Friday, May 26, 2006
cinematic therapy, part 2

Continued from part 1.

Plot Summary: Based on the Japanese shojo manga of the same name, "NANA" is the story of the lives and friendships of two girls named Nana - Nana Osaki (played by J-Pop singer Nakashima Mika) and Nana Komatsu nicknamed "Hachi" (played by Miyazaki Aoi). The women meet by coincidence on a train heading to Tokyo, and while looking for an apartment to live in, which is apartment 707 on the 7th floor ("nana" in Japanese can be both a name and the number seven). While Nana (Osaki) is an aspiring punk/rock singer and has come to Tokyo to further her singing career, Hachi (Nana Komatsu) has come to Tokyo to join her art school boyfriend and live in the "big city". The two women also have completely different personalities - Hachi is talkative, friendly and outgoing while Nana is calm, deeply private, and cynical.

Gar Commentary: Having never read the manga, I had no idea of what to expect from this movie. The biggest draw for me was Nakashima Mika, since I'm a big fan of her music, which oddly enough, is more J-Pop ballads/jazz rather than rock/punk.

Still, I was pleasantly surprised by this movie. The movie's story moves along at a good pace, and is told via both current events and flashbacks to Nana's past, with scenes with her ex-BF being particularly interesting - early on in the movie, it's revealed that her BF left her to go to Tokyo and join a famous rock band. Nakashima does a great job playing the part of someone who has been scarred by the disappointment of a past relationship, and Miyazaki provides a good counterpoint as the proverbially genki friend.

Impressive musical performances are also in the movie, particularly the movie's themes. Mid-way through the movie, Nakashima gives a convincing and emotional performance of the original song "Glamorous Sky", arguably the movie's theme. The performance of the movie's other theme, "Endless Story" (by half-Japanese, half-Korean American from Hawai'i, Yuna Ito), was also impressive - both theme songs were top pop music singles in Japan, selling almost half a million records... each.

While the main plot and most of the subplots are given sufficient closure, the movie finishes with a bit of open-ended ending, which is not surprising considering that a sequel is already in the works...


A Bittersweet Life
Plot Summary: From the same director of the seriously underrated Korean horror movie, "A Tale of Two Sisters", the story of a "A Bittersweet Life" focuses on a man named Kim Sun-woo (played by Lee Byung-Hun, of "Joint Security Area" fame). Kim is a top lieutenant in a Korean mob family, and is good at what he does - managing a hotel & bar called "La Dolce Vita" ('The Sweet Life') and occasionally being the bad-ass enforcer who beats the snot out of rival gangsters. He has no family, no friends, and no girlfriend - his entire life is his work as a mobster... and he doesn't even smile when he does that.

Of course, this all changes when his boss, Kang, asks Kim to watch his young girlfriend while he's out of town (don't things always turn badly when one guy asks another guy to watch his girl?). The eventual chaos is foreshadowed when Kang tells Kim, "You can do a hundred things right, but it only takes one mistake to destroy everything". Kim makes a decision that dramatically changes his life, and serious violence ensues - beatings, torture, stabbings, and oh yes... gunfire.

Lots of gunfire.

Gar Commentary: It's been awhile since I've seen some good "Asian gangster" flicks, but "A Bittersweet Life" and "Election" (see below) totally fit the bill. In "A Bittersweet Life", director Kim Ji-Woon demonstrates the same eye for great camera work and character development that he showed in "A Tale of Two Sisters" - the movie is a careful study of contrasts between Sun-woo's "noble gangster" and the corrupt world that he lives in - Sun-woo is a proud, loyal, and stoic man with his sense of honor and ethics, but both the criminals and organization he works for functions under a different moral code - jealous, treacherous, greedy, and cowardly.

While this is a familiar theme in many movies in this genre, Kim handles it deftly, and keeps the movie interesting, including an ending that will definitely raise a few eyebrows, depending on your interpretation of it. There's also some characteristically funny moments of black humor, one of which involves digging a hole for a grave.

Definitely worth seeing if you're a fan of other movies in genre like "The Killer", "Infernal Affairs", "Hanabi", and "Chingu" ("Friend").


