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My Short Films

Friday, June 27, 2008

Catching the sunset in Odaiba, and seeing Japan's Statue of Liberty

It's difficult to see the sunset in Tokyo, so I decided to go to Odaiba (an artificial island in Tokyo Bay) today to do that instead after a few recommendations from friends.

Then I took a Yurikamome train to Daiba.

Daiba


First place I went to was Aqua City, a Venice-themed shopping mall. A photo exhibition was held there, in fact, they were photos of nature from Malaysian children organized by Sony Malaysia. I vaguely remember reading about this event on The Star few months ago.

On top of Aqua City is a shrine.

Aqua City Odaiba Shrine, a shrine on top of a shopping mall


I wasn't expecting to see a shrine on top of a shopping mall.

Then I made my way to the Fuji Television Office just opposite the shopping mall.

Fuji TV Office


It's one cool-looking building. In fact, when I'm in Daiba, I felt that I was in a Steampunk story.

Fuji TV Office is a badass-looking building

Fuji TV Office has some crazy designs

The observation globe of Fuji TV office


The observation globe of Fuji TV office can be accessed by all visitors for 500 yen.

I didn't bother to go, I chose only to go to the 24th floor, which is the second highest floor of the building. And everyone can go there for free.

Looking out of the glass panes, the observation globe looks like this:

View of the Fuji TV observation globe from the 2nd highest floor of the building


And here's the famous Odaiba ferris wheel.

Odaiba Ferris Wheel, viewed form the 2nd highest floor of Fuji TV office


Then I took a brief tour around the office. A couple of stuff were being displayed, like the posters and info of their current doramas. So here we have CHANGE and ZETTAI KARESHI (I'm pissed that I missed the last episode on Tuesday :( )

FUJI TV's dorama posters on display


So I pass through the exhibition corridor.

A tour through Fuji TV's office

From a FUJI TV variety show, I think


Interesting stuff. After I left the building, I headed to the beach to prepare myself for the sunset.

Did I actually go all the way there to view the sunset by myself? Do I really have such a romantic and poetic soul? Maybe, but I was actually there to shoot shots of sunset for my new short film using the DVX (same as the one used for CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY) I borrowed from uni.

Waiting for the sunset at Odaiba


Unfortunately, it was (suddenly) really cloudy in the evening, and the sun was hidden behind the clouds, it was rather frustrating.

I was kinda pissed. I liked the view, but why the heck can't I see the motherflippin' sun?

Yet miraculously, for just a brief minute, the evening sun sneaked out from its hiding place and allow me to capture it in its glory. I swore loudly in sheer happiness, attracting glances from a Chinese couple nearby (who were also watching the sunset).

Finally seeing the sun, briefly, at Odaiba


Finishing my mission, I made my way back to the front of Aqua City, and realized that they were going to have a marathon. Lots of people were gathered there.

Odaiba Marathon

Odaiba Marathon 2

Odaiba Marathon 3


A marathon held at 7:30pm? Interesting.

This is Aqua City. And behind it, the Fuji TV office.

Aqua City and Fuji TV Office


They both look more beautiful when night comes.

And this is the famed Rainbow Bridge that connects Odaiba to the rest of Tokyo.

Rainbow Bridge


Do you know that Tokyo actually has its own Statue of Liberty? I didn't, until I researched about Odaiba last night.

The replica of Statue of Liberty stands just in front of Aqua City as well. Naturally, craploads of people were taking photos in front of it.

Odaiba's Statue of Liberty

Odaiba's Statue of Liberty and the Rainbow Bridge


Without the Rainbow Bridge in the background, you would've thought that it's the real Statue of Liberty when you look at the photo.


And finally, a photo of myself with the Statue of Liberty behind me.

Myself, in front of Odaiba's Statue of Liberty (27/6/08)


I've lost 8kg since I came to Tokyo, hence handsomer albeit slightly haggard due to lack of sleep in the past few nights and an exhausting day. (It's tiring carrying a not-too-light camera like DVX around)

Now, back to editing.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Errol Morris' Standard Operating Procedure

Poster of Standard Operating Procedure by Errol Morris


Managed to catch another film at the Refugee Film Fest last night, this one's a documentary about the Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse called STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE, by Errol Morris, director of the seminal documentary THE THIN BLUE LINE. I watched the latter two years ago when I sneaked into the lecture sessions of the documentary class while studying in Perth.

Being the only other film by Morris I've watched, I still notice that he retained his style for STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE, which is driven entirely by the interviews of his subjects and some reenacted scenes. With a budget of 5 million USD, and a score by Danny Elfman, this is a documentary that features 'production values' of what you normally see in its Hollywood fictional counterparts, shots of playing cards showing Saddam and his sons faces falling slow-mo onto the ground etc. Along with some really beautiful filmmaking flourishes that you don't see often in a documentary, like the scene which shows the assembling of a forensic timeline using hundreds of Abu Ghraib photos taken by three different cameras.

A friend of mine whom I saw this with voiced out a complaint that's mentioned in most negative reviews of the documentary, like how it's excessively 'slick' that it distanced him from the subjects, which I partially agree. Could it have been better if it were more 'raw' and free of its 'Hollywood production' trappings? Although, ultimately, I do find it a very illuminating documentary because of its interviews with the people in the famous photographs, like Lynndie England and Sabrina Harman (the other one who was considered the ringleader of the incident, Charles Graner, wasn't allowed to be interviewed), These US soldiers who smiled, posing, giving thumbs-up signs next to the naked and tortured victims (there was also a series of photos where they posed over a dead prisoner).

Long have they been demonized by the media and public since the photos came out few years ago. Aside from the aforementioned two, almost everyone involved in the situation were interviewed, along with those investigating in the case. And that's where different perspectives of the incident are brought in. Another friend I saw this with said that the film felt long, and directionless, there's no resolution towards the end, what was Morris trying to say? I think there's not supposed to be a clear one, just like real life. This documentary merely tries to let us understand what was going on when those photos were taken. Why? Sabrina Harman said that she was taking photos as evidence, Lynddie England explained that it was all because she was young then (20 when the incidents occurred, she's actually only 2 years older than I am) and blindly in love with Charles Graner (she is now raising a son fathered by him, he subsequently married another Abu Ghraib colleague Megan Ambuhl)

Errol Morris
Errol Morris


The others said that circumstances have been so messed up that it was impossible to get out of it. Are they just giving excuses to justify what they've done? Not all the time, we know the consequences, I can imagine that none of them can really lead normal lives anymore after the occurrence. For years they have been condemned for their deeds, but it is also interesting when the documentary is seemingly suggesting to audiences to think what was lurking beyond the frames of the photos. What happened between the space of two photos. Have they been thrown under the bus? Taking the fall for the higher-ups? Some photos that are published were the cropped versions. There are still many stories to tell. This film is only to shed some light into the context of these photos.

Later in the film, Brent Pack, special agent for the Criminal Investigations Division, discusses how he analyzed the countless photos from Abu Ghraib. The snapshots the world saw are stamped as either "Criminal Act" or "S.O.P." (standard operating procedures) And while no line is drawn, no judgments are made, one cannot help but ponder the problems in the procedures that lead to separating one from another. Errol Morris is too experienced a documentarian to shove his message down our throats, it's better to just let us draw our own conclusions. That's something I appreciate, it doesn't demonize nor glorify their subjects.

