Author Topic: 1990s Far East Bracket: Verdicts  (Read 292433 times)

Teproc

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Re: 1990s Far East Bracket: Verdicts
« Reply #2270 on: December 07, 2016, 09:23:09 AM »

Nagisa no Shindobaddo / Like Grains of Sand
(Ryosuke Hashiguchi, 1995)
Round 1 review by worm@work
Round 2 review by Jared
Round 2 resurrection by pixote
Round 3 review by BlueVoid

               VS               

Am zin / Running Out of Time
(Johnnie To, 1999)
Round 1 review by roujin
Round 1 resurrection by pixote
Round 2 review by Jared
Round 3 review by manana




Nagisa no Shindabaddo / Like Grains of Sand


Like Grains of Sand is, for the most part, a pretty conventional coming of age drama, featuring Japanese high school students dealing with their feelings and awakening sexuality. The performances are strong across the board and all the characters feel like people, which is the most important thing for these kind of films, and the way their feelings towards each other evolve is complex and subtle. The best example of the film's layered approach comes around the hour mark, with a scene worm@work and pixote both single out, and rightly so. I'm sitting here trying to describe it and I can't really, not because there's anything fancy going on, but simply because a lot of complex emotions are expressed through it in a way that very few films can.

After that, the film loses a bit of its focus as it expands to some sort a love/friendship quadrangle : good still but not as sharp perhaps. It almost seems to want to take on too much, especially with the main female character. It also gets more dramatic as it goes along, in ways that sometimes feel pretty forced and aren't helped by a pretty cheesy score, though it's not used a lot.

All in all though, a very solid teen drama.



Am zin / Running Out of Time


My familiarity with Hong Kong action/thrillers is limited to say the least, as I've only seen The Killer (not a fan) and Infernal Affairs (love it). This is closer to the latter, sharing Andy Lau as one of its main stars, so I was optimistic... but it's closer to The Killer in the way it focuses on trying to look/sound cool more than having interesting characters. Both Laus do their best, but they're really working with basic clichés and not much more, and as it happens I'm completely fed up with antagonists who know everything in advance and are always three steps ahead of everyone else even if it doesn't make any sense. It might make sense here, but I just couldn't be brought to care.

Stylistically, To is not as melodramatic as Woo (from what I can judge of this very limited sample size at least) but still... I complained about the score in Like Grains of Sand, and I guess this one was slightly better at first but it's so overbearing I was tired of it prett fast. If it's starting to sound like I hated this : I didn't, it has its moments. It goes from setpiece to setpiece and some of those have clever touches... but that's all there is, it's a film trying to convince you of how clever it is every step of the way, and I found that somewhat exhausting. The standout is probably the scene in which Andy Lau's character shows up in drag as part of one of his plans, underlining the homoerotic undertones of the main characters relationship... actually now that I think about it both films feature men dressing up as women and people being surprisingly unable to tell what's happening.

Anyway I can see how this could be fun, but I mostly found it unengaging and over-reliant on clichés, despite enjoyable performances by both leads.



Verdict: Yeah, no surprise there. Like Grains of Sand moves on, and Running Out of Time has run out of chances in this bracket. Hah.

Jared

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Re: 1990s Far East Bracket: Verdicts
« Reply #2271 on: December 07, 2016, 11:13:33 AM »
One I gave a loss beating one I gave a win, but I think these ones are pretty close myself and would probably agree with your decision were I to rewatch today.

Is that the end of Johnnie To in this thing? sdeadalus will have our heads...

pixote

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Re: 1990s Far East Bracket: Verdicts
« Reply #2272 on: December 07, 2016, 01:02:43 PM »
Really great verdicts, Sandy and Teproc!

I vicariously enjoyed the struggle contained within your verdict, Sandy. That's when the bracket is at its most interesting, I think —making those hard choices.

I remember Like Grains of Sand getting a little awkward and messy in its second-half, but somehow that in worked in the film's favor with me, matching the awkward messiness of so much of adolescence.

