With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013
With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

Saturday, June 23, 2007

ACF 035: More on "Hula Girls"

Kimiko (actress Yu Aoi)

Since Hula Girls (Hula Garu) is about to be screened in several locales, I want to give it a well-deserved second look and to put out some additional thoughts and observations that I didn't include in my review in ACF 023.

Briefly, the film is based on the true story of Iwaki, a coal mining town along the coast and north of Tokyo. In the 1960s, as the Japan's coal industry floundered, the mining company turned to the town's hot springs, its only other natural resource, to create a Hawaii-themed spa. More than anything else, the success of this project depended on local women learning how to become hula dancers, something totally alien to them . Yu Aida portrays Kimiko, who came to be the star dancer and leader of the group.

While some locals supported the endeavor, most did not, at least not initially. The miners union was opposed because the spa was projected to produce far fewer jobs than were going to be lost as the mine operations diminished. Kimiko's widowed mother, works for the mining company and regards her daughter's participation as a betrayal.

Given the importance of traditional Japanese values of loyalty , it was incredibly brave for these women, almost all of them very young, not only to attempt something so foreign and challenging as hula dancing, but to do so in opposition to many family members, friends, and neighbors.

This comes across clear and strong in the film, but was also reinforced by director Sang-il Lee in a question and answer section after the screening I attended. In the film, the father of one of the dancers is fired and takes his family to a coal mining town further to the north, where there was still work. However, the mine there eventually failed and that town went bankrupt. The same fate likely would have befallen Iwaki had it not been for the success of the spa, which simply would not have occurred without the hula dancers. In short, Hula Girl power saved the town!

There are perhaps two or three places where the film borders on sentimentality. For example, in the scene when the dancer leaves with her family to go north, she and Kimiko keep calling out "See ya" to one another perhaps a bit too often. But this is a subjective call, and in any case does not seriously impact the high quality of the story telling.

Director Sang-il Lee is a 33 year old ethnic Korean who was born and raised in Japan. After graduating from college with a degree in economics, he attended the film school founded by Shohei Imamura. Hula Girls is his fifth film, and while it's a fascinating and solid offering overall, there are places where it's absolutely brilliant. Not wanting to give anything away, I'll just say there's one scene concerning a dancer, who's been mistreated by her father, that is absolutely harrowing. This smoothly transitions into a rather comical effort to bring the offender to justice.

Hula Girls gets a 3.5 out of 4 star ACF rating (very highly recommended).

Hula Girls
will be screened twice at the New York Asian Film Festival 2007. Click on the Subway Cinema link below for show times and further info.

The film's theatrical release will start Friday, July 13th, 2007, at the ImaginAsian, New York's premiere Asian American theater, and at the Facets Cinematheque in Chicago. It will subsequently open in Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Info about the screenings in these cities will be coming soon to the Hula Girls film website, link below.

Whether or not you get to see the film in a theater, make note that Viz Pictures, the live-action film affiliate of Viz Media LLC, is scheduled to release the DVD in November, 2007. AsianCineFest will try to provide you with an advance review of that release.

Hula Girls - Subway Cinema, Hula Girls film website, trailer (YouTube, no subtitles), IMDb
Sang-il Lee, director - IMDb
Yu Aoi, actress (Kimiko Tanikawa) - IMDb

Thursday, June 21, 2007

ACF 034: Aachi & Ssipak

Aachi & Ssipak / Achi-wa ssipak
(Korea 2006)
New York Premiere
A New York Asian Film Festival 2007
Preview Review

In the future, according to this fantastic and fabulous Korean anime, all normal energy resources have been depleted. Fortunately, a means has been developed to harness energy from human excrement - shit, crap, ca-ca, Number 2, or whatever you care to call it.

Every human is equipped with an anus ring that calculates the quantity of each dump. Based on their output, citizens in return receive highly addictive Juicy Bars. Unfortunately, this has produced a sub-race of small blue-skinned mutants who are no longer able to shit. Highly addicted to the bars, but unable to obtain them legally, they have banned together as the Diaper Gang (named after the white clothes on their heads) to steal all the Juicy Bars they can.

Criminal elements, both gangs and freelancers, also try to grab the bars, so they can be sold on the black market. Aachi, short and red haired, and Ssipak, tall and bald, are two motorcycle riding independents who endeavor to obtain whatever share of the action they can.

Lady luck appears on the scene in the form of Beauty, a blue- haired and blue-lipped bodacious babe and would-be starlet. She's become the unwilling recipient of a super anus ring that results in her producing prodigious shits.
These in turn generate huge quantities of Juicy Bars that Aachi & Ssipak sell for mucho dinero on the black market. Soon the two punks are doing battle with a rival gang, the Diaper dudes, and a super government cop for the control of Beauty's means of production. 

Jo Beom-jin both wrote and directed this hilarious film, and it's his first! The beginning references the Mad Max films, and the incredible action sequence near the end cribs from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. In between there are clear intimations of the Alien films and of John Woo's work, especially the iconic bannister scene from Hard Boiled. I imagine that there are others that I've missed. 