I tend to avoid most politically-themed documentaries because I can't help but feel that certain filmmakers seem to feel that they are on this moral high ground because they are oh-so-selflessly revealing the negative light of some issues. There's like lack of perspective, just black and white. If only life is that simple. (My political indifference stemmed mostly from this belief of mine. The government of my country is flawed, no one denies that, not even those working within, yet there are times when I can't see much about the other end of the spectrum to sympathize with.)

Check out Errol Morris' March 2008 New Yorker article about the Abu Ghraib incident. It can be viewed as a companion piece of this documentary. (Although numerous negative reviews of the documentary pointed out that it's better to just read the article... I'll leave you all to make your own judgments)


Standard Operating Procedure trailer


Interview with Errol Morris


Deleted Col. Janis Karpinski scenes from the documentary

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Films I saw in the first two days of the 3rd Annual Tokyo Refugee Film Festival

the Pagodas of Burma


Right, so I said I was going to take a brief hiatus to force myself to write for my new short film. I might have underestimated my own writing skills since it took me only one night to finish what I need to write.

I went to the 3rd Annual Refugee Film Festival in the past two days (Friday and Saturday) and attended the screenings held at NHK Fureai Hall. The Tokyo Refugee Film Festival is organized by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and it screens films that draws attention to the human side of refugees (theme of the World Refugee Day's this year)

On Friday, with my new friend, aspiring writer/ filmmaker Yvonne J. Miller (she's actually Japanese), I saw two documentaries, the first was Irene Marty's feature-length IN THE SHADOW OF THE PAGODAS: THE OTHER BURMA (2004), which was followed by Matt Blauer's 30-minute long PRAYER OF PEACE: RELIEF AND RESISTANCE IN BURMA'S WAR ZONES (2007).

Since both are documentaries, there really isn't much I can comment. It is heart wrenching to see the plight of the Karen people (an ethnic group in Burma and Thai) being driven from their home during decades of war, and many are forced to live in refugee camps to avoid the threat of the Burmese military. For me, the most chilling part in THE SHADOW OF THE PAGODAS: THE OTHER BURMA was when a few children were interviewed and they described how their parents were beaten to death, or shot by soldiers. There's no anger, no sadness, just a bleak acceptance of fate.

I grew up knowing Burma as Myanmar, and calling it that. But perhaps it's time for a change.

For more details, you can read Japan Times' article about the filmmaker Irene Marty and this film.


Trailer of SHADOW OF THE PAGODAS


Excerpts of the film, and interview with the filmmaker (in the 4th minute mark)


I was haunted by the images captured in PRAYER OF PEACE: RELIEF AND RESISTANCE IN BURMA'S WAR ZONES, which is about ethnic relief workers aiding those suffering under the Burmese army. This can be viewed as the companion piece of the previous film (although that's most likely why they were screened back-to-back). It focuses on a female medic and a pastor/ human rights cameraman.

The film is largely in Burmese, and has Japanese subtitles, which I still can't read that well. So I was more caught up with the visuals. Especially these images: And a father braving through the war zones, carrying his toddler daughter to seek medical help in a refugee camp. The toddler's body was grotesquely misshapen and swollen by her illness.

She had cancer.


An excerpt of Prayer of Peace: Relief and Resistance in Burma's War Zones


This is the production blog of this film.

Looking at the series of tragedy that befall upon the nation of Burma over the years, the military dictatorship, the needless massacre of the innocents, and then Cyclone Nargis, is there no relief for the pain that the people there have to endure?

On the following day (yesterday evening), I saw JUN-AI, a Japanese-Chinese co-production.

Jun-Ai poster, starring Peng Bo and Keiko Kobayashi


Unlike the previous two films, this one's fictional. 8 years in the making, it was largely the passion project of its executive producer/ scriptwriter / lead actress Kobayashi Keiko, who was at the screening and whom I spoke to briefly when the film ended.

This is its summary:

Summer. 1945. And the end of a long world war.
Most of the young Japanese who had gone to settle in China had been left behind.
The dreams that carried them there had been crushed the moment Japan surrendered.
Ai, Shunsuke and the other settlers were hanging in a balance of life and death as
most Chinese villagers had lost loved ones to the Japanese military.
Shanron and his aging mother helped these two Japanese, accepting them unconditionally.
Inside of each of them was the beginning of a friendship beyond borders,
the start of a love worth risking one’s life for.
This film is not an attempt to show the tragedies of war.
This film’s theme is a true love that is eternal despite the changes of time.


The film won a number of awards at the Monaco Film Festival, including Best Producer, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Independent Spirit Award and Angel Peace Award.

Proceeds of the film go to the Kobayashi Keiko Foundation. Back in 2004, during production of the film, the Foundation built Kibo (Hope) Elementary School at the foot of Mt. Tai in Shandong Province, China, and the school is now attended by 600 students. The organization strives to bring more benefits to the children, and to build more schools.

Normally, when you see a film with such aspirations, it's really hard to evaluate their quality. Because to criticize such a well-intentioned film is like kicking a puppy, you'll be demonized for being heartless. So many times in film festivals and such screenings, as much as I can respect the intentions of the filmmakers, I choose not to remark anything about the actual quality of the film that they've made.

Fortunately, JUN-AI is a decent film in its own right. Well-acted, well-shot, nicely-directed (from Chinese director JIANG Qinmin) and emotional. It's a compelling watch that overcame my initial cynicism and reservations, and I have to admit that there was a scene towards the end that made me choke back a little. Film sheds light upon the tense relationship between the Chinese and the Japanese just after WW2, for some reason, when faced with a group of outraged Chinese villagers wanting to kill them, the two Japanese protagonists cried out in Chinese, "we're not soldiers! We're just normal Japanese people!", and it reminded me how civilians then were often unjustly dragged into war, which were really the affairs of their government, and not them.

Despite the limitations of the DV camera, the rural settings in the film is just as lush and picturesque, and Peng Bo's performance as Shanron justifies how he is gradually thrust into the center of the film, into the interracial Japanese-Chinese love story.


Trailer of Jun-Ai


See? It's emotional stuff. I like the music that came in at the 1:30 minute mark a lot.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Brief Hiatus

Taking a break from blogging.

Anyway, production of my upcoming Japanese short film, Yuki, will be temporarily postponed.

Negotiations with my lead actress Kazue Fukiishi had gotten a little complicated. (kidding)


Kazue Fukiishi


There's supposed to be a June 30th deadline for me to beat, so I intend to whip together another short film instead. I won't say much about it, but it'll be something along the vein of Chris Marker's Sans Soleil. A video essay, an attempt on visual poetry, using unused video footages I've shot in the past, including my India travel videos.

Need to shut myself out to concentrate in writing. Normally a blog entry takes away so much from me that once I've updated it, I'm too drained to actually write something else. When it comes to creative endeavours, I'm no multi-tasker*. :(

* I mean, I'm normally a multi-hyphenate (director - writer - producer - editor), I don't mind juggling multiple tasks for one project, but to juggle a few projects at once lessens my focus.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY and KURUS screening at KLue Urbanscapes 2008 (28th of June)!



I first received a phone call from a lady from KLue sometime in late February (just a few days before I started shooting CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY). She told me that it was filmmaker and friend Tony Pietra who had given her my number, and the conversation was like that:

"Hi, Edmund, Tony told us about you and we wanted to ask whether you have any short films you can contribute for Urbanscapes?" She said.

"Sure. What kind of short films do you need?" I said.

"Ah, just something related to the city. Do you have any short films like that? It doesn't have to be new, any of your old short films will do." She said.

I frowned. "That's a little... hard. So far, I've only directed two short films in Perth, never in KL."

