Movie Review – Allied


EXPECTATIONS: A film too old-fashioned for its own good.

REVIEW: Robert Zemeckis is a film-maker that has both enthralled me and frustrated me. For the most part, his films can be exciting, fun and incredibly well-told, like the Back to the Future films, Cast Away and Who Framed Roger Rabbit.  On the contrary, his films at worst, can be quite corny and indulgent. Films like What Lies Beneath, his motion-capture films like The Polar Express and even the majority of his last film, The Walk are examples of that.

So when I heard that he was making a spy thriller that is reminiscent of the classic film Casablanca, from a script written by screenwriter Steven Knight, who wrote great films like Eastern Promises and Dirty Pretty Things, I was psyched. And with Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard as icing on the cake, it sounds like it would be a sure-fire hit. Does Allied live up to its potential?


Brad Pitt stars as Max Vatan, a Canadian intelligence officer who is sent to Casablanca in French Morocco to assassinate the German ambassador. He is then teamed up with Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard), who had escaped from war-torn France after her resistance group was defeated and killed. The plan is to pose as husband and wife as a cover-up until the actual date of the party where the ambassador is going to be. But during that time, the two gradually grow close and they are later both swept up in a sea of lies, secrets and deception that could put both of their lives at stake.

Like all of Zemeckis‘ films, they all look fantastic and have fantastic production values. The cinematography by Don Burgess is incredibly smooth and glowing with some great use of CGI that gives the film a sleek look that is very appealing to look at. Adding to that appeal is the costume design by Joanna Johnston, which is nostalgically striking. The musical score by Alan Silvestri is surprisingly a bit post-modern in its approach but it works, although it can be a bit intrusive at times during dramatic scenes.


The actors certainly hold up their end of the bargain, with Brad Pitt and especially Marion Cotillard giving stellar performances. Pitt is convincingly stoic and world-weary and certainly looks the part of a debonair spy. Later in the film, he is also convincing when his character starts to emotionally open up as well as his character being anguished due to the fact that his wife may not be who she appears to be. This may not be his best performance in his so-called World War II trilogy (consisting of Inglourious Basterds and Fury), but it is still a good addition nonetheless.

As for Cotillard, she is the best asset in the film. She brings a lot of depth to her character of Marianne, while also pulling off the sensuality and allure of her character with aplomb. It is exactly those two traits that bring Pitt‘s character out of his shell and the two are good together as well as keeping the audience guessing about her character’s motives.

Nothing is more prevalent about the two and their shared chemistry like in the scene where the two make love in a car during a sandstorm. Although the leads are likable and worth caring for, they do not elicit the passion needed to make the romance truly blossom; leaving a bit of an emotional hole, where the heart should be.

The supporting cast are actually a bit wasted with their thin parts, like Lizzy Caplan as Vatan’s sister, who is written as an blatantly obvious lesbian but Simon McBurney is fantastic in his small role as the spy hunter; same as Jared Harris as Vatan’s superior and Matthew Goode in a surprise cameo.


The storytelling is a bit of a letdown considering the talent involved. While the plot does unfold neatly enough, there are scenes where Zemeckis just overdoes the cliches (of the films Allied is meant to be referencing) with such blunt force, that the film becomes laughable at times. Some of it is definitely intentional (like the use of coarse language), but there are scenes that were clearly meant to be serious, but never feel that way; like a scene where Marianne is giving birth during an air strike.

But none of the cheesiness and corniness will matter negatively in the way the ending does. No matter how you analyze it or how it was built up on, the ending just comes across as anti-climactic and it will be a real letdown for some.

The talent involved really should have made Allied a fantastic film, but the final result only comes out as an entertainingly average experience. Still, we’ll always have Marion Cotillard.


Quickie Review


Good leading performances, particularly from Marion Cotillard

Fantastic production values

Good storytelling and script from writer Steven Knight


Anti-climactic ending

Underused supporting cast

Scenes of corniness and cheesiness

SCORE: 6/10


This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris, Simon McBurney, Lizzy Caplan, Daniel Betts, Marion Bailey, Matthew Goode
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Screenwriter: Steven Knight

Movie Review – Your Name


EXPECTATIONS: A film that lives up to its buzz.

REVIEW: Makoto Shinkai is an animation film-maker that has been earmarked to become the next Hayao Miyazaki with his spectacular animation. But in my opinion, he’s not really there yet. Although he gets the visuals right, his storytelling is quite flawed due to the slow pace and he never gets to end his films in a satisfying manner.

The endings are either abrupt, lack impact or at one point, incredibly overwrought. But the biggest problem with his films is the use of musical montages. Whenever a film of his reaches an emotional peak, he tends to play a song over it with the intention of eliciting poignancy. But unfortunately it ends up being lazy, cheap and ruins the cinematic panache of the film, making it look like a television episode at times.

So when I heard that Shinkai’s latest film was breaking Japanese box office records AND was chosen to be in the running for Best Animated Film at the Oscars, I knew I had to watch it to see if the film lived up to its hype. So does the film live up to its sterling reputation or will it end up being underwhelming?


Edited and expanded synopsis from Madman: Mitsuha (Mone Kamishiraishi) and Taki (Ryunosuke Kamiki) are two total strangers living completely different lives. But when Mitsuha makes an impulsive wish to leave her mountain town for the bustling city of Tokyo, they become connected in a bizarre way. She dreams she is a boy living in Tokyo while Taki dreams he is a girl from a rural town he’s never been to.

The two realize the situation that they are in and decide to make the most of it until they develop an intimate relationship. But they suddenly lose contact with each other and Taki decides to personally meet up with Mitsuha over at her hometown. Little does he know, he ventures into something that will send both into an emotional journey that few could dream of. Will their relationship survive through the tumultuous turn of events?


Let us get the obvious out of the way. From the looks of the screenshots alone, Your Name looks visually spectacular. Everything just has a pinkish/orange hue that gives the film such a warm, optimistic feel that made me smile. The music by RADWIMPS (a change from Shinkai’s usual composer, TENMON) gets the emotional pull of the film quite well, despite some major flaws.

