My God, My God, Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me? (Eri Eri rema sabakutani) (2005) • Japan

This is an extremely slow paced art-house flick punctuated with lots of found object music and noise rock, so depending on your taste in the art of noise you may or may not like it. I was fascinated by much of the found object stuff, especially the vacuum hose contraption built on an umbrella skeleton and attached to a fan motor, but the overdriven guitar wanking didn't thrill me much. I'm sure it was a near nirvana experience for many folks to see Japanese indie icon Tadanobu Asano, his hair blowing Fabio-iously in the breeze, standing on a hillside letting loose on six strings and four giant stacks of loudspeakers in an attempt to cure Aoi Miyazaki of her suicidal tendencies.

The story is a cute apocalyptic one: it's 2015 and a deadly virus is sweeping the population, causing those infected to become extremely depressed and ultimately commit suicide. The atonal music practiced by Asano and his partner appears to be an antidote to the disease. Music can save the world, ya know. A rich old man tries to persuade Asano, whose musical partner had the disease but committed suicide anyway (for dramatic effect), to jam for his infected granddaughter.

The story is told in typical Aoyama fashion: slowly. I never really felt enough of a connection to the characters to enjoy seeing them get into a vehicle and drive along some seaside road for an extended period of time. Nor was I particularly engaged by the scenes of them sitting there thinking for extended periods of time. This kind of direction is meant to give the audience a breather, a moment to relflect on the characters and on their own feelings with regards to what they are experiencing. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. I loved Aoyama's Eureka but this one didn't move me much. Fans of art-house noise rock, or whatever you want to call it, might find something to enjoy here, and fans of art-house films who aren't put off by loud noises might like it too. Just know going in that it's slow and loud.


Director: Shinji Aoyama
Starring: Tadanobu Asano, Aoi Miyazaki, Mariko Okada, Masaya Nakahara, Yasutaka Tsutsui


Rules of Dating (Yeonae-ui mokjeok) (2005) • South Korea

This film has appalling sexual politics. A repugnant womanizer rapes a student teacher he is supervising. The act serves as an introduction to his playboy technique. We know the two parties involved are going to end up together because this is a film about them. It's about power and the rules of dating. The guy never redeems himself and the girl appears to hate the man but sleeps with him voluntarily anyway, as a sort of challenge to see if she can regain power. Hye-jeong Kang is equally mesmerizing and frustrating as the messed up girl with baggage galore, but the guy is a complete ass. He gets it in the end but it is a painful trip. I can't believe this movie tells the story it does, and to flamenco music no less. The poster is as misleading as the music. Weird, uncomfortable film. Recommended.


My Wife got Married (A-nae-ga kyeol-hon-haet-da) [2008] • South Korea

I think it's a sign of real talent when a director can take an implausible scenario and stifle any objections to it simply by making it fun, not to mention plausible. This is a film, nominally, about bigamy with the added twist that the bigamist is a woman. But that's just the schtick. It's really just another film about a man's obsessive desire for a beautiful, care-free, intelligent, independent, quirky, sexually confident, and slightly crazy woman. Ritual, La Belle, Interview, Green Tea. The list of films like this, with variations on the theme, is endless. Every guy who didn't get and stay faithfully married at eighteen knows a woman like this and every woman knows this power. The setup doesn't require exposition, just a good actress. Son Ye-jin fills the role here admirably. She's a paradigm of contemporary Korean actresses: beautiful, sexy and seductive, successful, yet pure and nice, innocent and wholesome, almost virginal, all at once.

This isn't a deep or thoughtful film. It doesn't mine the character's motivations or history in search of discovery or enlightenment. It just plays things out. When the first husband asks Son's character how she can divide her love between two men she responds, "I don't think of it as dividing. It's doubling." How do you respond to that? You can't. Well you can, but you'd be out on the doorstep in no time if you did. When she declares to her first husband that there is another man in her life but she was afraid to tell him because she thought he would think she was crazy, she's telling the truth. She didn't want to upset a man she loves. Sure, the first husband is sort of a wimp but that's what happens when an angel drains your soul. He cries and tries to find strength, and it's funny watching him fail.

Don't go into this looking for social commentary or deep thoughts on the complicated nature of modern romance. It's just a Rom-Com with a delicious performance from Son Ye-jin. If you like her, and the broad theme doesn't morally prevent you from watching it, you should enjoy this film. It ultimately stays on the safe side of the road and only hints at being risqué, such as when Son Ye-jin fulfills her first husband's sexual fantasy of performing oral sex on him and keeping his penis in her mouth until he wakes up in the morning. Son Ye-jin!


