Thursday, November 4

Till My Heartaches End (Philippines, 2010)

Dour, desperate, and painful to watch in some parts, Till My Heartaches End is Star Cinema's Halloween offering to Kimeralds: a 2-hour humorless drama about a relationship going through the motions of a breakup. And I loved it.

Film imitates the gossip headlines that have infested the grapevine for months, and if one were to read between the sobs during the movie's press conference, then this is the goodbye, the long last look of a couple that most of us watched grow up on national TV.

Jose Javier Reyes's bare, if sometimes lazy, direction fits the lifeless narrative. It's as if he is hesitant to tell the story of a man who wants more out of life and a woman who is content to stay quietly still. Kim Chiu's Agnes is fragile and neurotic; her slight frame trembles with every troubled tic, while Gerald Anderson is every bit the dashing lead whose looks equal his ambition. I sometimes wince at their sweetness in the various teleserye that they have starred in, but there's none of that here. Till My Heartaches End is a quiet, slow dissection. The excruciating repetition of arguments makes the impending crumble gloomier. Sadder. And as a fan of status quos, I felt for Agnes. (I'll understand if you un-Friend me from your Facebook.) The non-commercial end to such a commercial couple's movie could possibly be Star Cinema's bravest move this year.

There's no fast-forward button to a relationship whether it's beginning or ending. And Till My Heartaches End wallows in the uncertainty that keeps us up at night. Excuse me while I sob in the corner. 3/5

Wednesday, August 4

Bangkok Traffic Love Story (Thailand, 2009)

My parents met on a train in the 1960s. After accidentally taking what he thought was a vacant seat, he chatted up mom and offered her boiled eggs, which made mom giggle. He was a soldier on vacation; she was a young social worker who had just moved to Manila. It's a story I got tired of hearing when I was a child. It's a story I long to hear now as a man in his mid-30s trying to make life work.

Impossible lovers transformed by what is possible, there's really nothing more comforting than that. Bangkok Traffic [Love] Story (Rod fai fah...Ma ha na ter) or BTS exploits the formula of mismatched characters finding love with charming agility, hastily moving from one hilarious encounter to another until Li, who sells solar cells, and Loong, a BTS Skytrain engineer who mostly works at night, end up in a planetarium where it is day and night at the same time.

Promoted to celebrate the BTS's 10th anniversary, the film is obsessed with motion: forward, sideways, backward, falling. And wouldn't it be great if we bump into someone to navigate the twists and turns with? Much like being on a train, the scenery changes fast; love and loneliness are fleeting emotions squished between holidays and stations. Oftentimes, the film feels like several stand-alone episodes strung together without much consideration of narrative coherence but I was having too much fun to mind the style.

I remember a friend, Luis Katigbak, once writing about how music transforms into something else when you're listening to it and traveling at the same time. There really is something about trains, about MRTs, MTRs or BTSs, that make you feel more alive than usual, more hopeful than you're allowed to.

My parents met on a train in the 1960s and I've often tried to recreate that moment in my head. Bangkok Traffic [Love] Story is a laid-back, honest, fun ride. It's a breezy commute. It's a possibility I wouldn't mind hopping on. 3/5

Thursday, June 3

Hello My Love (Korea, 2009)

Love is that queasy feeling in the stomach that only seems to be cured by alcohol: wine, soju and beer shaken and stirred until the queasiness turns to desperate sex. Judging from the trailer, "Hello My Love" was marketed as a light drama about a woman attempting to win her ex-fiancee back from his gay lover. It does aim for the silly but the result is quite upsetting.

Kim Ho-Jeong (Jo An) dishes advice to lovelorn callers in her radio program with heightened optimism, at times proclaiming that ether in the atmosphere allows lovers to communicate their affections across continents. Her fiancee Yoo Won-Jae (Min Seok) arrives from Paris with another man (Dennis Trillo look-alike Ryoo Sang-Wook, wa-pak!) and it doesn't take too long before she discovers the pair sweet dancing to La Mer. Ho-Jeong blackmails Won-Jae into dating her for a month after which he will decide who to be with.

The rest is difficult to watch.

"Hello My Love" is accidentally stirring. Ho-Jeong watching her ex running home in the rain, running home to be with another, running not walking, is a quick, quiet moment that firmly puts their recent past in the distant past. The film's clumsy comic timing only makes the entire affair more uncomfortable, her pleas more embarrassing. Out of respect for Ho-Jeong and Won-Jae's history, and a little out of pity for her shattered world, the trio agree to a (vague) threesome, the queasiness turning to quiet terror in my part.

