Author Topic: 1990s Far East Bracket: Verdicts  (Read 300509 times)

smirnoff

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Re: 1990s Far East Bracket: Verdicts
« Reply #2470 on: June 07, 2018, 11:13:06 PM »
You're a Good Man, ProperCharlie Brown :)

pixote

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Re: 1990s Far East Bracket: Verdicts
« Reply #2471 on: June 14, 2018, 10:24:52 PM »
Round Five Matchup



Vive L'Amour (Tsai Ming-liang, 1994)
Won over Suicide Bus (verdict by edgar00)
Won over Adrenaline Drive (verdict by BlueVoid)
Won over Made in Hong Kong (verdict by Jared)
Won over Woman Sesame Oil Maker (verdict by PeacefulAnarchy)

A full decade ago, I excitedly hit play on Tsai's Goodbye, Dragon Inn. By the half hour mark, my excitement had turned to a resentful disappointment that only worsened as the film slogged along. I was in no rush to watch another Tsai film after that (despite the glimmer of hope I saw in The Skywalk Is Gone on that same day). Once this bracket started up a few months later, I was content to wait until the resurrection process prodded me to give Tsai another go. I missed my one chance in the first round when time constraints forced me to resurrect The River sight-unseen. After that, Tsai's other three films went undefeated for the next ten years.

That backstory factors into why it's taken me so long to get to this verdict; despite my undying love for this bracket, I never found myself in the right mood to risk another Goodbye, Dragon Inn experience. There were at least a half dozen times I stared at Vive L'Amour on my Amazon Prime playilst, realized my trepidation was far too great, and watched something else instead. This all seems like a prelude to my saying that Vive L'Amour turned out to be my new favorite film of all time; or even more of a trial than my previous Tsai feature. Not quite.

Through the film's first five minutes, I was ready to put it in my Top 100 — which was perhaps just an over-correction for my low expectations for the movie. It is a fantastic opening, though, especially the shot captured above, which is part of the best fourth-wall break I've seen in a very long time. The camera shows us the security mirror in the grocery store as Lee Kang-sheng's character (Hsiao-Kang) approaches that corner. By the time he stops to look at his own reflection, the frame of the mirror is no longer visible, and it's as if he's caught us watching him. He's shown in the previous scene to be somewhat of a shifty character (having cautiously stolen a key left in an apartment door), so there's context to his being nervous about being watched — not by us but by store security. Before we can fully appreciate that ambiguity, Hsiao-Kang starts styling his hair, an action which completely shifts the meaning of his gaze: he's actually looking at himself. Tsai, who's good at veering in these unexpected directions, encourages us return to our normal cinematic voyeurism. A second after we drop our guard, however, Hsiao-Kang's stare hardens, seeming perhaps more accusatory, and the effect is properly unsettling. It's a wonderful bit of self-reflexive playfulness, which, in another twist, is later revealed to be rooted in the character's deep self-loathing.

After that scene, the movie introduces its two other main characters, and things go a bit off the rails. PeacefulAnarchy was kind enough to pre-plagiarize me in his verdict: "It grabbed me at the start, but then throughout the film kept letting me go before grabbing me again." That might even undersell just how drastically the movie veers between moments of (comedic and dramatic) brilliance and long stretches of nothingness. (The first twenty or so minutes don't even have dialogue, but that's not what makes them feel so empty.) It's almost as if Tsai's strategy is to starve the audience of any sort engagement and then slip them a delicious morsel that will seem all the more sweet following the deprivation. And, damn him, it kind of works.

Call Me by Your Name echoes two very memorable moments from Tsai's film, and I'm not sure if that's a mere coincidence. In fact, were it not anachronistic, you might think Vive L'Amour was parodying the other film in both cases. When Hsiao-Kang starts carving a hole in a piece of fruit, you're like, "Heh, I know where this is going!" But, again, Tsai has a knack for comedic misdirection and reversals, and that one is particularly priceless. The final shot contains the other echo, though Vive L'Amour's is more harsh and more of a trial than Call Me by Your Name's, featuring an ebb-and-flow of viewer reaction reminiscent of the earlier shot with the security mirror.

