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My Short Films

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Swifty Reviews 'Lust, Caution 色,戒'

Lust, Caution
Many were disappointed that this film isn't anything like IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE


Lust, Caution is Ang Lee's first Chinese-language film since 2000's Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Some locations of the film were shot at Penang and Ipoh in Malaysia. The film's gotten quite a bit of attention over here ever since its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival earlier this month, where it won the Golden Lion. Of course, the attention wasn't on it winning one of the film industry's most prestigious awards, but on the graphic sex scenes, a fact that Ang Lee himself hadn't been really happy about.

While adamant not to make any cuts for the film's US release (it will be rated NC-17). Longtime Ang Lee collaborator and Focus CEO James Schamus, who co-wrote the screenplay, said he is accepting the rating "without protest". "When we screened the final cut of this film, we knew we weren't going to change a frame," he said. "Every moment up on that screen works and is an integral part of the emotional arc of the characters. The MPAA has screened the film now and made its decision, and we're comfortable with that."

Even so, Ang Lee himself had snipped off 7 minutes worth of sex scenes (some reports claim that it's 30 minutes) for the version released in China to make it kiddie-friendly. And us folks in Malaysia are also getting this sex scene-less version of the film.

Guess none of us will be able to witness everything that's meant to be an integral part of the emotional arc of the characters... (Because of that, I saw many people at local internet forums asking and praying for an uncensored version of the film for download)

I admire Ang Lee, I generally like most of his works and I'm extremely impressed with his versatility. No two films of his are ever the same. He seldom recycles the same tricks. The fact that he is less showoffy , consciously artful and audacious earned him unjust criticism as a 'Taiwanese Ron Howard' (a vile insult, imo) who can only make 'accessible, middlebrow, populist entertainment' by some Hou Hsiao-Hsien/ Tsai Ming-Liang worshipers at Cinematical. (the site is a daily read, but the occasional Ang Lee pan often irked me).

Based on a 1950 short story by famed Chinese author Eileen Chang. LUST, CAUTION is set in the World War 2-era Hong Kong and Shanghai, and is about a group of Chinese university students led by Kuang Yumin (Wang Lee-Hom) plotting to kill a powerful Japanese conspirator Mr. Yee (Tony Leung) by using a young woman, Wang Jiazhi (Tang Wei) as a lure. Joan Chen is also in the movie as Mrs. Yee.

Told through a flashback (the beginning of the film is really the end of the film), we see how the innocent and naive Wang Jiazhi gets herself involved in the perilous mission to assassinate Mr. Yee. It's really like an undercover cop film in the vein of INFERNAL AFFAIRS, just that the 'mole' is a female instead, and how her mission is affecting her emotionally and psychologically, gradually we see her being pushed to the brink as she gets involved in a violent sadomasochistic sexual relationship with Mr. Yee. The fact that we don't actually get to see those sex scenes MAY actually have lessened the effect and coherence of the film, in my opinion.

The performances in the film are good. Newcomer Tang Wei is convincing when portraying Wang Jiazhie's gradual transformation from virginical non-smoking university student to emotionally troubled seductress/ spy. Guess Ang Lee had just discovered a new star. It was reported that Zhang Ziyi had actively pursued this role but I don't think she would have been right for the role. Wang Lee Hom is a little wooden, but fares better here than he did in the many crappy Hong Kong films he took. Despite having a minor role where she spends most of her scenes at the mahjong table, Joan Chen manages to show that Mrs. Yee is more than just a one-dimensional 'jealous and ignorant wife' character, especially in the ending, where I can see that Mrs. Yee may actually harbour secrets of her own.

It's usually a cliche to say in a film review that Tony Leung is the highlight of a film he's in, but he IS seriously good here as the menacing but dangerously charismatic Mr. Yee. In terms of appearance, he looks similar to his Mr. Chow character in the Wong Kar Wai films IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE and 2046, but his mannerisms here are much devious and imposing, we see the usual Tony Leung smile we are familiar with, but with a psychopathic edge.

Not a one-note villain but a complex 3-dimensional character, a lesser actor would have made Wang Jiazhi's gradual confusion and conflict of feelings with Mr. Yee unbelievable, but the unpredictability of Mr. Yee is what makes the film so engaging and suspenseful to me. Some audiences will find themselves not being able to guess Mr. Yee's next actions either.

Film is somewhat slow and plodding to some (sounds of yawning from a guy sitting few rows behind me can be heard), Bourne Ultimatum this ain't, but it's still does a good job at twisting usual espionage thriller genre conventions. Good filmmaking, good acting, production values are top-notch, the soundtrack by Desplat is really good, not a catastrophe as I've initially feared... in fact, it really comes off more as a pleasant surprise to me.

Tell me what you think of the film when you've seen it.


Trailer of Lust, Caution


Friday, September 28, 2007

Swifty Reviews 'Hidden Summer In My Heart 陌生人'

[UPDATED (15 DEC 2007): Retracted my accusations of HIDDEN SUMMER IN MY HEART stealing music for its own soundtrack. The exec producer actually made a mistake and gave me a copy of the film's rough cut, which used temporary tracks for editing purposes. I am happy to report that the final version of the film DID use an original soundtrack.]

Gabe Ng and Ng Meng Hui in Hidden Summer In My HeartI was very interested in watching the local film HIDDEN SUMMER IN MY HEART when it was at the theaters last month. I was intrigued by its trailer, and I was curious to see what these new filmmakers Felix Tan (the director) and co. could come up with. The film is from Lim Kok Wing University's newly set-up Film and Television Academy.

I couldn't catch it. My initial plans to watch it during its last day in cinemas didn't work out because I attended the launching ceremony of the GUA website instead.

However, I managed to acquire myself a copy of the film and watch it yesterday.

I have seen numerous awful films this year. Some for failing to sustain my interest, some for earning my ire because of their sheer pretentiousness, some just fail at a narrative level or technical level thus hindering my experience of the film.

I'm not going to disguise this with a negative review filled with sarcastic hyperbolic praises like I did with my popular THE 3RD GENERATION film review. HIDDEN SUMMER IN MY HEART is a travesty. An excruciatingly horrible film that made me feel... violated after its viewing. In fact, I fell into a pool of depression so deep that it bordered on tendencies of self-mutilation.

Throughout the course of the film, I groaned repeatedly: "Uh oh... I hope the filmmakers won't mess things up by doing THAT in the scene. AARGH, they did! *smacks palm in forehead*".

Often I try not to be too hard on a local film since I myself am in the industry, and the local film industry is much too small for me to go around ripping fellow filmmakers apart with harsh reviews that can be easily misinterpreted as personal attacks. I mean, whoever I have panned now, I might end up working with in the future, and I wouldn't want something like "YOU BASTARD, I'M NOT GOING TO WORK WITH YOU BECAUSE YOU DISSED ME ON YOUR BLOG!" to happen to me.

