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The ones that got away

While I’m wasting time between my Italy vacation updates - a trip which, by the way, is now one full month old - I figured I could quickly discuss the progress or lack thereof concerning the site’s review backlog. After all, it’s that and the merciless day job that are keeping me busy. You all want to hear about it, right? It seems that Fiona Sit is interested:

Fiona is curious
“Hmm, why are those blog updates taking so long, anyway?”

It’s comforting to know that Fiona cares. I’m not too sure about the guy next to her, though.

After Udine, I added up all the films I’d seen and not reviewed, from the Far East Film Festival (FEFF), the Hong Kong International Film Festival (HKIFF), and just regular theatrical release. The number came out to a whopping twenty-five. Factoring out Coffee or Tea, which I mentioned in an earlier HKIFF post, the number dropped to twenty-four.

Now, some fourteen written reviews later, there are only ten left on the list. Of the ten, I have decided to excise three. The reason? I got sleepy while watching those three films, meaning three possible things: A) I may have missed something important while dozing off, B) any confusion I felt may be due to grogginess and not film quality, or C) the movies were boring, thus putting me to sleep because hey, a thrill-a-minute film would definitely have kept me awake.

Sleeping kitty
This is what happens when a movie lacks action

Regardless of the reason for my nodding off, I feel it’s hard to let people know my opinion on a film if I don’t end up catching all of it. It’s not very responsible - though to be honest, I hear that a few Asian Cinema publications were written using this “I saw only half of the film” reviewing technique. I did it once, for a movie called Hong Kong X-File. The shame stays with me today.

I’m not a fan of partial, uninformed opinion. Hell, sometimes I even change my mind after seeing a movie three or four more times. The best example of this is probably Running Out of Time 2. At the time I considered the film to be a disappointment, but I now feel it’s a very fun, entertaining, and smart chase movie - albeit with an overly-arch sense of humor. Also, given Ekin Cheng’s career slide, I now feel like being charitable towards every film he makes.

The main lesson: I’m not always on my “A” game, and reviewing a movie that I partially slept through would be somewhat disingenous. These films deserve an actual viewing while awake and sober - something that will hopefully happen one day if they get released on DVD with English subtitles. If not, I’ll have to be content with the following memories, which I’m sure are wholly innaccurate and probably proof that I should change my profession to professional paint scraper.

Feng Xiaogang disapproves of sleeping at films:

I point at you
“You! In the front row! Wake up!”

I’ll take his advice, but frankly, the director of The Banquet is in no position to ask his audience to stay awake.

Anyway, here are my mini-impressions of the three films that I fell asleep at. DISCLAIMER: the following mini-reviews are not really reviews, and fully belong in the blog format. That’s because I did minimal research, and made zero attempt to talk about the films or the filmmakers outside of my own instant experience. If I blogged about my dinner or coffee before or after these films, it may actually be appropriate because that’s what blog posts like these are like. Web Film Criticism 2.0: the online version of dinner and a movie.

Film I slept at No. 1: In Love We Trust

In Love We Trust
Yu Nan wakes up from a nightmare where
she appeared in a megaflop directed by
the Wachowski Brothers

Directed by Wang Xiaoshuai, this Chinese drama proffers up a particularly fun premise: adultery for a good cause! Basically, a divorced couple consider siring a new child to provide an organ transplant for an older one whose illness is fast becoming terminal. Of course, each person has a new partner, who may not go for extramarital action, even if the cause is a good one. Human emotions can be tricky things.

The great things about this film: the screenplay, the acting, and the approach, which sidesteps the Curse of the Asian Tearjerker(TM) and features unspoken realization and complex characterization in place of bile-spewing Oscar clips or egregious displays of weeping. This is a film about decisions, not outcomes, and it deserved to be lauded at the Berlin Film Festival.

I fell asleep when the half-hour setup began to drag. When I woke up, I wasn’t sure which couple I was watching, so I had to reacquaint myself with them on the fly. By the time the plot kicked in, I was hooked, but I do feel that I missed a lot. If I spoke Mandarin, I could solve this issue because there’s an unsubbed DVD available in China. I don’t speak Mandarin, so I am a waste of space.

Donnie is mad
“I told you not to fall asleep! Why must you make me so upset?!?”

By the way, this film featured small turns by Gao Yuanyuan and Tian Yuan, and stars Yu Nan from Tuya’s Marriage and - get this - Speed Racer! No Rain, however.

