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Archive for January, 2010

The Golden Rock Top 25 Panasian Films of the Decade - Part 3

Finally, we wrap up my favorite 25 Panasian Films of the Decade..

Here are what happened in the last two parts, in case you’re just tuning in:

Part 1
Part 2

Today, it’ll be the pivotal Top 10, and the special awards.

But, for the last time, the disclaimer: I watch a lot of films, but like anyone who doesn’t get to travel to film festivals worldwide or have that much time to watch every Asian film existed, I missed out on a lot of stuff. I also have my own biases. I don’t care for Achitpatong, Kim Ki-Duk, or Hong Sang-Soo, which means those art films one might’ve seen on those best of the decade list by western organizations will be missing here. Mainly, they’re not because I really don’t like them - I just couldn’t find the time to watch them.

Hence, this list is totally interactive. This means you’re welcome to offer your own list or even talk about my picks. But I can say it’s unlikely to find a definitive top 10 list out there, since 1) Everyone has different tastes, and 2) there were so many films that I had to expand my list to 25.

So now, on to the top 10:

10. 5 Centimeters Per Second (2007) - Japan - Directed by Makoto Shinkai

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If anyone is looking for Wong Kar-Wai on animation, this is it. Split into three parts for a barely feature-length anthology of thinly connected segments, this is a story about isolation and loneliness that would’ve worked just as well in live-action, but the wintery landscape of Tokyo and summer seaside Kagoshima look even more beautiful through Shinkai’s eyes.

9. Secret Sunshine (2007) - Korea - Directed by Lee Chang-Dong

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A lot of my love for this film is due to the lead performance. However, writer-director Lee Chang-Dong also deserves a lot of credit for the unflinching portrayal of such raw emotions and providing a thought-provoking look at the meaning of religion in people’s lives. Of course, Jeon Do-Yeon does do all the work in her award-winning performance as the film’s central character.

8. Love Exposure (2008) - Japan - Directed by Sion Sono - LoveHKFilm review

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Anyone who makes a 4-hour film and pulls it off as well as Sion Sono did here deserves a place on this list. Filled with upskirt photos, religious satire, evil cults, and crossdressing, Love Exposure is definitely a cinematic achievement, despite its technical and storytelling flaws. It’s also a grand example of a film that needed to be put on a leash, but when it’s this fun to watch, it’s perfectly fine to let it loose a little longer.

7. Oldboy (2003) - Korea - Directed by Park Chan-Wook - LoveHKFilm review

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Park Chan-Wook hit his filmmaking peak with the middle film of his Revenge trilogy, a poetically violent film that explores the motives and meaning of revenge. Propelled by Park’s unique visual style and an intense performance by Choi Min-Sik, Oldboy elevated the visual asethetics of the New Korean Cinema to a whole new level.

6. Blood and Bones (2004) - Japan - Directed by Yoichi Sai 

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The placement of Blood and Bones this high on the list is, like Secret Sunshine, mostly attributed to its monster of a main character played convincingly by Takeshi Kitano. Filmed without one bit of sentimentality by Yoichi Sai, this is family melodrama with a real nasty edge. As brutal as it is, Kitano’s performance is like a magnet on the audience, repelling them while forcing them to watch at the same time.

5. All Around Us (2008) - Japan - Directed by Ryusuke Hashiguchi 0 LoveHKFilm review

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Ryusuke Hashiguchi’s portrait of a decade in the life of a married couple is unassumingly brilliant in its subtlety. Filled with quietly powerful moments, smart visual storytelling, and an award-winning performance by Tae Kimura, this is a film that has stuck with me ever since I first watched it without subtitles in a Japanese theater.

4. Memories of Murder (2003) - Korea - Directed by Bong Joon-Ho - LoveHKFilm review

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Out of the Korean New Wave filmmakers, Bong Joon-Ho has proven himself to be one of the most versatitle and talented around. His police procedural/social commentary drama, based on a real series of murders in a Korean small town in the 80s, remains just as powerful and compelling now as it did when it first came out earlier in the decade.

3. Nobody Knows (2004) - Japan - Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda

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My friends living in Tokyo tell me that the city is like the New York of Japan, filled with uncaring unbanites that would ignore any tourist that seems to be in trouble, and Kore-eda’ unflinching portrait of that society is heartbreaking and powerful, but never exploitative. Working with his child actors during the three-year shoot, Kore-eda has crafted a masterpiece that is more than the minimalist arthouse style many of his contemporaries have tried to imitate.

