RRR

One of the joys of exploring movies from different countries is encountering new cinematic languages. I buckled at the deliberative pacing of K-dramas before giving myself over entirely, and went into Shu Qi-starrer The Assassin assuming it was an action movie before leaving perplexed but intrigued. It’s strange, especially for a critic, to think “I don’t really understand what I’m seeing.” Yes, the image is crystal clear, of an extremely muscled man straining against the bonds of an ensnared tiger and screaming back into its roaring face, but nothing in my career of watching historical dramas has prepared me for this. Am I supposed to be registering some level of irony? Can they do this, even? And of course, subtly suggesting that I myself discovered RRR is a willful misguidance, as it came at the urgent recommendation of my QNA cohost Donovan – our own friendship highly reminiscent of Rama and Bheem’s, complete with underwater Predator handshakes. … More RRR

Hydra

It would be a cliché if it were true, that action movies always start off with a bang. In the opening scene of Hydra, a peeing man is attacked and dragged into a stall – piss spraying everywhere – to be stabbed repeatedly. It’s fast and brutal and that not-insignificant urinatological detail recalls Japanese shockers like Ichi the Killer. It also sets the wrong tone, quickly giving way to a moody, synth-infused credits sequence tracking a long drive home and deflating the excitement. It’s unfortunate, and this review is the worst kind to write. Hydra should be a success story on the order of The Raid or John Wick, and it follows that formula: the talent showcase. This is the directorial debut of Kensuke Sonomura, whose work you may have seen floating around the Internet accompanied by “holy shit, what,” in the form of a high-speed fistfight with, say, Chris Redfield or maybe Raiden and a U.S. senator. Without knowing it, I’ve been enjoying Sonomura’s work as an action director for decades, since Godzilla: Final Wars and through Hard Revenge Milly to Gantz: 0. I’d always assumed this frenetic, anti-gravity action choreography was a broader cultural product – “so Japanese” – when in fact, it’s the brainchild of one twisted genius. … More Hydra

Love and Leashes

Two office workers in South Korea enter a secret sadomasochistic relationship with the woman as the dominant and the man as the submissive. There’s a lot of intriguing words in this or any given logline for Love and Leashes, an ostensible romantic comedy clocking in at an epic two hours of whipping and bondage and the occasional hijink. What do you want from a movie like this? If you want a big, mainstream Korean movie about BDSM – in essence, The Korean BDSM Movie – it’s a no-brainer and you’ll likely be as satisfied as I was by the accordant trappings. If you want a solid rom-com with all those respective trappings, my recommendation will be longer and more convoluted. With the visual affect of a typical sun-drenched K-drama, shot with concern for beautiful faces and spurred by an eagerly open heart, Love and Leashes presents a strange case where everything absolutely works, except for the script – the bedrock. It’s beautiful and ambitious and something of a mess. Never frustrating, but imperfect nonetheless. … More Love and Leashes

The Shadow Whip

There’s a scene where the heroine Yun enters a tavern and all the patrons look up from their tea and wine and my heart sank a little. What are they seeing? What are they thinking? There’s no spark, no grin threatening on Yun’s face at the realization she’s the baddest guy in the room. The problem is that Yun is played by Cheng Pei-pei, and this is a woman who doesn’t just walk into a tavern. Her debut character, Golden Swallow in Come Drink with Me, exuded such an aura of mystique, a gravity I’m missing in The Shadow Whip. What we have, then, is a study in functional direction, and how imprecision can be ruinous. … More The Shadow Whip

