Winamp Logo
LaimingLuo Cover
LaimingLuo Profile


Chinese, Education, 1 season, 171 episodes, 13 hours, 1 minute
一只长得很丑、智力中下、有语言障碍的英语播音员每周很用力才憋出来的影评 需要文稿可以关注微信订阅号:mrweekly 微博:CRI来明
Episode Artwork


"Guonianhao", or Happy New Year, is the worst Chinese film I have ever seen in a cinema. Don't get me wrong, it is not the worst film ever made in this country. Every year, more than 80 percent of lousy films fail to reach the cinemas, and among those that do make it, most are kind enough to show some signs to tip off the discerning audience, for example, an inadequate actress who may have been born with a typical disability to control her facial muscles, a complacent director who has lost touch with the times, or simply an awkward title that betrays the filmmakers' vulgar taste.But "Guonianhao" is different. The title sounds just fine for a movie that was previously scheduled to premiere on the first day of the Year of Monkey. The popular phrase people use to greet each other at this time of year even evokes some warmth of a festive nature from the bottom of our hearts. The cast members look presentable. Skit actor Zhao Benshan, who has appeared on China Central Television's most watched New Year Gala on more than a dozen occasions, is a strong presence related to the festival and therefore should attract those who miss his acrimony. As for Mr. Gao Qunshu, though he may not be my favorite film director, many of my respectful colleagues admire his work telling twisty detective stories on the small screen, and not to mention his weird charisma that seems to have overwhelmed many a seasoned showbiz reporter in my office.All evidence suggests "Guoniaohao" may possess the potential to dominate the box office during the Chinese New Year, and that's why I was completedly taken by surprise. Imagine yourself taking a joyful ride on the back of a lovely steed on a sunny afternoon in the countryside, and suddenly a nasty spider web lands on your face. Your natural response is to get off the horse and rid your face of the ugly critter and its sticky production, but unfortunately the startled horse just keeps galloping on and on into an unchartered territory. That's what happened in my first 15 minutes of "Guonianhao," yet I persisted, against my better judgment, just so to give the film a fair assessment.So now, several days after the traumatic experience, I've calmed down and risen above my initial shock and ensuing anger to tell you about the sin that is "Guonianhao." Impatient viewers may find the cinematography insufficient and the editing sloppy, but further analysis reveals a general lack of coordination or preparation in the filming process. When a director has no idea what to shoot, the editor will have problem plowing through the vast amount of raw materials to form a decent storyline. So every now and then you see the story jumping from Point A to C, and while you wonder about Point B, the film teleports you to Point F.But a scattered narrative with no regard for consistency is the least of the film's many evils. With such meager input of creativity and effort, how do the filmmakers make sure the aggregate of video clips last long enough to count as a movie? Well, they do so by adding bizarre and meaningless episodes. A typical example is a scene where an old man meets a chicken vendor who fancies herself an opera singer. I guess the point is to introduce some humorous flavor while highlighting the lonesome state of the old man, but the attempt landed neither here nor there, all it achieved was making me wonder if I was peeping into the minds of a mental patient.Such surreal and irrelevant episodes abound in the entire film and are often executed by semi-celebrities from China's micro-blogging website Weibo. In the age where ordinary smart phone users have all turned to WeChat and active users of Weibo mostly consist of professionals who major in publicity stunts, Mr. Gao Qunshu's obsession with the website is admirable. I remember a few years ago when he made "Beijing Blues", another inadequate film with a non-story, he also invited many of his best buddies on Weibo to assume different roles in the story.So I think we may have found a pattern here. Mr. Gao may be a charming character in the movie industry, one who is so popular that celebrities flock in support of his film project. But the crown of a social butterfly weighs heavily on Mr. Gao's head and is taking its toll on the quality of the actual film. If a director's priority is to find his buddies a place to fill in his film and let everyone have fun in the process, then there must be enough wiggle room in the script, or there shouldn't be a script at all.If there is a religion that promises me salvation from lousy films such as this, I would much gladly become a willing convert to bask in the glory of responsible and professional filmmaking.
2/4/20166 minutes, 22 seconds
Episode Artwork


Despite competition from more than a dozen Chinese and foreign challengers, Star Wars Episode Seven is still going strong after more than two weeks of hegemony in the Chinese market.Director J. J. Abrams said the key for the film was to return to the roots of the first Star Wars film and be based more on emotion than explanation. That pretty much sums up the most defining characteristics of the film. As the grand re-entry of the epic space opera unfolds on an IMAX screen, I was stunned not so much by the enhanced spectacle as by its similarity to previous Star Wars films.Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill and Peter Mayhew have each come back to reprise their roles in the new episode, even the smuggler’s ship Millennium Falcon is brought back from a scrap yard to take the characters on yet another quest across the universe. Their presence may appeal to loyal fans of the series, but they no longer carry the whole story forward.That task now rests on a group of younger actors and actresses including Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver and Oscar Isaac, who are gathered to breathe new life into this decades-old franchise. That much they did, but they did it while duplicating the acting styles of their predecessors. The stiff way in which they pose and gesticulate before the camera is almost identical to the ways of Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher. This kind of makes you wonder whether teachers of acting classes have updated their syllabus since the 1970s.And the return-to-the-roots scheme continues in the storyline. Remember the Death Star? It is back in “The Force Awakens”, in a much bigger size and with heavier fire power capable of wiping out an entire galaxy at one shot. And guess what happens to this ultimate, ultimate weapon in Episode Seven? It is destroyed by a single X-wing fighter, in the same manner in which Luke Skywalker blew up the First Death Star.And please don’t get me started on the “emotion over explanation” explanation. Of course there is some kind of Greek opera involved when Han Solo confronts his renegade son in Kylo Ren, but that is only a fraction of the whole story and not enough to make up for the lack of common sense for the rest of the film. This is a universe where even small fighter jets possess hyperspace capability, somehow the filmmakers want us to believe our heroes can hack into a complex weapon system the size of a planet by simply pulling and mismatching some fuses. And to think the fate of the universe hinges on the balance of power among people who are strong with the force is preposterous at best.The supernatural concept of “The Force” is most awkward in a fictional world of highly advanced technologies. A world where galaxies can be annihilated in a matter of seconds has no place for knights wielding flashy light-sabers. That’s the biggest loophole in the Star Wars series that has survived in the re-entry, and according to title, it is here to stay for the rest of the serial reboot.
1/29/20164 minutes, 41 seconds
Episode Artwork


In 2015, China&`&s movie industry witnessed progress in almost every aspect of filmmaking. As infrastructure building continued to expand, new box office records were cropping up by the month. The changes in the moviegoing demographic impacted on the genres of films rolling off the production line. Stories that appeal to a wider range of audience in smaller cities saw significant increase in numbers.In the year 2016, the same pattern will most likely continue. Among the movies that have already booked a release date, a large proportion of them fall into the comedy category. At least five will hit Chinese cinemas in the latter half of January alone, but none seems to possess the necessary firepower to trigger a box office explosion. The most promising candidate, according to information available so far, is likely to debut on April 1st in the form of "Chongqing Hot Pot," starring Chen Kun and Bai Baihe.Chen and Bai have each appeared in a movie with more than a billion yuan income in the year 2015, this year they rally under Yang Qing, producer of a previous box office record-holder "Lost in Thailand," to form the formula for an explosion in the market. A slight deviation from the established pattern is, the first day of the lunar new year now becomes a rather coveted spot. Traditionally people have thought of this time of year as an occasion for family reunions and friendly visits, but since 2014 the cinemas have made it into their itineraries. This probably has something to do with young migrant office workers patronizing newly built local cinemas in their hometowns. Their enthusiasm for entertainment in places of limited choices led to cordial reception for many mediocre films that could have remained obscure in a different time.Anyway, today only the most competitive movies occupy the privileged time slots during the Spring Festival, and these include "Mermaid" by Stephen Chow, "The Monkey King 2" by Cheang Pou-Soi, "From Vegas to Macau" by Wang Jing and "Guonianhao" or "Happy New Year" by Gao Qunshu.Stephen Chow is almost a god-fatherly figure among China&`&s young movie fans, his unique humorous style and keen sense of observation provide an amusing perspective in the analysis of humanity, while his fame has guaranteed ample resources at his command in the process of filmmaking. "Mermaid" could be a compelling choice for viewers during the festival, but nonetheless they need to tune down their expectation a bit. Since Mr. Chow has refrained from appearing in his own films, he has not found a worthy substitute actor that can quite imitate his demeanor and style in front of the camera.Two years ago, when director Cheang Pou-Soi promoted "The Monkey King: Havoc in the Heavenly Kingdom," he highlighted the ground-breaking special effects. But in fact the level of special effects did not come close to the level of his boasting. Now, two years have transpired, the filmmakers are once again stressing the special effects in the sequel. I certainly hope they live up to their promise this time, but hoping is all I can do about this one.Wang Jing&`&s "From Vegas to Macau" is also a sequel, according to Mr. Wang&`&s previous track record and the performance of two prequels, there may not be any surprises, pleasant or unpleasant. The size of this film&`&s income will most likely be proportionate to the size of total box office income during the festival season.Director Gao Qunshu has always been quite proficient at speculating what the viewers want, but his recent outings indicate he may not be as proficient at delivering it. This year he joins hands with popular skit actor Zhao Benshan in "Guonianhao". The latter has repeatedly appeared on China Central Television&`&s New Year Gala, China&`&s most watched show in the past couple of decades. So Zhao is a strong presence associated with the New Year and therefore may attract people who still bother to watch the gala. By tapping into people&`&s strong feelings about family and tradition, "Guonianhao" could be a strong competitor against Stephen Chow&`&s "Mermaid," and it is going to be an epic battle between modernity and tradition.A lesser competitor, or rather, a more likely casualty in the spring festival season is Chinese science fiction film "Lost in the Pacific." It is a thriller story happening on an intercontinental airliner. The only notable member of the team is Zhang Yuqi, who starred in her ex-husband and director Wang Quan&`&an&`&s drama film "White Deer Plain." And regarding special effects, which many consider the face of science fiction films, the word we are looking for is "crude," as suggested by the posters at the moment. So there is hardly any reason for the film to survive the fierce competition and the best option is to reschedule.But speaking of science fiction, the year 2016 will see more titles being made under that genre. Come July, film adaptation of science fiction novel and Nebula Award winner "The Three-Body Problem" will be released in the cinemas. So far little is known about the adaptation, except for a trailer featuring concept pictures. But the producer of the film Kong Xiangzhao has made some unsettling remarks, saying "The Three-Body Problem" is the greatest science fiction novel by a Chinese writer in decades, centuries or even millennia, so it is only fair to have a Chinese studio handle the adaptation, that way no one will feel regrettable when the project fails.The arrogance of Mr. Kong is fueled by the amount of investment he has secured, but when it comes to resources, no one can quite challenge the status of Zhang Yimou. For decades before hot money even began pouring into China&`&s movie industry, Mr. Zhang has been generous in the graphics of his films. Now he works for one of China&`&s largest private video portals. In 2015, his colleague at LeTV Lu Chuan released adventure film "Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe," a lousy story with stunning visual effects, imagine what Zhang Yimou as a much more influential figure in the industry can deliver in his upcoming science fiction story "The Great Wall."Other phenomenal Chinese movies now scheduled to released in 2016 include "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon II: The Green Destiny," "Cold War II," "Finding Mr. Right II" and "L.O.R.D." But as their titles suggest, a lot of them are going to be sequels following previous successful titles. The trend indicates a significant amount of risk involved in the industry, much like what&`&s going on in Hollywood.
1/20/20168 minutes, 56 seconds
Episode Artwork

