real Chris Gardner at 20/20 (Part 2)


Will Smith and Chris Gardner discuss The Pursuit of Happyness


Sunday, March 11, 2007

NTV7 The Breakfast Show is good for health

In order to thank me for that Playboy bunny I sent him for his birthday, Swifty has allowed me to publicize my TV appearance on his blog!

Well, this is my first TV appearance so I suppose you can watch it just to see me embarass myself. But hey, at least I embarassed myself on national TV!=.

-_- That just sounds so wrong.

Date: Monday, March 12
Time: I'll arrive in the studio at 8.30am, so it will probably start at 9am or later.
Channel : NTV7
Duration: 10 minutes
Venue: Television
Dress code: Pyjamas, or nothing at all (hey, you don't call it Breakfast Show for nothing)

And Swifty, please, please, please help me record this. I know asking a movie director to record an insignificant TV appearance is a little too much, but then I'll just send you another Playboy bunny to repay you back lor okay? Or maybe one of those people watching the TV naked...

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Swifty Reviews '300'

300 poster


Just came back from seeing 300, which is based on Frank Miller's graphic novel that I haven't read.

One thing I have to say first is that, never, in my life, have I seen so much gore and (almost) nudity escaping the Malaysian Censorship Board. I mean, women in see-through robes, exotic dancers who are barely, well, concealed, decapitated heads and limbs, fountains of blood splashing around etc. All right, I'm guessing that violent and gory parts managed to get through because it's stylized and cartoonish, but other than that... well, it's funny that this can get through and not Amir Muhammad's two documentaries, LELAKI KOMUNIS TERAKHIR (THE LAST COMMUNIST) and APA KHABAR ORANG KAMPUNG (VILLAGE PEOPLE RADIO SHOW)

(Note to self: A possible future film project for myself. Malaysia's version of THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED.)

Anyway, I digress. The film is based on Frank Miller's graphic novel about the Battle of Thermopylae, where a small Spartan force (I doubt I have to tell you the exact amount of soldiers they had) led by King Leonidas managed to hold back a much-larger Persian army at a narrow canyon, allowing the rest of Greece to prepare for the invasion.

Of course, while it's based on a historical event, I seriously doubt that it's meant to be historically accurate, considering the giant rhinos and elephants (nearly as big as the ones in RETURN OF THE KING), along with goat-headed musicians, ninjas and samurais that appeared in the film. 300 is like, ah, LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY + GLADIATOR + MATRIX + SIN CITY, although, in my opinion, this film is not as good as the aforementioned films (I left out the MATRIX sequels). However, it is pretty stylish and visually stunning. I'm just saying this because, like SIN CITY, it is shot mostly with bluescreen to imitate the looks of the graphic novel, it has nice battle scenes similar to (but not better than) the last two LORD OF THE RINGS films (besides, Faramir himself, David Wenham, is in this movie), it is pretty tragic and has some kind of a (sort of) love story between Leonidas (Gerard Butler) and his wife Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey, who is going to play Sarah Connor in the upcoming Terminator TV series) that reminded me of GLADIATOR's melancholic poetry, oh, and the slow-mo/ fast-mo in the fighting scenes reminded me of MATRIX.

naked sweaty men in 300There's really not much to say about this film. I enjoyed it, I find it entertaining, and the manly coolness in the film was more amusing than rousing to me, so I don't think it's really the flawless masterpiece many are making it to be (I doubt I'll be watching this over and over again), nor am I going to recommend this highly to any Tom, Dick and Harry I meet, but the graphics are cool, the action scenes are nice and it's pretty campy. While the guys will love it for the action, gals will enjoy the sight of the sweaty, half-naked, muscular manly men bellowing and fighting so manfully. (some critics compared it to gay porn, I wouldn't know since I never made a point to watch one myself)

In fact, my little sister felt that the film was just like CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER, but for women.

Although I do wonder whether it is a good thing for filmmakers to adapt so faithfully from their source materials instead of finding other ways to maximize the film medium itself. I mean, Stanley Kubrick had done numerous film adaptations from novels, but he seemed more willing to explore the possibilities of cinema instead of sticking too closely to the novels, which, in my opinion, made 2001: THE SPACE ODYSSEY and CLOCKWORK ORANGE so good. I want to say the same about Peter Jackson's adaptation of LORD OF THE RINGS too, I seriously believe that the films wouldn't be that good if he actually tried to follow the books word-by-word (Boromir will be underdeveloped, and die a less dramatic death, Tom Bombadil will be there to mess up the film's pacing with his constant singing). I also think that some of the finest comic-book adaptations are those that didn't follow the comics too closely, like SPIDER-MAN 2 and BATMAN BEGINS. If Martin Scorsese had chosen to do a frame-by-frame remake of INFERNAL AFFAIRS, believe me, it would SERIOUSLY suck.

So, what do you people think?


300 trailer


Tuesday, March 06, 2007

VIDEO: Happy Birthday To Me! Swifty Plays The Piano

On 6th of March, 1984. I was born.

Happy birthday to me. I love you all.

Decided to film myself playing the piano (yes, I used to play the piano) just because I wanted to do something I've never done before during my birthday.

Will go out for dinner with family later. Then hopefully, at night, I'll go 'yumcha' (have some drinks, but more literally 'drink tea') with two of my close friends at the Mamak Stall.


The Great Swifty plays the piano



Ima, Ai ni Yukimasu いま会いにゆきます (J-Dorama)



I've recently fallen in love with Mimura.

And I think it had to do with the Japanese dorama, Ima Ai ni Yukimasu.