I haven't yet mentioned the film's best scene (two adjacent scenes, really), partly because I've droned on long enough already and partly because I want to avoid even the slightest hint of spoilers in a film that relies on a small handful of surprises to enliven the tedium of the urban alienation it embodies. But for those who've seen the film, I'm of course talking about the scene from this spoiler-ish screenshot along with the scene it immediately follows. The mix of comedy and tragedy in that culmination of underlying emotional pain and desperation is pretty special.





Hana-bi  (Kitano Takeshi, 1997)
Won over Labyrinth of Dreams (verdict by Gobman)
Won over God of Gamblers 2 (verdict by tinyholidays)
Won over Peppermint Candy (verdict by Bondo)
Won over Eagle Shooting Heroes (verdict by BlueVoid)

My history with Kitano is somewhat the opposite of with Tsai. Sonatine proved a very favorable introduction long ago (I don't remember it at all) and left me anxious to see more — with Hani-bi at the top of the list. But I just never got around to seeing any more of his films, not until they started falling into the resurrection queue. Kikujiro was in the very first batch of films I watched for this bracket, and it was a disaster. Kids Return proved slightly better in the third round but still not quite good, and then last round A Scene at the Sea got Kitano back into thumbs-up territory, if only barely.

None of those other bracket experiences diminished my excitement to at long last watch Hani-bi (which apparently we agreed to stop calling Fireworks at some point), especially since it seemed like it'd be more in the Sonatine mold (whatever that is) than those other movies. That was a poor assumption on my part because Hana-bi reflects all four of those other movies in equal measure: the whimsical yakuza cool of Sonatine; the familiar melancholy of Kids Return; the meditation on beauty of A Scene at the Sea; and the tone-deaf mawkishness of Kikujiro.

I amused myself during Hani-bi's first act with the notion that Kitano directed like a director who hated his screenwriter, which is of course funny since he filled both roles. Some of the early exposition is so poorly handled that I can imagine his saying, "I know this sucks; let's just get through it as fast as we can." The elliptical editing — which bothered most brackets viewers of the film, me included — also seemed like a flailing attempt to distract from the script's shortcomings.

When the film settles down for its second act, it's somewhat shocking to discover that Hana-bi is neither a cop film nor a yakuza film but rather another in a series of films Japan made in the 90s (Artists in Wonderland, The Last Dance, Suicide Bus) about how the sick, elderly, and disabled are not, in fact, worthless and need not necessarily kill themselves. I'm exaggerating a bit, but Artists in Wonderland really would have been the perfect third round opponent for Kitano's film — for the shared thematic material, haphazard editing, and even the similar screenshots. Kitano's film likely would have breezed through that matchup, but the two movies could really have informed each other in the process.

If Kitano, as a director, seems to show disdain for his screenwriter, he shows nothing less than adoration for the artist who did the paintings for the film, allowing his camera to linger over each canvas in full appreciation. Of course, he again filled both roles, so there's some enjoyable narcissism inherent in those choices. In his defense, though, the paintings are cool and fit the film well, so he's right to be proud of them.

My favorite comment from the previous verdicts comes from tinyholidays, who remarked on Joe Hisaishi's score, "The soundtrack suggests a 'very special episode' vibe." So true. Occasionally it works to good effect, with the earnestness of the music acting as counterpoint to the narrative's mix of whimsicality and melancholia; but more often it's just too much.



