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More of the same

Two notable films (at least for me) premiered at Cannes - the big Hollywood blockbuster Ocean’s Thirteen and Lee Chang-Dong’s Secret Sunshine.

While many people didn’t like Ocean’s Twelve, I really liked the fun French New Wave spirit Soderbergh was trying to express. He knows that it was an excuse for everyone to just go on vacation in Europe, and pretty much shot it that way. It might’ve seemed like film snobbery (People seriously thought I was bullshitting with the French New Wave thing), but I liked it nevertheless. Anyway, The gang returns for more of the same in Ocean’s Thirteen, although I expect Soderbergh turning down the genre homage by quite a bit. Anyway, seems like critics are liking it more, with Hollywood Reporter calling it spirited and engaging, while Variety calls it as smooth as a good mojito and as stylish as an Armani suit. Alright, I’ll bite.

Meanwhile, Lee Chang-Dong’s Secret Sunshine, starring Jeon Do-Yeon and Sang Kang-Ho, is also getting some pretty good reviews as well. Variety says Jeon’s performance is finely detailed while the film fails to dramatized in cinematic terms, LunaPark6 is praising it, and Hollywood Reporter calls it a brave and unsettling film with outstanding performances.

The Singaporean film Pleasure Factory, about prostitutes in Singapore, was shown at the Un Certain Regard, but Variety hated it, saying that it makes the “dreadful” Herman Yau film “Whispers and Moans” look like a narrative masterpiece by comparison. Ouch.

Who else other than the director of Pleasure Factory not having such a good time? The coordinators for the booth representing Korean films this year. Apparently, they are just not having much luck at all at Cannes, marking a down trend in the Korean market for the first time in years.

But nevertheless, studios seem to be opting to buy films from independent studios rather than making them themselves, even though some independent studios aren’t biting what the big guys have to offer.

As Cannes starts to get to the end, it’s about time to decide who gets the Palme D’or. In many instance, the jury doesn’t quite agree with the critics’ choices, but the critics can’t even agree among themselves this year.

The MPA is singing the same tune at a different concert hall, this time at Cannes.

On to your regular programming:

- Mark Schilling has written an obituary for director Kei Kumai, who passed away on Wednesday morning Japan time.

- Twitch has an advance review of Ryuhei Kitamura’s Lovedeath. Reviewer James Maruyama calls it high on style and action, but low on story or invention. Sounds like typical Kitamura to me.

- LoveHKFilm also has some new reviews, including last week’s openers in Hong Kong - Herman Yau’s Gong Tau and The Matrimony, starring Leon Lai and Rene Liu. On the Panasian side, there’s also the Japanese films Midnight Sun, Strawberry Shortcakes, and Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s Ozu tribute Cafe Lumiere.

Out of those, I’ve only seen Cafe Lumiere, and if i haven ever been to Tokyo, I would’ve been bored to death by it. But for some reason(most likely in that I’m a bit of a transportation nerd), I really liked how Hou Hsiao-Hsien captured Tokyo in such a naturalistic fashion. It’s not really a crazy city. In fact, despite its sheer size, the city is rather serene when you leave its busiest districts, and that’s what Hou managed to capture. Also, I was in a Japanese cinema class at the time, and I was actually looking for recurring Ozu themes throughout the film, which made it even more interesting. Plus, it was fun playing “what’s that train” and “which train station is that” throughout the film. However, I expect everyone else to be pretty bored.

- Good to see the Japanese government embracing the technology, with a government panel now encouraging webcast of television content without requiring getting permission from all rights holders, as long as royalties are paid.

This leads me to a short rant. Recently, I signed up for a Japanese video service named Gyao, which is by the Usen Group and basically provides streaming video service for free. Unlike websites like Veoh and Crunchyroll (no link for you!) basically allow users to upload and watch films for free and illegally, this one is actually 100% legal and free, paying for itself through advertising. It has films, music videos, dramas, basically everything users wanted when they go to sites like Youtube. I was signed up and ready to watch (I knew something was fishy when they asked for my Japanese zip code, though. I used the zip code of someone I know), then the service won’t let me watch it, limiting it to Japanese computers only.

Obviously, I understand that it’s a matter of copyrights when foreign films or films sold to foreign distributors are involved, but this just shows how much the studio cares about exposure versus pure profit. Who cares who watches their movies when they got money from their foreign deals all lined up? This disdain for international audiences by Japanese distributors are why copyrights for their shows are infringed all the time. This is why sites like Crunchyroll and Veoh pop up, while the Japanese authorities moan and whine about how foreigners are stealing their copyright. Mind you, I’m not going to start downloading Japanese movies without paying my dues, but I think they brought it onto themselves.

- Director Naomi Kawase’s “The Mourning Forest” hasn’t even premiered at Cannes yet, and she’s already announced her next film, which will be released next summer. You have to give Asian directors some credit; even the best ones work amazingly fast.

- Remember three weeks ago, when Spiderman 3 broke all kinds of records with humongous screen counts and what have you? That seems so long ago, doesn’t it? Well, the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie is opening, and sounds like it’ll be more of the same - breaking screen counts, box office records, and the blah blah blah. In Japan, Eiga Consultant is predicting the three ways it can go - the V way, as shown by the Lord of the Rings and Spiderman franchise in Japan (High gross for first installment, dips the second, and jumps back up in the third), the “yama” way, as shown by the Matrix and Mission: Impossible franchise (increased gross for the second film, then dipping on the last film), or the descent way, shown by the Harry Potter franchise and the Star Wars prequels (this one doesn’t need explaining).

Considering that the Pirates franchise saw its first film make 6.8 billion yen to 10 billion yen for its sequel, it’s safe to say that the descent way is out of the question. But with a 2-hour-and-48-minute length and the big Japanese comedy battle next week (Dai Nipponjin vs. Kantoku Banzai), don’t be surprised if it goes the Yama way.

- A movie that I guess can work as counter-programming is the latest Zero Woman film, which F-ed Gaijin introduces. Here’s the trailer to the new film, but beware: it is NOT work-safe.

- Here’s kind of an interesting idea for a new film. The Korean-Canadian co-production “Anti-Hero” introduces a world where everybody has some kind of unique power (where are they going to think of 6 billion different unique powers?) except for the protagonist. Doesn’t that make him unique in the first place?

- Japanese poet Shuntaro Tanikawa is directing his first film, and it’s apparently shot with a still camera. Is he trying to emulate Hou Hsiao-Hsien?

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