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My Short Films

Friday, August 31, 2007

Speedlinking: MERDEKA! Malaysia's 50 Years Of Independence!

beautiful Kuala Lumpur
Photo by Sandmania


Heya all, today (31st of August) is Hari Merdeka, Malaysia's Independence Day, and we are celebrating the country's 50th year of independence day. This is the first time in three years when I'm actually in Malaysia for its national day.

Just like last year, to commemorate this event, I shall post up some interesting links instead and take a break from my Chile series.

Here we go...

- In Everyone is a filmmaker, Amir Muhammad predicts what Malaysian filmmaking will be like in fifty years.

- Sharon Bakar posts a photo of her meeting the nation's father, Tunku Abdul Rahman. She also reports that Aussie-based Msian author Beth Yahp's going to Penang for a creative writing workshop. (interesting note, I was originally asked to do a screenplay adaptation of a novel of hers, would have been fun)

- Edrei has something heartfelt to say in When Merdeka Means Nothing To You (Redux)

- Everyone's favourite commentator Dabido gives a lesson in How To Write A Comment.

- What Will Happen If Malaysian Independence Was Never Achieved? by, er, me... two years ago.

- A random photo of Dawn Yang. She may have forgotten about me, but my unbridled affections towards her remained the same as it were two years ago. Tu eres muy linda, te casarias conmigo? No? Darn.

Dawn Yang


- Trailer of Liew Seng Tat's debut feature film, FLOWER IN THE POCKET (starring James Lee as the dad!).



- Part 1 to Part 3 of STREET FIGHTER: THE LATER YEARS (part 4 will be coming out on the 7th of September)







- 3 years ago today, I completed my first attempt in filmmaking, a 2-men short film/video experiment called A BORING STORY. Starring me and Justin, shot and directed by me, narrated and written by Justin. It has IMPORTANT POLITICAL OVERTONES.



Well, that's all.

From me anyway.

Now is YOUR chance to post up whatever links you want to post up as well for Independence Day. It could from your own site, or someone else's, just do whatever you want... as long as it won't get me arrested.

Leave it at the comments section!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Swifty In Chile (Part 6): Rediscovering Santiago And The Meaning of Film Festivals

Note: It's better for you to read
before you start reading this entry:


19th of August. It was still Day 6.

A moment stretched to infinity ended with a postcard written in two Spanish lines. And then a line in Chinese, its meaning forever a mystery to its recipient, in contrary to the layers of meaning intended by the writer himself.

A smile of surprise and gratitude, a swift peck in the cheek, a warm embrace, traces of those left me as I left the hotel and embarked upon a solo tour to PLAZA DE ARMAS, the main square of Santiago. If I had only a day left in the city, I thought I would see as many sights of the city as I could, drinking its images, framing them into memory, just so I could lessen the remorse I would return with.

After a twenty minute ride in the commuter train, I emerged from the metro station of Plaza De Armas, confronted by the sight of a massive structure.

An ancient cathedral which I would know later as the Santiago Metropolitan Cathedral.

Immediately, I snapped photos.

Santiago Metropolitan Cathedral

Santiago Metropolitan Cathedral 2


It was a sunny Sunday afternoon, the place was crowded. Navigating carefully through the ocean of humanity at downtown Santiago, I looked at my surroundings with awe and wonder, like an explorer would when he had chanced upon a previously unexplored land. Aside from the brief visit at Pablo Neruda's house, I had spent the past five nights at the so-called 'richer areas' of the city, places tainted (or blessed, based on your perspective) by the touch of globalization, where most restaurants were fast food chains that can also be found in Malaysia, sprawling colossal shopping malls that inspire a strange sense of uncomfortable familiarity.

What was its culture? Its tradition? Aside from the language spoken, how different Santiago was compared to the many cities I had visited in the past?

My questions were answered then.

Santiago Metropolitan Cathedral 3


I walked into the cathedral and was briefly reminded of the St Mary's Cathedral I visited three years ago in Sydney. I was unsure whether I could take photos inside the cathedral until I saw a few other tourists busily snapping away in their cameras, so I did the same. The place was too dark, and the what I could came up with were quite blurry.

Inside Santiago Metropolitan Cathedral

Inside Santiago Metropolitan Church 2


I exited the cathedral and saw rows and rows of food stalls lined up next to it, selling traditional (I presume) Chilean food.

Food Stalls lined up next to the Santiago Metropolitan Cathedral


I didn't buy anything, a silly decision I would rue until this very day. I had wanted to find the Central Market, recommended by many I've met, including the hotel receptionists, for its great seafood, so all I wanted to do then was to find the Central Market and sample its fabled seafood.

Before that, I went to the NATIONAL MUSEUM OF HISTORY, located merely opposite the cathedral. Everything was in Spanish, I was reluctant to pay extra for an English translator, so I merely wandered listlessly through the place, looking at ancient antiques that dated back from the Spanish colonization. Photo-taking was disallowed.

After that, I started my search for the Central Market, but my efforts were in vain, my limited command of Spanish prevented me from finding the market. People merely stared blankly when I said 'CENTRAL MARKET', including a few policewomen I asked, the few who knew English had no idea where there was, I was mildly frustrated. The only thing I could get were two old Chilean-published music books of The Beatles and Elvis Presley, which I bought for dad because of their novelty value.

Hours went by, I was already starving, thus I went to a pizzeria near the cathedral for food instead. I had something called the Chorrillana, combination of meat, fries, gravy, and other stuff. It was good, I think that was a Chilean dish.


Picture of chorrillana used for illustrative purposes, it wasn't taken by me!


I made my way back to the metro station, and saw street performers performing, a trio of father and sons performing with drums.

Street Performers at Plaza de Armas


I continued walking. And saw a street magician performing magic tricks to a small group of children. I stood and watch for a while.

Street Magician at Plaza de Armas


It wasn't long before he had started attracting a large crowd too.

I continued moving towards the station.

Of course, there would be a photo of myself as well, with two horse-riders whom I think MIGHT be the police officers of Santiago.

I think they are the police of Santiago


Anyway, much more can be said about that day, like how I tried to go to the National Library, only to realize that it was closed, and then how I ended up randomly at a festival venue, stumbled into ANOTHER screening of Mike Ott's Analog Days, brought back to the hotel via bus. But I'll skim over the details.

Slightly feverish, or maybe it was the heat I endured after the massive amounts of walking during the day, I fell asleep in my room in the evening, still unsure whether I could extend my stay in Chile, too weary to attend a night screening of Miriana's film, Drama Mex, which she produced and acted in.

But before that, the staffers of the festival told me that a party would be held after midnight, a BIG party where members of the press would attend, I made a point that I would attend that, as long as I was in good enough shape.

The hotel phone rang, waking me from my slumber.

My mother.

A travel agent friend of hers had helped me extend my stay in the country, canceling my flight on the 20th and changing it to the 23rd (flights to Sydney on the 21st and 22nd were full), but then she (or rather, my dad) reminded me that it was silly of me to fret over all these by myself when I was living in a 5-star hotel (I saw a plaque hanging at the walls saying that it's voted as one of Conde Nast Traveler's Top 500 hotels in the world!) and could have just asked the concierge to help me out.

I did that.

Already slightly rejuvenated, I decided to go to the party. Heading into the bus with a few festival staffers and guests, we headed towards our destination.

