Thespian Equestrian | Ran (1985) Review

The horses and the horse riders are put through the wringer in Ran, the final epic of Akira Kurosawa and perhaps his greatest film. I saw horses struggling through water coming up to their necks, soldiers falling off horses, and horses just about to trample a soldier who fell off his horse. It’s a movie entitled “Chaos,” after all! And, well, that’s about as fresh an angle I can manage for this or any Kurosawa title, the director being so widely studied and appreciated. Of course, I’ve come into this one for the first time nearing the age of 30, long after film school let out. I have nothing to add to the conversation, so take this review on a humble blog as a missive – delivered by horseback – that I’d like the conversation to continue. … More Thespian Equestrian | Ran (1985) Review

Once Upon a Time in Singapore | Crazy Rich Asians (2018) Review

Despite my best efforts, I was moved by this film. Granted, if you’ve read any of my coverage of Korean dramas, you know I’m a pretty easy mark. Crazy Rich Asians has a rocky start, pitched more toward comedy as we’re guided by a too-cute film language bordering on fourth wall breaks. Like, at any moment, Constance Wu is gonna look into the camera with an ironic “You’re probably wondering how I got here.” I suppose what I’m really thinking of is characters introduced with loud title cards, because they are introduced with voiceover and cutaways, and it’s a toss-up whether it’s an Asian or Asian-American celebrity who’s great or who totally sucks. … More Once Upon a Time in Singapore | Crazy Rich Asians (2018) Review

Beautiful China Doll | Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) Review

If you were to accuse me of disliking this film simply because it’s an insensitive American portrayal of an Asian culture, my only objection would be the word “dislike.” I disliked the movie the first time I saw it, in high school as part of AP English Literature – parents, if you were wondering what your kids are getting up to at school – where we also read the book. I didn’t remember much, other than it wasn’t that good but the Spielbergian style was sort of amusing. Well, TVs back in 2011 sucked, especially ones wheeled into public school classrooms. I don’t know what I saw in even the cinematography. This is, quite possibly, the worst movie I’ve ever seen. … More Beautiful China Doll | Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) Review

Costume Drama, Hold the Costume | The Treacherous (2015) Review

This movie is brutal. Like, tremendously, exceptionally disturbing. Chronicling the last days of a mad king, director Min Kyu-dong apparently wants you to feel that madness, to leave the film a wide-eyed, gibbering mess, soaked in blood and stabbing at pigs. My understanding of Korean cinema – which I’m trying to advance past – is that there are the early export arthouse films like Oldboy and Memories of Murder, and then the movies indistinguishable from K-dramas like My Wife is a Gangster 3. The Treacherous leans more toward the latter in terms of visuals and direction, but has the unflinching violence and sex of the former. It’s a mostly discordant mix, all set against the constant soundtrack of screaming and moaning. … More Costume Drama, Hold the Costume | The Treacherous (2015) Review

A Shimmering Vegetable Death | Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989) Review

Godzilla vs. Biollante is good. Especially for the Heisei era, it’s held in high regard among Godzilla movies. Surprisingly, it derives a lot of its profitable ambition from being a true sequel to Return of Godzilla, imagining what the world would be like after a giant monster attack. We find that international corporate interests are competing for Godzilla cells, whose magic properties have the potential to shift world power. In the fictitious and ridiculous Middle Eastern country “Saradia,” a nationalized oil firm plans to harvest the cells’ immortality to grow vegetation in the desert, divesting the region of its reliance on a valuable but limited resource. Meanwhile, the American company Bio-Major resorts to terrorism to claim the cells, as their science experiment would neutralize the threat posed by nuclear missiles. Somehow, in the midst of this political spy thriller, a giant rose emerges from the sea, and Godzilla burns it with the heat ray. … More A Shimmering Vegetable Death | Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989) Review

Give Me My Turtle Back! | Decision to Leave (2022) Review

Decision to Leave is South Korea’s submission for the American Oscars, and it is, in no way, an Oscar contender. It is not an event film, it is not an issues movie, it’s not based on a book. And yet, Park won Best Director at Cannes, and I can see why. His actors, Tang Wei and Park Hae-il, are electric and lived-in, respectively. His touch with film language is delicate but precise. The way he plays with time and space can only be described as “masterful,” in the sense that he becomes like a god of time and space. We see the flash of an image, and moments later, that image is contextualized, shepherding us through the story with a proper disorientation. In fact, we’re being oriented toward puzzle-solving. You could put a crumpled paper bag in front of Park Chan-wook, and he’d shoot it the one way that would make you feel something. If one of his films happens to be emotionally bereft, more fascinated by than curious about human nature, it must have been a choice. … More Give Me My Turtle Back! | Decision to Leave (2022) Review

Shiny New Toys | The Return of Godzilla (1984) Review

It was, for me as well, a long-awaited return, as this 1984 film truthfully entitled “Godzilla” didn’t see a home video release in the United States until May 2016. By that time, we’d abandoned the term “home video!” I mean, I waited longer than contemporary audiences had between this film and the previous installment, 1975’s Terror of Mechagodzilla, and as such, had viewed 2016’s Shin Godzilla before this one. I knew that The Return of Godzilla was an attempt to take Godzilla “back to its roots” – that old chestnut – and featured American and Soviet politicians arguing with the Japanese in conference rooms. Sure sounds like the 1980s version of Shin Godzilla, but with a little more cheese and vintage effects. What I got was far closer to the 1954 original, a lumbering near-docudrama – with a little more cheese and vintage effects. … More Shiny New Toys | The Return of Godzilla (1984) Review

Filmmaking Returns | RRR (2022) Review

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 Filmmaking Returns | RRR (2022) Review

Action Master Takes a Break | Hydra (2019) Review

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 Action Master Takes a Break | Hydra (2019) Review

Don’t Say No | Love and Leashes (2022) Review

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 Don’t Say No | Love and Leashes (2022) Review