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Archive for January, 2009

The Golden Rock - January 21st, 2009 Edition

With a lot of box office numbers coming in, it’ll mainly be a number crunching entry today.

-  We’ll start with the Japan box office numbers since they’re the most comprehensive. As reported yesterday, Pandemic opened at top with about 302 million yen from 324 screens. In line with what happens after a holiday weekend, grosses dropped more than usual, with The Day the Earth Stood Still taking the hardest hit with a 59.2% drop. On the other hand, the smallest drop goes to Threads of Destiny, which lost only 21.3% in business, indicating word-of-mouth traveling around its target audience. Not surprisingly, the TV drama has seen an increase in ratings since it returned after new years.

Even though Pandemic had a promising opening, Mr. Texas at Eiga Consultant reports that the film’s opening is only 67% of the last Satoshi Tsumabuki-Toho-TBS film Dororo, which ended up making 3.4 billion yen. If the trend is going to be similar, then Pandemic should end up with just a little over 2 billion yen. Then again, word-of-mouth can throw that off anytime.

- In Chinese box office, Red Cliff II dominates for a second weekend in the middle of the Chinese New Year holidays. It has now made 181 million yuan, and with If You Are the One slowing down (losing 74% of the previous week’s gross), it has a good chance of speeding past it after the new years holiday. Meanwhile, If You are the One has now made 305 million yen, which is still pretty amazing. With its momentum coming to a quick stop, it should have no chance hitting the 350 million yuan mark.

- Red Cliff II also dominated the Taiwan box office over the weekend, making a phenomenal 27 million New Taiwan Dollars this past weekend. However, part one actually performed better back in July with 42 million New Taiwan dollars over its first weekend. Meanwhile, everything else had absolutely no chance in even nearly equaling the Red Cliff numbers.

- In Korea, the pre-New Years period mean not much changes in the box office charts. The two top films are still Korean, with only one new film entering the chart at 10th place.

More over the Korea Pop Wars.

- On the Japanese Oricon charts, Ai no Mama De solidifies its new status as the benefactee of the “Kohaku effect” by finally taking the number 1 spot this week on the singles chart. Meanwhile, another compilation takes the top of the album charts. I’m sleepy, so I’m turning it over to Tokyograph for the report.

- The nominations for this year’s Asian Film Awards were announced today. The Good The Bad and the Weird managed 8 nominations, and while I was glad to see Tokyo Sonata well-represented, there were definitely some eye-popping choices. For example, were Eri Fukatsu and Vicky Zhao THAT good? If You Are the One was good, but was it only because of Feng Xiaogang, since he was nominated for Best Director, but not Best Film. Meanwhile, was Tokyo Sonata only nominated for Best Film because the film was good, but not because of director Kiyoshi Kurosawa? And Shoda Matsuda for Hana Yori Dango Final?!

On the other hand, good to see Shinichi Tsutsumi recognized for his work on Suspect X.  The awards will be handed out in March.

- Poor CCTV censors in China had to be up until past midnight in order to make sure the part in President Obama’s inauguration speech about fighting communism is edited out at just the right moment.

- Finally, China’s State Administration of Radio, Television, and Film has proposed a law that would start the film rating system in the country,  However, the lack of a rating system was not the excuse that One Night in Mongkok and Lady Cop and Papa Crook got cut, so while it might allow films with stronger content in the theaters, it doesn’t get rid of the riduculous censorship rules.

- Variety’s Derek Elley chimes in with his review of Wilson Yip’s Ip Man.

- Japan’s National Association of Commercial Broadcaster reveals that a record 55 out of 127 TV stations in Japan are losing money because of loss in revenues and the expensive switch from analog to digital broadcasting.

The Golden Rock - January 20th, 2009 Edition

Yesterday was a slow news day, and with no box office numbers, there was nothing to write. But that all changes today:

- Even though Red Cliff II won the Hong Kong overall weekend box office with HK$9.1 million over the first 4 days from 73 screens, Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea could’ve probably won the weekend had it opened on the same day. Opening late on Saturday the 17th, the Studio Ghibli film made HK$5.2 million over two days from 58 screens (only 10 or so of those playing the Japanese version) for an average of HK$2.6 million a day (versus Red Cliff’s HK$2.27 million per day). Overall, Red Cliff II is performing not as well as part 1, which made HK$10.69 million in its first 4 days back in July. However, its upcoming Lunar New Year competition (Look For a Star, All’s Well Ends Well 2009, Benjamin Button, Marley and Me, Bolt) don’t overlap in terms of genre, so it may perform well enough through the extended Lunar New Year holiday to outperform the first film in the long run.