I needed to PARTY!!!!

Wait... a few festival staffers and guests? I looked around the bus again. How could it be???

Why were people skipping a so-called massive party where members of the press would attend???

I stared, and stared.

Then I frowned in puzzlement.

Turned out that it wasn't a party but a small gathering at a little pub. The festival staffer was either misinformed, or being sarcastic, or messing around with me, I had no idea.

The place was dark, the techno music sounded like this:

Boom Boom Boom Boom.
Doom Doom Booom Boom.
Doom Boom Doom Boom.
Boom Doom Boom Doom.
Boom Boom Boom Boom.
Doom Doom Booom Boom.
Doom Boom Doom Boom.
Boom Doom Boom Doom.
Boom Boom Boom Boom.
Doom Doom Booom Boom.
Doom Boom Doom Boom.
Boom Doom Boom Doom.


Not much of a drinker, and feeling a throbbing in my head thanks to the booms and dooms, I spotted Scott, the Canadian filmmaker I mentioned in Swifty In Chile (Part 1) (turned out that the 'famous Chilean actress' he pointed at during the opening party was REALLY a famous Chilean actress after all) standing at the corner, just as out-of-place as I was.

I was hungry, I wanted something to eat, I asked whether he wanted to join me, he looked relieved, and we left the pub together. And both of us, two guys from two different sides of the planet walked down the empty streets of Santiago, our way illuminated only by distant streetlights and building lights, the night sky was pitch black, the coy moon and stars hiding behind the clouds.

We spotted a pizzeria and went in.

I ordered a pizza and we chatted, about films we liked, directors we admired, and what we thought of film festivals.

All these years, I have wondered what film festivals were about.

A chance for personal glory as a filmmaker?

The opportunity to cement a place in cinema history by winning awards?

To show your works to different kinds of audiences, not just regular moviegoers, but critics, people in the industry, fellow filmmakers, critics, academics, etc. and wait for their judgment?

To see whether your reputation can spread further?

Isn't this how many legendary filmmakers were born? In film festivals?

"Yet attending this one, the first international film festival I've ever been to, I realize it's really about meeting people, forming networks, forging friendship, gaining contacts. It's not just about the screening of your own film, I guess." I said.

Scott was more than twice my age, in fact, he was only a few years younger than my father, working as an instructor, having done numerous music videos, he had just made his first feature film.

"Ultimately, we are all the same, united by films, tiny pieces of a large jigsaw puzzle." He said.

Continued at Swifty In Chile (Part 7): Seafood Scam and Glamourous Awards Ceremony

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Swifty in Chile (Part 5): Visiting Pablo Neruda's House - La Chascona And Learning Spanish

Note: It's better for you to read
Swifty in Chile (Part 1)
Swifty in Chile (Part 2)
Swifty in Chile (Part 3)
Swifty in Chile (Part 4)
before you start reading this entry:


Day 5. 18th of August, 2007.

A photo I took from my hotel room when I woke up early in the morning:

View from Grand Hyatt (sunrise)


My trip in Chile was originally scheduled until the 20th of August. I would have left before the awards ceremony and the closing party.

Not intending to do that, I had attempted to extend my stay in Chile for another day ever since I first arrived at Santiago.

I was told by the SANFIC staffers the day before that the arrangement can only be made if I went to the LAN Airline (the main Chilean airline) office myself. So I skipped the vineyard tour organized for the festival guests and attempted to go to the office by myself (which is in the same shopping mall where the film festival was held).

I said 'attempted' in the previous sentence because I didn't exactly go to the office immediately. I entered a van which was supposedly going to take me to the shopping mall, but there was a young woman in it, Marina, a film producer from Argentina.

I asked where she was going, and her answer was:

"I'm going to Pablo Neruda's house."

(One of the iconic Chilean poet's romantic poems, "Leaning Into The Afternoons" was quoted by me in Swifty in Chile (Part 2))

Gasping, I immediately changed destinations. Since watching Il Postino (The Postman) a couple of months ago, and knowing that I was going to visit Chile, I had made a mental note that I would check out anything in the country related to Neruda!

(The award-winning film, Il Postino is a fictional story of Pablo Neruda befriending a postman when the poet was exiled to Italy. Highly recommended.)

Poster of Il Postino
Poster of Il Postino (The Postman)


My air ticket can wait! I wanna see Neruda's house!

So I went to the metro station with her instead. Together, we took a commuter train to the Baquedano station.

Marina and I in a commuter train to Neruda's house


And then we started walking to his place.

Me on a bridge near Baquedano Plaza
Me, standing on a bridge near Baquedano Plaza

The house we went to was called LA CHASCONA, named after Neruda's third wife, Mathilde Urrutia (whom he built the house for) for her unruly mane of hair (that's what La Chascona meant, I believe). Go to the official Pablo Neruda Foundation page to check out La Chascona's interesting history.

And there we were, two film producers, paying pilgrimage to the legendary poet of love!

Some photos taken outside La Chascona:

Stone Pillars outside La Chascona

Me, waiting outside La Chascona


Guided tours were given, unfortunately more expensive in English, so I opted for the Spanish tour, as long as Marina could translate for me.

Entering the house, I snapped a photo of Neruda's bar.

Inside La Chascona


... only to be told by the tour guide that I wasn't allowed to take photos in La Chascona.

So the photo you see above is invaluable.

Neruda was an ardent collector of different stuff, so the decoration of his house was really exotic and unique. Paintings by his artist friends lined the walls, antiques and sculptures, old newspaper articles about him or by him, his Nobel Prize medal etc. It was really interesting.

Guided tour ended in slightly more than half an hour. We could finally snap photos outside the house.

I am hawt.

Me at La Chascona, Pablo Neruda's House

Me at La Chascona, Neruda's House (2)

Marina and I at La Chascona, Neruda's House


We went back to the hotel at 3pm. Marina had a 12-hour party (yes, a party that would last for 12 hours) to attend, it was to celebrate the launching of one of her films.

I resumed my journey to the shopping mall near my hotel just to get my air ticket fixed.

I made a stop at the SANFIC Meeting Point outside the mall to get a drink and some candies from a booth.

It was there that I took some Spanish lessons. Here's a photo I took with them (yes, the two ladies... well, the guy helped a little too).

Me and my... Spanish tutors
Swifty and his Spanish tutors


They were absolutely dedicated, making sure that I would learn the most important phrases, from useful everyday words (asking for the bill, directions, price) to some swear words. They wrote everything on my map.

Notes from my Spanish tutors 1
Notes from my Spanish tutors

Notes from my Spanish tutors 2
More notes from my Spanish tutors


After spending enough time to ensure that I've grasped a bit of the language, I excused myself and went to the airline office.

They told me the tickets couldn't be changed.

That was the beginning of a long, drawn-out nightmare that I would elaborate on in the next posts.

At night, I went to the cinema just so I could watch a few movies from the festival.

Buying myself a huge tub of ice-cream, I walked into the screening of a Paraguayan documentary called TIERRA ROJA, by Ramiro Gomez (Ramiro would later win a BEST DIRECTOR award under the Latino American Competition category).

The documentary is about the life of four families from the inlands of Paraguay, detached from present day progress and immersed in their own space of the country.

When I walked into the film, I saw a scene of a woman breaking a duck's neck with a broomstick just so she could cook it for dinner. The duck died a slow, drawn-out death, twitching, twitching and twitching. I had trouble swallowing my ice-cream.

