Man, Woman and the Wall (2007)

•March 21, 2010 • Leave a Comment

The Japanese film Man, Woman and the Wall, directed by Massahi Yamamoto is a unique look at voyeurism and it’s pervasiveness in Japanese culture from a masculine point of view.  Starring the JAV Idol megastar Sora Aoi or Aoi Sola the film is a low-budget indie erotic thriller with several humorous twists thrown in for good measure.  Although this movie is unrated due to the fact that there is nudity and a few explicit sex scenes,  it does not use these scenes as a crutch for a weak plot.  In actuality, the film never waivers in losing the viewer’s interest while also providing some surprising plot twists along the way.

Man, Woman and the Wall is the story of a young lonely man who moves into a new Tokyo apartment with paper-thin walls that allow him to hear nearly everything that goes on in his neighbor’s apartment who happens to be the beautiful and busty Sora Aoi.  After discovering the beauty of his neighbor he becomes infatuated with her by installing a high-tech eavesdropping device along his wall that allows him to listen to everything that takes place in her apartment.  Eventually, he learns enough about her to establish a friendly and somewhat flirtatious rapport with her.  But, there is one problem…she has a boyfriend who is more of a voyeuristic pervert than he is.  What ensues is a dangerous love triangle peppered with a few comedic scenes to keep the film somewhat lighthearted.

The voyeuristic nature of the film is portrayed more as a cultural norm than a taboo which can be explained by the huge cultural gap that exists between Japan and the rest of the world.  Only in Japan can voyeurism be perceived as an act of adoration and flirtation rather than a creepy invasion of one’s privacy.  This film will captivate any man’s attention from the get go (mostly due to Sora Aoi) but, I can imagine it would be difficult for women to watch due to some of the unrealistic elements as portrayed in the reactions of Aoi’s character.  If one can get over the representation of women in this film then it can be a fun little ride that is well acted with an interesting plot.


Memories of Murder (2003)

•March 19, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Korea’s Joon-ho Bong has brought us a first-rate crime thriller in Memories of Murder.  One of Korea’s top grossing movies ever, Memories of Murder has just recently been released for US audiences.  After watching this movie it is easy to see why it was so successful in its native Korea.  This stylized crime drama based upon real events is remarkable for its ability to mix quirky humor with bone chilling suspense.  Everything from the plot, the script, the acting and the cinematography are nothing short of phenomenal.

Memories of Murder is based upon the true life events that took place in the mid 1980’s of South Korea’s first known serial killer.  After a string of young women are found raped and murdered in a rural province a detective from Seoul is sent  to assist the local police investigation.  What the detective finds is a local police force scandalized by allegations of police brutality for good reason.  While we sympathize with the local detectives in their heartfelt pursuit to catch the killer it is evident that they spend more time beating a confession out of potential suspects than actually trying to find the true killer.  As clues are put together regarding the killer’s modus operandi and witnesses are found the case begins to gain steam while the killer continues to find victims.

Memories of Murder is a haunting film due to the realistic style in which it was shot as well as the fact that it is based on true events.  As much about the horrific crimes that took place the movie also focuses on the detectives who get caught up in the investigation which threatens to consume them and their personal relationships.  While this film does have parallels with Western crime thrillers it differs substantially in its use of humor throughout the movie.   Director Joon-ho Bong uses humor to establish odd character quirks throughout the course of the film just as a magician uses sleight of hand to momentarily distract one’s audience.  Once again, Korea makes a compelling case with this movie that they have some of the most talented up and coming filmmakers in the world.

P (2005)

•March 18, 2010 • Leave a Comment

The Thai language movie P, directed by Westerner Paul Spurrier brings us something new that has been desperately missing from the Asian cinema scene, the bargirl horror genre!  Although this is a Thai language movie with Thai actors the heart of the film is Western in style.  P is a low budget film trying to emulate the Asian horror model that has worked significantly well in countless other movies.  Describing a film as being low budget surely should not be code for bad so long as the filmmakers are keen on staying within their element and not stretching the boundaries to absurdity.  In this sense, P does a reasonably good job at not trying to do too much with special effects and relying more on makeup and tricky camera angles to project the mood of the film.

P is the story of Dau, a young Khmer girl in the rural province of  Issan that is persuaded to go Bangkok for work after her witchcraft practicing grandmother falls ill.  Like many young girls from rural Thailand, Dau chooses to work in a go go bar catering to Western men.  After clashing with some of the more established dancers Dau breaks some cardinal rules of witchcraft that her grandmother had taught her and what develops is a series of horrific events that causes Dau to mutate into a demon witch that kills her Johns and fellow dancers.

Although the plot is flimsy and you could probably find better acting at your local high school drama club, P can be reasonably enjoyable if you have visited Thailand before or are vaguely familiar with Thai society and culture.  There are some nice urban shots of Bangkok throughout the film and the scene settings are realistic.  I imagine the dynamics between the girls and the Western men are spot on and the driving force of young rural girls going to Bangkok to work in bars to send money back home for their family is something that takes place on a daily basis in that part of the world.  While the horror scenes are hardly scary and you can seen through the plot better than many of the bargirl outfits, the film can be fun to watch so long as you don’t take it seriously.

The Hidden Blade (2004)

•March 16, 2010 • Leave a Comment

The Hidden Blade, directed by Yoji Yamada is a film that harkens back to the use of classic Japanese cinematic techniques in the samurai genre.  Yamada makes the decision to spotlight the emotional turmoil of the main character rather than creating a Hong Kong style non stop action flick.  The end result is leisurely paced film that focuses on character development but still manages to retain the viewer’s attention through the use of subtle conflicts and the sense of an impending violent confrontation.

