Vengeance

   17 September 2009, terribly early in the morning

My friends and I went to the Ryerson theatre Tuesday night to watch Johnie To’s latest film, Vengeance. In a nice change of pace, the film wasn’t playing at midnight, but at a much more reasonable 9:15. Colin Geddes influence looks to have extended out of the Midnight Madness program. Vengeance was an entertaining film. A French man arrives in Macau after his daughter and her family are killed by hit men. He then proceeds to find another set of hit men to help him exact his revenge. Well, there is a bit more to it than that. It’s very much a To film. There are a some really great shoot outs, interesting characters, and some moody atmosphere. During the Q&A the audience learned the original star of the film was to be Alain Delon, the lead in Le Samourai. For whatever reason this didn’t end up working out, but the producers found French rock-god Johnny Hallyday to play the role. He was pretty awesome, if only because he looks so strange. Also, he has a great jacket in the movie. The film also stars some great HK actors: Anthony Wong is as usual excellent playing one of the hit men; and you can’t make a film in HK without casting Simon Yam. The film was quite enjoyable.

The official Vengeance website.

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Women Without Men

   15 September 2009, the wee hours

The second film I watched at the film festival was Women Without Men. The film is set in Iran, based on a book with the same name, but is a French production. I believe it was filmed in Morocco. The movie chronicles the lives of 4 women living in Iran, circa 1953, just before the American & British backed coup. Each women encounters some sort of hardship, and ends up wandering to this mysterious orchard. The film was a little bit too surreal at times: I find with films that are for the most part realistic depictions of life, introducing fantastic elements rarely works well. I find it hard to connect to the characters, since it’s unclear what’s ‘real’. The actress who plays the prostitute does an excellent job. The scene with her in the bathhouse is really well done. It’s a very pretty film, and the story is interesting enough, but on the whole I thought the film was lacking. There is certainly a lot of buzz around the film, so I might just be an idiot.

Woman Without Men at the Auteurs website.

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City of Life and Death

   14 September 2009, terribly early in the morning

My first film of the festival was City of Life and Death, which was absolutely stunning. Shot in black and white, the film looks gorgeous. Each shot could be a photograph. This is all in great contrast to the films subject matter, which is about the Rape of Nanking. The movie is relentless. The film opens with the Japanese army advancing on the city. There is a pretty exciting battle, which the few Chinese soldiers who remain in the city ultimately lose. And then come mass executions. And all sorts of other atrocities. We are introduced to characters, develop a rapport with them, only to have them die. There are lots of close up shots of peoples faces. These sorts of shots show up again and again in the film. People we are never introduced to, and who never show up in the film again, will be featured in this way on the screen for a few seconds. An attempt to humanize an event that has become a list of statistics? I think so. The two lead Japanese actors in the film both incredible to watch. The film ends, more or less, with a victory dance through the city. That whole sequence is one of the best things i’ve seen shot on film. I can’t praise this film enough.

Apparently there was some controversy in China over the films release: people thought the Japanese soldiers were too sympathetic. The lead in the film is a conflicted soldier. He’s the only constant through out the film. The audience is probably supposed to identify with him. Soldiers are seen playing with Chinese children and giving them candy. They sing and dance with one another. They joke around. This certainly does humanize them, but does it make them sympathetic? I don’t think so, because it doesn’t justify any of their actions. They are still raping and killing people. They are behaving like beasts, but they aren’t beasts they are people. This is actually what makes these sorts of events all the more horrific. Lu Chuan should be commended for not making the Japanese soldiers into caricatures.

City of Life and Death at the Autheurs website. I watched the film with my friends, and L has written about the movie as well.

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Inglourious Basterds

   11 September 2009, terribly early in the morning

Late Wednesday night Vinnie, Mezan, and I watched Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino’s latest film. The commercials might make the film look like its focus is on a group of Jewish-American soldiers who spend their time killing and maiming Nazis, but there is quite a bit more to it than that. The film is actually very dialog heavy — not uncommon in his films — with scenes that are drawn out just enough to build tension, and which more often than not end with some sort of violence. Brad Pitt is hilarious. Christoph Waltz who plays the lead villain is brilliant. The entire cast does an amazing job. The film is probably one of Tarantino’s more accessible films, as the story unfolds sequentially — you don’t jump back and forth in time as with his other films. The movie was great. You should watch it.