After that, I went to the screening of American filmmaker Mike Ott's ANALOG DAYS (also competing under the International Competition category).

Here's a photo of me with Mike.

Mike Ott and I


Sitting next to me during the screening was Miriana Moro, a Mexican actress/ producer, who was in the group photos posted at Swifty In Chile (Part 4).

Me and Miriana Moro


A girl behind us recognized Miriana and greeted her enthusiastically.

"I am her boyfriend." I deadpanned, gesturing at Miriana, earning a 'WTF' look from German director Bettina, who was also seated behind us.

Go to Swifty In Chile (Part 6): "Tu belleza me ha cautivado"

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Swifty in Chile (Part 4)

Note: It's better for you to read
Swifty in Chile (Part 1)
Swifty in Chile (Part 2)
Swifty in Chile (Part 3)
before you start reading this entry:




Day 4. 17th of August, 2007.

2 hours away from the screening of 'The Elephant and The Sea'.

I sat in the Guest Office, surfing the Net. Finally got the chance to update my blog with two consecutive posts about my first two days in Chile. It was 2pm (2am in Malaysia), some people on my MSN list were online.

I wasn't nervous, just excited. So excited that I needed to vent, needed to come in terms with the act that I was representing Malaysian cinema like an ambassador of sorts, to be present when many of the Latin American audiences will be watching a Malaysian film for the very first time in their lives.

Me, of all people, speaking to audiences half a world away about Malaysian cinema and filmmaking?

Felt like a dream.

How can I not feel a sense of excitement or pride?

I've given many public speeches in my life. Story-telling competitions in primary school. (Never won) Club announcements in high school. (Was English club president) Serving as emcee in Comic Fiesta 2003. Oral presentations in university. And most recently, in local screening events of my short films like Filmmakers Anonymous 2, I'm never shy in front of the crowd, yet this very 'idea' of being a 'representative' of Malaysian cinema left me breathless.

As if I was carrying the burden of the entire nation, that every single word I said would be taken into account.

Overdramatic? Anyone in my shoes might have a similar sort of feeling.

Ding!

A Malaysian blogger was online. I've never met him in person, I haven't spoken to him online that much either, so I messaged him.
Me: Heya!

Him: Hey you, haven't seen you in a long time.

Me: Yeah! Long time no chat! Where have you been, man?

Him: What do you mean? Just go read my blog and you know what have I been doing. Go to this URL.
He then reminded me his URL. I didn't click, I'm a conversationalist, I'll be damned if I let a conversation die like this.
Me: Man, I'm so excited, I'm in Chile, for this Santiago International Film Festival!

Him: Oh yeah, I remember you've always been obsessed with films and filmmaking.
A pause.
Me: ... Huh? I'm a filmmaker and producer, film IS my career. It's not as if I were some random bum who daydreams about filmmaking while sitting in front of a TV at his living room. Obsession? Come on, films had always been such a big part of my life when I grew up that it's as natural to me as drinking water, you can't say someone's obsessed with water or food.

Him: I didn't say anything, I'm just saying it as it is, you're a guy obsessed with films and filmmaking. That's all.
A pause.
Me: Anyway, I'm representing this local film that's competing at this film festival, and I'm going to present it and then chat with the Latin American audiences during its Q and A session after the film! I wonder what are they going to ask me!

Him: I'm not interested. I don't really care about films and filmmaking. Nor do I have the knowledge.
A pause.
Me:... that's very supportive of you.
Another pause.

Guess I can't really accuse this guy of being insincere about his feelings towards my well-being and filmmaking endeavours.
Me: So, what have you been up to?

Him: Nothing much, I'm interested in photography, but unlike you and your filmmaking, I'm not obsessed with it. Right now, I'm just waiting for my friends to get up so we can play DOTA.

Me: Hey, you made it seem as if my love for filmmaking is an unhealthy thing. It's not obsession, it's passion.

Him: All kinds of obsession are unhealthy.

Him: So is having too much of a good thing.

Him: I'm going off now, I want to play DOTA.
He went offline.

I sighed.



I reached the multiplex early, going to the projection room, making sure the tape of my film was working so that my screening wouldn't get canceled again like it did in Day 2.

Q and A session after screening


"Hola!" I waved.

"Hola!" The crowd greeted me in return.

"Mi nombres Edmund Yeo de Malasia!" I said.

When saying that, I pronounced my name as EDUMOONDO because that was the Spanish pronunciation of my name. And MALASIA wasn't a typo, Malasia's Spanish for Malaysia.

I continued. "Thank you very much for attending the Latin American premiere of the Malaysian film, 'The Elephant and the Sea'. Muchas gracias. There will be a q and a session after the film, so please, please, don't go away."

They replied with a very warm applause.

After the film ended, the Q and A session was conducted with the help of prolific film critic and journalist, Pamela Biénzobas, as my translator (check out her article about Guzman's Salvador Allende documentary at Senses of Cinema). I was flooded with questions like:

"Is it difficult to make independent films in Malaysia?"

"How was this film received in Malaysia? Are the government and the locals supportive of independent films?"

"Can you please tell us the thematic elements the director wanted to convey?"

"This film is very visually stunning, as if the scenery of the portrayed village had come to life by itself, is it part of the script to make the scenery so beautiful?"

"What inspired the director to make this film? Was it autobiographical?"

"Can you tell us about the pre-production stages of this film?"

"Are there any international film festivals in Malaysia where non-mainstream films are introduced to audiences?"


Q & A session after screening 2


I took my time to answer the questions, and shook hands. Many of them really liked the film, was glad that they did. The session went on for too long, and Hu Shu's film, I WANT TO DANCE, was going to start screening (the first screening of the film, which I attended, was chronicled in detail on Swifty In Chile (Part 3)), so we were all asked to leave the theater.

I was then led to a van that would bring me back to the hotel. I realized that I really enjoyed the moment.

... definitely more than what I would have felt for DOTA.

Some photos I took later that night, during the 'HAPPY HOUR' event.

With the wonderful staff of SANFIC
With the wonderful staff members of SANFIC

Miriana Moro, me and SANFIC staff
Girl in black jacket is Mexican actress/ producer Miriana Moro, I didn't really know her until the following night

Me, Hu Shu, Miriana Moro and SANFIC staff
Second from the left is Hu Shu, the director from China


Go to Swifty In Chile (Part 5): Visiting Pablo Neruda's House - La Chascona And Learning Spanish.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Sifow - Love Spell



Sifow.

Second album.

Love Spell.

It was released about a week ago; I just went to Shibuya and bought it.

I know I said I'd given up reviewing music, but what the hell.

Sifow's first album, Clarity, was on the whole greatly satisfying (although I still would have liked it to have included the original version of 'Jewel' as well as "I Uta"), but it suffered in places from sounding too much like Hamasaki Ayumi. Love Spell still has some Ayu-soundalike patches, particularly on the ballads, but it's overall a more confident release with improved production. Sifow's tracks have always shown a willingness to experiment with unusual sounds (the bagpipes on 'Clarity', for example) and song structures while still retaining a basic J-pop template, and most of Love Spell continues the trend. Anchored by a strong batch of singles, Love Spell is proof that Sifow is in it for the long haul. While her total mainstream breakthrough might not have come just yet, she has such a solid musical base and diversified set of careers (in music, writing, business, and fashion) that it's only a matter of time before she completely takes over.