As for the storytelling, Shinkai thankfully has improved in some ways. First of all, the editing (by Shinkai himself) has tightened up considerably, leading to a pace that is manageable for the story as well as keeping the emotional momentum going. Secondly, he actually sticks the landing and provides a satisfying, albeit predictable ending. Without spoilers, the ending does not feel abrupt, nor does it feel overwrought and it actually feels earned and rightfully so.

Thirdly, the fun sci-fi premise never interferes with the storytelling. There is very little spoon-feeding and exposition that slows the film down and it benefits greatly from it. And finally, Shinkai finally develops a nice sense of humour that provides the perfect offset from the potentially darker turns of the story.


As for the voice acting, all the actors give great performances. Ryunosuke Kamiki, who is a veteran in voice acting as far as his projects for Studio Ghibli go, is great as Taki, as he provides the perfect balance between brimming anger and kindness. While Mone Kamishiraishi (who was fantastic in the leading role of Lady Maiko) is no beginner in voice acting due to her performance in Wolf Chidren, is great as Mitsuha, as she makes her character likable and compelling, with a great portrayal of both naivety and hubris. The supporting cast all add life to their roles from Masami Nagasawa providing a certain sultry appeal as Miki, Taki’s senior and romantic crush; to Kana Hanazawa as Ms. Yukino, Mitsuha’s teacher and is a reprisal of a character in one of Shinkai’s previous films.

But as much as improvements go, there is always room for it and Shinkai still has ample space of it. The lightest flaw is typical of films with this premise, which leads to some plot holes and lapses in the film’s logic, but I can’t really say further, since it would spoil part of the film. The other flaw, and this is a major one, is one I stated in the beginning of this review: the musical montages. Yes, they are still present and there are more present than usual, which really harms the emotional pull of the film, as well as unintentionally making the film cheap, looking like part of a TV episode.

But overall, Your Name is Shinkai’s most satisfying and complete film to date. With its amazingly beautiful animation, a fun yet familiar sci-fi premise, a great melding of genres (sci-fi, romance and disaster movie?) and great vocal talent, Your Name is a film that is worth seeing and remembering.

Quickie Review


Spectacular animation

Fantastic voice work from the cast

Little spoon-feeding and exposition about the fantasy premise

Great storytelling and editing, ensuring a good pace

A satisfying ending


The use of musical montages

Problematic subtitles

Some plot holes and lapses in logic

SCORE: 8/10

Cast: Ryunosuke Kamiki, Mone Kamishiraishi, Masami Nagasawa, Ryo Narita, Aoi Yuki, Obunaga Shimazaki, Kaito Ishikawa, Kanon Tani, Masaki Terasoma  
Director: Makoto Shinkai
Screenwriters: Makoto Shinkai

Movie Review – Under the Fence (San Diego Asian Film Festival 2016)


EXPECTATIONS: Something pleasant and worthwhile from director Nobuhiro Yamashita. Plus YU AOI!!

REVIEW: Director Nobuhiro Yamashita is a director whose work I have followed recently and all of his work that I have seen so far, I have enjoyed. La La La at Rock Bottom was a fantastic comedy/drama with two stellar lead performances (FUMI NIKAIDO!!), while Linda Linda Linda is a favourite of mine, with its realistic portrayal of high school life, lovable performances, its understated humour and a rocking soundtrack.

So when I heard that Yamashita was making a film that had Joe Odagiri and Yu Aoi as the leads, I was psyched beyond belief. So does Over the Fence reach…over the fence?


Yoshio Shiraiwa (Joe Odagiri) is dumped by his wife (Yuka) and goes back to his hometown of Hakodate. With nowhere to go in life, he attends at a vocational school, learning carpentry for unemployment benefits. At the vocational school, he meets Kazuhisa (Shota Matsuda) and the two become friends.

One day, Kazuhisa takes him to a nightclub for a business proposal and a night on the town. There, Yoshio meets a hostess, Satoshi (Yu Aoi). Endearingly spirited as well as having a strange affinity for the behaviour of animals, Yoshio gradually becomes attracted to her and the two start a relationship. But with complications like troubled pasts and troublesome events at the school, will Yoshio and Satoshi get together in the end?

From the looks of the synopsis, director Nobuhiro Yamashita is back to what he does best, which is portraying the life of the lower-class like in films like The Drudgery Train and Ramblers. But in the case of Over the Fence, the story is a bit more downbeat and depressing, in terms of its themes. That is most likely due to the source material by Yasushi Sato, who also wrote the source material for The Light Shines Only There.

But unlike that film, Yamashita executes the storytelling with an understated, yet assured touch. The revelations, dramatic beats, the lack of a musical score all point out that the film is aiming for more of a realistic yet contemplative vibe, rather than a melodramatic vibe. Not only does it make the storytelling more immersive, but it also gives the drama a much-needed punch when the conflicts arise.


The actors inhabit their roles really well and adapt their performances with the understated storytelling really well. Joe Odagiri has been playing these type of laid-back characters for years to the point that he could do it in his sleep. In Over the Fence, he does it again, but he still does it well and he makes it easy to believe that his character is a slacker.

As for Yu Aoi, her character is a much more complex role that could have been borderline irritating, but she nails it. Not only does she make her character believable and sympathetic, her star-quality charisma makes her character immensely likable. Her impressions of animal behaviour deliver belly-laughs. Odagiri and Aoi have an endearing chemistry and Yamashita brings out the best out of them in terms of dramatic intensity. With Aoi, it comes to no surprise but for Odagiri, it’s nice to see him being pushed in terms of his acting chops.

The supporting cast all do great with their roles as well, even adding life to their minimal screen-time. Shinnosuke Mitsushima is quietly intense as bullying victim, Mori, while Shota Matsuda does well as the lothario/salesman, Daishima. Yuka makes a big impression as Yoshio’s ex-wife, in her minimal screen-time, conveying the pain of her character convincingly.


Despite the potentially depressing storyline, director Yamashita still has time to fit in his whimsical humour that made his past films enjoyable. Besides the animal impressions that Aoi does, there are some scenes of absurdity like how a child is left on a theme park ride during an argument between the two leads that are quite amusing.