Running Out of Time had a pretty good run in this bracket for a film that lost its first round matchup and was only resurrected because I didn't watch it, haha. "These are scary times in which we live." Indeed. Had I actually watched it then and had the same reaction as with my recent Retrospots viewing, it never would have seen the second round.

pixote
« Last Edit: July 07, 2017, 12:54:47 PM by pixote »
I think I'd love how awkward it'd be, or how awkward it should be.

Teproc

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Re: 1990s Far East Bracket: Verdicts
« Reply #2273 on: December 07, 2016, 01:49:53 PM »
Yeah, it looks like this was the only Johnnie To left in contention.

Thanks pixote, and I thought I had something like "the film progressively starts to resemble its characters" in the review, but I guess I didn't. I even thought of Skins, which is the true "show about teenagers embodying teenageness" in my mind, but obviously without going as far as that show did.

Jared

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Re: 1990s Far East Bracket: Verdicts
« Reply #2274 on: December 07, 2016, 10:11:15 PM »
Sopyonje vs The Road Home

I don't really base which movies I select for this thing based on anything...just happy to watch new stuff, and this far into the bracket, where we are whittling the original list down to its top 10%, I'm not worried that anything is going to be a waste of time. It is a happy bit of coincidence, however, to get two movies with somewhat similar plots. Much easier to compare apples to apples.

Both movies tell the story of a middle aged man returning to the village he once called home as a child, and a good deal of both movies are spent in flashback.


Sopyonje


Dong-ho reflects on his childhood, when he was adopted by his mother's singer boyfriend Youbong following her death. Youbong is a pansori singer and takes Dong-ho on as a drummer. His other adopted child is Songhwa, a girl who he teaches to sing.

The family travels Korea, performing here and there. The movie really takes the time to put the music on display, which is really moving and interesting if not exactly pleasant to listen to. The best of these scenes comes about halfway through the movie, where in one static shot we watch our three leads start a song from way in the background on a patch of country road, and they sing and dance for about 5 minutes as they slowly approach the camera.

Youbong is determined that the music will be best if it is twinged with suffering, so he subconsciously and sometimes very purposefully tries to inflict it on his children at several troubling scenes throughout the movie.They eventually fracture apart because of this and we learn that a lot of Dong-ho's search is an attempt to reconcile these severed ties.

I thought this was a really nice movie with some heartbreaking moments and some alluring music that really pulls you in.


The Road Home


A man returns to his country village upon the death of his father. As the townspeople talk to him about the school house that his father wanted to rebuild and how is mother is requiring a more challenging funeral ceremony, he reflects on his parents' love story. It really is a wonderful story.

Zhao Di (Ziyi Zhang) becomes the main character once we get into the flashback, and we watch her painstakingly attempt to woo the new teacher in town, and we see pretty quickly that the affection is mutual.

It is a beautiful film that just lets you set in its world for awhile, taking time to show us all the ins and outs of everyday life in the village: cooking, getting water from the well, repairing a bowl, etc.

I was really surprised that I ended up kicking a Yimou Zhang film out in my last verdict. I really liked To Live, but having now seen this, I don't even think To Live would be one of my three favorites of him in the decade.


The Verdict

A really enjoyable match up for me...hard to complain about anything in this 4th round so far. I like Sopyonje and I am really glad I watched it, but with the Road Home I felt like I was in the hands of a master. The Road Home is a terrific movie and has to be the one that moves forward here.

smirnoff

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Re: 1990s Far East Bracket: Verdicts
« Reply #2275 on: December 08, 2016, 12:37:46 AM »

After Life
(Hirokazu Koreeda, 1998)
Round 1 review by Bondo
Round 2 review by BlueVoid
Round 3 review by Beavermoose

               VS               

Musuko
(Yôji Yamada, 1991)
Round 1 review by Melvil
Round 2 review by roujin
Round 3 review by Bluevoid
Resurrection review by pixote






After Life


I'm not sure if a person is better off knowing the premise of this story ahead of time or not. I did not, and that made the first 15 or 20 minutes quite different. Clues trickled in at a satisfying pace and finally I understood where I was and what was happening. I might've understood sooner but the film adopted such a plain and honest manner that I didn't suspect anything so whimsical. Eventually there was no other conclusion left to come to though, at which point I thought "this is neat".