老炮儿(斗殴咋就演成了代沟?Or vise versa)

Director Feng Xiaogang is known as much for his quick temper as for the fluctuating popularity of his movies. But not many know of the ups and downs in his private life. In Guan Hu&`&s "Mr. Six," Feng takes on a role that shares much in common with himself in age and temperament, and that gig has won him a best actor title at China&`&s 52nd Golden Horse Awards.Mr. Feng plays an old street punk "Mr. Six" in his 50s who has considerable influence over his neighborhood in Beijing. While respecting the official laws and regulations, Mr. Six relies on a special set of rules to govern the underground society within his sphere of influence. Everything seems to work out just fine in his life, until his son gets into a dispute with a group of drag-racing youngsters who have deep pockets and powerful connections.Mr. Six&`&s insistence on solving the matter his own way leads to more complications, but nonetheless his predilection points to a period of time when people used to behave, interact, settle differences and seek justice according to social norms. Such unofficial way of keeping order was common in times of ineffective judiciary, or in an underground society where people had no affection for the righteous authority.In Guan Hu&`&s movie, Mr. Six tries to impose the old ways on a group of young people who have powerful parents in modern day China. What essentially is a gangster feud is deliberately played out as a clash between generations, or rather, a clash between the traditional and the modern-minded members of the society.Feng Xiaogang is very successful in his portrayal of an old man who bemoans the bygone of his glorious days and is reluctant to surrender his privileges in the modernization process. His performance is the highlight of the story.However, the profiling of the antagonists seems less straightforward. In order to beef up the dramatic effect, the storywriter at one point secretly replaces Mr. Six&`&s young opponents with their wealthy and powerful grown-up associates. That puts the rivalry in a different context: the old gangster leader Mr. Six, who has lived a rather successful life bullying others with brutal force, now finds himself on the receiving end of bullying by his rich and powerful contemporaries, who have risen to power by equally unsavory methods.This shift in the latter half of the film puts it in a rather awkward position. What could have been interpreted as a reflection on generation gap almost becomes a direct assault on the effectiveness of the country&`&s judiciary system. Fortunately, misunderstanding is averted when the director chose to be consistent with Mr. Six&`&s character and arranged a final showdown within legal boundaries.Guan Hu&`&s story is certainly impressive with all the authentic Beijing dialect and prevailing male hormone, but the ambiguity of the director&`&s message is still worth a few complaints. A colleague of mine said maybe I&`&ll be able to relate to it much better when I am old. True, when I reach a more mature age, I will be missing a lot of things: my teeth, my straight backbone, or the ability to walk, but make no mistake, I will not want to go back to a time when justice is upheld by the verdict of a gang leader, rather than the rule of law. I guess that&`&s the generation gap between people of my age and the contemporaries of Mr. Six.
1/12/20164 minutes, 53 seconds
Episode Artwork


China's movie market has been expanding for some time now. A year ago, people were feeling slightly regrettable when total annual box office income failed to pass the 30 billion yuan threshold. This year by December 3rd, a 40 billion yuan record has been set and China's home-made movies account for nearly 60% of the total. Above all, China's 3D fantasy adventure film "Monster Hunt" became the country's highest-grossing film in July, beating international box office powerhouse "Furious 7".In the year 2015, China's movie industry not only achieved gratifying income figures, they've also made progress in an all-around manner.First and foremost, infrastructure building continues to generate exciting results, bringing the total number of cinema screens in the country to somewhere near 31,000. Currently the overall attendance rate stays around 15%, but the surplus seats stand ready to accommodate box office explosions, which are happening on a more regular basis in recent years.Most of the new facilities are being built in smaller cities or townships, where a new cinema attracts more moviegoers on average than a new cineplex in downtown Beijing. The increase in their number is also tipping the balance in China's movie market. While previously the urban dwellers footed almost all the bills, now small town young adults are empowered to change the way movies are made in this country.A typical example is how youth-centric stories are giving way to comedies. Suddenly China's storywriters have waken up to the possibility that maybe in the small cities, not every young man has lost the love of his life when the girl immigrate to a foreign country, and not every woman can bask in the favor of her young, handsome billionaire of a boss - when that does happen it is usually a middle-aged man, short and rotund and married with kids. Petty sentiment and fake melancholy have no currency among the small city dwellers, who simply want to enjoy some hearty laugher after a day's hard work.For that reason, comedy is the safest of all genres in which filmmakers are willing to invest their resources. Actor-turned-director Xu Zheng, who has kept impeccable track records in both roles, staged an ambitious comeback in "Lost in Hong Kong," which made the list of Top 3 earners, despite fierce competition from another comedy film and this year's No. 5 earner "Goodbye Mr. Loser."The favor of small town young adults propelled more titles to make headlines which otherwise could have remained obscure among the hundreds of low-budget stories cobbled up by amateur filmmakers. Chief among them is "Wolf Warriors," directed by actor Wu Jing. Mr. Wu is a talented martial artist and has a face not half bad, somehow his career as an actor never seem to take off. His first film in the director's chair depicts a hunt for foreign spies and features note-worthy action sequences, but the film's undisguised demonstration of patriotism follows the narrative of the past century. The stylish young men loitering in Beijing's Sanlitun will frown upon it, but they couldn't stop the film from causing a moderately big bang in the market.The potential and appetite of small town young adults therefore appeared on the radar of Chinese filmmakers, who didn't bother to figure out what this sizable group of consumers want the most. Their standard approach is to build on something that has already stood the test. "Dior's Man" is a popular show inspired by Germany sketch comedy "Knallerfrauen" and is streamed exclusively on China's video portals. Despite content that some may consider vulgar, it is nonetheless a well executed and creative show. So when the same crew came up with a film project "Jian Bing Man," they rocked the market by grossing more than 1.1 billion yuan.The source of inspiration is not limited to video content. Best-selling cartoon novel "Go Away Mr. Tumor" about a cartoonist's fight against cancer has warmed many hearts over the years, now a movie of the same name has been made starring actress Bai Baihe and actor Daniel Wu. Strictly speaking, the engineered story is not perfect, but it carries every bit of the late cartoonist's creative genius and optimistic spirit and should be considered a worthy tribute to the girl who offered a valuable message to every willing listener.Perhaps the most convincing example is to be found in the novel "Ghost Blows out the Light," a story about tomb-raiders so popular among Chinese internet users that two film adaptations have been made and screened this year. "Mojin - The Lost Legend" premiered in late December and is still going strong in the box office towards the end of the year. This adaptation boasts an A-list cast and spectacular setting that recreates the mysterious atmosphere described in the original story. While this adaption by Director Wuershan is considered the more successful of the two in narrative and in box office income, Director Lu Chuan's interpretation is more monumental in a different sense.Indeed, Lu Chuan's "Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe" represents the highest grade of visual effect in Chinese films, up to the standard of Hollywood blockbuster films. The long shots bring up the striking beauty of a desert setting, much like "Mad Max: Fury Road." And the animated beasts would have been even more "flawless" if only the actors and actresses he hired were less green.The level of visually enhanced spectacle in "Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe" is only matched by that in Tsui Hark's "The Taking of Tiger Mountain," where a Chinese soldier in the 1940s braved the same amount of make-believe bullets and explosions as Steve Rogers in Marvel's Captain America. Behold, it is China's own superhero story!And we have to talk about the animation film "Monkey King: Hero is back" when we talk about special effects. This tight-budget animation was only possible to achieve a 956 million yuan income because director Tian Xiaopeng insisted on quality control. Throughout the meagerly-funded seven-year project many crew members turned their backs and walked away, but the director's persistence led to the birth of the best Chinese animation film in decades. Many moviegoers, overwhelmed by its lively imagery, volunteered to promote the film in their friendly circles, but its portrayal of a fierce warrior who has it powers in check is the most impressive interpretation of the classic text.But the year 2015 is not just about the small city young adults, the market demand and the box office ranking. Filmmakers focused on expressing their own ideas are also getting their voices heard. Taiwan director Hou Hsiao-hsien's martial arts film “The Assassin” was honored with a Best Director title at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival. His efforts created a chance for willing viewers to live a story written by Tang Dynasty novelists. There is no way of knowing if the film speaks the truth about Tang Dynasty people's lives, but it certainly feels like reading the novels.Another director devoted to self-expression is Jia Zhangke, who seems quite obsessed with the place he was born, most of his stories happen in a small town named Fenyang in Central China's Shanxi Province. In "Mountains May Depart," Mr. Jia ventured outside his familiar territory into a wider space-time reality and sought to capture the unspeakable loneliness that haunts people unblessed with love. Jia's command of every single element in his narrative is unmatched by hardly any of his Chinese peers, but his step outside familiar terrain did not land as smoothly as one would expect from someone of his talent and calibre.The last entry is my personal favorite. "The Master" is Xu Haofeng's third attempt at self-expression. The lost world of martial artists is a recurring theme in Xu Haofeng's stories, Wang Kar Wai tried to adapt it in "The Grand Master" and ended up showing off his cinematographer's skills, Chen Kaige tried to adapt it in "Monk Comes Down the Mountain" and ended up discrediting himself and his cast members, no one understands the quaint mindset of Xu Haofeng's characters better than Xu Haofeng himself, and this time he's learnt some new tricks to avoid boring his viewers. The realist fighting style and snappy pacing proved an effective formula on modern moviegoers.Movies such as "The Assassin," "Mountains May Depart" and "The Master" don't get a lot of time slots in the schedule books, because they are much too quiet to induce laughter. A pessimist would loath the dominance of small town young adults and a rampant profit-seeking culture in the movie industry, but in 2015 Chinese filmmakers have come a long way to improve their products in various aspects, in time the viewers will surely follow suit and cultivate their own tastes, we only need to take it one step at a time.
1/4/201612 minutes, 21 seconds
Episode Artwork


2015 Chinese martial arts film "The Master" is the first big budget commercial film by writer and director Xu Haofeng, and also the first opportunity for the wider audience to have a taste of Xu's distinctive style.Xu's very first feature film met with lukewarm reception from the market back in 2012, and for that reason his second one never received wide-scale publicity. Although his stories have been adapted by famous film director Wong Kar Wai in "The Grand Master", and by Chen Kaige in "Daoshi Xiaoshan" or "Monk Comes Down the Mountain," neither of those has quite captured the apparently bizarre yet intrinsically straightforward logic that motivates the characters in his story."The Master" will have a better chance of impressing the general public. Set in Tianjin in the Early 20th Century, the story follows a Guangdong master who seeks to expand the influence of his martial arts school in a heavily guarded territory. To achieve this, he can't just go ahead and challenge local schools, but instead has to spend three years training an apprentice to do the heavy-lifting. With the support of a local partner, his plan would have worked, if only they were the only players in the game. Most of Xu Haofeng's characters are obsessed with something. The Guangdong master starring Liao Fan (Black Coal, Thin Ice) is determined to propagate his school for the sake of his own late master. His disciple shows a strong attachment to his hometown Tianjin and is willing to die here instead of surviving elsewhere. The Tianjin local masters are keen on protecting their own territory and their rules. In a place where one's well-being hinges on the size of one's fists, everyone is after something, be it honor, fame, power or family.But within this seemingly diverse and chaotic reality, everyone is surprisingly simple-minded. The characters' decisions and actions are as swift as their weapons are sharp, leaving no room for Shakespearean Hamlet's struggles. This simplicity of life philosophy is what distinguishes Xu Haofeng's masters from the commoners under our modern skins.Unlike Chen Kaige who made a major misstep in casting, Xu Haofeng appears to have the best casting members at his disposal, bar a couple of insignificant roles of course. Having survived a two-month intensive training, actor Liao Fan is able to execute some efficient moves and complete stunning action scenes as per the director's requirement. The viperine demeanor in Jiang Wenli makes one shudder at the thought of even being her friend, much less her enemy. And actress Song Jia lends all her charm to make the unappealing destination of Tianjin all the more attractive. Thanks to the dedication of the actors and actresses, the quirky world of Xu Haofeng is now much easier to understand.The realistic fighting style of an authentic Xu Haofeng film seems a far cry from that of a Jet Li film, where the kungfu masters pose, swing and make believe to entertain the camera. "The Master" is different because other than martial arts per se it speaks of the end of an old world and its orders, and it is the people and their strong beliefs in this historical context that impress the most intelligent and responsive audience members.
12/22/20155 minutes, 5 seconds
Episode Artwork