But in the case of HIDDEN SUMMER IN MY HEART, it's like watching a train wreck as the film went on, I just couldn't turn away from it, from the groan-inducing mistakes that sunk the film to abysmal depths, to some eye-rollingly pretentious and overindulgent (and head-scratching) stylistic choices made by the filmmakers.

Obviously not wanting to associate themselves with the other arthouse fare by the likes of James Lee and Tan Chui Mui, which are often accused by the mainstream audiences for being too plodding, slow-paced and minimalistic, the filmmakers of HIDDEN SUMMER IN MY HEART opted to do everything the complete opposite by trying to throw in lots of MONTAGE SEQUENCES into the film, accompanied by some supposedly stylish visual effects and show-offy camerawork designed to perhaps engage and awe the audiences while enhancing the storytelling.

But more isn't necessarily better, and the techniques employed merely betray its amateurish feel, making it seem more like a student film (and really not the best ones) than the works of professionals. (although I'm assuming that the majority of the crew members are still students)

Now, montage sequences are also stuff that I often use in my own works. Even my 15-minute short film, Girl Disconnected, had a number of montage sequence itself that may or may not garner the audience reaction and effect I hoped, like here ("It's just a random scene of a woman frolicking by the beach, so drawn out!"), or here ("It's just Justin and the previous woman, walking through a sea of balloons, so cheesy!"), or here (" It's just a scene of pedo Justin looking at little girls dancing while angsting about a girl he didn't get to... touch! Bah-inducing!").

So, at the risk of having a case of a pot calling a kettle black, I have to point out that I find the montage sequences, especially the night club one near the opening of the film totally drawn out, cheesily choreographed and bah-inducing. Why were everyone dancing as if it were the 70s? Retro night? Why are there so many cringey shots of people staring and waving at the camera in the nightclub during the montage? Aaaaaaahhh!

I have tried to look past several of its (possibly fatal) technical flaws, like the horrible sound mixing (background sound changes when there is a cut in a scene... why not layer an entire ambiance track to camouflage the jarring sound?), the few instances of crossing the line (the 180 degree rule broken)... among others. But er, well, it's really hard to look past them when they are constantly slapping me in my face, daring me NOT to write about them in a review.

Now, addressing the story... which I shall copy and paste from another site: Fang (Gai Yew Lan), a woman from Mainland China comes to Malaysia to look for her daughter who has been tricked into prostitution by a local syndicate. She meets a wild young man named Li (Gabe Ng) and asks him to help her find her daughter. Despite the many trials and setbacks of locating Fang's daughter, the odd duo manage to bond and foster familial ties with each other. Could have worked, but Mio miglior nemico, Il this ain't.

One thing, I don't understand the need of having Fang be a woman from China when she is being played by Gai Yew Lan, a veteran local actress. Hard for me to believe in her character when Fang speaks Mandarin like a Malaysian instead of someone from Mainland China, and then, there's also a problem of her looking too aloof and calculative instead of being a poor village bumpkin which I assume is the filmmaker's intention. Gai Yew Lan is not a bad actress, but she may have been miscasted. I can't see the point of having her be a woman from Mainland China when the character could have just been someone from a rural area, some village at north Malaysia or something.

As for Gabe Ng's Li. His swaggering gangster character is a caricature that seems to carry the traits of, well, gangster characters from HONG KONG films. Featuring cliches like dyed hair, immaculately dressed with Nicholas Tse-like mannerisms, I see more a guy playing a gangster based on Hong Kong films than actually believing that he's really a gangster (or a con man, or a pimp etc. which he's supposed to be in the film). He is just as badly-written as my cookie-cutter artist characters from my discarded KL RHYTHM short film project, which I really discarded because of my inability to write the characters well enough.

When the primary characters have ended up feeling so artificial, the dynamics are gone, the film's credibility is lost in its entirety. (Also, the film's is set in Johor during the second half, but I exclaimed when I saw shots of shop lots and the KFC located just outside my house.)

I was taken out of the film, and can only view it from a distance, which is definitely not the intended effect of a film like this.

Being supportive of Malaysian films is often encouraged, and prayed for. Watching a local film due to nationalistic pride is all right, but to merely accept a film due to nationalistic pride whilst opting for silence instead of providing honest criticism is a disservice to the filmmakers, in my opinion. I thought the film was awful, I can't just smile and say that this is a good film merely because it comes from my own country and I have to respect the efforts of the filmmakers, the film IS awful, but hey, at least I'm spending my time saying WHY I think it's awful, right?





Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Justin Reviews 'The King Of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters'

Poster of The King of Kong


MSN conversation between Justin and I about the documentary, The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters.

I said:
What other films have you seen lately?
He said:
Uhhh
He said:
Blood Diamond
He said:
That Bukowski documentary, forget the name
He said:
The King of Kong
He said:
Okay, THAT is a fucking great film
I said:
The King of Kong?
I said:
It's about a bunch of guys playing Donkey Kong, right?
He said:
Yeah
He said:
One of the best films I've yet seen
He said:
Watched it with Josh like 3 times in a row
I said:
It's a documentary, yeah?
He said:
Yeah
He said:
Just randomly hilarious
He said:
So many great lines
He said:
Instant quotes
I said:
So, what is it really about?
I said:
I just know that it's about some guys playing Donkey Kong
He said:
Okay
He said:
Back in the 80's Billy Mitchell was the Donkey Kong champion
I said:
Yeah, the hippie dude


Billy Mitchell, Pac-Man champ

Billy Mitchell
Billy Mitchell is also a Pac-Man champion


He said:
Then like last year this guy Steve Wiebe beat his world record
I said:
He did? Oooh.
He said:
And this classic gaming agency called Twin Galaxies were trying to verify whether it was real or not
He said:
Meanwhile Billy plotted to prevent Steve from taking it, etc. etc.
He said:
I can't explain it, just watch some clips on youtube
He said:
The level of absurdity is very high
I said:
Mmm, gonna check it



Donkey Kong gamers from the film


Donkey Kong, explained




He said:
I dunno what else to say about it
He said:
It all depends on the humor of them just saying stupid shit
He said:
It's all real people
He said:
The head of Twin Galaxies, Walter Day, is like into transcendental meditation and playing guitar
He said:
And claims that Donkey Kong requires 'Deep Comprehensive Intelligence'
He said:
He's this old-ass looking man
I said:
Hahahaa
He said:
I can't describe the humor
He said:
It's ridiculously funny



Walter Day, founder of Twin Galaxies



Swifty Reviews '881: The Papaya Sisters 881: 木瓜姐妹'



881: The Papaya Sisters, directed by Royston Tan, is the first Singaporean film I've actually paid to see in the theaters! (I watched most of Jack Neo's stuff at home)

I have long heard of Royston Tan's exploits: his controversial films, his numerous awards, being named as one of the Top 20 Asia's Heroes in TIMEasia Magazine etc. BUT I've never seen a single film by him before. I'll probably check out his famous short film 'CUT' on Youtube later (which makes fun of the Singapore censorship board).

