A random rundown in mostly chronological order of what I've watched in, uhm, the last 6mos or thereabouts.
- Sorry for the City (Korea, 2009)
Veers between slapstick, parody, and mildly dramatic, where "drama" is mostly just a setup for "more extreme parody". I think it's even supposed to be a remake of a HK movie, but I'm not sure if the original version was also a parody, or if this remake is a parody of an otherwise serious movie. Because there is a serious plotline hiding in here, except in this case it's completely milked for its ridiculousness. The traffic cop scenes had me in stitches.
- A Good Day to Have an Affair (Korea, 2007)
Supposedly one of the rare (if only) Korean films that casts adultery in a sympathetic, even humorous, light. I was willing to watch just for getting to see two female protagonists have some kind of agency (even if it's still on the level of "who she choose to love/fsck"), but I couldn't put up with the sexist pig who ends up being one of the Other Man characters. I wanted to smack her & tell her that if she's going to cheat on a good man, she could at least do it with someone who treats her better than a self-entitled privileged hormonally-driven spoiled man-child. (Although Lee Min-Ki was adorable as the baffled, inexperienced but way enthusiastic, totally transparent college student turned lover.)
- Protege (Hong Kong, 2007)
I really wanted to like this, because it should've hit all my buttons (same set that got hit by TBDAW)... but it was just plain dull. It tried too hard to be gritty and intense and, I don't know, thoughtful or something, but it just plain dragged. And I saw nothing of a kind of personal stake to make me really sympathize with the protagonist. Either he was phoning in his acting, or his character really was supposed to see it all as "part of the job" -- and if the character's not excited, then why should I be?
- Fly Daddy Fly (Korea, 2006)
Reviewed this more in-depth; check the backlogs.
- Hotaru no Hikari (Japan, 2007)
I really love Ayase Haruka, but she's got to start picking more intelligent roles. (She does, but I think this was an earlier series for her.) I think I barely made it to the second episode, and this is only a 10 episode series -- but when the so-called romantic lead is a stuck-up, spoiled, self-centered, conceited, arrogant, demanding, privileged fuck, ain't nothing going to redeem him short of having his head stuck in a bucket of ice water -- and then left there. While the heroine goes on to find self-respect and success, with or without a guy, but certainly without that particular self-centered spoiled asshole.
- Kimi wa Petto (Japan, 2003)
I think I got this one b/c of the talk about the Korean remake, and I couldn't be bothered to track down the original manga. Matsumoto Jun plays a young man who becomes a career woman's pet. Sure, there are issues with the basic notion, but for the most part the story is still highly sympathetic to (and unquestionably valorizes) a career woman's wish to be respected, seen as competent, and successful in her career, without having to sacrifice herself or settle for being a grown man's second mother. The show also bluntly shows the workplace sexism women experience, which startled me. Maybe I've just gotten used to the kdrama (and holly wood) tactic of pretending like it's all fine and there's no sexism here, really! Flawed in some ways, but it doesn't demonize the Other Man, either. Iwaya makes her choice not because she doesn't love him, but because she loves herself enough to choose what's right for her, which I liked.
- Ohitorisama (Japan, 2009)
This is cut from similar cloth as Kimi wa Petto, where it's younger-man and older-(successful)-woman. Except where Matsumoto's character was quite competent (just not at something that's financially stable), the younger-male character in this one is a bleeding heart, idealistic, romantic... incompetent twit. He means well, but he's just plain incompetent. It really doesn't help that Koike Teppei has all the sex appeal of a damn chipmunk -- so cute and helpless that the notion of him, in bed, is just plain laughable. Sure, I appreciate a drama where a woman has agency and success, but I'd still she rather end up with an equal. I quit around ep8. Couldn't take it anymore.
- Guns and Talks (Korea, 2001)
Black comedy in the vein of Pulp Fiction, about four guys who work as hired mercenary-killers. I made it about halfway through, and just wasn't in the mood to keep going. Not sure why. Maybe someday I'll finish it.
