Films unlikely to be showing at your local multiplex...
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last update 21.Sep.05
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Ab-normal Beauty   3.5/5
The Pang Brothers are back with another unsettling and extremely creepy thriller that doesn't quite make sense, but we don't mind at all.
  Jin (Race Wong) is a young photography student who sees the artistry in everything around her, then suddenly becomes obsessed with death when she stumbles across a car accident. Her best friend Jas (Rosanne Wong) finds this more than a little disturbing, and also becomes jealous when Jin starts dating another student, the wannabe filmmaker Anson (Leung). Then Jin starts to lose the plot, seeing ghostly images of death everywhere, reliving past nightmares and receiving videotapes from a brutal serial killer.
  Basically, it's Carrie meets The Ring, with the teen interaction, freak-out videos/photos and lots of blood-soaking. The characters are total headcases, obsessed and almost possessed by some sort of dark spirit. They're very well-played by the cast with an internal intensity and a willingness to really go for broke on the emotional front. Although Wong and Wong look so much alike, and seem to swap places now and then, that we're never quite sure who's whom.
  Meanwhile, Pang shoots this with a lush beauty that's completely mesmerising. The film looks absolutely gorgeous, finding the elegance in even the most grotty setting--capturing the light, angles and colours a photographer would look for. And the darkroom scenes are flooded in eerie red-light, which combines with clever camera work, freaky visual effects and a moody score to keep us thoroughly unsettled, especially when it cranks up into full-on horror in the end.
  So it's rather frustrating that low lighting undermines a couple of key scenes, as does the general confusion of identity within the plot. It doesn't ruin the film, since the atmosphere is so strongly established, and Pang balances the scary bits with strongly cathartic scenes, moments of humour and raw camaraderie. He really knows how to turn grisly and terrifying when he needs to, and even though it's a bit murky, the climax is astounding.
dir Oxide Pang
scr Oxide Pang, Pak Sing Pang
with Race Wong, Rosanne Wong, Anson Leung, Michelle Yim
wong and leung release HK 4.Nov.04,
UK 23.Sep.05
18 themes, violence, language, some nudity
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Crying Fist   2.5/5
It's an intriguing idea to follow the paths two contenders take to a big championship match, examining society and family issues along the way. But cutting back and forth between them diffuses the emotional heart of the film.
  Tae-shik (Choi) is a washed-up 40-year-old Asian Games silver medallist whose son (Lee) is the most important thing in his life. When his wife throws him out, he takes to the streets, selling brief bouts to passers-by who want to work out their aggressions. Meanwhile, Sang-hwan (Ryu) is in trouble with the law at 19, thrown in prison and given a second chance to train as a boxer. As both men prepare for major competition, the factors driving them are eerily similar. And their identities are at stake.
  Writer-director Ryoo approaches this material with an edgy, colourful style. The opening sequences are filmed documentary-style, and this infuses the entire film with an earthy honesty--these are real people in real locations doing whatever they can do. But this lively filming style is also extremely disorienting; we're rarely sure who or what we're watching, or how scenes connect from one to another. The small scenes are brilliant, but the big picture is a blur.
  Amid this we get two terrific performances. Choi (Oldboy) brings a strong sense of energetic maturity that contrasts cleverly with Ryu's youthful vigour. Even though they're only together in the final bout, there are interesting connections between these men who channel their desperation into their fists. Although the family pressures behind them are a bit overwrought, especially in the final sequence.
  The boxing scenes are inventively shot as fast-paced punch-fests, with very little crowd noise, which thrusts us into the minds of the players. On the other hand, with such singular focus and cliched family issues, there's not that much in their minds. Without any real depth, we don't care about these guys. So when they finally meet in the ring, it's rather uninteresting. And when the background music goes all choral-meaningful during the big match, we realise we're missing the point completely. We should feel something, but we don't.
dir-scr Ryoo Seung-wan
with Choi Min-sik, Ryu Seung-bum, Lim Won-hee, Chin Ho-jin, Oh Dal-Su, Seo Hye-rin, Lee Jin-gu, Byun Hee-bong, Ki Joo-bong, Na Moon-hee, Kim Soo-hyun
choi and ryu release Kor 1.Apr.05,
UK 9.Dec.05
05/Korea 2h03
15 themes, language, violence, nudity
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Godzilla 4/5
This isn't the 1956 American re-edit with Raymond Burr. This is the uncut original, never before released in the UK. And you can see why Westerners didn't want it shown: it's full of references to surviving a nuclear attack.