Anyway, 881: The Papaya Sisters is about the Singapore 'getai' scene. 'Getai' or song stage (literal Chinese translation) are makeshift concerts held every year during the seventh month of the Chinese lunar calendar, in a period of time known to many as the 'Ghost Festival'. These performances are meant to entertain the departed souls.

I've never really attended a single one, but there had always been a 'getai' held near my house, either in front of the market, or at the park, and even in the distance, while I'm at home, I could still hear the performances. My mom, once a singer, told me that she had performed at numerous 'getai' too, during her singing days.

Royston Tan probably had fonder memories of the 'getai', since 881: The Papaya Sisters is more or less a love letter to the scene. All these are most apparent during the (occasionally poetic and affecting) voiceover narration from Qi Yuwu's mute narrator (the voiceover narrations were done by Royston Tan himself) However, instead of being a realistic portrayal of the Getai scene, 881 is a sleek and colourful musical with lots of 'WTF???????'-inducing fantastical elements.

Film revolves around two best friends, Little Papaya (Mindee Ong), who is battling her terminal illness, is in a 'getai' singing duo with Big Papaya (Malaysian-born, Singapore-based Yeo Yann Yann... no relation to me). Little Papaya wants what possibly could be her last getai to end with a bang, but their archrivals, the dastardly Durian Sisters (played by hottie Malaysian VJ twins Cheng May Wan and Cheng Choy Wan, known more as May And Choy) are threatening to ruin everything to gain getai superstardom and dominance!

Of course, the rivalry between the Papaya sisters and the Durian sisters aren't really that intense, they just seem like a rivalry you see in cartoons, since the two villainesses are really more comical than malicious, especially when they (the Durian sisters) butcher their Mandarin lines. (One review mentioned that the Durian sisters represent the increasingly westernized culture of Singapore, whilst the Papaya sisters represent Singapore's traditional values and the like. And that's exactly what they are. The Durian sisters' getai performances are cringe-inducingly... er, 'techno'.)

The film is beautiful to look at it, in fact, it's comparable to the finest-looking big-budget Asian films out there (Korean, Hong Kong, Japan or Mainland China etc.) Good production values, cinematography and art direction. There are some flashy showoffy filmmaking in display as well, like numerous Tsai Ming-Liangish long-takes. Royston Tan may be working with a big budget (S$1 million plus), but he definitely wants to retain his, ah, indie cred, I guess.

Right now, 881 had became a major hit in Singapore, making more than S$3 million in the box-office and still counting (based on Royston's blog), so I assume many love the film for its nostalgic value. After doing some researching, I also realized that many getai singers had appeared in the film as themselves, and the film also pays tribute to the late getai songwriting legend Chen Jing Lang, as the film includes footages and events leading up to his death (he died of colon cancer last year).

So, this film probably works well for Singaporeans who are well aware of the getai scene, than an outsider like me. I am so oblivious to the getai scene that I didn't even know that Chen Jing Lang was a real-life figure when his death was alluded sadly in the film, I was confused then why the protagonists made such a big fuss about his death when 'the relationship between the Papaya Sisters and Chen were never developed clearly'.

I found myself scratching my head numerous times. The pacing was an issue for me. While I could enjoy some of the musical sequences, since some, especially the climatic 'singing duel' between the Papaya and Durian sisters are well-choreographed, but some others... well, they just aren't that well choreographed. And as much as I liked some of the voiceovers, I wasn't really too drawn into the two main characters. The two lead actresses are rather pretty (... and VERY SKINNY!), and their acting during the dramatic scenes are undeniably good, I just don't feel that interested in seeing what happens to them. Somehow, I felt that they have disappeared underneath the glitz and glamour of the film. Or perhaps it's just weak characterization, or lack of screen presence, not sure. Could be a bit of both.

Film felt long, maybe it really was. Sometimes, I was amused, sometimes I felt admiration, sometimes, I felt bored, sometimes, I merely seemed befuddled. But towards the end, I felt sheer agony.

The film ended too long after the climax. A long drawn-out hospital death scene might have probably been an ultimate tearjerker for many... I almost wept too, but from agony, since I desperately... DESPERATELY wanted to head off to the toilet then!

Ah well, guess I don't really belong to the target audience. May and Choy are pretty though.

Seems that many 881 videos are uploaded on Youtube too.


Yearning (... I think that's the song title?)


Replacement - Lin Qi Yu


One Half (tis' the title track of the film, I think


Sunday, September 23, 2007

Swifty Reviews 'Bourne Ultimatum' With Erna

Poster of Bourne Ultimatum


My guest reviewer for Bourne Ultimatum is Erna Mahyuni, actress, theater practitioner and editor-in-chief of the best-selling PC.com magazine. You can check out her Bourne Ultimatum review too if you want.

Erna said:
nice to see you back in the country
I said:
yeap, I'm sure Malaysia missed me
Erna said:
hee hee
I said:
All righty, so, you saw Bourne Ultimatum at the Malaysian press screening, I saw Bourne Ultimatum in Perth
Erna said:
ooh
I said:
I love it! It's one of those rare films this year, or even in recent years, that made me grin like a little kid from start to finish
Erna said:
yeah
Erna said:
i liked how it wasn't overdone
Erna said:
coils within coils
Erna said:
and matt damon is so understated
Erna said:
and no unnecessary melodrama
I said:
Yeah! Matt made me went... "MATT DAMOOOOON" like he did in Team America

Matt Damon in Team America


I said:
I couldn't believe how cool and badass he was in this film compared to Ocean's Thirteen
Erna said:
i love that one shot where the blonde agent's cut her hair off and dyed it...and Bourne looks at her like he finally realises something
I said:
Yeah, it there seem to be so many backstories and stuff going on
I said:
and the film just doesn't waste time explaining EVERYTHING
I said:
we are just as lost as Bourne!
Erna said:
yep
I said:
And at least Julie Stiles (the blonde agent) gets to do more in this film compared to the first two... I think, but I can't really remember the first two that much. Probably gonna go through a Bourne marathon these days.
Erna said:
the pacing is brilliant
I said:
Yeah, I was NEVER bored at all! In most of the action films I saw this year, including the best ones, there were scenes which felt like filler, just for us to wait for more action In Bourne, nothing was extraneous!
Erna said:
not so sure about all the shaky camera work but hey, it was only distracting in the beginning
Erna said:
and the station scene was amazing
I said:
Yeah, I heard that Greengrass took weeks to get that done
Erna said:
i can imagine
I said:
he filmed different segments of it
I said:
guerilla-style
I said:
waited til a particular area is rather empty, get the crew and Matt Damon, and shoot!
I said:
the fight in Morocco with the Desh dude was nuts too
I said:
who needs Jet Li and Jackie Chan in Hollywood films, man?
Erna said:
yep
Erna said:
damon is just soo intense