The official Inglourious Basterds website.

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X-Men Origins: Wolverine

    8 September 2009, mid-afternoon

I watched X-Men Origins: Wolverine on the plane trip to Edmonton. I had been told the film was bad. I wasn’t expecting much. Even then, I have to say the film didn’t really deliver at all. Well, I suppose the title credits were kind of cool. For the most part though, the film was incredibly cheesy. I was reminded of bad 80s action flicks. There is a shot of Wolverine walking away, lighting a cigar, while a helicopter blows up behind him. There are (multiple!) shots of him screaming, “Nooooo!” while the camera pulls away from above. This film should have been way better than it was. I mean, the source material is great, and it’s not like Hugh Jackman can’t act. What the bloodclot?

The official X-Men Origins: Wolverine website.:

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Le Samourai

   21 August 2009, early morning

I watched Le Samourai last night at Cinematheque. The film is about a perfectionist hit man, hired to kill a nightclub owner. The entire movie takes place over a weekend. It’s slow and methodical, and very light on dialogue. Each scene is very neatly paced and filmed. John Woo has said the film was an important influence for his film The Killers. I was reminded of some Johnny To films. The film features a killer score. Also, Nathalie Delon is really hot. This film is definitely worth watching.

You can by the film from Criterion.

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The Time Traveller's Wife

   20 August 2009, terribly early in the morning

I watched The Time Traveller’s Wife last night. The movie, like the book, is about the relationship between a time travelling man and his wife. (The book is excellent, well worth reading.) I wasn’t expecting much. The movie definitely exceeded by meagre expectations. People complain about the casting, but I honestly didn’t have a real vision of either character in my head. (I suppose I imagined someone scrawnier playing Henry, but who doesn’t like Eric Bana?) The movie strips away much of the book, leaving the core story more or less intact. The film manages to present a coherent tragic love story, but sacrifices a lot of the nuance present in the book. The characters in the book are a lot more interesting, and a lot of the side characters are a lot more fleshed out. There is a lot of conflict removed from the movie, making it feel at times like a typical hollywood romance — except for the whole time travelling thing. The movie is shot and edited quite well. There are several sequences that quickly show the passage of time, how Henry manages to survive his time travelling escapades, etc, that are much longer narratives in the book. I think the actors did the best they could, considering the premise for the film is kind of ridiculous. (It takes real talent to say, “I’m a time traveller,” with a straight face.) Shima cried, though that’s not saying much. It’s an enjoyable enough romance film.

The official The Time Traveller’s Wife website.

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Step Brothers

   17 August 2009, terribly early in the morning

I watched Step Brothers over the weekend. It’s a Will Ferrel movie. He plays that sort of asshole dude that never grew up character he does so well. John C. Reilly plays a similar character. In the film their characters are loser 40-year olds who still live with their (single) parents. The two parents marry, and so the two men end up being step brothers. There isn’t much in the way of plot, it’s more about how their characters develop and grow as people. I’m probably reaching with this characterization of the film. It’s mostly a lot of stupidness. It was funny at times. You probably have to like Will Ferrel to enjoy the film.

The official Step Brothers website.

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Dream for Kabul

   13 August 2009, terribly early in the morning

The Japan Foundation screened Dream for Kabul last night. It’s the story of a father, Haruhiro Shiratori, who loses his son during the World Trade Centre bombing. He decides to try and build a memorial to his son in Kabul. His goal is to try and promote peace. Of course, nothing is quite so simple. Shiratori is an engaging figure, and quite inspiring. Throughout the film he and the people interviewed suggest that before his sons death he was probably a very different figure. It sounds like he and his son were estranged. What he’s trying to accomplish is quite inspiring. The film is shot in three locations: Tokyo, New York, and Kabul; there is also a lot of footage of post-WWII Tokyo. The way the film is edited, you often find yourself thinking you’re watching a scene in one country when in fact you’re actually in another. It’s a smart effect. The film seems to meander a bit at times, but on the whole I think it’s interesting and well worth watching. As an aside, I love the Japan Foundation. That building is awesome, everyone there is so friendly, and their shows and exhibits are so nice.