别的且不说,连影片自带福利林珍娜的腿都没让人看够,就说这特写有多令人沮丧罢。In 2011, Taiwan TV series "In Time with You" starring Ariel Lin and Berlin Chen was aired in Chinese mainland, it was a cheesy romantic drama, but the chicks loved it.December 2015, Ariel and Berlin team up again in a chick flick "Go Lala Go," many fans of the TV series visit the cinemas just to see the couple together again. Well, that and the fact that this may count as a sequel to a 2010 romantic comedy of the same name, are enough reasons to get the girls crazy. However I'm not sure they'll enjoy it in the same way they used to adore the TV series, because this awkward combination of workplace drama and romance lands in the middle of nowhere between the two."Go Lala Go 2010" was based on a popular novel by a blogger who wrote about the challenges that a female employee has to overcome to climb up the company food chain. In an uncomfortably mundane manner, the novel enlightened many office workers on the subtlety and sophistication that they need to thrive in the job market. "Go Lala Go 2015", based on a sequel of the novel, is no longer a lesson on office politics: the focus has been switched to a career woman's struggles on the domestic front.Oh yes, our dear Lala, despite her moderate success in the workplace, has trouble getting her boyfriend to pop the question, and that also has negative impact on her work performance. But no need to worry, an opportunity soon presents itself for Lala to crack an opening in both her career and her romantic life. If I were in her shoes, I would laugh myself awake from this marvelous daydream, but our dear heroine seems torn apart by the choices she has to make.I realize I have been referring to my own assumptions perhaps a bit too frequently, but that's only because the story has failed to cast the woman's state of mind in a consistent light. At times unsure about her decisions and other times quite imposing, the character in Lala seems volatile and empty, hostage to the writer's whimsical imagination. I suppose the idea is to showcase the difficulty for a woman to juggle career and family life in the modern times, but the film does not provide enough evidence to support my conspiracy.Perhaps it is not a film made for the male audience, after all guys aren't always ready to take pleasure from simply seeing a woman in distress. Also, guys are less tolerant of a film full of close-up shots, we don't feel like being compared to movie stars. To be fair, there ARE several long shots reserved for product placement purposes, but since we don't recognize those women-oriented brands, they are not necessary at all. Oh, and we are pretty sure the cinematographer isn't to blame here, Dylan Doyle, we've seen your work in "Touch of the Light," great job!In 2010, Patrick Frater of Variety described "Go Lala Go" as "a precursor to the current wave of Chinese contemporary romance films." There must be a typo here, I think he meant a pretty curse.
12/9/20154 minutes, 11 seconds
Episode Artwork


One of the few possible ways to appreciate "Spectre" is to think of the latest and most expensive title of the series as a standalone piece. The irony notwithstanding, this seems to be the only way to prolong the life of one of the longest continually-running film series in history.Surely as per routine, "Bond 24" delivers adrenalising car chase, enchanting female bodies and cut-throat fighting scenes. In fact, courtesy of filmmakers Gary Powell and Neil Layton, actresses Monica Bellucci, Léa Seydoux and actor Dave Bautista, "Spectre" has scored well above average in the plentitude of visual thrill.So Bond is unofficially investigating a case assigned by the previous M, and he finds a secret organization linked to his encounters in all four previous Bond films, so far so good. But nothing about the shadowy organization makes sense. "Spectre" has been powerful enough to wreak havoc in the world, but somehow isn't able to deal with an individual 00-agent. The assassin they've sent on Bond's tail seem quite keen on terminating his prey, but once Bond reaches the den of the criminals, they want to torture him instead. And guess what? They have a torture room and some equipment just in place for that purpose! How convenient!Instead of convincing us about the threat of the villain and their evil agenda for world-wide surveillance, the filmmakers only manage to tell us the one thing we've already learnt from the last 23 Bond films, that is, attractive women, from girls in their twenties to widows in their fifties, all want to have some with our tuxedo-ed hero.Some critics believe "Spectre" is identical with "Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation," but that's absurd! Of course both films deal with secret spy organizations, but "Spectre" and "Syndicate" are two different words. Certainly both films are about agents refusing to retire when the intelligence business is modernizing, but "James Bond" and "Ethan Hunt" are two different characters. One sleeps with his enemies and his enemies' wives and mistresses, the other only falls for someone in a more common line of business. Plus the "Rogue Nation" has done a better job in alleviating modern spies' unemployment anxiety. The IMF still needs Ethan Hunt to infiltrate facilities and crack physically isolated terminals, but the 00-agency only needs someone to look the victim in the eyes before deciding to pull the trigger, a job easily replaceable by drones with enhanced camera lenses.But if we were to fixate on the flaws in the story, this review could go on and on, but since I strongly believe that between a movie and its reviews, only one of them is allowed to reach the two-and-a-half-hour mark, let's look at the distinct style instead.Starting with the spectacular long take featuring Mexico's Day of the Dead celebration, the cinematographers continue to provide gratifying images as our characters carry on with their adventure across the globe. Sam Smith's "Writing's on the Wall" may not sound immediately impressive, but the controlled pace and tension eventually rise above the anti-climax of the plot. It also strongly points out the theme of the film: Bond 24 is not about spies or surveillance, but about a man's commitment to fulfilling his promise.Whether Daniel Craig is going to honor his contract and appear in another Bond film for the sake of money, "Spectre" will suffice as a grand finale by itself. Will future directors of the franchise continue to come up with stories with distinctive themes like the Sam Mendes production, or will they churn out more popcorn spy films, we are not sure. But we are sure the latter is getting more and more difficult.
11/24/20155 minutes, 20 seconds
Episode Artwork


Heaven and earth do not act from the wish to be benevolent; they treat all things and beings equally as they would dogs of grass. This sentence from the classic Taoist text explains Jia Zhangke's approach to formulate his new story, but paradoxically, his leitmotif is one of utmost sympathy and compassion.Life of ordinary people in Jia Zhangke's hometown Fenyang, north China's Shanxi Province is a recurring theme in his films. "Mountains May Depart" begins with a love triangle involving three young people Tao, Jinsheng and Liangzi in the very city back in 1999. Tao's indecision between the two suitors, a coal mine owner and a miner, appears to be aggravating a rift within the small group, but little does she know the divide is caused as much by the competition for her favor as by the development of the country's economy.In 2014, the same group of people continue to grow apart. Miner Liangzi is out of the picture after being diagnosed with terminal disease, Tao and Jinsheng have been married and divorced and their little son becomes an immigrant in Australia.The third part of the film goes beyond Jia's familiar time and space and follows the son in Australia in 2025. The young man named Dollar finds himself lost in a rootless life, as he has totally forgotten about his mother in Fenyang.In China's major cities, economic development has fed high-flying office workers who speak foreign languages, but Jia Zhangke has always focused on the fate of dialect-speaking ordinary people in smaller cities. Many of his previous films capture people who struggle to catch up with the tide, and despite Jia's insistence on sectional formats, critics still appreciate his intimate observation and insight.But things are a bit different with the new film. "Mountains May Depart" still comes in roughly three parts, but the story is more linear than ever before. More importantly, the kind of intimate observation seems to have disappeared, and the characters now seem vacant and soulless.That's because all is symbolic in "Mountains May Depart." Props, music, graphics and even the characters are stripped of their own reasons, they are here to serve one purpose: to highlight men's solitude against the tyranny of time. 1990s Taiwan pop star Sally Yeh's "Zhen Zhong" is not a song to be appreciated, but a link that connects all parts. Like an arbitrary composer, Jia Zhangke exploits everyone and everything at his disposal to create a symphony of melancholy.People die, homes are abandoned, traditions are lost and even mountains may depart. Without love, we are all destined to be alone, prisoners of our own time.In "Mountains May Depart", Jia Zhangke shifts his focus from the underprivileged and the obscure to a wider range of humanity, to remind all of us about the cost of modernization. This is a much more efficient use for his insight, creative genius and capacity for compassion. And if that means a few critics need to expand their scope to understand the director, I suggest they take the extra effort, for their own good.
11/20/20154 minutes, 54 seconds
Episode Artwork


Director Pete Doctor of Pixar's touching comedy "Up" continues to explore into the matters of the mind. His successful attempt to unravel the emotional activities of an 11-year-old girl has appealed to the sympathy of almost every viewer and critic.In China, the title of the film "Inside Out" is an almost shameful cliche. "Tou Nao Te Gong Dui," the awful translation constitutes a deplorable misrepresentation of the story's startling originality. In 2009 inspired by the changes in his daughter's personality as she grew older, Pete Doctor developed the idea of an animation film featuring human emotions. Since adventure stories are his strongest suit, he would have personified emotions explore the most exquisite and least understood item of nature's invention - the human brain. After consulting numerous psychologists, the filmmakers eventually decided on two parallel narratives, happening both inside a girl's mind and out in her real life.To kickstart the story, a girl named Riley moves with her parents from Minnesota to San Francisco. The change in environment and a series of unfortunate happenings cause emotional upheavals inside the 11-year-old. Her core emotions, Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Fear and Anger, are at a loss to help the girl get back on her feet. While trying to stop Sadness from infecting Riley's core memories, Joy is sucked out of the emotional headquarter with Sadness and end up in the storage area of Riley's long-term memories. In their absence, Disgust, Fear and Anger take charge of Riley's emotions, which leads to the change of the girl's personality.As Joy and Sadness try to get back to the headquarter, they meet Riley's imaginary friend, witness the collapse of Riley's personality islands, take the train of thought and visit the Imagination Land, the Subconscious and the Memory Dump. Many well-known Psychological concepts and terms are vividly represented, and above all, they make sense, according to the established theories on human psychology.After a moderately funny and most touching fashion, "Inside Out" is able to convey the importance of everyday happenings and human contact in the shaping of our personalities. A mishandled case may very well have far-reaching repercussion in the development of a child's character, this could came as a shocking revelation for moviegoers in China, where knowledge about the matters of the mind has not been widely cherished outside the academic circle.However informative this comedy adventure is, most viewers would probably find it easier to relate to it on the emotional basis. Interestingly, it is the things we can't remember that hit us the hardest. From the episode about Riley's imaginary friend to the demonstration of things being cleared from her memory bank, these scenes remind us about every tiny moment in our past that has made us who we are today. But the older we are, the fewer we can recall, and that's the saddest thing about life.
11/16/20155 minutes, 10 seconds
Episode Artwork