In its 5th week, Ip Man has broken through the HK$25 million mark, though its momentum has been stopped greatly by the two opening films taking up screens. The same goes for the second weekend of Australia (HK$3.89 million after two weekends) and Tactical Unit - The Code (HK$3.64 million after two weekends). Sadly, with now.com doing “maintenance” on their box office stats, and my refusal to take source-less numbers from the Hong Kong Film Blog, this is the best stats we can get for now.

- On the Japanese audience attendence chart, the disaster film Pandemic took the top spot in its opening weekend, finally knocking Wall-E off after 6 weeks at the top. The only other newcomer is Zen, which finally made its way up to the top 10 after being in 7th place last week.

According to Variety, Pandemic made US$3.35 million. According to the current rate on xe.com, that’s roughly 301 million yen. Meanwhile, Quantum of Solace ran sneak preview showings this weekend and earned 270 million yen, according to Eiga Consultant. More when the numbers from Box Office Mojo come out.

- Looks like it’s time to brace for another disappointing season in Japanese drama. The Winter 2008 season had Bara no nai Hanaya in the Monday 9pm Fuji TV slot and had a 22.4% premiere. This year, that time slot also has the highest-rated premiere of the season so far with Voice, but it only earned a 17.7% rating. Other dramas are definitely underperforming, namely Love Shuffle with Hiroshi Tamaki (looking like a skeleton), which saw only a 10% rating for its premiere episode.

Meanwhile, Triangle drops to a 11.1% in its second week, Arifureta Kiseki drops to a 10.9%, Tokumei Kakarichou Tadano Hitoshi is also underperforming in its primetime slot with just 10.9% (some reasoning passed around online points out that its target male audience arrive home in time for its old late night slot, but would not rush home to catch it on prime time), the Kenichi Matsuyama-starring drama Zeni Geba premires with only 12%, and Honjitsu mo Hare, Ijou Nashi premieres with only a 12.4%.

Some dramas are doing well enough so far. Aibou Season 7 kicks off 2009 with a 20.5% rating, Mei-chan no Shitsuji has the second-highest rated premiere of the season with 14.9%, Akai Ito continues to see its boost from the film version with a 10.8% this week, and Wataru Sekan wa Oni Bakari stays consistent with 15.1% this week.

All Japanese drama sypnosis can be found on Tokyograph

- In related drama news, the Nikkan Sports Drama Grand Priz survey has announced its results for the Fall 2008 season. It seems like the Arashi fans showed up and voted Ryusei no Kizuna to win in a landslide for Best Drama, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Supporting Actress.

- In India, the Warner Bros-produced comedy Chandni Chowk to China made US$6.8 million in the widest release for an Indian film ever in both India (1,319 screens) and North America (130 screens). It may pass the US$20 million mark, which is apparently the sign of a Bollywood blockbuster.

-  Jero is not the only African-American making it big in Japan. One of the most popular actors in Japanese advertising now is Dante Carver, who saw his rise to fame as Aya Ueto’s older brother and the son of a talking white dog in the popular Softbank commercials (see them here) and is in Japanese theaters this week in Pandemic (he even has a line in the trailer). Now, he will be acting in his first drama in a miniseries for NHK.

-Under “Film Festival” news today, Japanese Oscar contender Departures won the audience award at the Palm Springs Film Festival.

Meanwhile, Variety reveals the Asian contenders at the Berlin Film Festival’s Forums section, which will include Dante Lam’s Beast Stalker being included for a special screening at the Forums section.  The opening screen of Forever Enthralled also reveals that it will be joining the competition section, even though the full program has yet to be announced.

- In the midst of a serious recession, Japanese people are staying home to watch TV, which has proven to be quite beneficial for satellite and cable television operators who rely on suscribers’ fees instead of advertising as a major source of revenue.

- The Hong Kong Film blog has a trailer to Oxide Pang’s latest film Basic Love, which hopefully has no ghost and is just a teen love story with bad dialogue. Here’s a sample:

Girl: “Why do you treat me so well? You’re in love with me?”
Boy: “Yeah, I’m in love with you. I’m not gay. I’ve been in love with you since we were students!”

It opens on February 26th.

- In 2008, things were a little bit different in Asian box office. While large Hollywood blockbusters did well in the region as usual, local films have been extremely successful througout the region, with Japan being responsible for six of the ten highest-grossing films in Asia. China didn’t do so badly, either, with Painted Skin becoming a surprise hit and local romantic comedy If You Are the One heading towards breaking Titanic’s record.

