Tuesday, May 23, 2006
cinematic therapy, part 1

Since the time that I was rendered to my current status, my life has been a series of activities I merely conduct to fill my vampire-like hours and yes, "move on". Of course, it's also been a time to indulge my hobby of movie watching, and lately I've been trying to see lots of Asian films.

My commentary (relatively spoiler free)...

The Promise (無極)
Plot Summary: A fantasy story with an international cast that revolves around an enchanted princess who made a Faustian-esque bargain as a child (Hong Kong hottie Cecilia Cheung), a brave general (Sanada Hiroyuki from "Twilight Samurai"), and wandering warrior who has no memory of his country (Jang Dong-Kun from "Taegukgi"). It's directed by Chen Kaige of the acclaimed 5th generation.

Gar Commentary: (borrowed from my IMDB review) This movie got seriously panned by critics for its weaknesses. Reading the various user reviews of "The Promise", it's apparent that a lot of people dislike the movie for the wrong reasons - most write how the movie compares unfavorably to Chen's earlier works like "The Emperor and the Assassin", "Farewell My Concubine", "Yellow Earth", etc. Anybody who's seen those movies would obviously know that it's unfair to make a comparison between "The Promise" and a movie like "Farewell My Concubine", akin to comparing apples to oranges. After all, nobody writes reviews comparing "Chronicles of Narnia" to "Kingdom of Heaven" and starts bashing "Narnia" for having a talking lion! "The Promise" is clearly meant to be enjoyed as a cinematic fairytale / fantasy movie, not a semi-realistic film such as "Farewell My Concubine" or even wuxia movies like "Crouching Tiger" or "House of Flying Daggers" (both of which for obvious reasons lack magic spells, prophecy spewing goddesses, and time travel).

Better movies to compare "The Promise" to would be fairytale / fantasy movies like "Narnia" or "LOTR", because "The Promise", is really a fantasy plot that is a parable about love, trust, deception, lies, and sacrifice. True, "The Promise" isn't quite perfect in its execution of its movie elements - the characters sometimes behave illogically, the story may be too complicated for people to follow, the Mandarin Chinese is uneven among the actors - but still, I found the movie to be compelling when I viewed as a fairytale and NOT as a serious historical drama or an action-packed wuxia film.

Outwardly, this fable of a movie may seem ill-fitting to Chen's resume, but beneath the surface, I found the moral questions in "The Promise" to be consistent with those that other Chen Kaige films often covertly pose.


Fearless (霍元甲)
Plot Summary: A fictional account of the life of a legendary Chinese martial arts master, Huo Yuanjia (played by Jet Li), the movie begins with Huo's life as a young child, though the majority of the movie is spent following Huo's exploits as a man - his rise, his fall, and later, his famous exhibition fights in the name of Chinese pride against foreign fighters from Russia, Great Britain, Japan, etc.

The Chinese title of the movie is Huo Yuanjia's name, not "Fearless".

Gar Commentary: Reported to be Jet Li's last martial arts film, I really enjoyed watching how well "Fearless" blended together action with drama. Jet Li's insistence on Buddhist / moral themes is clearly seen in the movie, and the overall message of the film - that martial arts are a means by which people should strive to become better human beings rather than mindless beasts of death and destruction, and that evil and selfish acts have consequences - is similar in this movie to another Jet Li flick, "Unleashed" / "Danny the Dog". The moral theme provides a better context for both the development of the Huo's life and actions, with the Huo's bouts against the foreign fighters being a clear allegory for China's historical struggle to resist colonialism by Europe, Japan, and the US.

The action scenes are of course trademark Jet Li-styled quickness and grace, the pinnacle scene being Jet Li's 1-on-1 fight with Shido Nakamura , featuring a brilliant tri-staff versus katana battle. While the version I saw was the 105 minute edited theatrical version (where scenes with Michelle Yeoh and a Thai Boxer were edited out), it's been reported that the DVD has the full 150 minute version. If this really is Jet Li's last martial arts film, at least I as a fan I can happily say that this movie is a great tribute. I definitely have to get myself a copy of it.


Sympathy for Lady Vengeance
Plot Summary: By the director of "Old Boy", Park Chan-wook, "Sympathy for Lady Vengeance" is the last in his trilogy of movies meditating on the theme of revenge / vengeance. In SFLV, a woman named Lee Geum-ja (played by Lee Yeong-Ae, who also starred in Park's "JSA") is wrongfully convicted of kidnapping and murdering a young boy, and goes to prison for over 15 years. When she's finally released from prison, she sets into motion her plan for bloody revenge, with the help of other female ex-convicts.

