Huan hun (Blood Ties) (2009)

Film review

Blood Ties (2009)“Blood Ties” is a film full of the unnecessary. Capitalising on its supernatural slant, the film is actually a revenge film in disguise. In an over-long first act with flashback after flashback, we witness the brutal killing of an undercover cop, Shun, and his wife, through the eyes of his young sister, Qin. On and on the flashbacks go – we keep seeing the same one with increasing detail, explaining what has transpired – I looked at my watch – when is the movie going to actually start? This playing of timeline and structure is completely arbitrary and slows down the momentum of the film. Isn’t it more exciting for the plot to be revealed in a more active way considering it’s a mystery thriller (why was Shun slained?)

Another unnecessary component is the violence. Violence is usually more effective when we see it once, or even just hear it. When it is repeated over and over (same scene with increasing detail, several times, mind you), it becomes more sickening and senseless – why do we have to keep watching this over and over? Because nothing seems to be engaging and everything is repeated, the mind begins to predict what will happen. And by the hour mark, especially when you keep seeing the girl and Shun’s ex-partner talk, talk and talk, one begins to suspect a twist or two.

With some serious rewriting and restricting, I think “Blood Ties” could have worked. But a genre film is challenging, as the goods have to be delivered and then something original/fresh provided. In “Blood Ties”, the plot is convoluted to no effect except to confuse an otherwise straightforward story; the story itself is uninspired and predictable, the climax lame and tepid. Sever all ties with this film.

Rating: 1/10

Xia dao xiao (Where Got Ghost?) (2009)

Film review

Where Got Ghost (2009)“Where Got Ghost?” is a film that offers little enjoyment. It consists of three short stories, “Roadside Got Ghost”, “Forest Got Ghost” and “House Got Ghost” – the last is a sort of continuation of “Money No Enough 2”, which ends in this nearly computer generated (except the actors) car accident in CG rain, trees and roads, which leads to a TV-movie-of-the-week quality CG-ed landslide that nearly kills the three protagonists. See it to believe it!

Anyway, combining genres is tough and require deft knowledge of how they work, how to provide the usual and subvert them. In this film, its horror elements are dated and tepid. Besides being dated, there just seems to be an utter lack of suspense. The film doesn’t feel like it bothers to even illicit any fearful reactions. On the comedy side, as the film was advertised as a “hor-medy”, the one-liners are rare and most of the time, the situational humour is predictable. What do you do then? You try not to fall asleep.

Rating: 3/10

The Proposal (2009)

Film review

American romantic comedies can be really cruel to their lovers. In “The Proposal”, Sandra Bullock is a bitchy, tough boss at a New York publishing company (also a feature in US rom coms). Problem: She is Canadian and faces deportation due to some visa oversight. She takes advantage of her hardworking assistant Ryan Reynolds and blackmails him into marriage. When he realises he has the upper hand, he forces his boss to kneel and propose to him in public. She does so and subsequently cannot get up – he walks away.

Why must they be cruel to each other? It is because that’s how the formula works. They have to dislike/hate each other and slowly learn about each other and fall in love. It is all about the journey right? “The Proposal” is sometimes funny, sometimes sweet (Reynold’s family) but altogether a bit run of the mill. I didn’t really believe Reynolds eventually fell in love with Bullock. It felt like a very unnecessary beat in his character arc. He is already such a nice and perfect guy. He only ‘fell in love’ with her so there’s a happy ending. Even the usually charming Reynolds cannot this lackluster proposal.

Rating: 5/10

The Hangover (2009)

Film review

“The Hangover” is pure heterosexual male wish-fulfillment fantasy, with a rather offensive Chinese stereotype character with a poor command of English. However, the film is also very funny and does exceedingly well in maintaining a narrative drive whilst delivering punch lines.

Four men (the fiancé, the henpecked husband, the stoner and the smooth-talker) go to Las Vegas for a night to remember. Now, here is where the writers made an ingenious choice: they made the film into a mystery. The men woke up to a wrecked hotel room, found a tiger in the bathroom, a baby in the closet, and lost their fiancé friend. This makes the film more engaging because we see characters develop rather than getting drunk and doing stupid things – and we know that doesn’t stay funny after a while. And because it’s a mystery, we want to find out how did they end up in all the mess they are in. This movie is a pretty good comedy, and a fun watch.

Rating: 7/10

“Four Dishes” sold to Movieola

Four Dishes, News, Producer Talk

Ouat MediaSomething wonderful happened a week ago: I received a royalty cheque from Ouat Media, the sales agent/distributor for “Four Dishes“! Owned by Channel Zero Inc., Ouat Media sold the film to their sister cable company, Movieola. (That is, Ouat Media and Movieola are both owned by Canadian broadcaster Channel Zero). It’s not a fortune, but I’m very glad for it! It shall go into funding my next short film.