- Lastly, Variety’s Derek Elley chimes in with a brief review of Lady Cop and Papa Crook.

The Golden Rock - January 18th, 2009 Edition

- Got some new reviews on Lovehkfilm. From Kozo are reviews for Felix Chong and Alan Mak’s Lady Cop and Papa Crook, Milkyway’s latest Tactical Unit - Comrade in Arms, and Tony Jaa’s Apocalypse Now, also known as Ong Bak 2. Sanjuro not only chimes in with a review for the Singaporean film Love Story, from Rule #1 director Kelvin Tong, he also goes back to his old Fist of Fury review with a new picture and some adjustments.

- Box Office Mojo just posted the China box office numbers from the previous weekend. As reported a few days ago, Red Cliff II dominated with 101 million yuan within the first 5 days of release. Feng Xiaogang’s If You Are the One is still doing quite well, with just under 300 million yuan as of last weekend. Ip Man has also done pretty well with 92 million yuan, though it’s no Painted Skin. Even though Media Asia for Lady Cop and Papa Crook in after numerous cuts to appease the Chinese authorities, it lost 80% of box office gross in its 3rd weekend, and has only made 17.6 million yuan so far.

- On a related subject, EastSouthWestNorth has some translated comments made by the former deputy director of the State Film Administration about what adjustments various Hong Kong films had to make to get into the Mainland. You can probably imagine that I’d have to say about it.

- It’s review time! From Lisa Tsering of Hollywood Reporter Asia is a review of Chandni Chowk Goes to ChinaVariety’s John Anderson also shares his thoughts on the 154-minute Bollywood extravaganza.

From Japan Time’s Mark Schilling is a review of the Buddhist drama Zen.

From the Daily Yomiuri is Stephen Taylor’s review of the family drama Osaka Hamlet.

-After more than two trips around the world and leading to 8 marriages, the Japanese reality show Ainori is finally coming to an end.

This was one of the first Japanese reality show that I got hooked on since I first studied there in 2004. Even though I don’t buy everything as realistic (the confession moments often appear staged), it was an interesting observation about people coming together in an extraordinary situation, even though trying to get them to fall enough was a little too much. I may not have been following it for the last year or so, but it will be missed.

-  The Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival has unveiled their lineup this year, which will include the premiere of Crows Zero II and the latest film from the director of Departures (told you these Japanese directors work fast, regardless of the reception to their work).

- This week’s Televiews column on the Daily Yomiuri looks at the two new dramas on Fuji to celebrate their 50th anniversary.

- It’s trailers time! Twitch offers up the trailer to Derek Yee’s The Shinjuku Incident, although the introduction following up to the trailer has a pretty major spoiler that you’ll wish you didn’t read. And someone should tell Todd that Emperor has decided to forego the Mainland release already.

Nippon Cinema has two full-length trailers. First it’s Kankuro Kudo’s Shonen Merikensack, featuring the oh-so-adorable Aoi Miyazaki, and then it’s the trailer for General Rouge no Gaisen, the sequel to last year’s sleeper hit medical mystery The Glorious Team Bastista.

The Golden Rock - January 16th, 2009 Edition

Didn’t get to report on those other Asian box office numbers. Here we go:

- From 73 screens, Red Cliff II saw a very good opening day in Hong Kong with HK$1.73 million. However, that is actually below the opening of part 1, and it’s going up against the opening of Hayao Miyazaki’s Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea. Then again, it has the extended Chinese New Year holiday going for it, and it will certainly have better word-of-mouth than the first movie to carry it to success.

- A quiet weekend at the Taiwan box office, as no Chinese films ended up on the top 10. The Hollywood caper film Thick as Thieves managed a second place opening, and the best-performing Chinese film was Forever Enthralled all the way down at 11th place. The Taiwan-based political thriller Ballistic didn’t really interest anyone and could only get a 13th place opening. Red Cliff II also opened in Taiwan for this weekend, so that will probably rule the box office and bump everything else off.

- In Japan, a 3-day weekend didn’t help boost business at the box office, as Wall-E wins another weekend despite losing 41% in grosses. It’s nice to see K-20 still hanging at 3rd place with a loss of only 28.7% in gross, even though it’s only made half of the 3 billion yen Toho was hoping to make after 4 weekends.  Surprising is how well Thread of Destiny is performing, considering the fact that the TV drama is only doing single-digit ratings for the first three weeks. Things may pick up with Pandemic opening and sneak preview shows for Quantum of Solace this weekend.