In contrast to the other queer cinema releases from South Korea, including the sexually-charged "Frozen Flower" and the violently romantic "No Regrets," "Hello My Love" plays the safest. There's a trendy sheen (fashion, wine) on the surface, with not much emotional center, ending where the middle of the film should have been. The motivations and dissections are left in the dark and all we are left with is a dull, throbbing heartache. ***

Friday, March 19

You're Beautiful (Korea, 2009)

If I haven't been updating my twitter or if you've noticed that I've been letting some crops wither over at Farmville, it is because I've been busy with work---which is a great cover-up for late night catching-up with the TV drama You're Beautiful, a surreal brew of Shakespearean set-ups, Korean idol culture, and catchy K-pop.

A boy band boy-bonding with a Twelfth Night twist, and if that wasn't enough, how about we throw in a bit of Sound of Music as well. You're Beautiful makes suspension of disbelief unbelievably difficult: pixie-ish Park Shin Hye is Go Mi Nyu, a novice (soon-to-be nun) who has to stand in for her twin brother Mi Nam for a slot in a popular boyband A.N.JELL. Mi Nam causes quite a stir at the boys' dormitory, which results in strange attractions, a bleeding forehead and some spitting action, all for laughs of course, and that's just two episodes in. But its the strangeness of overlapping styles that reel you in. Like I've mentioned again and again, the appetite to please is palpable. The hunger to do more than what is expected more so, that the final product becomes impossible to define.

You're Beautiful is also pays homage to South Korea's idol culture while lovingly poking fun at the rabid fan base (which I'm a part of) and controlling recording labels. Casting FT Island's Lee Hongki and C.N.Blue's Jung Yonghwa as members of the fictional idol group gives the performances the authenticity it needs. Hongki and Yonghwa, though physically fitting the idol mold, also debunk the myth that manufactured groups are without talent---musicality as instinct rather than adornment on full display in their respective groups' albums. After School's UEE is also game, hamming up the bitchy with flair.

But the best thing about this drama is the music. K-Pop has been a little boring since the vocoder trend started; turned out I was looking at the wrong place. A.N.JELL churns out good power pop, catchy and undeniably soaring. Jang Geunsuk's vocals are strong and tender at the edges, Hongki's contribution to the OST shows off quite powerful pipes, and the band version with boy-girl harmonies is just, uhm, angelic.

Someone make them a real band, please. ****

Tuesday, February 23

Blue Gate Crossing (Taiwan, 2002)

Park Jin-Young or JYP is to be blamed for the inescapable "Nobody" by the Wonder Girls, and 2PM's brooding pop hit, "Again & Again." Actually it was Felice Tusi, a fellow contributor to, who brought my attention to JYP's secret to writing a string of hits.


Nobody, nobody but you. Again and again and again and again. Like a broken record that's record-breaking. If it weren't for the catchy hooks, it wouldn't be different from frustrated begging for belief. For loyalty.

Yee Chin-Yen's Blue Gate Crossing is brimming with questions repeated over and over by Zhang Shihao, a teenage boy (Wilson Chen/Chen Bo-Lin), but the answers are never kind. Confusion in love has never been this gorgeously realized, with all its awkward and clumsy interrogation. If I could, I would, question and question again and again. What is
childish comes across as frantic desperation. So what does it mean? What does it mean? What does it mean?

There's rhythm in the words. There is dance in the gestures. Zhang Shihao wants to keep in beat with Ming Kerou (Kwai Lunmei) whether it's dancing, stomping on a note, or arguing. In his head, it's about timing. Moving as one to be one. Ming Kerou, on the other hand, wants to keep in step with someone else.

The film is busy with silence. The side glances and long last looks fill the space of a sparse script, but the silence is never languid. It oftentimes feels like Yee Chin-Yen is writing the perfect pop song. There's a hummable beat to Blue Gates Crossing's pacing, fluidly going through the motions of love and heartbreak. There is a pop hook to the words, which stick and stay with you. There is that butterfly-in-the-stomach warmth, that lingering last note as Ming Kerou watches Zhang Shihao's back, that killer lyric as the strings soar: I can't see myself, but I can always see you.

Nobody, nobody but you. *****

The Region 3 DVD has several extras including a Making-Of, Wilson Chen's trip to Hong Kong to promote the movie and interviews with the cast and director. No english subtitles on all the extras though.

Tuesday, February 16

20th Century Boys Part 2 (Japan, 2009)

It's you and me against the world, baby.

The middle child of the most ambitious film trilogy in recent years---there's no use arguing with me on this one---moves so briskly that oftentimes I felt the need to come up for air, but I loved every stubbornly dense moment of it.