Set in 19th century feudal Japan, The Hidden Blade is the story of rural low-level caste samurai Katagiri and an extraordinary challenge that his set before him by elders.  After a plot is exposed to overthrow the Shogun in Edo (Tokyo) by one of Katagiri’s samurai training partners, he is challenged to prove that he was not a co-conspirator by being ordered to set out and kill is former partner.  Katagiri soon finds that he is in a non negotiable position and he must comply with his elders orders or face banishment from society.  Although Katagiri does everything in his power to come to a resolution without resorting to an assassination of his former partner he ultimately realizes that nothing short of a violent duel will get him out of the situation that he finds himself in.

In a larger sense, The Hidden Blade is also about the greater changes that Japanese society was going through during the mid to late 19th century.  During this time, Japan had started to open up to the West and an influx of Western guns and military strategies had begun to displace the old samurai order causing uncertainty in the rural provinces.  The film also focuses on the dynamics of interpersonal relationships and to a lesser extent the proper role of a woman in feudal Japanese society as portrayed in the final scene of the film.  Overall, this is a beautiful movie with phenomenal acting and realistic costume design.  What it lacks in action it more than makes up for in the dramatic decisions made by its main character.

Up The Yangtze (2007)

•March 14, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Up The Yangtze is a Canadian produced documentary directed by Yung Chang.  The film documents the effect and consequences that the construction of the Three Gorges Dam in China has on families that live on or near the Yangtze river.  Being the longest river in Asia, the construction of the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze has led to the intentional flooding of several cities causing the displacement of thousands of people and interrupting their community and way of life.

The focus of the film is on two young people who represent polar opposites of each other.  The first is a teenage girl by the name of Yu Shui.  Yu has grown up on the banks of the Yangtze in a peasant  farming family.  Although her upbringing has been one of great poverty she dreams of continuing her education in high school but her family feels that she would be better put to use working and supporting the family.  The second person the film follows is a young man by the name of Bo Yu Chen.   Chen is older, more sure of himself and comes from a wealthier background than Yu.  Their paths cross when both end up working on a mid-size tourist ship that brings elderly Western tour groups up and down the Yangtze river.  While each has their owns trials to work through the overarching theme is that peoples livelihoods are being changed and not for the better.

Up The Yangtze is a poignant documentary that leaves a bitter taste in your mouth.  While the film is exceptional and explores a rarely touched and somewhat taboo topic in China you cannot help but to feel the grief that the many of the real life people portrayed are going through.  Losing one’s home can be a traumatic experience…losing one’s community can be devastating.

Shutter (2004)

•March 12, 2010 • Leave a Comment

The Thai film Shutter, directed by Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom is a novel effort of  a Japanese style horror film considering the country of origin.  Oftentimes, films made in Thailand are weak on plot, strong on overacting and horrible with technical special effects.  Shutter overcomes most of these downfalls with minimal success making it a mildly entertaining film.

Shutter brings us into the life of Tun, a young photographer played by the Australian-Lao actor Ananda Everingham and his girlfriend Jane.  Driving home after an evening of drinks the two of them find themselves fleeing from the site of a horrible hit and run accident.  Tun tries his best to repress what has happened but is continually reminded of the hit and run by a mysterious shadowy apparition that keeps showing up in his photographs.  We later come to learn that Tun has a dark secret involving an ex college girlfriend that is the source of this apparition.  What ensues is a series of events that drive Tun and his friends to go mad.

Shutter closely follows the Asian horror theme handbook with little effect.  Much of what we see here has been rehashed from similar films leaving us with very few surprises.  Although the plot is shallow and full of more holes than stinky old Swiss cheese this film is a marked improvement from most Thai cinema.  The production quality is for the most part up to standard and the acting isn’t half bad.

On a final note, I must confess that my favorite part of the film was the public restroom scene with the katoey asking “Can I poo first?”.  Only in Thailand.

Oasis (2002)

•March 11, 2010 • Leave a Comment

The Korean film Oasis, directed by Chang-dong Lee is a courageous undertaking in modern cinema.  The tagline is “Have you really loved someone?”.  What this leaves out is how the characters in this movie demonstrate their love for one another as not just an emotional attraction but a genuine commitment to each other’s needs and comforts.  This film is a beautiful introspective look at the relationship of two people who have been rejected by their own families and society at large because they have physical and mental handicaps.

Oasis is the story of Jong-du, a young social misfit with mental challenges that is just released from prison after being convicted of a DUI resulting in an involuntary manslaughter.  Immediately after being released the audience is clued into how he is not capable of holding a simple conversation or engaging in a simple transaction without making others (including the viewer) incredibly uncomfortable.  It soon becomes obvious that he is a burden on his family and they want nothing to do with him.  Shortly after being released Jong-du decides to pay a visit to the family of the man he had killed in the DUI he had been sent to prison for.  Upon arriving at a small unkempt apartment he finds Gong-ju, a severely disabled girl with Cerebral Palsy who is locked in her apartment all day and neglected by her family.  After a brief confrontation, the two are drawn to each other based upon their mutual need for companionship and acceptance.  What soon transpires is a heart wrenching portrayal of true love between two lost souls.

Watching Oasis is an uncomfortable journey because it is a reflection of our own prejudices towards those with severe handicaps.  We see ourselves in the families of these two outcasts who are ashamed of them because of their conditions, yet use them to project their own flaws and insecurities.  This movie is an emotional roller coaster launching the viewer to euphoric highs only to come crashing back down as a witness to a terrible injustice.