My confession and the power of film.

This is different from what I usually write so I’m not going to pull any punches about it. My name is Harris Dang. And I used to be a homophobe. You’re probably wondering why I would be declaring such a controversial fact about myself at this time but seeing how we’re living in a time where political correctness has become a blessing and a curse for many of us, I thought it would be the right time to talk about parts from my past that had changed my life, opened my eyes and had made me a better person, thanks to a single film.

It is often said that people fear what they don’t understand, and in my case, it wasn’t just fear, but often denial and even outright anger. I remember at an early age, my friends (who shall remain nameless) and I had watched the Robin Williams film called The Birdcage, which many film-goers know, is a story about a gay couple who have to help their son and his fiance get the approval of the fiance’s conservative parents of marriage.

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Right after watching it on VHS, we were impersonating as well as ridiculing the gay characters on-screen to the point that we were calling each other gay, as if it was the biggest insult that we’ve ever heard. Now this is where it gets controversial as one of my friends had mentioned a pact that during our friendship, if one of us outs himself and the others would know, they have the privilege to beat him to death. And to my great and long-lasting shame, regardless of whether it was seen a joke, I agreed to it in less than a second.

The pact was always brought up whenever we saw something that had a gay person in it, and it just made me angrier and angrier. Even without the mention of the pact, noticing any sense of what I perceived as “gay” had a hold on me. Like times when I was seeing an episode of The Simpsons or noticing any sense of supposed flamboyancy, it really got on my nerves. I’ve gotten into arguments over family members, friends and even made bad impressions to people on the street.

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It was then, through high school, where I had reached breaking point. It was when the Ang Lee film Brokeback Mountain had came out and people were raving about it and I had an argument with my then-girlfriend about whether I wanted to see it. I had said incredibly stupid and hateful things like seeing two men together is just plain wrong and worst of all, any one who likes gay people are fucking idiots. Just typing it out leaves me in disbelief. I had become poisonous to everyone around me and I finally became incredibly tired and alone.

My only solace was watching movies. Lots and lots of them. I had barely gone out with my friends; just going to school and then straight home. I watched lots of foreign movies and had particularly gained an interest in Japanese cinema (thanks to Hana and Alice). It was one time when my then-girlfriend had brought me a CD with a movie in it and she told me to watch it, without saying anything about it.

I started watching it, and it featured two of my favourite Hong Kong actors in a setting that was different that I expected from a Hong Kong film. The soundtrack was alluring, the cinematography was rich in colour and the acting was realistic that I started relating to them quite easily. And by the end of the film, without any restraint, I burst into tears. And that film was Wong Kar-wai’s Happy Together.

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Throughout the film, we see the relationship between the characters, played by Tony Leung Chiu-wai and Leslie Cheung, fall in and out of love, and I started to think that the characters are just like people in the real world; people with wants and needs, fortunes and misfortunes and flaws. The way that Wong shows the passage of time in the film (the jump-cuts, the slow-motion, the changes in frame rate, the long takes) is so well-done, that I honestly felt the film was the longest film experience I’ve witnessed. And I mean it in the best possible way. The scene where Fai and Wing are dancing in the kitchen is a perfect example of love and tenderness that you wish that it’ll never end.

I learned from the film that if one person can have a relationship with another with this much brimming emotion and heart, that it cannot possibly be bad. It was a bit tough going from then on, handling a few misunderstandings, mending relationships and also losing a few friends in the process. People had asked Wong Kar-wai about the meaning of the title and he had said that the title can be related to one’s self and his/her past. And that is definitely how I feel. I am happy about myself and I am definitely happy about my past because without it, I can’t be the more enlightened person that I am today.

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On another note that isn’t about me, it really is amazing to see films of similar thematic power to Happy Together like Moonlight, The Handmaiden and Call Me by Your Name coming out in cinemas this year and to sound really preachy, I really hope that those films will have an impact on cinema-goers who are going through what I have gone through. It’s time to hang up the hate, people. It’s incredibly exhausting.

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Best Films I’ve Seen in 2016 (Part 4)

I swear, this will be the last part of the long list of films I’ve enjoyed in 2016. This is the list I came up with and I’m sticking with it. If I rewatch any of the honourable mentions, even they might make it on the list, so no changes! Again, none of these are in any particular order.