Matt Damon is beyond awesome


Erna said:
he's like a tank on legs, hurtling himself at everything
Erna said:
i like how his single-minded wanting to just KNOW rubs off on the audience
I said:
Yeah! I DON'T want this series to end!
I said:
a feeling I didn't get when I saw Spidey 3 and PoTC 3
I said:
the latter two merely gave me a '... good riddance, if this film franchise goes on, it'll probably get even shittier!" feeling. And I'm a hardcore Spidey fan!
I said:
The supporting performances from Joan Allen and David Strathairn are good too.
Erna said:
very much so
Erna said:
the morocco bit reminded me somewhat of the free runner bit they had in casino royale
Erna said:
the pure physicality of it
I said:
yeah, it does.
I said:
Hmm.. what else about the film do we need to say?
I said:
for the shaky cam thing, I've seen this technique being emulated by many amateur filmmakers, or even in Michael Mann’s Miami Vice, but I don't think they were pulled off as well as Greengrass did here (and I actually liked the camera work in Miami Vice!). I think if Bourne Ultimatum was shot conventionally, it wouldn't be as vibrant and good
Erna said:
perhaps
Erna said:
might add a veneer of slickness which the movie doesn't need
Erna said:
I hate the overpolished films
I said:
like how?
I said:
Your generic mindless Hollywood blockbuster flicks eh?
I said:
And the countless Hong Kong and Korean films that try to emulate them
Erna said:
where everything feels so calculated yeah


Matt Damon & Guillermo in Bourne Ultimatum Jimmy Kimmel Live. Funny like hell!



Check out Sebastian's Bourne Ultimatum review too. Guy had seen the film four times so far.

Swifty Reviews 'Knocked Up'

Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl in Knocked Up


I loved 40-Year-Old Virgin, so when I found out about director Judd Apatow's follow-up, Knocked Up, all those months ago, I was already stoked.

Then the positive reviews started coming in, and the film became one of the best-reviewed wide releases of the year.

Even more anticipation from me.

I had the chance to see it in Sydney last month, but my attempts to invite friends to see that with me were in vain, their tastes in films were much too refined and highbrow compared to one like me, so they were even less convinced when I told them about the film's premise ("er, a guy accidentally left a gal pregnant after a one-night stand, he learns to take responsibility etc."). Heh, the more I hang out with my much cultured and artistic friends, the more I feel that populist entertainment such as this film are overlooked.

Was surprised to see that this film was shown in Malaysia (albeit with numerous silly cuts), went to see it by myself, because my attempts to invite friends to see that with me were STILL in vain, this time, the lack of star power, lack of explosions and also the fact that not that many people saw 40-Year-Old Virgin in Malaysia (film was banned) are the factors why no one cared that much about Knocked Up, though I also have to point out that the film was dumped into theaters without much fanfare. Just a poster hidden at the corner of the multiplex, that was it.

Watching Knocked Up by myself during a lazy weekday afternoon was a lonely fare, mostly because I found myself giggling at some jokes and obscure pop cultural references that no one in the theaters were laughing at.

In the end, I still think that it's a really good film. It's like a generic romantic comedy, but with more believable characters and plot, much raunchier and funnier and yeah, the relationship is more realistic (many will find it unbelievable that a jobless slacker who looks like Seth Rogen can hook up with someone who looks like Katherine Heigl) since we don't see silly little contrived scenarios that are blatantly used to either separate or put our two main protagonists together (by the time you're reading this, you'll probably assume that I HATE romantic comedies, thus the way I am so damning with its formula... it's unbelievable that it's really the contrary eh?)

I don't think this is as good as 40-Year-Old Virgin, it doesn't break new ground, but the film has such an endearing cast of characters acted so well by Apatow's regulars that it's easy to enjoy the entire journey. There are many scenes that are ridiculously funny, and so many memorable lines too. There's not much that hasn't been said about the film, so I'm not going to bother. Just felt that it's a pity so few that I know had bothered to give the film a chance merely because it seemed too 'crude' and 'lowbrow' to be taken seriously, when the writing and acting here are so much better than the stuff that pass off as 'profound arthouse films' these days. Thus I like it for its unpretentiousness too. In a summer full of high-profile, big budget duds, this film is a relief.

Thank goodness I'm not elitist enough to write all Hollywood films off completely.

I think Apatow and co. were geniuses to film some small comedic segments during the shoot and post them online. Check out the two following online videos below, both were parodies of the David O'Russell's infamous 'I Heart Huckabees' flip out video that I posted about back in April. Kinda inspired to do the same with my (or Greenlight Picture's, that's the production company I'm in now) future projects.

James Franco gets fired as lead role in Knocked Up
James Franco gets fired from Knocked Up

Michael Cera gets fired from Knocked Up
Michael Cera gets fired from Knocked Up


Thursday, September 20, 2007

Chillin' in Perth

I'm currently in Perth. Just had my graduation ceremony three nights ago (on the 17th). It's my second graduation ceremony, so it wasn't as exciting as my first one (held last March), on the other hand, I am rather looking forward to have two photos of me in robes hanging on my bedroom wall, and two have two certificates as well.

Seen quite a number of movies that I haven't had the chance to review because my laptop got fried two weeks ago. So I'll just list them all out as a reminder for films I've seen but haven't had the chance to review:


  • Knocked Up

  • 881: The Papaya Sisters

  • Away From Her

  • ... a Hong Kong film starring Alex Fong Lik Sun which title I cannot remember (will find out later)

  • Bourne Ultimatum

  • Hairspray



Might go and see Superbad or Stardust later tonight.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

It's My Little Sister's Birthday. Say Happy Birthday To Her!

My sister, Sandra Yeo, is 18 today.

Everything that needs to be said about her is in this post. (I posted that for my little sister during her birthday last year, even Dawn Yang left a comment)

My li'l sis looked like this when she was a bit more than 2 weeks old.

Carrying my newborn sister.


She looked like this in 1995.



Video of little sister cosplaying at Comic Fiesta last year (she's the one in orange). Coincidentally, the emcee of the event was Alfred, whom I met from Chewxy's short film months ago. (go to the link and you'll see photos of me helping the cast members with the line-readings)



And a photo of her from earlier this year.

Swifty In Badass-Looking Chinese Garb (+ little sis)


Oh, and another photo of her from few minutes ago.

My little sister, on her 18th birthday


So yes, say happy birthday to her. A short moment of your time will leave her a lifetime of memory.

If you have Facebook, you can go to this event page and leave something on the wall.

KL Rhythm (A Love Letter To Kuala Lumpur) - An Abandoned Short Film Project


Photo by Stuck in Customs

Two months ago, I posted about RED BEAN SOUP, an abandoned short film project of mine. And from the ashes of the discarded idea, I pieced together another story called KL RHYTHM.

