Saturday, 29 September 2012

The Mistress (2012)

They say that you'll either hate or love The Mistress. Fortunately, I'm on the love side, and I'm still trying to figure out how some people ended up not liking it. I don't think it's perfect, and I can cite a couple of flaws, but overall, I think it's a pretty good movie.

Sari (Bea Alonzo) is a mistress, a female master cutter. But she's also a mistress in another sense, the other woman of Rico Torres (Ronaldo Valdez). Despite knowing all this, JD (John Lloyd Cruz) still chases after Sari, wanting her even though he knows that she's already somebody else's. It's a common other woman story, with a few twists here and there. But though the story may be pretty common, they manages to make it interesting.

I think most of it is because of the pretty tight writing. The conflict is established quickly. Secrets are out not even halfway into the film and the audience pretty much already know what's going to happen next. But the engaging exchange of dialogue and the performance of the cast keep you watching. You just want to see how it will unfold, how they'll get out the mess. Or if they'd even ever get out.

I've been told that there's something wrong with the execution of the story. But having no background in film, I can't really see what's wrong with it. Sure, there are some problem with continuity such as how the blocking of actors would seem to change, but it's something I can let pass. Two hours passed by pretty quickly and I feel as if every scene either helps explore the complexity of a character or pushes the story forward. There are no unnecessary characters that take too much screen time, and no side stories that doesn't relate to the main conflict. Each primary character is explored, given enough screen time.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Suicide Club (2002)

I don't watch that many morbid flicks, so it's safe to say that Suicide Club is the most disturbing one I've seen so far.

The film opens in a subway platform where 54 female high school students committed suicide. As the train approaches the platform, the students line up beyond the yellow line, hold hands, count to two and jump to the tracks as the train approaches. For the next hour and a half, tons of people will commit suicide in the same manner.

And for the next hour and a half, you'd wonder what pushes these people to take their own lives, excited and carefree. One minute they're happily chatting with friends, the next they're jumping off a building. Along with the audience, the police wonders if it's murder or just a suicide fad. Over the course of history, there had been suicide cults so it wouldn't be the first time that a group of people decides to commit suicide at the same time. But as a sports bag appears multiple of times in the suicide scene, the police grows suspicious. What's even more intriguing is how inside the sports bag, there are slabs of skin are sewed together.

The movie manages to sustain interest all throughout the movie. At first it's a group suicide, then smaller groups follow. There are instances that an individual would do it. There's no obvious pattern on the suicide victims, no common place, no reason at all why these individuals commit suicide. Then we start to get to know the police officers who are involved in the case. We see how they are affected by the case, how it starts from being just a case to something more personal.

I like how they tell the story, how one scene weaves into another. How questions pile up and you have no choice but to tune in, no matter how gut-wrenching the scenes are becoming. A couple of times, I wanted to stop watching because I didn't think I could handle more bloodbath. But I continued watching because there are enough elements to hold my attention, to make me continue watching.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Barefoot Dream (2010)

Kim WonGwang (Park HeeSoon) is an ex-soccer player, trying to make a living outside his own country. After his business ventures in Indonesia failed repeatedly, he sees a potential in the newly established independent nation, East Timor. But from the moment he stepped in the country, he's slapped with the harsh reality that he's once again fooled to believe that a business can thrive in the place. When he's on his way back to the airport, he sees a group of barefoot kids playing soccer. He sees an opportunity in this and opens a soccer shop instead of leaving the country.

I watched Barefoot Dream with no expectations, only knowing that it's about soccer. But I came away with one of the best movie experiences of my life. I'm not even exaggerating. This movie is part of Korean Film Festival showing in the Philippines right now, and it's just plain luck that this is the movie that I was fortunate enough to see in the theaters. I now understand why they chose this movie to be part of the film festival. Probably the same reason why it's South Korea's Oscar submission in 2010.