Here’s Parts ONE, TWO and THREE for my other best films.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS: Aquarius, Wet Woman in the Wind, The Love Witch, The VVitch, Bitter Honey, Port of Call, Carol, Elle, Tale of Tales, The Brand New Testament

 

21. HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE

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Now this was one of most fun experiences I’ve had while watching a film this year. It’s just unfortunate that I did not watch this in the cinema. Alongside The Nice Guys, this is the best buddy comedy duo of the year. Sam Neill is just a grouchy delight while Julian Dennison is so cute as the rebellious Ricky. And I will always cherish the presence of Rima Te Wiata in anything due to my love of Full Frontal. Alongside Sausage Party, the film contains one of the best references to Terminator 2 ever.

 

22. THE AGE OF SHADOWS

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Kim Jee-woon’s Korean comeback was long-awaited since his venture into America with The Last Stand and it was worth the wait. Technically masterful, fine performances, thrilling setpieces (the train sequence is one of the best scenes of the year) and such an assured hand from Kim that he melds genres of action film, period drama, espionage thriller with ease. Gong Yoo had a fantastic year in 2016 while Song Kang-ho proves once again that he is one of Korea’s best actors.

Read the full review here.

 

23. GIRL ASLEEP

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A lovely comedy, a great coming-of-age film and a wondrous fantasy, Girl Asleep is a hard one to categorize and yet it was so easy to enjoy. I was giggling and dancing like a lunatic in the film’s infectiously funny first half and I was thrown off and hooked in the fantastical and surreal second half, appreciating all the depth and surrealism the film entailed. I also appreciated the practical effects during the fantasy sequences, which gave the film a refreshingly rustic approach.

Bethany Whitmore is incredibly appealing and likable in the leading role while Harrison Feldman is a hoot as the hilariously pure-hearted love interest.

 

24. GREEN ROOM

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If I ever watch this film and The Wailing as a double-bill, my nails would never grow back after the searing tension and gripping suspense. With enough claustrophobia that you would need an oxygen tank; with enough gore that you would need a shower afterwards; with enough acting/directing chops that it would make you stay, Green Room is an experience that is both amazingly repulsive and rapturous.

 

25. TONI ERDMANN

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For a film with a story that sounded cliched and quite annoying, I wasn’t really looking forward to the film that much. But thankfully, Toni Erdmann lives up to the huge hype. The film achieves a perfect balance of humour and poignancy while providing wonderful characters guided by incredibly game performances, but what really impressed me was despite the ridiculous antics and hijinks, there is always a palpable throughline of realism that immerses the audience into relating to these characters, leading to great payoffs in the final act which I didn’t expect.

 

Well, that’s the end of the list, everyone! Hope you like my choices and if you didn’t, you can have your choice of my worst films of the year; maybe those would be to your liking.

 

Best Films I’ve Seen in 2016 (Part 3)

For those wondering how many films I am planning to post over, it’s gonna go up to the grand total of 25. I just enjoyed so many films this year, even though the blockbuster season was a disappointment. Anyway, onward and upward. Here’s FIVE more films on the list that I enjoyed and highly recommend.

Here’s Parts ONE and TWO for my other best films.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS: Star Trek Beyond, I Am a Hero, The Mermaid, Love & Friendship, Certain Women, Your Name

16. SING STREET

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Although La La Land may be winning all the accolades and critical acclaim, I think that Sing Street is the musical of the year. With incredibly catchy songs (like Drive It Like You Stole It), lovable characters, a perfect balance between social realism and wish fulfillment fantasy and fantastic performances (Jack Reynor steals every scene he’s in), Sing Street is John Carney’s best film. The movie was a fucking jet engine!

17. PETE’S DRAGON

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The film that The Jungle Book (2016) should have been. Pete’s Dragon is the perfect remake that instills the director’s distinct touch, changing the genre to make the film stand out while retaining the heart of what made the original stand out: the relationship with Pete and Elliot. It’s also very rare these days to see a family film that is both understated and heartfelt and I admit, I was a little misty by the film’s end. If there’s one Disney film you have to check out that came out in 2016, let it be Pete’s Dragon.