KL Rhythm, as you can see from its title, was another urban story. I wanted to romanticize the city of Kuala Lumpur like Woody Allen did with New York City, yet infuse it with colourful MTV-style hyper-realism like one would see from the works of Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amelie) and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run and the short film, True).

It was definitely a notch above the melodramatic silly weepie RED BEAN SOUP, but still not the follow-up for GIRL DISCONNECTED I had in mind. Since the chances of me actually making this short film will be rather low, I'm posting the treatment of KL Rhythm here instead.

(note: The film is meant to be in Mandarin)

A LRT train moves slowly and steadily. The morning sun burns brightly outside, golden rays seeping through the windows, casting a dreamlike glow into the interior of the train, and at the passengers.

Sally opens her eyes, awakened by the probing rays. Blinking once and twice to dispel her drowsiness, she stifles a yawn and takes out a notebook from a handbag. Leafing through the pages until she finds an empty one, she starts writing: "Why do I hate Kuala Lumpur".

She shifts her attention to the windows, looking at the scenery. The morning sun shines brightly and beautifully.

--------------------

Through a window of a house, a LRT station can be seen passing by in the distance. A composer, Jin, plays the piano, he's struggling to compose a song, all he can play is the first few notes. He's stuck. Behind him, on a table, is a laptop. Its screen glowing brightly, his browser is showing the Friendster page.

Photos of his six 'display friends' come alive suddenly and speak. (sample badly-written dialogue below)

Jin's friend 1
(bemusement)
Hah! Songwriting? Still trying to become the next Jay Chou? Get a stable job, man.

Jin's friend 2
(business-like, bespectacled)
Exactly! Look at me! I’m working at an accounting firm! Stable income! Recognized by all!

Jin's friend 3
(geeky, also bespectacled)
Hey! Remember Alan from our university? The guy got married! Oh, and I just bought a house at Bukit Kiara, you should come over and chit chat someday!

Jin's friend 4
(scowling)
Why am I still here? Delete me! I've told you that I'm not into you! I already have a new boyfriend!

JIN'S FRIEND 5
(sheepish)
I'm the new boyfriend. Sorry I didn't tell you earlier man. You were just SOOO into her.


Jin hits a few bad notes, causing a cacophony of noise. Jin gets more angstful.

------------------------------

Sitting at a bench, Sally takes a sip of coffee, puts it aside, and looks at the title of her article again. She says via voiceover that she wants to write stuff that are socially and politically relevant so that she can finally be TAKEN MORE SERIOUSLY AS A WRITER!

But what does she hate about Kuala Lumpur? The hot weather? The crazy traffic? The dirty public toilets that usually don't have toilet rolls?? people jumping queue all the time? (all these could be done with amusing cut-ins) Pretty generic reasons, Sally frowns. Her paper remains blank.

--------------------------------

Back at Jin's place. Jin is still seated before his piano. In despair, he looks at the marble busts of Mozart and Beethoven and asks them why composing was so easy for them.

The marble busts look back emotionlessly.

-----------------------------

At a cafe, Sally is still stuck with her written piece. Another girl taps her on the shoulder, Sally quickly puts her stuff into her handbag and greets the newcomer, her friend Mindy. Apparently Sally is here to meet up with Mindy, they chit-chat. Mindy has a office job, a nice boyfriend, great stable income, and parents are happy with her. Mindy asks Sally whether she has a job, Sally says that she's writing, Mindy repeats her question (obviously not considering writing as a job), Sally shakes her head no. A boyfriend? Sally shakes her head again. No income? Sally shakes head. Parents? Sally shakes head, this time, she rolls her eyes. Mindy looks sympathetic, continues blabbering, Sally, via voiceover, says that she kinda envy Mindy, cos she doesn't need to worry about things that Sally has to worry about. Maybe that's why Mindy lives a happier life.

--------------------------

Jin is typing on his laptop. He is chatting via MSN.

"Why don't you go out?" Someone asks.

"I can't take the heat. I feel dizzy when I'm exposed to the sun." Jin types.

(A flashback sequence. A hand reaches for the sun, shafts of light piercing through. Hand belongs to Jin, he is outside somewhere, looking at the afternoon sun, then, the sun seems too much for him, he passes out.)

"So you're alone all the time?" Someone asks.

Jin's hands remain motionless above the keyboard, as if he doesn't know how to reply.

------------------------

Back in the cafe, Mindy says bye bye and heads off. Sally takes out her scrapbook and pen from her handbag again, and via voiceover, says that she likes having her own space, writing gives her that, it's just that most would think of her as a weirdo.

"WEIRDO!" a kid standing nearby says, pointing at her, startling her.


-------------------------------

At home, Jin sits before his piano, his shoulders slumped. Voiceover: "Without my music to fall back to... what do I have?"

--------------------------------

Sally sits before a lake at a park, the sun is setting, she looks melancholic. Slowly she writes "KL makes me feel lonely... sometimes."

-------------------------------

Jin continue chatting with someone via the Net: Their conversation is as follows:

Jin's friend: "Go out and feel the rhythm of the city."

Jin: "Rhythm of the city?"

Jin's friend: "You might get inspired."

Jin ponders.

Jin's friend: And get over her, you dolt!

--------------------------

Sally raises her hand, and let the golden shafts of the sun passes through her finger tips. And then, in fast motion, the sun sets.

-------------------------

Jin takes a LRT to Kuala Lumpur (possibly fast mo as well).

------------------------

Day turns to night.

---------------------------

A LRT passes by behind Sally as she begins her monologue (superbly flashy and visually stunning montage sequence begins, which involves shots of Sally and Jin wandering at random pretty places of KL to illustrate her monologue):

Sally (via voiceover): When night descends upon KL, it becomes strangely beautiful, I think it is the time when it truly comes alive.

The dazzling neon lights of buildings.

The majestic twin towers that reach into the skies.


Jin looks around, trying to listen hard.

Sally (via voiceover): The roads, flooded with cars and other vehicles. Strangers, all of them, temporarily traveling towards the same direction, feeling a brief moment of connection.

Footsteps, the sound of car honking, traffic lights (any random city sounds). Slowly, he starts to link together a strange rhythm he hears from it. Piano music in his mind starts playing in the background.

Sally (via voiceover): When night descends upon KL, it becomes strangely beautiful, I fall in love with the sound of people, walking, talking, laughing, so filled with life.

Mamak stalls, cafes, kopitiam, clubs, all gathering places for people. Friends and family, connecting with each other, or sometimes even with strangers. And with that, they become friends, the path they have been walking for many years by themselves, intersecting at that very moment.


Jin and Sally continue walking through KL, occasionally appearing at the same places. Jin seems liberated after locking himself at home so much.

Sally (via voiceover): When night descends upon KL, it becomes strangely beautiful... I think I kinda like it.

Sally smiles to herself. And then looks at her scrapbook, she's shocked that she has written down her own monologue. Feels embarrassed that she sounded so sappy, she crumples the paper and wants to throw it, but decides otherwise, she puts it in her pocket.