Film I slept at No. 2: Your Friends

Your Friends
No, they’re not my friends, they’re your friends

Shojo manga alert! Your Friends tells the could-be-very-sappy story of a disabled girl, her friendship with another girl who has a terminal disease, and her search for the perfect cloud to honor that friend. My description does the film an incredible disservice, however, as Your Friends is actually sensitive, well-made, and quite restrained - though the overt symbolism of the clouds was still a bit much for my sleepy brain cells. Your Friends sounds like a ten-ton weepie requiring about sixty tissues, but thankfully it stays restrained enough to qualify as something a bit more accomplished. I’m sure it would have worked equally as well as a manga, however.

This one put me to sleep immediately because it features lots of shots of clouds and blue skies, and only serves up tinkly music when it’s time to cut to a new segment featuring yet another of “your friends”. This is a flashback-filled tale with many young actors all wearing school uniforms. Not that I couldn’t tell them apart - I could, but after waking up forty minutes into the film, it took me an extra ten to realize that the film had shifted segments on me, and was concentrating on a new girl instead of a previous one, though one of the girls hanging around was the same.

What the above means: there were three young girls featured in the first forty minutes of the film, and not just two, but my nap required me to perform some extra mental gymnastics to realize that we were following one girl’s experience with two different friends, and not just two girls all the time. Director Hiroki Ryuichi made things even more difficult for my sleep-deprived brain because he decided to shoot his film in mostly long shots and long takes, meaning I had to wait an age for the rare close-up to get a good look at anyone. Frankly, the wait was sometimes so long that I was able to take a nap.

For the record: one of the three girls was also in Adrift in Tokyo - which I didn’t fall asleep at. There are also a bunch of boys, including a guy who was in the Nodame Cantabile drama. I’m not using their real names here because I didn’t do any research before writing this blog post - in which case I would have dug up a name or two. Call it me being lazy, but there are many online film reviewers who don’t do the proper research before writing their reviews. A note to those reviewers: we’re all on the same level.

Everyone in this photo has a film-related blog:

We support Hilary and review Asian film
“We support Hilary AND we blog about Asian movies!”

I think the lesson here - besides check who’s writing those blogs you frequent - is that responsible journalism is hard to practice, and I’m not a complete saint in that department. Truthfully, Your Friends has plenty of fans, so my sarcastic sleepy-eyed review should be taken with a couple thousand grains of salt. Maybe our actual friends deserve to be insulted, but Your Friends is better served by respectful quotes like “a new wave classic” and “I see my friends in the clouds, too”. It’s better than the damning, “It was okay, but then I fell asleep” judgement that I would probably otherwise make.

Honestly, I will try to see this movie again someday. I’m getting a venti Starbucks beforehand.

Film I slept at No. 3: Ta Pu

Ta Pu
If you cheat, they shoot you

The tale of a bunch of overage students taking university entrance exams in rural China, Ta Pu is a film definitely worth watching - but I’ll have to see it again, because this time I completely messed up and fell asleep a total of THREE Times during the film. The first time was about ten minutes after the film started, the second time was when the students were all sitting in a classroom, and the third time someone had already failed the exam and the other students weren’t doing so hot themselves. Not really a commercial film, Ta Pu relates a post-Cultural Revolution time in Chinese history, when all those sent-down laborers got the chance to get out of the sticks and get themselves their long-delayed education. NOTE: a friend told me that info and I remember it - no research required!

The message of the film seemed to be that the best intentions of Chinese youth won’t help them get into University, and lots of everyday, China-specific stuff will get in way of that new-fangled progress thing called an education. Yes, I’ve just insulted a fine motion picture with an insincere synopsis - but that’s what happens when you fall asleep in a movie and struggle to recall exactly what went on. The moral: someone should fire me from this website. The other moral: seeing five movies a day can kill almost anyone, especially a person who doesn’t sleep that much anyway.

The positive is that I stayed awake in Italy long enough to take this photo of Kelly Lin and Lau Ching-Wan:

Sitting behind the cast of Running Out of Time 2
Her hair is blocking Johnnie To’s profile

The negative: I totally shafted Ta Pu because of my nap attacks, and even though my memory seems to tell me that it was a film worth seeing, I can’t recall enough specifics to piece together why exactly I thought that. Rather than faking it and going for the three-paragraph review, I’ll come clean and admit the truth: I probably saw only 40% of the film in a lucid state, and my impressions are mostly gleamed from a personal fill-in-the-blank exercise involving the fest catalog, a blank notepad, and a diagram meant to describe the character relationships. I never did figure out all the details, but this is what I drew up:

I think it’s a dog

As punishment, I’ll promise to review movies responsibly, honestly, and with more integrity than I did last week. I’ll get started on it right away.

Fiona is glad we had this conversation.

Fiona’s thumbs up
“I’m Fiona Sit, and I approve of this blog.”

11 Responses to “The ones that got away”

  1. glenn Says:

    So when you moved to Hong Kong, you didn’t speak any Cantonese or Mandarin? I thought, based on some comment on here once, that you could at least speak Mandarin.

    Don’t you want to throw a soda bottle at Fiona?

    Those films sounded as boring as Fatal Move which at least had a good cast. But no script.

    I really think you’re doing God’s work by sitting through all this stuff because another film of the caliber of Playboy Cops is seriously gonna test the limits of my Hong Kong film fan capabilities.

    And are there actual release dates for Sparrow and Ashes of Time Redux? I keep seeing news about each but no release dates for any part of the world, even Hong Kong, are mentioned.

  2. Webmaster Kozo Says:

    Hi Glenn,

    Sorry, I don’t speak either Cantonese or Mandarin, and I still haven’t picked up much of either in over 3 years here. I do understand a lot more, but I pretend not to because it gets me a free pass around the office to act anti-social.

    I actually think Fiona has some talent, but it’s still somewhat unrefined. Also, her acting career took a real hit after Love Undercover 3. I still have hope for her though, as she’s much more talented than most of the Cookies.

    The movies covered in this blog post weren’t really boring - I think my point in writing this was simply to say that I shouldn’t be reviewing them because I fell asleep. My poor synposes and ill-formed opinions about each film are proof of that.

    I actually found Playboy Cops to be somewhat surprising, though yeah, it’s not a true quality work.

    Sparrow is due in HK on June 19th. I have no idea when Ashes of Time Redux hits. It’s conceivable that the US will get it before HK does.

  3. Gabriel Says:

    The links to “Crows - Episode 0″ & “Little Prince” don’t work. They take one to a “This webpage can’t be found” page instead.

  4. V Says:

    Hi Kozo,

    Though you fell asleep at these three movies, your descriptions still make them look like interesting movies worth a look (to me, at least), unlike Hong Kong X-File, the review of which cracked me up. It makes me think that you must’ve been extremely tired when you went to watch these.

    Five movies a day?! I want to try that once just to see if I can last through it :)

  5. V Says:

    Sparrow will be shown at the Seattle International Film Festival on June 2nd & 4th.

  6. eliza bennet Says:

    Great write up and as usual you sure got me interested in new films :)

  7. MW Says:

    I ALMOST fell asleep reading this blog post. Posts about sleeping makes me sleep. Thank goodness for Google and pictures.

    Speaking of sleeping, I had a tough time watching Ashes of Time the first time around. (I just used time three times in one sentence!) I can’t say if I liked it or not, I was too confused then I fell asleep. Will the Redux version make it more accessible to causal viewing?

  8. Webmaster Kozo Says:

    Hi Gabriel, I fixed those links. That’s what I get for trying to finish an update and a blog entry in the same evening. I have been humbled by this experience.

    Thanks for letting me know. I also received an email about it, so that means two people in this world noticed those broken links. Yay!

  9. glenn Says:

    Fiona is cute but I’ve yet to watch her in anything even though I own a few of her films already — I have a feeling that Love Undercover 3 would be a disappointment w/o Miriam.

    I read some post on Asian Fanatics that the Ashes of Time Redux was actually 5 minutes shorter than the original. Not sure if that will make it more accessible or not.

    I watched it early in my HK film watching cycle and I didn’t get a lot of it beyond the visuals but I think I would appreciate it more now having seen a few wuxia films.

  10. wakawaka Says:

    hey kozo,

    i was just on a flight from LA to Hong Kong on Cathay, and I was reading the description of movies in the magazine and on my screen, and they quoted LoveHKFilm for “The Warlords”. It was pretty interesting stuff. They even translated the quote into Chinese.

    Though you might like to know.

  11. Webmaster Kozo Says:

    Hi wakawaka,

    Thanks for letting me know! Getting quoted is always pretty cool. It happens from time to time.

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