18. TRAIN TO BUSAN

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If anyone thought that the zombie genre was being hacked to bits due to the over-saturation of it, Train to Busan is the one film that re-energizes and reinvigorates it. Under Yeon Sang-ho’s direction, he turns the genre on its head by skewering the portrayals of monstrous people, changing cliches as to who survives and providing a refreshing social and claustrophobic bent to the proceedings. And like most Korean films, it’s emotionally exhausting, as it should be.

Read the full review here.

19. HIME-ANOLE

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Hime-anole is this decade’s Audition; a film that will shock and surprise you if you go in without any prior knowledge. The performances are fantastic, the production values are thankfully down-to-earth and the direction by Keisuke Yoshida absolutely pulls no punches, especially during the second half of the film. Seriously, avoid any plot details and the trailer, just see it.

Read the spoiler-free review here.

20. THE LOBSTER

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With such an absurd premise, hilariously deadpan performances, a profoundly distinct portrayal of dystopia and a sharp satirical look in the social constructs of life, The Lobster is somehow a compelling love story that had me savoring for more. I absolutely can’t wait for Yorgos Lanthimos’ next film!

By the way, it features Ariane Labed dancing, which is worth the price of admission alone.

To be concluded…

Best Films I’ve Seen in 2016 (Part 2)

Continuing from the last list, here are FIVE more of the best films I’ve in 2016. And there are even MORE honourable mentions. I just couldn’t leave any film out that I immensely enjoyed.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS: Evolution, Trash Fire, Kubo and the Two Strings, Sausage Party, Emi-Abi, Time Renegades, Mohican Comes Home

11. ONE NIGHT ONLY

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This was another huge surprise for me, since I knew nothing about it and I only watched it because it was a Taiwanese film, meaning it was a respite from terrible China-market fare. But the film was so unabashedly romantic and fantastical, that I was swept up by it, despite the contrivances and cliches. But the final act ties all of that, leading into an emotional finale that had me shed a tear or two.

It also helped that Aaron Kwok gives one of his best performances and Yang Zishan again showed why she’s a rising talent. A fantastic directorial debut from actor Matt Wu, who happens to be Yang’s husband. Who just so happened to having cast his wife as a hooker. Hmm…

I mean, where else will you get a romantic comedy/drama that has kickboxing, blindfolded drag-racing, gambling, hookers and references to Federico Fellini?

12. THE NICE GUYS

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Now this was a film that I was waiting for since it was given the greenlight and it was entirely worth the wait. Fantastic chemistry between Russell Crowe and a energetically comedic Ryan Gosling, a sharp and witty script from Shane Black and a star-making performance from fellow Aussie actress, Angourie Rice, makes this film one of the most fun films I’ve seen in 2016.

It’s a damn shame that very few people saw this film. We need more films like this.

Read the full review here.

13. SHIN GODZILLA

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When you hear that the creator of landmark anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion is going to make the latest Godzilla film, it is normal for one to just wig out at the news. And the the film arrived. And it left me breathless. It was almost nothing like I expected and yet, I was completely satisfied with the end result. Riotously satirical of democracy while providing a haunting metaphor for the natural disasters Japan had gone through, in addition to giving the best Godzilla action in recent memory, Shin Godzilla proves that reboots can still be great.

Read the full review here.

14. TOP KNOT DETECTIVE

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Now this was probably the biggest surprise for me this year. An extremely entertaining homage to cult TV shows before the rise of the Internet as well as shows/films showing on SBS. Clever, hilarious, ridiculous and surprisingly heartfelt, this is a mockumentary that more should watch. I really wish that Top Knot Detective was a real show and I really hope that the director’s next project (which is hinted at the end of the film) will come to fruition. For Australian viewers, it’s out on SBS On Demand, so please check it out. You will not regret it.

Read the full review here.

15. THE WAILING

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The most disturbing film I saw in 2016. I was left breathless, mindless and hopeless when I left the screening, and I loved it to death. The acting was spectacular, the mood and atmosphere was pitch-black and the vice-grip direction by Na Hong-jin was so incredibly effective that myself and another audience member yelled out “What the fuck?” several times during the screening I attended. No joke.

That’s not to say that there isn’t any humour in it, since there are many amusing asides like how a character constantly throws stones at the main lead, that had me laughing out loud.

Read the full review here.