No, I haven't finished the manga because, for this one, I wanted to experience the head rush and the nitpicking of puzzle pieces. (If LOST is your thing and haven't given up on the parallel time-line mindfuck, then you'll have a hoot with this one.)

It's years after the New Year's Eve attack of 2000, and it's the kids' turn to figure out how to strike back against Friend and his creepily smiling followers. Time lines and lives intersect, what Donkey saw in the science lab is revealed, and a messiah rises from the dead. Reviews keep mentioning how the uninitiated will find it difficult to wade through layers of subplots and time jumps. I'm not filing this under For Manga Readers Only and won't stereotype a fantastic plot as convoluted or impossible to follow.

Some parts, I admit, are just too unbelievable. But the Pope's speech aside, 20th Century Boys is similar in texture, in whiffs of melancholia, to Stephen King's novel IT. There's something about the journey from childhood to adulthood that bites with bittersweet pangs. Contrasts become warm and fuzzy memories, and along with the memories come the longing. I began to wonder whatever happened to the kids I used to spend afternoons with playing until my knees were bruised and bleeding. Are they doing well and living comfortably? Have they turned into monsters? Fighters? And where is that kid now, the six year-old Thor who told stories to his friends everyday but now barely has time to write down his own thoughts? ****

Wednesday, February 10

Phobia 2 (Thailand, 2009)

The sequel curse plagues Phobia 2 (ห้าแพร่ง/Ha Prang), not so much in direction as it does in composition, in the gaping silence between screams. A shame really because this is more surefooted than the original, driven by the horrors of road accidents and lurking mysteries that seduce and terrorize.

Seductive, that dark charm that lures us in, 4bia had plenty of. From the longing to connect in Ngao/Loneliness to the deliciously creepy miss en scene of a corpse in an empty plane in Teaw Bin 244/Flight 244, 4bia tickled and chewed on our imagination. Phobia 2, in keeping with the theme maybe, lost the ability to seduce with frights that drive by in a flash, as opposed to building up the creepy. Novice seems to be the most balanced in storytelling, with a weighty reveal that jolts. That last bit in the woods was difficult to watch---I knew how painful it would get but I couldn't help but watch it. This push and pull of terror and curiosity, though not as overwhelming as Loneliness, saves Novice from its "fantastic" end, (Geek Hint: Terry Brook's Sword of Shannara).

Ward has an interesting premise but falls short of actual surprise, with nothing much more to offer if you've seen the trailer.

Backpackers. Now, I'm a Songyos Sugmakanan fan and this man can do wonders with characterization, and can twist emotions as well as plots, but Backpackers is just…okay. He doesn't really add much to the zombie genre and the camera work is 28 Days Later familiar.

Salvage doesn't make much sense; the retribution was a little too much for just being a bitch. The scares are as obvious as the danger music, and I felt that the lead didn't really deliver. This could've been a great acting piece, but the lack of connection, of escalating desperation has made this difficult to get into.

In the End, I gather from the other reviews I've read, has become this installment's favorite segment. It is quite clever, and the four guys from 4bia's In the Middle, are still delivering the funnies. Marsha Wattanapanich is totally game playing herself---but not really her self---but the end feels forced, just so it could fit into the theme.

In the end, Phobia 2 does feel like driving past a car crash. Curiosity turns to fear. Fear turns to pity. And then you move to wherever you were headed to, driving away and forgetting. **

Tuesday, February 2

The Way We Are (Hong Kong, 2008)

Tin Shui Wai. The City of Sadness. Towering housing projects rising like deadly spikes have replaced old fish ponds in the 1990s. And along with the Hong Kong workers that relocated to the city for the promise of jobs that never materialized due to poor city planning, come the continuing reports of unemployment, suicides, and gang wars among others.

The Way We Are, in contrast to whatever you may have read about Tin Shui Wai, is devastatingly boring.

The film revolves around the quiet, robotic lives of Mrs. Cheung (Bau Hei-Jing) and her teenage son Ka-On (Juno Leung). Ann Hui's steady eye sharply captures the daily routine of the mother as she works in the supermarket unpacking, weighing and packing durian fruits, then coming home to cook dinner and read the newspaper afterwards. The daily grind, routine upon routine, but without melodrama or even a hint of manipulated emotion. Since Mrs. Cheung only knows work (she has been working since 12 years old), there is no hatred over their status, which I was expecting.

At its heart, The Way We Are defies expectations by being involving in its objective simplicity. When Mrs. Cheung meets a new neighbor, an old lady who cooks, waits for the day to become night, then cooks again, the kindness Mrs. Cheung shows evolves from politeness to concern as their lives fall into a syncopated working-class rhythm.