The official Dream for Kabul website.

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School's Out

   14 July 2009, terribly early in the morning

Degrassi Jr. High and Degrassi High ended on an incredibly bleak note with the School’s Out TV Movie. The film came out in 1992, when I was in grade 6. I remember watching it then. Shima and I watched it again last night. We have been watching the entire series over the last couple weeks. It’s interesting to compare the earlier episodes of the show with the later ones. When the show began, it was pretty obvious only a couple of the kids were actual actors. By the end, it seems that even those kids who couldn’t act took lessons. This is good, because some of the storylines in School’s Out would have been painful to watch with Degrassi Jr. High era wooden acting. School’s Out takes place a year after Degrassi High ends. There are lots of characters from the series notably absent, and some characters appear in the background, but don’t really have lines. (In this respect, it isn’t unlike a very long episode of the TV show.) The film’s main plot follows a love triangle between Joey, Catlin, and Tessa. A subplot involves Wheel’s fixing up a car so he can drive off to Calgary. If you haven’t seen the film, I’ll leave things at that. The movie is bleak. Some of the last scenes in the film seem particularly dark. School’s Out was a really scorched earth way to end the show, especially since the series finale for Degrassi High was fairly up beat. If you haven’t seen the original Degrassi series you’re missing out. It’s some of the best television ever made. Seriously. Well, maybe anyways.

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Tokyo Sonata

   30 June 2009, terribly early in the morning

Shima and I watched Tokyo Sonata at the Royal last night. The film is a look at the life of a typical Japanese family after the patriarch loses his salary-man office job. He hides this fact from his family, going off to “work” each day. This sounds like it could be the set up to a comedy, but it’s actually an incredibly bleak look how this family slowly falls apart. The music, dialogue, and the way it was filmed reminded me of art-house films from the 60s or 70s. I liked this film a lot. (Shima, not so much.) The cinematography is lovely. The actors are great. The films last two scenes are amazing.

The official Tokyo Sonata website.

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Departures

   17 June 2009, terribly early in the morning

I met up with some ex-Konja members to go see Departures at Cumberland Cinema. The movie won a bunch of awards in Japan, so I was looking forward to seeing it. Like many Japanese films I’ve seen, Departures is about a fellow who does something the rest of Japanese society look upon as shameful, but by the end of the film everyone realizes what he does isn’t so shameful after all. In this case, the protagonist tends to the dead. The movie is melodramatic comedy. The girls next to me were crying for good chunks of the film, and then laughing the rest of the time. The film strikes a strange balance. (The opening scene really sets the mood for the rest of the film.) The film is quite touching at times, though i’m not sure it’s a bit too melodramatic. I liked it regardless, and I think it’s definitely worth watching. There are some very sweet moments.

There was a trailer for Tokyo Sonata before the film began, which is a film I also really want to see. I love me some depressing foreign cinema.

The official Departures web site.

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Up

    7 June 2009, evening time

Shima and I just saw Pixar’s latest film Up. A crotchety old man flies away in his house accompanied by a boy-scout of sorts; they have an adventure together. It’s a very sweet film. The opening is probably bound to make a good chunk of the audience tear up. I think it’s amazing that Pixar can make these computer animated films that are so touching. Pixar are basically in a league of their own when it comes to making animated films. They have no competition whatsoever. The only films I think match up to the quality of Up are Pixar’s previous efforts. This film is phenomenal, and you’d be stupid not to see it.

The official Up website.

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Invisible City

   27 May 2009, early morning

I completely forgot to write about Invisible City, which I was the last film I saw at Hotdocs a few weeks back. The film was phenomenal, so I don’t know why I didn’t say as much here. Invisible City is a film about two kids growing up in Regent Park. The filmmaker followed their lives for 4 years, chronicling their problems along the way. We hear from their exasperated mothers, who are raising them alone, a former teacher who is trying to mentor these fatherless children, and from the kids themselves. The film touches on all sorts of issues, though the main one seems to be the challenges involved with raising a son alone. The film had all sorts of well earned hype around it. I’m sure it will be on the Passionate Eye in no time.