There is a good side and a bad side to such a situation. First the good; when a distributor has an exhibition arm (in this case of Movieola, it’s cable, VOD, mobile and web), the exhibition arm will be the first place the distributor will attempt to sell the film(s). Surely, the sale will go through. Chances are your film will get sold, seen, and you’ll get some money.

The bad? The distributor can easily cook the numbers, or sell the film(s) at less than desirable (to you, the filmmaker/producer) prices. They have no reason to earn a higher profit as they are under the same owner umbrella. Just a standard price will do. Think of it like MediaCorp Raintree selling the TV rights of one of their films to MediaCorp Channel 5.

MovieolaWhat can a filmmaker/producer do to make sure your sales agent/distributor is doing their job? Often, in a distribution agreement, there will be a clause called “Distributor’s right to package”. This is when the distributor wants to have the right to package a number of films together, thus offering a bulk discount to a exhibitor/broadcaster/cablecaster. In this case, a producer must insist that the distributor license the film for no less than a pre-specified minimum sum. Make sure this amount is in writing. This can also be elaborated according to countries and/or territories.

Brüno (2009)

Film review

With ‘Borat’, Sacha Baron Cohen attempts to reveal the prejudices of the American folk, attempting to expose bigotry and conformity through outrageous behaviour and un-PC remarks. For ‘Bruno’, I guess it’s pretty much the same thing. Like Bruno, Cohen goes to Los Angeles to ‘become famous’ (Borat goes to America to find out more about Americans, and also to find Pamela Anderson). He also has a reluctantly hired manager who is in love with Bruno. This time however, I think Cohen is less funny – most jokes seem to fall flat, are obvious (joining the US Marine Corp), or are plainly like a ‘Candid Camera’ show (e.g. the Paula Abdul interview) – a one-note joke that doesn’t really do much to ‘reveal’ homophobia and prejudices. Understandably, comedy is the hardest thing to do, especially if it relies on improvisation and unsuspecting people. But I have to give it to Cohen for the wrestling finale (yes another wrestling scene). I was hoping for more of that comedic outrageous-ness – unexpected and over-the-top – that was less about what Bruno wears or says.

Rating: 5/10

Up (2009)

Film review

Blessed with the Midas touch, Pixar has had a winning streak of remarkably made films that can touch children as well as adults. “Up” contains all the magic they have been conjuring over the past years. It is a buddy movie essentially between an over enthusiastic boy named Russell and Carl Fredricksen, an old man who has always wanted to travel to Paradise Falls in South America. Not forgetting the throwaway humour, “Up” is a beautifully rendered, 3D animated film that is full of life-like detail – nothing less you’d expect from Pixar. The characters are extremely likeable and the adventure, rather exciting, because we care about these people. Throw in colourful and endearing animals, (a bird and a dog) and you have movie magic that cannot be gotten elsewhere.

Rating: 8/10

Crimen Ferpecto (Ferpect Crime) (2004)

Film review

Outrageously dark and fun to watch, this off-kilter comedy by Spaniard Alex de la Iglesia is about Toledo, a ladies’ man who accidentally kills his work-rival in a scuffle to become store manager. Subsequently pulled into a blackmail marriage by the least pleasant looking woman, Lourdes, in the department (because she helped dispose of the body), “The Perfect Crime” is a well made film with homages to Hitchcock, and unabashedly anti-consumerism and anti-romantic comedies.

Rating: 7/10

Yao jie huang hou (Bugis Street) (1995)

Film review

DVD Cover

Apparently uncensored of its male frontal nudity when it was released in Singapore (said Yonfan on the DVD commentary), ‘Bugis Street’ is an under-appreciated film that is now banned. It is possible that this film caused Singapore censorship to become strict in the 90’s. Nonetheless, it is one of the most beautifully shot-in-Singapore films I have ever seen. Yonfan clearly has compassion for the real-life transsexual characters in this somewhat episodic yet charming film about a young girl coming of age in what used to be one of Singapore’s seediest districts. Though mostly campy and flamboyant, ‘Bugis Street’ has an emotional core that is truthful and real.

Rating: 7/10

Public Enemies (2009)

Film review

A sort of bio-pic on John Dillinger, the latest Michael Mann film does not develop and help us empathise with any of the characters emotionally. As a crime thriller between one of America’s most notorious criminals (Johnny Depp) and a worthy adversary, the FBI, personified by Christian Bale, the film also fails to deliver on the cat and mouse chase, under-utilising the lead actors. Marion Cotillard is just there to be pretty. Unfortunately, the film is rarely fun to watch save for a few scenes and the climax. Also, despite the period setting, the hand-held camera aesthetic fails to capture the romanticism and beauty of the period and its characters, opting for a more visceral look that is more jarring than exciting.

Rating: 5/10