As for flaws, there was a lack of development of Satoshi’s backstory that could’ve been up to par with Yoshio’s backstory and the pacing could have been tightened up a bit, but it is understandable that the story is told this way, seeing that it involves characters slacking through life and its supposedly boring minutiae that people go through. Fortunately, the film ends in a satisfying way that made the film worthwhile.

Over the Fence is another quality hit for director Nobuhiro Yamashita, with great performances from Joe Odagiri and Yu Aoi, assured direction from Yamashita, a committed supporting cast and an effective balance of realism and the trademark Yamashita humour. Yu Aoi’s impressions of animals is worth the price of admission.


Quickie Review


Great leading performances

Subtle, understated direction gives revelations a punch

Sprinkled, whimsical humour offsets the potentially grim story


Inconsistent backstories

Lack of action within the plot

SCORE: 8/10

Cast: Joe Odagiri, Yu Aoi, Shota Matsuda, Yukiya Kitamura, Shinnosuke Mitsushima, Takumi Matsuzawa, Tsunekichi Suzuki, Yuka
Director: Nobuhiro Yamashita
Screenwriters: Ryo Takada; based on the novel by Yasushi Sato

Movie Review – Hime-anole (Japanese Film Festival 2016)


EXPECTATIONS: Another pleasantly entertaining film from Keisuke Yoshida.

REVIEW: To be perfectly honest, I actually didn’t want to review Hime-anole. Not because it’s bad, as it is far from it. I didn’t want to review Hime-anole because I didn’t want to spoil any of its major events. Because revealing said plot points can rob such films of their power. Having said that, this film is such a surprise that it could end up being on of my 2016 top 10 list.

Keisuke Yoshida has been a director that has, for the most part, made films that can be seen as pleasant as well as quite powerful. Films like the slice-of-life drama Cafe Isobe (2008), his tragic-comedy My Little Sweet Pea (2013), and even the manga adaptation Silver Spoon (2010) are entertaining pieces, although some are quite forgettable. His first feature, however, was a pinku film called Raw Summer (2005) with former AV star Sora Aoi. Despite its exploitation trappings, the film ended up transcending its origins with substantial character explorations within its voyeuristic plot. Having recalled the latter, it did make me wonder if Yoshida would ever go back to those types of films that delved into darker subject matter. Now, we have Hime-anole, a live-action adaptation of a manga by Minoru Furuya, whose Himizu (2001-2002) was filmed by Sion Sono in 2011.


The film starts off uneventfully with the barely present Okada (Gaku Hamada) an assistant cleaner making a mistake during his work task and being criticized by his superior. This is when the straightforward Ando (Tsuyoshi Muro), his work colleague backs him up and the two become better acquainted. Ando then tells Okada about his strong love for Yuka (Aimi Satsukawa), a waitress at a coffee shop, despite the fact that he has never said a word to her. Because of Ando supporting him earlier, Okada feels obligated to help Ando get the girl of his dreams. But things get a little slippery when they find that a stranger is apparently stalking Yuka, so the two help Yuka out to avoid the stalker whilst Ando having ulterior motives to woo and pursue Yuka. But as feelings develop into something more intimate and motivations become a little clearer, the characters soon end up into something a little more than they bargained for…


The directing by Keisuke Yoshida is incredibly assured, considering his past films, which never felt that they had a tight rein on its film-making. Scenes in the first act all have a sense of warmth that makes its humour and characters stand out, even with Go Morita in the background. When the story gradually enters the second act, the film ends up being more substantial as the characters are gradually explored, like in a scene where a friend of Yuka’s rudely and insistently judges Okada and Ando as a pair of losers. But as the second act starts, the genre Hime-anole adheres to gets turn on its head and gets beaten to a bloody pulp. Characters start to get more depraved with their emotions; motivations become more crystal clear and this is when Go Morita steals the film.

The acting from the cast is top-notch. Gaku Hamada can play his hang-dog sympathy act in his sleep and it’d still entertain me. In this film, he does play a character with a little bit more inner conflict and he portrays that well, particularly when the film enters its second act. Tsuyoshi Muro is surprisingly sympathetic, despite the character’s actions towards achieving his version of true love. His stern honesty and chemistry with Hamada make him endearingly likable. Aimi Satsukawa does the cute and quiet act with ease that it makes it easy for the audience to understand why Ando would fall for her. As for Go Morita as the stalker, this is his film, that’s all I will say about him. The supporting cast are all fine and give their roles the much-needed sympathy to stand out.


The production values of the film are great, like the musical score and the editing. There’s a scene that starts the second act that is fantastically edited that it makes the audience more anticipated of what’s to come. The cinematography is also interesting to see, as the shots of the film starts off as static until they gradually become more hand-held when the depravity sets in. The film is also refreshingly free of CGI, which is becoming a major hindrance in cinematic storytelling. How can you get into the story if you notice something extremely fake? Hime-anole has very little of that, and it is immersive in its intent from the get-go.

To say any more about the film will be a discredit to it so I’ll just say that Hime-anole was one of the biggest surprises for me in 2016 and I highly recommend this film to those who are adventurous in the unexpected. With fantastic performances, the subtly unhinged direction from Keisuke Yoshida and a refreshing lack of adherence towards mainstream storytelling, Hime-anole is a cult classic in the making.

P.S – Did I note that the film was rated R-15 in Japan? I probably should’ve mentioned it earlier.



Quickie Review


Fantastic performances (especially from Go Morita)

Assured direction and unhinged storytelling chops from Keisuke Yoshida

Surprising twists in the story


Some moments which could take the audience out of the film

Those expect anything mainstream will be concerned and even shocked

SCORE: 9/10

Readers in Australia want to watch the film? Book tickets for it at Japanese Film Festival 2016! Press the logo below for more details!

Cast: Go Morita, Gaku Hamada, Tsuyoshi Muro, Aimi Satsukawa
Director: Keisuke Yoshida
Screenwriters: Keisuke Yoshida, based on the manga “Hime-anole” by Minoru Furuya

Movie Review – Journey to the Shore


EXPECTATIONS: A slow, contemplative romantic journey that eventually makes a reasonable impact. Plus YU AOI!