I thought of VERTICAL DISTANCE, the first of the two student films I did in Perth at 2006:

VerticalDistanceScreenshot7
Vertical Distance


"We're fine with Perth, if it has a heavy urban flavour!" She said.

Then I remembered VERTICAL DISTANCE had only some brief shots of the streets of Perth.

VerticalDistanceScreenshot5
This shot lasted only for a second in VERTICAL DISTANCE

Vertical Distance Screenshot 3
This one was longer. Two seconds.


"Hoo boy. Don't think it has a heavy urban flavour." I conceded. "I have another one, but it's a sci-fi/fantasy that takes place on the moon."

I was referring to GIRL DISCONNECTED, the final student film I did.

A moment frozen forever in time
One of my favourite scenes in Girl Disconnected


There was a brief silence.

".. guess that doesn't work either huh?" I said. "How about this? I'm actually shooting a new film in a few days. It's called CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY. And it'll be set in Taman Paramount..."

I trailed off. Taman Paramount is the area where my house is at for the past two decades. It's a residential area with some kickass restaurants, but also far from what I think they want.

The lady was polite, and she said "It's all right, some other time then."

Months passed, I made CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY, and then came to Tokyo. I never heard about Urbanscapes again until I received an email from Tony last month, telling me that he will be curating the short films program at the event and asked whether I want him to screen VERTICAL DISTANCE or GIRL DISCONNECTED. (A year ago, Tony had organized a screening event called Cinejam where both of my older short films were shown. It was an interesting experience that I attended with Chewxy.)

At that time, I still wasn't really sure what Urbanscapes was, I merely assumed that it was a short film screening event like Malaysian Shorts or Filmmakers Anonymous. So I merely said told Tony that he can just collect CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY from my sister, since it's my later work, and would most probably be more enjoyable for local audiences compared to my two student films.

So I hadn't heard about Urbanscapes again, until yesterday on my Facebook mini-feed, where I caught numerous references of the event. First, it was Vanes of Dian Bang who announced that her band would be performing at Urbanscapes.


(I have written about the local electropop band Dian Bang last year)


Hmmm? Are there musical performances too? I thought silently.

Then, checking my inbox, Ming Jin the Mentor had just CC'd me an email about some preparations for Urbanscapes. Wasn't aware that he was getting involved too, so I started feeling intrigued.

So, after Googling around, I found out that URBANSCAPES is quite a big event. (From the site: "Urbanscapes aims to bring together communities and participants from the fields of music, arts, lifestyle, film under a single banner to showcase the best of the local scene.")

Whoa.

Apparently, besides CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY, even KURUS (DAYS OF THE TURQUOISE SKY to the rest of the world) will be showing too!

Carmen Soo
Carmen Soo in KURUS

KURUS group photo
KURUS press conference


Whoa. Awesome.

A short film I wrote and directed. And a film I co-produced and edited, both showing there! My awesome-o-meter for URBANSCAPES instantly shot through the roof because it'll be screening TWO Greenlight Pictures productions. ;) (click the pics below for scheduling info)



KURUS by Woo Ming Jin



CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY

It's a pleasure to be part of the event. Find out more about Urbanscapes 2008.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

[VIDEOS] 3rd Auntie's singing comeback at a fundraising concert for the Sichuan Earthquake.

I've mentioned before that my mom was once a singer. In fact, my parents were married mostly due to these circumstances (Mom was a recording artiste for a label that my dad was in, the tale of their courtship was in Sin Chew newspapers two years ago)

Mom's younger sister, my 3rd auntie, was a singer too. But she had gone on hiatus for nearly 15 years (or was it 20?), since opting the idyllic life of a housewife:

3rd Auntie and family
3rd auntie and family


While she didn't record any albums like Mom did, Mom had told me a few times that, compared to her (Mom), my aunt had a more powerful voice. Aside from vague memories of karaoke sessions in my childhood, I don't think I've heard my aunt sang before. And since my memories of the karaoke sessions are so vague, I don't really remember her singing at all.

So I was more than a little excited (and curious) to hear that my aunt had performed at a fund-raising concert for the Sichuan Earthquake on last Sunday's Father's Day. After all these years.

My sister Cousin Mun Yoong managed to capture her performance on video, but mind you, audio and video quality are rather low.





Singing two well-known Chinese folk songs, I felt that 3rd Auntie didn't seem so rusty at all. Much unlike someone who had such a long hiatus. Maybe she had been having secret karaoke sessions that I know nothing about. But my immediate reaction to my sis was:

"Hmm... I don't think even Mom can sing like that now." (Sorry Mom!)

For me, it was like being in a Wuxia film where you hear non-stop about a hermit's badass martial arts skills in the past, but said hermit had chosen to live in seclusion at some wooden hut in the middle of a bamboo forest. You've known the hermit all your life and you've never even seen him hurt a single fly. Then, one day, when provoked by some dumb baddie, the hermit punched a hole into the baddie's face, showing that his martial arts skills are still pretty badass. Yeah, that's how I felt.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Swifty Reviews 'Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull'

INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF CRYSTAL SKULL POSTER


Saw this on Sunday immediately when it premiered in Tokyo. Here's a confession, unlike most, my best film memories in childhood weren't really the Indiana Jones films. Because, quite frankly, I can't remembe them much at all. I saw THE LAST CRUSADE when it first came out in theaters and I was only 6. Then I watched RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK a year later when it was screened in primary school for Children's Day, I remembered how the projectionist was being an ass by putting his hand over to projector during the kissing scenes to 'protect' the children's eyes.

Then I watched TEMPLE OF DOOM perhaps at the age of 8, when it was aired on TV. And that's it, I never really watch an actual Indy Jones film again, but I did follow the Young Indiana Jones TV series religiously back then, and had some of those CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURES Indy Jones books.

TEMPLE OF DOOM was recently aired on Tokyo TV last week, and it was dubbed in Japanese, so I was unable to really pay attention, except to watch some of the climatic action scenes. They were good stuff, didn't seem dated.

So there wasn't much pent-up anticipation for INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF CRYSTAL SKULL, I just treat it as another Spielberg film to look forward to, another summer blockbuster to indulge myself in, and hoping that Spielberg's magic can keep Lucas from pulling another PHANTOM MENANCE on me (now, THAT'S a childhood memory that got tainted, though I do like episode 3). And that Harrison Ford will finally star in something worthwhile again (... since his cameo in Jimmy Kimmel's 'I F*CKED BEN AFFLECK' video). To me, Indy is Indy, not really INDY!

My expectations were low since numerous of my friends told me that the film sucked. But in the end, I don't really think it sucked, just underwhelming, just disappointingly average. Although, objectively speaking, it's not a shitty movie, perhaps I was really just put off by the pacing and its endless exposition in the middle chunk of the film.

The beginning and ending of the film are still fun enough to make me not feel pissed that I blew 1500 yen on the ticket. I like the extended chase sequence at the beginning of the film, the sight of Indiana Jones putting on his hat made my heart skip a few bits. Not because of lifelong fanboyism, but maybe because it was the resurrection of an iconic image that had long immersed itself into pop culture and cinematic history, to see it onscreen again was exciting. And frankly, the action scenes then, from his escape from AREA 51 to reaching the nuclear test site, I had a grin plastered on my face similar to the time when I watched BOURNE ULTIMATUM.