Verdict: There's suspense here for me because, as I write this, I still have yet to read the masked text in Teproc's verdict. I suspect we're in agreement, because I nodded my head in agreement at most everything in his reviews. I didn't sense any remarkable homoeroticism in the violence of Kitano's film; it seemed rather par for the course in this kind of male-centric film where the few female characters are kept largely mute; and I wasn't bothered as much by the film's ending. But I, too, liked Kitano's screen presence (though I kept having to remind myself that it wasn't just Harvey Keitel doing a bit); and I had a similar thought about how Hisaishi's music seems somehow better suited for animated films; and I found myself fighting boredom with Tsai's film, which is truly "both immersive and hard to focus on" (great description!); and I laughed out loud when an arm emerged from under the bed. So as I hit Post, I'm going to assume we both voted for Taiwan but deny myself that certainty until I can get the results thread fully up-to-date.

Fun fact: Ten years and 168 films later, this matchup represents the first time I got to watch consecutive bracket films in high definition!

pixote
« Last Edit: June 16, 2018, 04:49:04 PM by pixote »
I think I'd love how awkward it'd be, or how awkward it should be.

smirnoff

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Re: 1990s Far East Bracket: Verdicts
« Reply #2472 on: June 15, 2018, 12:29:42 AM »
Fun fact: Ten years and 168 films later, this matchup represents the first time I got to watch consecutive bracket films in high definition!

I wonder if that were even possible with these two films ten years ago. :)

PeacefulAnarchy

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Re: 1990s Far East Bracket: Verdicts
« Reply #2473 on: June 15, 2018, 12:56:26 AM »
What's interesting is that reading the reviews I expected you to go the other way.
Interesting that this reaction applies to pixote's reviews as well.

pixote

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Re: 1990s Far East Bracket: Verdicts
« Reply #2474 on: June 15, 2018, 01:09:03 AM »
What's interesting is that reading the reviews I expected you to go the other way.
Interesting that this reaction applies to pixote's reviews as well.

I think that’s partly because I lost steam in the verdict and didn’t feel like beating up on the losing film, which I ultimately didn’t quite like (C+). Like Teproc, I didn’t struggle with this decision at all.

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 #2475 on: June 15, 2018, 03:45:16 AM »
Yay ! I of course thought of Vive l'Amour during the final shot of CMBYN (in fact I suspect I might not have been as enamored with it as most because it's kind of small potatoes when compared to that), but I didn't remember the fruit shenanigans, that's a funny connection. I'm guessing it's a coincidence, but who knows I guess ? A quick Google search doesn't yield any Guadagnino mention of Tsai though.

roujin

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Re: 1990s Far East Bracket: Verdicts
« Reply #2476 on: June 15, 2018, 08:44:01 AM »
Woo!

Teproc

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Re: 1990s Far East Bracket: Verdicts
« Reply #2477 on: October 09, 2018, 11:45:21 AM »


Hai shang hua / Flowers of Shanghai
(Hou Hsiao-Hsien, 1998)
Round 1 review by roujin
Round 2 review by worm@work
Round 3 review by Jared
Round 4 review by PeacefulAnarchy

               VS               


Lat sau san taam / Hard Boiled
(John Woo, 1992)
Round 1 review by manana
Round 2 review by michael x
Round 3 review by BlueVoid
Round 4 review by smirnoff
Round 4 resurrection by pixote




Flowers of Shanghai




An exploration of the world of concubines in 19th century Shanghai, Flowers of Shanghai certainly feels of a piece with the previous Hou film I've seen in this bracket – The Puppetmaster, even though they have very little to do with each other thematically (I think). In both cases, Hou shows you vignettes composed of mostly static interior shots (somewhat reminiscent of Ozu to me but I wonder if this is just a facile comparison of arthouse Asian directors or if there is an actual link here) : in The Puppetmaster he used those to explore a man's life through episodes, playing with the passing of time with ellipses. Here, it feels more like a sociological study of an environment, going from one concubine to another, with storylines that sometimes intertwine, but not always.

I say « static » but that's not quite accurate, as Hou frequently moves the camera from one part of the room to another, which reinforces that feeling of the viewer as an observer, and I suppose one might say a voyeur though I don't think that's what Hou is going for, given the lack of nudity despite the subject matter.

