Friday, April 18, 2014


The Railway Man

The Railway Man official site It's no surprise that soldiers may suffer from post traumatic disorder upon coming home from a war. That's true for veterans returned from recent Iraq war and Afghanistan War; it's also true for those fought in Vietnam War and World War II decades ago, especially if one is tortured by the enemy. World War II veteran Eric Lomax, a railway enthusiast who passed away in 2012, was one of these soldiers. He was captured and tortured by the Japanese army and was tormented by the horrific experience even years later. Based on Eric Lomax's memoir of the same name, "The Railway Man" (Australia/UK 2013 | 116 min.) tells the story about his imprisonment by the Japanese Army, its lasting effect on him, and his confrontation with his torturer decades later. Despite an impressive ensemble cast, the film fails to fulfill its ambition to deliver this extraordinary story to the big screen.

During World War II in 1942, when Singapore falls under Japanese's attack, 25,800 British and 18,000 Australian servicemen are captured and imprisoned by the Japanese. A young British telecommunication officer Eric Lomax (Jeremy Irvine) is one of the prisoners of war. The Japanese put them into hard labor under horrific conditions to build the Burma Railway, also called the Death Railway. With a few electronic parts they salvaged, Eric builds a radio to get news about the war from home.

After the Japanese discover the radio, they suspect that Eric is sending out information about the railway construction, although Eric is simply fascinated by the railway which is built in a remote hazardous area. They brutally torture Eric and his fellow soldiers including using water boarding. One of Eric's torturers is a young Japanese interpreter Nagase (Tanroh Ishida).

More than forty years later, Eric (Colin Firth) and his buddy Finlay (Stellan Skarsgård) are still haunted by the imprisonment episode and unable to move on. But they keep the misery to themselves, and remain silent even to Eric's new wife Patti (Nicole Kidman), who Eric met during a train ride. When they discover that Nagase (Hiroyuki Sanada) is still alive and works as a tour guide in Thailand, Eric decides to confront the past and his enemy.

The Railway Man Official Site

By any measure, this is an incredible story. Each of the three parts of Eric's life experience can be explored deeper. Yet, the director Jonathan Teplitzky seems unable to decide what part of the story he wants to focus on. He constantly switches back and forth in time and chops the film into pieces without getting the characters fully developed and integrated. As a result, the film creates two physically and mentally distinct characters even for the same person. That would be fine if the film created a transition process to show a person's transformation or established a viable connection between the young and old. What makes Jeremy Irvine and Colin Firth to be the same Eric Lomax forty years apart? Hardly anything. It's even more so for Nagase—how does a cruel war criminal played by Tanroh Ishida evolve into a gentle old man played by Hiroyuki Sanada?

When it comes to Nicole Kidman's character Patti, it gets worse. She is treated like a visual aid or a prop, simply serving the function of the plot and asking dumb questions like what happened during Eric's imprisonment. Is it really that hard to figure out that Eric was tortured like almost everyone in the hand of the barbaric Japanese army during World War II?

Both Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman must have been given a difficult task which they carry out well in the film. They often appear with teary eyes while the camera slowly circling around them, although it's hard to tell what those tears are for. Perhaps they are simply given the direction to be emotional, so being fine actors, there they are.

When the film rushes into its inconceivable conclusion, regardless how the story played out in the real life, we are left puzzled and surprised. But one thing we can sigh with relief is that Eric Lomax's suffering is finally over.

"The Railway Man," a Weinstein Company release, opens on Friday, April 18, 2014 in San Francisco Bay Area.

Thursday, April 17, 2014


The 57th San Francisco International Film Festival

For the fourth consecutive year, the San Francisco Film Society gets a new executive director. However, year after year, the society's terrific programming team has been consistent in curating excellent world and independent cinema and in presenting the "crown jewel of the society"—the San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF), the longest running film festival in American.

There is no exception this year either. In fact, the festival only looks better, despite a challenging timing sandwiched between the Sundance Film Festival and the Cannes Film Festival.

The 57th San Francisco International Film Festival

The highly anticipated 57th San Francisco International Film Festival will surely delight its audience with a grand showcase of extraordinary films in 40 languages that representing 56 countries. During two weeks period, the festival exhibits 73 narrative features, 28 documentary features, and 7 shorts programs.