The matter of fact style, which early on ran so contrary to my initial expectations, came to serve this imaginative film so well. The humbleness of the world and its characters was very endearing and put me on the film's side as it explored or provoked a lot of thoughtful ideas. And the film provides such a variety of perspectives for interpreting those ideas that it almost guarantees you'll recognize yourself among the characters.

While asking deep and difficult questions the film spins it own small dramas. Office politics and romances of a sort. I liked the real-worldiness this aspect of the film added to the already earthy style more than I liked the actual ins and outs of that particular drama.

This is not a film of emotional outbursts, which is a bit strange when so many characters are making big cathartic breakthroughs. There were more than a couple of occasions where my sentimentality wanted to see some of these emotional moments get milked for more than controlled melancholy. In that regard the film is, in my opinion, rather too humble.

It's important to note though that these criticisms came after the film had ended. They occurred to me after having time to consider the experience as a whole, and knowing, in the back of my mind, I would have to weigh this film against another. The viewing itself was unblemished. Or nearly so. Engaging, thoughtful, and pleasant, with a few small wows.



Musuko






I familiarized myself with this film by reading a few bits of previous reviews before selecting it. It seemed to have surprised everyone who watched it in one way or another:

Another terrific surprise from the Far East bracket! :)

The brow is right in the middle, but I didn't mind. For once.

This type of story frequently bores me, but here it works exceptionally well and I was engaged with every character.

I remained adequately entertained and engaged but kept waiting and waiting for at least one exceptional moment — some sharply observed characterization or a scene of heightened drama. And wishes do come true, for then Yamada delivered a scene of such cumulative impact that it instantly reshaped my appreciation of the entire film to that point.

Everyone seemed to land somewhere between glowing and very positive, and my own reaction falls somewhere within that same range.

The father and younger son character split the screen time and both of their journeys engaged me. I don't know what made it engaging exactly... I couldn't write out what happens and make it sound very interesting. I guess I liked that it spanned a good amount of time and made some real progress on the things in set up in the first act. Most scenes feel like a step forward. And there's  some resolution towards the end.

I especially liked when the film got to the point where the son character had established a relationship with the girl. I would've liked to see their story carry on if the film had been longer.

I don't find I have much else to say about the film, but like After Life it was a very good experience.



Verdict: Very close. I watched After Life first, and then Musuko a few days after. My first impulse was that Musuko was the film I liked more. Later I thought that After Life was the film I would rather watch second time, which speaks to its depth. It felt like I could really go either way on this excellent matchup. Then I considered that being so close I might advance the film that had already been defeated once (Musuko), and in doing so both films might advance, as I think After Life would have a good chance at resurrection. I usually wouldn't game the system like that, but in a tight race like this and finding myself so undecided I don't mind considering it.

Ultimately though, after thinking and writing about the films, and with a couple weeks behind me since my seeing them, After Life seems to be sitting on a higher step. So I'll go with After Life.

smirnoff

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Re: 1990s Far East Bracket: Verdicts
« Reply #2276 on: December 08, 2016, 12:44:14 AM »
A really enjoyable match up for me...hard to complain about anything in this 4th round so far. I like Sopyonje and I am really glad I watched it, but with the Road Home I felt like I was in the hands of a master. The Road Home is a terrific movie and has to be the one that moves forward here.