A real review of Invisible City by Spacing.

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Calling Home and Cash & Marry

   13 May 2009, terribly early in the morning

Following Final Fitting and Tinar we watched Calling Home and Cash & Marry. Calling Home was a short film about the separation immigrants are often forced to deal with. Shot entirely inside the long-distance telephone booths of a London shop, the audience gets to listen in to the boring, funny and touching conversations people have with their families abroad. All the conversations are juxtaposed together, creating a mix-mash of language and emotion. It was an interesting enough short film.

Cash & Marry was a very enjoyable film about the immigration in Austria. Two men are on the hunt for a wife so they can get proper papers to live and work in Austria. The film is an examination of how countries treat their immigrants, and some of the absurdity that surrounds setting up a two-tiered society. Much of the film is this sort of comedic frantic romp, but throughout it all there is this more serious and bleak undercurrent. The film ultimately ends on a more or less low note. (Until the credits begin, anyway.) I quite liked the film. It’s a strange adventure.

Calling Home and Cash & Marry at the Hotdocs web site.

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Final Fitting and Tinar

   12 May 2009, terribly early in the morning

Shima and I watched Final Fitting and Tinar on Saturday afternoon, with her dad and Steph. Final Fitting was a short film about a tailor who makes the religious outfits for some of Iran’s most famous mullahs, including Khomeini. I suspect the goal of the film was to contrast the piety of the tailor with that of the mullahs he makes clothes for: one mullah is clearly living the good life, sporting a giant belly; another claims he’s already paid the tailor; etc. It’s a funny little film, but on the whole not that compelling.

The second film was Tinar — which as I understand things, means lonely. Tinar was amazing. The director filmed a young boy, a cowherd, living in rural Iran. The boy’s mother has passed away, and his father has remarried. The boy lives more or less by himself, the boy’s father living with his new family. The film maker did a great job of capturing the ins and outs of this boys life. The film maker said the movie was shot over 3 years, and that it took a long time for the boy to open up to him. (He was worried the film would be silent, as the first few months they were with the boy he more or less never spoke.) It is a very touching movie. The boy speaks of his love for his step-siblings, despite the fact they clearly enjoy a much better life than him. He talks about wanting to go to school, wanting to run away from his life as a cowherd. It is bleak. The film is shot beautifully. So many scenes would work as photographs. From start to finish it’s a well done film. One hopes the director can secure distribution for the movie. It’s well worth watching.

Tinar and Final Fitting on the Hotdocs website.

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Grandmother's Flower

    7 May 2009, terribly early in the morning

After Forgetting Dad Shima and I went for gelatos, and then headed back to the Royal to watch Grandmother’s Flower. The filmmaker’s grandmother was married to a partisan during the Korean war. After the war, she and her family suffer much hardship because of their ties to the communists. The choices his grandmother and grandfather made during the war haunt the family for generations. The filmmaker looks at the lives of his extended family, and through interviews and narration we learn their story. Though the film is slow, it’s very interesting and poignant. Each family member we are introduced to touches on some aspect of suffering, longing, or separation. The filmmakers story is essentially the story of Korea. (I didn’t touch on this when I spoke about Joint Security Area, but what really makes that film standout in my mind is that it also touches on these issues, caused by the North/South divide.) Grandmother’s Flower is an excellent film, well worth watching.

Grandmother’s Flower on the Hotdocs 2009 website.

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Forgetting Dad

    7 May 2009, terribly early in the morning

Shima and I met Suzanne and Riadh, and the four of us watched Forgetting Dad. The filmmaker’s story is a compelling one: his father was involved in a car accident that cost him his memory; 16 years later his memory hasn’t returned — or has it? Interviews with family members and old footage give us glimpses of the father after his accident. Each family member has their own take on what’s happened, some believing his account of things, while others assuming he’s lying. All sorts of strange twists make the later case more reasonable, though who would fake amnesia for 16 years? It’s an interesting story, but I don’t know if I liked the way it was put together. There seemed to be far too much narration and melodramatic music. The music doesn’t really let up for the entire film. These points aside, it’s an interesting film, well worth seeing.

