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River of Exploding Durians - Trailer 【榴梿忘返】 预告片

《榴槤忘返》主要讲述一群中六生面对即将袭来的稀土厂一阵慌乱,人生产生了变化之余,在反对稀土厂的过程中,这群学生产生革命情感和一些单纯的爱慕情怀。A coastal town is turned upside down by the construction of a radioactive rare earth plant. An idealistic teacher and a group of high school students find themselves battling for the soul of their hometown. Based on real-life events, River of Exploding Durians is a sweeping tale of Malaysian history and its youth, where people are enveloped by politics and sadness while searching for love. #riverofexplodingduriansStarring: Zhu Zhi-Ying 朱芷瑩, Koe Shern 高圣, Daphne Low, Joey 梁祖仪Written, directed and edited by Edmund YeoProduced by Woo Ming Jin and Edmund Yeo Executive producer: Eric YeoDirector of Photography: Kong PahurakProduction designer: Edward Yu Chee BoonMake-up and wardrobe: Kay WongSound: Minimal Yossy PrapapanMusic: Woan Foong Wong

Posted by River of Exploding Durians 榴莲忘返 on Saturday, October 18, 2014

Sunday, August 31, 2008

SPEED's reunion segment at Nippon Television's 24 HOUR TELEVISION / LOVE SAVES THE EARTH

UPDATED (1/9/2008): I've added the videos of yesterday's reunion. Incredible that it's on Youtube that soon.

24時間テレビ SPEED スピード 復活ライブ!
This is part 1. From their introduction to hiro and Hitoe visiting Yui Nojiri

Eriko and her son, Lime (part 1)

Eriko and her son, Lime (part 2)

The medley they performed.

(I almost felt that the photos I took yesterday were unnecessary...)

After my long history with the Jpop girl group, SPEED, who disbanded 8 years ago. I find it rather fitting that I got to see them reunite again, live on television, while I myself have moved to Tokyo.

I've posted about SPEED's reunion last week. But I wasn't entirely sure about the circumstances surrounding them being back together again. The articles I read said that Eriko wanted to do this for her 3-year-old son, Lime (礼夢 pronounced RAIMU, I'm not sure whether his son is called RAIMU based on the Kanji, or LIME as some articles call him, but I'll call him LIME in this post), who was born with hearing difficulties.

Basically, the half-hour segment dedicated to their comeback is part of Nippon Television's 24 HOUR TELEVISION / LOVE SAVES THE EARTH (24時間テレビ31 愛は地球を救う), an annual television charity event that goes on for 24 hours. The show had been going on since 6:30pm yesterday, and is hosted (mostly) by the members of ARASHI, Nakama Yukie and a few others. In this show, uplifting and genuinely touching true stories are being presented to viewers, and seriously, some really left me emotionally drained (I've been watching since last night)

I'm determined to have stories to tell on this blog after watching their reunion, so I had my camera ready with me to snap some photos when they appear on TV. I wanted to record things down with my camcorder as well, but I assume their segment will be available online soon. I hope.

So here are the photos I snapped, pardon the crappy quality.

Their segment began exactly at 4pm. Seeing them standing together again just brought back memories of my teenage years.

Speed appears

Speed appears 2

SPEED's reunion segment was presented via two documentaries, one dedicated to a fan, a young girl named Yui Nojiri who has spinal muscular atrophy. They had visited Yui in her house back in 1997.

Speed with Yui Nojiri back in 1998

When SPEED appeared in the 1999 edition of the 24 HOUR TELEVISION, their friendship with Yui was featured during their segment then. It ended with them reading a letter written by Yui, which left them all moved to tears.

9 years later, Hiro and Hitoe visited Yui again.

hiro and Hitoe visit Yui Nojiri in 2008

hiro and Hitoe talking to Yui Nojiro

So this segment was actually dedicated to Yui as well.

And then, the second documentary is the one about Eriko's son, Lime. Lime was born in 2004, and had hearing problems then.

Eriko's son Lime

Lime as an infant.

Since her divorce, Eriko's been raising the child by herself.

Eriko talking about her son

Eriko with Lime

Eriko playing with Lime

Eriko playing with Lime 2

Eriko singing for Lime

Eriko singing for Lime 2

It was very heartwarming, seeing the motherly side of Eriko. Her playing and singing with Lime. There were also some footage of her in Lime's kindergarten, playing with Lime and his classmates.

For me, even though I've followed most of their solo careers for a while since their disband in 2000, they weren't really that high-profile, the Jpop industry had shifted to other trends, other artistes. Fame and popularity are fickle in the entertainment industry. I never knew what really happened to them, so watching Eriko's segment with her son was highly illuminating. It sort of filled up some blanks.

Eight years is a long time, many changes have happened, many journeys taken. Even I myself had an interesting journey of my own, from being just a mere high school student during their disband 8 years ago, to becoming a fledgling filmmaker and producer I am now. To me, Eriko had faced her own journey with a lot of courage.

There should be many reasons why SPEED wants to reunite again, and it's highly unlikely that they can reach again the pinnacle of success they had during the late 90s. But I wish I'm wrong. I think there should still be some personal, and noble reasons for their reunion, like singing for Lime, and Yui. So I seriously wish I can be proven wrong.

They performed a special medley of their hit songs (WHITE LOVE, STEADY, ALL MY TRUE LOVE, ALIVE AND BODY & SOUL, in this order) after the two documentaries were aired.

SPEED reunites

I still love hiro

SPEED reunites 2

SPEED reunites 3

SPEED reunites 4

There are plans for a concert tour next year. Fortunately, I'm most probably going to be able to catch it. Aside from that, with the job I have now, it's not impossible for our paths to intersect someday today. (*cough* *cough* I'm supposed to pitch a film project at the TIFFCOM2008 in the Tokyo Film Festival on October)

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Things to do when I return to Malaysia on the 3rd of September

I'm going back to Malaysia next Wednesday, but I'm only going to be back for 16 days. I haven't been updating the blog much this week because I've been doing some preparations for my return, along with some last-minute shopping as well.

I intend to shoot a short film (tentatively titled 'POSTCARD AND BALLOONS') when I come back, that's why I've been spending most of the past week sitting in cafes, writing my script. Initially, I was doing my writing at the Starbucks in either Shibuya or Shinjuku, but realized that going to either of these two places take away too much of my time, especially since it's been raining everyday, so I've shifted to the uni cafe instead. It's been great, I actually finished the first draft of my new script yesterday, and I'm hoping to get Kimmy to act again since our collaboration in CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY had been so successful. :D

Memories of the Legendary Chicken Rice

(Kimmy with Lesly the Cinematographer after winning the BEST ACTING award for her role in CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY at BMW Shorties in May)

But her role in the new one will be vastly different.

The script wasn't the easiest to write, so I had to take breaks between it, and while I did, I actually managed to churn out a 400-word short story, titled 'NON-FICTION' few days ago. Here's an excerpt:

By Edmund Yeo

“I am a documentary filmmaker. I practice the truest and purest form of craft. I strip away the artificial layers of contemporary society to expose the administration’s hypocrisy, all to liberate humanity from the shackles of mental slavery.” Daim the documentary filmmaker said.

Clap. Clap. Clap.
Cheer. Applause. Unbridled excitement.

A small crowd of people gathered before him. Some wept openly, realizing the veil of illusion that had clouded their eyes for years had miraculously been lifted. They have achieved Enlightenment. Their perception now free from political manipulation, they cease being another faceless, thoughtless cog of an oppressive machination.

It was all because they saw his documentary. Ninety glorious minutes that tackled issues of feminism, sexism, racism, nationalism, patriotism and other –isms.