2. Spirited Away (2001) - Japan - Directed by Hayao Miyazaki

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I’m not a fan of anime, which makes picking this Hayao Miyazaki film so high up a rather strange choice for those who know my taste. Actually, that makes this all the more impressive, especially in Miyazaki’s ability to transport his character (and the audience) into a wonderfully-realized world of dragon spirits, masked phantoms, and hopping lamps. Truly a wonderful adventure for this generation and the generations to come

1. Yi Yi - A One and a Two (2000) - Taiwan - Directed by Edward Yang 

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This three-hour minimalist urban epic by Edward Yang is poignant, touching, sublime, sometimes funny, and flat-out brlliant. This is as close as possible to a perfect film, and I cannot think of a better candidate for the top Panasian film of the decade.

Aside from the films that have been mentioned, there are also special prizes for films outside the list or filmmakers that deserve special shout-outs:

Game-Changer of the Decade: Cape No. 7

It’s not a great film, but any film credited for resuscitating an entire film industry and beat the record for the highest-grossing local film by a mile is a pretty damn important one.

Best blockbuster: Bayside Shakedown 2 

A sequel that is even more ambitious than its predecessor in terms of both budget and storytelling, the second screen version of the successful TV show is smart fun masterfully directed by Katsuyuki Motohiro. It doesn’t work on its own because of all the recurring characters and running jokes, but it’s much, much better than it deserves to be. Bring on Bayside Shakedown 3.

Style-Over-Substance Award: Kim Jee-Woon

Kim is a director that has transcended every genre he has dipped in. While his stories don’t have the impact of contemporaries like Park Chan-Wook or Bong Joon-Ho, Kim’s directorial skill is certainly at the same level.

Most Likely Heir to Studio Ghibli: Mamoru Hosada and Madhouse

The Girl That Leapt Through Time and Summer Wars were fun crowdpleasers that also had great storytelling and memorable characters. They may not have the same storytelling sensiability as Miyazaki and Ghibli, but they may very well be the next big thing, and deservedly so.

Best Director: Bong Joon-Ho

Bong made his first feature film - Barking Dogs Never Bite - in 2000, and with just three films after that, he has solidified his place as one of the best Panasian directors working today. With every work, he elevates himself to a new level, and it’s hard to imagine him getting any better in the next decade. Then again, he’s Bong Joon-Ho, so who knows?

Just to recap, Here’s the complete list:

1) Yi Yi
2) Spirited Away
3) Nobody Knows
4) Memories of Murder
5) All Around Us
6) Blood and Bones
7) Oldboy
8 ) Love Exposure
9) Secret Sunshine
10) 5 Centimeters Per Second
11) Blue Gate Crossing
12) Oasis
13) Joint Security Area
14) Tony Takitani
15) Still Walking
16) Mother
17) One Fine Spring Day
18) Yasukuni
19) Battle Royale
20) The Host
21) Fish Story
22) City of Life and Death
23) Departures
24) Island Etude
25) Love of Siam

And that’s it. That was fun, but exhausting, which is why I’m glad we won’t have to do this for another 10 years. Remember to let me know where you agree and disagreed in the comments section, and if you haven’t seen any of these films (including the special mentions), then go watch them.

And we here at LoveHKFilm would prefer you to gain access to these films from Yesasia.com , because every time someone buys legit, an angel gets his wings.

The Golden Rock Top 25 Panasian Films of the Decade - Part 2

Today, I continue my favorite 25 Panasian films of the decade.

But again,  the disclaimer: I watch a lot of films, but like anyone who doesn’t get to travel to film festivals worldwide or have that much time to watch every Asian film existed, I missed out on a lot of stuff. I also have my own biases. I don’t care for Achitpatong, Kim Ki-Duk, or Hong Sang-Soo, which means those art films one might’ve seen on those best of the decade list by western organizations will be missing here. Mainly, they’re not because I really don’t like them - I just couldn’t find the time to watch them.

Hence, this list is totally interactive. This means you’re welcome to offer your own list or even talk about my picks. But I can say it’s unlikely to find a definitive top 10 list out there, since 1) Everyone has different tastes, and 2) there were so many films that I had to expand my list to 25.

So, now, on with Numbers 19-11:

19. Battle Royale (2000) - Japan - Directed by Kinji Fukusaku - LoveHKFilm Review

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This extreme re-imagined version of Lord of the Flies is not only on the list for the controversy it raised at the time, but also for its inflammatory look at a new generation of Japanese youth by one of Japan’s oldest rebel directors. It’s violent, it’s disturbing, and it dares its audience into enjoying its violence. However, let’s forget its sequel ever existed.