To be continued…

Best Films I’ve Seen in 2016 (Part 1)

With every dark moment in our lives, usually there are moments that there are some moments that make life worth living, and in the case of movies, alongside every disaster, every atrocity, every travesty, every film that is witless, hopeless, lifeless, gutless, mindless and pointless; there are films that are stir you on every positive whim and in 2016, there are many films that did that to me. So much in fact, that I have to expand my list to 25 entries with a boatload of honourable mentions. Here’s the first part of my jive top films (in no particular order) that I truly loved in 2016.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS: Deadpool, A Bride for Rip Van Winkle, Creepy, Hush, Blue Jay, La La Land, Over the Fence, The Tenants Downstairs and many more…

1. THE RED TURTLE

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One of the most beautiful experiences in the cinema I have ever witnessed. This isn’t a film that captures you from the very first frame, but if you allow it to flow through you and you embrace it, you’ll never want to leave. Such a simple story told with this much beauty and this much heart within such a short running time, I knew from the second the end credits started, I knew this film would be on the list. Exploring themes of existentialism, survival, courage, love through a dream-like lens and even with childlike wonder, The Red Turtle is a film that I wish I watched more than once in the cinema, because I don’t think a home viewing would cut it for me. It’s that beautiful.

2. MUSTANG

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I absolutely loved this movie. The acting was great, the storytelling was incredibly immersive and Erguven’s direction was great with adding realism and poignancy to the lives of these young women. I also appreciated that this is not a completely dour experience, as there are many moments of mirth that make it entertainingly endearing i.e. like how the aunt goes to great lengths not to have her nieces caught out. Wished that I could have watched this earlier during Sydney Film Fest, but luckily it was released in cinemas.

3. THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN

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The best film about teen film about coming-of-age in recent memory. I loved everything about it. The fantastic performances from the cast, the sensitive direction from Kelly Fremon Craig, the subtle subversiveness of teenage film tropes, the realistic approach to the storytelling and  the characters, the laugh-out-loud comedy, the poignant dramatic arcs and the fantastic music choices, like the use of a song about certain dickheads fits the scene so perfectly. It’s just a shame that very little saw the film when it was released. Let’s hope the Australian release, people will flock to it. See this film!

Hailee Steinfeld should’ve been a star already and this film just clinches her talent. As for Hayden Szeto (who is barely marketed in the promotions at all), he’s a revelation.

4. SOUL MATE

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This was a film that I expected very little from, considering that films from the China-market just irk me, despite my better judgement. But this film surprised me in almost every single way. The story involves the typical tropes that come with youth dramas like love triangles, jealousy, friendship, love, but director Derek Tsang’s approach to the material is thankfully subversive to the point that it almost turns the genre on its head. Like how there’s no passive-aggressiveness whatsoever and how cliched scenes deliver a surprising punch to the gut.

But the film wouldn’t be anywhere near as effective as it is without the astounding performances from both Zhou Dongyu and Ma Sichun. The two both won Best Actress at the Taipei Golden Horse Awards and rightfully so.

Read the full review here.

5. AMERICAN HONEY

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Probably the most euphoric film I’ve seen all year. If director Andrea Arnold was given a chance to make her own Disney Princess film, American Honey would be it. More fantastical than her previous films while also retaining the requisite themes of approaching adulthood and finding love in hopeless places and getting terrific performances out of non-actors (Sasha Lane truly lives up to her character’s name), American Honey is my type of honey. And don’t get me started on the brilliantly well-chosen soundtrack. Seriously, don’t.

Read the full review here.

6. THE HANDMAIDEN

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The steamiest and extravagantly melodramatic film of the year, The Handmaiden had me grinning from beginning to end. With sumptuous cinematography from Chung Chung-hoon, a lovely musical score by Cho Young-wuk, the fantastic use of dark comedy sprinkled throughout and the incredibly game and spirited performances from the four leads. Kim Tae-ri, you may be a handmaiden and a petty thief in the film, but you are a star in my eyes.

As for the sex scenes, they are illuminating in both prurient terms as well as in puritanical terms. The arcs of the characters are all felt in these scenes and it’s all thanks to the actresses as well as Park Chan-wook’s approach in showing the characters in positions that are more about unification as well as titillation.

Read the full review here.