Based on a true story, Barefoot Dream tells the adventure of a Korean soccer coach and his team of kids from East Timor who see joy in soccer amid war and conflict. It's an inspiring story that will make you teary-eyed every thirty minutes. But it will definitely make you laugh whole-heartedly, too. It manages to mix the cruelties of war with children's light approach to everyday trivialities. But it's not just about playing soccer, it's about being allowed to have a dream despite all the malnutrition and poverty. Mr. Kim just want to sell soccer shoes, but he soon finds himself training these kids to be incredible soccer players, fit to compete in an international level.

Mr. Kim repeatedly says in the movie that because someone is poor doesn't mean that they can't play sports or that they're not allowed to have a dream. And this is pretty much the entire summary of the movie. When other people think it's foolish to let these kids have dream, Mr. Kim continues to train them and believe in their talents.

Maybe it's in the fact that the audience knows that the movie is the story of real people. Or maybe it's because the movie is so well-crafted. It may also be because the characters are so fleshed out, from Mr. Kim to the kids--especially Ramos, Motavio, and Tua. Whatever the reason may be, it's a moving tale of underdogs who prove that they have the talent and perseverance to be taken seriously. This is why I, along with everyone in the theater, was so moved with the movie. It's the first time that I watched a movie where everyone was clapping and shouting and cheering on the players. Some even gave a standing ovation. And it's all for good reason. It was also the first time in a long, long time that a movie made me feel incredibly good.

I do not know how much truth was stretched to make this movie. But I'm pretty sure none of it was romanticized. The East Timor-Leste soccer team made six miraculous wins in the Liberino Cup in 2004, and that's something you just can't fabricate.

To further convince you, please see the trailer below:

(Photo sources: Hancinema + Koreanmovie)

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Blue Gate Crossing (2002)

You know that movie that makes you smile even after the credits roll? Well, this movie's like that. Silly as it may sound, I'm still smiling as I'm writing this.

Blue Gate Crossing has a pretty simple storyline. A girl likes boys so she asks her friend to help her wooing him. The boy ends up liking the friend and not the girl. A common storyline if you ask me, but this one puts a spin to it.

Meng Kerou (Guey Lun-Mei) is a boyish high school students who help her friend, Lin Yuezhen (Liang Shui-Hui), woo Zhang Shihao (Chen Bolin). For Yuezhen, Kerou ends up delivering messages and letters to Zhang Shihao, but Yuezhen is too shy to really make an appearance in front of him. Zhang Shihao starts thinking there's really no Yuezhen and it's Kerou who likes him. That's not the whole story, of course. (That's only how it started. And when I narrate it like that, it seems to be pretty confusing!)

The movie starts with Yuezhen fantasizing a future with Zhang Shihao. And I think it's pretty amazing how the movie ends with Meng Kerou also fantasizing about Zhang Shihao but in a completely different manner. Blue Gate Crossing relies on good story-telling and solid characters to deliver a pretty good movie.

This movie moves pretty fast. The pace didn't dilly-dally but you'll never feel that it's rushed. Though it's only an hour-and-twenty-minute long, there's a coherence to the plot and a sense of completion to it. Some things aren't said outright and are left with the actions and implied dialogues of the characters. But it's not confusing, neither is it misleading.

I love how they treated Meng Kerou's dilemma, giving it a human touch. It's not just about wanting Yuezhen to like her back, but it's also understanding why she likes girls when according to her, girls should like boys. It's finding little pieces herself and understanding herself better. I also appreciate how Zhang Shihao approaches this confession from Kerou. It's not about pushing for her to be a girl since girls are supposed to like boys. It's about wishing that she likes boys so she could like him, too.

This movie seems to understand the little plights of teenagers. A teenager's problem can be pretty shallow sometimes, but other times, it can really tug at your heart. Shallow or not, it's never something to laugh about.

I greatly (let's put more emphasis on greatly!) enjoyed the silly but quite adorable series of back-and-forth bickering between Meng Kerou and Zhang Shihao. They have so much chemistry that I can't help but enjoy their every scene together. When Zhang Shihao first shows his dimples, I melt. When Meng Kerou asks him to kiss her, I squealed a little. (Then we learn the reason why she asks for that kiss, which is pretty heart-breaking.) Every little moment they have with each other is just so precious!