The official Forgetting Dad website.

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Colour of Blood / Aka Ana

    4 May 2009, evening time

Hotdocs 2009 gets off to an interesting start. We watched one and a half films tonight, starting with the short film Colour of Blood. The movie is a short set of interviews with various North Londoners who are obsessed with blood and pain — people who cut themselves, drink blood, etc. The final interview is with a lady who thinks she is a straight up vampire. It’s interesting, a bit creepy, and a little bit funny. An enjoyable prelude to the main attraction.

The second film of the night was Aka Ana. It’s a film by Antoine d’Agata, who is a photographer at Magnum. I expected some amount of nakedness, and maybe some sex, but this film was way more explicit than I thought it would be. Way more explicit. The idea for the movie is as follows: Ladies working in Japanese brothels talk about their experiences, while we watch them; very explicit raw sexual violent footage paired with their soft intimate narration. It’s crazy. We ended up leaving early, Shima didn’t want to watch yet another Japanese woman have sex. I suppose I can’t blame her. This is the sort of film you really need ample warning about before you walk in and watch it. And this is definitely the sort of film you feel awkward watching in a crowded cinema. Some things you can’t un-see. What a movie.

Aka Ana on the Hotdocs 2009 site.

Update: And thinking back, the lady who did the introduction for the film mentioned how this film probably wouldn’t be seen on the big screen anywhere else, and made other off hand remarks that should have clued us to the fact it was going to be a whole of lot sex and va-jay-jays.

Update: This review of Aka Ana is great.

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Toronto Stories

   23 April 2009, terribly early in the morning

I watched Toronto Stories on the flight to London. The film was playing at TIFF last year, though it didn’t look compelling enough to watch at the time. The film is split into four parts, each very loosely connected by a mysterious boy who has arrived in Canada illegally and escaped from the airport. Each story is directed by a different director, and touches on a different aspect of Toronto. The best story is the last, about a homeless man who stumbles on the boy at Union stations, realizes he is being held captive by a shady dude, and then tries to get him saved — though no one believes his crazy-homeless-ass. This portion is the best because Gil Bellows does a great job playing this homeless fellow. The rest of the film is good, but pretty unexceptional. I enjoyed seeing Toronto featured prominently in a film, but I’m not sure that’s enough of a reason to watch the movie.

Reviews of Toronto Stories at Rotten Tomatoes.

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Il y a longtemps que je t'aime

   16 April 2009, terribly early in the morning

I’ve Loved You So Long

I watched a few movies while away. I’ll need to write about them all, but i’ll start with the one that sticks out in my head the most, I’ve Loved You So Long. This French film is about a women trying to reestablish a relationship with her sister, and return to a normal life, after spending 15 years in prison. Kristin Scott Thomas plays protagonist, and she’s absolutely amazing in the film. It’s actually not as art-house as it might sound. And though a little bit bleak, I don’t think the overall message of the film is bleak. It’s well worth watching.

The official I’ve Loved You So Long web site.

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Kannathil Muthamittal

   30 March 2009, early morning

A Peck on the Cheek

I watched Kannathil Muthamittal with Shima over the weekend. We’ve both seen it before, but I really wanted to watch it again. It is by far my favourite Mani Ratnam film. (And he’s done many good films.) He is probably one of India’s best directors.

The central figure of the story is a young girl whose parents tell her she is adopted on her 9th birthday. From there the film explores her reactions to the news, how she proceeds to treat her mother and father, and her quest to find her birth mother. The film does an amazing job looking at familial relationships and adoption.

The movie is also an interesting look at the costs of war. The movie begins with a wedding in Mankulam, which is a town in Sri Lanka. From there there are a few sweet scenes between the bride and groom. During the last scene the husband hears the army marching on the town and runs off to stop them. And then the title sequence begins, where we learn through short vignettes that the newly wed is pregnant, that her town is being shelled, that her husband is MIA, that she flees to India, and that she ultimately leaves her daughter behind to come back to Sri Lanka. The second half of the film takes place in Sri Lanka. Mani Ratnam touches on several aspects of the war in Sri Lanka: the army shelling and bombing towns, child soldiers, suicide bombing, etc. There aren’t too many films about the war in Sri Lanka, so saying this is one of the better ones I’ve seen is faint praise. Regardless, it is. The film works well as a comment on the war because it’s about the war indirectly.