Love Spell is more dance-oriented than Clarity, with funkier beats and more of the trance-influence that previously inflected some of her remixes. There are more beats, breakdowns, and electronic flourishes than before, adding up to an almost sultry mood at times. If Clarity sometimes retained the prissiness that can befall lesser-quality j-pop, in Love Spell Sifow has well and truly settled into her soundworld, sounding thoroughly adult and convincing.

Opener (and second single) 'Rule', with its sighs, swirling chorus and almost trip-hop beat, functions as a pretty telling entrance, recalling songs like 'Chain' from Clarity while still pointing towards this album's new directions. Three-quarters of the way through the song there's a from-out-of-nowhere interlude of processed guitar, which, while brief, still demonstrates the production's capacity to surprise. Small touches like this are all over Love Spell - the best part doesn't necessarily come at the beginning of each song, and tracks are free to dart off in unexpected directions.



'Tokyo Love Night' is a standout, and at once feels like something that wouldn't have been on Clarity - it's more immediately danceable than anything before it, with a better beat and more detailed production. There's a hint of Kylie Minogue's "Love at First Sight' here, but combined with a fuzzed-out bass that's more reminiscent of 'Myxomatosis' by Radiohead.

The single 'Carat' is probably my favorite track here, a propulsive blast of futuristic overdrive. In the promotional video, Sifow poses with a car while multicolored speedlines streak past, and it's a fairly accurate representation of 'Carat''s sound. Since Sifow's voice is far from overpowering, it sometimes fades into the background in her weaker tracks, but in 'Carat' it's pushed to the forefront to match the beat, and the song is all the better for it.



'Natsu Hanabi' combines the dance production with a more traditional palette of sounds, matching strings and drums to great effect. The song manages to aurally evoke the summer fireworks of its title, and while listening to it it's difficult not to imagine being at some kind of matsuri, sipping beer and watching the dancers.



'Ai-Ai!' is another highlight, and probably the greatest musical leap Sifow has taken yet. It's straight-up old-style disco, spliced with breakbeats and a funk rhythm. Sifow's voice plays around more here than usual, dipping to a lower register and then leaping higher again, combined with multiple overdubs. The lyrics are basic and the "ai-ai-ai-ai!" vocal hook is almost moronically simple, but this minimalism is somehow more compelling and effective than a more complicated treatment would have been. And there are at least two other deeply catchy vocal hooks besides the aforementioned chorus. The production pulls the three-quarters trick again here, inserting an electronic bridge towards the end before breaking back into layered vocals. This is probably the most exciting track here, and definitely the most unexpected.

To finish things off, there's a tranced-out remix of 'Clarity.' This is a nice move - Sifow ending her new album with a version of the first song from her first album, reworked to fit in with the overall mood of everything that precedes it. 'Clarity' was one of the better songs on its eponymous album, but the 'Dank-One vs Ovrar' remix here is just as good, replacing the original's exotic mood with one more suited to dancing, maximizing the repetitive, droning chorus to great effect. It's the perfect way to finish, capping the album off in a similar way that Clarity finished with a remix of the earlier non-album single 'Jewel.'

Sifow remains highly inventive and highly underrated, and if she stays as prolific as she's been recently, she's sure to continue expanding her fanbase. Love Spell is a more than worthy followup to her debut, and if she maintains this consistent level of quality, she's more than capable of supplanting more repetitive idols (*cough* Koda Kumi *cough* ). Lastly, the disc is worth getting just for the accompanying music videos for 'Carat', 'Rule', and 'Natsu Hanabi.' All of them are available on youtube, of course, but they deserve to be seen in full-screen with high resolution. In true Sifow fashion they're almost compulsively opulent, full of gold and butterflies, baroque decorations and costumes. Not to be missed.

/music-critic writing style

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Swifty in Chile (Part 3)

(Go to Swifty in Chile (Part 1) or Swifty in Chile (Part 2))

16th of August, 2007.

A van came at 11:45am and brought me to the Hoyts La Reina multiplex were the WORK IN PROGRESS event was held. I saw the New Yorker director Jay Frisk and his wife, Veronica (whom I mentioned in the first entry) waiting outside the cineplex, I approached them and they looked sympathetic, the news of my screening's cancellation the night before had spread to even the festival invitees.

The first work-in-progress film was a big-budget sci-fi satirical comedy about a shady businessman who managed to launch an astronaut into space, only to have the Americans worry that this was a planned secret attack against them. There weren't subtitles, and English was only spoken in the scenes set in the Pentagon. So I assume that was the gist of the plot.

Second one was a coming-of-age road movie. Young woman in Spain returns to Chile to scatter her mother's ashes, only to discover friends, romance and ultimately... herself. Well, you know how these kinds of movies are like. Well-shot, stylishly-edited, and the main actress was pretty.

Third one was a father-daughter film, about a Jewish family in a Chilean town. Dialogue-heavy, so I didn't know what was going on.

Fourth one was called 'Santos', a superhero film, very campy and darkly comedic. It's the only one with English subtitles, so I could finally understand what was going on. Disgraced comic artist runs into a character from his comic and discovers that he has superpowers. His best friend had become a super tycoon who runs the entire city and his ex-girlfriend had married his best friend. Super tycoon best friend is obviously the main villain in the film, I think.

I also went to see Jay's film, 'Pulling', in the afternoon. A TV reporter came over and interview me after the film ended, noting that I was the producer of 'The Elephant and the Sea', asking how I felt about Chile, and whether I was saving my energies for the next scheduled screening of my film.

"Yes, that's why I'm hanging out, watching other films of the festival." I said. "Hopefully my screening will run smoothly."

"Before you came here, what would you think of when you hear the name 'Chile'?" The reporter asked.

"The Andes. And Pablo Neruda." I answered, after thinking for a while.

I took a taxi back from the Hoyts La Reina to the hotel with Jay and his family, only to realize that I made a mistake since I had to catch another screening at night. Immediately after I reached the hotel, I was trying to find ways to get back to the multiplex.

I saw a festival staff at the lobby.

"Hey, do you have a van that can bring me to Hoyts La Reina? I want to see Hu Shu's I WANT TO DANCE." I asked.

(Note: Hu Shu's I WANT TO DANCE and my THE ELEPHANT AND THE SEA were the only Asian films among the 9 films competing under the International Competition category)

"Hu Shu is missing!" The festival staff shrieked in horror. "We can't have a screening of Hu Shu's film without Hu Shu!"

"Whoa?" I keanu'd.

Apparently, Hu Shu, the director of I WANT TO DANCE, arrived at Santiago that morning and had remained missing ever since. Phone calls to his room were unanswered, no one opened the door when they were knocking his door frantically, he wasn't in either of the festival venues. People were freaking out.

"Hmm. If that's the case, maybe I don't want to go to the screening." I said. I had already went back and forth twice to the Hoyts La Reina on that day anyway.

Moments later, Hu Shu entered the office, he was suffering from jet lag and had remained on bed the whole time, sleeping. It was as if he had lost consciousness, not hearing either the phone calls nor the knockings. I introduced myself to Hu Shu, finally speaking in Mandarin. The only two festival invitees from Asia finally got to meet.

We went together to the multiplex.

The film began, and ended. A wonderful crowd-pleaser.