The festival opens on April 28 with a thriller "The Two Faces of January" (UK/USA/France 2014 | 97 min.). Two weeks later on May 8, the festival concludes with a drama "Alex of Venice" (USA 2014 | 87 min).

Throughout the SFIFF, besides film screenings, there are also tributes and awards, as well as other Live & On Stage events.

The following is my incomplete recommendations. As always, each film's title is linked to the festival program which has the showtime and venue information. Each film's still image is linked to a film's official Web site if it's available. In random order (and more titles to be added):

  • Bauyr (Little Brother) (Бауыр | Kazakhstan 2013 | in Kazakh| 97 min.)

    With an observant and affectionate lens, Kazakh writer/director Serik Aprimov (Серік Апрымовтың) humorously tells a heartbroken story in "Bauyr," about an innocent boy's survival and his longing for love.

    In a remote small village in Kazakhstan, round eyed adorable Yerkin (Almat Galym) is quite impressive for living by himself as an eight-year-old boy after his mom passed away years ago. Yerkin tells others that his dad is on a business trip and his bigger brother studies in the city. Obviously, some cold hearted villagers take advantage of him. Although he appears to be emotionally strong carrying on his daily routines, he subtly shows his vulnerability deep inside. He is eager for his brother Aidos's return so that he won't appear to be alone without any relatives to protect him.

    When Aidos finally arrives, Yerkin is extremely excited and shower Aidos with his love. He envisions that he will no longer have to live alone again.

    The director Serik Aprimov brilliantly crafts a charming and arresting character Yerkin, terrifically performed by irresistible Almat Galym. At a young age, Yerkin innocently reacts to the people and events surround him simply like a typical 8-year-old. But his effort to please his brother is beyond touching and heartfelt.

    The film's realism style is powerful and effective. Like how Yerkin's world is, the film contains no music. Well, that's the case until the very last shot, when the sound of a harmonic rises. As if a dam's floodgate is lifted, it unleashes all the emotion the film has built up. It's absolutely a stroke of genies by Serik Aprimov.

    Bauyr at the Festival Site

    Go to the list of titles

  • Tamako in Moratorium (もらとりあむタマ子 | Japan 2013 | in Japanese | 78 min)

    Japanese director Nobuhiro Yamashita (山下敦弘) is well known for his entertaining and charming "Linda Linda Linda" (リンダ リンダ リンダ 2005) and "A Gentle Breeze in the Village" (天然コケッコー 2007). In his latest film "Tamako in Moratorium" (もらとりあむタマ子), he once again delights us with likable characters and gentle humors.

    After graduation from college, Tamako (a terrific Atsuko Maeda 前田敦子) returns back to a sleepy small town where her father (Suon Kan 康すおん) owns a sporting goods store. She spends most of her time sleeping, eating, and doing nothing, which her father doesn't seem to mind. But when she finds out that her father maybe dating a school teacher, her moratorium suddenly begins to crumble. With the help from a shy boy Jin (Seiya Ito 伊東清矢), she examines the situation and evaluates her options.

    Like some of his previous films, Nobuhiro Yamashita has a pleasant style in telling his story by closely observing the daily fabric of his enjoyable characters. Seemingly ordinary and non-eventful routines subtly establish the characters that are full of humor and color. His story often sets in a rural town that is soothing and slow paced. In fact, there is only one scene in this film that a car presents.

    I find that Nobuhiro Yamashita's direction style is similar to the masterful Hirokazu Koreeda (是枝 裕和). Both take time to let their characters develop gradually and both are exceptionally skillful in directing child actors. In this film, Seiya Ito hilariously steals many scenes as an awkward school boy Jin.

    This is a lovely film that make you want to repeat its 78 minutes all over again when the credits start to roll.

    Tamako in Moratorium Official Site

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  • Stray Dogs (郊游 | Taiwan/France 2013 | in Chinese | 138 min.)