That's less than half of it. You'll see the whole thing someday.

Frankly, the past few two weeks had been rather amazing for me when it comes to creative writing. But because I feel so drained after writing other stuff, it's a little hard for me to update the blog.

Anyway, my time in Malaysia will be rather short, yet there's a list of things I have to do when I return.

  • Shoot the short film I mentioned above.
  • Have more mamak stall sessions with buddies.

    satomi ishihara 石原さとみ

  • Make a point to meet long-lost friends from uni or high school too.

    Aoi Yu, Yamada Yu and Kaho

  • Catch numerous films in theaters. Especially Wall-E (otherwise will have to wait until Xmas to watch it in Tokyo!)

  • There are possibly two TV shows I may want to get off the ground. See how it goes. I'll pray that both will happen.

    satomi ishihara 石原さとみ

  • Ming Jin and I had been selected to pitch a new project at TIFFCOM. Gotta prepare for that as well.
  • Put together the 'ultimate version' of THE ELEPHANT AND THE SEA for DVD. But I'm hoping we can have a Singapore theatrical release before that too. (BTW: THE ELEPHANT AND THE SEA will be playing in Cathay Cineleisure until next Wednesday, don't miss it!)

  • I'll also be heading off to Singapore for 2-3 days. From Sept 12 to 14. Celebrating sister's birthday.

So... yeah, going to be quite a hectic 16 days.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Swifty Reviews 'The Forbidden Kingdom'

Pardon the lack of updates, been busy writing a 400-word short story, having a MELANCHOLY OF HARUHI SUZUMIYA marathon, pondering the ending of my new script, and, well, some other stuff. So, here you go, a review of THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM I watched this morning.

The Forbidden Kingdom

With all the negativity directed at this film from its pre-production to its release few months ago, one would have thought that THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM is an abomination as horrible as PEARL HARBOUR or VAN HELSING. It was an easy target to hate on.

Jackie Chan vs. Jet Li. This is the film event that many Hong Kong film lovers had been waiting for ever since they both rose to superstardom during the 80s and early 90s. To hear that it would be a Hollywood-produced 'family film' based loosely on 'Journey To The West', with a white boy as the protagonist instead of the two martial arts legends was BLASPHEMY. To hear that it would be directed by Rob Minkoff, some guy who did the two STUART LITTLE films and the totally forgettable HAUNTED MANSION (I wanted to say 'horrible', but I can't remember anything about the film, so I used 'forgettable' instead), oh nom nom nom nom! (Actually, Minkoff directed a little Disney animated film called THE LION KING as well)

When I first saw the generic trailer with its generic martial arts scenes, I immediately dismissed it as another film that would probably make me want to shove chopsticks right into my own eyes like most of Jackie Chan and Jet Li's Hollywood films (THE TUXEDO, MEDALLION, CRADLE 2 THE GRAVE, THE ONE and the recent MUMMY 3, anybody?)

For a normal HK film lover with sky high expectations, they lamented the fact that this film wasn't produced by Hong Kong (or Mainland China), that it wasn't a hardcore bloodbath that pit the two against each other and have them do nothing but fight to their deaths in a 3-hour epic. Why wasn't this made ten years earlier when both stars (especially Jackie) were still in their physical primes and didn't need wires or CG effects for their martial arts scenes? Yeah, frustrating. If Hong Kong had done something earlier, we wouldn't have to see two of the greatest living martial arts film stars play second banana to... a white boy.

I never caught the film during its cinema release (it was released on the same week I came to Tokyo, and while this film only came to Tokyo late last month, I'm rational enough NOT to spend my yen on it), but I was mildly surprised by some of the positive reviews it received (63% on Rotten Tomatoes). And my sister, after watching the film, gave a most apt description about it.

"It's like a fantasy film (Narnia, Golden Compass, Stardust etc.), but with martial arts, and a mixture of Chinese legends and films."

That totally gave me a different perspective. So, after watching the film just now, I have to say that my sister was right. THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM is really a fantasy/adventure film, and a homage to martial arts films. Sort of like, er, KUNG FU PANDA. Nothing offensive because said white boy isn't some snot-faced, obnoxious invincible American kid who ended up becoming more powerful than Jet and Jackie, nor did it ever try to become more than what it really is.

So in the end, despite some flaws, I still find the film pretty entertaining. It's not a wuxia epic in the vein of HERO or CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON, so comparisons with those films are pointless. But if I have to compare FORBIDDEN KINGDOM with mediocre post-LOTR trilogy fantasy films like THE GOLDEN COMPASS, STARDUST or ERAGON, I think THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM is way better. In fact, I may actually enjoy THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM just as much as I did with the Narnia films, if not more. It could be because of lowered expectations. Or maybe because I'm partial to martial arts and everything this film pays homage to. It's self-aware, so ultimately it's more fun than heavy-handed.

Here's the synopsis of the film from IMDB:

In Forbidden Kingdom, American teenager Jason (Michael Angarano), who is obsessed with Hong Kong cinema and kungfu classics, finds an antique Chinese staff in a pawn shop: the legendary stick weapon of the Chinese sage and warrior, the Monkey King (Jet Li). With the lost relic in hand, Jason unexpectedly finds himself transported back to ancient China.

There, he meets the drunken kungfu master, Lu Yan (Jackie Chan); an enigmatic and skillful Silent Monk (Jet Li); and a vengeance-bent kungfu beauty, Golden Sparrow (Crystal Liu Yi Fei), who lead him on his quest to return the staff to its rightful owner, the Monkey King - imprisoned in stone by the evil Jade Warlord (Collin Chou) for five hundred years. Along the way, while attempting to outmaneuver scores of Jade Warriors, Cult Killers and the deadly White Hair Demoness, Ni Chang (Li Bing Bing), Jason learns about honor, loyalty and friendship, and the true meaning of kungfu, and thus frees himself.

For example, the extensive fighting scene between Jackie and Jet when the two first meet is actually really good and (appropriately) inconclusive. The white boy played by Michael Angarano isn't annoying, but then, I did like Angarano in the enjoyable SKY HIGH. He doesn't turn into an all-powerful badass in the end and remains enough of an underdog to attract audience sympathy. What he is in the film with Jet and Jackie is just like what the late Jonathan Brandis was with Chuck Norris in SIDEKICKS. (I'm sure this reference is going to fly past everyone)

Jackie is likable as Lu Yan the drunken kungfu master (I initially thought he was playing Ji Gong) Jet Li is Jet Li as the silent monk, but a little different as the Monkey King. Collin Chou's baddie is generic, and I agree with Lovehkfilm's review that it would've been so much cooler if Donnie Yen plays the bad guy.

I really like Liu Yi Fei as the Golden Sparrow, especially the way she speaks in 3rd person like The Rock. The filmmakers made the right choice by having some nice shots of her looking pretty and playing the pipa. She's supposed to be playing Cheng Pei Pei's character (Jade Fox in CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON) in the Shaw Brothers classic COME DRINK WITH ME, I haven't seen that (but dad has the DVD), so I'm curious to know whether that character really speaks in 3rd person or not. But man, I want to see more of Liu Yi Fei. (am I the only one who thinks that she really looks like Huang Shenyi in KUNGFU HUSTLE?)

Liu Yi Fei as the Golden Sparrow

Liu Yi Fei as the Golden Sparrow 2

Lee Bingbing plays the the Bride with White Hair, a role made iconic by Brigitte Lin. While I feel that her make-up is a little too 'polished', I think she did pretty well in the film too. And was surprised to see that she speaks English rather well (... better than Jackie, actually). I almost wanted to see her appear earlier into the film and do more stuff.