"It is a beautiful film." The festival PR manager, who was sitting next to me then, said.

Go to SWIFTY IN CHILE (Part 4)

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Swifty in Chile (Part 2)

(Originally written: 17th of August, 2007)

Go read Swifty in Chile (Part 1) if you haven't.

'The Elephant and the Sea', the film I represent as producer, was to be screened at 8:30pm, during my second day in Santiago, Chile. The strange sense of loneliness described at the end of the previous entry was decimated by absolutely delicious breakfast.

I needed to go online before that. And the only way to do so was to bring my laptop to the SANFIC Guest Office.

Over the weeks leading up to my departure to Chile, I corresponded with only one person from the festival. The person was in charge of providing details of my flight schedule, hotel bookings and such. Judging from the name of this person, and the writing style, I envisioned a middle-aged or elderly gentleman. Fat, slightly balding, authoritative but polite.

I finally got to meet this person when I entered the office. The person was sitting behind a desk, typing on a laptop. Seeing me, the person stood up and asked in English, flavoured with a heavy Latin American accent. A deep and clear voice.

"Are you Edmund Yeo?"

"Yeap." I said. "And you are...?"

She was a young lady. As the familiar name came forth from her lips, I knew who she was as we shook hands.

Delicate elfin features framed by brown luscious curls that cascaded down her shoulders like waterfall. The fairness of her skin accentuated by the black business-like attire she wore. Dark eyes peering at me through black-rimmed glasses.

"How odd! I had envisioned you as a middle-aged or elderly gentleman." I remarked, barely concealing my surprise, and leaving out the 'fat, slightly balding, authoritative but polite..' part to avoid further offense.

"Haha! But my name is obviously a girl's name." She replied.

"Ooh." was my witty retort.

Then I set up my laptop at the Guest Office, got my internet connection, and checked my mail, and then my Facebook account, and then this blog. I had originally intended to update the blog, until I realized that I didn't have the photos to do so. What meaning would there be if there were no photos to illustrate what I had to say?

At the same time, numerous questions floated in my mind as I surfed the net mindlessly. I looked up from my laptop finally and asked whether I could extend my stay in Chile as it wasn't my intention to leave before the awards ceremony. I also asked whether I could tour around Santiago city more, to see its most famous locations before I leave.

"It will all be arranged." She said with smooth professionalism. Immediately, she scribbled a few notes on a piece of paper. She started making phone calls, and at the same time, busily issuing instructions to those around her.

I returned to my room and took a nap, I had learnt a few lines of Spanish from the festival volunteers for my introduction of 'The Elephant and The Sea' and I needed the rest.

I was then driven to the multiplexes, said to be the grandest in Santiago. Night had already descended upon the city, the last remnants of sunlight banished by a mild rain that shrouded my surroundings in mist.

When I reached the place (it was indeed a grand-looking multiplex), a line had formed outside theater. Quite a number of people were going to see 'The Elephant and the Sea'.

"Are you nervous?" A woman asked me, the wife of a film distributor who traveled to the multiplex with me.

I shook my head and grinned. "Er, nope, I'm excited."

The film's screening time was approaching, but everyone remained waiting. The film distributor asked the volunteers and the theater employees what was going on.

There were some problems with the beta tape sent to the festival.

The cold touch of concern and fear gripped me as I voiced a silent, disbelieving "what the f...?"

A jury member had arrived, an elderly lady. She asked me what was going on, I told her what was going on, we were very worried with what was going on.

We waited for a while, festival volunteers were running here and there. I finally received the awful news.

The beta tape couldn't be played at all.

The screening was canceled.

This announcement was made to audiences when they enter the cinemas. Another film replaced 'The Elephant and the Sea'.

In my imagination, the audiences were outraged that this happened, and threatened to burn things down like what happened to SIVAJI THE BOSS.

But in reality, all I heard were words of comfort and reassurance uttered by those around me from the volunteers, the jury member, and festival VIP etc. I acknowledged each of them with a cheerful and grateful smile. It was the only thing I could do to cover my disappointment.

There was another screening scheduled in two days, while the cancelled screening would be replaced by another during the weekends, I was told.

I was escorted back to the hotel again, a lonely figure sitting alone in a van, I had to give the print managers DVDs of the film just so they could make another copy for theatrical screening.

After leaving them the DVD, I walked to the McDonald's near the hotel for a lonely dinner, the light drizzle remained, symbolizing my unwept tears. Their burger, Big Tasty, true to its name, was pretty tasty, but my enjoyment of the meal was diminished by the fact that I was half-eating and half-making a long-distance call to director Woo Ming Jin telling him what had just occurred. (the conversation was filled with lots of 'oh nooo...', 'oh, maaaaan', 'how could this be...?', and 'urgh'.)

I took a walk to another multiplex where the festival was also held.

(Note: SANFIC was held at two multiplexes, SHOWCASE PARQUE ARAUCO, which was within walking distance and mentioned in the previous entry, and HOYTS LA REINA, which wasn't within walking distance. The screenings of my film were held in Hoyts)

Since I couldn't screen my own film, I needed to watch another film to drown my sorrows. I managed to run into the artistic director and the executive director of the festival. The unfortunate tale of my screening's cancellation had spread to almost everyone.

"Are you all right?" Asked the lady whom I introduced in the 3rd paragraph of this blog entry.

"Oh, I am. All I did was bawl my eyes out when I returned to my hotel room. I couldn't stop weeping." I deadpanned.

The film I saw that night was a German documentary film called POOL OF PRINCESSES, by Bettina Blumner.

I figured that a film with 'pool' in its title would drown my sorrows, it kinda did.

Me and BettinaA photo taken with film director Bettina Blumner a day later


Go to Swifty in Chile (Part 3).

Swifty in Chile (Part 1)

me and Leonor Varela
With Chilean actress Leonor Varela, of Blade 2 and Arrested Development fame


(Originally written: 16th of August, 2007)

I am currently a film producer in the production company, GREENLIGHT PICTURES. I was invited to the Santiago International Film Festival (SANFIC) nearly two months ago, as the producer of the local film 'THE ELEPHANT AND THE SEA' directed by Woo Ming Jin. THE ELEPHANT AND THE SEA is going to compete under the International Competition against eight other films from different countries.

It took me 8 hours to reach Sydney by flight, another 3 hours to Auckland, New Zealand, and finally, from Auckland, 10 hours to Santiago, Chile. I was in a plane for nearly 21 hours, thankfully, more than half of the amount of time was spent on sleeping. Another half was spent on watching movies, from KL to Sydney, I managed to watch WAITRESS by the late Adrienne Shelley, followed by half of BUBBLE before I fell asleep. Then from Auckland to Chile, I watched an Argentinean family drama called FAMILY LAW, well-acted, but nothing special, I tried to follow that with Ice Cube's ARE WE HERE YET? It was awful, and I fell asleep not long after that.

I spent an hour and half each in the Sydney airport and the Auckland airport, in which I managed to buy myself the last two issues of WIRED magazine at their bookshops, and had meals that were absolutely more filling than plane meals (EAGLE BOY PIZZAs in Sydney, BURGER KING in Auckland), although to be fair, the meals on the Lan Chile planes ain't bad.