Aachi & Ssipak gets a 4 out of 4 star ACF rating (highest recommendation, but in this case only for mature viewers not offended by scat and extreme animated violence)

For further information and showtimes, click on the film's Subway Cinema link below.
Aachi and Ssipak - Subway Cinema, imdb
Jo Beom-jin, director and co-writer - imdb

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

ACF 033: Zebraman

(Japan 2004)
US Premiere
A New York Asian Film Festival 2007
Preview Review

Zebraman battles Crab Man!
Shin'ichi Ichikawa (actor Sho Aikawa whose numerous film credits include Pulse and the Dead or Alive trilogy) is a new teacher at a junior high school in Yokohama. His students and fellow faculty members are not particularly respectful. And things aren't better at home. His wife comes home late every night, having done things we can only speculate about. His oldest child is a daughter who earns money by letting men look at her panties. And his young son, the target of bullying at school because of his father's position, resents him.
Ichikawa's one joy is putting on his self-made Zebraman costume and fantasizing about being the TV superhero who defended Earth from evil alien invaders and whose show was cancelled years ago after only seven episodes. One day he discovers that a new transfer student, wheelchair-bound Shinpei Asano, is also a big fan of the character . A bond develops between the two of them, which turns out to be most fortuitous.
See, there are these tiny green-bodied aliens with big heads living under the stage of the school. They're from a ship that crashed nearby 34 years earlier. (The film's story takes place in 2010, the same year in which the Zebraman TV shows were set.) And these creatures are taking over human bodies!
Ichikawa, wearing his Zebraman outfit, one fine day encounters Crabman, one of those who have been possessed by an alien creature. In battling him, Ichikawa discovers that he's acquired real Zebraman superpowers! But it'll take the brave example of Asano to give him the faith and confidence to "believe in his dreams" and to face the big boss alien in the film's climax.
Zebraman was directed by the prolific Takashi Miike. The first of his films that I saw was Ichi the Killer (2001) and boy was I blown away by it! Subsequently I've seen Visitor Q (also 2001), and Audition (1999). This film is quite different in tone, to say the least. It's a sweet little paen to the power of fanboy devotion.
Zebraman gets a 2.5 stars out of 4 ACF rating (recommended especially for fans of the genre, director or star, but others might very well enjoy it also. )
For further info and showtimes, click on the film's Subway Cinema link below.

Zebraman - Subway Cinema, imdb
Takashi Miike, director - imdb
Sho Aikawa, actor (Shin'ichi Ichikawa/Zeburaman) - imdb

Sunday, June 17, 2007

ACF 032: The Show Must Go On

The Show Must Go On / Uahan segye
(Korea 2007)
North American PremiereA New York Asian Film Festival 2007
Preview Review

Kang In-gu is a regular sort of guy.

He's got a wife named Mi-ryung, two kids, and a crummy apartment with water pressure that often fails. He tries to do right by his family. He supports his older child, his son Min-chul, who is in college in Canada. When his daughter Hee-soon has trouble in high school, he goes with his wife to a conference his daughter's teacher has requested. He's looking for a new and better place to move to, one with lots of water pressure.

And, of course, he's got a job.

Only his job is that of a gangster, a member of the Dogs gang headed by Boss Roh. When he gets the Dae-chang apartment building contract, by forcefully getting a Mr. Paek to sign the contract, his fortune should take a significant turn for the better.

Instead, Boss Roh's brother Sang-jin, who resents his brother's high opinion of In-gu , gets even more jealous and vindictive. The Jaguars, a rival gang headed by In-gu's brother Hyun-su, are not happy about being shut out of the deal. And some tough-ass construction workers at the apartment building site decide to go on strike unless they get what they consider their fair taste of the action.

The film starts out as a mixture of comedy and drama. At about the film's mid-point In-gu gets attacked at a convenience store and brought in by the police for questioning. From here on the comedy all but disappears, as In-gu has to face some serious developments. These include finding out who tried to have him whacked and whether it's worth staying in the game and risking further injury and arrests.

Han Jae-rim helmed this fine combination of gangster film, family drama, and character study. He shows tremendous story-telling mastery considering that this is only his second film. Actually maybe not that surprising when one considers that Rules of Dating [2005], his first film, won South Korea film industry Grand Bell Award in 2006.

Song Kang-ho is fantastic as the beleaguered Kang In-gu. He's been in such recent films as The Host [2006], Sympathy for Lady Vengeance [2005], Sympathy for Mr Vengeance [2002], and J.S.A.: Joint Security Area [2000], and Shiri [1999].,

The Show Must Go On gets a 3.5 out of 4 star ACF rating [highly recommended].

For further info and showtimes, click on the film's Subway Cinema link below.

The Show Must Go On - NYAFF Site; imdb [Note that the imdb entry is paltry and does not include the film's English title, probably because the film is so new. Also the names of some characters are spelled differently than in the film's subtitles.]
Han Jae-rim, director - imdb
Song Kang-ho, actor (Kang In-goo) - imdb

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

ACF 031: Japan Cuts

[Desu noto: The last name]
2006, directed by Shusuke Kaneko

This is the follow-up to the same director's Death Note [Desu noto], also 2006. Both films are about a people's hero named Kira who kills off criminals and corrupt politicians, only in the sequel a Kira II appears, doubling the mayhem and the difficulties for detective L, who seeks to discover the hero-murderer's identity.