Spirited Away

Setting upon the ocean with her mentor Lin, our heroine Chihiro looks back to see No Face stumbling out of the great bathhouse. However much a ghost stumbles, he is dizzy after his recently ejected meal of three people. Chihiro calls out to him, “Over here!” and Lin just says, “We don’t need him.” You know, not “He ate and spat out three people,” which was only part of his earlier rampage. It’s a casual kind of absurdity, one that doesn’t tug at incredulity because it feels earned. In fact, this is a film that gets funnier as it goes on, which is the opposite of how these things usually go – you know, movies that make me cry. You want to start funny to soften up the audience, and then hit them with tragedy, but not this time. Spirited Away understands that half of any joke, same as any wisdom, is the person making it, so its breathtaking fantasy adventure is premise for revealing the depths of people – none of whom are “human.” … More Spirited Away

Unleashed

Everything about this movie is profoundly strange. Kerry Condon is the too-young love interest, Morgan Freeman is the Magical Negro, the most prominent motif is Bob Hoskins getting injured in cars. Beneath the streets of Glasgow, rich businessmen bet on gladiator combat fought by emotionally-damaged S&M goths. Then there’s the story itself, where Jet Li plays Danny, a seemingly mute enforcer for a loan shark, only unleashed from a literal collar to apply whirling kung fu on unsuspecting thugs. After he’s taken in by a blind piano tuner and his white teenage step-daughter, Danny will surely regain his stolen humanity. What that means is we’re gonna see Jet Li observing the world and piecing things together like a cute Pixar robot, wearing pajamas and hiding under the bed, not to mention bursting into scenes with awkward lines like “My mother, she was a whore” instead of “Hello.” … More Unleashed

Don’t Look Up

This “review” contains immediate spoilers, so the short version is: do not recommend. The extra half-star is because it’s somewhat funny, and for DiCaprio’s performance, which is considered and against type, but still not enough to elevate the role to a character … More Don’t Look Up

Moon Over Tao: Makaraga

This is it. After the Zeiram duology and Mechanical Violator Hakaider, director Keita Amemiya turns in his final live-action feature. Three years later, Yuko Moriyama would retire from film without a word. The end of an era, and it’s bittersweet but satisfying that Moon Over Tao is the swan song. Unlike the adaptations Hakaider and Amemiya’s debut Mirai Ninja, and even the Zeirams which incited a franchise — however modest — Moon Over Tao stands alone. It is purer, and landing at the end of a directing career, it possibly commands a larger budget. Very likely, this will be our most vivid glimpse into an auteur’s mind, to which “purity” is surely the theme. Still, my favorite aspect of the Amemiya mythos is the ship between director and actress. Where usually the director’s relationship or obsession with the lead is uncomfortable (Underworld, Planet Terror, Final Fantasy XIII), Amemiya continues to lens Moriyama with the same low-angled awe as he does the giant animatronic monster. I believe she’s a wholesome muse, and the ship culminates here with three times as many Yuko Moriyamas as usual. … More Moon Over Tao: Makaraga

My Wife is a Gangster 3

There’s a tropey thing in movies where the badass hero guy goes big-league, demonstrating killer skills outside his usual environment. Maybe it’s Ray Liotta pistol-whipping the guy in Goodfellas, or Jason Statham beating up the basketball court in The Expendables. We know they deal with bigger threats, so this one’s just for fun — applied badass. I went looking through the Goodfellas listing on TV Tropes and didn’t find anything, though the scene is considered, among others, an example of their trope “All Girls Want Bad Boys.” True enough, in both cases, the badass application makes audience of a woman (“I gotta admit, It turned me on,” says Karen Hill). … More My Wife is a Gangster 3

2009: Lost Memories

By the time 2009: Lost Memories exposes itself in the final third, forgoing language and subtlety for foaming rabid nationalism, there may be a sense of relief, as its interpretation of the police procedural was laborious: a mystery unfolding poorly. This is an alternate history action-thriller which posits that Germany, not Japan, was hit by the atomic bomb, and as a consequence, Korea was never liberated. In the present day of near-future 2009, the “Japanese Bureau of Intelligence,” or JBI, battles an underground Korean terrorist cell in what would’ve been Seoul, digging up old ghosts for ethnically Korean agent Masayuki Sakamoto. … More 2009: Lost Memories