7. ANTI-PORNO

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A list of mine wouldn’t be a list without a Sion Sono film and again, he enthralls me. His latest film is a pinku film with all the trappings until it turns meta to the point that it gives a huge middle finger to female objectification and sexism. Hell, he also gives a huge middle finger to the tropes of Roman Porno itself, and it’s fascinating, haunting and joyful to watch. There is a dinner scene in the film that both made me laugh out loud and gasp in awe of how incredibly frank it was.

Read the full review here.

8. HOOLIGAN SPARROW

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I knew the huge problems and outrages in Communist China, but I didn’t even know how deep it went and director Wang Nanfu captures it with startling results. With thrilling and gripping footage that looks like it is straight out of a [REC] film, Wang bravely shows the incredibly seedy and corrupt side of Communist China. How she got away with the footage she got is just miraculous, let alone getting it out of the country. My hope is still with Ye Heiyan (the subject of the film) and the crusaders of her plight.

Read the full review here.

9. UNDER THE SHADOW

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I re-watched the film for the second time and the film improved quite a bit. I was able to appreciate the film more than just a pure exercise in scares. Not only does it utilize its setting and backdrop seamlessly into the story, they both add unpredictability and refresh horror genre tropes. The film also manages to take its influences (like Rosemary’s Baby, Repulsion etc.) and manages to make it new again. And with stellar performances from Narges Rashidi and Avin Manshadi, and wonderfully assured direction from Babak Anvari (his approach on less-is-more is masterful), Under the Shadow is the dark horse of horror in 2016.

Read the full review here.

10. I AM NOT MADAME BOVARY

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As much as I hate Chinese film censorship, some films out there thrive upon it as the restrictions improve on one’s creativity. And that’s where I Am Not Madame Bovary fits in. With Fan Bing Bing giving her best performance yet (she certainly plays up to the ridiculous proceedings with gusto) and Feng Xiaogang applying his trademark dry and satirical humour, it is a hilarious experience.

And yet, Feng stretches his directorial chops and aims for a more arthouse experience, and it adds to the story that it makes it feel more like a fable, rather than a dark comedy. The circular and the scroll aspect ratio certainly add to the feel. The downright cruel skewering of the Chinese government is just icing on the cake.

Read the full review here.

To be continued…

Worst Films I’ve Seen In 2016

I cannot believe that it is almost the end of the year already, and yet somehow, I cannot wait for it to end. With all the deaths, political fails and other massive misfortunes, I thought it would be quite fitting to start off with the worst films that I saw in 2016 before I proceed with the best. Bear in mind, I did not see every film this year and if any of these choices offend you in some way, it probably means you’re more unfortunate than I am. No Adam Sandler affiliated films on my list.

Anyway, here are the worst films that I’ve seen (in no particular order). BEWARE OF SPOILERS and COURSE LANGUAGE. Now bear in mind, the films on the list are disappointments as well as travesties.

DISHONORABLE MENTIONS: Skiptrace, Kickboxer: Vengeance, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, My Beloved Bodyguard, The Magnificent Nine, Thanatos Drunk, Time Raiders

1. ME BEFORE YOU

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Quite possibly the most morally repugnant and most infuriating film of the year. Emilia Clarke gives the most annoying performance which makes you question whether she is the disabled one, not Sam Clafin. And the horrific ending.

The disabled were right, the film is downright offensive in its portrayal of the male lead as well as his actions. I mean, despite nurturing parents, a loving girlfriend and stacks of wealth, if you can’t rock out with your cock out, what’s the point of living? Yep, that’s the message of the film, folks. Jeez, I’m starting to get an aneurysm just writing this paragraph.

 

2. SUICIDE SQUAD

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Sloppy, boring, overlong, abrasive, cliched, I can go on about this film. With the wonderful trailers leading up to the film, I was excited but man, the film was a disaster. Inconsistent performances came up more annoying than anything else as well as the incredibly simple plot told in an unnecessary convoluted manner.

Don’t get me started with the plot holes such as excessively applying protective measures on a dangerous artifact and yet placing the other dangerous artifact out in the open as a fucking paperweight. DC? More like BS.

 

3. ASSASSIN’S CREED

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Despite the bad reputation of videogame film adaptations, I actually had hope for Assassin’s Creed. Even though I haven’t played the games, the film had director Justin Kurzel at the helm and with the incredibly overqualified cast (Fassbender! Cotillard! Irons! Gleeson! Rampling! Labed!), I was pulling for it.