[Ichijiku no kao]
2006, directed by Kaori Momoi

This film marks the directorial and writing debut of actress Kaori Momoi (she had a small role as Chiyo's mother in Memoirs of a Geisha). She also stars as the frantic mother and devoted wife of the Kadowaki family, whose garden contains the titular tree that watches over the events that befall the family members.

This year's Asian film festival frenzy is fast approaching. As I've already noted in ACF 028 (May 20, 2007) , The New York Asian Film Festival 2007 starts on June 22nd and runs through July 8th at the IFC Center. The last films of that festival will be doing "double-duty," since they will be screened at Japan Society as the start of its Japan Cuts film series beginning July 5th.

Japan Cuts will mark the Society's first large-scale festival of new Japanese film and will run through July 15th. The "Long Cuts" portion will feature over 15 U.S. or New York premieres of feature length films. The "Short Cuts" section will be presented free to the public and will showcase dozens of short films from Japan's foremost independent filmmakers and video artists. And there's more, including a family-friendly free outdoor screening. Over 80 films all told!

If you're in New York, you must make it to some of these fantastic screenings. If you're not here, use the links below to at least learn about some of the great films that have recently come out of Asia.

Japan Cuts
New York Asian Film Festival 2007 - showtimes recently posted!!!!! Also, when you go to the info page for each movie, there is a link to the film's trailer on YouTube, if one is available.
NYAFF 2007 Official Festival Trailer - don't miss this!!!!!

Monday, June 11, 2007

ACF 030: Eagle vs Shark

Jarrod (Jemaine Clement) and Lily (Loren Horsley)

"Some people don't even have a sleeping bag" - Lily

As you can tell from the pictures above, Eagle vs Shark is not a nature documentary about the relative strengths of the solitary predators who rule the skies and the seas. It's a terrific 2006 romantic comedy from New Zealand that'll soon be playing in the U.S.

But it's a rom-com unlike any I've ever seen, the two main characters being total odd balls and misfits. They're types that are typically regarded as total losers.

Lily (the fantastic Loren Horsley) is a cashier at a fast food burger joint. Each workday she waits for Jarrod (Jemaine Clement) to come for lunch at his regular time. He's a salesman at a video game store, and she'll do whatever is necessary to keep her register free so she can take his order. She sees something in him and pursues him shamelessly.

This leads her to show up uninvited to his "come as your favorite animal" party, where she proceeds to defeat all the other challengers in a video game that looks like an old 2-D Mortal Kombat, but with player faces superimposed on the normal characters. When she faces Jarrod, the reigning champion, in the final however, all she can do is look at him adoringly. Meanwhile, he pulverizes her character, totally oblivious to the fact that she's not doing anything in response. Talk about clueless!

And yet, primal urges exist even in such as Jarrod, and the two have sex. They then go off to his hometown where he expects to realize a ten year old dream of having revenge on a bully from high school. (One of his delusions is his belief that mastery of video game combat readily translates into real world fighting.) Here we'll meet his largely dysfunctional family, and gain some insight into his behavior, which includes some reprehensible treatment of Lily.

Despite all that Jarrod dumps on her, she never becomes bitter or nasty in response. Late in the movie in a scene that struck me as a variation of the ending of The Graduate, and with one word from Jarrad, it seems that she just might have been right about him all along.

The film is written and directed by Taika Waititi. His short film Two Cars, One Night garnered an Oscar nom for Best Live Action Short. He's the first person to be invited to develop two projects at the Sundance Director's and Screenwriter's Lab. Eagle vs Shark came out of the second project and earned Waititi the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival award for best screenplay.

Jemaine Clement appeared in a series of Outback Steakhouse ads that first appeared during Super Bowl XL. He's half of the comedy duo Flight of the Conchords ("New Zealand's 4th most popular folk parody duo") that appeared on HBO's "One Night Stand". The Conchords' own half-hour show is set to premiere on HBO on June 17th. Jemaine's deadpan delivery is spot-on perfect for the out of touch character he portrays here.

As for Loren Horsley, I can't adequately praise her without shamelessly gushing. She'd developed the Lily character, a case study of awkward and embarrassing experiences, on her own, then work-shopped it with Waititi. Fans of Xena Warrior Princess and Young Hercules may recognize her from guest roles in those shows. Based on her performance in this film, I think she ought to be declared a "living treasure" in New Zealand.

Eagle vs Shark is a touching, heart-rendering, and skewed comedy. It will leave you convinced of the power of pure love. An Icon Miramax Films release here in the states, it's slated to open in select cities June 15th, 2007. Check your local papers or the official film site link below.

Eagle vs Shark - official site; imdb
Taika Cohen, director - imdb
Loren Hosley, actress (Lily) - imdb
Jemaine Clement , actor (Jarrod) - imdb