18. Yasukuni (2007) - Japan/China - Directed by Li Ying

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Chinese director Li Ying and Japanese theaters received death threats for making and showing this direct cinema look at the controversial shrine on its most controversial day of the year. For a Chinese-made film about such a Japanese subject (Even most of Li’s crew is Chinese), this is about as “balanced” a look on the subject as it can possibly get. Li simply stands back and captures the chaos over the role of the shrine, and the result is quite eye-opening. Anyone who calls this propaganda for any side has no idea what they’re talking about.

To this day, there is not English-subtitled video release out there.

17. One Fine Spring Day (2001) - Korea - Directed by Hur Jin-Ho

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Hur Jin-Ho’s chronicle of a doomed relationship remains one of the most accurate depictions of romance I’ve seen on screen. His minimalist style and the lack of a female perspective here may make it inaccessible to some, but for those that can relate, it serves as a painful reflection of the ones that got away.

16. Mother (2009) - Korea - Directed by Bong Joon-Ho - LoveHKFilm review

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Bong Joon-Ho’s mystery-thriller is an example of fine technical filmmaking, with every cut measured precisely and every camera movement calculated to get its intended effect just right. Its morally ambiguous ending may disturb some, but it’s the twist on “family values” and Kim Hye-Ja’s performance that make it so brilliant.

15. Still Walking (2008) - Japan - Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda - LoveHKFilm review

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Kore-eda takes on Yasujiro Ozu in this dramedy about the modern family and the things slowly breaking it apart. It appears light on the surface, but Kore-eda’s script (based on his own novel) keeps its conflicts and secrets just underneath the surface, waiting to come out (In other words, just like any other family). Even then, it’s also surprisingly funny at points.

14. Tony Takitani (2004) - Japan - Directed by Jun Ichikawa - LoveHKFilm review

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The only Haruki Murakami screen adaptation to date (until the end of the year, when Norweign Wood is released) is also very successful is taking the author’s melancholic writing style for the big screen. Director Jun Ichikawa designed the brilliant “page-turning” transitions between scenes to keep up with its literary source, and the music by Ryuichi Sakamoto is hauntingly moving. It’s short at 64 minutes, but for a Murakami fan, every one of those 64 minutes has been well worth the wait.

13. Joint Security Area (2000) - Korea - Directed by Park Chan-Wook - LoveHKFilm review

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Many Korean blockbusters deal with the separation of the two Koreas, and this one rank as the best exploration of that relationship. While Kang Je-Gyu turned the sensitive topic into slam-bang blockbuster material (twice!), Park Chan-Wook used this Rashomon-style procedural mystery to explore whether reconciliation is truly possible, and the result is Park proving himself as the storyteller before he became Park the visual showman.

12. Oasis (2002) - Korea - Directed by Lee Chang-Dong 

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Lee Chang-Dong’s drama about an ex-convict and a woman with cerebral palsy defined the careers of its director (who later became a minister of culture for several years) and lead actress Moon So-Ri. Its choice to depict such a graphic, but gentle romance between two disabled (in their own way) people shows the guts of the emerging Korean cinema and the artistic heights it could reach.

11. Blue Gate Crossing (2002) - Taiwan - Directed by Yee Chin-Yen - LoveHKFilm review

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Eternal Summer and Miao Miao owe a great deal to this simple, but beautifully-made youth film. The peace of Taiwanese suburban life captured by writer-director Yee Chih-Yen is memorably serene, and two-thirds of its young cast has deservedly moved on to far bigger things as well. It’s not a particular hard-hitting film compared to other films on the list, but its influence on future works of the genre makes it a more important film that it suggests.

And next time: The finale - The Top 10 Panasian films of the decade, and the special awards. Let the general indifference begin!

The Golden Rock Top 25 Panasian Films of the Decade - Part 1

Since everyone (including lovehkfilm’s own readers) are doing their best of the decade blog, I figure I shouldn’t miss out on the fun. Panasian is a fairly abstract word, but for the purposes of this list, they’ll simply films made in Asia from 2000-2009 and cannot qualify for the lovehkfilm awards (hence Lust, Caution and Hero’s exclusions).

And now, the disclaimer: I watch a lot of films, but like anyone who doesn’t get to travel to film festivals worldwide or have that much time to watch every Asian film existed, I missed out on a lot of stuff. I also have my own biases. I don’t care for Achitpatong, Kim Ki-Duk, or Hong Sang-Soo, which means those art films one might’ve seen on those best of the decade list by western organizations will be missing here. Mainly, they’re not because I really don’t like them - I just couldn’t find the time.