REVIEW: Kiyoshi Kurosawa is known to the West as a master of horror due to his films like Pulse (Kairo), Cure, Seance and others. I personally disagree, not because his films are bad as horror films (they are certainly not), but he is a master of using stillness and silence to induce tension, whether it is dramatic or horrific. Even in slice-of-life family dramas like Tokyo Sonata, his films can be quite hard to watch. But like every director, they have their misfires. The horror film Loft, which in my mind is underrated and misunderstood, was seen as unintentionally funny while the sci-fi film Real was seen as incredibly misguided and a complete mismatch between director and the source material. Now we have Journey to the Shore (nothing to do with the Chinese fantasy tale, Journey to the West), a contemplative and tender story, based on a novel by Kazumi Umoto, that joins tropes of romance and ghosts. Will this film be a perfect match between Kurosawa and the source material, or will it be another misfire?


Widowed three years ago when her husband drowned, Mizuki (Eri Fukatsu) works as a private piano teacher. Her father died when she was 16 and her mother passed away five years ago. One evening, her husband Yusuke (Tadanobu Asano), a former dentist, appears in her apartment and asks her to come with him on a final journey – to places and people who have meant a lot to him in the past three years – prior to the final passage of passing on. Basically, it is a road movie where we meet various characters, played by a fantastic supporting cast, we find out more about the predicament of the leads as well as character growth.

Director Kiyoshi Kurosawa adapts the story through a naturalistic means as well as adopting his methods of stillness and silence, Journey to the Shore is a touching exploration of love and death. Kurosawa’s direction elevates this film, taking the fantastical plot into heights that ring true to the audience, i.e. how we deal with deaths of loved ones. The world the characters inhabit is hyper-realistic, yet the characters themselves are intentionally lifeless, almost letting go of their spirit and struggling to survive in their conditions. Even little touches i.e. Fukatsu’s hair covering her face and gradually uncovering throughout the film compliment the film in terms of character. The cinematography by Akiko Ashizawa compliments that really well, especially in terms of lighting at certain times of the film when characters reach a certain point in growth, like how Mizuki confronts Tomoko (Yu Aoi) a former girlfriend of Yusuke. The music by Yoshihide Otomo is delicate yet emotionally stirring, but it can be overly used at times, becoming more cloying than rewarding.


The wonderfully talented cast certainly helps the film, with leads Eri Fukatsu and Tadanobu Asano making their keep, particularly Fukatsu. Having done a ton of various roles from comedic roles (Bayside Shakedown) to tortured roles (Villain) and villainous roles (Parasyte Parts 1 & 2), Fukatsu does one of her best performances as Mizuki. The way she portrays her passion and lost love for her husband with such restraint is captivating to watch, like in a scene where she expresses anger to Yusuke for her past relationships. Asano isn’t that far off in his likable yet enigmatic performance that is hiding a past life that is not so easy to like. For the supporting cast, Yu Aoi is fantastic in her one scene as she is confronted by Fukatsu, while acting veterans Akira Emoto and Masao Komatsu, ironically, give much-needed life to their characters, particularly Komatsu, who plays a character who is halfway towards passing on.

As much as the acting and the directorial technique is, the film is not without its flaws. Besides the overuse of music in dramatic scenes, the pacing can be a bit vexing. Although the intent for the pacing is there i.e. in becoming more lively as the film goes on, it can be annoyingly glacial for audiences. The storytelling can be a bit messy in its episodic structure. There is one subplot that involves another couple going through the same situation as the two leads are and it drags the film while driving a point to the audience that they already know. Fortunately, it reaches a powerful ending that is parts beautiful and concise.


Overall, it is a nice change of pace for Kurosawa, as he ventures towards another genre and with an amazing cast to back him up, Journey to the Shore is a touching love story with a twist that shows that Kurosawa still has his directorial skills intact.




Quickie Review


Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s assured and composed direction

Production values are great, especially the cinematography

The cast give fantastic performances


Music can intrude to the point of being melodramatic

The storytelling can be a bit messy

The pacing can irk some

SCORE: 7/10

Cast: Eri Fukatsu, Tadanobu Asano, Yu Aoi, Masao Komatsu, Akira Emoto
Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Screenwriter:  Takashi Ujita, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Kazumi Umoto (novel)

Movie Review – The Mermaid


EXPECTATIONS: A hilarious and off-kilter experience. What else can you expect from Stephen Chow?

REVIEW: ANOTHER STEPHEN CHOW FILM?! I would probably faint and feel dehydrated but I have a review to write. Oh yes, the newest film from comedic genius/director Stephen Chow. First off, Chow, alongside Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Chow Yun-fat, was one of the major factors that got me into Hong Kong Cinema. I have been a huge fan of his work ever since I was six years old, when I first watched his action/comedy film, Fight Back to School II. His egotistical attitude, flair for physical comedy and his verbal expertise had such an impact on me; I wholeheartedly credit him for attaining my sense of humour. And his best films (God of Cookery, Love on Delivery etc.) are usually the ones that he directs (or co-directs), so when I heard he would not be starring in his recent films, I was very reticent, but Journey to the West – Conquering the Demons proved me wrong and his distinct comedic sensibility and compelling genre mixing direction are still intact. Again, he directs but does NOT star in his latest film, The Mermaid. Earning the credit of being the highest-grossing film in China mere months after Monster Hunt, does it deserve its sterling reputation?


Deng Chao stars as Liu Xuan, an egotistical billionaire playboy tycoon who purchases the Green Gulf, a wildlife reserve, for a sea reclamation project. Working alongside Ruolan (Zhang Yuqi), they acquire powerful sonar technology to get rid of all sea-life in the area. But little do they know, is that there is a populace of merpeople and many of them are either injured or have died from the use of the sonar. Now inhabiting an abandoned shipwreck in the Green Gulf, the merpeople, led by Octopus propose a plan to assassinate Liu Xuan. Taking Liu Xuan’s playboy personality as an opportunity, the merpeople recruit Shan (Jelly Lin Yun) and train her to socialize among humans to eventually meeting up with Liu Xuan. But little does she know when the two meet, the two would form a romantic relationship that will spell out the fate of the merpeople.