A surprisingly likable film. Swifty enjoyed it and Swifty really really want more Liu Yifei.

Mayonaka no doa
(Yes, it's a Japanese song. Apparently she's fluent in Japanese.)

(took this photo from Simon's review)


Oh, er, oops, here's the trailer.

What do you guys think of the film anyway?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Liveblogging the Beijing Olympics Closing Ceremony

Just like what I did with the opening ceremony, I'm going to try to liveblog the closing ceremony as well. But instead of flooding my Twitter like before, I going to try something new. Hence the window below.

Swifty Reviews 'Tokyo!'

I was in a cafe at Shibuya two days ago, struggling to write the script for a new short film. It went well except for the fact that I just couldn't figure out the damn ending.

After sitting there for three hours, I thought I needed a break, and most probably inspiration. So I headed off to see TOKYO! An omnibus film featuring segments done by French filmmakers Michel Gondry, Leos Carax and Korean filmmaker Bong Joon Ho. The only connection between the three half-hour segment is that they're all set in Tokyo.

When I first heard about the film when it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival few months ago, it ended up being the one film that intrigued me most. When I saw Tan Chui Mui on Facebook chat (she was at the festival), I immediately bugged her, asking whether she had seen the film. She had, and she told me that she liked Bong Joon Ho's segment most, and Carax's one least.

Carax's segment seems to have the most divisive reactions. People either liked it a lot, or didn't like it at all. The former praising it for its audacity and searing social commentary, along with its subversion of the monster genre. The latter criticizing it for being unfunny, awkward etc. (I belong to the latter few, unfortunately) I'm not surprised though, the segment is the most challenging of them all, most likely to generate the strongest response.


Ayako Fujitani and Ryo Kase in Tokyo Interior Design

A young couple (Ayako Fujitani and Ryo Kase, whose voice I last heard in SKY CRAWLERS) move to the city and try to hunt for an apartment with less than 400 000 yen in savings (that's RM12 000). He's a filmmaker, she on the other hand, is directionless. Gondry's whimsical and quirky style are at its full display here. The film is occasionally really funny as we see the trials and tribulations the two protagonists have to face (car gets towed away, dead cat lying outside a prospective apartment).

The cheap sci-fi film made by Ryo Kase's character is similar to the low-fi films made by Jack Black and Mos Def in the other Gondry film, BE KIND, REWIND. Which is really funny. (though, once again, I was the only one in the theater to giggle. Japanese audiences are really... polite) And when he manages to secure a screening of his film... in a porn theater, he goes all out by using smoke machines (during smoking scenes, driving scenes etc.) to heighten audience experience.

But the protagonist of the film is actually the girlfriend, who finds herself useless until towards the end, where the film makes a turn to the surreal, and she finds herself being able to morph into a chair! I really like Ayako Fujitani here, and was really surprised to find out that she's the daughter of Steven Seagal (!!) (Good thing she has a wider range of emotions than her dad.) Film has a long tracking shot when the couple is conversing while walking down the streets which does well to show the chemistry between Kase and Fujitani and also their acting skills.

The third lead of the film is Ayumi Ito, whom I thought was vaguely familiar, until I remembered she was Ageha in SWALLOWTAIL and Kuno in ALL ABOUT LILY-CHOU CHOU. Aside from her cameo in Hana and Alice, I really haven't seen her in any of her post-Lily Chou Chou works, and ALL ABOUT LILY-CHOU CHOU is a 2001 film!

Satoshi Tsumabaki (THE MAGIC HOUR, SPRING SNOW, NADA SOU SOU) has a cameo as well. I think this is his fourth appearance in a film this year.

MERDE - Leos Carax

Merde means 'shit'. Denis Lavant plays this title character, which is a monster/ troll who hides in the sewers and pops out randomly at the streets of Ginza to play pranks and wreak havoc. Things get increasingly brutal with him throwing grenades at people. There is a reference to Nanking. The over-politeness of Japanese newscasters, capitalism and unabashed commercialism are also made fun of.

Merde gets arrested. There's a trial he's being defended by a lawyer who is also another troll. To be fair, the possible lack of enjoyment I have towards the film had mostly to do with it being in two languages I don't know. So in the courtroom scene where Merde speaks to the lawyer in grunts, and lawyer translates in French, and a Japanese translator translates lawyer's words in Japanese. Really frustrating. I remain lost... and was dozing off. Carax is an uncompromosing filmmaker, so I assume that as per his title, he is really throwing shit at everyone else as well.


Teriyuki Kagawa and Yu Aoi in Tokyo Shaking

This one's my favourite. I was recovering from the previous segment, and was still in a haze of drowsiness when the film gradually shakes me off from my weariness, and I grew eventually mesmerized and enthralled, until towards the end, I was totally AWED by its awesomeness. Bong Joon Ho, just like he did with his films, BARKING DOGS NEVER BITE, MEMORIES OF MURDER and THE HOST, showed his insane mise-en-scene skills, and created some really awesome images with great cinematography and a moody score even though most of the film is set inside a house. When it unexpectedly shifts to sci-fi/magical realism (that is when my jaw starts to drop), film gradually becomes an emotional metaphor of modern Japanese society.

Segment is about a hikikomori (a sociological phenomenon in mostly Japan where people choose to withdraw from social life, seeking varying degrees of confinement and isolation... frankly, I tend to think of myself as a semi-hikikomori, or a hikikomori with social skills) who hasn't ventured out of his house for 11 years. Connected to the outside world only with an antiquated phone and money sent to him by his unseen father every month. The only person he sees is a pizza delivery girl who delivers pizza to him weekly. One day she faints at his doorstep during a massive earthquake, and he is compelled to speak for the very first time.

After falling in love with her, he tries to step out of his house, and that's when the film becomes really awesome and surprising. Teruyuki Kagawa is really good as the protagonist. And Yu Aoi remains my favourite Japanese actress of her generation.

UPDATED (April 28, 2014):

Here's the entire film.

THE ELEPHANT AND THE SEA in cinemas now!

I know some of you folks don't follow my postings at THE ELEPHANT AND THE SEA blog, so I'll announce here:

Yup, THE ELEPHANT AND THE SEA had opened at Cathay Cineleisure since Thursday and will be around for two weeks! So please check it out! Then you can check out my very first (and probably only) attempt at composing. (aside from serving as co-producer, I did the additional editing and music for the film's theatrical release)

Here are three reviews of the film that have popped out recently.

You can read The Visitor's interview with director Ming Jin as well.

Thanks for the reviews, guys.

Once again, here's the trailer.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Oh wow, SPEED is getting back together!



Got this from Tokyograph.

The 4-member girl group SPEED will soon be reuniting again. They will officially resume activity with an appearance on NTV's charity telethon "24 Hour Television" at the end of this month.

The group debuted in 1996 but broke up in 2000, at the height of their popularity, in order to pursue solo careers. They had two short-lived reunions in 2001 and in 2003. However, this time is said to be a complete return, with plans extending beyond 2009.

The decision to reunite started with this year's "24 Hour Television." SPEED previously hosted the program back in 1999, when they first met a young girl named Yui Nojiri who was battling spinal muscular atrophy. Last year, Nojiri reached her 20th birthday, and NTV producers decided to bring her and SPEED back for this year's show.

After learning about the idea, SPEED member Eriko Imai revealed that her own 3-year-old son is having hearing problems. Motivated to reach her son through song and to provide inspiration for other young children, she asked the other SPEED members to join her.