Hence, this list is totally interactive. This means you’re welcome to offer your own list or even talk about my picks. But I can say it’s unlikely to find a definitive top 10 list out there, since 1) Everyone has different tastes, and 2) there were so many films that I had to expand my list to 25.

My criteria: The films have to be good, and if they served some kind of bigger purpose, it’s more likely I would put them here than some award bait film, like Hula Girls. I liked the film, and it swept a lot of the awards in Japan that year, but I hesitantly kept it off the list because it wasn’t as notable as some of the other films I’ve picked here.

So, for part 1 - numbers 20-25, and the 20 special mentions to tell you what got left out:

Special Mentions:

The Assembly (China)
Life is Cool (Korea)
Summer Wars (Japan)
The Girl that Leapt Through Time (Japan)
Suite Dreams (Japan)
Air Doll (Japan)
Fine, Totally Fine (Japan)
The Chaser (Korea)
I Just Didn’t Do it (Japan)
Seagull Diner (Japan)
The Good, the Bad, the Weird (Korea)
A Bittersweet Life (Korea)
President’s Last Bang (Korea)
Tokyo Sonata (Japan)
Memories of Matsuko (Japan)
A Stranger of Mine (Japan)
Linda Linda Linda (Japan)
Il Mare (Korea)
My Dear Enemy (Korea)
God Man Dog (Taiwan)

And now, 20-25:

25. Love of Siam (2007) - Thailand - Directed by Chookiat Sakveerakul - LoveHKFilm review

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Note: This refers to the director’s cut, which runs just under three hours.

The center of this Thai film is a gay romance between two teenagers, but it’s about a lot more than that, and it works on those other levels too. Despite some awkward directing, the film runs surprisingly fluid, and the acting is uniformly strong. A Thai gay romance is rare enough already, but one that is this good is even more rare.

24. Island Etude (2007) - Taiwan - Directed by En Chen - LoveHKFilm Review

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People might remember this movie as the film that replaced Lust, Caution as Taiwan’s representative at the Academy Awards when it was caught in bureaucratic limbo, but it’s one of the best road movies to come out of Asia in the last decade. As a travelogue of Taiwan, Island Etude was far more qualified to represent its home country than the Panasian effort of Lust, Caution (which only qualified for the HK decade film list under the lovehkfilm rules).

23. Departures (2008) - Japan - Directed by Yojiro Takita - LoveHKFilm review.

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Theoretically, the only Asian film to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards in the last decade ought to be at the top of the list, except…not. Departures is a commercial film calculated to make you cry and laugh at the right times, and when it succeeds the way it does here, it shouldn’t undermine the film. It’s still flawed at points, and it might not have really deserved that Academy Award, but what’s here is commercial Japanese cinema at its best.

22. City of Life and Death (2009) - China - Directed by Lu Chuan - LoveHKFilm review.

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Lu Chuan’s big-budget recreation of the Nanjing Massacre is one of the most controversial Chinese movies of 2009 for its subject matter. In fact, one of my Chinese classmates called it the most sickening film of the year, so that should tell how polarizing the film is even in its own country. Politics and perspectives aside, City of Life and Death is just good filmmaking, with beautiful black-and-white cinematography, striking images, top-notch production values, and finally a take on world war II that doesn’t feel like nationalist propaganda. Not a film I’d visit again soon, but not a film to deny simply based on its subject matter, either.

21. Fish Story (2009) - Japan - Directed by Yoshihiro Nakamura

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I can’t possibly think of a better answer to how a punk song from the 1970s save the world from impending disaster than Yoshihiro Nakamura’s Fish Story. Of course, the credit also goes to novelist Kotaro Isaka for the story, which unassumingly sets up seemingly ordinary stories before putting them together in an amazing reveal, but the tour-de-force final minutes where the entire story plays out is pure cinematic genius. And the song is pretty damn good too.

20. The Host (2006) - South Korea - Directed by Bong Joon-Ho - LoveHKFilm review.

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Bong Joon-Ho’s monster flick remains the highest-grossing in Korean history because it knows that unlike movies that bank on nationalist sentiments to support local films, it has to do more than boast special effects. The Host is funny, scary, and even a bit touching, and if you can’t even ask for that in a blockbuster flick - whether it’d be about dragons, robots, or huge tidal waves - then the terrorists would’ve won.

Tomorrow: Numbers 11-19. I miscalculated the separation, and this is what happens.

 
 
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