The success of Chinese comedy film "Goodbye Mr. Loser", or "Xia Luo Te Fan Nao", dredges up unaddressed questions from the past and in doing so may help bring about some solutions.The box office powerhouse is adapted from a popular stage show of the same name, which had previously only been seen in a limited number of cities. It is about a middle-aged loafer who makes a fool of himself at any given moment. During a very public showdown with his wife, the man loses consciousness and wakes up to his life 20 years earlier. He goes on a different life path that leads to fame and wealth, but a series of misfortunes follow him like a curse, until he has an epiphany about the most important person in his life.20 days after its debut, "Goodbye Mr. Loser" has snapped 1.2 billion yuan from Chinese movie theatres. But as it reaches audiences nationwide, the film has become the target of bad publicity. Some movie critics claim the Chinese filmmakers have plagiarised the ideas behind Francis Ford Coppola's 1986 comedy drama "Peggy Sue Got Married," and even provide screenshots from both films for comparison. The filmmakers, however, dismiss the accusation as libel and vow to take legal action.A simple look into the plot of "Peggy Sue Got Married," reveals that such accusations are hardly sound. "Goodbye Mr. Loser" the stage show has been popular for years, so whatever suspicions exist about its originality should have been settled by now. So to bring up the topic at this moment means one of two things: one, some competitors, jealous of its big bang in the market, want to introduce some negativity; two, the crew themselves, operating on the premise that "There is no such thing as bad publicity," wish to boost its success even more. In either case, this publicity stunt amounts to unfair manipulation of public opinion.But any hidden agenda cannot fool the Chinese audience much longer, as moviegoers are becoming smarter. Today they are more and more aware of the rampant loser culture and the rather rude style of humour. No offence to the actors and actresses who have gone out of their way to tickle the audience, but "Goodbye Mr. Loser" does seem to contain some incorrect ideas. On movie rating websites Mtime and Douban, bloggers question the so-called "true love" between a good-for-nothing clown and his selfless wife. The number of such reviews suggests China's younger generation possesses sharper political insight regarding the rights of women and underprivileged people. Jokes at their expense now induce disgust rather than delight.The popularity of "Goodbye Mr. Loser" has amplified the varying tastes of different generations so that more and more people can begin to understand the bad influence of tradition. Now let's see if the filmmakers can adapt to those changes.
11/12/20154 minutes, 36 seconds
Episode Artwork


Since the beginning of October, China's film market has been dominated by local films. Normally the box office figures reveal little beyond the capricious tastes of Chinese moviegoers, but this time the disparity among the forerunners can serve as an indicator of some sort, or at least as a lesson for certain filmmakers.Top earner "Lost in Hong Kong" is the work of actor and director Xu Zheng, whose ingenuity and unblemished record in the market guaranteed attractive content, generous funding and efficient publicity campaign. Second placed "Goodbye Mr. Loser" is based on a popular stage comedy, whose straightforward storyline has now reached a nationwide audience. Both films have accumulated more than 1 billion yuan each, leading by a large margin the third place contender "Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe," whose income of over 650 million yuan seems slightly out of proportion with public expectations."Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe" director Lu Chuan is an established figure in the business known for his willingness to experiment. His last outing "The Last Supper" has been habitually considered as a stain on his record, but was nonetheless a rather innovative and stylish interpretation of historical events. His new creation is loosely based on best-selling novel "Ghost Blows out the Light," but for local policy reasons, the original story about tomb raiders and superstition had to be heavily redacted. Lu Chuan's approach to the tricky plot was to overthrow the premise completely. Instead of ghosts and tomb raiders, Lu Chuan wrote a new story about aliens and explorers. This can't be good news for the fans of the original novel, but it seems the director is not keen on pleasing first-time viewers either, since he insists on rubbing the audience his own way.But in this case, Lu's way is similar to that of Michael Bay. Expending hardly any noticeable effort on telling a convincing story, the filmmakers have exhausted every bit of their capacity for post production. What they achieve is visual grandeur that looks rather expensive. Huge behemoths lurking under water, flaming bats torching people to ashes, vicious trolls pushing everyone to the last stand, plus the stunning beauty of China's wild frontier, all together 1500 shots underwent intensive editing to bring up the wow effect.But quite surprisingly, this movie which looks rather expensive was built on a moderate budget of less than 100 million yuan. Perhaps the affordable cast contributed to the cost management. Among young actors and actresses such as Mark Chao, Feng Li, Li Chen and Tiffany Tang, the only A-lister is Yao Chen, who seems to have been hijacked by the rest of the cast members and taken to a mysterious land of mindless wanderers.The emphasis on the images has lead to the best special effects money can buy, but also a failure to exploit a very popular text. Recently Chinese filmmakers have developed a fondness for adaptable best-selling stories, but they must realize that alone is not guarantee for success. As for Lu Chuan, it is fine to continue experimenting, but following the steps of Michael Bay won't be necessary.
11/9/20154 minutes, 28 seconds
Episode Artwork


More often than not in the movie business, the best way to ruin a well-loved title is to make a sequel. And the best way to ensure its total degradation is to make a spin-off. Both happen to be efficient ways to extort the last penny possible from movie-goers, and that's why the allure of popular franchise inevitably wears off."Minions", the spin-off of the "Despicable Me" franchise is the best and latest example of that theory. The 2010 original featured a refreshing perspective on villains and that impressed the market. The following 2013 instalment was a fall from grace, but even worse is the 2015 spin-off that landed on "the Plain of Non-story."The failure of "Minions" is not due to the ebbing interest on the part of the audience members, but rather bad decision-making by the filmmakers. I'm sure the movie fans would still love to see more villainous conducts on the big screen. In fact, when the young supervillain Gru appears at the end of "Minions", with those vicious sparks in his eyes, I could almost feel the same excitement as I felt when watching "Despicable Me" for the first time. The badass element was the key to its popularity.But the filmmakers seem to have abandoned their trump card. In "Despicable Me 2", we no longer saw the wicked ambitions hitherto burning in the chest of Mr. Gru, instead there was a pinky glow of romance that compromised the movie's iconic yellow nuggets of cuteness. And then there is "Minions," whose villain Scarlet Overkill seemed to have a college degree in under-delivering. I have to say, revealing sad stories about the childhood of nefarious super villains is not cool at all, it amounts to acts of suicide for this evil-centric franchise.But despite my discontent, it seems the filmmaker's decision to capitalise on the cute element is bearing tangible results, especially in the Chinese market. With more than 20 million US dollars income over the first weekend, "Minions" surpassed Kung Fu Panda 2 as the all-time top-grossing animated film for its opening day in China, and this is after another cuteness flick "Monster Hunt" dethroned "Fast and Furious 7" to become China's highest grossing film of all time.The appetite for big-eyed, chubby figures remains robust, and the movie-goers have every reason to feel entertained by the neatly arranged amusing scenarios. But being sick and tired of these rampant cuteness, I personally will not spend another penny on any more spin-offs related to the yellow critters, I'll save it for David Ayer's "Suicide Squad."
11/6/20154 minutes, 30 seconds
Episode Artwork


I almost failed to hold back my tears when watching "Go Away, Mr. Tumor." Other audience members were not so successful, throughout the film sobbing could be heard from various parts of the auditorium. But this film is not merely a tear jerker, from time to time the audience also erupted into fits of hearty laughter. They were celebrating the optimistic spirit of the dearly departed.Director Han Yan's story about a young woman's battle against cancer is based on the final years of cartoonist Xiang Yao. Under the alias Xiong Dun, the girl created many amusing comic stories about the lives of modern Chinese women. Her last and most memorable work is "Go Away, Mr. Tumor," where she showed tremendous courage and optimism to win the respect of numerous internet users and celebrities. A few years later, her story has now been adapted into a movie script and played out by movie stars including Bai Baihe and Daniel Wu. A TV series is also on the way.To offset the ominous implications of the subject and also to match Ms. Xiong's vigorous creativity as a cartoonist, the filmmakers spent generous sums on expensive special effects. The result is a comedy with a strong animation flavour. Scenes mimicking American zombie thriller "The Walking Dead" and South Korean chick flick "My Love from the Star" help us get a better look at the woman who remained fun and inspiring until the end of her days.But the innovative styles of expression have also caused controversy. Many sober moviegoers, who seem untouched by the emotional rollercoaster ride, criticise such styles as random and incoherent. While I can totally agree with their sound judgment, my admiration mostly goes to their ability to stay unaffected by a highly manipulative story.Perhaps those are people who have survived the lesson of loss or have learnt to cope with life's many challenges - good for them. But not everyone can quite face up to the fact that we all have to cross that finishing line at some point. Still weaker members of the human race must rely on borrowed strength and wisdom to sail through their daily struggles. Xiong Dun thought she could lend us a hand. "Now that I've had first-hand experience dealing with the grim reaper himself, I think I am qualified to counsel your guys about your lives," said the girl who left us three years ago. Today, on China's Facebook-like website Weibo where she posted her comic pictures, people still come to leave prayers or to seek courage and consolation.Once again, Chinese actress Bai Baihe proves herself an excellent personality to charm moviegoers. She is only good for a narrow range of characters, but when she makes the right choice, even superstar Daniel Wu looks like a B-lister in her presence. As for other characters, well, let's say the film is more proof that age and experience speak louder than smooth skins and curvy bodies.In a matter of weeks, many of us will probably forget about the tears we shed and resolutions we made as we watched "Go Away, Mr. Tumor," but if so much as a small percentage of us remember the feelings we had in the cinema, this film would have been well worth seeing.
11/4/20154 minutes, 34 seconds
Episode Artwork


2014 American crime thriller "The Equalizer" is making some people wonder whether the winds have shifted in Hollywood, so that instead of soft-skinned teenage boys who can't act and muscular men who knows an awful lot of four-lettered words, filmmakers are giving the floor to elderly man with obsessive compulsive personality disorder who likes to read. But that's not true, the age when manners and knowledge become the new sexy will not dawn on humanity until Hollywood goes bankrupt and is taken over by a union of wealthy librarians and bookstore owners. And since the librarians and bookstore owners are busy either losing their jobs or going out of business in the age of Information Technology, chances are the world will never see the return to the fad of gentle and well-read vigilante heroes like the masked man from "V for Vendetta", and "The Equalizer" will remain a rare reminder of quality television of the good old 80s.Denzel Washington plays a former espionage agent who lives a quiet life as a worker at a Boston hardware store. Despite a simple and quiet life, the extremely organised man has difficulty sleeping at night and often stays in a 24/7 diner to read literary classics. One day a teenage prostitute he knows from the diner gets beaten up by the Russian Mafia, and the man's attempt to secure the girl's freedom leads to a clash with one of the most powerful gangs on America's east coast.For a film that opens with the ritually simplistic chores of a lonesome man's stoic life, "The Equalizer" has surprisingly bloody action scenes. On the half-hour mark, the story seems to hit a climax as Denzel Washington goes on a spontaneous rampage in the mafia's regional headquarters. One hour into the film, you would think you've seen everything you want to see in an action film, but with anticipation and curiosity you still look forward to what's going to happen next.The masterful pacing in the first hour conspires with elegant lighting, neat cinematography and Washington's imperturbable charisma to create a mysterious halo surrounding the plainly-dressed man and forms a sharp contrast against the Quentin Tarantino-style fury in which he executes his adversaries. Such is the charm of Oscar-worthy duo Denzel Washington and director Antoine Fuqua.But the second half of the film fails to take the action to the next level. As the main villain, Marton Csokas does let out some effectively menacing snarls to help build up the tension, but he ultimately falls short of challenging Washington's superhero glamour, due to the writer's keenness to highlight the impromptu skills of a genius assassin.So in conclusion "The Equalizer" offers a refreshing experience and reminds us of the charm of a real gentleman, and that's more than one can expert from most action films of this type.
11/4/20154 minutes, 37 seconds
Episode Artwork