    Malaysia auteur Tsai Ming-liang (蔡明亮) is well known for his long takes in his films. It shouldn't be a big surprise when his tenth feature "Stray Dogs" opens with a shot of a woman watching two children sleeping that lasts about five minutes. This signature style that everything seems frozen in time gets expanded throughout of the film. At one point later in the film, a shot lasts almost fourteen minutes when hardly anything moves. That could easily divide the audience into two disjoint camps depending on how they react to it.

    Although many details about the film's characters are left unexplained, the main narrative is not hard to follow. Set in Taipei, the film is about a homeless family's dire situation. Tsai's career-long collaborator Lee Kang-sheng (李康生) plays the father of the homeless family with two young children, played by Lee's real life nephew Lee Yi-cheng (李奕䫆) and niece Lee Yi-chieh (李奕婕). While the father stands in the rain as a human bill-board for a real estate development, the two children eat free samples at a supermarket. At night they seek shelter in abandoned houses. As for the identities of the three women who appeared in the film, they can be anyone's guess.

    The film focuses more on the quiet moment and characters' emotion than on the coherent of the narrative. Although the long takes might be challenging for many viewers, they are intriguing and even powerful. For those who appreciate Tsai's works, this film reaffirms Tsai's status as a cinema poet. For those who don't have the patience to wait for the director to cut into his next scene, this film might provoke them to give up on Tsai's film completely. It's your call.

    Stray Dogs at the Festival Site

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  • Harmony Lessons (Асланның сабақтары | Kazakhstan/Germany/France 2013 | 114 min.)

    School bullying is just the backdrop in "Harmony Lessons," a beautiful yet unsettling directorial debut by a talented 29-year-old Kazakh filmmaker Emir Baigazin (Эмир Байғазиннің), who is also the writer and the editor of the film. With elegant visual and impressive performance by non-professional actors, the film terrifically tells a gripping story and takes us to a place we know little.

    That place is a remote rural village in Kazakhstan, where education in the classroom may seem behind the rest of the world, but the school yard culture is not any different from anywhere else—bully is a daily torment to many lower classes and outcasts. Reticent 13-year-old Aslan (Timur Aidarbekov) is one of those who are constantly bullied by a gangster group led by cocky Bolat (Aslan Anarbayev). Although Aslan doesn't quite express his resentment and keeps his emotion to himself, he is intelligent and quite a genius in science. The film superbly builds up the tension and skillfully constructs the layers toward its climax when Aslan takes his revenge.

    The director Emir Baigazin confidently composes his film with memorable characters and striking images. Who would ever forget the electric chair Aslan made from paper clips to torture a cockroach? It's not a child's play. It's a metaphor for how he gets back to the handicapped education system and corrupted police force. He will be the one in charge.

    Emir Baigazin absolutely establishes himself as an emerging filmmaker that deserves the spotlight in Kazakh cinema.

    Harmony Lessons Official Site

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  • Eastern Boys (France 2013 | in French | 128 min.)

    In the opening scene of director Robin Campillo's gripping drama "Eastern Boys", at an angle of a surveillance camera, we see a gang of Eastern European youngsters roam around Gard de Nord, the main train station in Paris. We can immediately sense that they are up for no good, although it's hard to predict what they might do. So does the film's narrative, which takes unexpected turns almost all the way to the end.

    A middle aged business man Daniel (Olivier Rabourdin) is also roaming at the train station looking for his prey. Among the gang, a quiet handsome Ukrainian boy Marek (Kirill Emelyanov) catches Daniel's eyes. Daniel sets up a time for Marek to come to his apartment the next day. However, Daniel gets much more than what he is looking for.

    Daniel is certainly playing with fire when he exploits illegal young immigrants for sex, but he also has a good heart that a trouble young boy can hold on to. For the most part of the film, director Robin Campillo skillfully composes each scene to make them not only captivating but often thrilling. Unfortunately, toward the end of the film, the film loses its firm grip of its storytelling and takes a conventional shortcut. We never get to see the inner transformation process of these characters. That's perhaps why we view them as unpredictable.

    Eastern Boys Official Site

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  • Trap Street (水印街 | China 2013 | in Chinese | 94 min.)

    It's obvious that NSA is not the only one who is secretly spying. In this digital age, no matter where you are, it's almost impossible not to be under some sort of surveillance. Chinese writer/director Vivian Qu's (文晏) impressive directorial debut "Trap Street" tells an enigmatic tale in modern China when secrecy and surveillance collide in a young man's life.

