- Three Kingdoms: resurrection of the Dragon (China, 2008)
Currently watching. Very atmospheric, so far. Lots of dramatic night-shots and plenty of dirt. (The fight scenes are some of the choppier -- in a realistic way -- that I've seen in a while, even if there's still a bit of overuse of the zoom-slomo-speed gimmick.) Now if we could just have a movie about the Three Kingdoms that a) makes sense to someone who hasn't studied the novel for thirty years, and b) doesn't have EVERYONE die at the end. Just sayin'.
- Jade Palace Lock Heart (China, 2011)
Can't find a copy of the more faithful adaptation of the novel, Bu Bu Jin Xin (步步惊心) that this is based on, but it still has its charms. Took me about 4-5 episodes to get past the inevitable Chinese dubbing, and I still find it annoying that the subtitles appear directly on top of the hardcoded Chinese subtitles. (I find I can really only parse the sounds I hear when the mouth matches the sound being made -- it's like being hard of hearing and needing the additional visual cues to know whether someone is saying "th" or "sh" or whatever. So with the mouths possibly making non-Mandarin sounds, and the hanzi also being covered by English subtitles, there are chunks where I can't even make out individual syllables. It's like the sound just turns to one slurred nonsensical sound. On the upside, though, there's no extreme Beijing-accent in any voice, though I think one of the dubbed voices has some Beijing hiding in there.)
- Muscle Girl (Japan/Korea, 2011)
Currently airing Japanese/Korean show, about a girl who inherits her father's wrestling studio -- that's professional women's wrestlers, mind you. (What is it with that being so popular in Japan, especially among young women?) It's clearly low-budget, despite having the young male lead played by a semi-known Korean pop star (who does his best to speak Japanese, though at times honestly his Japanese sounds to me like Korean, which makes me wonder how he sounds to native viewers)... but that same male lead doesn't seem to have improved his acting any, in the years since the last kdrama I saw him in. Oh, well, at least he's kept his pretty face, but it's not enough to make me keep watching, even if a cast that's dominated by women is pretty cool.
- Let The Bullets Fly (China [HK], 2010)
The rip is off-timed, and the sound (effects as well as dialogue) is off by almost a full second. With only Chinese subtitles, I just can't track it, because I'm seeing characters that I know for certain don't match the sounds I'm hearing. But it's got Chow Yun Fat! And the dialogue/directing is clearly majorly influenced by rapidfire deadpan comedy like Lock Stock and Smoking Barrel and Pulp Fiction and movies of that ilk, where it's just snap-snap-snap-snap at incredible pace. (Actually, just think the dialogue pace in His Girl Friday or Altman's M*A*S*H and you've got the speed of this film.) Problem? Subtitles are literally on the screen for only a split-second before there's a new line. I'm starting to wonder if the subtitles aren't actually meant to be read, just kinda enjoyed as "someone spent a lot of time doing that," or something.
- Torocco (Taiwan/Japan, 2010)
Chinese subtitles only, which is good, because half the film is in Japanese. If the Korean/Japanese joint productions seem to mostly focus on young people falling in love despite the language/social barriers, the Taiwanese/Japanese productions (with one major exception, so far) seem to be about the separations and anguish created by the colonial period (or more precisely, the end of the colonial period and the attendant loss of Japanese identification/citizenship by Taiwanese). Like The Passage, there's a sort of melancholy imbued in the stories.
- My Own Swordsman (China, 2011)
A total sendup of everything wuxia, from pretty much the opening frame all the way on. I think I missed like half the jokes, too, because I'm not a master viewer of wuxia, but I got plenty all the same. A complete popcorn movie, probably best watched with a bunch of friends and plenty of alcohol.
- A Chinese Ghost Story (China, 2011)
I like folklore wrapped up in wuxia, but I couldn't get past the really hokey effects and the bad dubbing. Not to mention I've started to appreciate a more Korean-style of fight choreography (where it's just a little messy, and there's not a constant beat/pacing to the moves), so the HK-influenced fight choreography looks too much like well-planned, somewhat contrived, dance moves. (Though My Own Swordsman plays that to the hilt, so to speak, but being a bit of parody, there the ultra-planned moves work.)