“Battle of Taierzhuang” is a historical and historic film made to mark the fortieth anniversary of China's victory against Japanese Aggression and the end of the Second World War. The filmmakers' attention to historical detail demonstrates their reverence to those who died defending the country. Now as we cherish peace at the threshold of the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, our memory of wartime history threatens to fade with the departure of each living witness. It is reassuring to realise we can still revisit history by turning to this classic film, but it is regrettable that no modern movies have been made which can match their historic and artistic value.The 1986 war film chronicles the first major victory in the Chinese people's war of resistance against Japanese aggression. Unlike other war films that emphasise the roles of the people and the Communist Party of China, "Battle of Taierzhuang" was the first to feature the war efforts of the Kuomintang's armies. It offered detailed accounts as to how the Kuomintang leaders and commanding generals overcame disagreements and tremendous difficulties to foil a Japanese offensive operation in East China. The victory cast doubt on the belief that Japan's armies were invincible, and inspired faith in China's resistance efforts.With no special effects or romantic elements to spice things up, "Battle of Taierzhuang" can still captivate viewers with its documentary-style realism and eloquent imagery. The fully developed script was written after conscientious research into historical facts, but was still subject to repeated amendments. Director Yang Guangyuan was an excellent cinematographer. His shots provided the optimal combination of art and information. One most impressive example is the images of bodies lining the walls of the ancient city, which are a shocking visual translation of the wartime vocabulary "Great Wall of Flesh and Blood."The historical accuracy extends to the objective description of the Japanese foe, which forms a stark contrast with the works of modern Chinese filmmakers. The latter have come under the influence of Hollywood's superhero complex and often portray the invading soldiers as dummies in comparison to Chinese heroes, which doesn't help the young people of our time understand and respect history, especially when one country involved in the war is trying actively to obliterate the memory of it.The respect for history and the Chinese people's war effort as depicted in "Battle of Taierzhuang" also helped to improve the relationship between two sides of the Taiwan Strait. It is reported that, after watching the film honouring their resistance efforts, Kuomintang leaders allowed their former fighters to visit their relatives on the mainland.It is quite surprising how an excellent film can achieve multiple tasks at the same time, but such is the result of the passion and dedication from all people involved. What is even more surprising is how the explosion in box office figures in recent years, while arousing the excitement of plenty of filmmakers and investors, can have no positive bearing on the quality of their products when taken as a whole. Perhaps a crash course in films made in the last century is what they need.
7/30/20154 minutes, 53 seconds
Episode Artwork


7/24/20154 minutes, 54 seconds
Episode Artwork


With cutting-edge CGI technology, "Monkey King: Hero is Back" conjures the rebellious protector from the childhood of China's younger generations and channels tremendous consumer power. The explosions of positive reviews and box office figures mark the triumphant fusion of nostalgia and modernity, but don't necessarily signal a brighter outlook for Chinese animated films.Due to a lack of originality in story-writing, Chinese filmmakers often turn to classic texts for inspiration. For that reason, Ming Dynasty novelist Wu Cheng'en's "Journey to the West" has recently witnessed a comeback in popularity as a subject for adaptation. Hong Kong directors Stephen Chow and Cheang Pou-soi have each launched a new series to lukewarm reception but more sequels are still in the making.Also in the genre of animation, director Wang Chuan's "Kuiba" is loosely based on Wu's story. The ambitious franchise in 3D was designed to challenge Hollywood movies and represented the highest level of production quality, but that has now met with fierce competition in the domestic market."Monkey King: Hero is Back" directly appeals to viewers' sense of sight with loud colours, dynamic action scenes and occasionally quiet background shots in the style of traditional Chinese landscape painting. When the Monkey King unleashes his full strength, viewers could almost feel the same excitement as watching a Japanese Shōnen manga story. The refreshing images give many viewers the hope that maybe Chinese animation filmmakers have mastered the modern techniques on par with Hollywood or Japanese counterparts.Despite a single linear narrative that some claim to be unfit for grown-up audience members, the story does succeed in capturing a hero with moderately complex characters. On the one hand, he is the rebellious hero that revolts against the Heavenly deities; on the other hand, he cherishes the bond with his friends and overcomes himself to protect them. The power dynamics of his relationship with famous Monk Xuanzang, or Jiangliuer in this story, is reversed. The Monkey King here is no longer an unruly beast to be tamed by the righteous and fatherly monk, but a living legend loved by everyone. This variation evokes the memory of Chinese moviegoers, who in their childhood have looked up to the Monkey King as a defiant rebel against traditional patriarchal values.The visual and emotional allure of the film has turned numerous casual viewers into willing converts. Their fervent suasion has hyped the film's box office income as well as people's expectations for Chinese animated films. But amid the thunderous applause and accolades, it is hard to notice the eight years of hardships and hardwork behind the scene. And before Chinese animation industry can truly turn a page for the better, filmmakers must be willing to endure more such difficult years, notwithstanding a huge influx of investment into their reach.
7/24/20154 minutes, 22 seconds
Episode Artwork


Mortal men and women like success stories. They adore successful figures and enjoy projecting their own egos with such stories. Few of them understand that success sometimes comes as a curse rather than a blessing. Chinese director Chen Kaige is one of those successful yet unfortunate people who live their lives under a curse. His 1993 movie "Farewell My Concubine" made him the only Chinese director to win a Palme d'Or, but like his other recent outings, Chen's latest project "Monk Comes Down the Mountain" has once again put his name and fame into question.The comedy-fantasy-adventure film is based on the best-selling novel Dao Shi Xia Shan by Xu Haofeng, who also wrote the story for Wong Kar Wai's martial arts drama "The Grandmaster." Chen's source material is about a Taoist monk who comes down the mountain to join the mundane world below. Like "The Grandmaster," "Monk Comes Down the Mountain" features Chinese martial arts and a spiritual pilgrimage. Although both offer stunning imagery and special effects, Wong Kar Wai's masterpiece trumps Chen Kaige's product in many aspects.First of all, the action choreography in "Monk Comes Down the Mountain" mainly involves an awkward abuse of wire work, which is neither realistic nor romantic. Actor Zhang Zhen gave a brief but impressive demonstration of his Kung Fu prowess in "The Grandmasters," but here in Chen's story, his character is reduced to one of a mascot.Secondly, in both movies Wong and Chen assume the role of a life coach and peddle plenty of inspirational reflections, but at least during his second try to render the film into 3D, Wong has managed to make the ideas coherent with the story and reachable for ordinary moviegoers. In comparison Chen's condescending stance alienates viewers from his story, like a mountain that separates the monks from the real world. The main idea of "Monk Comes Down the Mountain" is one who seeks the ultimate truth must experience the lives of the ordinary people, but this simple notion is deliberately made to sound mysterious and unfathomable in the movie.Now I am not saying our dear director Chen Kaige is shallow-minded and incapable of having mysterious and unfathomable thoughts, on the contrary, as the son of famous director Chen Hua'ai, Chen is perhaps the most well-read and most thoughtful among China's fifth generation directors. But while having sophisticated ideas may be his stronger suit, conveying them to the general public is not.In the 2005 fantasy film "The Promise" his tentative move to produce a blockbuster movie met a disastrous end. In the 2012 drama "Caught in the Web" Chen tried to catch up with developments in society and on the internet, but his own perspective was absent from the pictures. In "Monk Comes Down the Mountain", Chen somewhat retracts his steps and adds some cultural elements, but they amount to nothing but icon-mongering. It seems his attempts to court public favour always appear in the form of belated clichés, while his return to his own roots always end up confusing the audience.Certainly "Farewell My Concubine" will forever be the highlight on Chen's resume, but that masterpiece is the result of many top level filmmakers working together as a team. Without the assistance of an adequate team, Chen Kaige is trapped in the shrine of his past glory and left alone to err. With a handful of setbacks in the past few years, now Mr. Chen may believe he has come down the mountain and lived with the ordinary people, but the truth is his learning days are not over. Unless he finds a way to translate his philosophy into accessible images and stories, or a team that helps him in that regard, the public will continue questioning his past success.
7/24/20155 minutes, 24 seconds
Episode Artwork


Director Cheang Pou-soi and writer Jill Leung weave an elaborate labyrinth of multiple narratives to paint a bleak picture of a dog-eat-dog underworld in "SPL2: A Time for Consequences." At times hard to stomach but mostly riveting, the action thriller offers a wide range of spectacular imagery culminating in the clash of top martial artists from Chinese mainland, Hong Kong and Thailand.For a film that boasts an international cast and setting, SPL2 exhibits an exceptionally indigenous Chinese flavour. An undercover policeman struggling with drug addiction, a prison guard with a leukaemia-afflicted daughter, a ruthless organ trafficker in dire need of a heart replacement, everyone is somehow connected in an enclosed community of "Jianghu," where extraordinary personalities find no escape from their destiny.Thailand action star Tony Jaa plays the loving father and prison guard. His quest to locate a bone marrow donor for his ailing daughter coincides with disturbing developments at his workplace. At one point the cure is close at hand, but little does he know he will need to risk his own life for his daughter's salvation. In SPL2 Tony Jaa's uncommon moves constitute an eye opener for Chinese viewers.Mainland Chinese Kung Fu star Wu Jing found a career breakthrough after his adventurous investment in "Wolf Warriors" turned out in his favour. His extended exposure here as an undercover police fighting for redemption greatly boosts his presence and may even propel him into super-stardom. His technique merges the styles of Jet Li and Donnie Yen which is at the same time expressive and realistic.Perhaps the biggest winner is Chinese actor Zhang Jin, who won the Best Supporting Actor at the 33rd Hong Kong Film Awards for his role in Wong Kar Wai's martial arts drama "The Grandmaster." Here he appears as a prison warden awaiting retribution, whose immaculate wardrobe matches his simple, slashing moves. With a face as fair as a modern office worker and adequate acting skills, Zhang could pose a serious challenge to Wu Jing's ascension, what he needs is the versatility to adapt his styles to the fleeting tastes of Chinese Kung Fu fans.Surely the actors also owe their success to writer Jill Leung and action director Li Chung-chi who arrange multiple occasions for them to showcase their skills. From gun fight to prison riot to slaughterhouse rampage or simple one-on-one duels, the action stars collide, change sides, form new alliances and collide again, creating impressive spectacles on all scales.More impressive is the use of parallel narrative. Many key developments in the story are often screened simultaneously to heighten the sense of destiny and/or irony, which in itself is a powerful tool to glue together the numerous episodes of fighting scenes.Despite the artistic failure in 2014 fantasy film "The Monkey King," director Cheang Pou-soi is well known for the distinctly dark and hopeless mood in his previous movies. In "SPL2: A Time for Consequences" he offers a pessimism of the most ambitious kind that trumps the unaccountable heroism in a "Transformers" movie, although his unique traits are still all over the piece to infect sensitive viewers.
7/24/20154 minutes, 59 seconds
Episode Artwork


