Thursday, February 19, 2009

Crows ZERO [2007]

Director: Takashi Miike
Starring: Shun Oguri, Takayuki Yamada, Kuroki Meisa
Points: 90 out of 100
Rating: Teen (violence, gangsterism)
Comment: "A very, very stylish film with plentiful action and laughs..."

I haven't seen many contemporary films from the Far East, and the ones that I really like coming from the land of the rising sun so far only include classics such as Seven Samurai [1954] and Rashomon [1950]. This film however, is not entirely original. It is actually an adaptation of the Crows manga by Takahashi Hiroshi. It's a shonen manga (click here for definition) , so be prepared for a machismo-fuelled ride.

The story takes place in Suzuran High School, the school of teenage delinquents and it revolves around a male protagonist who goes by the name of Genji, the son of a Yakuza boss. Intent on taking over the family "business", Genji enrolled into this school with the aim of conquering it and prove himself worthy to his father. But things are not as simple as "veni, vidi, vinci..."

To understand what this film is all about, one must first understand the setting. Apparently, this is a school where nobody studies and teachers appear only once every year. Students here are divided into gangs based on what class and what year they are in. I have never read the manga, so I can't really say for sure. But from what I can understand, this is a school for training gangsters. Their curriculum is all about gangsterism and the co-curriculum involves nothing but brawling.

It is all very cool, sure. But personally I think of it as a weak point. It seems like the school setting is purely aesthetics. But then again, schools do symbolise a place for learning the meaning of life, and that is exactly what the characters learned; at least the meaning of their lives.

That brings me to another interesting point to the film; how colourful the characters are. In most of gangster films I've seen, the characters tend to be one-dimensional. The script did the characters justice for they are able to make you laugh, fired-up and maybe even cry.

The strongest appeal to this film, however, is the cinematography. Hats off the production team for making one of the most stylish movies I have ever seen in a long time. No CGI, not much special effects. Just some slick and smooth camerawork.

Points Calculation

The Good [+100]
- Excellent cinematography
- Interesting story
- Tasteful tale of 'honour among friends'

The Bad [-10]
- Illogical at certain times

100 - 10 = 90 points

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Rebirth, or Just Ashes?

Alright, so the title is simply my poor attempt at subtle-referencing to an actor whom I have a great respect for; the very talented Joaquin Phoenix. By now, it is already stale news, but many people (me included) are having a tough time letting the news sink.

"Joaquin Phoenix is retiring from acting to embark on a career in music..."

Now, that is not exactly a problem. It is a loss, sure. But it is not so surprising either, considering how well he played the role of Johnny Cash in Walk the Line [2005]. Everyone (again, me included) assumed that he became so immersed with the role that he feels the need to perform music beyond the silver screen. But the problem lies not within his career choice, but rather his choice of music. It's not country music or even rock music.

It's Hip-Hop.

I personally disagree with the choice he made. Not only due to my personal disdain for Hip-Hop, but also it is such a waste of his acting talent. But at the same time, I also feel the need to give him a break. I mean, this is after all, a free-world. It's just that, it's a little disappointing to see such a thing happen. One can't help but be reminded of Mickey Rourke's decision to leave acting for a career in boxing, only to return battered physically and emotionally. Thankfully however, his recent performance in The Wrestler [2008] gave his career a breath of fresh air.

Perhaps Joaquin Phoenix will suffer a similar fate, or maybe he will actually prosper as a Hip-Hop musician. One thing we all know for certain, is that everyone is having a hard time taking him seriously as a rapper. And his recent appearance on David Letterman's The Late Night Show certainly did not help fans warm-up to his new career choice. Anyway, we will just have to wait and see.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Ong Bak 2 [2009]

Director: Tony Jaa, Panna Rittikrai
Starring: Tony Jaa, Nirut Sirichanya, Sorapong Chatree
Points: 30 out of 100
Rating: Teen (violence, blood and gore)
Comment: "A martial arts exhibition wrapped around a terrible story..."

Despite the title, this film is actually the prequel to the previous installment. Up to this point, however, one can't really see how the two are connected. Perhaps you are better off if you simply disregard this movie for you could pick any other films starring Tony Jaa and it will be twice better than this one. Not that there are that many to choose from, but you get the idea. It is a shame really, considering that this is Tony Jaa's directorial debut and it will go down in history as one of the most poorly structured stories ever.

The story revolves around Tony Jaa's character, caught within a political turmoil in middle-age Thailand. While trying to escape from being assassinated, he got lost in the jungle, only to be 'rescued' and to be sold as a slave. However, he shows defiance to his captors, bringing the interest of a bandit leader to train him in martial arts.

The premise is promising enough, for martial arts has more reason to exist in feudal times rather than today. And in true Tony Jaa fashion, the action sequences are wireless and CGI-free. Sadly, that's the only thing worth watching in the entire movie.

Storywise, there are too many things lacking. However, a bit of research revealed that the reason behind the poorly constructed plot is due to complications during the production stage. It has been reported that Tony Jaa went missing in action for two months, bringing the production to a halt. In order to finish the film on time, the production team resulted to a cliffhanger ending, giving way to a third installment - which I doubt I'll be watching on the silver screen.

All in all, a decent effort from Tony Jaa, but perhaps fourth time's the charm?

Points Calculation

The Good [+100]
- Tony Jaa kicks butt!

The Bad [-70]
- Everything else

100 - 70 = 30 points
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