The first episode begins like a dream. Beautiful grassy landscapes bathed in golden shafts of sunlight, the camera floating languidly as we see and hear the laughters of a happy family of three, a young couple and their son, at the ruins of a building in the middle of a forest. Then, the soothing voice of the mother, Mio, reading from the picture book she had prepared for her son, Yuuji, just before her untimely death. It is a tale of a mother who went to an alien planet after her death, and then returning to her husband and son during rainy season.

Still too young to understand what had happened to his mother (yet hearing whispers during the funeral where people blamed his birth for her death), Yuuji clings to the story his mother wrote to him, believing that one day, she will return for him just as she has promised.

When it begins raining on a June morning, exactly a year after Mio's death (and on Yuuji's birthday), Yuuji runs out into the forest to the special place where he used to play with his mother. His father, Takumi, chases after him to get him to go to school. When they arrive at the old ruined building where they used to play, Yuuji's mother, Mio is sitting there by herself, seeking shelter from the rain, completely alive and healthy. Unfortunately, she has no memory of them or anything that occurred during her life.

I bought the series in Shanghai by accident, thinking that I had gotten myself the movie (the pirated DVD used the film poster for its cover), only to find out, to my horror, that I was watching a dorama after seeing the end credits come out prematurely (I ignored the fact that the two leads of the dorama, Narimiya Hiroki and Mimura, looked NOTHING like their film counterparts, Shido Nakamura and Yuko Takeuchi, assuming that maybe I've been misinformed about the cast... besides, Takei Akashi, who was also in the film, reprised his role as the son).

Miura and Narimiya Hiroki in the J-dorama, Ima, Ai ni YukimasuWatching the first episode of 'Ima Ai ni Yukimasu', especially during its opening, I was blown away by the gorgeous cinematography. So poetic and lyrical that it didn't seem like something I would usually see on television. In fact, it reminded me of the cinematography in Shunji Iwai's ALL ABOUT LILY-CHOU CHOU, the lush colours, the soft dreamy images, the stylistic framing, the use of silhouettes over strong lights, it's very much unlike the more restrained, realistic on its film counterpart (which I later caught on TV by coincidence, few days later). Despite its obvious low budget (well, it's definitely not a big-budget fare like a Takuya Kimura drama), the picturesque scenery of a Japanese countryside and its attractive leads (okay, being the hot-blooded male I am, I'm referring only to Mimura) are shot so beautifully that it might be one of the most visually stunning doramas I've ever seen.

I have to point out the cinematography of this dorama since, compared to films, people generally overlook these technical aspects when watching J-doramas. And being a filmmaker myself, cinematography and visual aesthetics are some of the most essential elements of my own works. (Although, there were some complaints that I care more about cinematography and framing than actual performances from my actors)

I've finished the whole series two days ago, each episode was an emotionally exhausting experience, there wasn't a single episode that didn't leave me all choked up and having breathing difficulties.

Looking up on this dorama, I found out that some viewers have complained about the lack of chemistry between the two leads, Narimiya Hiroki and Mimura, or the slow pacing (being an 11-episode series, I can't see why one would expect this to move faster than a 2-hour long film), or, most annoyingly, the exclusion of a few 'good scenes' from the movie.

In my opinion, the dorama, Ima, Ai ni Yukimasu, is actually better than its film counterpart. After all, this isn't supposed to be a frame-by-frame remake of the film, but a different interpretation of Takuji Ichikawa's novel. Characters are given more time to develop, thus making Mio's progression from initial confusion and complete unfamiliarity with her husband and son to discovering her love for them both even more moving. And then, Takumi has to constantly deal with the fact that even though his wife has miraculously returned from the dead, her time with him and their son will only last until the end of rainy season, a painful secret he has to hide by himself, constantly gnawing at him. There is also the mother-in-law character, Mio's mother (not in the film), who sometimes feels that her daughter may have lived longer if she hadn't approved of her marriage with Takumi. While civil towards her son-in-law, there is a hint of resentment towards him that she has never gotten the chance to deal with.

Anyway, I thought this may be one of the most romantic J-doramas I've ever seen in years (the last one being the Takuya Kimura classic, Beautiful Life). Although subtle and quiet, there seems to be more complexity and emotional depth in the relationship between Mio and Takumi. In one episode, Mio, still unsure of her feelings for this man who claims to be her husband, starts to get increasingly tired of Takumi's constant recounting of their past, feeling that all these while he is clinging merely to the past, and not really appreciating her for what she is now. She decides to learn how to ride a bicycle just so she can be what she is in the present, and not remain the same person in Takumi's mind. Why this strange twinge of jealousy? Is she falling in love with him again, and realizes that she is competing against the her from the past?

Narimiya Hiroko and Mimura in Ima, Ai ni YukimasuLike the film, there are numerous flashbacks to Mio and Takumi's high school life, which was a series of missed chances and unspoken feelings. The gradual unfolding of their past unraveling the mystery behind their romance, and also Mio's reappearance. I favoured the dorama's take in the ending over the film's, less emphasis on their high school encounters, more on the truth behind her reappearance.

The acting is uniformly good. I ended up feeling for the entire cast of characters, who endeared themselves to me despite some of their limited screentime (the aforementioned mother-in-law; the good-natured Mariko, a co-worker at the library Takumi works at, who secretly loves him; the guy who secretly loves Mariko; the old geezer head librarian who's constantly asleep; Yuuji's perpetually hungry class teacher; the couple who owns the bakery;), and like I said, the pacing of the series wasn't a problem for me, the visuals were simply top-notched for a TV series.

Seriously, you people should check it out. You'll thank me.

Also excited to hear from anyone who had seen either the series and/or the movie.

Following's a sample for your viewing.


Ending of Episode 5


Did I mention that I've fallen in love with Mimura?

(*sigh* Of course, you know you're getting kinda old when an actress your age is playing a mother in a TV series)





Look out for my review of the much-beloved 1 Liter of Tears soon. Just started watching Takuya Kimura's Engine.


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