- Another film opening this weekend in Japan is Ramen Girl, starring Brittney Murphy as an American trying to learn how to make ramen in Japan. The Daily Yomiuri has a feature on the film. I hope she pulls it off before her visa expires.

- Japan’s Blue Ribbon Awards handed out its Best Film award to Climber’s High, the real-life drama about a newspaper covering a plane crash, and in a surprise pick, Hirokazu Kore-eda for Best Director for his work on Still Walking. All Around Us also got some love, with Tae Kimura taking the Best Actress award and Lily Franky taking Best Newcomer.

- I don’t care about it so much, but I’m sure lots of anime fans worldwide are fuming that Fox has announced that the live-action version of Cowboy Bebop will be starring Keanu Reeves.

- Zhang Yimou, who last earned some brownie points with the Chinese government with the Olympic ceremonies, will reportedly take on directing duties for the PRC 60th anniversary show. Please go back to making movies soon, Mr. Zhang. The rest of the moviegoing public of the world misses you.

- 2008 Golden Rock of the Year Jero has taken on his first acting role in a film as a thug who has several jobs. Considering that it’s based on a Kankuro Kudo play, this should be interesting.

The Golden Rock One-sentence review of Red Cliff Part II

This is the Red Cliff you’ve been waiting for.

More battles, better pacing, and even more homoeroticism, this is infinitely more satisfying than part one. It’ll be the movie to beat this year.

As always, Kozo will be doing the reviewing duty on this one.

The Golden Rock - January 14th, 2009 Edition

A big change has come regarding the Hong Kong box office news provided on this blog. Since my usual source now.com has decided to stop its box office stats page, I will now only be able to report on Hong Kong box office once a week. My source now will be the Hong Kong Filmart website, which offers comprehensive stats only once a week. Hopefully, a better source will come along soon.

- No Japan box office numbers yet, but the attendence ranking is out. Surprisingly, Steven Soderbergh’s first Che movie landed on 2nd place in its first weekend. According to Mr. Texas at Eiga Consultant, it made 139 million yen from 248 screens nationwide in its first two days of release (even though it was a 3-day holiday weekend), and that the 47 theaters in the 9 major metropolitan areas accounted for 47% of the gross. So while the per-screen average is roughly 560,000 yen, the per-screen average in the major cities is much higher at roughly 1.21 million yen. However, with 42% of Moviewalker voters giving the first film a C, I doubt the second film will do as well when it comes out in three weeks.

Other than that, with the exception of The Day the Earth Stood Still taking a dive to 4th place, everything else remains fairly stable.

- Japan will get its first major domestic release this weekend with virus disaster film Pandemic, and Jason Gray provides a fairly lengthy review of it on his blog.

- In China, Red Cliff 2 was so huge that it already made over 100 million yuan over the opening weekend. Of course, it probably opened on a whole lot of screens to get to that number. With the Lunar New Year holiday underway in China, looks like it might actually make its budget back just with the Chinese box office gross. I’ll be catching this tomorrow night here in Hong Kong.

- In Korea, only two films on the top 10 this past weekend are local releases, but they also happen to be the highest-grossing releases on the top 10 by far.

More over at Korea Pop Wars.

- The Winter 2009 Japanese drama season is underway, with a few major drama premiering this past week. The Ryo Kase-Yukie Nakama drama Arifureta Kiseki saw a soft opening with only a 12.5% rating. Meanwhile, the 4th season of Tokumei Kakarichou Tadano Hitoshi makes its premiere at primetime (which means less of the risque content that made it special before at its old late-night timeslot), and got a respectable 11.9% rating. The Yosuke Eguchi-Goro Inagaki-Ryoko Hirose mystery drama Triangle started off with only an OK-14.7% rating.

Meanwhile, Akai Ito has benefitted from the film version with a boost to a 10% rating for its latest episode. Not in the linked chart, but the Code Blue special episode had a 23.1% rating, which is even higher than its highest-rated episode. Don’t be surprised if it’ll be heading to the big screen soon.

Next week will be the premiere of the Monday night 9pm Fuji drama and the second episode dips of the dramas mentioned above.

Visit Tokyograph for the Winter 2009 drama sypnosis.

-  On the Japan Oricon charts, the first solo single by Tackey (of Tackey and Tsubasa) scored first place on the singles chart, while Ai no Mama de has proven to be this year’s benefactor of the “Kohaku Effect” (songs not quite well-known previously gets a huge bump after appearing on the yearly Kohaku Uta Gassen music extravaganza on New Year’s Eve). Ikimono Gakari’s album gets bumped down to 3rd place in its second week by two compilation albums. Such is the tragedy of J-pop sales.