Jin says via voiceover that he has finally heard it. The rhythm of the city. Jin takes out a camera and take photos of everything that gave him inspiration.

Sally takes out her own camera and does the same, it's giving her inspiration anyway.

They both snap pictures, click click. Then, after a brief montage sequence it becomes increasingly apparent that they are both at the same place.

Sally and Jin accidentally take photos of each other (they both wandered into each other's shots).

Looking up from their cameras, they both smile.

THE END


That's it. This has the potential to be an amusing and fluffy little piece starring some promising newcomers and up-and-coming local pop idols, I can just post it on Youtube after that. It MIGHT get acquired by Astro, but other than that, nada.

As excited as I was when I finally completed the treatment 2 months ago, I gradually ceased to believe in it. Perhaps it had to do with my trip in Chile, but whatever it was, the shallowness of the characters (my lack of knowledge on actual composers was a major impediment) and the contrived (nearly) lightweight concept became less enticing to me as a film project.

Motivated by BLUE ROOF's (a Woo Ming Jin-directed short film I was involved in producing and editing in July) selection at the Pusan Film Festival, I initially planned to kickstart preproduction for KL Rhythm a few days ago, starting work upon the actual screenplay (AND WRITING THE LINES IN CHINESE!! DIFFICULT!), recruiting possible crew members, and most importantly, seeking the right people for the lead roles.

But a discussion with mentor Ming Jin yesterday afternoon confirmed and reinforced some of my deep-seated suspicions and doubts about the short film, and after that, I knew I didn't really want to make the film.

It really didn't feel like a film by me, more like me going through the motions, drawing forth whatever filmmaking influences I have in my repertoire to help conceal the shortcomings of the film, or hoping that my flamboyance with the visuals would come alive by itself to save the film.

I made a major mistake, breaking a rule I set for myself long ago.

During the writing of short films VERTICAL DISTANCE and GIRL DISCONNECTED, I made sure I would juggle the jobs of writer and director carefully. When writing, I imagine myself as merely a screenwriter (and not director) and try to come up with a written material as strong as possible.

But when assuming directing duties, I would try to pretend that the script wasn't written by myself, and think carefully how I would attempt to interpret the words with visual images.

In the cases of my two scrapped projects, RED BEAN SOUP and KL RHYTHM, I was writing WHILE planning how I would direct the film, thus blurring the line between writer and director, destroying all objectivity and rationality I would hold to. It became more a case of Swifty the writer trying to serve Swifty the director, a major no-no, hence my inability to really come up with something that good, more like retreading paths that I've already visited.

Ah well, that's all. No need to mourn for me, I'm currently preparing script treatments for two TV movies. THOSE I'm definitely excited about.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Justin Reviews 'Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone ヱヴァンゲリヲン新劇場版:序'

Movie poster of Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone


A MSN conversation between Justin and I about Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone, the first of the new tetralogy of Evangelion films called The Rebuild of Evangelion.

He said:
Dude
He said:
I saw the Evangelion movie
I said:
HOW IS IT?????
I said:
HOW IS IT????????
I said:
hoooooooooooow
He said:
Man like
He said:
It's basically just a recap
He said:
They just remade the series, pretty much, but
He said:
It's a lot better
He said:
A LOT more intense
He said:
They really pared it down, compressed
He said:
I mean like
I said:
Shinji's still a whiny bitch?
He said:
In the show, there's a lot of bullshit, repetition
I said:
Yeah
He said:
There's no repetition in this, just the essential scenes
He said:
And it's paced a lot better, like
I said:
Where did the film end?
He said:
They bring in Lillith early
He said:
And some other shit
He said:
Also the angels are like FUCKING better
He said:
The last angel in this is just nuts
He said:
I can't explain it
I said:
Aaaaaaaaaaargh, i want to see it
I said:
so, it ends with Kaworu?
He said:
No
I said:
It's going to be a 4-film series though
He said:
It's only up to the 6th angel, haha
He said:
But Kaworu IS in it
I said:
Whoaaaa
He said:
And not how you might think
I said:
Kaworu's still gay?
He said:
Yes
I said:
Haha!
I said:
Any improvements on the characters?
He said:
I dunno I mean
He said:
It's still a lot like the series
He said:
A lot of the same scenes
He said:
But
He said:
They perfected it a lot more
He said:
The better graphics and CG and shit are done really subtly, it's great
He said:
I can't wait to see the others
He said:
When it ended me and Josh were like "NOOO!!!!"
I said:
omfgggggggg
I said:
Reeeeei!!!!
I said:
*goes off to play with Rei Ayanami figure*

Rei Ayanami in Santa costume
Swifty's Rei Ayanami in Santa costume


He said:
Rei is so awesome in this
He said:
Asuka didn't even appear yet though
I said:
Really??? whoa
I said:
Goddammmmmn, Reeeeeeeeiiiii
I said:
wow, Kaworu appearing before Asuka
He said:
Yeah, the ending is nuts, like
He said:
Kaworu is on the moon and he's like
He said:
"You haven't changed much, Ikari-kun! it'll be fun to play with you again!"
I said:
WHOOOAAA
I said:
he's like a badass baddie
He said:
(keep in mind this was all in Japanese so some subtleties were probably lost)
I said:
shyyeeee!
I said:
shyteeee
I said:
4 movies....
I said:
I wonder whether the last ones will be like The End Of Evangelion
He said:
Man yeah it's strange like
He said:
I really don't know where they're going to take it
He said:
If they're just going to literally repeat everything or what
I said:
i hope not
He said:
Huh
He said:

"The first three movies will be an alternate retelling of the TV series, featuring new scenes, settings, backgrounds, and characters and newly available 3D CG technology, and the fourth film will present a completely new conclusion to the story.'


I said:
HOH SHIT YEAH
He said:
Man fuck though
He said:
2.0 isn't coming out until next year
He said:
The preview at the end for it looked AWESOME
He said:
it had fucking aliens and shit in it
I said:
Whoaaaaaa!
He said:
The ending was like the Kaworu shit
He said:
And then the new Utada Hikaru song over the credits
He said:
Then the preview after that
He said:
Literally NO ONE left the theater until after the preview
He said:
Everyone was dead fucking silent
I said:
Shit, i WANT to download it now
He said:
Think you can?
He said:
Haha, Anno's statement, so arrogant:

"For these purposes, we used the best methods available to us to make another Evangelion film. Many times we wondered, "It's a title that's more than 10 years old. Why now?" "Eva is too old", we felt. However, over the past 12 years, there has been no Anime newer than Eva."



Trailers of the Evangelion movie:






Saturday, September 08, 2007

Swifty In Chile (Part 9): Visiting Pablo Neruda's Last House - Isla Negra

Isla Negra, house of Pablo neruda
Photo by Bracani.....Antonio

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


'The heavy rain of the south falls over Isla Negra'

The heavy rain of the south falls over Isla Negra
like a solitary drop transparent and weighty:
the sea opens its cool leaves to receive it:
the earth learns the wet fate of the glass.