- Iris (Korea, 2009)
This was supposed to be the big hit of the kdrama year... and from almost the first frame, I was MST3K'ing it like all get out. Very bad sign. Then I ran into the gendered undertones, especially the inevitable assumption that a woman couldn't be a professional boss/manager of two trained men but would naturally end up falling for at least one of them, and I threw it out the window. We really need to find a way to clone Tsai Yueh Hsun (the director of Black & White) and ship him to Korea and teach 'em how really strong female characters are written. No more of this Secret Garden "she can run a mile so that makes her strong, right?" crap.
- Smile (Japan, 2009)
Another vehicle for Matsumoto Jun, and I think the reason I picked it up was because the protagonist is half-Japanese, half-Filipino, and I wondered whether racism would be addressed, and how. Unfortunately, it was like the story had an idea of where it'd go and end up, but the screenwriter thought it was all really cool, so threw bits and pieces of the story's evolution as some kind of tease... and the first episode ended up feeling so jarring, so schizo, so all-over-the-place that no one got my sympathy. Or my interest. I was too busy trying to figure out wtf was going on, and hung up by the first few seconds of episode 2.
- Kamui The Lone Ninja (Japan, 2009)
It's kinda sad when you figure out a movie's recipe before the opening credits are even done. Take a story that was originally intended as an action-anime, change absolutely nothing, and roll it in Hollywood special-effects. Film that. I mean, when nearly every scene has a direct riff or reference to some shonen anime, I get bored. If it's anime, do it as anime, and give these poor hard-working actors something more worthwhile to do with their time.
- Time Between Dog and Wolf (Korea, 2007)
It's like the awesome show that could've been, if they'd just shot the female protagonist in the second episode. And possibly also the second male lead. And the father-figure. Okay, so it's mostly a series that's great only for all the ways it could've been great.
- Sukiyaki Western Django (Japan, 2007)
Look, Takashi Miike is insane. Genius, but in a crazily-insane way. The movie has a cameo by Tarantino at the start (who also produced it, I think) -- but really, it'd be wrong to see it as Takashi trying to emulate Tarantino, or in any way riding on Tarantino's coattails (except as an intro to Tarantino's cult-hungry audiences who might've otherwise not watched a foreign film). Really, Tarantino is a wannbe Takashi. I'm pretty sure Takashi came first with the crazy over-the-top madness.
- Hot Shot (Taiwan, 2008)
I had no idea going into this that it's really just a pop-idol vehicle that's parodying massive swathes of wuxia... using high school basketball. Really. With names for the special dunking movies, and everything! I can see fans of Prince of Tennis possibly liking this, but since I loathed Prince of Tennis, this series didn't fare much better. Deleted almost immediately. I really like that delete-key, some days.
- City Monkey (China, 2010)
A kid who wants to become a star in Parkour -- in Beijing. But it's also a family drama, about a woman struggling to make ends meet for her family, and her anger at her son's refusal to get a good education and a good job, and his insistence on chasing such dreams. It's also some subtle commentary on a single mother's role, and the issues women face (with a particular contrast of her hotel-workplace's new Japanese overlords, in awesome culture-smash against this petite Chinese woman who is NOT going to smile and scrape and be a doormat). It's a hard film, but a good one, and the parkour is also very well-done.
- A Woman A Gun And A Noodle Shop (China, 2009)
This was directed by Zhang Yimou, who also did Raise the Red Lantern, The Story of Qiu Ju, To Live, Shanghai Triad, The Road Home, Hero, House of Flying Daggers, and Curse of the Golden Flower. (Note: the 2nd and 5th in the list are two of my favorite non-English films.) This time, it's a remake of Blood Simple... and it's crazy-saturated, gorgeous cinematography, rapidfire scattershot dialogue that's deadpan and tongue-in-cheek.
- Love You 10000 Years (Taiwan/Japan, 2010)
Complete fluff, and a fair bit of silly, really a popcorn romance. Just plain fun, although it's a little different to see such a scruffy (and cussing, and smoking) Vic Zhou. Though I do find it rather intriguing how Japanese girls are presented, compared to the Taiwanese female roles -- much more ambitious, adventuresome, and generally more willing to stick up for themselves (and not in the whiney, please-luuuuve-me way).