For "24 Hour Television," the group is scheduled to perform a 25-minute set at the Nippon Budokan on the afternoon of August 31. They plan to stay together for the time being, aiming to keep SPEED alive for at least 2009.

It's unbelievable that while I'm subscribed to Tokyograph's feed, I missed out this piece of news because I didn't check them out for the past two days. I didn't know anything until I stumbled upon Eripeng's blog post few minutes ago.

Now I know why SPEED songs were being played when I was at HMV Shibuya in the afternoon.

It's been 8 year since they separated. Many years ago, being such a great SPEED fan, and so giddily infatuated with lead singer Hiroko Shimabukuro (hiro), I started a mailing list (the imaginatively named PRECIOUS SPEED MAILING LIST) in their honour, but closed it a while ago because I wanted to move on to other things.

Even so, this blog has numerous SPEED-related posts worth reading. Like my emotional review of BACKDANCERS, which starred hiro. And my list of top six favourite SPEED songs (recommended read).

Well, this is to the SPEED girls: If you ladies want to do a low-budget but mindblowingly awesome music video, you know which filmmaker to contact. Things are more convenient now, since I'm actually in Tokyo ;)

Updated: It seems that I'm really the last person to know about their reunion, since it's already being covered extensively on INTLWOTA and the likes. Via Wota, I got this really nice article from Santos which speculates the prospects of the girls' success.

Frankly, I'm not that optimistic. Speed's career was actually winding down before their disband. Sales for their last few albums and singles were diminishing.

I wasn't too impressed by their temporary return in 2003 because of the rather unforgettable song and mediocre music video.

Facing the likes of PERFUME, the SPEED girls HAVE to do something different musically instead of conventional J-pop or they'll end up being pale imitations of themselves (which I thought they became during that temporary reunion). Go for R & B, go for funk, go techno, anything. Experiment around. The J-pop landscape has changed a lot since they reached the peak of their success, having just a musical presence won't be enough. Just like how SMAP would never have maintained their longevity if all they did was release singles and albums.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Swifty Reviews 'The Sky Crawlers スカイ・クロラ'


I went to see THE SKY CRAWLERS, the latest film by Mamoru Oshii yesterday.

Mamoru Oshii, along with Hayao Miyazaki and Satoshi Kon, belong to the triumvirate of most critically-acclaimed anime directors among Western audiences, Miyazaki belonging to the mainstream, Oshii from the arthouse and Kon is somewhere between the two.

Checking Oshii's filmography again, I realize that, like Miyazaki, I've been watching his films since I was a kid. The first one being the first PATLABOR movie, I remember how I didn't really understand the plot then, but there was something about that fascinated me, and made me rewatch it over and over again. Maybe it was the premise, maybe it was the ensemble cast, maybe it was the stylish atmosphere. So that was what Oshii was to me after that, I don't necessarily understand most of his films as I grew up, they were normally uncompromising and slow-paced, I was only 11 or 12ish when I watched GHOST IN THE SHELL, didn't understand that much either. I enjoyed it less than I did with the PATLABOR, maybe because it was the English dub. Then a few years later I borrowed my friend's PATLABOR 2 to watch, I liked moments of it, but not in its entirety. When I went to see AVALON, Oshii's live-action film, in Singaporean cinemas, I thought it was an excruciating experience. Where was the fighting? The poster had a chick with a gun! Why were there so many repetitive scenes?

But I was only a teenager then, and I didn't really start enjoying Wong Kar Wai films until after primary school. During my teens, I, like most, had tastes that veered more towards the mainstream, embracing normal Hollywood and Hong Kong film conventions, emphasizing more on WHAT is being told in a film than HOW it's being told. Like most, 'art films' was a label I used for films I don't understand.

While most of Oshii's ponderous and philosophical style was lost on me when I watched them then, I often find myself haunted by their visual aesthetics, the tone, the atmosphere, the style. Just like how I was into the first PATLABOR film, more on the how and less on the what. And in retrospect, they were films I had underappreciated then.

It was only 2-3 years ago when I watched GHOST IN THE SHELL 2: INNOCENCE on DVD in Perth, at that time, I was already mature to fully appreciate it for what it was. There were parts that blew me away, and of course I enjoyed it more than its predecessor. But I couldn't like everything about it, I thought some of the philosophical discussions in the film were too tacked-on, the film so brimming with self-seriousness that it was almost at the realm of pretentiousness. Still, the pros outweighed the cons.

Of course I was worried about seeing THE SKY CRAWLERS in the cinema. I knew it would be a challenging watch compared to most Japanese films I've paid to see at the theaters so far (aside from the ones at film festivals, the previous ones I've seen were mostly slapstick comedies). This film is the anti-PONYO (interesting that both Miyazaki and Oshii have their latest films released so close to each other).

I ended up understanding maybe only 30% of the dialogue, and was happy whenever they were some English dialogue between pilots during the awesome flying scenes. But Oshii is a director who makes use of a lot of silence in his films. It's not traditional narrative, and once again it was more about soaking in the mood and ambience, being hypnotized by its meditative pacing, paying attention to its visual motifs, immersing into Kenji Kawai's wonderful soundtrack and the sound design from award-winners Randy Thom and Tom Myers (film's partly financed by Warner Bros., I think). The film became more of an experience, and I also got to mentally connect the dots thanks to my prodigious comprehending skills, not bad for a guy who completely didn't know his katakana and hiragana just four months ago.

Self-congratulatory pat aside, I do find THE SKY CRAWLERS a very fascinating watch, and most probably one of the most emotional ones I've seen from Oshii.

Let me borrow the synopsis from Jason Gray's review first:

In a world not unlike our own, it's a time of relative peace following several world wars. To truly appreciate this transient period of harmony, people demand a "war for show" that they can follow on their TV sets. Pubescent fighter pilots known as kirudore fight deadly air battles over Europe. They fight not for countries but companies that sponsor them, while the media keeps a running tally of each corporation's success.

Kannami Yûichi (voiced by Kase Ryô) arrives at the Urisu base at the front lines. He has no memory of his life before his arrival, yet possesses incredible fighter pilot skills. But why does base commander and former ace Kusanagi Suito (voiced by Oscar-nominated Babel actress Kikuchi Rinko) regard him with such intense eyes, as if she's been waiting for him?

What is the secret of these young pilots' existence and why do they hold such fascination for the millions that watch their daring efforts from the safety of their living rooms? Who is the mysterious and undefeatable adult pilot with the black panther insignia on his plane known only as "Teacher"?

The kirudore while away their days on the ground, only feeling alive when they're in the skies. The upcoming "world cup" battle between powerful sponsors Rostock and Lautern will decide many of their fates. The cockpit is "their cradle and their coffin"...

The thrilling flying scenes that punctuate the otherwise slow-paced film are simply superb. I think the 'superlivemation' technique innovated in Oshii's AVALON and expanded further in his previous film TACHIGUI: THE AMAZING LIVES OF THE FAST FOOD GRIFTERS (which I didn't watch) was used. The superlivemation is a mixture of photography, digital puppetry and animation. There is just something unique about the aesthetics of these flying scenes, that's why I attributed it to superlivemation. (But I could be wrong and it's really just normal 3D CG.) Audiences are put in the passenger's seat when the planes swoop in and out through the clouds, badass slow-mo to see clearly how a plane and its pilot is torn to shreds by thousands of ammunition.

I find Yuichi and Kusanagi's love story really mesmerizing. Having not seen his Urusei Yatsura films, I've never seen Oshii tackle romance until THE SKY CRAWLERS. And instead of going for the saccharine sweetness seen in normal anime films, the understated romance is handled in a very mature and realistic manner. The film became unexpectedly emotional in the end because of its subtlety. I find it strange when I could actually feel the sizzling sexual tension between the protagonists even though, well, they're 2D. It's wartime romance, but definitely not some PEARL HARBOUR bullshit.