When I reached Santiago Airport, I, along with an Argentinean film director and director of photography, was picked up by the people of the festival in a van. When we made our way to the GRAND HYATT HOTEL, I was struck by the majestic sight of the omnipresent Andes, its mountain range was looming everywhere over the city, no doubt the highest and longest mountain range in South America. Spanish was the main language spoken in Chile, being able to speak only a few words of Spanish, I was worried that I would get into a 'LOST IN TRANSLATION' scenario, but without being able to meet Scarlett Johannson.

As I checked in, I requested for a room at a higher floor, and I was given room number 14 at floor number 14. An unfortunate number for the Chinese ('4' sounds like 'death' in Chinese, while '14' means 'absolute death', so my room was 'absolute death absolute death'), but I didn't really care that much.

I was given a pretty big room. And the view through the window was wonderful. It was two in the afternoon, there would be an opening ceremony and party at seven thirty, so I channel-surfed, watched through a couple of films at the movie channels.

My hotel room in Grand Hyatt Santiago

My hotel room in Grand Hyatt Santiago 2

The view from my hotel room


When being escorted to the venue of the SANFIC film festival in the van, I managed to meet a director from New York, along with his wife, his sister, his in-laws and his own parents. Formerly an actor and a playwright, he adapted his play into a film, and his debut film were to be shown at the festival too. They were all nice people, and we got along immediately, because, well, our inability to speak Spanish formed some sort of bond between us. Haha.

I also got to know a filmmaker from Canadian filmmaker and his producer. Funny guys. I chatted with them both, and with the producer (my counterpart! But nearly three times my age!) taking the obligatory shots at Hollywood, consumerism, and the agonies of conformity and compromise. You know, the usual stuff suffered by angry starving artists.

(Canadian producer: "The System is against us! It is time for us to work around the system!"

Me: "Yeah!"

Canadian producer: "With all those rubbish that are being released these days, when will quality works will ever be supported financially?!"

Me: "Exactly! We are, like, so totally screwed by the System, man!")


The film festival was held at an awesome and huge multiplex (called SHOWCASE CINEMAS) in this massive shopping mall near the hotel (it's within walking distance). After the opening ceremony, the party was held at a club nearby.

Canadian producer had plans of tapping into the Latin American market by making a film with a Chilean actress that includes... artistic nudity. So he was definitely keeping an eye out for pretty Chilean women in the club.

(Him: "Mind you, we are NOT making pornography!"

Me: "I know, you're doing this for art.")


They approached an enthusiastic Chilean girl wearing a cap. She was pretty, but she told the filmmaker and the producer that she was an art director, not an actress. Nonetheless, they were eager to work with her.

And then, there was a very beautiful young Chilean woman chatting with another guy nearby. The Canadian director pointed at her:

"She's a famous actress in Chile."

I looked at her for a while.

"Yeah. Right." I snorted.

"I'm not kidding, you should approach her and talk to her! Take a photo or something!" The Canadian director said.

Smiling in amusement, I walked towards the woman, our eyes met briefly, we exchanged smiles, then I walked past her. Whether she was really a famous Chilean actress remained a mystery, but I saw another Chilean actress (and member of the jury), Leonor Varela sitting nearby with a couple of her friends, I asked politely whether I could take a photo with her, and she said yes. (the photo is at the top of the blog post) After that, I wanted to tell her that I liked her acting in ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT and BLADE 2, but the club was too noisy, so I merely thanked her, and walked away.

I walked past the table of the Canadian filmmaker and his producer, and saw them engaged in a serious discussion with the 'famous Chilean actress' they asked me to speak to initially. They were happy, it seemed that they might have found their... lead actress. How lucky.

A pretty brunette greeted me in Spanish, she was near my age. I said 'hi' in return, and asked whether she spoke English. She said no, but asked in halting English for my name, and why was I in the party. I answered, showing her my tag, which reads "COMPETENCIA INTERNACIONAL, EDMUND YEO, PRODUCTOR "THE ELEPHANT AND THE SEA")

My name tag


She looked excited.

"Are you an actress?" I asked, with irony.

She said something in Spanish, her excitement remained consistent.

"I see!" I replied enthusiastically, not understanding a single word she was saying. I handed her my name card, I doubted she was really an actress, but I had been generously giving out my cards... in an attempt to promote Malaysian independent cinema.

Looking at the card, she called excitedly for a bearded guy standing nearby, we exchanged greetings, he spoke very little English as well, but he was friendly and nice, and started writing his phone number on a napkin, telling me that if I ever visit Santiago again, he'll show me around. He's a friend of the Festival Director.

"How old are you?" He asked me.

"23." I replied.

"So young! I'm 34 and I have a son! With her!" He gestured at the pretty brunette.

"I am 25!" The pretty brunette said.

"I'm 31!" A guy standing nearby said.

"I'm 37!" Another guy said.

"Oooh." I remarked, and immediately took the opportunity to 'remind' them that my film was to be shown the following day (and Friday), and that I'll be at the Q & A session.

Ever a relentless promoter.

The cigarette smoke that filled the air was getting suffocating, I excused myself, giving the couple and their friend high-fives, and pushing my way out of the sea of humanity that flooded the club.

A Coca-Cola booth was set up in the middle of the club, a girl stood there, offering Diet Coke in paper cups. I took a cup from her.

"Gracias." I said.

A dazzling smile spread across the Coke girl's face like a butterfly, illuminating the dark place with a brilliant light. Time stopped, everything around me became a blur, and all I could see was her.

"Are you an actress?" I wanted to ask. Again. The oldest trick from a filmmaker's book.

But I was so blinded by the light of her smile that I exited the club.

Jet lag.

I was woken up by a phone call from my mother, it was 10:15am (10:15pm in Malaysia), the television was still playing.

A strange sense of loneliness seeped into my soul.

Go to Swifty In Chile (Part 2).

Monday, August 13, 2007

Swifty Reviews 'Rush Hour 3'

Rush Hour 3 poster


This is what my sister had to say about RUSH HOUR 3 after we saw it yesterday morning:

"That's it? The climax didn't even feel like a climax at all!"

RUSH HOUR 3 is so bad that it isn't even entertaining enough as a mindless Hollywood action blockbuster, and pales in comparison with its two predecessors. This is shocking, since RUSH HOUR 1 and 2 were barely the pinnacles of action cinema, but at least Jackie Chan was in something fun and entertaining (albeit forgettable), light years ahead of the Hollywood fares Jet Li and Chow Yun Fat were in.

RUSH HOUR 3 had some funny gags that will induce some chuckles, but other than that, it was a mind-numbing experience. The last RUSH HOUR film was made six years ago, and it could be seen here, as Lee and Carter, Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker had seemingly lost much of their chemistry seen in the previous two films. RUSH HOUR 3 seems more interested in setting up solo moments for each actor. The film seems to stall as Chris Tucker performs his hit-or-miss humourous/annoying schtick, and moves on again when his 'moment' ends', then we alternate to a more serious, dramatic side of Jackie (he is perpetually gloomy in this film) and his martial arts sequences.

Unfortunately, the martial arts sequences involving Jackie are REALLY tame here, in fact, they could be some of the weakest I've seen in a Jackie Chan film (this comes from a guy who had seen almost every single Jackie Chan film in the past 23 years, except clunkers like THE MEDALLION, THE TUXEDO and AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS). He's getting old (53 this year), but the action scenes from last year's ROB-B-HOOD are so much more thrilling. Benny Chan can definitely direct Jackie Chan's martial arts scenes better than Brett Ratner.