- The Passage (Taiwan, 2004)
Did a post already with this one. Tone poem, gorgeous film, thoughtful, quiet. Worth watching.
- Secret Love (Korea, 2010)
I have no idea what prompted me to try this one. Once I realized the basic plot (and saw through the stupid fake-outs in the first few minutes), I couldn't take it seriously. Woman falls in love with guy, unaware that guy has twin brother (say what? wouldn't you, like, ask about family if you're planning on marrying?), but guy suddenly falls into coma! Which is melo enough, but when twin brother appears -- having just! miraculously! and so-very-coincidentally! -- just come out of a five-year coma of his own, or whatever -- oi, that's just too much.
- The Untold Scandal (Korea, 2003)
Remake (yet another) of Dangerous Liaisons. Actually a pretty good one -- and says something about the original that it can be adapted into so many different cultures and yet still hold true, as to how human/universal a lot of its themes and behaviors are -- but still. I've seen enough adaptations of this story. Really only worth watching long enough to see Yon-sama, the favored glasses-wearing Nice Young Man, play someone really despicable. (And clearly having fun at it, too.)
- Volcano High (Korea, 2001)
A parody -- well, feels like it -- but one that tries to take itself Very Seriously. Not entirely sure it works, but Jang Hyuk has just enough goofy bleach-blonde charm to make the protagonist fun, even if the plot makes about as much sense as, well. Nothing. Shin Min-Ah provides background eyecandy whose sole value is apparently to stand around, look gorgeously intimidating, and then utterly fail when it's her turn to fight (so of course she can be rescued).
- Rough Cut (Korea, 2008)
This one reminds me, oddly, of the kind of story Altman might do. A genre of its own, with meta upon meta.
- Like a Dream (China, 2009)
I quit in the first ten minutes, when the cat died. Couldn't take that.
- Hear Me (Taiwan, 2009)
Ivy Chen and Michelle Chen (no relation) are really the cores of this film, playing hearing-impaired sisters; the elder (Michelle) is training for the Special Olympics. It's a romance between the younger sister and the son of restaurant owners, but culture-clash between the hearing-world and the non-hearing-world, and also the issues of caretaking and hidden prejudices. It's both a light-hearted & hopeful film, but with an intense and passionate center. By the way: the vast majority of the film is relatively silent, since the actors learned Taiwanese Sign for their roles, and they don't do the usual of "spelling out what they're saying while they sign" -- they sign with a fluidity and grace that does make it look like they'd been speaking/signing for years.
- The Man From Nowhere (Korea, 2010)
Basic action-adventure kick-ass storyline of withdrawn guy is pulled out of withdrawal-ness to save a girl (in this case, a kind of daughter-figure). But it's Kim Sae-ron (as the young girl) who really steals the movie. Some flawless child-actor directing here, or maybe it's just that Won Bin and Kim Sae-ron are that good that they elevate an otherwise pendantic vehicle into something really moving.
- My Little Chef (Japan, 2002)
Okay, I said I'd watch anything with Abe Hiroshi, and I tried... but I already sat through the entirety of Sweet Relationship (Taiwan), and this felt too much like a retread. Or a pre-tread, but with sillier stakes. That, and I was tired of French cuisine being all that. It's good, but does it really deserve multiple dramas of its own? Sheesh.
- Oishii Man (Korea/Japan, 2008)
It's a tone poem, and an amazing one. Understated, with long pauses and silences that reflect and echo (in a way) the protagonist's main issue: he's a singer with Meniere's syndrome. (It's a type of hearing damage that starts with loss of pitch, and gradually eats away at the hearing from there.) He leaves behind his life in noisy Seoul where he fears the constant sounds may be escalating the damage, and travels to isolated Hokkaido in the dead of winter, to hold onto the last bits of sound. The quirky Japanese girl he meets could've been too cutesy or too eccentric, but Ikewaki Chizuru gives her just the right amounts to balance the melancholy, lonely, sadness in Lee Min-Ki's protagonist.