The cinematography is brilliant. There are so many great sequences in the film. The film features music by A.R. Rahman. The song playing during the title sequence is one of my favourite Tamil songs. The cast is stellar. Pretty much every part is filled by a famous South Indian actor or actress. Kannathil Muthamittal is easily one of my favourite films. I’ve yet to watch it with a girl and not have her cry at the end.

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Watchmen

   13 March 2009, terribly early in the morning

I saw Watchmen last night with Mezan and Tyler. After the title sequence ended, I turned to Tyler and said, “This is fucking amazing,” or words to those effect. The film was damn good. The comic is phenomenal, and obviously the film will never be the comic, but the film does do a very good job at capturing the meat of the book. It’s a very faithful adaption, save for the ending. The actors were pitch perfect for their parts. THe special effects were great. Some shots seem like they were taken scene for scene from the comic. Rather than continuing to heap praise on the film i’ll just quote Patrick:

“It’s quite possibly the closest adaptation you’ll ever get in movie form from a comic book.”

“I feel like every comic book movie should be like The Watchmen.”

“It makes me realize how disappointed I was with every other comic book movie that has ever come out before”

“It’s like they did the entire movie spot on and then realized ‘no man, we can’t go ALL the way and recreate the ending, we need to change it slightly so the mainstream audience member won’t be scarred for life.”

You need to watch this film.

The official Watchmen website.

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Chungking Express

    9 March 2009, early morning

I watched Chungking Express over the weekend with Shima. I bought the Criterion Blu Ray disc for myself as soon as it came out, but lacking a Blu Ray player i’ve been waiting for a weekend in Scarborough where I could watch it on my brothers PS3. (My parents have surround sound and a giant television, which makes watching films on my iMac seem kind of lame.) Chungking Express was the first film I watched by Wong Kar Wai. I bought the VCD in high school, mostly due to the fact it starred my favourite singer at the time, Faye Wong. Watching the film on a VCD really doesn’t do it justice. The Blu Ray copy is stunning. The colours and sound are great.

Chungking Express is a somewhat surreal look at romance and relationships. The first story involves a heart broken cop (Takashi Kaneshiro) and a jilted drug dealer (Bridgette Lin). The second story is about another broken hearted cop (Tony Leung) and a woman who develops a crush on him (Faye Wong). Both stories really don’t intersect. What ties them together are their common themes. The central set piece in the film is a shawarma place that both cops visit, to eat and get advice from the proprietor, and this also helps keep the film from feeling too disjoint. The second story is probably the more famous of the two, and it features some of the better scenes and shots in the movie — like Tony Leung talking to inanimate objects in his apartment, and Faye Wong staring at Tony Leung while he drinks a coffee. The second story seems even more quirky than the first, which is probably part of its appeal.

Compared to Wong Kar Wai’s other films, Chungking Express stands alone in its tone and style. The film is filmed almost entirely hand held, and lacks a lot of the long and neatly composed shots that make up his other movies. Another departure from his other films is that both stories in Chungking Express end on a (more or less) happy note — though this is up for debate if you talk to Rishi. The movie is on the whole a lot more light hearted and accessible than Wong Kar Wai’s other films. It is one of my favourite movies. You should watch it.

Chungking Express at the Criterion web site.

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The Days Between

    7 March 2009, terribly early in the morning

In De Tag Hinein

I watched the Days Between with Mahi at Cinematheque. The movie is stunning, and certainly one of the best films I’ve seen in recent years. The film reminded me a lot of the work of Wong Kar Wai, only with less dialog and latin music. The cinematography was brilliant. Everything seemed so calculated and pitch perfect. The mood throughout the film is bleak, and this is captured in the way everything is shot. The story is simple enough: a troubled girl develops a relationship with a Japanese exchange student. It’s all very self destructive. It’s a sad film. If you can find it, watch it. I haven’t been so impressed in quite some time.

A write up of The Days Between at Cinematheque.

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