Thursday, July 30


Blog holiday, Aha! Aha!
Lots of movies to catch, good times yeah?
Will be back in a week.

Wednesday, July 29

Hansel and Gretel (Korea, 2007)

Creepy can be gorgeously dense. The house that traps adults and the forest that stands guard are thick with swamp-green shadows and murmuring. Hansel and Gretel (헨젤과 그레텔) is a visual feast of horrors and sweets; details, details, details make your eyes dart from one corner of the room to the other. Toys, gems, cupcakes, storybooks, that robot-printed couch that I would like to have, silhouettes on walls, and bunnies, lots and lots of bunnies. (And what's with all the carrots, what do they need such good eyesight for anyway? It must be bunnies!---Thank you Joss Whedon, and Anya, for now making me forever suspicious of rabbits.) The candied claustrophobia swells halfway into the movie when director Lim Pil-Seong shows us grandly the chasm that separates fantasy and reality.

Creepy can be cute. Very cute. Jin Ji-Hee is a precocious child actress who can go from nice to scary to weepy in a snap, but it is her voice that sends the tingle down my spine. Low and grainy, it is an otherworldly, underworldly sound. Hansel and Gretel plays at opposites with utter delight. The malicious eyes above the gap-toothed grin, the children toying with the adults, it reverses the roles in the grim fairytale. Three children who never age lure adults into their house and "audition" them to be their parents. Eun-soo (Cheon Jeong-myeong) crashes his car while arguing with his pregnant girlfriend over the phone. When he regains consciousness, he sees a girl in a red riding hood who leads him to her house where he can rest for the night. Eun-soo meets the other two children and the parents who seem shaken up. The following morning, Eun-soo sets for home but discovers that he couldn't get out of the forest's veiny grasp. The parents disappear. A new couple arrives.

Creepy can be unnerving. The film takes a chilling turn with the arrival of a religious fanatic who is too touchy with girls. The bad kind of touchy. The roles are once again reversed; morals shatter whatever was fantastical and macabre. Lim Pil-Seong inserts the back story of the children as the movie reaches its climax. The exposition runs a little longer than it should, taking some much needed tension away from the final act. The flashback was also quite difficult to watch---I had to look away a couple of times because, even if I quite like watching torture porn, I couldn't stomach watching a man beat a child lifeless.

Hansel and Gretel starts strong and keeps you enthralled until the resolution awkwardly rolls out, which I found a little too...X-men meets Fables. Yes, the mutants and the Vertigo comic, with the telekinesis and the power of the written word. Still, it's a movie that's easy to get lost in. Beguiling, rich like icing, and cruel like the real world.

Rating: 3.5

Hansel and Gretel (Hen-jel-gwa Geu-re-tel)
Directed by Lim Pil-Seong (Antarctic Journal)
Starring Cheon Jeong-myeong (The Aggressives), Eun Won-jae (Natural City), Sim Eun-kyung (Living Death), Jin Ji-hee (Cello), Park Hee-son (Love Talk)

Monday, July 20

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is stubbornly un-Hollywood. It is talky, quite presumptuous (characters, new ones and vaguely familiar ones, walk in and out without much less of an introduction), and the CGI, except for the wonder-filled action sequence at the opening, is mostly used for tone. TONE.

Coming from the mildly amusing but numbingly dull CGasm of Transformers 2, the new Potter film is like a breath of fresh air, but a chilling one at that. Director David Yates' palate remains saturated casting a more dream-like quality---a filmy hazyness, which usually means your eyes are glassy from smoking pot or you're straddling between waking and sleep---a nod to Alfonso Cuaron's atmospheric Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. There is always something sinister lurking behind the fog that envelopes the scenery, making the relationships more precious than they are.

And relationships is what the Half-Blood Prince is all about.


Harry and Dumbledore's have been handed the Luke Skywalker-Obi Wan Kenobi fate, albeit with quiet tenderness: Dumbledore lays a protective hand over Harry's chest, asking him to step back and hide during the movie's finale; Harry laying a hand over Dumbledore's still chest.

Under the stormy skies of Hogwarts, Ron, Hermione, Harry and Ginny go through the motions of their own stormy, passive-aggressive teenage love affairs. Yates reminds us that even with the impending gloom-and-doomyness, we are still watching kids who yearn and are quite desperate for some normalcy: love, popularity, a good laugh. I did not find the flirtation and the awkward confessions trivial at all; the darkness of the film only heightened every lovelorn sigh.