    In the film's opening scene, young Li Qiuming (Lu Yulai 吕聿来) is trained for his new job at a mapping company to survey the fast changing urban streets. Instead of focus on the parameters of the streets, he spots a beautiful young woman Guan Lifen (He Wenchao 何文超) through his equipment. To gain access to his new love interest, Qiuming begins to follow her around and he is led to an unmapped street—the opposite of a so-called trap street which is a fake street that a mapping company intentionally puts on a map to protect its products.

    Never mind Qiuming is savvy about spying himself with a side job as a candid camera installer. His every move, including his romance with Lifen, is closed watched by others.

    The film's first half efficiently pulls us into the mystery surround characters like Qiuming and Lifen. Lu Yulai is terrific playing the sunny protagonist who is naive and romantic. He looks like a selfie of any young men on the streets in contemporary China. Lu Yulai remains to be convincing during the second half of the film despite a plot that becomes less plausible. If Lu Yulai looks familiar, that's because he is an indie darling with "The Red Awn" (红色康拜因 2007) and "Soundless Wind Chime" (无声风铃 2009) listed in his resume. Filmmaker He Wenchao also gives a fine performance as the reserved Lifen.

    Trap Street at Festival Site

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  • Of Horses and Men (Hross í oss | Iceland 2013 | in Icelandic | 81 min.)

    Iceland's submission for last year's Oscar is Benedikt Erlingsson's fantastic directorial debut "Of Horses and Men" which should have been nominated. The film is an exquisite feast on the beauty of animal, human, and nature in an exotic place.

    Set in an isolated and expansive valley, a horse community is sparsely scattered around yet tightly connected. They know each other's business not through social media on the Internet, but by binoculars.

    The film unfolds a few stories that reflect on the fabric of villagers' lives and they are all related to their beautiful horses. It's better not to describe these stories and leave them for you to experience firsthand. They are full of beauty, surprises, humor, and drama.

    The horses are sometimes tamed and sometimes wild, but they always look elegant and handsome. So does the film's cinematography. No matter the camera zooms in to the reflection in a horse's eye, or it swallows the magnificent landscape, the visual is constantly striking and fascinating.

    As if these quirky characters and intriguing horses are not enough to entertain the audience, the film's music score is definitely becomes a character all by itself and adds more dramatic layers to the film's storytelling.

    "Is that for real?" That's the question I asked myself when I first saw the film's still shown here. You should go to see the movie and find out yourself. This rare, original, and strangely funny film is not to be missed. What was the last Icelandic film you saw? Can't name one? That will be another reason for you to see this film, and you might want to move there afterward.

    Of Horses and Men Official Site

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  • Last Weekend (USA 2014 | 94 min.)

    The 57th San Francisco International Film Festival seems to be the perfect choice for the world premiere of irresistibly entertaining and enormously enjoyable "Last Weekend," not only because the film is about a San Francisco family's Labor Day Weekend gathering at their fabulous vacation home in Lake Tahoe, but also because much of film's humor can be appreciated more by San Franciscans.

    The film is superbly written by Tom Dolby and co-directed by Tom Dolby and Tom Williams. Patricia Clarkson gives one of her best performances as the hilarious and complex mother Celia Green, joining with the solid performance by other cast members such as Zachary Booth and Joseph Cross as her two sons.

    Last Weekend at the Festival Site

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  • The Overnighters (USA 2014 | 100 min. | Documentary)

    Worshipers often refer their churches as the house of God. I always wonder why God needs so many houses and keeps their doors locked at night when there are so many people need a shelter. Isn't serving the poor part of what is preached? In director Jesse Moss's compelling documentary "The Overnighters," charismatic Pastor Jay Reinke did just that. Despite the oppositions from local residents and member of his congregation, Rev. Reinke opens the door and the parking lot of Concordia Lutheran Church in Williston, South Dakota. He allows migrant workers, newcomers, and anyone in need to stay overnight. In return, he pays a heavy price.

    Although the year is still young, this intelligent and powerful film is surely to be this year's best documentaries. The Oscar buzz can never be too early to ring.