My attention wavered a little during the last act, when I was suddenly assaulted by numerous long dialogue scenes that I couldn't understand. (it's the scene where Chiaki Kuriyama's character Midori visits Yuichi and says a lot of stuff, maybe she's having some existential crisis or something. Don't know) But when a devastatingly bleak revelation is revealed, I was totally floored. And it's a good thing Japanese audiences sit through the end credits, and I got to catch the very haunting epilogue as well. (Maybe because I didn't understand the dialogue, I couldn't predict the twist like most did. So while Mark Schilling's review on Japan Times pointed out that the effect was muted, I was definitely floored. And was in disbelief before I had to go online, check other reviews and make sure it really was what I thought it was. And it was.)

Great film. Now I'm hungry for more anime in the cinemas, maybe I'll catch the NARUTO movie next. Just kidding.

Ayaka's theme song for the film is beautiful:

Konya mo Hoshi ni Dakarete (今夜も星に抱かれて, Wrapped in the Stars Tonight)

By the way, a photo of two really cute SKY CRAWLERS tissue boxes I picked up from the PIA FILM FEST few weeks ago:

The Sky Crawlers tissue boxes

P.S. I felt an earthquake while I was in the cinema watching the film (yes, a real earthquake, it was during a quiet scene, so I doubted the ground was shaking because of loud sounds). I've never experienced earthquake in a cinema before, it was interesting.

I've completed my novel

Back in February, I said something about dusting off my Nanowrimo 2005 novel. Just to summarise what I posted then: I participated in the National Novel Writing Month back in 2005, I reached 50 000 words but never completed the story. I wanted to finish it one and for all.

The fantasy/scifi novel was based on ideas, concepts and characters I was working on since my secondary school years, one of those rare periods of my life where the childhood dream of filmmaking was put aside for something else. I wanted to write an epic fantasy story so epic that it would probably take 4-5 books to complete. Through those years, I was collaborating with a friend on it. What filmmaking is to me now was what the story was to me then. Almost everything.

Years went by. Life happened. Our differing philosophies halted the project. He went to Sydney, I went to Perth. But one year after I went there, I decided to pick up the strands of what we left off then and integrated them into the novel I worked on for Nanowrimo 2005. Inspired by the giddy sensation of unrequited first love, I was exploding with creativity.

But life happened again. I got more involved in filmmaking, and the aforementioned source of my creativity explosion was gone too, so I lost my own motivation to finish the novel. I guess it also had to do with the fact that the amount of fantasy books which I used to devour non-stop had lessened over the years (the only fantasy series I follow now are George R R Martin's SONG OF ICE AND FIRE and Steven Erikson's MALAZAN CHRONICLES), making it harder for me to get into the fantasy writing mode.

When I declared that I would continue the novel again in February, I didn't really do much aside from writing a short scene. I realized I had written myself into a hole and was finding it hard to climb out.

So months went by, I moved to Tokyo, and somehow, just like before when I was in Perth, I became more inspired. In a foreign land, during my common bouts of self-indulgent solitude, I'm constantly lost in my own thoughts. Since summer holidays began a month ago, I was determined to finish the bloody (still title-less) novel. I think it's all about commitment and discipline, and also to strike the iron while it's hot.

And that's what I did, attempting painstakingly to write myself out of some plot holes. The story was too ambitious, the way it was set up seemed as if I really wanted to do a 10-book fantasy series, so I began to close some subplots, paring down the scope of the story, making it go from epic to something more personal. It went from LORD OF THE RINGS to... maybe, STARDUST. Or even simpler.

It took me a month to write 50 000 words back in 2005. I wrote another 10 000 words to complete the novel, and I needed also a month to do it. It was hard to continue because my personal worldview had changed, my writing style had changed, my sensibilities, my tastes, everything.

After all, three years to me, is a long time. In these three years, I've written and directed two student short films, co-produced a feature film, produced and edited two telemovies, and later wrote and direct another two professional short films. So the me of now had to find a common ground between the me of 3 years ago to continue the story. And that took a while. (Of course, once someone actually reads it, I'm sure their reaction would be... "jeez, you really went through that much to write something a simple as this?")

And yet I finished everything last night, going through an entire night without sleep. While I didn't do anything as dramatic as Rowling did, like crying after writing the ending, I was quite happy, feeling as if I've exorcised something that had haunted me since I was a teenager.

My motivation was simple. I only wanted to get things done, prove that I can do it, make the best of what I had, learn from my mistakes, so I can move on. Now that It's finished, many have asked whether I can, or want to, get this novel published.

I seriously don't know.

It's a pulpy fantasy novel that's unreadable at times, which makes that worse than an unreadable literary fiction. And as the story takes place in a fictional world, I didn't pull off the obligatory shallow trick of 'exoticizing' my own unique Malaysian culture to declare my work a work of a Malaysian. But objectively, it might not even be that good. Heck, even if it's readable, it's nothing compared to the fantasy masters except for the fact that I went more for zany romantic comedy (one of the two main strands was a riff on the Korean film MY SASSY GIRL) than your usual epic quest or war story. So for now, I don't know what will happen to this.

I might go back and revise earlier parts of the novel to make it more congruent, I'm thinking of getting someone to do illustrations for it so that it won't be just a plain novel, and hey, maybe I'll even take the May Zhee route of self-publishing, unless May Zhee's nice enough to publish my novel and give me a glorious pink cover as well.

But now, I'm just happy that I got it done. I can start working on my new short film script.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Swifty Reviews 'Chacun son cinéma (To Each His Own Cinema)'

Chacun son cinéma
I was originally planning to see SKY CRAWLERS or anything offered at the Shinjuku cinemas after meeting up with Maiko the producer regarding the status of our short film, YUKI (she's going to Kyoto end of this month for a 2-month internship at Toei, so had to see what to do next). But then she mentioned about her watching 'Chacun son cinéma' sometime ago at Shibuya. 'Chacun son cinéma' is an omnibus film commissioned last year to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Cannes Film Festival.

I've heard of this, of course, but have only seen Wong Kar Wai's segment online. I immediately decided that it's better to catch this as soon as possible, so Maiko brought me to the only cinema in Tokyo where this film is showing.

There were supposed to be 34 short films by 36 directors (there were two pairs of siblings: Coen brothers and Dardenne brothers). But the segment by the Coens wasn't included in the one I saw.

Like my review of Paris Je'Taime, another omnibus film, I will go through each segment one by one instead of reviewing the whole thing in general, cos' it's hard.

One very challenging thing about this was that the subtitles were completely in Japanese, and I had to (TRY to) read the subtitles of a language I had barely learnt just to understand some of the segments. I can say that I wasn't entirely successful.

Due to the amount of segments in the omnibus film, I have also forgotten a few. So if anyone had seen it as well, please jog my memory.

A number of these segments had been uploaded online, but I don't know how long will they stay there. Most of them are pretty low in quality, so I think they definitely do not match the experience of watching the segments on the big screen like I did.

Oh, there will be spoilers.

Raymond Depardon – Cinéma d'été (Open-Air Cinema)

French filmmaker Raymond Depardon illustrates the communal experience of watching a film at an open-air cinema. A theme that will be revisited by numerous other filmmakers.