Unfortunately, while I was grinning like that :D:D:D most of the time in BOURNE ULTIMATUM, I only did that a few times when watching Indy 4. During the aforementioned prologue, and when things picked up again and characters were thrown into a nice chase sequence at the jungle after the appearance of Marion Ravenwood. I think Spielberg's still a great craftsman, and its his technical abilities to stage these action setpieces that separates him from subsequent Indy pretenders like TOMB RAIDERS, THE MUMMY films and NATIONAL TREASURE. There's just something retro and appealing about the action scenes of Indy 4 that I favour over mindnumbingly heavy CGI stuff that I see in recent films.

The film is well-shot too, Janusz Kamiński, who had been Spielberg's cinematographer since SCHINDLER's LIST (but neither of the 3 previous Indy films) seemed to have brought something unique, perhaps it's the framing, there are many times when I actually started marvelling the shots in the film. The acting's fine, I have no complaints with Ford's Indy at all, I thought it might have been his best performance in a long time. Indiana Jones, while older, still reeks of awesomeness. Supporting cast are fine too, nothing out-of-place Star Wars prequels-ish bad. Although I felt that Cate Blanchett's Colonel Doctor Irina Spalko was a bit of a squandered opportunity. Could've been a memorable villain, but didn't really do anything memorable.

Anyway, I don't know whether the pacing problems had more to do with Spielberg or my own tastes. After all, Spielberg had been doing mostly darker fare in the past few years. I liked MUNICH a lot, and while WAR OF THE WORLDS had an incredibly rubbish ending, there was something about it that kept my attention (the investment of my emotions compounded my disappointment with the ending). I've always been more used to 90s to 00s Spielberg than 80s Spielberg, I have more love for A.I., SCHINDLER'S LIST, MINORITY REPORT, CATCH ME IF YOU CAN etc than ET or CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, so maybe I couldn't really get used to seeing him emulate his 80s self again. I like Serious Spielberg more than Flippant Spielberg.


Trailer of INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF CRYSTAL SKULL

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Chinese Program at the Short Shorts Film Festival & Asia 2008

Fruit Chan's A+B=C a short film


Just as I've mentioned in my previous post, I returned to the Short Shorts Film Festival & Asia 2008, this time for the Chinese Program that my friend, Cara Yuan (she organizes the mobile film festival in China) was curating.

The first film shown was Wong Kar Wai's sci-fi short, THERE'S ONLY ONE SUN. I've already watched that last year on Youtube. But it's nice watching it on a bigger screen, the visuals are more beautiful... and it's really a glorified TV ad. There, you can watch it too:


Wong Kar Wai's THERE'S ONLY ONE SUN


The film that followed, CLOWN, was by a young female director called Qin Panpan (she's a year younger than I am!). This is quite good. A guy who hates playing a clown onstage, and wants a bigger role. Then gets confused between his real life and stage life. Starts hallucinating. I'm impressed by the acting of the main actor, and I also liked how the director seem to meld something that seemed initially like a documentary, and gradually married it with her MTV sensibilities. Qin Panpan might be an Aronofsky fan like me as well, since she ended the film with the REQUIEM FOR A DREAM theme by Kronos Quartet.

SOUND OF BROKEN FINGERS by Gao Xiaosong takes a simple story and also throws some MTV-style filmmaking into it. Unsurprising since the director is a celebrated musician in China. But I was surprised to see Fruit Chan's name as the line producer. The Red Woman's pretty hot.


SOUND OF BROKEN FINGERS by Guo Xiaosong


The Perturbance of Mind is an animated short by Zhang Gong that's really surrealistic yet uniquely Chinese. Film's drawn in traditional Chinese ink-painting style, and is about a simple and quiet life of a monk (or nun, not too sure) who lives alone in a temple. Quite melancholic.

Then there's FRUIT CHAN's A+B=C. A star-studded short film starring Hu Jun, Li Xiaoran and Guo Xiaodong. It's great to see Fruit Chan directing something again (his last film was DUMPLINGS from 3 Extremes). I like the encounter between A (the woman) and B from the 1:30 to 2:30 minute mark, very beautiful visually. Reminds me of the DURIAN DURIAN Fruit Chan. The guy can be as poetic as Wong Kar Wai if he chooses to, but he has his own masterful directing style and seems more socially-conscious as well.


FRUIT CHAN's A+B=C (... ah, might be a wee bit NSFW cos of a noisy but non-graphic sex scene)


Then there's a Baoqi Ye's LEFT-HANDED. A 2002 short film that won some awards in numerous festivals. It's a China-Canada co-production (Baoqi Ye did it as a student film while he was studying in Toronto). I didn't notice that until I saw the credits! Amusing and sweet film that's essentially a father and son story. I'm shocked to know that til today in China schools, everyone's forced to write with their right hands even if they're left-handed!

Last film NOSTALGIA by Xu Liang is slightly flawed technically (the sound mixing). There's a buzzing sound right before a voiceover is about to begin. It's slightly jarring. But this is a nice little short about the rural life in China. Reminds me of ELECTRIC SHADOWS, a China film I saw recently that gives off a similar feeling. Like how villagers gather at the an outdoor makeshift cinema to watch movies, how kids just hang out and get into all sorts of mischief. Director Xu Liang is young. Born in 86. 22 this year.

Well, you guys can check out the videos I've posted here and share your thoughts too.

P. S. Happy Father's Day, dad.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Attending the Short Shorts Film Festival & Asia 2008

I first heard about SHORT SHORTS FILM FESTIVAL from Cara Yuan, organizer of the mobile phone film festival in China (I met her when I was at the Hong Kong International Film Festival back in March). She has came over to Tokyo to curate the Chinese program for the Short Shorts Film Fest, which will be featuring short films by Wong Kar Wai ('THERE'S ONLY ONE SUN', I've seen it on Youtube before) and Fruit Chan. I'm attending that a few hours from now, after I wake up (it's 3:42am while I'm writing this).

But wanting to familiarize myself with the way to the film fest, I decided to attend another one of the programs yesterday afternoon, right after I finish classes. Each program is 110 minutes long and is a compilation of short films for a particular competitive category. The one I went to was a screening of short films for the ASIA and JAPAN Competition, along with one entry for the STOP! Global Warming Competition. Then there's also a special screening of Tadanobu Asano's 224466, a 25-minute long short film he directed and starred in. Since I've just watched Mongol yesterday, it marks the second consecutive day I saw an Asano film.

Asano is awesome.

Asano Tadanobu and I
(taken back in March at the HK Film Fest)


Among the films I watched were:

GRAVITY by Yu Ichihara
A scifi/ jury drama/ social commentary done as a graduate film by the Nihon University student filmmaker. He was there, and is a year younger than I am. His film has some really good set designs and visual effects.

LATE LETTERS by Ho Lik Hang
A Hong Kong short film. The director was there too. Rather lyrical and beautifully shot. Very short, just 3 minutes.

THE MOLE by Victric Thng
A blending of live-action and 2D animation. It's stylistically similar to the works of these two Waseda students (they're a directing duo) I watched last month. Director Victric Thng is Singaporean, but the two primary actors of the film are white. It's some sort of a dark fairy tale.

REWIND by Atul Taishete
This entry from India amazes me. It's simple yet complex. A Russian roulette between three guys, but it begins from the end and ends at the beginning. Everything's played in reverse, but wonderfully edited and beautiful narrated. If memory serves me right, the Russian roulette sequence is done in one long uninterrupted take. You know how much I'm a sucker for that. The whole reverse thing just makes the actions of the characters visually unique. Like the sight of the guys rolling the barrel of the gun.