Hiroyuki Sanada is pretty badass as the baddie in this film, but then, I can't remember a single film where he isn't badass in it. French Oscar-winning film director Roman Polanski also cameos as a French policeman who 'anally rapes' Lee and Carter... to have a guy who fled from USA after having unlawful sexual intercourse with a 13 year old girl play a role like this is, er, an inspired choice of casting... Yvan Attal steals the movie as an America-hating French taxi driver. Max von Sydow is obvious as the film's 'concealed bad guy'. Noemie Lenoir is pretty hot as Carter's (gasp!) romantic interest.

The biggest surprise of this surprise-free film was Zhang Jingchu appearance, she was last seen giving an award-worthy harrowing performance in Derek Yee-directed, Andy Lau-starrer, The Protege, earlier this year. She was really fluent in English!

Zhang Ziyi who?

Zhang Jingchu

Zhang Jingchu again


This film is no Die Hard 4. Nor does it even deliver as well in the action department as HK film Flash Point did. Other than Zhang Jingchu and some funny parts, this film isn't really worth watching. Even the Jackie Chan vs. Yao Ming Visa commercial shown before the start of the film is more entertaining:


Jackie Chan vs Yao Ming


Anyway, here's a scene from Rush Hour 3, it's Jackie and Chris vs the 7'9 tall Sun Ming Ming:


Jackie and Chris vs. Sun Ming Ming

Saturday, August 11, 2007

'Vertical Distance' Screening at Malaysian Shorts (August 2007 Edition). I can't attend :(


VerticalDistanceScreenshot5


a screenshot from Vertical Distance



Hi folks, got this email from Amir Muhammad at the Malaysian Cinema mailing list




Kelab Seni Filem Malaysia
presents
MALAYSIAN SHORTS
Aug 13, 2007

HELP University College auditorium,
Pusat Bandar Damansara, KL.
8pm.
Admission: FREE!

9 shorts (out of 21 entries).
Curated & hosted by Amir Muhammad
Total running time: 1 hour 48 min.

Vote for your three favourite shorts of the night! Ask questions of the directors! Etc.

Slightly more than half of the night will be devoted to works by recent graduates of ASWARA. You might be surprised as to what they have been up to.


1. BATTHOSAI (Amir Sallehuddin/22 min/Malaysia/In Japanese)- ASWARA

2. NOT HOME (Allan Koay/Malaysia/10 min/In Cantonese)

3. QALAM (Hadi Koh/10min/Malaysia/In Malay)- ASWARA

4. EYE CANNOT SEE (Idora Alhabshi/12 min/ Malaysia-Australia/In English)

5. COMOLOT (Mohd Ikram Ismail/8 min/Malaysia/In Malay)- ASWARA

6. OBSTACLES (T. Sathiyavarmaan/14 min/Malaysia/In Tamil) - ASWARA

7. A (Foo Wei Xiang/9 min/Malaysia/In Mandarin)

8. VERTICAL DISTANCE (Edmund Yeo/6 min/Australia-Malaysia/In English)

9. SEHARI DALAM KEHIDUPAN (Syed Omar/12 min/Malaysia/In Malay) - ASWARA

We will also re-screen Akashdeep Singh's PINTU (5 min/Malaysia/In Malay) to celebrate its win at Festival Filem Malaysia ke-20 as Filem Pendek Terbaik. It had, of course, been an audience favourite at a previous edition of Malaysian Shorts.





Interesting. My film has the shortest running time among all short films. Anyway, Vertical Distance was recently selected for screening at the Jogja-Netpac Asian Film Festival in Indonesia, and this will mark its Malaysian premiere.

I can't attend the event as I am heading off to Chile on the very same night. I'll get into that in my next post later.

But please go there and support me!!!!

(... and other Malaysian short films!)

That is all.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

'Vertical Distance' Screened at Jogja-NETPAC Asian Film Festival 2007


The Cast and Crew of Vertical Distance


the Cast and Crew of Vertical Distance + Justin, May 2006


My short film, VERTICAL DISTANCE, was just shown at the Jogja-NETPAC Asian Film Festival 2007, under their 'LIGHT OF ASIA' programme. The festival was held at Yogyakarta from the 29th of July to the 2nd of August, and my short film was screened on the 30th of July and 1st of August.

Have to say that I'm tremendously honoured to be part of this new and exciting film festival. VERTICAL DISTANCE is the first of the two short films I made last year (the other being GIRL DISCONNECTED) and was my first attempt in filmmaking WITH A CREW (it was an all-female crew, I felt like Bill Murray in Charlie's Angels) It was also the first short film I've written by myself.

The film, to me, is important in a sense that it helped me discover my own filmmaking voice, I guess, which helped me embark upon something much more ambitious like GIRL DISCONNECTED (a film that would never have existed without VERTICAL DISTANCE).

VERTICAL DISTANCE can be viewed here.

Swifty Reviews 'The Simpsons Movie'

screenshot from the Simpsons movie


I actually saw this more than a week ago, but haven't had a chance to review it due to this TV movie production I'm involved in.

What can I say? The Simpsons Movie absolutely rocked. To me, this is the best movie of summer (... that's shown in Malaysia so far, I haven't seen Bourne Ultimatum, Ratatouille and Knocked Up)

I don't think there's a need to call myself a Simpsons fan. The TV show is a cultural phenomenon that has long become a part of many people's lives. To call myself a fan of the Simpsons is like calling myself... a fan of rice, or a fan of water, or a fan of the Internet.

I cannot even remember what life without Simpsons was like. I've been watching it since it was first aired in Malaysia (the first ever Simpsons episode I watched was SOME ENCHANTED EVENING), it was either 1990 or 1991, I continued watching it daily until I finished my postgrad filmmaking course in Perth last year.

I wasn't that excited about the movie, maybe because like most, I was blinded by the hype of the so-called 'Big Three' (Shrek 3, Spidey 3 and Pirates of the Caribbean 3), and then Transformers, so the Simpsons movie was more an afterthought. After all, a full-length film of Simpsons will probably be like, well, a Simpsons episode, but stretched into the length of three episodes. Can't be that special, right?

The Simpsons is like an old buddy you grew up with all your life, as you grow up, you'll meet all kinds of new, interesting and attractive people. For a while, these people may be the most appealing to you, you prefer hanging out with them, but ultimately, there's this sense of emptiness hanging out with these new friends, they are fun at times, but sometimes, they annoy you. And when you revisit your old lifelong friend, you just realize that he or she is always the best person to hang out with, maybe there are some minor flaws, but you are so used to it that it's not even an issue anymore.

That's why I absolutely loved The Simpsons movie, it's consistently entertaining throughout the film, there is not a single minute (of the film's entire 87-minute running time) when I felt bored or underwhelmed, a problem I suffered a lot from this year's summer blockbusters. The jokes were firing from all cylinders, subtle digs at pop culture and politics, silly slapstick humour, funny dialogue, toilet gags, there was something for everyone.

Underneath the humour, it's also a film with a heart. Ultimately the film works because we already know the characters so well. Being a Simpsons movie, it does focus more on the Simpsons family, while the rest of the citizens at Springfield are relegated to cameos, I didn't really mind that so much.