More on Tokyograph.

- Jackie Chan will likely be joining the cast of the remake of The Karate Kid, starring Will Smith’s son, as the titular character’s master. I wonder whether Jackie will be playing a Japanese character (Karate is, after all, Japanese), and how Chinese netizens will be reacting to that one.

- An interesting article from Hollywood Reporter reports that Oscar favorite Slumdog Millionaire may not do very well in India because of the harsh reality of India it portrays, despite its popularity overseas.

- Another possibly risky release is the Taiwanese blockbuster Cape No. 7, which finally has a set release of Valentine’s Day after the distributor pulled its initial release after rumors that it was out of fear of a disgruntled nationalistic audience and political reasons (the official reason was something about the subtitles). However, it will be slightly altered for some bad language, which probably includes its famous opening line.

- The Academy has announced its short list for the Best Foreign Film nominee, and Japan’s Departures managed to get on it. If nominated, it would be the first Japanese film since Yoji Yamada’s Twilight Samurai to receive a Best Foreign Film nomination. Also glad to see France’s The Class on that short list.

Not exactly a surprise, but neither Painted Skin nor China’s Olympic documentary Dream Weaver got on that short list.

- The atrocious Hana Yori Dango Final has spent its 4th consecutive week at the top of the Japanese DVD sales chart, and is now the 3rd best-selling Japanese DVD in history. It just means Japanese people need to buy more DVDs of better movies and that they need to be charged less for it.

- Despite having premiered at the Venice Film Festival back in 2006, Jia Zhangke’s Still Life didn’t get a North America release until 2008, which made it qualified for the various critics awards. This is why it managed to win two awards at the Los Angeles Film Critics Awards for Best Foreign-Language Film and Best Cinematography.

- Variety’s Derek Elley has a review for Tony Jaa’s Ong Bak 2, which satisfied this blogger’s need for a muay Thai fix. though not the need for a compelling story.

The Golden Rock - January 12th, 2009 Edition

Happy new year again, all! Back from a trip over break, and now back in Hong Kong ready for a new year of Golden Rock blogging. News will be a bit light, as I’m trying to ease back into the blogging routine. Good thing today was a holiday in Japan, so box office and drama ratings stats will be coming in slowly.

- Ip Man leads an amazing 4th weekend at the Hong Kong box office. On Sunday, Wilson Yip’s action/biopic took in another HK$619,000 from 38 screens for a 25-day total of HK$23.91 million. HK$25 million should be no problem, though I think Red Cliff should take away momentum that 30 million is not going to be possible. In a bit of a surprise, Milkyway’s PTU spin-off film Tactical Unit - Comrade in Arms nearly won the weekend with HK$614,900 from 32 screens for a 4-day weekend total of HK$2.28 million, and it may end up wrapping up with about HK$5 million, which would exceed PTU’s original theatrical gross.

The weekend’s other wide opener, Australia, couldn’t score any blockbuster number due to a limited amount of showings and multiplex putting it on their smaller screens. With a ticket price inflation due to length, the epic romance made HK$584,000 from 32 screens for a total of HK$2.49 million from 4 days of wide release and several preview showings over the holidays.

Meanwhile, most of the New Year day openers have suffered steep drops. Alan Mak/Felix Chong’s Lady Cop and Papa Crook, which is one of the most blatant example of Chinese censorship interference of Hong Kong cinema, made only HK$387,000 from 39 screens and has made HK$6.51 million after 11 days. Tony Jaa’s Ong Bak 2 suffered an even worse fate, making only HK$159,000 from 35 screens (many of those playing a reduced number of showings) and has made only HK$4.93 million after 11 days, certainly a bit underwhelming considering Tom Yom Goong made distributor Edko over HK$10 million.

The only film from New Year’s day that’s still doing well is Forever Enthralled. Despite the Hong Kong press making up stories about underwhelming box office, it’s actually doing fairly decent business for a film that was released only on 11 screens with limited showings. On Sunday, the Chen Kaige film made HK$171,000 from 11 screens for a 11-day total of HK$2.26 million. That’s an average of HK$205,000 per day from 11 screens, and anything that can still average a HK$15,000+ per-screen daily is definitely not flopping.

Other box office totals: Madagascar 2 - HK$17.92 million after 24 days. Twilight - HK$16.41 million after 24 day. Suspect X - 11.94 million after 19 days. Bedtime Stories - HK$8.97 million after 18 days.