"To a canary, a cat is a monster. We are just used to being the cat."As a species that dominates our planet with superior intelligence, human beings often forget about the monster in ourselves and take for granted our hegemony in the food chain. Stories about beasts of sheer size and brutal strength, like Godzilla, sometimes take us by surprise, but for most of us the lumbering kaiju looks more amusing than seriously frightening.On the other hand, smart predators with cunning and resource equal to mankind are a different story, because we homo sapiens are vulnerable against enemies with fangs and claws that can't be outsmarted. That's why the raptor that opened door was scary in Jurassic Park, while the T-Rex couple in "The Lost World" sequel was not.14 years after the last entry to the franchise, the 2015 addition "Jurassic World" has plenty of lessons to draw from. This time they've got the formula right. Indominus Rex, a genetically enhanced predator the size of a Tyrannosaurus rex, is concocted in a research lab as a new attraction for the dinosaur theme park. The combination of DNAs from various unidentified species yields the most lethal killer, the fear of which keeps viewers thrilled despite a stale format.There really isn't anything fresh to see apart from the humongous predator at large. Once again, it is human arrogance and greed that lead to the creation of the beast, once again the dinosaur whisperer scientist with good conscience gives out warnings in vain and once again innocent children need to survive the jaws. Lead actor Chris Pratt tries to play alpha among a pack of raptors, but he is given no chance to cast his pelvic sorcery.In the battle of teeth, humans have no place. In a movie that aims for "bigger, louder and more teeth", character development can be problematic. Chris Pratt is not the only casualty. Also at fault is the park owner Simon Masrani played by Irfan Khan - initially posing as an adorable boss who cares about staff and dinosaur welfare but later reduced to an irresponsible playboy consumed by corporate greed. The worst slip-up, however, is when one of the small boys breaks down over their parent's divorce, despite no previous subtext leading up to this point, nor is the subject addressed ever again thereafter.So compared to the well-organised dinosaur storyline, the human related narrative is almost deliberately ignored. For those of you who merely wish to see more teeth, "Jurassic World" offers a brilliantly executed story, just don't expect it to be perfect.
7/24/20154 minutes, 33 seconds
Episode Artwork


On June 1st, Children's Day in China, the Wanda cinema in west Beijing was busier than usual. Young couples in their late 20s or early 30s took their children to watch the first Doraemon movie with 3D CGI technique. The story induced laughters and tears among the most sympathetic audience members, but when the end credits appeared and the lights went on, it was the parents who lingered in their seats trying to catch the behind-the-scenes extras, while the children were anxiously beseeching their mums and dads to leave.It was a remarkable contrast to other, more ordinary films made for kids. Normally it is the children who are too excited to leave as their parents try to coax them out of their seats. This deviation tells a lot about the difference in the lives of the young parents from that of their even younger heirs.About 30 years ago, Doraemon began to attract millions of young Chinese fans. According to the comic book stories, the chubby blue robot cat was sent back in time by a boy in the 22nd century to accompany his great great grandpa Nobita, a typical loser in school who possessed no academic or athletic aptitude. Coming from a more technologically-advanced time, Doraemon presented a myriad of gadgets that defied the laws of science and common sense. The goal was to keep Nobita out of trouble, but more often than not the boy with a gadget caused even more mishaps.The fantastic gadgets in the story appealed greatly to children. More significant was the idea of having a nearly omnipotent friend to help you out every time you are in trouble. In a time when most parents were working hard to cash in on the results of China's Reform and Opening-up, children can get very lonely indeed and an imaginary friend who is always there sounded better than it does.Today our children are the centre of the family. Their parents, sitting on the wealth of the grandparents, no longer have to break their backs for a better life. The marginal benefits of hard work have shrunk and now give way to high quality family time. Instead of loneliness, the smothered kids are more likely to look for a chance to spread their wings and fly away, like Hiccup in "How to Train Your Dragon.""Stand by Me Doraemon" consists of details from several different episodes of the comic series, with the focus on how Nobita courts the favour of his female classmate Shizuka. Most parents would probably recognise the episodes, so there is little originality in the movie. Also the fantastic gadgets are given little exposure, chances are the kids will miss out on the highlight of the story that so captivated their parents.So in conclusion, the movie's sentimental value may be enough to satisfy the parents, but will probably stop short of inspiring younger followers.
6/10/20153 minutes, 39 seconds
Episode Artwork


What distinguishes South African-Canadian filmmaker Neil Blomkamp from others is the audacity to challenge the traditional concept of human existence.In his first film "District 9," co-written by Neil and his wife Terri Tatchell, the lead character was infected by a fluid which gradually turned his physical form into that of an alien. The sight of a human body morphing and developing the feature of an insect-like creature was not appealing to average viewers’ stomachs. His 2013 science fiction movie "Elysium" was a big-budget blockbuster. For better box office results the director had to tune down on his peculiar interest, although he still introduced the idea of an exoskeleton surgically attached to the body of the lead character. The story was written single-handedly by Neil Blomkamp.The latest science fiction film "Chappie" was once again the brain child of the Blomkamp couple. With a budget slightly bigger than "District 9," the new piece allows the director to continue the agenda of producing disturbingly fantastic imagery."Chappie" has something in common with the sci-fi blockbuster "Avengers: Age of Ultron." Both were released in China in the same month and both featured a sentient robot. While Ultron's newly acquired thinking capacity was led astray by bloody events in human history, Chappie encounters evils of a more tangible and more immediate kind. Right after the inception of his mind, Chappie is held in captivity by a gang who teach him gang swagger and four-letter words. He is also given the valuable lesson of being lied to and learns about the fact that he, like other living things on the planet, must die one day.Instead of fixating on the topic of artificial intelligence and engaging in a philosophical discussion about nature and nurture, I would prefer to highlight the director's apparent loathing of the human form, his fear of death and his eagerness to amend nature's very first largess to mankind. In each of his feature film, his lead character takes on an alternative physical form. "Now, you will live forever, Maker," thus speaks Chappie to his creator Deon, after he transfers the latter's mind to a robot's.In most science fiction stories it is common to find the glorification of a certain type of human virtue, be it courage, intelligence or compassion. Such films are intrinsically narcissistic. In comparison, Neil Blomkamp's critical spirit comes as a fresh, though not quite pleasant, complement.Of Neil Blomkamp's three recent products, "District 9" won the director critical acclaim and world recognition, "Elysium" failed to offer refreshed excitement despite a bigger budget, and even "Chappie" packed a weak punch due to implausible twists in an unconvincing story. But still I will continue to check out on Neil's future films, for all the unconventional whims they might or might not provide.
6/3/20154 minutes, 10 seconds
Episode Artwork


Despite some credibility and consistency issues, Chinese courtroom drama "12 Citizens" is otherwise a successful adaptation of a classic text.In 1954 American film and television writer Reginald Rose wrote the script for the teleplay "Twelve Angry Men," where 12 jurors try to reach a unanimous decision on the fate of a young murder suspect. The story has since been adapted multiple times by various filmmakers in different countries. Each of the adaptations reflected different social-political issues in a specific time and place.In the 1957 American film, the fate of a Latino slum dweller was the centre of jury deliberation. In the 1991 Japanese adaptation, the examination of gender equality was an underlying agenda. The 2007 Russian interpretation involved a young Chechen boy and his Russian military officer step-father. In the Chinese remake "12 Citizens," wealth gap, social equality and stereotyping are scrutinized.While the problems in question are valid concerns in China today, the filmmakers have to cobble up an imaginary circumstance because jury is not part of the judiciary system in the Chinese mainland. So 12 people from all walks of life are gathered for no compelling reason to play the role of jurors in a mock trial held in a law school. No real suspect's life is at stake and no juror is in a hurry to watch a football game, none of the 12 citizens has an actual stake in the case, but they get emotional over the course of discussion nonetheless.The slippery setting notwithstanding, the film does unfold to dramatic results. 36-year-old first time feature director Xu Ang has been a director at Beijing People's Art Theatre for more than a decade, his rapport with stage actors has blessed the film with distinctive theatric glamour.All major characters in the film are played by stage actors from Beijing People's Art Theatre, who are widely known for their professionalism and devotion. Their excellent acting breathes life into their characters and the largely dialogue-dominated story, therefore lending dimensions to the small shabby warehouse where the debate takes place.A taxi driver, a real estate developer, a physician and a shop keeper, people of different professions and ages offer their opinions from their own perspectives, as much about the case as about their own obsessions and dilemmas. For all the various social problems the film has revealed, "12 Citizens" also points to a prevalent lack of understanding for the rule of law and people's inability or reluctance to adopt reason."12 Citizens" may not qualify as an authentic courtroom drama, but like other adaptations of Reginald Rose's story, it offers an analysis into the lives and values of different members of a specific society. And unlike a high-flying Avengers film, it brings people down to earth and makes them wonder why it is so hard for people to have a normal, cool-headed conversation.
5/21/20153 minutes, 50 seconds
Episode Artwork


When I was a school boy, Japanese comics were the currency of the day. Whoever came into possession of one volume of Dragon Ball or Saint Seiya would instantly become the most popular kid, at least among the boys. During breaks and on the way home, their friendly discussions and passionate squabbles often centred on whether Vegeta could beat Goku or who among the Knights of the Zodiac was the strongest. Through the exchange of stories and opinions, acquaintances became friends and the manga stories the shared experience of almost an entire generation. Today, if the occasion permits, reference to Dragon Ball or Saint Seiya often brings young Chinese people closer to each other.In the future, young adults around the world will probably have a shared topic when they meet each other for the first time at English corners or a friend's home party, that is Marvel Studio films. Avengers: Age of Ultron, the latest entry in Marvel's Cinematic Universe, garnered 33.9 million dollars on the opening day in China, bringing the total global income close to 1 billion dollars. Like all major blockbusters, the superhero ensemble has become a global phenomenon in spite of itself.For major productions of this scale, the role of a director as an artist often gives way to that of a supervisor, personality and style have to come after the ability to honour deadlines and see through the production process. Director Joss Whedon may have tried to portray each of the superheroes in a different and personal light, but balancing the screen time is no easy job because most of the characters are big shots who deserve a standalone film by themselves. Plus the director often has to surrender to the impulse of creating super-powered spectacles. "Age of Ultron" appears to have improved both in character-building and visual splendour, but if you care to look closer, the improvements are insignificant, if any.First of all, not all character building serves a purpose. For example, when Scarlett Johanson's Black Widow looks into her past tragedies, the revelation hardly propels the storyline. The rift between Ironman and Captain America does move things ahead, but only if you look at the larger picture and the entire storyline of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As for the arch-villain Ultron, the enemy believed to be more powerful and smarter than anything the heroes have ever faced before all but crumbles in front of the half united force of the Avengers. What a waste of James Spader's brilliant voice acting!Surely there is something in these spectacles, since an unprecedented 3000 shots have gone through enhancement during post production. But extended fighting sequences or smooth action choreograph cannot appeal to viewers who doze off. I personally cannot recall what happens to Thor and the Black Widow during their loud business in South Africa, and I'm sure others feel weary too during the gruesome 140-minute sedentary stint.Now these are the things I'll talk about with British co-workers and we'll have a good time agreeing or fighting each other. And I imagine young people from different parts of the world will one day come together and enjoy a conversation about it just as much. For all its imperfections, Marvel Studio movies at least have the benefit of bringing the world together.
5/21/20154 minutes, 49 seconds
Episode Artwork