But I was let down…into the dark abyss. Incredibly tedious, boring and filled with poor directing/editing choices, Creedy Assassin is another entry in the dungheap, that is the pile of videogame film adaptations.

Read the full review here.

 

4. THE JUNGLE BOOK (2016)

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Quite possibly the most controversial entry on this list. Considering the critical acclaim the film had received, the film just felt so relentlessly average and incredibly boring. The direction and storytelling were all over the place, whether it was the rushed development of the characters, the action and even its tone. Is it a musical? Is it an adventure?

Even a shocking moment involving a character’s death felt laughable since we barely know who that character was before it died. And the scene involving Kaa made me fall asleep. I thought the film would improve on the second viewing but it only just confirmed my thoughts: it’s just another cure for my insomnia.

 

5. GHOSTBUSTERS (2016)

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With all the SJW’s, the sexists and the controversy, I wanted this film to be good. But I found it really disappointing and unfunny most of the time. The plot was so poorly drawn out that it had more potential to be funny than the entire cast. I absolutely loved the cast, but even they are subjected with a poor script and awful attempts at improvisation. Queefing, really? This may be man-splaining but feminism is not male-hating and every male in this film is either a fucking idiot (like Chris Hemsworth), a coward or an asshole.

Which includes the piss-poor so-called villain who is so anonymous that I can’t even remember his name or his motivation. I honestly want a sequel to this film just so that they can try again with the same cast. What a shame.

 

6. THREE

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Hong Kong director Johnnie To is a man whose work I enjoy a lot. Whether it was a crime flick, a rom-com or an action movie, I’m there to watch, and I was anticipating his latest. But man, it was a huge letdown. The majority of its demographic aren’t doctors or cops like in the film, but I’m definitely sure they’re not fucking idiots either.

Incredibly illogical and unbelievable (even for Johnnie To), sloppily executed and downright stupid, I couldn’t believe what I had just witnessed. There’s a scene where a robber tries to break his neck to kill himself, but he has the neck brace on. Yes, this actually happens.

Even the supposed highlight action scene in the climax was so badly executed, you can tell that the extras are pretending to act in slow-action instead of being shown acting in slow-motion. And the god-awful CGI (How can we see so much blood and yet the hospital stays so clean?) and green-screen just add to the trainwreck. There’s a scene where we see a patient with a CGI-shaven head. Yep.

 

7. ZOOLANDER 2

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So much celebrity cameos, so little humour. It is mind-boggling to believe that this is the sequel we got with all that time and all that talent involved. What I did not expect from this film is to be annoyed and the hipster character annoyed the living shit out of me. The film literally becomes more watchable when Will Ferrell shows up and kills the fucking hipster.

When that happened, I stood up from my chair and cheered till my throat was sore. So I give the film credit for that, but it was too little, too late. The cast try their best like the film, they just end up dead on arrival.

 

8. THE LEGEND OF TARZAN

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Another jungle movie, another letdown. When the best thing in your movie is Samuel L. Jackson essentially playing himself, you know your film has problems. How the filmmakers sideline Margot Robbie with a damsel-in-distress role (Yes, she is one despite saying she’s not) is just plain stupid.

And stop giving Christoph Waltz roles where he reprises the same damn Hans Landa routine over and over again! The film has flashbacks, referring to the original story and even that is more interesting than the film we have now. Just go back behind the bushes, Tarzan.

Read the full review here.

 

9. A CHINESE ODYSSEY III

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Why do people keep on making sequels and spin-offs to Stephen Chow films that do not have him in it? It’s just a recipe for disaster. Flirting Scholar 2, Forbidden City Cop 2, Shaolin Girl and finally A Chinese Odyssey III just proves my point. Despite being dragged into the cinema by a certain someone to watch this film, I thought it can’t be too bad like his last disaster, Kung Fu Cyborg. Little did I know.

I knew from the first second the film started, I knew I would hate this film. The humour is incredibly unfunny, the actors are completely incapable of extracting humour and Jeff Lau once again squeezes the leftover juice from the classic films he directed to little effect. The delivery of the jokes is so assaultive and insistent that it’s almost as if the filmmakers forgot that jokes were meant to be funny, not just present. And the incredibly dated pop culture references include Avatar and Michael Jackson. Jeez.