More calamitous than the love potion mix-up is Draco's internal conflict. Written as a bratty villain all through out the series, Draco finally went beyond playground bullying and faced the most difficult choice that anyone ever has to make in the Potter-verse. In the end, he couldn't muster the courage, or the malice, to kill Dumbledore. Snape, bound by the Unbreakable Vow made with Draco's mum, took Draco's place as murderer of Hogwarts' headmaster.


I read the book years ago and I remember it being quickly paced. Yates' deliberate pacing may turn-off some viewers who are used to blockbusterish hit-and-run storytelling but it does have its merits. Instead of the clunky and chunky expositions of the book, we get a series of well-plotted reveals that build up. The mood, if a little monotonous, is also consistent all through out and successfully digs its grimy claws into one's psyche. There's that Empire Strikes Back heaviness that is quite difficult to shake off, and the movie's coda shows no effort in clearing the skies.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban still is the best installment but Half-Blood Prince comes a close second, with love among the ruins as the greatest magic of them all.

Rating: 3.5

Thursday, July 16

The Film Club: A Memoir (Twelve, 2008)

"I want you to watch three movies a week with me. I pick them. It's the only education you're going to get."

After a series of conversations with friends on "the art" of watching movies, I come across The Film Club, a memoir by film critic and writer David Gilmour. He chronicles the three years he spent with his son, who dropped out of school, watching movies three times a week. Parenting and films make a combination that's too ideal, too sappy at least to a cynical eye---no, thankfully not a sequel to Tuesdays With Morrie---but David's candid prose shows it as it is, a father's love is awkward, and an awkward, second-guessing kind of love is more fascinating only because it is all too familiar. It's what great movies are about; it's why we stare at the ceiling on sleepless night. The father-son relationship that David draws at the beginning is naturally strange and detached, with nothing much in common, no actual emotional anchor, drifting rudderless. And then the movies arrive.

The film club begins with Francois Truffaut's The 400 Blows. David explains, "I figured it was a good way to slide into European art films, which I knew were going to bore him until he learned how to watch them. It's like learning a variation on regular grammar." I loved the thought process that went behind every film he showed his son, Jesse.

If love is a mixtape, then David carefully prepared his with films; movies that became dialogues on morality and romance, cinematography that evoked buried regrets, acting tics that magnified the meaning of gestures, and plots that hinted at possible futures. Ranging from the thoughtful violence of Akira Kurosawa's Ran to the self-destructive fireworks of the documentary Volcano: An Inquiry into the Life and Death of Malcolm Lowry, from the talky Annie Hall to the quiet musing of Chungking Express, Jesse was exposed to varying degrees of artistry and failures, of crucial movements in film history as well as guilty pleasures that resonated with sheer entertainment above vision or message.

The memoir's most urgent pleasure comes from David's contagious love for cinema and his critical eye that taught Jesse, and the readers of the memoir as well, how to deconstruct a scene or read meaning in frame compositions without sounding stiff (like I just did) and hifalutin. "Watch out for this scene," David usually goes and as fan of movies myself, I had to dig out dusty VHS tapes or DVDs so I could go along for the ride down Film 101. The writing is irresistible this way.

But at its heart, The Film Club is about a father who is learning to let go of his son, and a son finally realizing his place in the scheme of things turbulent and heartbreaking. The movies in between gave David and Jesse a common ground---a bubble, so to speak---where they could figure out what to do next together. The figuring out part turned out to be the best part in both their lives.

I could have finished the book in one sitting but this is the type to savor. And I assure you, you'll probably be popping Kurosawa's Ran or may be even Verhoeven's Showgirls in your player anytime soon.

Rating: 4

Here they are, the Gilmour Boys.

Wednesday, July 8

Antique (Korea, 2008)

Sweet, light, dusted with quirk and coated with candy cane colors, Antique is a gentle reminder that life is meant to be devoured, bitter chunks and all.

Director Min Gyoo-dong who directed one of the more intriguing Korean high school horror films Memento Mori---where a painful sexual awakening comes face to face with both social monster and vengeful ghost---continues his exploration of gender by adapting popular Japanese manga Antique Bakery by Fumi Yoshinaga.

Gone are the gothic and heavy with foreboding doom claustrophobia of Memento Mori. Antique, if anything, glows. It glows by contrast: trauma versus joy, sweet versus bitter, while delicious colors overlap and swirl to the riff of Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with a sinister undertone.