Watching Hong Kong crime thriller "Helios" is like watching American TV series "24," or more precisely, the first few episodes of any season of "24."At the centre of "Helios" is a weapon of mass destruction, a portable nuclear bomb stolen from South Korea and transported to Hong Kong. Here at the so-called international intelligence hub, a villain code-named Helios plans to sell the device to the highest bidder. But things don't work out as planned and the nuke ends up in the hands of the Hong Kong police, who in turn become the target of various intelligence agents.Hong Kong actor Nick Cheung plays a local detective Eric Lee who resembles Jack Bauer from "24." Similar to Bauer's "ends justifies the means" approach, Mr. Lee resorts to intimidation, blackmail and plain violence to squeeze out every possible lead from captured suspects. Once a Royal Hong Kong Police officer, award-winning Nick Cheung could have sparkled with authenticity in this role, but all he achieves is a slightly more notable presence than other cast members.Apparently Detective Lee's instinct of a bloodhound is not the only element that drives the narrative, Nick also has to share the screen time with local singer Jacky Cheung, Taiwan star Zhang Zhen, mainland veteran Wang Xueqi, and even South Korean heartthrobs Ji Jin-hee and Choi Si-won.These heavyweights have been summoned to fill the roles on different sides as screenwriters and directors Longman Leung and Sunny Luk spin an enormous web of multiple narratives. On the surface the viewers are introduced to an unspecified high-ranking official from Chinese mainland, a weapon specialist from South Korea, an arms dealer in Macau and a local Hong Kong physicist, but working secretly beneath the complicated narrative, there are other players trying to get a hold of the lethal device.To incorporate such complicated storylines while maintaining a sense of suspense is a test of the screenwriter's prowess. Longman Leung and Sunny Luk may have proven their skills with 2012 police thriller "Cold War," but in attempting a storyline of this complexity they've bitten off more than they can chew. When every character's lines are reduced to more than a few sentences at each encounter, viewers are not given a healthy amount of suspension to exercise their brains, but an irritating overdose of frustration.And for many viewers that frustration haunts them all the way till the end, where no nuclear weapon is diffused and no bad guy is killed. The final showdown brings two of the many sides face to face, only to agree on the beginning of a new round in a sequel that may or may not be made in the future. It feels just like finishing the 8th episode of "24" and not knowing when the 9th will be available.The failure to manage a sprawling story also impacts on the spectacle. Notably the first gunfight scene is the most impressive, while the ensuing action is scaled down as the story unfolds and the camps becomes more clear-cut. But this is not necessarily a bad thing if there were to be a sequel. With "Cold War" and "Helios", the directors have already proven their competence with office politics-based stories rather than action scenes, it won't be too late to return to their area of expertise in a make-up sequel. After all you can't really de-activate a nuclear bomb with a bullet.
5/7/20154 minutes, 38 seconds
Episode Artwork


Britain's first female ambassador to China, Barbara Janet Woodward, once compared China-UK relationship to the ancient Chinese cooking utensil known as a Ding, which is a type of pot with three legs. Now that government-to-government and business-to-business ties are bolstering each other, the time has come to take more action in people-to-people and cultural exchanges. In March 2015 when Britain's Prince William paid a visit to China, one of the many items on his itinerary was to promote British films."Kingsman: The Secret Service" is one of the British pictures to reach the Chinese people following in the footsteps of the Duke of Cambridge. The spy action comedy film depicts a group of agents working for a top-secret independent intelligence organisation. Their investigation over a series of kidnap cases lead to the discovery of a sinister plot against all mankind. Many government officials, business leaders and scientists have already joined the bad guys, and the Kingsmen disguised as tailors are the only ones left to turn the tide.Adapted from comic book "The Secret Service" and helmed by "Kickass" director Matthew Vaughn, the film is permeated with comic style. The action sequences are clearly unrealistic but flow smoothly like good wine spilt on satin. Even more remarkable is the perfect sync between the pictures and the soundtrack by Henry Jackman, but not all viewers will notice this because their attention is divided on Colin Firth's posh accent, his bespoke suit and too frequent use of bad puns.These are some of the most typical icons of British culture which the Chinese people are familiar with. There are also similarities to earlier classic spy movies, which will ring a bell with Chinese moviegoers. The element of familiarity may help the audience appreciate the film better, but it also runs the risk of enhancing stereotyping, and that doesn't help cultural exchanges very much.Despite a lack of originality, "Kingsman" still manages to attract a large viewership in China, earning 350 million yuan in two weeks. The success in a large part is due to the charm of lead actor Colin Firth wearing an expensive tailor-made suit, but young actor Taron Egerton is equally impressive in an equally expensive outfit.
4/9/20153 minutes, 27 seconds
Episode Artwork


For mortal men and women, life is the irreversible progression of time marked by a series of meaningful and meaningless events. Oftentimes, it is the latter that wears away our tenure in this world.However, for Guo Gangtang, a former tractor driver in East China's Shandong Province, a considerable portion of his life, some 16 years, was devoted to a nationwide search for his missing son. He probably would have lived an uneventful but happier life if his son wasn't kidnapped, but who is to say his 400,000-kilometre journey on motorcycle was meaningless? After all, his efforts did lead to the reunion of seven broken families. Guo's story has been adapted by writer and first-time director Peng Sanyuan into a film drama "Lost and Love". The father, who went on a desperate search for his son, is portrayed by Hong Kong artist Andy Lau. The 53-year-old veteran donned tattered clothes and smeared greasy dirt on his face to represent the road-weary and weather-beaten motorcyclist. Some viewers pick on Lau's performance, saying his superstar quality encroaches on his character, but the archetype Guo Gangtang is very impressed and gives extra credit to the way Andy speaks of his sorrows and determination with the look of devastation in his eyes.At the beginning of the film, the man's solitary quest brings him to the more populous cities of China, where he believes the kidnappers must have sold his son. But soon he changes his destination to the country's remote rural areas as a young stranger joins him on a search for birth parents. Young actor and singer Jing Boran is a newcomer in the film industry, but he is certainly able to hold his own against the heavyweight co-star Andy Lau.Unlike previous child abduction story "Dearest" by Hong Kong director Peter Chan, Peng Sanyuan's directorial debut avoids dramatic conflicts but successfully invokes the viewers' compassion for those who've lost their loved ones. More importantly, the example of a man who puts his life on hold for 16 years in pursuit of a single purpose could enlighten some viewers on the meaning of their own existence.Last but not least, as the characters traverse the country looking for their lost family members, cinematographer Lee Pinbing seals their frustrations and renewed hopes in fresh shots of rural China. And those breathtaking pictures, my friends, are one more reason why you shouldn't miss "Lost and Love."
4/1/20153 minutes, 56 seconds
Episode Artwork


7 years ago when Beijing staged the Opening Ceremony of the 29th Olympic Games, I was moved to tears thinking this grand event could be an opportunity for the world to understand the friendly Chinese people and their culture. Now seven years later, Chinese historical action film "Dragon Blade" also calls for understanding and friendship in the same spirit, it made my eyes moist again, but failed to create the same emotional ripples that resonated in my heart 7 years ago.Hong Kong director Daniel Lee's "Dragon Blade" stars Jackie Chan and tells the story of a Roman Legion that found its way to the northwest border region of the Han Empire. Roman general Lucius, played by John Cusack, clashes with Jackie Chan's character Huo An, a commander of a Silk Road Protection Squad. Circumstances push the two sides to a truce, before both sides face annihilation by the usurping Roman Emperor Tiberius and his overwhelming expedition troops.Director Daniel Lee is most commonly known for the chic, UFO-shaped helmets in his historical films. According to some Chinese critics, this excess of originality amounts to a lack of respect for history. The mistake regarding the location of Yumenguan, or the Wild Geese Gate, in "Dragon Blade" suggests he is not very well informed about China, although he does show some knowledge regarding Western culture. His 2011 movie "White Vengeance" was a Gothic retelling about the life of first Han Dynasty Emperor Liu Bang, which bore much resemblance to the Shakespearean story of King Lear. In "Dragon Blade", he's done a good job highlighting the engineering prowess of the Roman Legionaries and offers remarkable display of the Roman shield wall technique.The visual aspect of "Dragon Blade" exceeds the standard of a Chinese blockbuster production, and the story would have developed smoothly, had Daniel Lee been able to rein in the ill-placed enthusiasm of producer Jackie Chan. Over his entire career, the Hong Kong martial artist has built and maintained an upright profile with consistency and resolve, and lately he has developed a habit of using movies as a venue for expression. Of course movies, like other art forms, are a body of expression by nature, but among all the media available to filmmakers' discretion, putting ideas in an actor's mouth is perhaps the laziest and most awkward choice, albeit the most explicit.In "Dragon Blade", Jackie Chan takes upon his character to voice his longings for peace and mutual understanding. His wishes are not unwelcome in the wake of recent unrest in Northwest China where the story is set. But time and time again, he interrupts the pace of the film with empty speeches without actually reaching the audience. In fact, the 7-year-old actor Jozef Waite has better chance of winning people's heart with a touching song than Chan's sincere words.So, now comparing the similar emotional encounters, I recognise the changes in my own thinking over the years. No longer the innocent idealist who thought the simplest manifest of good will was enough to deserve a good turn, now I've realised that action speaks louder than words and nothing promotes mutual understanding better than common interest. The most effective way to foster understanding and promote stability in the border region is to bring prosperity to the locals, and to achieve that we'll have to rely more on investment in the "Silk Road Economic Belt" project than on Jackie Chan's honourable persistence in the movie industry. Anyone can be a willing member of the Silk Road Protection Squad if they have a stake in the joint venture.
3/26/20155 minutes, 14 seconds
Episode Artwork


这期音响木有字幕,只有大纲可以参考一下。​​Birdman is the winner of the best picture Oscar at the 86th Academy Awards. It is a story about an old actor who has past his prime and fallen back to obscurity. He tries to prove his worth by staging a stage play, but gets disappoionted over and over again. Meanwhile, he clings to his glorious past playing popular superhero Birdman and imagines himself having super powers.Today, Sam Ducket is here with me to talk about this immensely depressing story.1. cinematography, a best cinematography Oscar for , arranged and edited to look as if the pictures are filmed in on shot.a) flex his muscles to show he can do itb) highlight the series of unfortunate happenings that lead to the character's decision in the enddoes it deserve the prize?c) get used to it in 15 minutesd) the amount of editing vs boyhood, messages in the shots vs The Grand Budapest Hotel2. Begging for love, backstage story that appeal to old men at the Academy who get to call the shots once every year.The Artist, Hugo, all films about movie-makingmeager domestic ticket sales of $37.8 million
3/19/20157 minutes, 25 seconds
Episode Artwork