Takeshi Kitano – One Fine Day

The only entry by a Japanese filmmaker. It's understandable that there were some gasps of joy and surprises when the other audiences saw Beat Takeshi playing the projectionist. I think it's pretty funny. Self-referential too, since the films the guy was watching are old films directed by Beat Takeshi. Opening and ending shots are beautiful. Nothing more.

Theo Angelopoulos – Trois minutes (Three Minutes)

Done in a single take. A tribute to Marcello Mastroianni starring Jeanne Moreau. Moreau gave an intense monologue, but unfortunately, I didn't understand what was going on. Couldn't keep up with the Japanese subtitles.

Andréï Kontchalovsky - In the Dark

Quite comical. Two contrasting examples of people finding passion in a cinema. One middle-aged woman is watching Fellini's 8 1/2, mesmerized, while a young couple make noisy lovemaking sounds at the back row, totally ignoring whatever was onscreen. Perhaps an allegory of modern people's relationship with films and cinemas.

Nanni Moretti – Diario di uno spettatore (Diary of a Moviegoer)

Kinda like a video diary. Director himself reminisces about certain film experiences in cinemas, some he shares with his kids. Ends with him humming Rocky theme (he made reference to Matrix 2, the latest Rocky Balboa etc). Dialogue heavy, so I couldn't follow either.

Hou Hsiao-hsien - The Electric Princess House

Very beautiful to look at, with Hou showing us a glimpse of the old movie-watching experience in a cinema. The feeling when buying the tickets and making your way into those old cinemas is definitely much more majestic and exciting than what you get at the multiplexes now. Reminds me a little of my childhood when there were still these old-school cinemas around, before they were all demolished and replaced by multiplexes. It wasn't just about watching a movie.

Ending shot of Mouchette playing at dilapidated theater is strangely haunting. Nice tribute to Bresson, who represented the sort of filmmaking Hou does now.

Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne – Dans l'obscurité (Darkness)

I like this one. A guy crawls through the seats of a dark cinema, arrives near a young woman's seat, tries to steal her stuff. But finds a brief connection with her as she is weeping at what is playing the screen (apparently the ending of Bresson's 'Au hasard, Balthazar'). Cute.

Alejandro González Iñárritu - Anna

Also done in a single take. It's a little over-the-top dramatic, but I think the actual filmmaking itself is really beautiful. Good soulful acting from Luisa Williams and of course, great cinematography from Emmanuel Lubezki. There are other 'blind people at the movies' segments after this one.

Zhang Yimou – En regardant le film (Movie Night)

I've seen many films from China recently about those makeshift theaters. They normally play with nostalgia and the beautiful magic of movies, and will often throw in wide-eyed innocent kids into it (see: ELECTRIC SHADOWS, or NOSTALGIA, a short film I saw at the SHORT SHORTS FESTIVAL in June).

Zhang Yimou's deft and snappy execution made this funny and effective, avoiding the pitfall of becoming too overly sentimental (see: Cheng Kaige's segment).

Amos Gitai – Le Dibbouk de Haifa (The Dybbuk of Haifa)

I'll quote The Academic Hack's review for this because he sums up what I thought:

An incoherent mishmash of shoddy superimpositions, this short blends 1936 Warsaw with 2006 Haifa, two movie houses under attack. The film concludes with the bombing of the Haifa cinema, Gitai's mannered reenactment of an actual terrorist attack. He moves his camera ever so gently to gawk at the bloody cheek of a young blonde girl. (Paging Mr. Daney.) Arguing against Gitai's political opportunism is pointless; his filmmaking doesn't merit serious discussion.

Jane Campion – The Lady Bug

Jane's Campion's obvious allegory of female directors' limited role in the film industry, and also her being the only female contributor to the omnibus. A male janitor tries to get rid of a carefree ladybug (it's a woman dressed up as a bug) who lives in one of the theater speakers. Some might embrace it gleefully for what it represents, or for its message, but there's really not much here.

Atom Egoyan – Artaud Double Bill

Very atmospheric and cool. Egoyan brings in new technology into his film and shows how they shift and affect a moviegoer's attention when a movie's playing. One is watching The Passion of Joan of Arc (or The Passion of Joan of Arc playing as a film within a film in Godard's My Life To Live), the other watching Egoyan's own The Adjuster. They exchange text message, and later screen captures of the films they are watching. Reinforces Egoyan's idea that people can still enjoy films with new technology, albeit in a different way.

Aki Kaurismäki – La Fonderie (The Foundry)

I like the quirky and giggle-inducing camera set-ups. Factory workers in jumpsuits trot off from their work to watch to watch the classic Lumière short of workers leaving the factory. Here's the short (Lumiere's, not Kaurismaki's):

Olivier Assayas – Recrudescence (Upsurge)

Recognized immediately that the film is from Assayas when main actor is the same one in his segment at PARIS JE'TAIME. Not much to say. Also about thievery in a cinema like Dardennes segment, but doesn't make that much sense.

Youssef Chahine – 47 ans après (47 Years Later)

I don't want to speak ill of the recently deceased. But this one is quite self-serving. Imagine how bad it would be if my next short film is autobiographical and begins with my disappointment at my uni's film festival two years ago when my student film 'Girl Disconnected' was greeted by mixed reactions and zero wins from the two nominations it received. Then there's also a following text message from a girl I liked telling me not to make any long-distance calls to her anymore cos she's seeing someone else, and then I flashforward to two years later, where I put in a fictional scene of myself receiving my award for 'Chicken Rice Mystery' and then deliver one hell of an acceptance speech like characters in Ron Howard films do, prompting a slow 'hero' clap, then a standing ovation.

... okay, my idea is even worse than Chahine's.

Tsai Ming Liang - It's A Dream

I like this. I've only started watching Tsai Ming Liang films last month (I went through WHAT TIME IS IT OVER THERE?, GOODBYE DRAGON INN and WAYWARD CLOUD) so memories of his films are still fresh. And this one is like GOODBYE DRAGON INN, but infinitely more effective and heartfelt. Love the last shot.

Lars von Trier – Occupations

This is really funny. But I felt strange when I was the only one among the prim and proper Japanese audience in the cinema who giggled throughout the violence. Oops.

Raoul Ruiz – Le Don (The Gift)

Strange. I can't seem to remember this at all.

Claude Lelouch – Cinéma de boulevard (The Cinema Around the Corner)

Autobiographical as well, but focuses more on his parents' love story than his own achievements (I think... it's voiceover heavy, so I couldn't keep up with the subtitles either). I think it has something to do with how his achievements and passion for film were inspired by his parents. Started cutely with his dad singing along with Fred Astaire and serenading his mom with the song 'Cheek To Cheek' while they're watching Top Hat. (it's the film Tom Hanks brought Michael Clarke Duncan to watch in The Green Mile before the latter got zapped)

I was recently addicted to Francis Lai's A WOMAN AND A MAN (still Lelouch's most famous film) theme music.

Gus Van Sant – First Kiss

Projectionist gets into film Last Action Hero-style and kisses the woman in it. Allegory of film lovers like me who will only get the girl in movie world conjured by my fantasies.

David Cronenberg – At the Suicide of the Last Jew in the World in the Last Cinema in the World

Watch it here

David Cronenberg plays the last Jew in the world who wants to commit suicide in a toilet at the last cinema in the world. Done in a single take as well. Condemnation of reality TV and lamenting cinema's ever diminishing role in everyday life?

Roman Polanski – Cinéma érotique

A gag that doesn't really say much. A couple went to see one of those softcore classic Emmanuele films. A guy sitting a few rows behind them makes loud moaning and groaning sounds. Last year during the release of Chacun son cinema, Polanski condemned the reporters for not asking better questions and stormed out as well, he also got into a heated argument with Egoyan and Cronenberg about the Internet causing the death of the cinema. Months later Polanski would have a cameo role in the cinematic masterpiece, RUSH HOUR 3, which I'm sure was his attempt to preserve cinema.