The movie opens with an awkward confession, Min Sun-Woo (Kim Jae-Wook) admits with much difficulty his liking for Kim Jin-Hyuk (Joo Ji-Hoon). Jin-Hyuk more than turns Sun-Woo down, he smashes a cake on Sun-Woo's face while yelling his disgust.

Years later, Jin-Hyuk puts up a patisserie called Antique and hires Sun-Woo to be his pastry chef. The rest of his staff, a retired boxing champ and Jin-Hyuk's childhood friend and bodyguard---are all bewildered why he opened Antique when cakes in particular make him vomit. For those who haven't read the manga or haven't seen the Japanese series, the reveal is a surprise, one that takes the movie to a darker place, which is still sprinkled with the fantastic: shadow hands that choke manifest a memory that was too traumatizing for Jin-Hyuk to remember.

After Jin-Hyuk rejected Sun-Woo in high school, Sun-Woo has become the opposite of his stuttering past: a Prada-snug love magnet that no man, gay or straight, could resist. Except, of course, for Jin-Hyuk.

Homosexuality is played with flirtatious sweetness all through out with a dash of magic. It's a refreshing approach with no hint of irony and wonderfully free of guilt or tragedy. Joo Ji-Hoon of Princess Hours sheds his refined affectation for the hot-tempered Jin-Hyuk. His comedic timing is ruggedly perfect; the consuming burden of pretending to be happy for his staff and his family never leaves his eyes. (Ji-Hoon was recently convicted of illegal drug use. He was given a suspended jail term and community service. More information about this here.) Kim Jae-Wook of Coffee Prince plays Sun-woo with refinement and grace, and delightfully counters Ji-Hoon's brusque, manly manners with subtle but tender gestures.

Musical numbers, comedy, sexual tension, murder, and cakes, lots and lots of cakes. Antique can be faulted for juggling too many quirks and styles, but it is Min Gyu-dong's unexpected visual hiccups---women in the flour, a boxing ring covered with flowers, a fist fight with a shadow creature---that makes this film explosively sensual while propelling the mystery and plot. It's definitely tricky but Gyu-dong's instincts are spot on. In Park Chan-Wook's I'm a Cyborg but That's OK, the absurd, hallucinatory vignettes often distract from the storytelling and made the mundane more mundane; cool ideas that accidentally became the movie. Here, it is played to heighten the sensation, to make senses more tangible: Seduction in the women rolling in the powdery sugar, Fear in the drawer that sprung out of a child's chest.

Above the din of ecstatic imagination and your own grumbling stomach---have a slice of cake or ice cream within reach, it will come in handy---Antique's coda casually serves a palatable food for thought: Take the sweet with the bitter, the acidic, the spice but never forget the icing on top.

Rating: 5

ANTIQUE 서양골동양과자점 앤티크
Directed by Min Gyu-Dong
Starring Joo Ji-Hoon, Kim Jae-Wook, Yoo Ah-In, Choi Ji-Ho

Visit Hancinema for more Antique goodness. Below is Love is by FT Island MV from Antique.

Monday, July 6

Requiems and cake

Menggay had a face like a doll; those Drew Barrymore eyes could easily light up even the most dreadful study groups, usually Natural Science 1 or Social Science, geology and philosophers. She was very easy to get along with, and she was one of those friends in college I don't remember being introduced to because we had shared too many stories, notes, and giggles. She passed away two months ago from complications during child birth. The baby survived.

GeneticFreak, or Addison was one of the fierce posters over in Comic Kolektor Philippines. It was a forum that I, along with 3 other comic book geeks, put up to build a community of comic book readers in the Philippines. Addie was old school and he knew his stuff. Arguing with him over writers, artists and movies was always fun because his point of view never waivered. He loved The Wrestler to bits and wanted Mickey Rourke to win Best Actor. He passed away last Sunday due to pancreatitis.

Just this morning, W sent me a text message about a friend's husband's passing.

I was watching the Korean movie Antique last night with W. It's a fun film with lots of quirks. It's about a man who put up a patisserie even if cakes make him vomit. It's about varying degrees of love and the varying distances we go to to forget. It's about how we cover the bitter with the sweet, and make joyous moments, because they are so few and far between, even sweeter by indulging our sweet tooth.

It was around 1 a.m. when I sneaked out to the kitchen and devoured a chocolate truffle ice cream. Bitter. Sweet. And grateful.