RE: by Kentaro Holy
Stylish and elliptical with its herky jerky rapid-cut editing, kinda reminds me of the road movie sections in Wong Kar Wai's MY BLUEBERRY NIGHTS. Scenery of Death Valley is awesome.

SAUNA by Junya Nishioka
Last film shown during the session. An entry for the STOP! Global Warming competition (films have to deal with that particular theme). 3D animation, 2-minute long, drives home the point perfectly. I like it.

But back to Asano's 224466:

224466


I like the film a lot, it's very quirky and enjoyable. It's almost a cyberpunk sci-fi in the vein of Shunji Iwai's SWALLOWTAIL BUTTERFLY. Asano plays an alien who is dying because he lost his drums, and the drums are part of his body. A young girl and a hunchbacked old man have to help him. They go on a crazy quest that leads them to a guitar showdown with a child prodigy. The alien Asano plays spends most of the film yelling in sheer agony. Script is by the Cannes-winning director, Aoyama Shinji. It's meant to be a segment of the digital omnibus film 'R246 Story', and a few other segments of the film are showing at Short Shorts too.

The joy of attending a film festival, to me, is the motivation and inspiration to work on a film. The appreciative part of me remembers the joys of filmmaking that I want to indulge in again. The competitive part of me makes me want to do better than something I saw onscreen (especially those that I didn't like). It's one of those "What. The. Hell. I can do better than THAT!" moments.

Well, that's all, gotta catch a few hours of sleep before I return to Harajuku for the China program.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

"I came to Japan to make porn."

Haruka Ayase


Since moving to Tokyo two months ago, the most often-repeated line I hear from male friends is:

"You should make porn in Japan."


... And its many hundred variations. ("You're doing your Masters in Film? Make what kind of film, porn?" "So, what you want to make now? PORN?" "Hey, you know what you should make, AV!!!") Which is often followed by self-amused laughter.

Some will expand upon that, saying that I can earn more money from it, or I can meet more naked women from it, or I can become the greatest porn mogul ever, or that I seriously should live my life like the protagonists in Edmond Pang's AV.

Right.

Okay.

Very original.

Har har.

The speaker thinks that it's the best thing to say and joke about with someone he knows who happens to be a filmmaker and who happens to be studying film in Japan.

But for me, it's painfully redundant. Imagine how it feels, when you have to hear 4 out of 5 guys you speak to asking you the same thing. It's more painful because you can already predict that already before they open their mouths, and have that twinkle in their eyes, and a self-satisfied smirk on their faces. It's like a mini-Groundhog Day.

I hear the same thing over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.

And again.

And then again.

I heard it most recently two days ago, when a classmate from secondary school nicely called me all the way from Malaysia. And the same exchange occurred:

- So, what have you been doing? He asked.

- Oh, I'm preparing for my new film. I answered. (it was just a day after I had my pitching session for Yuki)

- What is it about?

I paused. I knew what was going to happen. I closed my eyes and sighed inwardly.

- ... Is it PORN?

If I get a penny for every single time I hear this, I'll be so rich that Bill Gates would beg to have my 'making a penny for every single time I hear someone ask whether I'm making porn in Japan' ability....

- Jeez, why am I forced to hear this question all the time? It's almost like every Tom, Dick and Harry's been asking me the same thing.

He paused for a while, perhaps slightly taken aback that he had been so unoriginal. It's always a swift blow to the manly ego.

(that's why I don't blame the people who asked me this question, of course they thought they were being original, of course they didn't know that I'm trapped in a mini-Groundhog Day)

- But you're in Japan, says he, that's the place known for AV!

I was going to expect him to make some grunting and dry humping sounds to add to the drama. Maybe he did, but reception was bad, so I didn't hear it.

Despite my easygoing demeanour and irresistable cuddliness, I'm actually quite an irritable guy. What else to sharpen my cynicism and dry sarcasm if I weren't one? Being subjected to the same question almost few times a week, and being given the reason that I'm inviting this particular question due to my geographical status is as bad as asking a guy who stays in Thailand whether he mistakes a transsexual or a transvestite for an real woman just because 'tee hee, Thailand's the place known for ladyboys!".

Despite my sheer blade-like witticism, it tires me too if I have to reply to the same question with the same witty repartee. Here is a guy who strives for originality, and is forced to hear the same unoriginal question all the time, and has ran out of original answers for that.

It's poetic justice.

The cycle will remain endless... People will continue asking whether my follow-up for CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY is SUSHI SEX SYMPHONY, ORDINARY ONIGIRI ORGY or RAMEN RAPISTS RHAPSODY.

Good grief, I'm even starting to invent titles for porn films I'm not even going to make.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Haunted by the interview of Akihabara knifeman's parents

The past few nights had been a non-stop coverage of the Akihabara Massacre and the killer, Tomohiro Kato. Not exactly the most uplifting stuff for a guy like me to watch when sick.

There was a TV interview with the parents of the killer last night. Their faces were obscured to protect their identities, only the father spoke during the 4-minute interview, the mother stood behind him, sobbing quietly, unable to manage a single word.

The father apologized for their son's actions, but it was the image of the mother collapsing onto the ground at the end of the interview that haunts me.

She was literally crawling back to the front door of her house where her husband was standing and waiting. I seriously thought it was heartbreaking.

I cannot imagine what is this like. To live with this for the rest of their lives. I think they are victims of their son's actions as well.

Monday, June 09, 2008

My First Experience In Pitching My Film In Japan

PITCH (filmmaking)
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A pitch is a concise verbal (and sometimes visual) presentation of an idea for a film, generally made by a screenwriter or director to a producer or studio executive in the hope of attracting development finance to pay for a screenplay to be written. Pitches are usually made in person, although they can be made over the phone or, occasionally, pre-recorded on audio or videotape.

A good pitch is generally between five and ten minutes long and lays out the premise, hook and essential beats of the story, along with thumbnail sketches of the principal characters (often including the names of actors who might play the roles), and a clear idea of the genre, tone, likely audience, and budget level.

If an executive is interested in a pitch they may ask to see a treatment. If not, they will often follow up with "What else have you got?".

For this reason, a wise supplicant will be prepared to pitch a second and possibly third idea without hesitation.


I've been gripped by this vaguely familiar feeling of melancholy in the past few days. I wondered whether it had anything to do with the ELEPHANT AND THE SEA trailer I was editing, or the fact that my laptop adapter had gone crazy (laptop abruptly switches off by itself when it's plugged in, no problems when using batteries), or the awareness that I was going to get sick, or because I was stuck in limbo between productions, maybe none of them, maybe a little bit of all of them.

I was already starting to cough last night, and needed to take some pills before I went to sleep. Then I woke up at 7 with a slight dizziness and an immensely dry throat. The cough was still there, but a dry one. Checking my comp, I was slightly surprised that my previous blog post about the phone calls I received after the Akihabara stabbings had been linked by Japanprobe (and later in the day, Cowboy Caleb).

I took a few more medication and left for uni a few hours later. Today was the day I was supposed to pitch my new short film, YUKI (tentative title. Mentioned in this blog post) to the university's film department/lab. If approved, the film will be funded by them, and I will also have access to performers from a famous Japanese talent agency.



It was raining. The world was entirely grey. I trudged my way to uni, almost everyone around me held a transparent umbrella. So do I. Why are the umbrellas in Japan often transparent? Where goes the colourful umbrellas on a colourless day? Despite the rain, I was sweating profusely underneath my black jacket.