When I heard that Chow was making a film about mermaids, I thought it would be a twist on the romance formula that is The Little Mermaid. But it turns out that it is more than that. Not only is it a Stephen Chow comedy and a romance film, it is also an environmental message to the people about the damage the world has suffered. And not being one for subtlety, Chow shows a minute-long montage of it in the beginning of the film, but fortunately, that is about as preachy as it gets, as the film is in support of the story and the message, not vice-versa. It is also notable that Chow throws away expectations of the mermaid genre to great effect. For example, Shan never grows legs when she ventures on land, so she ends up with a very goofy walk and sometimes uses a skateboard. Another example is that Shan is absolutely oblivious of how beautiful she is and uses her sex appeal (or lack thereof) like a siren to ill effect. It is inventive touches like this that make the film stand out.

But let’s get to the nitty-gritty. How is the comedy in the film? I am happy to tell you that the comedy is still there and it is thanks to Stephen Chow’s direction and the wonderful cast of newcomers (to Chow’s oeuvre) and regulars. Jelly Lin Yun gives a star-making performance as the ridiculously lovable Shan, that is very reminiscent of actress Shu Qi as well as the lovable loser archetype that Chow would usually play (like in Love on Delivery, Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle) or even Zhang Yuqi’s performance in the Stephen Chow-produced/co-written Jump. Her chemistry between Deng Chao is great from a romance standpoint as well as a comedic standpoint, but her physical comedic chops are so good, I literally choked at one point. There’s a scene where she is using her mermaid weapons to kill Liu Xuan and she fails miserably, with hilariously cruel results.

Speaking of hilariously cruel results, Show Luo gives an even better Stephen Chow impression than he did in Journey to the West – Conquering the Demons, which is reminiscent of the deadpan Stephen Chow archetype (like in Fight Back to School) and he has one of the best moments in the film where he pretends to be a hibachi chef. The treatment of his character would make the director of Oldboy blush. Deng Chao is great as Liu Xuan and he seems to be having a lot of fun getting into the playboy attitude. His character is also reminiscent of the egotistical archetype that director Chow would usually play. As for Zhang Yuqi, she usually plays the eye candy in movies (even in her debut film, Cj7), but she showcased some great comedic chops in Tsui Hark’s All About Women. It was a surprise for me to see her in The Mermaid since she and Chow were in a lawsuit involving contractual obligations. But her performance in The Mermaid, she is the vamp incarnate. She literally owns the screen every time shows up, and it is shocking to see how far she’s come, especially when you compare her to her incredibly genial performance in Jump. Her character is cliched as far as it can get, but she relishes the material she has and goes all the way.


Speaking of those in conflict with Chow, actor Tin Kai-man had bad things to say about him in a past interview about him being cheap and he had not worked with him since Jump, almost 8 years ago. In The Mermaid, he has a funny cameo as a museum visitor who cannot hold in his laughter. I do hope this is a beginning of past collaborators coming back to work with Chow again. Other cameos include acclaimed director Tsui Hark as Uncle Rich, a name that tells everything and show-stealing Zhang Wen, who had played the lead in Journey to the West – Conquering the Demons. His cameo alongside Chow collaborator Lee Shing-cheung resulted in one of the funniest scenes in 2016 so far. The sheer absurdity of the story and plot is put into focus in this one scene and is all the more hilarious for it. Like the scene involving the assassination and the hibachi chef scene, Chow’s sense of humour tends to revolve around the cruel treatment of his characters and just when you sense how cruel the physical gags can get, it will just make you laugh even harder. All of the Chow hallmarks are present: Bruce Lee influences, cross-dressers, the use of a restaurant stool, Japanimation sense of timing, Looney Tunes sense of humour (characters literally take out props from nowhere) lovable losers rising up, egotistical people falling from grace, “uglified” female characters (at one point) and the use of classical Chinese music. The Fist of Fury theme and the theme from Legend of the Condor Heroes 1983 (Part 3) are used to great nostalgic effect as well as getting the emotional conflict across.

But there are some nagging problems in the story that distract more than amuse, like the pleasing of Chinese censors. Foreigners in the film (consisting of Westerners and Japanese) are villains and are even portrayed as insane. Though that can be amusing at times (like a darkly amusing joke involving a selfie), it just comes off as xenophobic. It also affects the Stephen Chow archetypes that he is trying to achieve. Deng Chao’s character was meant to be the egotistical savant suffering a fall from grace (like in God of Cookery, King of Beggars and Sixty Million Dollar Man), but the hard-edged humour that usually goes along with it has dulled. The CGI is also surprisingly cheap, considering that the CGI in Shaolin Soccer, Kung Fu Hustle and CJ7 were much better, that it is quite hard to take seriously in the dramatic parts of the film, particularly the climax.


But overall, The Mermaid is a fantastic comedy, a out-of-this-world romance, an important environmental message that truly deserves its success, beating out every other Chinese New Year film with ease. The Little Mermaid (2017) remake has some big shoes to fill after this.


Quickie Review


The cast all give great performances

The film’s sense of humour brings lots of laughs

Some surprising elements


Inconsistent CGI

Obvious China censorship

SCORE: 8/10

Cast: Jelly Lin Yun, Deng Chao, Show Luo, Zhang Yuqi, Kris Wu, Lam Tze-chung, Zhang Wen, Tsui Hark, Lee Shing-cheung
Director: Stephen Chow
Screenwriter: Stephen Chow, Kelvin Lee, Ho Miu-kei, Lu Zhengyu, Fung Chih-chiang, Ivy Kong, Chan Hing-ka, Tsang Kan-cheung

Movie Review – Blind Detective


EXPECTATIONS: A fun romantic comedy OR an entertaining detective yarn? Who the hell knows?