Returning actress Karen Mok looks horrified to be there just like Christian Bale was in Terminator Salvation.

 

10. BOUNTY HUNTERS

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What do you expect from a movie when it can’t even live up to the basic expectations of the title? There’s no bounty and the main characters don’t hunt shit. Almost all of the characters are incredibly annoying (save for Fan Siu-wong) and the humour is so goddamn stupid that even infants would cover their eyes in embarrassment. There’s a joke in the film where one of the main characters seduces a maid by pretending to have diarrhea.

We’re supposed to believe that these metrosexuals are Interpol agents. Some of them don’t even look like they can handle the recoil of a gun, much less taking a bullet. And the villain himself. Oh, my God. He is so bad that you can see the make-up line on his face that makes his neck noticeably bare. Hell, my pubic hair has more menace than he does.

Best and Worst of 2015 (Asian Films)

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DONNIE YEN CONGRATS JUMP! I cannot believe that 2015 is almost over. I have seen many Asian films this year thanks to film festivals (like Japanese Film Festival 2015 and Korean Film Festival in Australia 2015, Sydney Film Festival 2015 etc.) and Blu-Ray/DVD releases and according to my findings, Japan is by far the leading country in great films this year.

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Three of Japanese maverick director Sion Sono’s films I’ve seen this year, are all fantastic in their own ways (there was one exception), but Tag (aka Real Onigokko) was, in my opinion, his best film of the lot. The film does everything in its power to consistently surprise, shock, thrill, ridicule and provoke the audience all at once in a short running time. A film that comes close to Tag would be Tetsuya Nakashima’s kaleidoscopic and nihilistically insane The World of Kanako, which has a knockout performance from Koji Yakusho. Sono’s other film; Tokyo Tribe was pure anarchic, chaotic and unruly fun, with fantastically unhinged performances, catchy songs, enthralling set/costume design and many laugh-out-loud moments. For a 180 degree turn in tone, Sono’s family film, Love & Peace was a pleasant surprise that, despite the problematic first act, has likable characters, (again) catchy songs, an endearingly kitschy low-fi fantasy world and in my opinion, the cutest turtle that has ever appeared on screen, animated or otherwise.

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Another Japanese film I watched was Yoshihiro Nakamura’s Prophecy. Having the same touch with his storytelling as his previous films (which is more about character than plot), Prophecy is great dramatic viewing, if not as good as his previous film, The Snow White Murder Case. But the Japanese films that surprised me were 100 Yen Love and When the Curtain Rises. Although I knew that Sakura Ando would give a typically glorious performance, the execution of what the film essentially is (a boxing movie) is what transcends it from a typical boxing film to a special underdog story. As for Rises, I thought it would be a terrible film due to irritatingly cutesy acting and clumsy direction from the man that made Shaolin Girl. But thankfully, I was wrong. The acting was surprisingly good from idol group Momoiro Clover Z and Katsuyuki Motohiro’s direction was surprisingly subtle, which makes every achievement from the characters earned without feeling phony or contrived.

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As for animated films, The Case of Hana and Alice was a pure delight (particularly for a fan of the first film) but newcomers can equally enjoy the prequel of a blossoming of a beautiful friendship. When Marnie Was There (the newest and possibly the last Studio Ghibli film) was also a beautifully realized fantasy that shows that love transcends all, and is a suitable swan song for the acclaimed animation studio.

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As for Chinese cinema, the newest film from Taiwanese director, Hou Hsiao-Hsien, The Assassin was dreamy and refreshing in the best way, even for a wuxia film. The way it strips the Chinese swordplay genre to its bare essentials while still adding a sense of haunting realism works well within Hou’s direction. Another Taiwanese film I enjoyed was Murmur of the Hearts by Sylvia Chang (who’s last film was 2008’s Run Papa Run). The drama was very well-handled without being manipulative; with fantastic acting (it was so good seeing Isabella Leong back on screen) and it is even more effective if you watch it as a character study. Speaking of Sylvia Chang, her work (acting/screenwriting) of Office, directed by Johnnie To was also a great watch, a fine musical but an even better drama. Shame about Chow Yun-fat not singing though.