- Variety’s Derek Elley sends in a fairly positive review of John Woo’s Red Cliff, Part II. He calls the two movies combined “one of the great Chinese costume epics of all time”. Part II better be damn good enough to earn that title in my book.

-  Who didn’t expect this to happen? The Japanese comedy-drama Departures was the big winner at another Japanese film awards, this time the Kinema  Junpo Awards. The complete list of winners, including their top 10 domestic and foreign films, can be found here.

- They keep trying, but it won’t stop - major Chinese film producer Huayi Brothers is suing China’s top web portals for spreading illegal copies of their biggest films. Forget it, these days I’m being ridiculed for being a consumer of legit DVDs.

- Even though it’s not doing great business in Japan (roughly 650 million yen as of the weekend before last), Shochiku and Fuji TV are planning an Asia-wide release of their film-TV project Threads of Destiny. I don’t know how just releasing the film will work if the story is meant to be connected with the TV drama, which hasn’t been shown legally outside of Japan.

-Bless the good folks at Tokyograph for putting up their guide to the Winter 2009 Japanese dramas.

- Hong Kong director Derek Yee is now officially in the running for the Golden Rock of the Year after he admits that his latest film The Shinjuku Incident will give up the Mainland China market and go straight to Japan in March and Hong Kong in April because cutting the violence for a Mainland-approved “harmonious” version will just lead to disgruntled audience screaming “fraud!”. Good call, Mr. Yee and Emperor Films.

For those that don’t know, The Shinjuku Incident is the long-awaited Derek Yee film that features Jackie Chan in his first dramatic/non-action role.

- Danny Boyle, who just picked up a Golden Globe for Best Director, reveals that he’s been asked to direct a remake of Park Chan-wook’s Lady Vengeance. No word whether he said yes or no.

- Japanese actor Jo Odagiri’s first feature film as a director has been invited to the International Film Festival Rotterdam. The actor has been working on the film since it started shooting in the summer of 2006, and he finally completed the film two months ago.

The 1st Annual Golden Rock Awards

It’s now 2009 here in Asia, and that means it’s time to wrap up the year.  This year was a huge moviegoing year for me, having finally had the chance to go wild at film festivals and spending lots of time at the theaters, as well as my movie critic work. And since I’m leaving my Hong Kong film thoughts for the LHKF awards, here are my thoughts for things that LHKF doesn’t cover.

Remember, this is only one man’s opinion, and that man doesn’t nearly watch as many movies or listen to as much music as he should anyway, so take it with a grain of salt.

BEST PANASIAN MOVIES VIEWED IN 2008 (which means some might’ve been released in 2007). In no particular order:

The Chaser (Korea) - An exciting and powerful serial killer movie that shows Korea still has emerging talent.

Fine, Totally Fine (Japan) - Hilarious and crude without losing its simple charm, this is Japanese comedy at its best.

Life is Cool (Korea) - This is how you do a gimmick without getting lost in it: by remember to tell a story first.

God Man Dog (Taiwan) - Compelling cinema that has a surprisingly bright charm coming from out of left field in the third act. This was the beginning of the Taiwanese cinema resurrection for me.

Tokyo Sonata (Japan) - Compelling and haunting, this family drama was sorely undermined by the Japan Academy Awards. Then again, maybe it was the third act that didn’t work for them.

I Just Didn’t Do It (Japan) - A straightforward legal drama that uses truth to provoke audience response. An excellent shift of tone by Masayuki Suo.

The Magic Hour (Japan) - Classy and still funny, Koki Mitani’s follow-up to Suite Dreams is less ambitious, but still very funny and even more touching.

After School (Japan) - Kenji Uchida’s forward-backwards comedy-mystery sometimes appears clever for clever’s sake, but clever is clever, and it’d be unfair to dismiss that.

Milkyway Liberation Front (Korea) - Funny and surreal, this is a indie Korean comedy that would only work for those who know about the movies. Doesn’t mean I didn’t find it funny.

Yasukuni (China-Japan) - A documentary that shows the controversial Yasukuni Shrine as is, even though most of its staff is Chinese. As balanced as one can get for a Yasukuni Shrine movie made by a Chinese filmmaker living in Japan.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

Radio Dayz (Korea)
Girl Scout (Korea)
All Around Us (Gururi no koto) (without subtitles, which is the only reason why it’s here and not higher)
Parking (Taiwan)
Gachi Boy (Japan)
Detroit Metal City (Japan)
Suspect X (Japan)
Cape No. 7 (Taiwan)
Glasses (Japan)
The Rebirth (Japan) (Because I made through it without sleeping)

The worst

Shaolin Girl (Japan)
Cherry Tomato (Korea)
L:Change the World (Japan)
Open City (Korea)
Kung Fu Dunk (It counts because it’s Taiwan)

(Dis)honorable mention - only because I never bothered watching a subtitled version and never watched the TV show:

Hana Yori Dango Final.