Michael Cimino – No Translation Needed

Er, sorry, I can't remember this one?

Abbas Kiarostami – Where Is My Romeo?

Shots of beautiful women crying while watching the climatic scene in Romeo and Juliet.

Wong Kar Wai – I Travelled 9000 km To Give It To You

Very atmospheric and visually awesome. Sensual and minimalistic in WKW's patented way. Purists of conventional narrative cinema will be outraged.

David Lynch – Absurda

Er. Haha?

Bille August – The Last Dating Show

A fluffy piece that's supposed to speak about the Islamic controversies in Denmark. In the end everyone decide they love one another and are united by films.

Elia Suleiman – Irtebak (Awkward)

Palestinian-Israeli film director/ actor whose style is compared to Buster Keaton and Jacques Tati. There are numerous funny moments here. But I agree with The Academic Hack's review that 3 minutes is too short for his style to work at its best.

Manoel de Oliveira – Rencontre unique (Sole Meeting)

Dialogue-heavy, I couldn't keep up with the subs again. So I didn't understand this, sorry.

Walter Salles – À 8 944 km de Cannes (5,557 Miles From Cannes)

I had no idea what they were singing at first, but thought their performance was awesome. But after seeing the subtitles in above Youtube clip, it adds a lot to it. Funny stuff.

Chen Kaige – Zhanxiou Village

Tried to do what Zhang Yimou did, but with much less successful results. Got way too mawkish by tossing a blind kid in the end.

Wim Wenders – War in Peace

This is like a gender reversal version of Abbas Kiarostami's Where Is My Romeo? segment. Men in Congo gathering for a film screening, one of the first few after civil unrest. They're watching BLACK HAWK DOWN.

Ken Loach – Happy Ending

Simple message. Maiko's personal favourite. Most commercial films of today suck balls. But The Academy Hack (who is really far from a hack) posed this question:

Loach hammers home a deeper truth. The movies began as a working class entertainment. (Bourgeois "respectability" came a bit later, via Griffith's Victorian moralism.) What do the movies have to say to working people today?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Is FINAS really helping to develop the Malaysian film industry?

This was forwarded to the Malaysian Cinema mailing list yesterday. It's from a filmmaker named Ahmad Yazid:

I was attending the Festival Filem Malaysia 21 at Putrajaya tonight. My documentary film, “Making the Cut”, which was produced with FINAS (Malaysia National Film Development) funding was nominated for the Best Documentary category.

Ok, i got the ticket this morning and was excited to go because my chance of winning was 1 in 5!

I got there at around 8:45pm and the show was about to start. I managed to find a seat in a good row, to make sure I was near the stairs in the event that I win, so i wouldn't have to hassle myself through the Mak Datins with their tight Kebayas and nice cleavage.

Anyways, at around 9:02, I received an sms from the executive producer asking me where i was. I told him I was in the audience and he smsed me back as fast as a flash from the newspaper photographers.

This was his sms: "urgent, Finas have just told us that only prod company EP (executive producer) and FINAS rep to go up if win."

I was like, this has got to be a joke! As I was trying to digest the whole situation and was wondering what was happening, the nominees were already announced and the winner was my film.

Amir Muhammad, who sat a row behind me, looked at me and asked why I wasn’t going up on stage to collect my trophy and the RM15,000 cash prize! I could only look at him and shake my head.

My friend, who I convinced to come after an exhausting seminar, could only console me with her supportive words.

So this is what happened during my awards night. Other people take credit for my film on stage. It must have been a hell of good film!

I loved to see the FINAS Head of Production receiving my award on stage with such a proud face. He must have been really proud of my film. He probably secretly wished that he had directed the film. But, dude! come on, you don't seriously think that, do you?

Anyway, i didn't get to even touch my trophy and god only knows who gets the prize money! Looking at the face of the FINAS rep, I'm pretty sure he also would gladly spend the money on himself.

I just had a conversation with my friend 2 days ago about how many talented Malaysians go abroad to get real recognition for their work, like Tsai Ming Liang, Lee Sin Je etc. My buddy Seng Tat had to do his own thing without government assistance and he got more awards in a year than Datuk Yusof Haslam received in his lifetime.

My point is, does this country deserve me? Or do i have to go outside my own country to get recognition like a lot of Chinese people do? But, I'm a Chinese educated Malay. Does that mean FINAS is not going to recognize me? Yes, i don't have the Malay mentality which is all about kissing asses. Ahh, that's what i have to work on! Ok, will do...

Ahmad Yazid
Director of Discovery Channel's "Making The Cut"

My personal dealings with FINAS hadn't been that bad. Some procedures took a bit too long for them to process, there were some silly mistakes they made (losing my e-mail, misplacing my fax message during the Hari Raya period) when I applied for a tiny grant to be used for The Elephant And The Sea's promotional funds last year.

I was finally called in to sign an agreement to accept the grant, but I never got a phone call nor an email from them in the end. Of course, I could have called them and repeatedly bug them for the money, so it could have been my fault too, to think that I can deal with a local government agency without taking the initiative to, ah, remind them things. But that was last year.

When I was at the Hong Kong International Film Festival in March. I found out in horror that the organizers had made the mistake of flying me to Hong Kong after the industry screening for KURUS was already over. So I asked for another screening, and they complied immediately. But because all these happened at such short notice, it was (understandably) impossible for them to inform anyone about the new screening.

I was fearful that the film would play in an empty hall, it was quite early in the morning as well! So I eventually decided to invite the FINAS people to watch the film. And a few of them came immediately. They were supportive, and they genuinely enjoyed the film. I hung out at the FINAS booth for a while and chat with them for a while after that.

The easier route for me for this blog post is to join everyone and immediately demonize FINAS for what they did to Ahmad Yazid after quoting his message. But I don't see the world in black and white, thus I added my own (more positive) experiences with them in the above paragraph.

However, I DO think what they did to him was classless. Because this wasn't settled earlier and they prevented him from going onstage with a last-minute text message. While in most cases, the (exec?) producers are the ones who go onstage to accept awards for best films (Oscars, Golden Horse, Hong Kong Golden Awards etc.), they 'could' go up together. So I blame this more on how they do things and less on what they did.

Anyway, on their website, FINAS stated clearly that their objective is to 'promote, maintain, and facilitate film production development in Malaysia'. It is also their mission to 'To develop the local film industry into the international standard.'

They even came with a customer charter that said:

"To guarantee the effectiveness of job execution in promoting, maintaining and facilitating Malaysia film production.

We promise :

* To provide efficient, friendly, fair and justified services.
* To provide adequate trainings in order to improve quality and productivity of the human resources in the film industry.

* To provide equipment and infrastructure facility that fulfill the industry needs.
* To provide consulting service to film practitioners in the effort to improve their awareness, knowledge and expertise.
* To monitor and coordinate filming activities towards the development of a factual industry.

If everything's as bad as Ahmad Yazid had said, I don't see these being honoured at all. Unless it is considered part of the 'training' they want to provide him so he'll know that when working with them, the omnipotent FINAS is involved in all aspects of a production. Including accepting his awards.

(If I were in this situation, I would pretend not to have received the SMS and charge onstage. But be classy about it when giving an acceptance speech. *winks* )

Hiking in Nasu

This happened more than 3 weeks ago, when I was at the ESC (English Summer Camp) in Nasu.