- Open To Midnight (Taiwan, 2011)
A ghost story of a sorts that's all over the place. As in, literally: first it's about a kid who owes 300K to the Tong after being tricked by a friend, so he takes his girlfriend to run off to his family's country house, where he gets entangled with developers trying to con people out of their homes... and there's ghosts, and two guys trying to rob the family home, and... some stuff. Several plot-threads raised, dropped, and forgotten, which means the story's emotional pinnacle is hollowed out because it pivots on a completely stupid and trumped-up incident (instead of using the potential in the original premise, of the Taiwanese Tongs coming after the kid for his debt, or even the violence threatened by the developers). It really feels like someone's second draft of their first screenplay, except that I'm pretty sure it's the director's 7th or 8th movie. No idea, but it was somewhat amusing, and the heavy influence of Taoist traditions was kinda cool -- not something I see in a lot of Taiwanese films, which seem to shy away from too much religion (maybe b/c of PRC broadcasting not being so keen on that, dunno).
- Fullmetal Alchemist OVAs
Yes, I finally watched three of them. (The uploader didn't have all five.) I have no idea why I did that, although it was kinda freaky hearing the original cast again.
- 49 Days (Korea, 2011)
A 20-episode series about a woman who gets into a car accident just before her wedding, and has 49 days to make three people cry genuine tears on her behalf, before she can come back to life. It starts slow, stays kinda slow for the first 5-6 episodes, but then it ramps up around episode 8 and it's just absolutely amazing and gut-wrenching (and high, believable, stakes) after that. It's got romance, but it's not a romantic drama; it's got funny parts, but it's not a comedy; it's got some melodrama but it's not melodramatic because it's too honest. It's really a completely underrated yet amazing little series.
- The Sword With No Name (Korea, 2009)
This is one of those that sounded great, but twenty minutes in, my mind was wandering. It just couldn't hold my attention, which is a pity, because it's about a fascinating part (the late 19th cen) of Korean history. I think it was because it had a little too much time with some action-ey ninja-like fighter guy, and not enough time on the woman who became the Korean queen.
- The Last Princess (Japan, 2008)
Remake of The Hidden Fortress, with Hiroshi Abe. I suppose this means I really will watch anything with Abe, if I'm even watching his period works. Jun Matsumoto is an actor who either charms me in a role, or puts me to sleep, but here he was just kinda passable. Though it does make me curious to watch the original, then compare the princess' role between THF and SW, to see what did (and didn't) get changed in terms of gender roles.
- CCTV Forest China (China, 2007)
13 episodes. To quote from the DVD, "Forest China is a nature documentary . It is a major production that has taken China Central Television (CCTV) four years to complete. It covers most of China’s major forests. It is a remarkable result of meticulous research and planning. It showcases China’s latest efforts in protecting the nature and preserving the ecology in the country. It is in fact the only visual document of modern China’s flora and fauna. [Features] vast forests in the Northeast of China, Qinling Mountains, the Taklamakan Desert, the primitive forest of southeastern Tibet, Shennongjia Mountains in Hubei Province, the Hengduan Mountains, the tropical rain forest in Hainan and the mangroves of the South China Sea." Sadly, the rip I got isn't HD, because this is a series that deserves to be seen on as large a screen as possible. (Also, there are no English subs, and for reasons I can't place, there are only Chinese subs for like half the episodes -- but at least the narrator has a pleasantly clear BBC-Mandarin quality voice.)
- Shadows in the Palace (Korea, 2007)
A major-motion picture by (gasp) a female director. (Not that usual in Korea, I'm told.) It could've been a drama of manners, but I guess a bit of compensation never hurt anyone. Except maybe every single character in this movie, of which many were emotionally, physically, and psychologically tortured that, sheesh, I spent a bit of the film with my hands over my eyes. I'm not usually that squeamish, either, but this was beyond the pale. (The third-quarter jump to a different genre, or introduction of genre overtones, didn't help, either.) Still, a gorgeous and tense work... if someone could just cut back on the over-compensation of showing that women (especially women-directors) can be just as brutal as men. Ugh.
- A Frozen Flower (Korea, 2008)
I still haven't decided how I feel about this. Not in terms of whether I liked it or not -- I guess my reaction is mostly, "eh, okay," but on a larger scope. The premise: the king is basically gay, and having a long-term affair with the head of his personal guard. The queen seems resigned to this, but the Chinese overlords are pressuring for an heir, or else the Chinese will establish an heir of their own choosing. Ergo, the king suggests his lover impregnate the queen. You can see just where this disaster is heading, can't you? Anyway, I'm not sure whether it's a positive representation (to some degree) of a gay relationship, or a bizarre way to make it all heteronormative in the end. The actors do their best to even things out, but still.