Director: Yun-su Jeon
Starring: Ye-jin Son, Ju-hyuk Kim, Sang-wook Joo, Seong-hun Cheon


Nightmare (Gawi) Horror Game Movie [2000] • South Korea

Ha Ji-won is fabulous here, playing a Korean JHGC (J-Horror Goth Chick) with bangs and neatly combed hair. Just a little black around the eyes and she's as creepy as they come. And quite beautiful too. In fact, the only redeeming quality of this attempt to jump on the I Know What You Did Last Summer style of horror bandwagon is that all the female players are gorgeous. And they do a fine job acting. Beyond that, compliments are hard to muster.

I hesitate to single out someone for deep ridicule but the guy who plays the lawyer in this flick, his acting is so bad it's painful. He ruins the film. Well, a script that is convoluted beyond repair doesn't help but if it was the script alone it wouldn't be painful. There's an inverse relationship between the film's cohesion and the level of badness to this guy's acting. As the film falls apart, making suspension of disbelief nearly unattainable, this guy gets more screen time and becomes more obnoxious. By the time the third act rolls around it's a chore not to hit the eject button.

There are buckets and buckets of blood spilled and some of the kills are pretty good, and, much to my surprise as it's unusual in Korean cinema featuring young starlets, there's brief nudity, Ha Ji-won included. So it's got the ingredients. They're just not stirred very well. A group of friends, boys and girls, belong to an organization called "A Few Good Men". They (accidentally?) kill one of their members and try to cover it up by faking it as a suicide. The one who got killed is bummed out by it so she comes back and starts killing the members of the club, one by one. Good thing one of the members is a videographer and gets all of it on tape. Also a good thing that no one else in the community seems aware of all the bloodshed ... but I digress. The hilarious thing about this videotape is that it is magically done in third-person, if you will. Several times all of the characters are actually in the video. And the guy with the camera, just after assisting with pushing the deceased off a rooftop in the attempted fake suicide, flies out into mid-air, and even does a pull back, so we get a good view of the body going down and eventually landing on the roof of a car. I know this can be explained by security cameras, editing, and artistic license to splice in other people's points of view, but it's still hilarious when you watch it.

All in all there is some enjoyment to be had from watching a handful of attractive young Koreans go through the horror motions, but I can pretty much guarantee you will be groaning and moaning and pointing fingers and poking fun at this flick before it's over.

Director: Byeong-ki Ahn
Starring: Gyu-ri Kim, Ji-won Ha, Jeong-yun Choi, Ji-tae Yu, Hyeon-suk Yun, Jun-Sang Yu, Jun Jeong, Hye-yeong Jo


Gu Gu, the Cat (Gou-Gou datte neko de aru) [2008] • Japan

Major misfire. What on earth is Marty Friedman doing in this movie? First of all, this flick has very little to do with, and gives very little screen time to, cats. When the little felines do get a moment in the spotlight it is usually accompanied by some silly video game sound effects. To what end, I cannot fathom. Just like Marty Friedman. The ex-Megadeath guitarist plays an English teacher who has nothing to do with anything except looking like a cross between Kenny G and a beardless Harry Shearer as Derek Smalls in This is Spinal Tap. He acts as a narrator of sorts in the film and breaks the fourth wall when acting as a guide to various hot spots around the trendy Kichijoji neighborhood. Why he is doing any of this in the film, I don't know. Perhaps it is some sleight of hand trying to take our attention away from the three fat girls in the movie who serve no purpose except being the brunt of fat jokes. How lame is that?

There is one sort of take-your-breath-away moment in the film when Suzuka Ohgo, who played the blue-eyed little girl in Memoirs of a Geisha, shows up as the human incarnation of the main character's dead cat. She is sitting in the shadows at a table for quite some time as if, since she is playing a dead cat, we are not going to ever see who she is or what she looks like. When the camera finally acknowledges her face ... oh my, the girl is maturing nicely. Beautiful smile.

I like Kyôko Koizumi quite a bit, and she does her best, although sullenly so, as the main character who gets depressed when her cat Ca Va (the one later played by Suzuka Ohgo) dies. Juri Ueno's character is much more appealing. She actually gives the film hope as she tries to cheer up Koizumi and the movie. Koizumi finally gets a new cat, Gu Gu, but then she gets cancer and blah blah blah.

