Tuesday, May 31

Ha Ha Ha (South Korea, 2010)

Because last Saturday's drink up was strange. "Drinking down memory lane," a drunken text message, slurred across time (the flooding of memory) and space (physical, in a dingy, hole-in-a-wall home for soju drunks; the empty chair reserved for someone)---a text message which I had insisted was brilliant, and not much later, the succumbing of a dear (old) friend to my insisting and to lovelorn plot twists that is, was, or will be our lives.

And so, Hong Sang-soo's Ha Ha Ha as refrain, a breathing, stuttering drunk of a film that vibrates with wit, middle-aged bravery (that surfaces at the brink of toppling over), and endearing strangeness, like drunken kisses and pulling grass from the ground in a fit of anger.


What a relief for a film to just ramble on about connections, great legs, and poetry. (A character in Oki's Movie, the film that followed Ha Ha Ha, said that he would like his film to be viewed as an experience similar to getting to know a person. That meaning may not be important. Ask aloud, What is the meaning of Ha Ha Ha? See?) The sharper ones will be mentally drawing charts and connecting dotty symbolism. The lucky ones will just pour another shot and laugh along with the end credits.


Thursday, February 10

Sudkhet Salet Pet (Thailand, 2011)

Sudkhet Salet Pet (สุดเขต สเลดเป็ด)
Director Reukchai Puangpetch
Starring Pae Arak Amornsupasiri (Slice), Khom Chuan Chuen, Koeti Aramboy (Hor Taew Tek 3), Tukkie Sudara Butrprom (First Love)

Pae Arak works his indie boy cred with awkward eccentric charm that when he first shows up and throws silly lines (at warp speed) at a security guard who slings back retorts with spitfire gusto, it's golden. Mindless golden. But who cares when the comic timing is this hyper good. The laughable loves make a lot of noise with the wit-slapstick combo, roaring through scenes like a string of sitcom segments but strangely enough, it never feels disjointed. Maybe it's the relaxed pace, the weightlessness of the film itself that disarms critic defenses and instead makes you root for these gang of losers no matter how obvious the ending is. It's also Pae Arak and his guitar and the mumblecore songs. But if there's one thing that's clear, Boy, Tukkie and Pae do make an interesting band, a little bit like early Magic Numbers with a dash of Aqua. Okay. So it might not work at all. ***

Photo from the film's Facebook Fanpage

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 allmusicjunkies.com, 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? ****