One of the few matchups where I've seen both films. I'd definitely have gone the same way. Happy to see The Road Home advancing.

pixote

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Re: 1990s Far East Bracket: Verdicts
« Reply #2277 on: December 08, 2016, 12:45:33 AM »
So much to respond to later ... but for now I'll just say that I'm glad there are a very limited number of resurrections this round, as it's forcing all of us to make some hard choices. I think if the safety net were larger, there weren't be the same amount of wonderful tension in all these verdicts.

pixote
I think I'd love how awkward it'd be, or how awkward it should be.

pixote

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Re: 1990s Far East Bracket: Verdicts
« Reply #2278 on: December 08, 2016, 04:44:45 PM »
Round Four Resurrection Reviews



Wing Chun  (Yuen Woo-Ping, 1994)
Won over Beat (verdict by Melvil)
Won over Kagerô (verdict by smirnoff)
Won over Supercop (verdict by Jared)
Lost to Pickpocket (verdict by PeacefulAnarchy)

Only 15% of the films in this bracket have one-word titles, but Wing Chun faced four of them. Sadly, that's just about the most substantive thing I have to say about this movie, having lost the review I wrote a month ago. I can say that I enjoyed the film, albeit with reservations. The set-pieces are decently fun but the interstitial shenanigans are lackluster and occasionally frustrating. The film peaked early ("If you can smash this piece of tofu, you win") and late ("If you can extract the spear in three moves, I'll let them go"), with the second act mostly making me want to watch Fong sai yuk or its sequel again. Wing Chun is a decent time at the movies, largely thanks to Michelle Yeoh — and in spite of the fact that there's nothing at all mannish about her (to echo a common complaint in the verdicts).





Hard Boiled  (John Woo, 1992)
Won over The Mission (verdict by mañana)
Won over White Badge (verdict by michael x)
Won over Too Many Ways to Be No. 1 (verdict by BlueVoid)
Lost to After the Rain (verdict by smirnoff)

Man oh man. There are so many good moments but it's all ultimately so stupid. matt didn't bother to recap the plot in round one, thinking that everyone had seen this already. I hadn't, and my response from then makes me chuckle now: "I have no idea what it's about. My guess is it has something do with guys flying in slow motion through the air firing sideways guns in both hands." I was more right than I knew. What's the point of the undercover story? The key info on the triad comes from a completely different character, so all the bloodshed related to the undercover operation seems pointless. And what's the point of the bad guys killing all the hospital patients? A hostage situation never materializes, so it's just cruelty for its own sake. All the death seems irrelevant, so long as it's not that of a main character or one of the damn babies in Labor and Delivery. Frustrating. It's also one of those films where bullets fired at extras always hit their marks but it takes two thousand shots to hit a principal. Fat and Leung are cool, though, and there is plenty of sporadic awesomeness, highlighted by the long take through two floors of the hospital. A dramatic surprise happens there, and it's one that all the senseless mayhem had me rooting for ahead of time. It was extra gratifying that the granting of my wish precipitated such a cool shot. Everything involving Mad Dog is also highlight (except his exit; and his out-of-character disappearance from the first showdown between Fat and Leung), along with all the randomly cool shots, like the blood on a floured face near the start of the film. But there is an equal number of dumb things, like electrocuting yourself on a million-in-one chance it'll open a locked door; or using cables to swing down safely from an exploding building, even though the cables remain slack the whole way down and do nothing to lessen the impact of the fall (that job falls to invisible wire work). The editing annoyed me in the first act — I entertained myself by counting off "one one thousand, two one thousand, three--" and laughed at how consistently the cut came on that same beat. But the editing in the last fifteen minutes comes much closer to the "masterful" art I was told to anticipate. I expected to like this way more than Bullet in the Head, but they're actually very close for me. Glad to have now seen both, though.















