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.