    The Overnighters Official Site

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The 57th San Francisco International Film Festival takes place April 24 - May 8, 2014 in San Francisco at Sundance Kabuki, New People Cinema, and Castro Theater, in Berkeley at Pacific Film Archive, and other venues around the Bay Area.

Friday, March 21, 2014



Divergent official site If you ever take a personality test, most likely it's for your amusement or entertainment (unless it's a test by Scientology). But what if that test result is similar to a genetic profiling which determines your path for the rest of your life? That test not only doesn't sound fun anymore, it actually becomes terrifying, especially if the result can also mean life and death. That's the scenario in director Neil Burger's unsatisfying "Divergent" (USA 2012 | 142 min.) about a ludicrous survival story in dystopian Chicago. The film is the first installment of a scheduled new sci-fi trilogy that is based on Veronica Roth's young adult novel. Despite a solid lead performance by Shailene Woodley, the film falls short of its expectation. It remains to be seen if this franchise can repeat the magic as "The Hunger Games" does when its sequel catches fire at the box office.

The setup of the plot may seem like the beginning of a bedtime story for a five-year-old which sounds like this: in a postwar era in Chicago, the society is divided into five factions: Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless, and Erudite. Each teenager take a personality test at the age of sixteen and the test result indicates which faction he or she fits the best. Once one joins a faction, the decision is final and no refund or exchange. If the test result is inconclusive, however, the person is called a Divergent who is regarded as a threat to the harmony of the society and must be eliminated.

The film's heroine, a likable girl Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley), is about to take this life shaking personality test. Dressing like Amish people, Beatrice and her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) have been living with his parents Natalie (Ashley Judd) and Andrew (Tony Goldwyn) in the Abnegation faction, but deep inside she always dreams of becoming one of the Dauntless. If you are young, the Dauntless do seem to have their appeal when they dress in black and roaming the streets like a bunch drunk fraternity guys after bars are closed on a Saturday night.

Regardless her troublesome test result, Beatrice joins the Dauntless and begins her new life under a new name—Tris. Led by the inked and pierced mean Eric (Jai Courtney), the brutal training process seems like a never ending hazing cycle for the new recruits in a fraternity. Besides enduring the harsh competitions among the new Dauntless members, Tris must conceal her Divergent identity in order to survive. Even her environment has no privacy, compassion, or humanity in sight, sensitive Tris manages to connect with her handsome commander Four (Theo James) and develops a romantic relationship.

That relationship is proven to be crucial later in the film because it becomes the life line for her survival, as well as for winning the battle over an evil conspiracy by Erudite leader Jeanine Matthews (Kate Winslet).

Divergent Official Site

Although the film belongs to a sci-fi genre in the post-apocalyptic future, the director Neil Burger adds little imagination to the implausible original plot. The film is indeed thrilling, if you are acrophobia, like the bravery Four is. But after repeated shots looking down from a railroad track, the film runs out of tricks. Thus, it let Tris and Four climb to an abandoned roller coaster ride, so they can see further and feel more thrilling by looking down. No kidding. The chair for Tris to sit in to take a test is no different from a dental office. Is it the best the film's production can do?

Like the five factions, many things in the film don't make any sense. For example, when chemical induced personality test takes place and a test person is wired to a computer, unlike the NSA, the computer doesn't collect crucial personal data such as the test result. Even the test finds a potential threat like a Divergent, unlike the TSA, it doesn't alert the authority. Really?

Despite all the flaws in the film, the film stays afloat, thanks to Shailene Woodley, who always has a convincing presence and sympathetic persona on the screen. She can easily become the next Jennifer Lawrence, if she is given a better script and direction. Perhaps her next personality test will take her to a different faction—the one that makes sense.

"Divergent," a Lionsgate and Summit Entertainment release, opens on Friday, March 21, 2014.

Thursday, March 6, 2014


CAAMFest 2014

Featuring film, music, and food, it's the second year after San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (SFIAAFF) evolved into a new identity—CAAMFest, presented by the Center for Asian America Media (CAAM). With a leaner program, CAAMFest continues to provide a platform for exhibiting CAAM's productions, new works by Asian American filmmakers, and contemporary Asian cinema.