There's an overwhelming feeling that something will go wrong but nothing ever does, and not in the way you expect it. Ka-On, who seems at the start to be lazy and useless, is simply just a good kid. Now, he's about to drug deal, no, he's about to bash some Christian kid's face in, hmm, maybe later. And the one dramatic high point, the one where the screaming and sobbing should be exploding, was dealt with humming subtlety: two friends on a bus silently weeping.

Hui once in awhile cuts the narrative to pictures of old Hong Kong. The way they were, with just a hint of nostalgia. People in Tin Shui Wai don't have the luxury of reminiscing, by choice it seems like it. It's just the way they are.

I've been so used to watching Johnnie To films shot in Hong Kong that the experience of watching The Way We Are was both unsettling and refreshing. The documentary-drama is naked of pretensions and surefooted in its narrative. I keep going back to that Juliana Hatfield lyric which perfectly captures the film's afterglow: Nothing's good and nothing's bad. Everything's just kind of sad. ****

Region 0 NTSC, DVD. HK$ 85 in HMV.

Thursday, January 28

Waiting in the Dark (Japan, 2006)

It's oh so quiet and oh so still. Director Daisuke Tengan continues to explore the eloquence of silence and the depth of gestures in "Waiting in the Dark" (Kurai Tokoro De Machiawase). Tengan, who penned the disquieting "Audition," knows all too well the weight of deliberate---okay, slow---storytelling and this mostly silent film is heavy with intriguing pauses.

Structured in three chapters, Michiru, Akihiro, Michiru and Akihiro, it explores the lives of a blind girl and outcast immigrant Akihiro and how their loneliness converge after the young man is suspected of murder and secretly hides in Michiru's house. Michiru first thinks it is her dead father haunting the house until she begins counting the loaves of bread. Understated is an understatement when Tengan lets even the simplest chore quietly unfurl but the sudden attack of memories---parallel point of views that complete a picture---make the silence necessary.

The situations are oftentimes questionable (Can she not smell him? And yeah, the guy is cute but a stranger invading your home is still a creepy idea) but it is undeniably fascinating to watch both tiptoe around each other's narrative until their pasts overlap. Wilson Chen (Chen Bo-lin) and Rena Tanaka (brooding, luminous) are eyecandies with a solid center, and admittedly, a huge part of my enjoyment of the film is appropriated to their simmering chemistry in this almost love story. ***

The HK version of the DVD costs only HK$35. No extra features.

Thursday, January 21

Music has right to movies: Tokyo Sonata (Japan, 2008) and Swing Girls (Japan, 2004)

Four independent movements, varying in mood, tempo, and secrets. It's a bittersweet symphony this life, so sings Richard Ashcroft, but bittersweet is too romantic. Knee-busting loneliness on a cellular level symphony, and because the family in Tokyo Sonata is painfully ordinary, it's impossible not too see how snugly the shoe fits. Director Kiyoshi Kurosawa conducts with deliberate stillness; the same silent, steady style which made Kairo equally horrifying and heartbreaking. When the father practically loses everything in one day, and when each family member begin to stumble toward hope, or the mere idea of it, it becomes an exhilarating race. To the starting line. ***** (The Region 3 DVD has decent subtitles but is sorely lacking in extras.)

Feel good done right: convincingly silly, irrationally musical, with a relaxed awesomeness at the end. Swing Girls follows the Water Boys formula but the segment with the mushrooms and the wild boar makes the former the better comedy. Or maybe I just have a soft spot for big band swing. The film does bring back the (mam)moths in the stomach when music was just discovered. It's not a point in time; it's layers (emotions, excitement) that expand and melt into each other. The more you learned, the more you craved, the more you held on. The Region 3 DVD has a Making Of which showed how the girls, through blistered lips and tears, learned each of their instruments. It just made me love the film more. ****

Monday, January 18

When Timawa Meets Delgado (Philippines, 2007)

Thanks to The Tioseco-Bohinc Film Series, which "picks up where Alexis Tioseco left off with his Fully Booked Screenings," we are once again given the rare opportunity to see and experience independent movies that Alexis believed showcased the best of Filipino film-making. Thanks too (with waving flags and fireworks) to TBFS curators Dodo Dayao, Oggs Cruz and Richard Bolisay for carrying on with the program and all the (selfless) hard work that went and will go into it. The least we can do is to attend the FREE screenings every second Sunday of the month. A full theater means this will go on. Forever. Or until independent cinema is shown in theaters to a full house. Or, forever.