I have to say I was pretty disappointed with Hong Kong music this year, with not nearly enough good albums to make a good top 10 list. Hell, there’s not even that many memorable songs to make a top 10 list. While HK pop fans were all ga-ga-ing about albums like Kay Tse’s Binary and Leo Ku’s Guitar Fever, I didn’t think they were all that ear-catching. Then again, that might just be me.

Nevertheless, I still have a top 5 Hong Kong albums, and some honorable mentions:

HONG KONG MUSIC

Juno Mak - Words of Silence - Leave it the rich boy of Hong Kong pop to show how to do an album of Karaoke ballads.

Denise Ho - Ten Days in the Madhouse - HOCC’s most ambitious album of her career is an album that’s actually about something important, and we’re all appreciative of it.

Khalil Fong - Wonderland - It came out late last year, but it didn’t find its audience until this year. An excellent R&B album that happens to be in Chinese. Fong is the best Hong Kong-based musician you’re probably not paying attention to.

Chet Lam - Travelogue 3 - Nice and breezy, and wonderfully folksy.

Fama- Richest in the World - Hong Kong’s most fun hip-hop duo is back with an album surprisingly mostly produced within a week or so.  Easily the most entertaining HK pop album of the year.

Notable mentions:

Khalil Fong - Orange Moon
Kay Tse - Binary
Jan Lam - 30mething QK
24 Herbs
Eason Chan - Don’t Want to Let Go

Bianca Wu - Still…A Wonderful World.

OUTSIDE HONG KONG:

Notable mentions:

Utada Hikaru - Heart Station
Jam Hsiao - Debut album
Jero - Covers
Orange Range - Panic Fancy
Kanye West - 808s and Heartbreak
- this deserves a special mention for showing what happens when an egomaniac like Kanye West essentially takes apart his shell-like ego and expose all of his heartbreaks and tragedies in his music. It’s really the perfect album who’s hated Kanye’s music before this. Just drop your bias against the auto-tune stuff and listen.

And now, the individual awards:

BEST DEBUT ALBUM (tie):

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Jam Hsiao Debut album and Jero - Covers.

The former went from a Taiwanese idols show contestant to this year’s Chinese pop sensation, while the latter made the fading enka genre relevant for young people again while sweeping all the major awards.

BEST CONCERT VIEWED IN HONG KONG (tie):

Fama
Chet Lam - One Man Live

Fama rocked the packed house, with their audience standing almost the entire time rapping along. You can’t buy an audience like that with flashy stage lights; you earn it with talent and royalty.

Meanwhile, Chet Lam managed to run an entire 2-hour concert with only him and a looping machine. Meanwhile, he doesn’t forget to tell touching stories and sing great songs.

BEST COMPILATION:

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Denise “HOCC” Ho - Goomusic Collection 

With brand-new remixes and three solid new tracks, this is a compilation that tries to be good to the fans by providing things they may not have. It actually makes its existence almost OK.

BEST SOUNDTRACK (tie):

Fine, Totally Fine, Sparrow

The former album helped give a comedy a relaxing groove, and the other helped turn a stylistic Hong Kong film into a 60s French film. Both stood out while complementing the film they’re written for.

MOST ANNOYING TRENDS IN 2008 ASIAN POP CULTURE:

Rewarding stupidity (Japan) - One of the most dead-on Western perception of Japanese game shows was on the Simpsons, when the Japanese game show host said that the difference between Western and Japanese game show is that one rewards intelligence while the other punishes ignorance. While that is still the case for Quiz Hexagon II, where the team that fails a challenge having to dunk one member into water, some of its worst players have been put together into pop music units by Fuji TV. Instead of six dumb talentos scraping by a living, they’re now pop sensations that have no business in having any kind of musical careers. The male group - Shuchishin - even scored the 5th best-selling single in Japan this year, which surely says something about the taste of the Japanese general public.

Irresponsible criticisms on the web (China, South Korea) - In China, web bullies have gotten so powerful against anyone that disagree with them that people are making comparisons to Red Guards and Cultural Revolution. In South Korea, hurtful messages about celebrities reportedly helped drive one to suicide. These cannot be fixed with limiting internet rights and taking away internet annoymity. It starts with educating the people.