  When several ships go missing, investigators discover that H-bomb testing in the ocean has awakened a prehistoric monster, the mythical Godzilla (aka Gojira), who runs amok causing a radioactive apocalypse in Tokyo. A rescue mission is led by salvage expert Ogata (Takarada) and his girlfriend Emiko (Kochi), the daughter of the leading scientist (Shimura) on the subject. She's also engaged to the strange Dr Sherizawa (Hirata), who may have a secret that can help them stop the monster.
  The film is definitely of its period. Not only is it extremely talky, taking ages to build to any action, but the filmmakers are much more interested in discussing the science and examining issues of the post-war world. They're also wary about scaring cinemagoers who had just lived through real-life horror. By today's standards, this may feel rather dull and ponderous, but it's actually a remarkably astute film--sharp, thoughtful and strongly acted by the cast.
  On the other hand, the effects probably looked cheesy even back in the 1950s. Most of the set pieces involve the use of miniatures that look like (and probably were) toys, while Godzilla looks like a man in a very uncomfortable suit. But the story is compelling enough to grab hold anyway; this is a classic film in every sense of the word, mainly because it dares to ask strong questions. References to Nagasaki and the firebombing of Tokyo have an especially strong relevance, as does the gigantic military reaction to impending doom.
  When we finally get to the fire-breathing, building-crushing carnage, it's pretty horrific, really. And filmmakers today rarely acknowledge or explore the sad aftermath like this film does. When a potential new weapon is discovered, the overriding concern is that someone might want to use it for evil. Even if this final message is overstated, it's something we still haven't begun to learn.
dir Ishiro Honda
scr Takeo Murata, Ishiro Honda
with Akira Takarada, Momoko Kochi, Takashi Shimura, Akihiko Hirata, Fuyuki Murakami, Sachio Sakai, Toranosuke Ogawa , Ren Yamamoto, Toyoaki Suzuki, Miki Hayashi, Takeo Oikawa, Seijiro Onda
takarada, kochi and shimura
release Jap 3.Nov.54,
US 7.May.04,
UK 14.Oct.05
54/Japan Toho 1h38
PG some violence
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The Hidden Blade  4/5
To follow up his masterful The Twilight Samurai (2002), Yamada tells another tale of everyday life during the waning years of samurai society. It's beautifully observed, with strong characters and a lovely romantic plot, although it's as a bit too subdued.
  Munezo (Nagase) is a low-level samurai who's never drawn his sword and is in love with the sparky Kie (Matsu), from the wrong caste and therefore impossible to consider as a wife. When a friend (Ozawa) is involved in a rebellion against the Westernisation of the Japanese forces, Munezo is ordered by his boss (Ogata) to sort it out. So Munezo revisits his old sensei (Tanaka) to find out how to engage in a real battle to the death, and to remember the secret of the hidden blade.
  The story is rich and layered, with evocative interaction between the characters. Even if the time and culture are alien to us, we identify with these people. And the pressure to Westernise with guns instead of swords is both fascinating and eerily relevant (the new teacher complains bitterly about these "stupid, back-country samurai"--"Don't stop to bow when you're loading a cannon!"). Performances are raw and natural, as the characters tease each other mercilessly, try to balance honour against betrayal and attempt to find happiness within a restrictive society.
  Yamada beautifully avoids the flowery density of most period dramas for a more authentic design. The story is similarly organic, resisting Western structures to find a real story that has moments of incredible action and romance, but not when we expect them. And certainly not how we expect the scenes to play out. Nothing is heightened at all--it's played out in a way that feels utterly true.
  And this risky approach is also a weakness, because we're so conditioned to narrative drive that the film feels rather lifeless. But it's worth sticking with for a remarkably faithful, unadorned story that's thoughtful and funny, insightful and powerfully moving. The intense personal dilemmas are strongly sympathetic, the action is pure and unforced, and the romance rolls along at a wonderfully unfussy pace. Gorgeous.
dir Yoji Yamada
scr Yoshitaka Asama, Yoji Yamada
with Masatoshi Nagase, Takako Matsu, Ken Ogata, Hidetaka Yoshioka, Yukiyoshi Ozawa, Tomoko Tabata, Min Tanaka, Nenji Kobayashi, Reiko Takashima, Sachiko Mitsumoto, Kunie Tanaka, Chieko Baisho
nagase and ozawa
release Jap 30.Oct.04,
UK 2.Dec.05, US 14.Apr.06
04/Japan 2h12
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15 themes, violence
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2005 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall