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Archive for March, 2007

The Golden Rock song of the day - 3/31/07

Today’s song of the day is a fairly recent song by American band The Killers. While I enjoy the MTV for “Read My Mind” more out of personal connection to Tokyo, I honestly think their first single is a masterpiece. From the album Sam’s Town, it’s “When You Were Young.”

Why? Because its retro rock sound is hip enough that it feels refresh and familiar at the same time. It’s a hard task, but they seem to do it comfortably.


Thanks to TVB, whose English channel showed the Asian Film Awards, I’m watching the TVB USA broadcast of it right now. The award, done completely in English, is hosted by actor/VJ David Wu, Hong Kong pop star Fiona Sit, and at one point, also by actress/singer Karen Mok. All three of these people speak fluent English, which I guess means they meet the most basic requirement. But while I’m sure that David Wu is a perfectly competent VJ on TV in Taiwan, he has this annoying need to end a lot of his sentences with fillers like “OK?” or “alright?” Yeah, kind of like what Quentin Tarantino does when he does interviews. While his fillers, which makes him sound like he’s speaking in a normal conversation, works better when Fiona shows up and does the co-hosting thing, his monologue skills is something left to be desired.

All in all, it’s an impressive effort, considering it’s the first time Hong Kong is in charge of a global award show like this (they’ve never done well with foreign presenters at the Hong Kong Film Awards either). It’s also great to see Professor David Bordwell get an award, Josephine Siao Fong Fong getting the only standing ovation of the night (why isn’t she in films anymore anyway? If the Hui brothers can still stage a pseudo-comeback these days, I think she’s due for another great performance), and Sandy Lam doing famous film songs in their original languages. But I think I can see a teleprompter in their future, because it’s really distracting seeing people reading into cards in their hands. It was also funny to see people sitting there not applauding (like when Andy Lau got his award, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai is caught just smiling politely when everyone else is applauding), Professor Bordwell snapping a picture of Jia Zhangke when he won his best director award, and people talking on cell phones even when the camera is on them.

So next year, get Michelle Yeoh (or at least have consistenly 2 hosts at the same time) to be the host, get everyone to at least appear to be prepared, and try to actually fill up the place with more than just idol fans and celebrities.

Watched Ridley Scott’s A Good Year last night. It’s basically an adult escapist fantasy about a rich guy, played by Russell Crowe, who inherits his deceased uncle’s beautiful French vineyard where he spent a big chunk of his childhood. He means to sell it so he can go back to his super stockbroker job in modern London, but first he has to fix it up. Considering it’s from the man who made Alien, Blade Runner, and Gladiator, A Good Year is obviously a pretty minor effort. It’s also Ridley Scott’s rare attempt at a full-on comedy; it even features the Crowe man falling into a pool of dirt and dead leaves.

The result is a very relaxed and minor effort. The whole thing, like Gordon Chan’s Okinawa Rendezvous, feels like an excuse for the cast and crew to spend a few months at a beautiful French villa. But that’s OK, because Scott has a sure handed approach on the material, making what could’ve been a mediocre “city guy learns about the simple life” story into a classy but somewhat uneven piece of filmmaking. Then again, maybe I’m predisposed to like everything Scott and Crowe do. Or it’s just nice to see Crowe not taking on heavy roles, he might just throw less things at people in real life.

Not much news out there today, but let’s try and get through this anyway.

- Japan Times has two notable reviews for the weekend - first, the latest film from the man who is supposed to be the next Miyazaki (blasphemy!!!), Makoto Shinkai’s latest: Byosoku 5 Centimeters. Second, one of the great discoveries of 2006, the high school-noir film Brick.

- The Weinstein Company’s “Dragon Dynasty” line is an attempt to make up for the cinematic crimes they’ve done to Asian movies over the years. Of course, a line of DVDs isn’t gonna make up for what they’ve done, but it’s a good step. Twitch has a look at their line-up for the rest of 2007, which includes a 2-disc edition of Hard Boiled, City of Violence, and even Fist of Legend! Took them long enough, no?

- Celebrity fandom hit a tragic note this week with the story of Yang Lijuan. She spent the last 13 years obsessing over Asian superstar Andy Lau by not having a steady job nor much of an education. Her parents loved their daughter so much that they supported this habit, even to the point of spending the family fortune to accompany her to Hong Kong to meet him. She shows up at a fan club activity, takes a picture with the man, and was sent away. However, it wasn’t enough because she wasn’t able to spend more time with the man. Out of disappointment and a strange sense of anger, the father commits suicide, leaving a letter blaming Andy Lau for not meeting his daughter.

Now the family’s out of money, and Andy Lau still won’t meet her, even though he has sent his staff to help her out any way they can. But apparently Ms. Yang’s mother has taken this opportunity to blame Andy Lau for her husband’s death and demands half a million RMB from Lau himself. How sad.

- I like Bae Doona. Even though she sometimes looks a bit like an alien, I’ve always enjoyed her performances. Korea Pop Wars has written an entry about her recently released photo album, which chronicles her travels in London. I’m actually kind of interested in the Tokyo one too.

- The date for the announcement of this year’s San Francisco International film Festival’s lineup is inching closer, and Twitch has a preview of the films that will be shown. Too bad I’m not interested in any of those films yet.

I know it ain’t much, but that’s all I got today, alright?

The Golden Rock song of the day - 3/30/07

I thought long and hard about today’s song. It was originally going to be another song (which has been the case a few times), but upon looking around Youtube, I had found something that caught my attention more. So today’s song is a bit of an oldie (available on a compilation album) and was rediscovered from a cover done by Masami Nagasawa (although as the protagonist of the drama, not as Masami herself) last year when TBS adapted the story into a drama. It’s Hiroko Yakushima’s “Sailor Suit and Machine Gun,” from the movie of the same name.

Why? Because it’s an oldie but goodie. Because while Masami Nagasawa’s vocals are flat as any other pop idol, Hiroko’s version is more expressive, more alive.

(It’s the first song in the clip)

And here’s the 2006 cover by Hoshi Izumi (Played by Masami Nagasawa)

Asian Cinema News 101

Oh, come on, you had to expect me to use a title like that, right?

- OK, Hong Kong Thursday (opening day) numbers are up, and this weekend, those abstract-sounding Hong Kong-produced cgi animated-fest TMNT are going to try and take down the 300 Spartans. Sadly, even ninja turtles can’t fight 300 6-packs, as they tie for first place with HK$230,000 on 31 screens. Of course, TMNT being an animated film, business will pick up quite a bit during the weekend. However, don’t be surprised if Pursuit of Happyness comes back from behind to do great business again this weekend - it’s already the only film in the top 10 with a per-screen average higher than $HK 10,000, and HK audiences just LOVE a tearjerker.

The only other notable opening is Yoji Yamada’s “Love and Honor,” starring Asian megastar Kimura Takuya as a blind samurai. On 5 screens, the Japanese blockbuster only got HK$30,000. Again, look for business to pick up, thanks to the older adult audience that will come out during the weekend.

- Eiga Consultant looks at the box office result of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s latest “Sakebi,” which first was reported to have opened huge (”Standing audiences only!”), but after a month and an expansion up to 100 screens, it only ended up making about 130 million yen. The first Ju-on (That’s “The Grudge” for you non-Japanese speakers out there) film made about 500 million yen (not exactly a nationwide phenomenon), but the second film ended up making a little more than a double that. So is he saying that Sakebi had buzz that never followed through?

- Recently, the National Broadcaster Association of Japan kicked NTV out due to the natto diet scandal, and now, the president of KTV (Kansai Television) will resign on the day that a program that explains the fraud data will air.

- Japan’s internet content provider Nifty added a bunch of new content on their website, but will charge money and requires membership….which mean it gives no alternative to the Youtube problem. People want easy access to free information - TV shows, music videos, things that are already shown for free if one has a TV. Hell, I’ll even step up and say I’d watch advertisements in between them, but I’m just speaking for myself.

- Hideo Nakata (The director of the original “Ring” film. NOT Ringu, Ring, that’s what it was meant to be called) is back in Japan with “Kaidan,” and a new teaser is out.

- Jeffrey Wells believe that this year’s Cannes opener will be Wong Kar-Wai’s English debut My Blueberry Nights. Yeah, maybe he’ll finish shooting by May 2009, who knows?

- I was pleasantly surprised by Han Jae-Rim’s Rules of Dating, which was a surprisingly complex and dark romance that was just not meant for a mainstream audience. But apparently, enough people were impressed by it that Han managed to cast Korean’s most unlikely favorite leading man Song Kang-Ho (who has been in some of Korea’s biggest grossers such as The Host, JSA, Shiri, and Memories of Murder) for his second film “The Show Must Go On.” Twitch has the details (The trailer even feature Yentown Band’s cover of “My Way” from Shunji Iwai’s Swallowtail, whoa!), and it sounds like The Sopranos…maybe with less sass?

- Seoul’s city government is now trying to attract more foreign films and TV dramas to shoot there by offering incentives.

- Like Kung Fu Hustle, Sony Classics have bought the international distribution rights for Stephen Chow’s “A Hope,” which should have a summer release date, but was also reported to be going up against Feng Xiaogang’s latest during Chinese New Year in some Chinese reports. June and Chinese New Year has a long time in between, which is it gonna be?

- One of those months in between is December, and that’s when Peter Chan Ho-Sun’s latest “The Warlords,” starring Andy Lau, Takeshi Kaneshiro, and Jet Li will open. Variety reports that the film has just wrapped up a 4-month shoot and will now go into post-production. Yay.

- Lastly, here are this month’s Yesasia reviews:

Seducing Mr. Perfect
Once in a Summer
No Regret
Shiina Ringo - Heisei Fuzoku

The big 100 - The Golden Rock Song of the Day - 3/29/07

It’s not everyday that you have to choose one particular song to mark your blog’s 100th entry. But I decided to do it just the way I’ve always done it - just choose what I listen to. So today, the latest single by Japanese pop-rock band Remioromen, it’s Akanezora.

Why? Because it’s good. Just one of those little perks that comes with the 100th entry.

Death Note 2 review, and nearing the milestone

This is the 99th post of the Golden Rock, which I am quite proud of. I suppose a state of the blog is in order as well, then:

The blog started in mid-December of 2006, with a goal to be a source of just news that interests me and some number crunching that not a lot of Asian cinema blogs do. It started at an average of only a few readers a day (when I was on vacation, there was actually a day when nobody visited), and now it’s averaging roughly 60. It’s not a particularly huge number, but it’s a pretty good increase over 3 months, considering about 50% of my visitors are new. I’m glad to have started this blog, and I’m glad to keep doing it. Thanks for reading, and let’s keep on truckin’.

- Watched the second half of the Death Note saga last night. Again, having no knowledge of the manga nor the anime whatsoever, I am only judging this as a film. Maybe that makes me more qualified, or that makes me less qualified, I don’t know. I don’t care that they’re trying to cram in from the source material to satisfy fans, I just wanted to watch a movie. And with that:

Why didn’t they just make a drama out of this?

Death Note has a pretty cool Gothic concept - Notebook dumped onto earth by a God of Death, self-righteous human picks it up and begins to kill people with it. It inspires fear for criminals and hope for people. How dark, how bizarre, how cool. Then they had to add the detective elements; the mind games, the chess-playing, and the talking. The endless talking. If I were to sum up all the scenes between our bad/good guy Kira (owner of the Death Notebook) and strange detective L, it might go like this:

Kira: “I want to capture Kira.”
L: “But you are Kira.”
Kira: “I am not.”
L: “I hope you’re not”
Kira: “Great, let’s capture Kira together.”
L: “….but you are Kira.”
Kira: “…..and I’m going to kill you.”

In the first film, it took director Shusuke Kaneko 2 hours of screen time to set up the heart of the story - the head-to-head match between Kira and L. In the second film, it took him 2 hours and 15 minutes to, well…..make it not much of anything. One of the more suspenseful parts of the first film was seeing how Kira’s clever scheming helped him get away, although I mentioned I didn’t know whether that was the original creators’ work or the film’s screenwriters’. In “The Last Name” (That’s the title of the second film), a second and third (!) Kira are established, killing more people than ever, but it all gets a bit tiresome. How many more scenes of people talking about the ethics of Kira do we need before the filmmakers can pat themselves on the back for asking “the tough questions?”

Back to the schemings. “The Last Name” takes Kira’s schemes to a whole new level - he would do something, and you won’t even find out until 30 minutes of screen time later just what the hell he was up to. It was clever in the first film when it didn’t take that long to find out what really happened, but it just seems a bit too much in the second film. True, the stakes are higher, so the schemes need to go further, but how unbelievably smart are these people supposed to be for them to do so much damn scheming? The review linked above pointed out that nearly everything that happens in the film happened in the manga, but is that needed? While an adaptation can satisfy fans by including everything, if you still can’t include everything with 4 and a half hours of screen time, you just have to get creative and get the story across in a simpler way. Cramming everything from the original shows that you like the manga, but a more creative filmmaker would make the adaptation stand on its own.

So is Death Note: The Last Name better than its predecessor? Can’t really answer that, since they’re really one film split into two, but the Death Note saga as a whole is only a pleasing commercial effort thanks to its concept. It’s a routine adaptation with uninspired acting, directing, and some clever screenwriting in between. It’s not something worth running out to see if you have no familiarity with the original work, but it’s not a bad way to occupy a couple of hours just to see that Japanese commercial cinema can be just as mediocre as American ones.

And now, on to the news:

- There’s still reports coming from Variety about Hong Kong’s Filmart (which wrapped last week), mostly just new distribution deals. If you’re in Japan, you’ll be glad to know the Daniel Henney invasion is coming your way in the form of Seducing Mr. Perfect, one of the films I reviewed for Yesasia this month.

- Los Angeles is a great down for movies (duh), and here are a few reasons why.

- Yunjin Kim, who many may know as the Korean woman from Lost, really caught my eye from the Korean blockbuster Shiri. For some reason, I never really saw her in another film until she showed up on Lost (she did appear in Korean films before that - just ones I haven’t seen). Anyway, in a bit of homecoming, she’s been casted in the Korean crime thriller Seven Days. I don’t know if the film will be any good, but I wonder if Lost will make this film any more successful that it would’ve been.

- So what’s the best way to beat a movie you want to protest against? In India, they seem to have found the answer to be: Just ignore it.

- Apparently, The Host has become the fastest Korean film to reach the $1 million mark in the United States box office. That’s because Korean films have a history of not doing too well here. Oh, well, a good thing is a good thing, I guess.

- Oricon rankings are out. On the singles side, Utada Hikaru’s Flavor of Life, as predicted, fell to third place behind new singles by boy band News and pop group (I think they’re a man band) Kobukuro’s latest, which also served as the theme song for the drama version of Tokyo Tower.

As for the album ranking, Mr. Children hangs on for the second week, but after a huge drop to 180,000 copies after last week’s 680,000 copies sold. Mika Nakashima’s latest also hangs on for a third place for its second week, while Koda Kumi’s compilation (the album that beat Mika last week) drops to 5th behind Exile. After the firing of one of its own, Morning Musume’s latest, the creepily named “Sexy 8 Beat” (considering most of the members are even adults yet), could only muster an 8th place debut.

- Eiga Consultant analyzed the flop that is the fable Argentine Hag (Japan Times reviewed it two weekends ago). Hoga News has a translation, so I’ll let it speak for itself.

- Hoga News also reports about the directorial debut of comedian Hitoshi Matsumoto (half of the comedy duo Downtown that hosts the hit music show Hey Hey Hey AND does those “No laugh or get beat” games). Details are sparse, but the title is “Dai Nippon Jin” (or Big Japanese Person, or Super Japanese Person. Either way, the translation is open to interpretation), and it’ll open on the same day as Takeshi Kitano’s latest “Kantoku Banzai!” Joint marketing, I smell…

- Twitch has a clip to the press conference done for Donnie Yen/Wilson Yip’s latest Flashpoint. Don’t worry, the only reason I’m mentioning it is because it has footage. Good ones, too! It’s looking like this will be Wilson Yip’s attempt to emulate John Woo, so it might just be a lot of fun.

- India has started its own version of the Academy Awards, and what do they do at the launch? Talk about global warming, of course.

- A few weeks ago, Lovehkfilm mentioned that their “most underrated performance” award to Andrew Lin Hoi for The Heavenly Kings was actually noticed by the man himself. Turns out it didn’t stop there - they actually met up and Kozo presented him with a real award!

- I waited for a few days to post this - not on purpose, of course, I simply forgot - but here’s Jeffery Wells’ well-written review (certainly far better than what I wrote up there for Death Note) of the Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino trashfest Grindhouse.

- I enjoyed Brian Helgeland’s revenge flick Payback, starring Mel Gibson. I didn’t think it was a masterpiece or anything, but it was enjoyable enough. Turns out it was meant to be a complete thing altogether, as apparent by the review of the soon-to-be-released director’s cut on DVD. It’s not just another one of those director’s cut that adds a couple of minutes. No, the entire palate was redone, the whole third act was redone, and it’s like another movie altogether. It might just be worth checking out.

Next, the 100th entry, which is the song of the day.

The Golden Rock song of the day - 3/28/07 - follow-up

Thanks to Pedestrian Y’s comment, she has helped me found another cover of Mika Nakashima’s “Yuki No Hana.” After her comment, I was reminded of ANOTHER cover of it last year, and it’s a direct Japanese cover. These two covers have something in common - they’re both sang at unusually high key by men.

First, Park Hyo Shin’s Snow Flower (Thanks Pedestrian Y!), which you can find on this album.

Then, we have the Japanese cover, which was probably inspired by the Koreans’ ability to realize the song can be done with a male voice, done by Hideaki Tokunaga on this single (It was actually on the Oricon singles chart too).

I could sing it that high too, it’d just be creepy, and no one wants to see a video of THAT, right?

The Golden Rock song of the day - 3/28/07

Today’s song of the day appears on three different albums - Mika Nakashima’s compilation “Best,” her second album “Love,” and also Hong Kong newcomer Vincy Chan’s second album “Flower Without Snow.” It’s Mika Nakashima’s “Yuki no Hana,” or “The Snow Flower”…..or “Flower of Snow,” depending on however your Japanese ability would like to argue with mine.

Why, especially since it’s Spring now? Because it’s known as Mika’s masterpiece, and unlike Lin Xi’s incredibly contrived attempt to adapt the lyrics into Chinese (Vincy’s delivery and the new arrangements are all fine), the imagery is beautifully conveyed in this original Japanese version. And it’s a damn beautiful song anyway.

And here’s Vincy’s attempt to outdo Nana herself

Nippon Wednesday

After posting up all those news yesterday, there’s not much left for today. In fact, it’s mostly Japan news.

- I reported about the opening week result of Akira creator Katsuhiro Otomo’s latest “Bugmaster” yesterday, along with a Hoga Central report. Now Eiga Consultant helps and puts it all in perspective. On its opening day on Saturday, “Bugmaster” made 95 million yen - that’s 44% of Shinobi (Joe Odagiri’s hit film from 2005 that ended up making 1.4 billion yen), and 61% of director Otomo’s previous film Steamboy, which ended up making 1.16 billion yen. Looks like not even Joe Odagiri, Yu Aoi, nor the creator of Akira could get fans of the original comic to show up for a movie about bugs.

- Jason Gray also has some tidbits from the Japanese film industry, including the fate of that Genghis Khan movie (that effectively proved you can’t just shove anything down Japanese audiences’ throats), and what one Japanese actress thought of the latest Rocky movie.

- After Takeshi Miike’s latest “Ryu Ga Gotoku” just came and went in theatres, he’s already hard at work on another relatively high-profile film. Twitch provides us today with a link to the teaser for “Sukiyaki Western Django.” It looks like crazy western fun, but I’m not a huge fan of Miike, even though he can be as crazy as it gets, so we’ll see what happens when it opens in September.

- Speaking of Japanese films, Lovehkfilm updates with a review of Japanese blockbuster (but Hong Kong flop) Dororo. Also up is a review of the latest Milkyway film, Eye in the Sky, which opened the Hong Kong International Film Festival this year. It also have some reviews from your truly, but I’ll just let it go.

- It was just announced last week, but Hayao Miyasaki’s latest “Ponyo on the Cliff” already has a progress report, thanks to the people of Twitch, Ghibli World. and NHK.

- Remember that I reported that the National Association of Commercial Broadcasters in Japan suspended NTV’s membership after the natto scandal? Well, now they just decided to just kick them out of the damn organization altogether. Ouch.

- Oh, and Haruki Murakami’s anthology “Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman,” which includes the original short story of Tony Takitani (great film, by the way), just won a Kiriyama Prize. Yay.

I told you there’s not that much news today. See you tomorrow.

The Golden Rock song of the day - 3/27/07

Today’s song of the day is unfortunately only available in its incomplete version. It was never released as a single, and it’s available on three separate albums - The out of print compilation Early Times, Love Psychedelico III, and on the live CD Live Psychedelico. Me, I was at the show myself. It’s Love Psychedelico’s “Neverland.”

Why? Because it’s Love Psychedelico’s 7-minute ultimate emo epic. Because you could hear a pin drop in the Budokan when they did this song. Because I was damn near reduced to tears listening to lead singer Kumi deliver that final section, which is sadly NOT in the following video. This is all I can manage, but you can watch the whole thing on the DVD, which I also reviewed. Copyright © 2002-2019 Ross Chen