This film is a real dud. It felt like the only people who might remotely enjoy the silly set piece antics would be the people who made the film. It comes off as an inside joke we are on the outside of. I'm a cat person and had high hopes for this film after absolutely loving the director's Josee, the Tiger and the Fish. But, nope. There's nothing here.

Director: Isshin Inudou
Starring: Kyôko Koizumi, Denden, Juri Ueno, Marty Friedman, Naojirô Hayashi, Tatsuya Isaka, Ryo Kase, Suzuka Ohgo


Not One Less (Yi ge dou bu neng shaocom) [1999] • China

Somehow thirteen year old Wei Minzhi, who appears unable to act her way out of a paper bag, turns in the performance of a lifetime. Blushing, awkward body language, a drifting gaze, and a pre-adolescent thespian's grasp of dialog pacing, filmed docu-realistically, come together to create the most endearing character I've seen in a long time. The film employs nonprofessional actors throughout, mostly children, to amazing effect. It's painful to think that this film portrays a reality of rural China so the story all by itself will probably make you cry. Seeing the story presented by a cast of real people makes it all the more powerful. The stubborn persistence of Wei's character, at first unrealistic, becomes poetic and inspiring. She has been tasked, as the substitute teacher in a rural village school, with delivering the class intact to the school master when he returns, Not One (student) Less. When one of the students leaves the school to find work in the city she follows him and tries to bring him back. The village scenes paint a harrowingly sad portrait of life there and the city scenes illustrate the divide between the two worlds. The ending might seem contrived but if ever there was a story that deserved a happy ending it's this one. A remarkable film.


Director: Yimou Zhang
Starring: Minzhi Wei, Huike Zhang, Zhenda Tian, Enman Gao, Zhimei Sun


Breathless (Ddongpari) [2009] • South Korea

This little blurb will contain spoilers but it doesn't really need them because the film was rotten before I got here. I can't imagine how anyone could enjoy, let alone step away and appreciate, a film like this. It's ninety minutes of name calling punctuated by ass-kicking. It may not be fair to criticize subtitled translations of name calling but the word choices are terribly redundant and unimaginative. The ass-kicking was mostly just off camera so I give it points for that. The story, however, and character development, get zero points.

Breathless tells the story of the cycle of violence: that kids who grow up watching their fathers beat the crap out of their mothers grow up to beat the crap out of people too. Then somebody comes along and beats the crap out of them. In the first fifteen minutes of this film the main character spits on two women and hits them in the face. The second of the two women is a high school girl and she gets hit hard enough it knocks her unconscious. She wakes up and responds to the beating like some sort of pick-up line because, guess what? She's also grown up watching her father beat the crap out of her mother. So the two of them form a friendship.

The high school girl has a brother who, since he's also grown up watching his father beat the crap out of his mother, has to do some ass-kicking himself. He picks on his sister a bit and ultimately takes a job that leads to his kicking the ass of the main ass-kicker. Is it really going to spoil it to say that this ass-kicking of the ass-kicker is fatal? I mean, can't you see that coming a mile away?

In the end, the cycle continues. Yes, we all know this story, but we know the stories ahead of time of many of the movies we love. The trick is to create characters we care about and tell the story in some imaginative way. This film doesn't do that.

Director: Yang Ik-Joon
Starring: Yang Ik-Joon, Kot-bi Kim, Man-shik Jeong, Lee Hwan


In Love We Trust (Zuo you) [2007] • China

Check this scenario: a divorced couple learns that the only way to save the life of their little daughter Hehe (that's her name, I'm not inserting a chuckle), who suffers from a blood disease, is to have another child. But both of them have remarried. Do they do it? Do they do it in secret? Can they do it?

No surprise to learn director Xiaoshuai Wang studied painting before becoming a director. This is a marvelously composed film. The screenplay is brutal sharp with one large unnecessary gimmick toward the end. I'm glad this theme was done art-house and not commercial melodrama, which it could easily be. The four main performers are solid and compelling, with lots of shots of faces on bodies doing nothing but carrying burden within. And they all pull it off. You'll have lots to talk about after watching this.


Director: Xiaoshuai Wang
Starring: Jia-yi Zhang, Nan Yu, Taisheng Chen, Yuan Tian, Yuanyuan Gao

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