My soul, grant me in your kisses the briny
water of these months, the honey of the region,
the fragrance moistened by the sky’s thousand lips,
the sacred patience of the sea in winter.

Something calls us: all the doors open by themselves,
the water tells a great story to the window-panes,
the sky extends down to touch the roots,

and like this the day weaves and unweaves its celestial net
with time, salt, murmurs, growth, pathways,
a woman, a man, and winter on the Earth.
- Pablo Neruda

22nd of August, 2007. Day 9. One more night left in Chile.

After visiting Pablo Neruda's house, La Sebastiana, at the beautiful city of Valparaiso the day before, I found out that there was still one more Neruda house that I haven't visited.

Isla Negra. (read Isla Negra's history)

His favourite house.

The place where he and his wife, Mathilde Urrutia, were buried.

Visiting the place would mean that I have to take another (almost) two-hour bus ride. But all hesitation to visit Isla Negra vanished when I called 'her' and asked her casually for dinner and she turned down, citing work and study reasons.

I needed to witness more wondrous sights to neutralize my slight feeling of disappointment.

Besides, visiting Isla Negra would mean that I could complete my ULTIMATE PABLO NERUDA PILGRIMAGE, thus giving me the opportunity to brag to everyone, including literary bloggers like Sharon or Ted about it when I return to Malaysia.

I went to take a bus again, this time, a 3pm bus to Isla Negra.

When I was in the bus, I didn't sleep, I was reading, and then writing Day 4, Day 5, Day 6, Day 6.5 and Day 7 of my Chile exploits (note: yes, I wrote all these by hand long ago before transcribing them onto this blog) on a notepad I carried around with me.

The bus arrived in less than 90 minutes, at an isolated-looking town that looked like something from a cowboy film.

Somewhere near Isla Negra

I approached the man behind the counter at the bus station, asking him about the return journey to Santiago. He couldn't speak English, so I communicated by writing on my notepad.

"BUS TO SANTIAGO? TONIGHT?" I said slowly, then I proceeded to write on the notepad.

8:30pm????


The guy looked at the notepad, shook his head, took his pen and wrote on it.

8pm


"I see." I said, knowing the time of the return bus trip to Santiago.

I took a taxi and asked him to bring me to Pablo Neruda's house. This time, I pronounced Neruda as if it sounded like 'NeruHA', I also showed him my Neruda book, pointing at the cover, and then the poet's name.

"AHA! ISLA NEGRA!" The taxi driver exclaimed.

I hopped in, and reached the the place after nearly ten minutes. Despite not using the meter, taxi fare, to my surprise, was much cheaper than initially feared.

I walked into Isla Negra, and found numerous people sitting at the hall, waiting for their tour guide. I bought my ticket and asked for an English tour guide, because of that, I needed to wait for half an hour for the tour guide to arrive.

I took the time to explore the hall, visiting the gift shop, and then, er, taking a photo of Neruda and me.

Neruda and I

There's also a really cool-looking portrait of Neruda next to the bronze sculpture.

Neruda portrait


Hearing the distant sounds of waves crashing on rocks, I walked out of the house and realized that the place had a very beautiful view of the sea. No wonder Neruda bought the house here. I started taking photos.

Seeing a woman standing by the sea in the distance, I was reminded me of last shot in my short film, Girl Disconnected.

Woman by the sea
Woman standing by the sea


I also saw a person, and two dogs, by the sea.

1 person, 2 dogs, by the sea


After that, I asked someone to take a photo of me with the famous fish sculpture of Isla Negra.

Fish Sculpture of Isla Negra 1


I looked sexy, yes, but I realized that holding the fish's tale didn't look so right, so I asked the gentleman to take another photo of me with the fish sculpture.

I'm vain.

Fish Sculpture of Isla Negra 2


With that out of the way, I went back into the hall and saw that the tour guide, an elderly woman, had already arrived, and besides myself, there were four others in the group, all of them Americans, one a mother-and-daughter duo from Utah, another a young couple from Texas.

I was led through the house, which, if I weren't wrong, may be the biggest among all of Neruda's houses. The Isla Negra website was spot-on when it called the place:

the Isla Negra house is a kind of visual and material synthesis of Neruda's lyrical world of images.


Unfortunately, like the other two houses, photography was prohibited inside Isla Negra. So I can't post anything here. Alas.

But yeah, its architecture and interior design were really unique, and they were all accentuated by Neruda's eccentric collections of antiques, seashells, bottles, ships in bottles, Hindu carvings, beetles and butterflies, and HUUUUUUGE ship figureheads. I was blown away when I entered this large room of his where he placed all his ship figureheads, I was suddenly inspired to, I don't know, collect something too. But then, I figured my large collection of action figures I had as a child would suffice if I would ever want to turn my own house into a museum.

When the tour ended, we went to have a look at the final resting places of Neruda and Mathilde, facing the sea in front of the house.

Neruda and Mathilde's grave
Photo by triciakl


Neruda and Mathilde's grave 2
Photo by akruegs629


Out of respect (and also because I am superstitious), I didn't take the photo of the graves myself. But I DID take a photo while standing near the grave.

Standing near Neruda's grave


I would later feel that my smile and the 'peace' sign in the photo above were rather inappropriate, unfortunately, that was the only photo of myself with the view of the sea, which Neruda said were his inspiration because of their tumultuous movements.

Isla Negra, and Neruda's other two houses were ransacked by the Chilean army not long after his death (because he was a Communist... go read the 'Bad Poet, Bad Man' article by Stephen Schwartz at the Weekly Standard, it's a harsh criticism of Neruda written in 2004), he was first buried at the ruins of La Chascona, before finally given a proper burial at Isla Negra until 1992, when an official funeral service, attended by the top authority figures of Chile, was held.

Of course, this pilgrimage wouldn't be complete without a photo of me with the Isla Negra house behind me.

In front of Isla Negra


I returned to the main hall, was shocked and DEVASTATED that the gift shop was already closed (the museum closes at 6:30pm). I begged and pleaded with them to reopen it so I could buy myself some Neruda memorabilia and merchandise, but to no avail, so I left Isla Negra with a tinge of regret in my heart.

The sun was already setting, I decided to leave the place early, scrapping my original plans of hanging out at the Isla Negra restaurant and shopping at the gift shop. Grrr....

I ran into the young American couple, Greg and Kay, they spoke some Spanish, so when they were looking for a bus back to Santiago, I joined them.

The bus trip back to Santiago was longer due to the traffic, and the bus having to stop at more places than before.

When we reached the Santiago bus terminal, it was night again, just like when I came back from Valparaiso. I liked how the bus terminal looked at night, where lines of buses would wait for the people to go to different places, the terminal looking more alive and bustling than it does during the day. But then, I've always liked the night more.