Gar Commentary: While the plot is not as particularly shocking or twisted as "Old Boy", I still found SFLV to be a fascinating movie, if nothing else for the character study that is Lee Geum-ja - what sort of transformation does a person undergo when they've been wrongfully imprisoned and been stripped of what they value the most? Other fascinating characters are also to be found in Lee Geum-ja's accomplices, and a subplot involving a Korean adoptee girl (you'll have to watch the movie to understand).

Another point of my appreciation for the movie is the style in which it was filmed - the brilliant colors and brightness of many of the movie's shots stands in pretty stark contrast to "Old Boy"'s dark grittiness and grimey style. In particular, the last half of the movie is quite artistic, including several beautiful shots in the snow (I know it snows in Korea, but snow this good looking makes me wonder if it's CGI).

A great film, and for people like me who enjoy thinking about the thematic elements of cinema, SFLV will definitely make you contemplate your own personal feelings about revenge, and under what circumstances would you feel justified in taking it...


Crying Out Love, in the Center of the World (世界の中心で、愛を叫ぶ)
Plot Summary: Based on a Japanese novel called "Socrates In Love", the story of "Crying Out Love..." revolves around a man named Sakutaro trying to find the whereabouts of his missing fiancee, Ritsuko. While searching for her, he finds an old tape made by his high school girlfriend, Aki, and from there, the story takes place between a combination of present day events and flashbacks to Sakutaro's relationship with Aki when he was a high school student in a small town.

While the title is long, it's a literal translation of the Japanese title.

The novel currently holds the record of all time best selling book in Japan with over 3 million copies sold (beating out the previous record holder, "Norwegian Wood") and the film's theme song, the ballad "瞳を閉じて” ('Hitomi wo Tojite' or 'Close My Eyes') by Hirai Ken was a huge hit on the pop music charts.

Gar Commentary: While normally I'm not the sort of person who is a fan of romantic movies, I really liked this film - the acting by the young, high school Sakutaro (Moriyama Mirai) and Aki (Nagasawa Masami) is quite touching. I'm not revealing a huge plot point in saying that the viewer soon learns that Aki has a leukemia (it's revealed early on), but the focus on Sakutaro and Aki's lives inspite of the illness brings out universal themes of teenage love, life, death, and the struggle to cope with loss.

The movie's power as a tear-jerker is so irresistable in that even when the end of everything is foreshadowed by the story, you still can't help but cry. Yes, even man tears gushed outta my eyes too, especially during a particularly moving scene at the airport, when Sakutaro cries out "助けて... 助けて!" ("Tasukete... TASUKETE!" / "Help... HELP!") while cradling Aki, you know he's not just yelling at the crowds of strangers at the airport, he's screaming at Heaven or fate itself.

Gah, I was so sad after watching this movie, but at the same time, it was a carthartic sorta sadness. A great movie, but unless you're a coldhearted, emotionless, and loveless bastard, watch it with a box of tissues close by. You'll probably cry too.


(to be continued)


When my parents came to visit, I let them see my The Promise dvd because they were bored. They totally did not like it. Bc, as you say, the story isn't all so straightforward and is not reality based. I liked it most bc my favorite eye candy, cecelia was in it. hehehehe.

I must be heartless bc I didn't cry when I watched Crying Out last summer. I guess it wasn't the best of choices as I saw it on a date of sorts. Bwhahaha.

Anyway, HK is good. ;o)
heh, you didn't shed tears while watching "Crying Out"?? fishes these days need more hot dates to inspire those feelings of love and longing... heh >=)

enjoy HK.
i like how fast they run in the promise... road runner style
where do you get your DVDs from?
RKo> heh, it gave me "Kung-Fu Hustle" flashbacks too.

Hui Jeong>YesAsia.com is a good source, as well as BitTorrent if you're not afraid of being tech-y.
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in?scrip?tion (n-skrip-shun)n.
1. The act or an instance of inscribing.
2. Something, such as the wording on a coin, medal, monument, or seal, that is inscribed.
3. A short, signed message in a book or on a photograph given as a gift.
4. The usually informal dedication of an artistic work.
5. Jeremiah 31:33

the facts.
name. Gar AKA "that Chinese guy" "Sleepy.McSleeping"
ethnicity/nationality. Chinese/American, 4th gen.
location. Sea-Town, WA, USA Kawanishi, JAPAN
occupation. less-cynical poor grad student
age. younger than you think, older than you know



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(myname) @ gmail.com



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