Ringu  (Nakata Hideo, 1998)
Won over Fudoh: The New Generation (verdict by Clovis8)
Won over License to Live (verdict by Bondo)
Won over Maborosi (verdict by BlueVoid)
Lost to Cure (verdict by ProperCharlie)

It's rare to see a script this bad result in a film that's so close to being good. Ringu might set the modern-day record for expository dialogue in a horror film. The show-don't-tell moments are no better, relying as they sometimes do on the protagonist's ex-husband randomly demonstrating psychic abilities (what?!). The real horror here is VHS technology and all the standard definition televisions. Terrifying. If the girl behind the cursed videotape had been a better seer, she would have damned a DVD instead. The whole premise teeters on the brink of silliness throughout, but there are enough nice, atmospheric touches to almost sell it all. The examination of the tape was a missed opportunity for a longer sequence in the style of Blowup, but I was always happy when images from the video reasserted themselves in the visuals. I liked the end, too, even though it's only earned by the script's title page and not the hundred subsequent pages. The photography certainly helps, too, and I hope the kid is in one of the sequels, because he's maybe the best part of this movie. Innocent victimhood has never been so creepy.





Pom Poko  (Takahata Isao, 1994)
Won over Tenchi: The Movie (verdict by FLYmeatwad)
Won over Talking Head (verdict by Beavermoose)
Won over Dang Bireley and the Young Gangsters (verdict by Jared)
Lost to Perfect Blue (verdict by BlueVoid)

I wanted the screenshot above to be the gathering-of-forest-creatures moment that struck me as a deliberate reference to Bambi, but I couldn't quickly find it again when scanning back through the DVD. I went with this other image instead because I think Pom Poko appealed to me the most when it operated at the ends of the realism spectrum — either going for a wholly natural representation of raccoons, as above, or venturing into the surreal, like in the wonderful parade of goblins. I was reminded quite often of Spring and Chaos, a film I liked but failed to resurrect after round one; but also of a pothead's fan edit of The Gummi Bears (though the male-to-female ratio of the raccoons is more in line with The Smurfs). There's a lot of wonderful animation in Pom Poko, but it's all at the mercy of a really muddled script with a distracting obsession with testicles (what?!). The reliance on a narrator is very distancing, and the absence of a clear protagonist becomes a barrier to engagement. The terrorist killing of humans made me uncomfortable, from an ethical standpoint, and the limits of the raccoon's shape-shifting powers confused me, from a logic standpoint. (I wonder if "shape-shifting" is poor translation, because the powers seem to extend well beyond that.) I love the imagination on display here, and I agree with the previous verdicts that the various animation styles applied to the raccoons in different contexts is a major highlight, but the two-hour running time felt a lot closer to three. If I watch Pom Poko again, it'll be projected onto a wall with no sound at someone's drunken rooftop party. That'd be the ideal way to view the film, I think.




Audition  (Miike Takashi, 1999)
Won over Yellow Fangs (verdict by Bill Thompson)
Won over Don't Cry, Nanking (verdict by BlueVoid)
Won over Charisma (verdict by Beavermoose)
Lost to Rice People (verdict by Teproc)

I'd seen this before, but almost all I remembered about it was that it was a Kurosawa Kiyoshi film starring Yakusho Kôji — neither of which is true. There are enough similarities here that I can understand my confusion. The textures of Audition's first half aren't quite at Kurosawa's level, though, and a few scenes show flashes of the occasional imprecision that I've come to expect from Miike. But it's still a exquisitely paced slow-burn thriller that masquerades at times as a possible romantic comedy — right until the first shot of girl waiting by her phone, which is one of the great shots of this bracket. The film peaks at that point, for me. Things get less interesting as the thriller takes full hold, occasionally in cartoonish fashion, and with a muddled mix of dream, memory, and fantasy. The final sequence rights the ship, thanks to Miike's patient direction and the Shiina Eihi's terrific, gleeful performance. Audition definitely would have been resurrected after the third round. I suspect it'll fall just short this time around, but we'll see.


Resurrection Standings (the top three films will earn resurrection)
  • Audition
  • Hard Boiled
  • Wing Chun
  • Ringu
  • Pom Poko

Up next: To Live

pixote
« Last Edit: July 07, 2017, 12:58:34 PM by pixote »
I think I'd love how awkward it'd be, or how awkward it should be.

Sam the Cinema Snob

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Re: 1990s Far East Bracket: Verdicts
« Reply #2279 on: December 08, 2016, 04:48:42 PM »
Standings look about right.