Santiago Bus Terminal

Took a photo with Greg and Kay before we went our separate paths. (Greg and I are of the same age!)

With Greg and Kay at the Santiago Bus Terminal

I never really expected myself to turn my Chile trip into a Neruda pilgrimage, and to visit every single one of his houses too!

I returned to my hotel, content. It was a good way to end this trip.

I started packing.

Friday, September 07, 2007

World premiere of Swifty-produced short film 'Blue Roof' at the 12th Pusan International Film Festival

This is rather funny.

I was at the TWITCH last night reading about the Pusan International Film Festival's special focus on the New Malaysian Cinema. This special program, called Three Colours Of New Malaysian Cinema, will feature 6 feature films and 3 short films.

Looking through the list of films in the line-up, I paused when I saw the title of one short film, BLUE ROOF. I was surprised by the short film's inclusion in the list and wondered whether it was a mistake. I went to sleep with lots of questions floating in my mind.

I got a phone call from Ming Jin the following afternoon, confirming with me what had happened.

Well, folks, it seems that BLUE ROOF a short film I had a hand in producing and editing with Greenlight Pictues before I went to Chile will be having its world premiere at the 12th Pusan International Film Festival in Korea!

You see, this film was submitted to the Pusan International Film Fest by Ming Jin while I was in Chile, hence my confusion. Amusing that I would find out about all these in another website!

Malaysia Boleh, baby!

Synopsis of the film:

Albert's unique pleasure in his routine as a security guard is to enjoy the view of the world on the blue roof of the apartment. But one day, a burglar slips away and he gets fired.


A screenshot of Blue Roof, a short film produced by Greenlight Pictures

Nice looking film, no?

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Swifty Reviews 'Secret 不能说的秘密'

Poster from Jay Chou's SECRET 不能说的秘密


My feelings for Jay Chou had often been rather weird. Back in 2005, in a post which was really meant to diss Taiwanese pop singer Jolin Chai, I lamented the state of Chinese pop and took some swipes at Jay's tendency to mumble through his songs.

Yet I have always been rather kind towards his film endeavours. I conceded that he 'did not suck' at Initial D and was a good enough sport to let others make fun of his image. I even admitted that he was decent in Curse of the Golden Flowers and that I would take his acting over F4's anytime.

So when his directorial debut, SECRET, was announced, he definitely did not earn any contemptuous sneer or eyeball-rolling from me like I normally would do when I hear news of a singer turned actor attempting to direct a film. In fact, I was a little excited, when I heard that the film's female lead is Guey Lun Mei.

Guey Lun Mei's acting debut was BLUE GATE CROSSING, an absolutely beautiful film I raved about back in May.

Millions of Jay Chou fans were looking forward to this film because of Jay Chou, I might be the one and only person in this world who was intrigued by this film because of Guey Lun Mei.

I'll let May Zhee do the obligatory Jay-gushing.

I'm just going to talk about the film, while trying to keep it spoiler-free.

(I find it increasingly annoying that, of all people, SIN CHEW DAILY had been spoiling the film for everyone, Sin Chew is awesome for doing a 2-page interview with me, but it's always disheartening to have my enjoyment of a film ruined by a national paper just because they can't seem to keep plot developments in films under wraps. I still remember how frustrated I was years ago when Sin Chew was the one that revealed that the Chow Yun Fat character, Li Mubai, was going to die in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, weeks before the film was even released.... what the hell?)

SECRET is like a Taiwanese equivalent of Jun-Ai, that is, 'pure innocent love'. Films that feature a chaste romance that involve lots of tentative handholdings, shy exchange of smiles and glances, cute little declarations of affections... before descending into pure heart-wrenching tear-jerking melodrama, where the love between the leads are threatened by uncontrollable, tragic circumstances.

A more cynical person would've torn this film apart. But being a hopeless romantic, of course I enjoyed this film. Yup, Jay Chou is a good director, and he's surrounded by a really great crew that provides more than enough for a film such as this. Good cinematography, art direction and music, this is not a shitty film by some hack director trying to make some quick profit, this feels more like a labour of love (... or a well-polished manufactured item), a film that won't make me leave the cinema sighing that I've foolishly wasted my money again in my naive attempts to show some support to Chinese cinema... like how I felt after I saw the horrible Ming Ming.

The story is rather light and flimsy, it's a high school romance, about a guy who meets a girl, their relationship develops into romance, then misunderstanding occurs, angst ensues, then there is a painful revelation that will shock most audiences who are fortunate enough not to have anyone spoiling the film for them. My advice? The less you know about SECRET before you see it, the better.

Jay Chou isn't bad in this film, in fact, I have to say that I've never seen him speak that much in a film. Nice to see him playing someone who resembles a human being, although said human being is an affable musical genius who is cocky in an adorable Great Swifty-manner, while at the same time shy and bashful in front of the girls, and absolutely sincere and romantic when he's in love.

But this film really belongs to Guey Lun Mei. No, seriously. I was objective at first, and as adorable as her character was during her introduction in the movie, I found her rather cliched. Just another eccentric, quirky cute anime-style girl that would mildly amuse me, and Justin would try to strangle to death.

Yet as the film goes on, I realize that it's her acting that elevates the film to another level. A lesser actress would have made the quirky likability of Rain (that's Guey Lun Mei's character) seem forced and scripted by overacting or underacting, but Guey Lun Mei was just perfect. While her character is not as complex as Blue Gate Crossing's sexually confused Meng Ke-Rou, she's definitely really good here by making Rain so believable (I also want to add that she's more feminine and pretty in this film, which feels weird since the only image I have of her is the dyke tomboyish Meng Ke-Rou.


Guey Lun Mei in Blue Gate Crossing
The possibly lesbian Meng Ke-Rou in Blue Gate Crossing

Guey Lun Mei in Secret
Guey Lun Mei looks more like a chick in Secret


The soundtrack of the film is pretty good too, mostly piano and orchestra pieces (composed by Jay, of course). Film seems to reflect the director's apparent love for Chopin pretty clearly. And many scenes of Jay playing the piano are executed very well, one of the highlights being a 'piano duel' between Jay and some other guy that seems to be directly from the (little-seen and much underrated) film, THE LEGEND OF 1900, starring Tim Roth and directed by Giuseppe Tornatore (that's the guy who directed the classic Cinema Paradiso, which I also recently wrote about back in May).


The piano duel scene from LEGEND OF 1900, compare that with SECRET


SECRET has its flaws, like logic fallacies, annoyingly unnecessary side characters who seem to kill the pacing of the film whenever they appear, and a rather weak ending (film would have been devastating if ended at an earlier point), but other than that, it's still pretty good. It made me want to immediately resume work on my much-delayed short film project.


Music video of the film's theme song 不能说的秘密 A SECRET I CANNOT TELL (which is the literal translation of the film's Chinese title)


Trailer of Secret


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