REVIEW: Andy Lau, Sammi Cheng and director Johnnie To reuniting for a film after nine years of waiting? “Hell, yes!” was my first impression when I heard about Blind Detective. But reading sources and news about the film, it was a bit disconcerting that the film was a mystery, something that Andy Lau and Sammi Cheng had never collaborated on before. And the hesitance changed to borderline puzzlement when I saw the trailers. One of the trailers markets the film to be a serious mystery film filled with implications of cannibalism, murder and other disturbing details. But another trailer markets the film as a Andy Lau and Sammi Cheng lovefest. So which one is it? Well, after viewing the film, it turns out that the film is both the latter and the former. Bound to give whiplash to those not familiar to films of Hong Kong, Blind Detective both delights and befuddles me in the best ways, that is reminiscent of the best of the slipshod 90’s Hong Kong cinema.


Andy Lau stars as Johnston (or Chong Si-teun), the titular blind detective who is self-employed after leaving the force due to his unfortunate ailment. Known as a legend in the police force (as well as being boasted by himself) to the point of being taken advantage of by his former partner, Szeto Fatbo (amusingly played by Guo Tao), he goes after cases that pays well for his financial benefit as well as his guilty pleasure of sensual delights: food. Sammi Cheng plays Goldie (or Ho Ka-tung), a police inspector who lives on her parents’ trust fund and is physically capable for her job, but not intellectually so. The two meet while foiling (using improvised dancing?) a man who had planned to pour Hydrochloric acid on unsuspecting bystanders.  She hires Johnston to school her on the art of investigation as well as to find a missing girl, who is a former friend of Goldie’s from 20 years ago. The two are on the case and they also go on other cases involving a man killing his workmates over money, an incredibly tall woman who had robbed five jewellery stores and a cannibalistic serial killer (played by the scene-stealing Philip Keung Ho-man) who had murdered young women over a long span of almost two decades.


You gotta give credit to director Johnnie To for a film like Blind Detective, especially in a time of Hong Kong films losing their distinct identity due to China co-productions and aping Hollywood blockbusters. What could have been another romantic comedy that appealed to the China market (much like the Don’t Go Breaking My Heart films), not only did To make a distinct Hong Kong film, but he made a farcical romantic comedy that revolved around murder. That’s one hell of a challenge he set out for himself. And on that note, he mostly succeeded. The film can be seen as a melange of almost every Johnnie To trademark. Having the two leads and their delightful chemistry, the distinct stylish look (reminiscent of PTU), the off-kilter storytelling (reminiscent of Mad Detective), the disturbingly grisly violence (reminiscent of Running on Karma) and even some gun-play (the distinct blood squibs are present), Blind Detective is a film that will delight Hong Kong Johnnie To fans. As for fans who make up his international fan-base, they will probably leave the film befuddled. The overacting of the leads is so loud, so insistent and so assaultive, it will definitely turn off some people. The tone shifts are so abrupt that you could hear necks cracking in the cinema. And the storytelling is not assured as Johnnie To’s previous films, due to the many plot holes (i.e. How can a person survive in a locked closet for 27 days?) and many subplots, adding to the overlong running time. So what is it that makes Blind Detective enjoyable despite of its flaws? The cast, for one.


Known as the Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan of Hong Kong, the two rekindle their chemistry, that was so prominent in the previous films, as if no time had passed. Everything from their conflicts (both verbal and physical) and their bonding to their declaration of feelings for each other, it is still a delight to see both of them on-screen together. But seeing this a a Johnnie To film, they both give fantastic individual performances. Andy Lau is very convincing as a person afflicted to blindness and he overacts his ego in such an entertaining way, that it almost feels genuine. His character is a selfish buffoon who gradually sees the errors of his ways, but Andy Lau’s charisma smooths the rough edges of the character. It was nice to see Lau play a character instead of just playing himself (i.e the disastrous Switch). Sammi Cheng is even better as the combative police detective, as the role evidently shows that her acting has improved over the years in terms of her dramatic chops. Essentially the brawn to Andy Lau’s brain, she handles the physicality of the role really well, especially when she encounters the cannibalistic serial killer. The chemistry is so palpable, that it makes the overacting seem surprisingly human, and it even overcomes the fact when you realize the age of the actors (I’m looking at you, Charlene Choi!). One problem about the pairing though is the romance. In their previous collaborations, their love for one another was always seen and felt. But unfortunately in Blind Detective, it is told through dialogue, which makes the romantic angle a bit of a disappointment.

The supporting cast are fine, with a few standouts. Guo Tao is both dopey and amusingly tough as Szeto Fatbo, while Gao Yuanyuan is alluring in a small role as Tingting, a ballet teacher Johnston fancies. Lam Suet is hilarious as a murder suspect who is addicted to gambling but by far the best standout is Philip Keung Ho-man as the cannibalistic murderer. Wearing the victim’s clothes (whom are female, by the way) and looking incredibly grimy, he is both funny and scary in the role.


Another plus for the film is Johnnie To’s enthusiastic direction. The cinematography is sleek and garish, the handling of the comedic scenes are reminiscent of mo lei tau at times and the crimes are depicted in a realistically brutal fashion. And there are some surprises that are quite smart to witness. Like how the characters attempt to solve cases. The characters attempt to act out, in a very exaggerated fashion, the many hypotheses of how the crime takes place and see if they can piece out the elements of motive, modus operandi and so on. It can be seen as a comedic riff on the investigative methods of Mad Detective or a funny commentary on method acting, but it pays off for the benefit of the story. It is moments like this that make the film fun and also distinctively Hong Kong. Even the slipshod moments of the film (i.e. errors in the subtitles, the excessive overacting, the tone shifts) have a nostalgic quality that made it quite receptive to Hong Kong audiences.

Blind Detective is an ambitious Johnnie To entry (in terms of his romantic comedy work) that can wildly entertain as well as polarize people, but for those who can handle the tone shifts and the overacting will have a lot of fun. Just don’t watch this film on an empty stomach.