It's all rather interesting and I enjoyed both the performances and the style on an intellectual level, but I had some trouble engaging emotionally with it. In some ways I'm more impressed with Hou's direction here than in The Puppetmaster, but I care a lot less about the characters. The only two performers that got me to perk up a bit were Tony Leung at times (he's great at quiet, internal suffering isn't he ?) and particularly Carina Lau as Pearl, the most cynical and manipulative of the concubines. I suppose I get bored of longing at one point and part of me wishes there was more actual scheming involved. I'm not sure. I don't usually mind a film having no plot, but I suppose this didn't quite click for me beyond a purely intellectual level. That certainly counts for something though, and I am at least glad that these Hou films do have singular aspects to them, makes me want to see the rest of them more.

Hard Boiled




This film is insane. I knew going in about there being a massive setpiece set at a hospital, but I didn't expect it there to be two big action scenes before that which would qualify as the climax for the vast majority of action films. This being Woo of course, it's a good thing that there is so much action (we get to the hospital with one hour left in the film!) because the writing is pretty consistently awful, and Woo's style is completely all over the place. Even in action scenes, he often loses sight of what his film is doing, but it gets really problematic in non-action scenes.

I was pretty worried early on that I was going to hate this, because I've seen The Killer and I couldn't stand Chow Yun-Fat in it, nor did I have much stomach for the cookie cutter morality of Woo's script. This is much better on both fronts : I'm still not in love with Chow as a performer, as he mugs at the camera way too oftne for my taste, but it seems that most of his antics disappear as the film progresses. Maybe it's sharing the screen with Tony Leung, who does more of his trademark internal suffering here, in a performance that I would say is just fine for him, which still means it's pretty strong. When they joined together in the hospital, I found myself actively rooting for them rather than passively enjoying the spectacle, which I haven't found in Woo's other films I've seen (which is to say The Killers and MI:II, so not that much).

This doesn't mean I loved the film, far from it. Its treatment of its only female character, who seems to be Chow's superior but nonetheless takes orders from him throughout the film and is literally relegated to taking care of babies while the action is going on... It's certainly not as bad as it could have been for a 80/90s action film I imagine, but still.

Then there's the utterly senseless violence. I initially thought the film had rather fascistic undertones, with Chow being the tough man a society needs to protect itself, principles be damned... but as the film went along, it seemed to me that the apocalyptic feeling of it all, and the way in which cops and criminals were completely undistinguishable – between the undercover cops, the criminals dressed like cops and the fact that they both constantly shot each other (and civilians) before asking questions... when the final setpiece turned out to be all about saving a baby, it kinda clicked for me. Babies are innocent, and may just be our shot to be out of this disastrous mess of a society. That might be giving Woo too much credit, but I can see it, and it does help make the violence serve some purpose beyond entertainement.

Verdict: Yet another mixed review for Hard Boiled, and yet another victory nonetheless. I liked Flowers of Shanghai, but I'll take the mess with moments of greatness over the interesting but not incredibly engaging thought piece most of the time.

smirnoff

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Re: 1990s Far East Bracket: Verdicts
« Reply #2478 on: October 30, 2018, 01:32:45 AM »

Audition
(Takashi Miike, 1999)
Round 1 review by Bill Thompson
Round 2 review by Blue Void
Round 3 review by Beavermoose
Round 4 review by Teproc
Resurrection by pixote

               VS               

Happy Together
(Wong Kar-Wai, 1997)
Round 1 review by Clovis8
Round 2 review by Bondo
Resurrection by pixote
Round 3 review by BlueVoid
Round 4 review by ProperCharlie






Audition


I'm really curious to see how Audition does from here on. Good write up Bill.

I'm pretty sure it will be knocked out rather easily, depending on who gets it of course. I don't envision it as something the majority of FS land would get behind.

And here we are 4 rounds later. :)

I can see why. As uneven as the film can be, it does achieve greatness now and then. Even if it's only for a moment or two, the fact that it gets there at all puts it ahead of many films I've seen for the bracket. One such great scene is the first time we see the mysterious sack move. You'll have been suspicious of that sack from frame one, and yet when it finally jumps to life it startles you anyways. It's a rarer type of jump scare... the kind that gets you even as your staring right at it (not unlike the refrigerator roaring to life in Requiem for a Dream).