I had lunch with producer Maiko and her friend first. For weeks I've lived my life like a peasant, eating only bread for lunch, but I wondered whether my illness was caused by malnourishment. Thus I decided to eat something else instead of bread, yet the food was slightly tasteless. A pity since I know that under normal circumstances, I would've enjoyed the meal much more.

Maiko continued voicing out her misgivings about the ending I wrote for Yuki. There was something 'missing' about it. And despite trying to maintain some ambiguity similar to what I did with CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY, she felt that the ambiguity was still too clear-cut in its delivery, my own moral stance regarding the situations portrayed in the short film much too clear, too black and white.

My professor and the other two gentlemen whom Maiko and I would pitch our film to later to brought out the same point. The screenplay was good, yet its weakest point was the ending, not because of its ambiguity, but mostly because of its inconsistency with the characterization, as if I had suddenly wanted to become too preachy. At that time, of course, the entire exchange was in Japanese, so I wasn't really clear with what was happening until everything ended.

We were all seated in a room. My professor and the other two gentlemen were sitting at behind a table, while those pitching their ideas would sit behind the opposite table. (The other two gentlemen, Maiko whispered to me, one is a famous producer, another is the screenwriter of JAPAN SINKS.) Those waiting for their turns would sit at the side. We were the last to go, the whole thing lasted for a bit more than 2 hours, and Maiko would occassionally write me notes translating to me what was going on, what the others were pitching, what the committee members thought etc.

So I was excited when it was finally our turn. I apologized and said that I would speak in English, and was about to weave my magic. I was struck by vague memories of pitching GIRL DISCONNECTED more than two years ago in a different university half a world away, almost during a different lifetime. I also had memories of talking about THE ELEPHANT AND THE SEA to an appreciative audience at the Santiago International Film Festival in Chile during an increasingly distant ten months ago.

After all, public speaking is something I never shy away from, my ego feeds upon the attention, relishing upon the faces of spellbound audiences, and often I grow more animated and joyous as I speak.

"Yoroshiku onegaishimasu! YUKI, is a ten minute short film (possibly more) which I intend to do with one single take!" I said, and paused dramatically. And then, with equal drama, I started describing the screenplay, unlike the others, there was no need to look at notes or papers, everything was already committed into my mind.

... then I was interrupted halfway by my professor.

"It's okay, we've already read the script. Just tell us your message."

"... oh." I remarked.

All right, that's quite a letdown.

Still mustering some dramatic tones, I started explaining the message of my film, the multiple layers I was working with, how it was a character psychology drama, then an allegory of modern society.

Then Maiko started translating what I said in Japanese.

... And the rest of the conversation veered towards the Japanese language, with me staring cluelessly at the exchange between Maiko and the three men.

My professor asked another guy to translate their conversations for me, so the guy sat beside me and started translating. But having not read my script, he was unclear of what was happening, and the whole exchange between the only female in the room and the three men behind the table were in such speedy rate that he himself couldn't keep up either.

When it was over, everyone stood up swiftly and hurried off.

"Ehh?" I blinked.

I left with Maiko and went to the uni cafetaria, still lost, still confused. The smattering of lines the guy managed to translate for me sounded a little discouraging. ("they said... by using single take... your messages aren't clear... the ending, it's weak... the character... inconsistent... it's not strong enough...") Of course, I looked unfettered and concealed my slight doubts with my normal impassiveness and mild grin in front of that guy.

Some of my worries were unfounded, the problem had only been with the ending. Just like what Maiko had said during lunch, and also yesterday. But what changes can I make? How can I still preserve the essence of the original ending while improving upon it as they have all suggested? Thankfully a solution was reached pretty soon after a quick bout of brainstorming with her, and I managed to find a satisfying middle ground between what they suggested and what I wanted.

I've just emailed the latest draft to Maiko for her to translate before I wrote this post, now the waiting begins. I'm aiming for a June 22nd shoot date, I believe in self-imposed deadlines, yet I have a slight suspicion that I may not be able to shoot it in time.

I hope not.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

The 3 phone calls I received after the Akihabara (Tokyo) stabbing rampage

Assailant Tomohiro Kato held by police




The horrible stabbing spree at Akihabara this afternoon has already made international news. When that happened, I was actually at the MOS Burger near my dorm, having a production meeting with Maiko.

I didn't know anything until after the meeting ended and I was on my way to the Takadanobaba Station to catch a train. As I was on my way there, I got a phone call from Jason, my Hong Kong friend.

"Hey, where are you?" He asked.

"Taking a train to Shibuya." I said.

"Oh, then you're not at Akihabara then. There was a loony who went around stabbing at people with a knife. You better be careful." He said.

"Hm. I see." I continued walking, not aware of casualties then, just a little bothered that something crazy had happened at a place I visited just last Saturday.

When I reached Shibuya, I was standing in front of the Hachiko bronze statue for a while. About to make a phone call to the person I'm supposed to meet (she's another Monbusho scholar who flew over to Tokyo with me, but went to different university), when I raised the phone near my ear, my phone blared loudly (I deliberately gave myself a loud ring tone so I won't miss my phone calls).

Startled, I cursed.

Regaining my composure, I answered the phone.

"Hello?"

Apparently, this time, it was from Uncle Yaw and Auntie Yip, two family friends (they're a Malaysian couple based in Tokyo, they were the ones who first told me about the scholarship last time, the latter does Chinese translations for Murakami's novels).

"Hi, where are you?" Auntie Yip asked.

"Hachiko!" I gasped, amidst the loud noises around me. Shibuya was hell noisy then.

"Oh. Are you meeting up with friends?" She said, in a tone that I would many hours realized was one of relief.

"Yup."

"Are you free to talk? Uncle Yaw wants to speak to you." She said.

"Sure." I said.

So for a while, I spoke to Uncle Yaw, where he asked whether I've gotten used to life in Tokyo (I have), and whether I can speak Japanese now ("a little" I said)), and then that was it, they said they'll call some other time and hung up.

After having a quick dinner with Kim Huey and her friends (quick because I declined going to karaoke with them), I went to hang out at TOWER RECORDS (I haven't been there before), and was at top floor (its bookshop), reading a book on Truffaut when I got another phone call.

This time from Mom.

"Where are you now?" She asked.

"Shibuya. Top floor of Tower Records. Reading at the bookshop." I said.

"Oh. Was wondering why weren't you online." She said. "You know about the stabbings?"

"Yup." I said.

"Better to go home if you have nothing else to do." She said.

"All right." I said.

I hung out for another fifteen minutes or so before making my way back. After coming online, I got to know the details of the horrific incident. And I find it a little disturbing that all these happened to places I'm somewhat familiar with (I don't go to Akihabara as often as I go to Shibuya, maybe four to five times since I got here, mostly to buy myself electrical stuff).

I find it rather strange that many conversations and events I went through in the past few days seemed to foreshadow the incident today. In Friday's Japanese Language class, there was me talking about taking a photo with a cute Akihabara nurse (in halting Japanese when the teacher asked us all to give an example of the interesting things that happened to us in Tokyo), on the same day during lunch time, I also had some discussions about maid cafes with the classmates, and even crack jokes about it during another class after that.

Then even on Friday night, at an online conversation with Julian, somehow it veered to maid cafes and all other cosplay cafes. And then there was dinner with Kim Huey and her friends just now, who clearly didn't know anything about Akihabara as they were out the whole day. And she was also suggesting that we should visit a maid cafe in the near future.

Am I overthinking things? Even so, it feels a little disconcerting as I'm writing this now.