CAAMFest 2014

Same as last year, the festival only contains 40 feature-length films. The festival also includes 8 shorts programs, as well as a few musical and foodie events.

While several films from China made big headlines at last month's Berlinale by winning several top prizes, surprisingly, there is only one documentary comes from China at this year's festival—"The Road to Fame" (成名之路), which is terrific and you do not want to miss.

CAAMFest 2014 takes place March 13-23, 2014 in San Francisco at Sundance Kabuki, New People Cinema, Castro Theater, and Great Star Theater, in Berkeley at Pacific Film Archive, and other venues around the Bay Area.

Here are my picks in this year's program. As always, each film's title is linked to the festival program, where you can find the film's showtime and venue information. Each film's still image is linked to a film's official Web site if it's available. In random order :

  • The Road to Fame (成名之路 | China 2013 | in Chinese | 80 min. | Documentary)
  • Zone Pro Site: The Moveable Feast (總舖師 | Taiwan 2013 | in Chinese | 145 min.)
  • Ilo Ilo (爸媽不在家 | Singapore 2013 | in Chinese/English | 99 min.)
  • The Great Passage (舟を編む | Japan 2013 | in Japanese | 133 min.)
  • Cold Eyes (감시자들 | South Korea 2013 | in Korean | 118 min.)
  • Pee Mak (พี่มาก..พระโขนง | Thailand 2013 | in Thai | 115 min.)

  • The Road to Fame (成名之路 | China 2013 | in Chinese | 80 min. | Documentary)

    Being part of the post '80s (80后) generation in China can hardly be a bragging point, partially because the one-child policy makes almost everyone in this generation the crown jewel adored by two parents and four grandparents. They grow up with the mindset that they can have everything they want and they are spoiled with the every resource available. Failure is never an option. If any of them from this generation is admitted into the prestigious Central Academy of Drama (中央戏剧学院), whose notable alumni include Gong Li (巩俐) and Zhang Ziyi (章子怡) and whose admission rate is less than 1%, the lucky one can be regarded as having a bright future and being almost half way to a stardom.

    But, in the rapid changing China, it turns out not to be true anymore. Even as students at the Central Academy of Drama, these impeccably selected ambitious and talented young men and women struggle everyday with their anxiety, doubt, disappointment, reality, and potential fading dreams.

    Once a Bay Area resident, the director Hao Wu's fascinating documentary "The Road to Fame" (成名之路) tells an engaging story about a musical production of a senior class at the Central Academy of Drama. The film provides an intimate snapshot of the mentality among the post-'80s generation through the experience of several in-depth characters.

    As a graduation project, a reproduction of a Broadway musical "Fame," collaborated with an American director, is underway in a senior class at the Central Academy of Drama. Over an eight month period, the film follows the production process from casting to rehearsal, and then to the final performance on stage. It introduces us a group of candid characters with strong personalities, tremendous talents, and high drama.

    The road to the fame seems quite bumpy, even for gifted young men and women inside a prominent institution. Being part of the post-'80s generation only makes matter worse.

    The Road To Fame official site

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  • Zone Pro Site: The Moveable Feast (總舖師 | Taiwan 2013 | in Chinese | 145 min.)

    After a successful run at last fall's Taiwan Film Days presented by San Francisco Film Society, Taiwanese director Chen Yu-hsun (陳玉勳) brings Taiwan street food back to San Francisco in his mouth-watering comedy "Zone Pro Site: The Moveable Feast." (總舖師) The film perfectly reflects one of the main themes of the festival—food, along with Ang Lee's (李安) "Eat Drink Man Woman" (飲食男女 | Taiwan/USA 1994).

    This foodie film blends comedy and melodrama into a giant pot and transcends the aroma through its visual and storytelling. Do not come to this film with an empty stomach.

    Zone Pro Site: The Moveable Feast official site

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  • Ilo Ilo (爸媽不在家 | Singapore 2013 | in Chinese/English | 99 min.)

    Winning this year's Golden Horse Award for Best Picture, Anthony Chen's (陳哲藝) impressive feature directorial debut "Ilo Ilo" (爸媽不在家) gently tells a story about a boy's unlikely bond with his family's Filipino nanny.

