I think I ended up here by accident, as did most of us. Almost everything in my life that I now cherish are not things that I really planned to have at some point early on; I stumbled into them mostly by accident. But here I am, and if it was accident that brought me here then I’m grateful regardless, and I know of few other people who are where they are now because of a plan. Maybe a plan would just get in the way.
The Secret Garden is a comedy that knows this inside and out. Like all the best comedies, it’s actually about something remarkably profound that gets slipped under the door while you’re laughing. It gives us Sakiko, a faintly dim-witted girl whose one passion in life is money — not just spending it, but counting it, sorting it, stacking it, admiring it. This single-mindedness is not so much greed as a kind of innocent monomania: when a prospective boyfriend offers to buy her coffee, she says. “Why not just give me the money?” Eventually, she ends up in what is probably the best possible place for someone like her: a bank, where she counts money all day long.Read more
If truth in marketing were mandatory, Tetsujin 28 would have been renamed Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robots: The Motion Picture. Yes, this is a live-action updating of an animated feature and manga series that was aimed mainly at little boys, but that’s hardly an excuse for a movie this lame. Casshern was based on equally inauspicious source material, and was one of the best movies of its kind. Tetsujin 28, on the other hand, feels like it wasn’t just made for small boys, but by small boys. (I suspect that is a slur on small boys, since I have seen 8mm shorts put together by ten-year-old kids that showed more imagination and wit than this thing does in its entire dreary two-hour running time.)
The story is a trope that’s been done many times before: a Boy and his Giant Robot. The author of the original comic, Mitsuteru Yokoyama, was more or less single-handedly responsible for this genre — he also gave us Giant Robo, which had the same fearless epic scope as Casshern and some equally adult themes. Here, the idea has been dampened down in scope a great deal, and becomes much ado about nothing. If the point of a movie like this is to give us something we could never seen in reality — i.e., giant robots fighting to the death in the streets of Tokyo, or what have you — how come the movie makes it look so astonishingly dull? Read more
SPL is the best pure-entertainment Hong Kong movie in a long time, totally unafraid of big gestures, grand statements about honor, and crushing blows to the chest. After all of the wailing about how the Hong Kong film industry is moribund, we’ve been treated to a slew of movies in the last few years that are as good as anything released in that country’s history — Throw Down, Breaking News, Election, and now SPL. If this keeps up we may have to call off the funeral service.
SPL is a cross between the kind of epic, myth-making police drama that appeared mainly in the States — Heat, or To Live and Die in L.A. — and a gutpunching, raucous martial arts spectacle. Not every movie benefits from having things inflated to near-mythic proportions, but SPL attains a kind of pulp grandeur because of it. The characters, the conflicts, the glittering Hong Kong cityscape are all larger than life, and the movie knows it and revels in it. It’s actually not a wall-to-wall martial arts production on the order of Ong-Bak, which it has been a little misleadingly compared to — it’s a little closer in spirit to films like Infernal Affairs — but when it cuts loose with the action, it does so in a way that hasn’t been seen in ages, and raises the bar more than a little. Read more
I have the same problem talking about Cromartie High School that I did talking about Azumanga Daioh: I can talk about the words, but not the music. Adjectives like “deranged”, “demented” and “surreal” sort of fit the bill, but again, they’re just labels — they don’t really describe how the show functions like that. Maybe it’s better if I start by saying that Cromartie had me laughing harder and longer than almost anything I’ve seen out of Japan recently — certainly more than Haré+Guu, which had an inspired opening that it never followed up on. Cromartie comes out of the gate sprinting and never stops.
The show’s an adaptation of an equally bizarre and hilarious four-panel comic series, now also available in English, and the adaptation is faithful enough that many of the situations are essentially reiterated line-for-line. This isn’t a bad thing: they were funny on paper, and through a peculiar attention to how the show is put together, they’re funny on the screen as well. Sometimes this sort of thing doesn’t work at all, or stumbles — the comic version of Excel Saga is not only a little funnier than its TV antecendent, it’s actually more interesting — but here it all clicks. Read more
Running on Karma is such an unrepentantly absurd movie that it works simply by dint of being unrepentantly absurd. Even for a Hong Kong film, it’s pretty far-out — but let’s face it, what other country would dare to make a movie about a kung-fu bodybuilder who can see people’s past lives when they approach their deaths? It’s like a throwback to the Hong Kong moviemaking of the Eighties, where hyperkinetic pacing and thoroughly oddball subject matter were used as a way to compensate for tiny budgets and cramped shooting schedules. But it’s entertaining and offbeat, and out of that grows a fascinating that makes it hard to dismiss the movie out of hand. Someone — most likely director Johnnie To — was definitely not painting by the numbers when they made this film.
Biggie (Andy Lau) is the bodybuilder in question, who earns cash by gyrating for screaming girls in underground strip clubs. One night there’s a sting and he’s busted by a female cop, Yee (Cecilia Cheung) — who, ironically enough, was one of the loudest ladies in the front row. He bolts, and runs afoul of another gang of cops who are chasing an Indian man, a contortionist who probably committed a savage murder earlier that night. The police aren’t amused by Biggie wasting their time and manpower, and after putting the boot to him they dump him back in Yee’s lap. But during the chase Biggie witnessed one disturbing vision after another — one involving a police dog, and another involving one of Yee’s own comrades. When someone approaches death, he explains, he can see their karma — the fate that has been dealt out to them in a past life — and so knows when someone is about to die.Read more