Disclaimer: This blog has, over the course of the year, given fairly harsh criticism. However, there has been no particular effort to hide who I am, and I have asserted that they are purely my own opinion, nor did I ever make any unreasonably hostile comments or threats against the people I criticize.

BEST TRENDS IN ASIAN POP CULTURE:

MTVs for songs without the singers (Japan) - Some of this year’s biggest hit songs feature popular pop stars’ voices, but not their faces. Instead, these videos tell complete stories with actors, and they actually work as their own short films. They seemed to have been a Korean trend, and now, it’s moved to Japan.

It’s been done with songs like March 9th by Remioromen a few years ago:

And it’s been a huge thing in 2008 Japanese pop songs such as Exile’s Ti Amo (the newly-awarded Song of the Year):

Or GReeeeN’s Kiseki (my vote for the most touching MTV of the year):

Or the surprise pop hit Kimi No Subete Ni by Spontania and Juju:

Either Japanese music video directors are all trying out to be film directors, or these are all done by the same guys. Either way, they do what they’re supposed to do - express the feeling of the songs - and yet, they can tell something that resembles a complete story that works without being as melodramatic as the Koreans. Well done.

Resurgence of Taiwanese films (Taiwan) - It’s not all thanks to Cape No. 7. In addition to the mega-blockbuster, Taiwan has produced some fine films this year not made by Hou Hsiao Hsien. Parking was a great dark comedy with a touch of film noir that marked a promising film debut, while God Man Dog was an excellent ensemble film. Hopefully, the young directors of these films can balance art and commercialism and bring back Taiwan as a formidable cinematic force in Asia.

EEG making respectable movies (Hong Kong) - This year (let’s count January 1st, 2009 as well), Emperor Motion Pictures, who once released movies like Bug Me Not!, the Twins Effects movies, and is still trying to release Jeff Lau’s The Fantastic Water Babes, were responsible for Run Papa Run, The Beast Stalker, Connected, and Chen Kaige’s Forever Enthralled. Even though Connected was not a particular great motion picture, it was at least more respectable than say, Twins Effects 2. Hopefully, EEG will just leave the pop star fodder to Gold Label and stick to making good Hong Kong movies that just happens to have Chinese money. I wish I can say the same about their music and management division, but that’s a different award…..

BEST DISCOVERY

The PIA Film Festival (Japan) - It started last year when I watched Ryo Nakajima’s This World of Ours. As more PIA films started coming to Hong Kong, to the point that the Asian Film Festival gave it its own retrospective, I began to respect this fesival for staying alive every year, despite losing money and having difficulty finding sponsors every year. I also admiring them for not letting financial difficulty stop them from discovering good films and making good films with their annual scholarship films. This is a film festival worth discovering, and its award films are worth searching out for.

WORST DISCOVERY

Jazz Hip Jap. A parody of the worst In Living Color soundtrack of all time. I don’t know why it’s still on my shelf.

THE GOLDEN ROCKS OF THE YEAR

These are the thing or the people who have made the biggest impression over the year and deserve all the recognition they can get:

Cape No. 7 - The one film that has been credited for resurrecting an entire film industry and got people to care about Taiwanese films again. It’s not great, but it is an immensely entertaining film that has seemed to really connect with people. And if it did finally get Taiwanese people back into the cinemas, then good for them.

Jero - a young African-American, 1/4 Japanese man goes to Japan and becomes a singer of his grandmother’s favorite genre of enka. He opens the year telling people that his dream is to get on Kohaku Uta Gassen for his dead grandmother. His debut single is the no. 16th best-selling single of the year in Japan. He wins multiple newcomer awards, including one at this year’s Japan Record Awards.

On December 31st, 2008, he appeared on Kohaku Uta Gassen and sang with his mother in the audience.

What success story coming out of 2008 Asian entertainment has a better ending than the one of Jerome White Jr.?

SPECIAL LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD

This award goes to someone whose entire career has dominated newspapers and internet news throughout 2008. And by entire career, it means his career is already over:

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Any man who could ruin Hong Kong’s most popular pop duo, get on international gossip headlines, and bring this blog its largest amount of traffic for getting too friendly with his camera and too stupid to just throw away the computer full of those pictures ought to get some kind of recognition, especially since this will be the most contribution he’ll make with his career in this lifetime.

That is, unless he makes it in Hollywood. But it won’t be LoveHKFilm’s problem by then anyway.

And so wraps up a busy year in Asian entertainment. Please remember not to take these awards seriously, as they are just one partially-informed man’s opinion. If you feel I missed out on anything worth mentioning in 2008, feel free the comment.

A good New Year to all!

 
 
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