What I love best about this movie is the consistent writing. For some reason, I particularly love how the characters would repeat their questions in the same manner and same tone. I love how they keep on asking the same question unless they'd get an answer or be too infuriated to keep on asking. I appreciate how the characters grow with the story but they keep a pretty solid personality. Meng Kerou is strong-willed and will speak her mind in front of Zhang Shihao. Zhang Shihao is playful but knows when to be serious. I love that throughout the story, they grow up but didn't really change.

Some people probably won't like the ending, but I certainly did. They're young, they're in their teens. At that point in life, who in the world has the answer to everything?

This is actually my second time watching this movie, but this is the first time that I watched it with subtitles. I am pretty glad I took the time to watch it again. If I didn't, the entire meaning of the story would have been lost to me. Don't ask me if there's anything I didn't like about the movie, because right now, I cannot think of any. Maybe when I'm not running high with these stupid happy thoughts and emotions, I might end up coming up with some things I didn't like about it. But nothing really strikes me at the moment, so maybe there's really nothing to hate.

I ended up loving this movie a bit too much that I end up wanting to watch more Taiwanese movies, and that's a first. I should probably explore more of their film offerings.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Koizora (2007)

Koizora is one of those movies that everybody seems to love but I just simply can't appreciate. So it makes me wonder if there's something wrong with me or with my taste.

Last week, I found my rant about this movie hidden away in one of my drafts. I'm not sure why I never published it anywhere. Probably, I was scared that Koizora loyalists would attack me for the things I said. Hehe. After reading my review, I decided to give the movie another try. I mean, so many people love it! So there's a chance that I'd end up liking it too, right?

But after scanning the first half movie, I realized that there's no way I could watch it again, unless I want to raise my blood pressure. Heh.

Here's what I thought of the movie two years ago:
Koizora (Sky of Love) is the portrayal of unrealistic youthful love. What started as a sweet and innocent relationship between two Japanese high school students ends up in a chaos of conflicts only meant to happen in movies. Now, this negative perspective only occurs since the movie is claimed to be based on a true story. But the flow of events would make any viewer question the validity of this claim. 
The story is predictable for anyone who has watched enough Asian love stories. Though the movie is entertaining at first, it still ends as a disappointment for what is quite a well-known Japanese movie. 
The only thing that didn't disappoint in the movie are the lead actors. Miura Haruma (Hiro) and Aragaki Yui (Mika) are eye-candies and can quite capture anyone's attention. They showed off good acting skils and portrayed their characters quite well. 
The first part of the movie is enjoyable and will leave any girl smiling from ear to ear. It is delightful to see how Hiro and Maki, the lead characters of the movie, get to know each other and eventually fall into mutual "love." But once their feelings for each other is established, the development of the plot goes downhill from there. 
What could have been considered as deep conflicts that demands resolutions are shrugged off and treated lightly. Such conflicts include rape, teenage pregnancy, and bullying. It is easy to say that the characters aren't fully developed for even if they experienced inhumanity, they themselves seem to show unrealistic reactions and emotions towards their circumstances. 
Though watching Koizora is not completely a waste of time for I also enjoyed some scenes, I can definitely say that there are better Japanese movies out there. This movie, however, is recommended for anyone who likes movies with teenagers who have uncontrollable hormones faced with a string of unrealistic events.
I was planning to write another review after watching the second time, but it turns out that there's nothing new to write about. They say that I should stop analyzing movies and just enjoy it for what it is. Well, it's a hair-pulling, eyebrow-raising movie so I can't really enjoy it as much as I want.

But Miura Haruma's blond hair makes up for it so I guess it's still worth a watch.

Friday, 7 September 2012

A Gentleman's Dignity (2012)


If there's one positive thing I can say about A Gentleman's Dignity, it's that it's highly entertaining. If there's one negative thing I can say about it, it's too long. What could have been told in 16 episodes, they tried to stretch into some tedious 20 episodes.