But then, I feel sorry for the victims and their family. The assailant Tomohiro Kato may get a death penalty for this, but there's no way for him to pay for the lives that he had taken.

Why I Think Knowing The History Of Cinema Is Important For Filmmakers

Tim Sharp, a classmate of mine during filmmaking classes in Perth sent me a really good article of his where he emphasized why a filmmaker should know his cinema history, and lamented that the lack of this awareness contributed to the sad state of affairs seen in the current Perth filmmaking scene. When reading his article, I felt that the issues he discussed are pretty universal. So I definitely recommend this to anyone who has anything to do with the film industry, or wants to do something with it.

Here are some nice quotes that I agree with:

If a filmmaker is not aware of the past of his craft, he/she inevitably produces work which does not evolve and dies as soon as it is created. Looking at the pantheon of great movie directors, there are two key components which are essential in their skill; a mastery of their craft and a knowledge of the context of their work. More vitally, the filmmakers who are recognised for reinvigorating or pushing the medium in new directions all share the inherent and extremely deep understanding of the history of film.



Being aware of the history of cinema allows a director to truly surprise the viewer and deliver to us that delight of the unexpected. This knowledge of history is most important due to the fact that every cinema goer is actually unconsciously aware of many developments in film..


... films made even as little as fifteen years old seem slow and boring to an audience more attuned to hyper-kinetic image assembly. This has made the watching of “older” movies or “weird” movies seem like exercises in tedium and yes, to begin with it can be. Yet I believe that it is essential for all filmmakers who are serious about making something worthwhile and lasting which will impact the audience and remain with them and form a part of their collective memory to learn the history and context of their craft. The lasting mainstream movies such as Star Wars, Indiana Jones, The Terminator, Scream, Alien etc all share the common foundation of construction upon what has come before and the reinvention of old tropes to generate new meaning.

All of the filmmakers who produced these works not only merely knew about the past of cinema, they attempted to consume and process as much as possible. They consciously built upon ideas and concepts from past films, not just ones from the past five years, but movies as early as the 1900s and as diverse as Japanese samurai movies, B movies from the 40s, Swiss Surrealism , Sigmund Freud’s theories on sexuality and countless other sources. They serve as indelible proof that film must be aware of its own history if it seeks to exist for any longer than the moment it leaves the editing suite.


Now, go read the rest of "Now, Where Was I?" - Unwitting Amnesia in Contemporary Filmmaking.

Sure, many stuff from the past are 'boring', I'm no elitist cinephile who can go around saying that Eric Rohmer's Robert Bresson's MOUCHETTE is an incomparable masterpiece with a straight face (I seriously dozed off despite watching the film in double speed, but realized in amusement that the 'rape' scene in James Lee's BEAUTIFUL WASHING MACHINE most probably came from Mouchette's rape scene), I still shudder when I think of Godard's MY LIFE TO LIVE. The French New Wave is a hit-or-miss affair for me. I couldn't stand the aforementioned films, yet I liked ALPHAVILLE, 400 BLOWS and most recently, CLEO FROM 5 TO 7. If I were so highbrow, I would've gone off to watch Pedro Costa's COLOSSAL YOUTH instead of MY GIRLFRIEND IS A CYBORG last week. But then, to limit myself only with the 'more watchable' contemporary classics (say, stuff from the 90s onwards) will definitely, in my opinion, limit my own film vocabulary.

I'll give a simple example: Look at Tarantino. It's not as if he pulled PULP FICTION or KILL BILL out of his ass. The guy has a lifelong love for the old martial arts and samurai classics, and he integrated his passion for those films into his own. If he hadn't given a crap about that particular history of cinema, he's probably gonna continue working in a video store.


Lady Snowblood, quite a major influence for KILL BILL


It's one of the reasons why I always try to do an extensive research before making a film. CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY, light and fluffy as it was, was really a play on the noir genre. Knowing that contemporary noir films are much too self-aware or postmodern, it's not really enough to watch only the more recent film noirs, or other films that borrow noir elements, like BRICK, LA CONFIDENTIAL, or the many parodies of the noir aesthetics that have immersed themselves into modern pop culture, for my research.

So I ended up watching THE MALTESE FALCON (1941) and THE THIRD MAN (1949) as well, and would've went for more if I had more time. But I have to say that watching these two helped immensely with the filmmaking (the ending of THE THIRD MAN inspired the way CRM's ending was executed). Not tooting my own horn and saying that CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY is great, just that I could've done worse. Because it helps to know that film noir isn't just having a private eye sitting in his dingy old office visited by a mysterious femme fatale, and then getting embroiled in a dangerous case where the protagonist has to, of course, deal with shady people of the underworld for their investigation. Film noir is like this... and more.


Maltese Falcon trailer


The Third Man trailer


Ditto with filmmaking, I guess. It's really like that. And more.

Friday, June 06, 2008

THE ELEPHANT AND THE SEA Trailer

I just woke up from my beauty nap at 2am and received an email from Todd at Twitch telling me that he had just posted up the teaser and new trailer of THE ELEPHANT AND THE SEA on their awesome site (I visit them daily). Awesome, thanks, man! I haven't even actally posted the trailer anywhere else as I've just finished editing it yesterday. (hence the lack of blog updates)



Pssst, the music's composed by me too. ;)

(THE ELEPHANT AND THE SEA will be showing at the Cathay Cineleisure Mall at Malaysia on the 21st of August, 2008)

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Soundtrack Preview of THE ELEPHANT AND THE SEA

Heya all, I've finally written my first post on THE ELEPHANT AND THE SEA blog. Just as I've mentioned, my role for the upcoming film is associate producer, I joined in only during post-production (months after the film made its world premiere in Rotterdam Film Festival 2007) to help refine the film for Malaysian release. Shortening some scenes, and adding some music.

The video below is a preview of the film soundtrack.



So, what do you guys think about my first attempt in composing a film score?

(THE ELEPHANT AND THE SEA is showing at Cathay Cineleisure Mall on the 21st of August 2008, it had been shown in more than 20 film festivals)

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Swifty Reviews 'Cyborg She / My Girlfriend Is A Cyborg 僕の彼女はサイボーグ'

film poster of MY GIRLFRIEND IS A CYBORG or CYBORG SHE


I'm not sure what is the actual title of this film. Some articles call it MY GIRLFRIEND IS A CYBORG (a literal translation of its Japanese title), while Wikipedia called it 'CYBORG SHE', prefer the former, it's catchier.

This film is directed by Kwak Jae-Yong, the Korean director of MY SASSY GIRL. It was said that this will be the last film of his 'Sassy Girl trilogy', after MY SASSY GIRL, WINDSTRUCK.

MY SASSY GAL is widely considered a classic Korean romantic comedy, and (deservingly) made a huge international star out of Jun Ji-hyun, although I personally thought that Cha Tae-hyun's performance was a little underappreciated. It's one of my personal favourite Korean films, I've also seen Kwak Jae-Yong's subsequent films, THE CLASSIC and WINDSTRUCK. THE CLASSIC was a decent pure tragic tearjerker, while WINDSTRUCK was a mild disappointment, because it felt too obvious that he was trying to recapture the magic in MY SASSY GAL. By doing that, I felt that he was recycling his old tricks, instead bringing in something new. After all, Park Chan-Wook's films from his REVENGE TRILOGY are pretty different from one another, why can't Kwak Jae-Yong do the same?