The ESC is held throughout the end of July to early August. Each round lasts for 3 days 2 nights, I think there were a total of 6 to 7 rounds. I went to the first round, and we had Japanese kids in the first year of junior high (13 year olds). They have just started learning English this year, I was there, along with numerous international students, as 'team captains' to help interact with them in English.

One of the more enjoyable aspects of the camp, to me, was the hiking. It was horrifying to see how quick the kids were as they just sped through the hiking trails in the forest while we, the team captains, were trying to keep up with them. I doubt the 13-year-old me would have survived the hiking, being the fat nerdy kid I was.

I'll be posting up some photos from the summer camp in the next few days. But here
are the hiking ones. I can't really remember the name of the place though. :(

Photos of us beginning our journey:

Hiking begins 2

Hiking begins

I enjoyed the view when I ventured deeper into the forest.

Hiking in Nasu

The leaves definitely looked greener than I remembered.

Hiking in Nasu 2

Hiking in Nasu 3

I had my camcorder with me, but I doubt the video will look good.

Anyway, the hiking lasted for nearly an hour, we started hearing voices of really young kids when we were near the end, which was by the river. And it turned out that there was another schooltrip, or camp, for little kids (I guess they could be 7 to 8) to catch fishes in the river.

Little kids catching fishes
Little kids catching fishes

A few others decide to chill by the river as well.

Chillin by the river

I took some photos with the other captains after the end of our brief hiking trip.

With Nick of USA

That's Nick from Maine, USA. Very fluent in Japanese. Returned to his country for good one week after the camp. He was also in Waseda University.

With Tina of Taiwan

This is Tina from Taiwan. Also studying in Waseda. Taiwanese Tina had gone back to Taiwan two days ago as well. But only for the holidays.

My Thai classmate from Japanese class, also named Tina, was supposed to come to this camp with me but turned down in the end because she was returning to Thailand for her holidays. It would've been awesome to have two Tinas in the camp, and both being from Waseda!

With Yuna of Hong Kong

This is Yuna from Hong Kong. Really badass. More like FFX-2's Yuna than FFX's Yuna. She also has mad Jenga skills. Had also gone back to Hong Kong for good.

With Joni of Indonesia

Joni from Indonesia, probably celebrating the fact that the doubles pair from his country had just eliminated my country's Koo Kien Kiat and Tan Boon Heong in the Olympic men's doubles badminton quarter-finals yesterday. Good thing Lee Chong Wei (our ONLY hope for a medal) exacted revenge by finishing off that Sony dude from Indonesian in the men's singles quarter-finals. (He's now in the finals)

With Jadz of Philippines

Jadz from Philippines trying to audition for a hitman role in my upcoming film.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Swifty Reviews 'The Incredible Hulk'

THE INCREDIBLE HULK poster directed by Louis Leterrier, starring Edward Norton

Just saw it today.

When I first heard the news of this 'reboot' of the HULK franchise, I had mixed feelings. Firstly, the HULK, being such a well-known Marvel character, might have the potential to become a franchise, so I understood the need to do a more commercial and action-packed HULK film for the masses so they can erase the bad taste from Ang Lee's 2003 film.

Ang Lee's ponderous THE HULK is reviled by many, I remembered my own 'WTF was that?' knee-jerk reaction towards that film after walking out of the cinema with dad (who didn't like the film either). I thought THE HULK was heavily flawed, but still had many things about it that I appreciated, like Eric Bana and Jennifer Connelly's performances, the character development, the innovative multiple screen editing that tries to simulate a comic book feel (in fact, I was very much influenced by that, you can see me emulating the technique in some of my earlier short films) etc.

On the other hand, some of the more ridiculous aspects of the film (Nick Nolte's craziness? Mutant dogs?) left me really cold. In the end I could only say that I appreciate Ang Lee for trying to do something different, but its uneven tone and unnecessarily slow pace, and Ang Lee's decision to make it more a pure Shakespearean tragedy without any care about the entertainment quotient made it a very difficult film to like.

So it was obvious this film tries to be everything Ang Lee's film wasn't. They got Louis Leterrier, the director of Transporter 2, to do it. Instead of dwelling on the backstory or the psychology of the character, this film aims for more action and explosions, it's a chase film, where Bruce Banner (Edward Norton, replacing Eric Bana) is being tracked down by the military since the beginning. The entire origin of the Hulk is explained swiftly at the stylized opening credits, what Ang Lee needed half an hour to go, this one took only a minute or two. I think that sequence may be the best part of the film.

... it all went downhill from there.

(Okay, it really went downhill after the film loses its atmospheric Brazilian settings)

Here's the most ironic thing that happened that I felt embarrassed about sharing with you all: I was really struggling to stay awake during the last third of the film. Granted, I didn't sleep much last night, but I slept even less (and had a much more tiring day) before I saw THE DARK KNIGHT last Saturday, and I was totally into the film! (read my review of THE DARK KNIGHT).

Maybe that's the problem. After having seen something like THE DARK KNIGHT, which was both entertaining AND thoughtful, and also challenges the conventions of superhero films, watching THE INCREDIBLE HULK is a little like taking a step backward. THE INCREDIBLE HULK doesn't try to push boundaries nor redefine conventions, Ang Lee tried to do that with THE HULK and people didn't like it, so THE INCREDIBLE HULK aims to be a safe entertainment for the masses.

And by opting for a quicker pace and more explosions, I once again found myself hard to feel any emotional attachment to the protagonists. Without that emotional investment (and also without being challenged to use my mind much), watching the action scenes, as well-crafted as they were (the confrontation at the university with those sonic cannons, and the last fight were both quite good), became a little too mind-numbing for me. Unlike TRANSPORTER 2, which had such over-the-top action scenes that end up feeling comedic (which makes the film fun to watch), THE INCREDIBLE HULK isn't THAT fun.

On the other hand, as much as they intend to make this more of a love story between Bruce Banner and Betty Ross (Liv Tyler, replacing Jennifer Connelly), I find the romance subplot too soap opera-ish and cringe-inducing. The way the potential romantic rival is removed from the picture was way too convenient and shallow. At times I felt the plight of the two characters, but because we don't get to know them well enough, it's still doesn't work as much as it should have. (the romance was meant to anchor the film, stabilize the Banner character, sort of like what Rachel Dawes is to Bruce Wayne)

I'm not surprised about the reports of Edward Norton not liking this cut of the film, I think he said something about it not having enough character (development?), which prompted some people to question whether he wants this film to be as ponderous as Ang Lee's. But I do think that the film may have been much more compelling to watch if it's not only about the action and explosions. It's not as if by making the film more intelligent would immediately transform it into a dull arthouse film. Once again, look at THE DARK KNIGHT.

In this interview, Louis Leterrier said that there will be an extra 70-minute worth of footage (including the much-talked about Captain America cameo) included in the DVD, despite what I think about the film, I still want to check out that out because I think they may have sacrificed a lot of the storytelling just for the sake of dumbing the film down.

I find myself preferring Ang Lee's version over this. Edward Norton's a great actor, but somehow I still have a deeper impression of Eric Bana's more tormented interpretation in THE HULK. And I definitely liked Jennifer Connelly's Betty Ross more. I have questioned some of the stylistic and artistic decisions Ang Lee made during the production of THE HULK, even so, I still find that THE HULK is a more compelling watch.

So, how about everyone else? THE HULK (2003) vs THE INCREDIBLE HULK (2008). Which one do you like more? Why?

(P.S. Robert Downey Jr's cameo as Tony Stark would've meant more to me if I've seen Iron Man... unfortunately, I have to wait til September for it to come to Tokyo. Slow huh?)

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