Quickie Review


Fantastic performances and chemistry between Andy Lau and Sammi Cheng

Johnnie To’s enthusiastic direction

Has a distinct Hong Kong feel that is nostalgic and warm


Overacting and tone shifts will polarize

Overlong running time

Storytelling is not as assured as To’s previous efforts

Romantic angle, while well-done, is not as affecting as To’s previous Lau-Cheng efforts

SCORE: 7/10

Cast: Andy Lau Tak-Wah, Sammi Cheng Sau-Man, Guo Tao, Gao Yuanyuan, Zi Yi, Lang Yueting, Lo Hoi-Pang, Bonnie Wong Man-Wai, Lam Suet, Philip Keung Ho-Man, Chow Ka-Sing, Renee Lee, Tsui Chi-Hung, Stephanie Che Yuen-Yuen, Mimi Chu Mi-Mi, Bonnie Xian
Director: Johnnie To Kei-fung
Screenwriter: Wai Ka-Fai, Yau Nai-Hoi, Ryker Chan, Yu Xi

Movie Review – Poison Berry In My Brain (Japanese Film Festival 2015)

EXPECTATIONS: A fun romantic comedy that just so happens to be very similar to Pixar’s Inside Out.

REVIEW: Before I start talking about the movie (and its similarities to Pixar’s Inside Out), let me talk about the main actress, Yoko Maki. Being in the unfortunate position of being known in the West in a small role in The Fast and the Furious – Tokyo Drift, I think that she’s one of the most under-appreciated actresses in Japan today. Her performances have great restraint that rings human; she shows strength and authority in a compelling way and she has surprisingly comedic chops that are underused. Great examples of her work are in Before the Vigil, The Ravine of Goodbye, Like Father Like Son and fittingly, Poison Berry In My Brain. Despite sharing many similarities to the Pixar film, Poison Berry In My Brain is nonetheless, a very funny romantic comedy that has enough innovations to make it fresh and worthwhile to watch.

Yoko Maki stars as Ichiko Sakurai, a smart and talented woman who recently got fired from her job due to her indecisiveness and her impulsiveness. But in an optimistic fashion, she uses her time off to work on her long-gestating novel. It is in her daily life, where she has problems with making decisions in general. Every time she has to make one, it is brainstormed in her head, represented as a committee of five people including the chairman Yoshida (Hidetoshi Nishijima) who represents reason; Ishibashi (Ryunosuke Kamiki) who represents optimism; Ikeda (Yo Yoshida) who represents pessimism; Hatoko (Hiyori Sakurada) who represents impulsiveness and imagination and Kishi (Kazuyuki Asano) who represents memory. There is also another member of the committee that suddenly appears when Ichiko meets Ryoichi Saotome (Yuki Furakawa), and it starts a tumultuous relationship that could see the committee and Ichiko go for a bumpy ride.

I’ve already written enough praise for Yoko Maki (also in Lion Standing Against the Wind) already so…I’m gonna do it again. In this movie, she displays everything from vulnerability, strength when it is needed and her comedic chops are in full display, especially when she struggles to hold in her sexual urges and feelings towards Saotome. She also never feels like she’s a guest in her own film as she stand her ground as a character, which was a problem for me as I watched Inside Out, as the main character felt like she was benched out. As for the supporting cast, most of them are great, while some are just present. Hidetoshi Nishijima is amusing as a timid leader and when he finally shows authority, he becomes compelling. Kazuyuki Asano shows adds credibility in the dramatic scenes as well as amusing asides during the comic arguments. The duo of Ryunosuke Kamiki (also in Bakuman) and Yo Yoshida lend plenty of laughs with their confrontations while Hiyori Sakurada (who was good in The Furthest End Awaits) is a hoot as Hatoko, who stands on the delicate line between overly cute and pure hilarity. Even when she stands in the background, doing nothing, she just comes off as hilarious. But unfortunately, the performances of the male characters that want to court Ichiko are quite frankly, bland. It may not be the actor’s performances but it might be their character archetypes. Granted, they are more developed than the norm of romantic comedies, but it doesn’t offset the fact that these characters are still bland. It makes a bit of a dramatic vacuum since we don’t really care about who Ichiko chooses out of the two.

There are many blatant similarities to this and Pixar’s Inside Out. Both feature a female protagonist with a committee that represent five different personalities and both revolve around a major part of a person’s life. In Inside Out, it revolved around a child’s adolescence, but in Poison Berry In My Brain, it revolves around a person’s love life. Though there are plenty of opportunities for depth and nuance, the film doesn’t take that route that much (except for the climax) due to the conventions of the romantic comedy genre. The story itself can be predictable but the addition of the committee is what makes the film stand out. The visuals of the committee looks quite good and I liked how it was set in a castle, which conveys Ichiko’s world of fantasy and imagination, especially when she’s a writer of romantic stories. And I really liked the choice of choosing a beautiful woman, dressing eerily close to BDSM, representing Ichiko’s sensualist emotions, impulsiveness, and how she easily overrules the committee.

Regardless of similarities, what it lacks in substance, it makes up for it in laughs. And besides the performances, the editing is another reason why the film earns its laughs. With the careful timing of cutting back to the committee’s reactions of Ichiko, it earns many laughs and thankfully, the filmmakers never overdo it to the point of tedium or attempt it at the wrong time like during a dramatic scene. The dramatic scenes can work although at times, the music can be used a bit too much just to get a rise out of the audience. The substance in the film still counts as the film can be a bit more than just a romantic comedy, but it can be seen as a commentary about love and happiness. And it definitely rings true in the climax.

Speaking of dramatic, the climax earns its poignancy thanks to the capabilities of the cast alone and the journey of Ichiko is very well-traveled. Her character arc is nothing new, but it is portrayed enough to drive its point home. I would like to see a sequel to this film just to explore other major life events that Ichiko might come by, as this film only explores love (in every sense of the word).

Poison Berry In My Brain is a fun romantic comedy that applies more effort than most of its kind and when you add Yoko Maki, the talented supporting cast and its innovations (derivative or not), it becomes more than just fluff; it has brains.

Quickie Review


Yoko Maki gives an understated,  charming, “emotional” and very funny performance

The supporting cast (committee) are all great

Many different diversions to make the romantic comedy template seem fresh


Boring male romantic leads

The music can be a bit overused

Those who have seen “Inside Out” may be put off a bit

SCORE: 7.5/10

Readers in Australia want to watch the film? Book tickets for it at Japanese Film Festival 2015! Press the logo below for more details!