I guess perhaps unlike Park, Kwak has commercial considerations as well. As much as I complain about WINDSTRUCK, the film did become a mammoth hit in Japan (perhaps bigger than it was in its native country), and thus setting the stage for him to complete his trilogy with a Japanese production. And based on the sellouts I've seen, (I had to go from one theater, where only the seats of the midnight show were barely available, to another just to catch the film), I think this is going to be another mammoth hit.

While my personal Japanese language skills remain limited (it's only been 5 and a half weeks since I started learning), I think I was able to understand most of the plot, even though half of the time I couldn't understand the dialogue. The film, after all, relies a lot in physical gags and body language. Once again, Kwak attempts to meld different genres around a love story, to mixed results. The 'cyborg girlfriend' concept, after all, isn't unheard of (the anime, CHOBITS, and SHE, THE ULTIMATE WEAPON/ SAIKANO, comes to mind, and then, there's also this ongoing J-dorama with the same concept but a reversal of gender roles, ZETTAI KARESHI, which I wrote about few days earlier) So the dynamics of the protagonist Jiro and the Cyborg Girl's (like MY SASSY GIRL, she remains unnamed throughout the film, I think) relationship are similar to the other two films. He is a lovable loser. She is... a sassy and brash girl with violent tendencies, who has cyborg eccentricities this time. Yes, she alternates between being lovingly tender, and kicking his ass.

Haruka Ayase and Keisuke Koide in MY GIRLFRIEND IS A CYBORG or CYBORG SHEThe first meeting between Jiro (Keisuke Koide) and the Cyborg Girl unfolds via flashbacks (a common device used in the other two films). He is a lonely student who celebrates his birthday all by himself (and buys himself a Rei Ayanami figurine as a present). While buying himself a gift at a department store, he has a Meet Cute moment with a cute girl who is in tattered cyborg-like bodysuit, tries on a new dress and runs off without paying.

Afterwards, he has a meal by himself when the girl appears, telling him that it's her birthday as well. So they spend a romantic night together (on the run as they didn't pay for the lavish meal they had), and then before sun rises, she disappears.

One year later, on Jiro celebrates his birthday all by himself again, but the girl reappears, looking the same, yet a little different. Then he later learns that she is a cyborg, sent by his future self to save his life in the present day. It's kinda like Doraemon. Anyway, they begin living together, much hilarity ensues, followed by unexpected tearful melodrama that left a Japanese guy in front of me weeping not-so-quietly.

What amazed me most was Keisuke Koide's physical resemblance to Cha Tae-Hyun, it's almost as if I was watching a Japanese Cha Tae-Hyun onscreen. I'm sure Kwak was happy when he casted Keisuke Koide in his role.



But of course, Kwak is known for wringing really good performances from his actresses, he did that with Jun Ji-Hyun (but WINDSTRUCK was overkill, Kwak too obviously tried to maximize her screentime) and Son Ye Jin (she was good in THE CLASSIC, but she reduced Justin and I to crybabies in A MOMENT TO REMEMBER!)

This time, it was Ayase Haruka's turn to shine. It's a nice show-offy, star-making (if she isn't one already) role where she gets to act like a cyborg, then emotes, and be heroically tragic at the same time. I thought she was good, and that not many actresses may have pulled off what she did in this role, but I also felt that I've seen all these before. But hey, this is the first of the three movies she's in this year (the latter two are ICHI, a Zatoichi with a gender twist which she plays a blind samurai, and in the ensemble flick THE MAGIC HOURS, ironically, posters of all three films are pasted on my wall now, I just got the one from ICHI while watching MY GIRLFRIEND IS A CYBORG).

I was entertained by the film, just like how I was entertained by WINDSTRUCK, but life-altering film this ain't. Again, I feel that Kwak is stil recycling his old tricks from MY SASSY GIRL, and this time, it gets a little jarring. Two dialogue scenes between CYBORG GIRL and JIRO use split screens, for no apparent reason, it worked when the method was used only once in MY SASSY GIRL where Cha Tae-Hyun's character explained to The Girl what happened to them at the Love Hotel on the fateful night they met, the split screens added tension, awkwardness and some humour for that film, but in this film, it just feels a little redundant.

I almost groaned when I saw a hostage scene, and then a dancing at a club scene in the film. And then the film makes a complete 180 degree turn (like Windstruck and Sassy Girl did) by killing off its earlier whimsicality, and becoming a tearjerker. This time, the stakes are raised, and the protagonists face a massive apocalytical, city-destroying earthquake... and after that, it becomes a hardcore sci-fi that's in the vein of Spielberg's A.I. and, for a few seconds, Kubrick's 2001: SPACE ODYSSEY. I was slightly amused (the set and costume designs of the futuristic scenes ARE pretty good), but at the same time, I was wondering whether Kwak was going to be audacious and pull an A.I. in a commercial film, upon unsuspecting mainstream audiences. Then when it ends, it brings in a whole new set of Grandfather Paradox-related questions into the fray, just like most films with time travelling devices.

So I guess instead of bringing in something new thematically or stylistically, Kwak's personal innovation has more to do with which new genre he wants to play with more. MY SASSY GIRL, aside from the encounter with the AWOL soldier, only played with the other genres in those stories-within-a-story that The Girl showed the main guy. But WINDSTRUCK is less effective as the film takes a sharp turn from a bubbly romantic comedy to a weepy melodrama with supernatural elements. It's less effective because the genre-identity crisis actually hurts the story more than enhance it, distancing the audiences from the characters because of their (audiences') own conflicted feelings and reactions.

MY GIRLFRIEND IS A CYBORG suffered a little less compared to WINDSTRUCK. The use of comedy in the first half of the film, and their cute romantic vignettes bring audiences closer to the film, so that the sudden turn towards tragedy can feel more devastating because they are happening to characters audiences care for. It's a tried and proven formula (that even I myself like to use as a filmmaker). Like I said, I enjoyed the film, I like Haruka Ayase's performance, I thought Keisuke Koide is likable enough (though Kwak overplayed his weepiness and wimpiness) but I felt a little hollow walking out of the cinema. MY SASSY GIRL's blueprint has given spawn to tons of imitators throughout Asia, be it Korea, Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan, it'll be really tragic if Kwak ends up becoming an imitator of himself. That's all, the rest of the film discussion are major spoilers.


Trailer of MY GIRLFRIEND IS A CYBORG


Music video of the ending theme song, 約束の翼 Wings of Promise, by Misia


[BEGIN MAJOR SPOILERS]

I saw the plot twist coming from miles away. Right after the first extended prologue of their first meeting, I had a feeling that the cyborg girl he meets a year later is from an earlier time, while the one from his first meeting is from later in the future. This suspicion is momentarily dispelled when cyborg girls starts singing to him a birthday song and pushes his face into the birthday cake, in reference to what both of them saw at the restaurant a year earlier in the prologue. So I started wondering whether she upgraded herself to become more cyborgish, or whether my initial guess was right.

Then I also guessed that the future him built the female cyborg in memory of an actual human woman he may have met and fell in love with in the future. So I knew that cyborg would die at the earthquake... the bloody trailers gave away everything, and maybe he ends up meeting someone who looks like her.

My guesses were kinda right, and kinda wrong. Yes, the cyborg girl from the first meeting IS from even later in the future, she's in fact a human girl from the far future who coincidentally looks like the cyborg, acquired the cyborg from an auction, and travels back in time (dressed up as the cyborg) to have the first meeting with Jiro in 2007, then she disappears, but actually to reappear right after the death of the cyborg girl in the earthquare to reunite with Jiro. Nice twist, I was amazed that I understood them all despite my limited Japanese language skills.
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