What was unexpected to me was the fact that I actually teared up during the heartbreaking Marge video scene (you'll know which one I'm talking about). I'm often cynical, and it's not something I've never seen before in countless other films and TV dramas, yet in this film, I am just amazed that a familiar scenario can cut so deep. Like I said, maybe I have known the characters too well.

People are often attached to the films of yesteryear, lauding the great filmmakers for their artistry and vision, for their influence and contribution, for the lack of compromise these artists have to make for commercialism. Hollywood is often viewed as evil, because films are made for money instead of art.

The debate of commercialism vs art often annoys me, because I generally do not care much for people who belong to both ends of the spectrum. (what? You really thought I was your generic artsy fartsy indie filmmaker who embraces all things non-mainstream?) You probably see me accuse an arthouse film for being 'pretentious, self-important and boring' just as much as I accuse a commercial film for being 'soulless, manufactured and stupid'.

And dammit, I'm just glad we have something like The Simpsons today.

Now, go Simpsonize yourself.

This is me, Simpsonized:



Now, a trailer of the movie:

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Swifty Reviews 'Flash Point 导火线'

Donnie Yen in Flash Point


I didn't have high hopes for Flash Point when I first saw its trailer months ago (when I went to see the French rom-com, Hors de Prix). The lady friend I was with was more excited about it than I was.


Flash Point's trailer


My apprehension towards director Wilson Yip and Donnie Yen's third collaboration in three years stemmed mostly from the bad taste left in my mouth from last year's disastrous DRAGON TIGER GATE. The awesome SPL: SHA PO LANG, seemed like a distant memory.

Sure, the trailer showcased the non-stop fighting scenes choreographed by Donnie Yen, but the way it was cut together made it seem like a B-movie, like those late 90s Hong Kong actioners starring Michael Wong.

So I was definitely pleasantly surprised by how good this film actually was when I went to see it yesterday.

Some interesting facts first:

This film was meant to be a prequel of SPL where Donnie Yen, Sammo Hung and Wu Jing would reprise their roles, but I don't think that really came into fruition, so Wilson Yip and Donnie Yen ended up making another film instead.

However, Donnie Yen's character in this film shares the same name as his character in SPL, so this may have still been a prequel of SPL.

Stylishly shot, briskly-paced and absolutely engaging even in its non-action scenes, FLASH POINT does not share the flaws of another recent high-profile Hong Kong action film, Benny Chan's INVISIBLE TARGETS (go read my review) where I felt bored whenever a villain started philosophizing pretentiously about the blurred line between good and evil between major action setpieces. The action scenes in FLASH POINT are sporadic during the first half, I get to see Donnie Yen display some martial arts moves, but the film spends more time in establishing the characters, both heroes and villains, so that I genuinely cared about what happened to them.

The suspense of the film has a lot to do with the fact that its an undercover story where Louis Koo's Wilson is a mole within a deadly gang of three Vietnamese brothers, the flamboyant Zha Gor (Ray Lui, the most badass I've ever seen in YEARS. I have seen him on TV since I was a little kid, but I had never imagined him being able to pull off a role like this! Gotta see it to believe it!), the cold-blooded Tony (Collin Chou, who plays Seraph in the Matrix films... he's definitely more kickass here than in DOA: Dead Or Alive, haha) and the psychotic Tiger (Xing Yu, he's one of the three secret martial artists in KUNG FU HUSTLE, the one who got decapitated by the two Gu Zheng playing assassins). Donnie Yen's black leather jacket-wearing, constantly posing loose cannon Inspector Ma Kwan is Wilson's partner. There's also Fan Bing Bing as Louis Koo's love interest.

The action scenes are, as expected, really intense, and realistic. According to Twitch's review, the cast adopts a fighting style called MMA - Mixed Martial Arts, which is something of a blend of various martial arts techniques. It's thrilling to see combatants use hard-hitting moves from boxing, judo, wrestling, jujitsu etc. As these action scenes happen really swiftly, they do not seem as drawn out and choreographed as INVISIBLE TARGETS' (where we had people constantly slamming into glass), thus they feel more realistic and wince-inducing. I definitely have to give Donnie Yen credit for this, I guess the guy works better WITHOUT special effects (... otherwise the action scenes end up looking as rubbish as the ones in TWINS EFFECTS and DRAGON TIGER GATE)

However, like I mentioned, it's really the non-fighting scenes that surprised me. Back then, SPL surprised me not only with the martial arts sequence, but also its drama, as characters were developed so well, their fates in the downer of an ending felt genuinely heartbreaking (I remember first staring at the ending with Simon Yam and the little girl at the beach and not believing that a scene as poetic and sad as that would actually come from a Hong Kong action film) FLASH POINT is a less depressing film, there is less feeling of gloom and doom, yet the action scenes are weaved into the non-action scenes so seamlessly that I never felt that I had to wait numbly at those moments between fighting scenes. Hell, I didn't even felt bothered with those numerous self-indulgent, glamourous shots of the preening Donnie Yen!

The film is aided by a really good and unconventional soundtrack that drew my notice... in a good way. (... unlike INVISIBLE TARGET'S overwhelmingly angsty and mournful soundtrack that screams at me to take the movie seriously)

It wasn't until last night when I found out that Wilson Yip is the same fine filmmaker who made such exquisite films like the award-winning BULLETS OVER SUMMER (1999) and JULIET IN LOVE (2000) So it's unsurprising that he has a deft touch when it comes to story development and characterization, often bringing something unique and heartfelt in most of the genre films he had done without becoming too melodramatic. I almost felt that he was in auto-pilot mode in DRAGON TIGER GATE, or that he merely took the backseat and allow Donnie Yen to call most of the shots then as he went through the motions.

So, in conclusion, this is a Hong Kong film worth seeing, it's definitely more SPL than DRAGON TIGER GATE.

Although my repeated digs at INVISIBLE TARGETS seemed as if I hated the film, but if you read my review properly, you'll know that I did enjoy the film, just unhappy with some choices made by the filmmaker that severely cripple the film in the end.

Just that if I have to compare FLASH POINT and INVISIBLE TARGETS (I'm sure I'm not going to be the only one to compare these two), I have to say that FLASH POINT is the better film.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

R.I.P. Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni

Legendary filmmakers Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni had just passed away on the same day. Ingmar was 89, Antonioni was 94.

Ingmar Bergman
Ingmar Bergman

Michelangelo Antonioni
Michelangelo Antonioni


Justin had recently posted about the awesome ending in Antonioni's ZABRISKIE POINT.

Guess it's time for me to dig out films by these filmmakers when I have the time.

So far, I never had the chance to watch anything by Ingmar Bergman, but I did buy a THE VIRGIN SPRING DVD at Shanghai earlier this year.

As for Antonioni, I've seen BLOW-UP on DVD (Justin's) two years ago. Liked it, didn't love it, but it lingers. Dad has quite a number of Antonioni films, so it's easier for me to check them out though. Kinda sad that the first Antonioni work I've ever seen was his segment in Eros, which, obviously, didn't impress me much.


Ingmar Bergman's SEVENTH SEAL trailer


1998 Criterion trailer of Michelangelo Antonioni's L'Avventura (... pretty horrible trailer)


Haven't had time to update the blog much. Shoot has resumed for this telemovie I'm involved in (as production manager/assistant director and editor), so been absolutely busy, but this is too big a deal to ignore, seriously.

So, any fans of these two filmmaking legends?
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