A Gentleman's Dignity is about four men in their 40's who grow old but didn't really grow up. They've been friends since high school and they're still together after heratbreaks, bankruptcy, marriages, etc. It has such a nice premise because we always get a story about women who are past their prime, and now, we get a look into the world of men who are really still kids once they get together.

I'd be lying if I say that this drama isn't good, because there are those times when I'm completely in love with it. But admittedly, there are times when I just want to stop watching. I cannot make a proper review because I know my opinions would be clouded with too much biases. I love Jang DongGun way too much to say anything harsh about AGD.

So let's start with the things I love about A Gentleman's Dignity:

The friendship of the four leads. It's the heart and soul of this drama, and as long as they keep it in focus, they don't do anything wrong. The chemistry of our four leads, Kim DoJin (Jang DongGun), Choi Yoon (Kim MinJong), Im TaeSan (Kim SooRo) and Lee JungRok (Lee JongHyuk), is undeniable. They are veteran actors who can go from serious to funny in a snap. My favorite scenes are the ones where all of them are in it. I love them, okay.

The first five minutes of each episode. I don't know what they're called, but every episode starts with a little side story, something separate from what's happening with the plot. It's usually about the four gentlemen, from the time they were in college or in high school. Of all the starters, my favorite is definitely the one when they're talking about SNSD. It had me laughing just by thinking about it! Which leads me to my next point...

The amount of funny in each episode. This is definitely the drama that keeps me laughing on and on and on. Who can ever forget that one time DoJin panics and pours coffee on YiSoo's laptop, thinking it would cover the fact that he's looking at YiSoo's photo? Or that one time DoJin and Yoon are bullied by high school students? And every time TaeSan would curse and they'll censor it? Hee. The funny is enough for me to forget the things I don't like about AGD.

Kim WooBin and Lee JongHyun 
The two cute boys, of course. Colin (Lee JongHyun) and DongHyup (Kim WooBin) are probably my favorite pair in this drama! Okay, they're not exactly in a romantic pairing but their bromance is just too cute. Too bad they have to meet late in the series but their screen time together is just too precious! Favorite scene together? Of course, the one when they're applying for the same position at a fast food chain and they're listing their strengths such as being tall and good-looking. Too adorable for words.

The fact the Kim DoJin is not a prude. I'm tired of Kdrama leading men who act like 15-year-old boys all the time. I guess I don't really understand how the censorship in Korea goes, but it's annoying when leads in other Kdrama act too pure and innocent, and I simply don't buy it. Kim DoJin is different, though, and he can be very vocal about him being a man (and being naughty and stuff). And it's not just Kim DoJin, too, but the other leads as well. As Kim DoJin puts it, "We are still invariably and perpetually men, the male species."

The OST of AGD. A good drama gets even better with a wonderful OST, and this one certainly has a good one. The songs would get stuck in your head and you won't even mind. Of all the good songs included in the soundtrack, my favorites are Everyday and Lee JongHyun's Illa Illa. I do hope they release a full version of JongHyun's Illa Illa. I can't find one anywhere!

The sassy, powerful wife, Park MinSook. There are four leading ladies in this series, and JungRok's wife, MinSook (Kim JungNan) definitely takes the spot as the best one. It's lovely how the four men are scared of her, but it's sometimes annoying how they only care about her and her money. But she often doesn't take their crap. She knows when to keep her marriage and when to give it up, which I think seems to be realistic. I love how she knows how to use her power, and how she puts people in their righteous place. But I also love how she's not just powerful because she's rich, but also because she has a dynamic personality. I need more girls like her in Kdramaland!

The outfit in every scene of Seo YiSoo.  Seo YiSoo (Kim HaNeul) is probably the best dressed high school teacher in the entire country. Be it in school or outside or at home, I want whatever she's wearing! Every episode, I take note of her clothes. They're all just so sophisticated! When I grow up, I want to be Kim HaNeul's hair, I mean, body. NOOOOO. I mean, I want to be Kim HaNeul. She's already in her 30's but she's still incredibly fit.

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