Cast: Yoko Maki, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Ryunosuke Kamiki, Yuki Furukawa, Sungha, Yo Yoshida, Hiyori Sakurada, Kazuyuki Asano

Director: Yuichi Sato

Screenwriter: Tomoko Aizawa, based on the manga by Setona Mizushiro

Movie Review – Princess Jellyfish (Japanese Film Festival 2015)

EXPECTATIONS: An insufferable experience of too much whimsy and too much overacting.

REVIEW: I’m not usually a fan of romantic comedies, especially the increasingly formulaic ones coming out of Hollywood. So when I hear of romantic comedies revolving around worlds of fantasy and/or whimsy, I’m even more skeptical. There are many films that work like The Princess Bride, Stardust, Ghost and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World but when those types of films fail, they fail miserably. Films like the annoying Alex and Emma, the horrifically terrible Safe Haven and the excessive Mood Indigo (although I like it) are insufferable to many so when I started to watch Princess Jellyfish, I was nervous thinking that I would hate it. And watching the trailer did nothing to sway my expectations. So what did I really think of Princess Jellyfish? Does it exceed my expectations? Does it transcend from the abysmal norm of the romantic comedy?

Rena Nounen is the titular character, Tsukimi Kirishima, a female otaku, meaning a person with incredibly obsessive interests to the point that it is detrimental to her social and romantic life. And her interests happen to be about jellyfish. She’s also an aspiring manga artist who just hangs around at home, which happens to be a boarding house filled with many girls who are incredibly similar to Tsukimi. Although, she goes out on occasion to buy jellyfish, one day, she shows some backbone when arguing with a pet store owner about the environments jellyfish should live in. During said argument, a woman butts in and supports her, but it is later revealed that he is a man, Kuranosuke Koibuchi (Masaki Suda), who happens to be the son of the incredibly pushy mayor (Sei Hiraizumi). Kuranosuke develops an interest in Tsukimi and starts hanging out with her at her place and the two make a deal. She helps him keep his secret and he will help her with her appearance. Kuranosuke’s father then sets off the plot about the boarding house being scheduled for destruction from a building developer and her laughably bitchy aide (Nana Katase), while Tsukimi’s physical change sets off a love triangle as her appearance also catches the interest of Kuranosuke’s half-brother, Shu (Hiroki Hasegawa), who may be just as shy as Tsukimi. Can Tsukimi find her one true love to finally become a supposed princess as well as save her home from being destroyed?

As you may have guessed, the plot is incredibly silly and the characters could only come from a manga. So the only way the audience can really get into the film is to find something that is relatable and grounded to hold on to. Fortunately, the two leads are well-portrayed, likable and thankfully, genuine. Rena Nounen and Masaki Suda have great chemistry together as friends as well as lovers as their personalities mesh together like peanut butter and jelly(fish?). But they also work individually, particularly Nounen. Her character could have easily been incredibly annoying in her precociousness, and she is at times, but Nounen provides a perfect balance between obliviousness and cuteness that makes her quite charming. It’s just a shame that when she changes her appearance, she comes off as a little boring. It’s more the fault of the script and it happens in other romantic comedies as well like She’s All That or the Chinese sci-fi/fantasy film A Chinese Tall Story. Suda is also good as Kuranosuke, who plays his personalities of puppy love, determination and hesitance (of his father) quite well, and quite frankly, he’s probably the best thing in the movie.

As for the supporting cast, the women of the house are all amusing in their own ways like Rina Ohta as Mayaya, and it was a hoot to see Chizuru Ikewaki, last appearing in the hard-hitting drama The Light Shines Over There, being unrecognizable with an Afro as Banba. Another standout is Nana Katase as Shoko. Her portrayal of bitchiness and downright cruelty is hilarious to watch and it is perfectly obvious that she’s having a lot of fun in the role, and the same goes for Hayami Mokomichi as Yoshio, the chauffeur of the Koibuchi family. Unfortunately, the actor who gets the short end of the stick is Hiroki Hasegawa. Although he has a great seduction scene with Katase, he gets stuck with an underwritten and downright boring role as the timid, kind third wheel and he sinks along with it. Other than Hasegawa, the cast are given good roles to play with and make the most of them.

Another thing I give the film credit for is the costume design and cinematography. Recently, Japanese films have adopted a washed-out look that may give verisimilitude but most of the time it makes the film look cheap. But in the case of Princess Jellyfish, the film looks bubbly and warm and the costumes are very enjoyable to look at, whether it is homely clothing or strikingly bold colourful yukata. The pacing is frenetic at times, but it makes the jokes more enjoyably to take since it doesn’t rely on forcing punchlines on the audience. Although there are some jokes that get repetitive at times, like how Tsukimi gets literally “petrified”. The pacing is also detrimental to the film because of the film’s relentless on whimsy, it can become tiring by the film’s end. It doesn’t help that the film is over 2 hours long, which is too long for any romantic comedy. It may come from the fact that this film is adapted from a source material that spans through many volumes of manga. It gives the film a rushed feel as it leaves some characters underdeveloped (like the character of Shu), but the filmmakers want to cram everything to appease fans.

It’s a double-sword approach that adaptations still need to work on to this day, but Princess Jellyfish succeeds on that front because it works on its own levels. The characters are likable and mostly humane, the film looks and sounds great and the story, while completely silly, is executed without a sense of irony that it makes it easier for the audience to get into. It’s like Amelie meets The Castle in Japan.

Quickie Review


The cast give the roles all their worth

The film has a distinct and colorful look that conveys the manga feel

The story is executed amusingly straight, with plenty of fun jokes


Overlong running time

The pacing is sometimes to relentless as it shows too much whimsy and fantasy for one to take

The story feels rushed at times

SCORE: 7/10

Readers in Australia want to watch the film? Book tickets for it at Japanese Film Festival 2015! Press the logo below for more details!

Cast: Rena Nounen, Masaki Suda, Hiroki Hasegawa, Chizuru Ikewaki, Rina Ohta, Azusa Babazono, Tomoe Shinohara, Nana Katase, Mokomichi Hayami, Sei Hiraizumi, Tomoya Nakamura, Kenta Uchino
Director: Yasuhiro Kawamura
Screenwriter: Akiko Hagishimura (manga), Toshiya Ono