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The Taking of Tiger Mountain, by Tsui Hark, was loads of fun to watch (even without the 3D) and it still surprises me of how he took a true story and turned it into what is on screen and got away with it from Chinese censors. Full Strike, a HK sports comedy, was also a lot of fun that harkened back to 90’s HK comedies in the best way, while also combining anime-style antics to the sports genre that is reminiscent of Stephen Chow’s Shaolin Soccer. Andrew Lam steals the show as the master, who is eerily like Stephen Chow’s frequent co-star, Ng Man Tat.

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For Korean cinema, Han Gong-ju was a masterclass of acting (if not storytelling) and so was A Girl at My Door, with Bae Doona and Kim Sae-ron. The latter gave a fantastic performance especially when you consider how much of a challenge her role was. A Hard Day was a near-perfect piece of entertainment that combined thrills and black comedy really well. My Ordinary Love Story lives up to its title but something happens in the film that makes it one of the most surprising things I’ve witnessed. No spoilers, but it must be seen to be believed. The Beauty Inside was also an entertaining film, although it could’ve mined more food for thought given its compelling premise. Coinlocker Girl shows Kim Go-eun as a force to be reckoned with and Kim Hye-soo giving her best performances in a long time, although the story drags a bit too long to its finish.

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For disappointments, SPL 2: A Time for Consequences was one of them due to its incredibly contrived and laughable script. (Message by emoji? Please.) Strayer’s Chronicle, a sci-fi film by Takahisa Zeze was surprisingly dull considering the source material, the cast and the director himself. Shinjuku Swan was also a big disappointment that goes to show that even a director like Sion Sono gets his talent diluted for a commercial film. Memories of the Sword was also a big disappointment due to the laboured and plodding storytelling, although the actors try their best. But the biggest one was Ghost Theater. Once hailed a master of horror, director Hideo Nakata completely blows it all with a film so laughably bad, it had to be intentional as a horror parody.

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That’s my view on Asian films in 2015. I wish I could’ve seen more (films like Bakuman, He Remembers She Forgets and Madonna I just missed out) but hey, good things come to those who wait. And I hope in 2016, great things happen all at once.

Anyway, gotta jet! See ya next year!

Film-momatic

Humble Beginnings (or How I Strolled into the World of Film)

Hello everyone, Film-momatic here!

As you may have guessed, this is my first post, and I am so happy to finally start my own blog of film reviews. For as long as I remember, I’ve always loved film. From my first memories (vivid, anyway) of watching films when I was 9 years old to exploring fantastic directorial work from Spielberg, Miyazaki and discovering foreign films from Hong Kong (Stephen Chow fanatic), Japan (my first live-action film I watched was Hana and Alice), Korea and others.

The first film I watched and became enraptured was “The Princess Bride”. I remember watching it on the school bus one the way home from an excursion. I was one of those kids that would complain about girls, as kids would do, and I immediately thought that the film was a girly film, just due to the title.

Boy, was I was wrong.

Like a lot of viewers, especially children, we were the very the audience surrogate of Fred Savage’s character in the film. Pessimistic, quick-to-judge, plain cynical. But when we opened our minds, we were rewarded with riches upon riches. I was fist pumping when I saw the first sword fight between Westley and Montoya. I was laughing my head off whenever Fezzik started to rhyme. I thought Buttercup was incredibly beautiful (and she still is) and I thought the climax was perfect, although my friends thought otherwise. Why fight people when you don’t have to? A razor sharp with should more than suffice.

Encompassing all genres and succeeding them with aplomb, The Princess Bride will remain one of my favorite films and the film that got me into the world. Another film that got to me was “The Karate Kid”. A true underdog story that got me wanting to imitate LaRusso with his Crane Kicks at people, and injuring myself a lot in the process. It taught me that life really is all about balance and that we should all stand up for ourselves against adversity.

Practicing the Crane Kick on Miyagi’s chin. Boss.

As for my reviews coming up, they will be just random ones that I’ve seen, with some cinema releases and a whole pack of Japanese film reviews coming soon, due to personal acquaintances. My first review will be released on Monday and I hope the film is good enough for a good start. I will also have other plans like special articles about film in general and other fun stuff.

Gotta jet,

Harris Dang (aka Film-momatic)