- Ogamdo (Korea, 2009)
Very art-house indie. One film made of five short films, with themes like unwed mother, fidelity, seduction, and so on. Not necessarily heavy on the sex-on-film (this is Korea, after all, even if A Frozen Flower was almost jaw-droppingly explicity).
- Psychic (Korea, 2010)
Aka Haunters: what a total waste of both leads.
- Returner (Japan, 2002)
You remember those apopcalyptic-distopian low-budget science fiction films from the 80s, where everyone's dressed in rags and most of the population wears gloves with the fingers cut off, and hats made of old milk cartons? But somehow the guns and ammo are remarkably advanced? Yeah, I'm pretty sure the director of Returner also remembers those films. A little too well, if you ask me.
- Snakes And Earrings (Japan, 2008)
CP tells me it's based on a novel, that won a lot of awards. Granted, there's a lot to unpack -- privileged Japanese girl who gets into tattoos & piercing (the former of which has definite cultural baggage) -- but... I dunno. I suppose I'm just not at a point anymore that I see either as all that shocking, and the film couldn't keep my interest long enough for me to get to the parts that are supposed to be really shocking. Uhm, yeah, whatever.
- Secret Reunion (Korea, 2010)
Now here's a non-waste of Kang Dong-won (who was also in Psychic). Spy versus spy may be a little predictable, but the chemistry between Kang and his South Korean spy counterpart (played by Song Kang-ho) makes all the difference. Plus, happy ending!
- Jeon Woochi (Korea, 2009)
Absolutely one of my most favorite films on the list, again with Kang Dong-won, who lights up the screen as the mischievous, irreverant, troublemaking scoundrel of a Taoist Wizard, Jeon Woochi. Also has time-travel, bringing Woochi into the present to fight goblins in the modern-day, courtesy three bumbling Taoist immortals. The wirework is subtle, and at times looks almost like really skillful parkour (no legs kicking wildly in mid-leap), and the CGi is a few years behind Hollywood, but the movie zips right along to a witty finish. On a storytelling level, there are some really nice circular elements in sub-threads that come back around again. A definite keeper.
- Duelist (Korea, 2005)
Another instance of Ha Ji-won playing a theoretically 'strong' female character, if 'strong' really just means 'can fight relatively well unless she's up against the male lead, in which case she's eventually rendered the loser' and in all other ways (emotionally, psychologically), she's playing a doormat. Maybe a doormat who has her mouthy moments, but really, a doormat. I didn't realize she was in it, since I'd checked it out as a result of liking Kang in Jeon Woochi, or I never would've downloaded. I mean, she seems perfectly nice, but her taste in projects seems to be pretty consistent, and almost always storylines I end up finding repulsively sexist.
- Sapuri (Japan, 2006)
Office drama, but with successful career woman who isn't treated like an emotional dishrag -- though she does get the usual treatment that assumes she must be emotionally stunted if she's so successful at work. Y'know, like she must be clueless about "getting a guy" or she'd be, like, married already. Problem is that the story actually (surprising, for the genre) wraps up the OTP at the story midpoint... and all the chemistry/tension just goes right out of the story. I got bored.
- Goemon (Japan, 2009)
Oh holy culture commentary, it really is possible to utterly self-essentialize via the patterns and representations of a dominant Other's orientalization. Really, I had to check the film's credits several times to make sure this wasn't some big-hit no-name production-line Hollywood director's "vision" of Japan during some unnamed and unspecified "historical" time period. Anachronisms and inconsistencies and just plain WTFery, all over the place, combined with a completely nonsensical plot (plot? do we need that when we have SPECIAL EFFECTS? no!!) and someone having just a little too much fun at the editing station for those overdone and cliched speed-up-freeze-slow-down-speed-up shots. When you can see the editing/camera-work being used in freaking car commercials, it's really past time to retire that gimmick.
- Ōoku: The Inner Chambers (Japan, 2010)
I wanted to like this. I really wanted to like this. But I think I need a much better grasp on the real history before I can tackle an alternate-history that doesn't really explain itself all that well.
- Death Note Movies (Japan)
No, I have no idea why I even tried to watch these. Probably for Todou Erika, since I think she's awesome -- and she tried to make her character worthwhile, but it was pretty obvious that ain't nothing was going to save the character, no matter how hard she tried. The script was just that sexist and idiotic, not to mention convoluted and utterly lacking anything remotely like earth logic. But I give the main actors props for at least trying.