Ray Gibraltar's When Timawa Meets Delgado is unconventionally nosy and furiously questioning as it investigates the boom of the nursing or health care profession in the Philippines. We are all too familiar with the whys (to escape poverty, to earn dollars) but it's the roundabout way of Gibraltar's narrative that slowly reveals the heart, the funnies, the pain of having a dream.

Following the film is a bit of a challenge at first; there are too many things going on, the quality (of the film) and point of views jump with an impatient itch. The movie itself is a patchwork of audio-visual presentations, documentaries, random footage and performance art.

This is where you stand back and tell yourself to relax. And trust the filmmaker.

In the Q & A that followed last Sunday's screening, Gibraltar humbly admitted that he put the film together as if he were cooking, instinctively. But there is obviously order in his madness.

When Timawa Meets Delgado are fragments of confessions that by the film's end reflects our own curious and desperate nature, with a healthy pinch of humor. It is everything (political, experimental, slice of life) and one thing (Delgado and Timawa's journey). It is jumping in on an ongoing dialogue. It is oftentimes how we think in our noisy worlds. And it is the uncomfortable silence when the noise dies down and the question that we tried to drown out is demanding an answer. *****

Friday, January 15

Tears of the Black Tiger (Thailand, 2000)

Revisionist Western, maybe, but too stiff upper lippy. If anything, Tears of the Black Tiger is a bubbling soup of neon backdrops, dashing violence and easy laughs that reshapes the best of old Thai movies---or Asian films in general because we seem to share the penchant for gushing melodrama, wooden acting and cowboy-hybrid fetish.

I've seen this movie both drunk and sober and I highly recommend watching it in both state. Sober, director Wisit Sasanatieng's eye for ravishing visuals is breathtaking: The river littered with migraine-pink lotus flowers, the painted swirling sunset, the mansion and its rooms deliciously pink. The plot's simplicity is a necessity; it's Sasanatieng's vision that is allowed to flourish, to explode.

Drunken, it's a fucking hoot. This brought me back to afternoons spent as a child watching Pinoy westerns starring Lito Lapid, which more or less followed the same formula. Rich girl loves poor boy but poor boy a) loses family in a fire b) family is murdered c) family is murdered then house is set on fire. So poor boy grows up to be an outlaw but is pure at heart. Rich girl continues to pine for him but is already betrothed to a rich man or a man in uniform. And it all ends tragically but on a bittersweet note, sealed with a kiss on the forehead, and a solitary tear down a cheek.

Tears of the Black Tiger effortlessly pulls off refreshing a tired genre with intense artistry that is as playful as it is cinematic. The Region 1 DVD includes a featurette on the making of the film. The quality isn't good---I'm assuming it's a TV broadcast recording---but there's nothing like hearing (and seeing) Sasanatieng along with the cast and crew discuss both the technical and artistic aspects of the film. *****

Wednesday, January 13

And the Lovely Blog Award goes to...

OMONA! I would like to thank Mark Hodgson of Black Hole Reviews for this lovely Lovely Blog Award with roses, and bitchy lace, and everything that would add up to a Judith Krantz novel cover. And yes, this means a lot to a wayward film blogger with an unhealthy obsession over Super Junior. Just the nudge I need to blog more regularly.

And now it's my turn to spread the loveliness. With geek-crazy attention to detail, photographic writing, Vulcan mind-meld worthy or oftentimes just plain lovely, stormy ideas, these blogs are who I want to be when I grow up.

The Southeast Asia Movie Theater Project. A photographic archive of decaying movie theaters accompanied by graceful travel writing.

On Movies, Job Hunting, Tarutaru Business and Other Banalities. Gaming, soundtracks, Asian movies, and the job hunting in between.

Piling Piling Pelikula. This man deserves a fan club and it already has a name: Dodo's Adoring Public. Movie reviews punk-rock to the core.

Asian Cinema-While on the Road. Extensive actors' profiles, soundtrack samples, and so much good information your brain will explode.

Wise Kwai's Thai Film Journal. The one-stop for Thai film fans.

Nekoneko's Movie Litterbox. Monster movies and crazy comedies from Asia with candid- purrfect commentary.

Die, Danger, Die, Die, Kill! Weird-fu! Friday's Best Pop Song Ever! DARNA!

Lilok Pelikula. Lessons from the School of Inattention. Ready to rumble? Philippine Cinema meets muscular writing. (Though I'm also loving Lilok's music entries.)

Black Hole DVD Reviews. Because everyone deserves some Ice Forest Explorer Barbarella nummyness.