How immoral is it to hold an audition for a fake roll, for the purposes of meeting someone you want to date? It's pretty god damn scummy isn't it. Are there mitigating factors? Not really. The fact his wife died, he's lonely, his kid is encouraging him to meet someone, and his work colleague is the one pushing this audition scheme, don't change the fact it's ultimately his choice and it's wrong. Barring that decision he seems like an okay guy. The director portrays the scheme as being innocent hi-jinks... but given what happens later I suspect he feels it is anything BUT innocent. The fact he chooses to present it that way for the audience though begs the question: Does he believe the audience will go along with it? By giving it a rom-com tone, does he believe the audiences morals are so fluid they will view the clearly scummy act as something quite lighthearted? The titular audition, when it finally takes place, matches the tone of a montage in which a bride-to-be tries on many silly wedding dresses. Very very light.

It's a choice I question because I'm wondering if the director is taking a dim view of his audience. Perhaps he was right to do so. 1999 is a long time ago after all. Maybe he sensed people would look at this scheme and not see anything all that wrong about it. Many rom-coms are morally dubious if you take a too-serious look at them, so maybe he had aspirations to be a wolf in sheeps clothing. But if his theory was that he would catch anyone's ethical navigator asleep at the wheel, the movie poster pretty seriously undercuts that possibility (it features a woman holding a syringe).

Dramatically I don't think anything is gained by taking the film to such a tonal extreme, only to have it swing completely the other way.... not if that sea change is telegraphed the way it is in this film. I dunno... it's standard thriller formula I guess.

Giving Asami a origin story, as horrible as it is, just makes her less scary

This. It's so true. Plus those are the most boring and cheap looking scenes. Why are they there? I suspect director is once again trying to play with the scales. More mitigating factors that are ultimately meaningless once you get to the third act.

Things get less interesting as the thriller takes full hold, occasionally in cartoonish fashion, and with a muddled mix of dream, memory, and fantasy.

Very muddled. I don't like how this story was edited together. I think they overthought it. Too many flashbacks and dreams, and inserted at weird times. None good.

Ultimately though, because of the nature of the story you'll be hard pressed to forget it. And because it manages to have a few great scenes and many forgettable ones, it's likely to be looked back on fondly. I saw it 3 or 4 weeks ago at the time I write this, and I have become more positive on it in that time than I was immediately after it ended. I wish the angle or twist had been "who's auditioning who"? But there's nothing I saw that indicates she was particularly fussy about her targets. I also wish the film had tread a finer line where the ethical questions were concerned, and made it harder to see in black and white terms.



Happy Together


The reviews up to this point have been very well written, and very thorough. I can't think of anything new to say about the film, and I can't say better what's been said so well already. So I'll just get right to my ultimate feeling about the film: meh.

bullet point reasons:
-unlikable characters
-not a compelling story
-slow
-feels like we're in the same room for 90% of the film
-Even Wong Kar Wai cannot make these dingey, hollow-walled locations feel sexy

Recommendation: Watch My Blueberry Nights for the pinnacle of WKW sexiness.



Verdict: Audition is more memorable and more interesting to think about so it gets my vote. Also, if it comes to pass that I have to watch one of these two films again, I very much don't want it to be Happy Together. I will need needles in my eyes to stay awake!
« Last Edit: October 30, 2018, 11:35:59 AM by smirnoff »

Teproc

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Re: 1990s Far East Bracket: Verdicts
« Reply #2479 on: October 31, 2018, 02:22:56 AM »
Hey I get a quote !  :D

I generally agree with you on Audition, and I do wonder about how the film was marketed when it came out, with it really seeming like a slightly weirder romcom for the first half.

Aside from My Blueberry Nights, are you generally not into WKW, smirnoff ?