    The Asian recession in the late '90s causes tremendous hardship to the middle class, including 10-year-old boy Jiale's (Koh Jia Ler) modest family. Jiale is a trouble maker both at school and at home. Even the money is tight, Jiale's pregnant mom (Yann Yann Yeo) hires a Filipino nanny Terry (Angeli Bayani) to help out and to take care of Jiale. Jiale first resents Terry, but he and Terry gradually grow closer.

    The film realistically displays the culture and daily lives in Singapore and terrifically crafts a few memorable characters. The lead actors deliver a solid performance.

    Ilo Ilo official site

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  • The Great Passage (舟を編む | Japan 2013 | in Japanese | 133 min.)

    Selected as Japan's submission to compete for the Best Foreign Language Film Award at this year's Oscar, Japanese director Yûya Ishii's (石井裕也) old-fashioned drama "The Great Passage" (舟を編む) quietly tells a story about the making of an old fashioned dictionary.

    The film's protagonist is a shy and nerdy linguist Majime (played by Ryûhei Matsuda 松田 龍平, the young boy in "Taboo" (御法度)) who is obviously lousy at selling books. But his opportunity arrives in 1995, when he is spotted by his extrovert coworker Nishioka (Jô Odagiri オダギリ ジョ). He begins to work on a grand new project—compiling a new contemporary dictionary called "The Great Passage" (大渡海) that contains even slangs used by young people. The painstaking dictionary-composing process lasts more than 13 years into 2008 when smart-phones and other portable electronic devices become available at finger tips. Despite being buried in endless words and mountains of papers, Majime's romance with a sushi chef Hayashi (Aoi Miyazaki 宮﨑 あおい) unexpectedly blossoms.

    While the film is satisfying with likable characters for the most part, it often gives a subdued feeling and cries for some excitement. If an omission of a word during the read proof process is considered a dramatic event, the plot might just sound as dull as a dictionary. The word collection process is more comical than convincing.

     The Great Passage official site

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  • Cold Eyes (감시자들 | South Korea 2013 | in Korean | 118 min.)

    Although numerous films have been made about persistent cops chasing bank robberies, this type of films are continued to be told over and over again by changing locations, techniques, spectacles, choreographies, actions, and actors. Or just remake a previous film.

    That's exactly what Korean directors Jo Ui-seok (조의석) and Kim Byung-seo (김병서) did in their last year's South Korean blockbuster "Cold Eyes" (감시자들), a remake of the Hong Kong film "Eye in the Sky" (跟蹤 | Hong Kong 2007).

    It certainly feels incomplete at the festival without watching a dazzling action sequence on the streets of Seoul, and on the giant screen at Castro Theater, no less.

    Cold Eyes official site

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  • Pee Mak (พี่มาก..พระโขนง | Thailand 2013 | in Thai | 115 min.)

    Remember Mario Maurer (มาริโอ้ เมาเร่อ), a heartthrob who is the love interest of a teenage boy in "The Love of Siam" (รักแห่งสยาม | Thailand 2007)? With a stylish new hairdo and blacken teeth, he is returning to the festival in Thai director Banjong Pisanthanakun's (บรรจง ปิสัญธนะกูล) hilarious smashing box-office hit "Pee Mak" (พี่มาก..พระโขนง) which tells a well-know Thai folk tale.

    In the middle 19th century, after fighting in a war, Pee Mak (Mario Maurer) returns home to his wife Nak (Davika Horne ดาวิก้า โฮร์เน) and his new born son. His four best friends Shin, Ter, Aey, and Puak come with him and try to alert Mak that his wife Nak may be a ghost, but Mak remains faithful and hopeful to his love.

    Although this tongue-in-cheek comedy doesn't spoof all the way like the "Scary Movie" (USA 2000) franchise, it never stops poking fun about pretty much everything. Yes, there is ghost in the film, but it only scares the film's characters and generates goofy laughter. The film's over-the-top performance works effectively on providing ample entertainment. However, the film seems running off steam while unfolding the story, in spite of the laugh-out-loud opening scenes.

    Pee Mak official site

    Click here to go back to the list of titles

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