There is a scene in Ong-Bak where the hero, Ting, kicks a bad guy out of a second-story plate-glass window, then jumps out after him and delivers several pummeling blows to the guy's chest while still in free-fall. At another point, Ting does cartwheels over a wok full of boiling grease and a flouring table without touching anything. And at yet another, he evades a whole gang of enemies by simply jumping up on their shoulders and running out of the room across the tops of their heads. And then there's a scene where Ting fights with his legs on fire. And...
Ong-Bak has the thinnest possible excuse for a plot, characters with all the dimension of something die-cut from the back of a cereal box, and eminently unquotable dialogue. And none of that matters, because the movie is just a clothesline for the most flabbergasting physical stunts attempted on film since Drunken Master II. When Ong-Bak had its North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival as part of its Midnight Madness program, the audience gave it a standing ovation — something no other film in the 16-year history of the program had ever received. Me? I grinned like an idiot all the way through. You want meaning and social significance, go watch Ikiru. Read more
Taking cues from, but not imitating, the classic Fritz Lang movie of the same name, Metropolis has the ambition and the scope of the last great animated Japanese epic, Princess Mononoke. Metropolis isn't as profound or thoughtful as that movie, but it has so much style to burn and so much to show that it is every bit as impressive.
I love movies like this. I don't like to sit in a theater or in front of a TV for two hours and feel like I haven't gone anywhere. Metropolis creates a whole world that is real enough to believe in, and yet totally a product of imagination, that it becomes less like a story and more like a visionary act.
The production team reads like a Who's Who of anime greats: the director is Rin Taro, of X and Dagger of Kamui fame; the writer is Katsuhiro Otomo, of Akira, and the original story was by the "God of Manga," Osamu Tezuka (creator of Black Jack, Atom Boy, and many other classic characters). Each of them delivers their own specialty: Taro fills the screen from edge to edge with spectactle; Otomo's script deals with the same kind of conspiracies of power and apocalyptic devastation that Akira did; Tezuka's story is about individuals seeking their own humanity in an increasingly inhuman world. Read more
Traditional movies about artists follow a fairly well-defined path: The artist is a tortured outsider, irascible, often unlikeable, but redeems himself through his work. An exceptional movie about an artist, though, will find another level of insight. To wit: Amadeus started with Mozart as a genius (and a self-destructive one at that, to complete the formula nicely), and then added the jealousy of his colleague Salieri as the context. Leave off the insight and what you have is a lockstep classroom biopic.
Chihwaseon (or Strokes of Fire, as it was translated for showings in the West) features Choi Min-sik as the tempestuous 19th century Korean painter Seung-up Jang, and if it has a failing it's in that it never gives us anything beyond the competent basics. It's a lovely but essentially superficial movie which only seems to stumble across the truth of its subject by accident. It isn't a bad movie, and it's so technically well-done (especially in terms of how it shows us the artist at work) that it almost feels bad to withhold praise. Read more