Election (黑社會, 'The Black Society')
Plot Summary: Made by famed Hong Kong director Johnnie To, "Election" tells the story of an internal power struggle in a Triad family named the Wo Shing society by two men - Lok (played by Simon Yam) and Big D (played by Leung Ka Fei). Every 2 years, according to tradition, the society's elders elects its boss or chairman through a democratic vote, the "election" referred to in the title. Of course, one of the sides (Big D's supporters) isn't adverse to using dirty tactics (the likes of which you probably haven't seen the 2000 US presidential election) and soon, conflict erupts as each side tries to win the "election"...

Gar Commentary: As I mentioned in my review of "A Bittersweet Life", this movie is another excellent movie in the genre of "Asian gangster" movies. While not as particularly as action-packed as "A Bittersweet Life", I found myself enjoying "Election" because of the consistent use of tension in the plot - there's so many flip-flops, and double-crosses in the movie that you're never quite sure until the very end who the winner of the "election" will be.

Another point of appreciation for the movie is given to the atmosphere - besides the theme of traditional Triad ethics versus the dog-eat-dog philosophy of modern business, the movie shows brief snapshots of the complexity of Triad involvement in regular society - everything from the police, to the poultry industry, to even Hong Kong and mainland PRC relations. Life as a Triad isn't particularly glamorized so much as it is shown in the plain light of being even oddly "normal" - most of gangsters wear regular clothes or plain suits, not everyone rolls in an expensive car or runs their business from a five star hotel. The one exception to this "normalcy" is a particularly interesting scene depicting Triads reciting traditional Triad oaths at a temple.

A great flick, and it made about HK $15 million in Hong Kong alone - which may cause one to wonder, was that before, or after the Triads took a cut? haha.


SHINOBI: Heart Under Blade
Plot Summary: In historical Japan, the name often for ninja was the word "shinobi", derived from the Chinese character (忍) meaning "patient", "tolerant", or more accurately, "to forebear". The picture presented by character itself depicts a knife pressing into a heart, but the heart still resists. The arguably most famous ninja clan in all of Japan were the Iga, so named after their home prefecture.

"SHINOBI: Heart Under Blade" is a fictional movie (based on a novel, manga, and anime) about the rivalry of two ninja clans in medieval Japan, the Iga and the Koga, who are pitted against each other by the Shogun government. The two clans are sworn enemies, but that doesn't stop Oboro (played by Nakama Yukie) or Gennosuke (played by Odagiri Jo) from developing a Romeo and Juliet-esque relationship. Of course, once the two clans are pitted against one another in open battle, some things are bound to change, right?

Gar Commentary: Painfully predictable, the plot moves along toward the action, but does it at a pace which can be frustrating - it's not slow enough to develop the characters when there's an opportunity, and it's not fast enough to move you to the action when you need the pace broken up. Oboro and Gennosuke's relationship in regards to the action would seem to be the natural focal point of the plot, but too much time seems to be wasted on peripheral characters who are unnecessary and/or destined to get wacked.

The only thing I enjoyed in "SHINOBI" were the fight sequences between the ninja, which utilize all sorts of interesting CGI effects - for example, the ninja Yashamaru (played by "Versus" star Sakaguchi Tak) attacks with hundreds of threads (!) that emanate from his sleeves, or Oboro's "eye of destruction" (which gives a whole new mental picture of a woman giving the "evil eye"). Still, these fighting sequences are both not very long, and not very frequent.

One other small positive note for the movie: the theme song, HEAVEN by Hamasaki Ayumi, was pretty popular. Haha.

While a diehard action movie junkie like myself has enough interest to sit through it, probably most everyone else should pass this up and watch one of the other movies I've reviewed here instead, or if you're craving a modern ninja action flick, I'd recommend watching "Azumi" instead (preferably the original, not the sequel).


oh my god!

NEVER write about the triad and their ALLEGED (ALLEGED, i say!) involvement in the movie industry.

and gar! i'm so know going to temple and making pledges and praying IS normal here, triad or not. :P

election 2 is out in hk right now, by the way, and it talks about how business has been changed by the handover.

ps. you might find it amusing to know that the letter "D" is short for "diew" in local Canto slang and Big D means...well...!!

pps. good reviews :)
maloy- hahaha. oh, I know visiting the temple and making pledges is normal... I just thought the scene showing the "first triad" with the monks making the oath intercut with "modern triads" to be a little oddly outta place in the movie. Just having a scene with the "modern triads" would have been good enough for me. =)

Big "Diew"... puwahaha.
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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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