3/4/20155 minutes, 43 seconds
Episode Artwork


2/27/20157 minutes, 30 seconds
Episode Artwork


February 14 2015, while the world relished director Sam Taylor-Johnson's erotic drama "Fifty Shades of Grey" on Valentine's Day, Chinese lovers had to settle for a tourism marketing video in the guise of a love story."Somewhere Only We Know", or "'You Yi Ge Di Fang Zhi You Wo Men Zhi Dao", is a romantic story with minimum nudity. It is about the encounters of a young Chinese woman who has been dumped at the altar. In order to calm her nerves after the traumatic experience and also to revisit one episode of her late grandmother's past, Jin Tian travels to the Eastern European city of Prague, where she meets rich kid and single dad Ze Yang.The story basically follows the recipe of every other romantic film. The two characters eventually grow fond of each other despite some initial misunderstandings, but more challenges will emerge before they are to live happily ever after.Apart from the predictable storyline, there are also some unexpected and unpleasant surprises.Take the first half hour for example where the director juggles mismatching tasks. On the one hand, she wants to make the best of the exotic scenery in Prague, so here we have the typical sunny, dreamy-coloured shots, similar to the demonstration videos played by TV salesmen in their stores. On the other hand, the director also tries desperately to convince the audience about the trauma our dear heroine has sustained from a failed relationship. To achieve this, the film plays ghostly music every time our fair actress gives in to distraught recollection. The ghostly music may work for horror films, but definitely doesn't go with the beautiful pictures.However, what bothers me the most are not the constant close-ups on the early Baroque style architecture and the young couple's smooth faces amid a haunting soundtrack, if I covered my ears, the pictures were still pleasant to look at. However I could not stand the clumsy way the film trumpets a so-called "international flavour". When Jin Tian discovers a love letter addressed to her grandmother, she was not able to read it because it is written in the Czech language. She turns to Ze Yang for translation, and he reads it out in Chinese. Then half way during the reading, touching music kicks in and the old Czech writer himself reads the latter half in ENGLISH! In fact, every major Prague character in the film speaks English rather than their native West Slavic language.If the purpose is to sound "International", perhaps the director could let the Czech characters speak their native tongue, most Chinese viewers are reading the subtitles for the English dialogue anyway. Or the conversations could all be dubbed into Chinese, I don't suppose any Chinese viewer would object to that. But if I were allowed to indulge my imagination and meanness a bit, I think the reason is perhaps our dear director herself speaks a bit of English and would like to show off her linguistic prowess in the role of the charming grandmother.It is a mean speculation, but one that rather befits Xu Jinglei's public profile as a female talent. 10 years ago, Ms Xu was the blog queen of China. With decent calligraphy skills and a face not too bad to look at, she was able to attract followers in their tens of millions to visit her blog space, where she offered nothing particularly interesting but the simple life of a celebrity. The fact that she was among the first to set up a blog plus her knowledge about and access to an exclusive part of the world simply fueled public curiosity.This kind of monopoly of knowledge and information is being challenged by the advent of the Internet and proliferation of mobile devices. With a few taps on their smartphones, the Chinese people can now instantly learn about the lives of people around the world, and with increased wealth, more of them can afford to travel overseas to see the world for themselves. Prague, or any other city for that matter, is no longer somewhere only the director knows, but somewhere everyone can know.As China continues to open up, amateur directors will find it increasingly difficult to shortchange their viewers with patchy "international flavours". Soon they'll have to choose between obscurity and making really good films.
2/25/20156 minutes, 35 seconds
Episode Artwork


To think outside the box is an exceptional ability and one that few people can claim to possess. Just to capture an occasional spark of that creative enlightenment, we often have to break away from the confines of existing norms. For most Chinese and other descendants of agrarian societies, Lv Jiamin's semi-autobiographical novel "Wolf Totem", which he wrote in 2004 under the pseudonym Jiang Rong, was a real eye-opener about life on the Mongolian grasslands. Now a decade has passed, Jean-Jacques Annaud's film adaptation of the story once again warns us against the complacency that we might hold for our current way of living.Like the original novel, the French director's adaptation is a eulogy to nomadic cultures. The lead character Chen Zhen is a student who is sent to the Inner Mongolian steppes for re-education in the 1960s. While living among the nomads, the city boy observed (but failed to learn) the locals' respect for freedom and nature and became fascinated with the wolves, the agents of nature in nomadic belief.The ancient Chinese literati liked to place themselves at the centre of a middle kingdom and always bragged about their cultural superiority as compared to the outlying barbarians. While they may have thrived in the affluence of a self-contained agrarian economy, they also missed out on the vitality and enterprise of an open society. They were equally forgetful of the renewed strength that China obtained from each wave of "barbarian" invasions.On the contrary, both the "Wolf Totem" novel and the film note and glorify a so-called pastoral lifestyle which contemplates everything in a circle of life and seeks to maintain a balance of all living things in the food chain. That means farming is not necessarily the best means of living, wolves are not necessarily a nuisance and their cunning, discipline and patience in their game of hunting represent the naturalist wisdom of a heavenly deity.Exactly how much of the story reflects the true pastoral way of living or whether it is morally acceptable to glamorise such a killer instinct is open to debate, but as worldwide consumerism depletes the planet's resources at unprecedented rates, such a story does give us a perspective outside our usual line of thought to examine the issue of progress and sustainability. Ours should not be a debate about the superiority of nomadic or agrarian cultures, but whether and how we should save both from total annihilation in the wake of expanding consumerism and information industry. By depicting the free spirit of the wolves, Jean-Jacques Annaud is indeed directing our thinking capacity to study our current state from the perspective of an outsider.Annaud himself did the unthinkable by refusing to cast digital wolves. With the help of Scottish animal trainer Andrew Simpson, the crew have spent three years breeding three generations of Mongolian grassland wolves, until the animals are taught to run, sit, snarl and do all kinds of stunts people don't normally see at the Cirque du Soleil. In the end, the "Wolf Totem" film contains the best of about a thousand shots of real wolves, their performance overshadow their Homo Sapien counterparts in the cast.Actor Feng Shaofeng has made a bit of a name in recent years after his portrayal of several masculine characters. Although he always lacked the kind of subtlety required of a first-rate actor, he has done a good job at picking projects. In "Wolf Totem", his big, innocent eyes were perfect for the role of wolf-lover Chen Zhen, who neither quite understands the prudence of the Agrarian Han people, nor the naturalist wisdom of the grassland-roamers. His performance here is satisfactory, but to win top honours, he will have to think outside the box and pick more challenging roles in the future.So in conclusion, "Wolf Totem" is an unconventional movie with strong philosophical and artistic value. It is a story of wolves that kills at the very beginning of the Chinese year of sheep.
2/10/20155 minutes, 47 seconds
Episode Artwork


To recognise a chick flick requires two simple steps. First you look at the colour of the pictures, if the images scream of loud, warm and dreamy colours, you can be 80 percent sure. Then you look at the story, if it deals with heartbreaks or unrequited love, it is no doubt a chick flick.However there are distinctions within the genre should you care to look closer. If the characters quote a dead poet or a dead writer, or try to speak like one, you are watching a Woody Allen film; but if someone fiddles with a musical instrument, most likely it is a John Carney production.In 2006, John Carney's musical "Once" received wide acclaim from the critics and audience members, particularly for its original score and the actors' spontaneous performances. Seven years later, the Irish director presented the world with another low-budget movie "Begin Again", with the same originality and an equally pleasant soundtrack.Starring Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo and Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine, the story centres on a talented young girl who suffers a setback in a cherished relationship. She meets a middle-aged man, who is undergoing a bit of crisis of his own, but happens to be a gifted music producer. The man recognises her musical talent, and convinces her to record an album.By now most of you would have figured out the ending of the film. Yes, yes, the recording process helps the troubled characters walk out of the shadow to begin a new chapter of their lives. That's what chick flicks do, they try to highlight the positive side of life and make viewers feel good.But despite the stereotypical storyline, "Begin Again" is not without pleasant surprises. The secret lies in the way the album is recorded. While enjoying the Oscar-worthy, original scores by Danielle Brisebois and New Radicals frontman Gregg Alexander, viewers are also given a tour of the streets of New York City. And if Kiera Knightley's presentable voice isn't enough to impress you, Adam Levine certainly deserves extra credit.Woody Allen likes to show off his literary learning, while John Carney believes in the magic of music. Carney may not be as productive as the old man, but he nonetheless shares the same sincerity in his obsession. His quest to save people’s lives with music has only just begun.
2/2/20153 minutes, 37 seconds
Episode Artwork


1/30/20157 minutes, 34 seconds
Episode Artwork


1/15/20156 minutes, 36 seconds
Episode Artwork


When I was just a little boy, I always fancied Chinese epic war films, like "The Tunnel War", "The Mine War" and the "Three Great Campaigns" franchise. These films provided enough fanfare, action and heroism that a small boy desired. But when I was a bit older, I began to reflect on their storylines, which were based on Chinese people's struggle in the first half of the 20th century. I recognised their rich historical and ideological contexts and thought perhaps these films were uniquely made in China.As it turned out I was wrong, and it took another few years before I realised that all cultures honoured heroes in one way or another. In the USA, one of the most effective ways popular with kids was Captain America, a comic book character who protected his country and people with patriotism and super powers. Captain Steve Rogers was the 20th-century equivalent to the heroes in Chinese war films.But coming into the 21st century, the spirit of Captain America is continued in Marvel Studio's movie universe ambition and sold to overseas markets. This year Chinese audiences have paid more than 110 million US dollars to watch "Captain America: the Winter Soldier". In comparison, China has had no presentable products to speak of. The 2009 blockbuster "The Founding of A Republic" looked more like the footage of a star-lit red-carpet event than an adequate film. Most of the historical legends are being told and retold on the smaller screens of televisions, but sadly the quality of Chinese television on average is even lower than that of Chinese cinema.Tsui Hark's 2014 action film "The Taking of Tiger Mountain" is the most recent attempt to modernise the heroic narrative of contemporary China. It is also the most successful in reaching a large audience.First of all, older viewers are attracted to the film. Based on a model opera made during China's Cultural Revolution, "The Taking of Tiger Mountain" is about the story of a soldier who infiltrated and destroyed a gang of bandits in the snowy mountains of Northeast China in 1946. The model opera was immensely popular in its day, so older viewers are bound to show an interest in how the piece has been adapted. For the first time after Zhang Yimou's family drama "Coming Home", people above the age of 50 will bother to visit Chinese cinemas.However there is no guarantee that they will like it. The adaptation is mostly meant for younger viewers who are the driving force behind the recent expansion of the Chinese movie market. With cutting-edge technologies, the filmmakers have been able to scale up the spectacle. For example, the movie now includes a scene where the main character fights a tiger, and the authenticity of the computer-generated animal is comparable to its cousin in Ang Lee's adventure drama "Life of Pi".The visual gimmickry is present in every part of the 3D film, and the quick pacing helps make a very compelling story. But behind all the modernised storyline, there seems to be something that doesn't belong.At first I blamed the good-looking but unskilled young actors and actresses, then near the end of the film the final showdown reminded me of how much the movie resembled a Marvel Studios product. Tsui Hark has always been known for his skills with drawing pens and storyboards, it is how he gets the ideal shots for his movies. But this time, I think he has overplayed the visual stunt and forced a layer of comic style on the story and characters, which kind of takes the heroism out of the equation.And, by the way, when I mentioned the good-looking but unskilled young actors and actresses, I wasn't speaking about lead actor Zhang Hanyu and his antagonist Tony Leung, they are not really that young anymore and they are pretty impressive in their roles.
1/1/20155 minutes, 31 seconds
Episode Artwork


In 2010, Chinese director Jiang Wen released an action comedy film “Let the Bullets Fly” which rocked the country’s movie market. Its huge commercial success made everyone believe Jiang had found the way to dominate Chinese cinemas. In fact, his grip on the audience was so firm that even critics refrained from pricking, or if they did whine their voices must certainly have been drowned in the deafening sound of adulation. But with the advent of his new film “Gone with the Bullets”, the previously muffled discontent of his antagonists has suddenly found an outlet. Starting from real estate veteran Ren Zhiqiang who spoke of his difficulties understanding the movie, more and more self-styled critics blamed their bewilderment on the director’s ego. They believe that Jiang Wen had once again lost control in narcissistic self expression and this is going to cost him dearly in audience reception. One thing about the film that sets the critics on fire is the vast number of messages hidden in the story. In 1920, a Shanghai playboy Yan Ruisheng robbed and murdered a well-known prostitute, he was later caught and publicly executed. But that was not the whole story, before the case was closed, local media had explored and exposed almost every detail of the suspect and his victim. And after Yan’s death, his crime was told in China’s first full-length movie and once again became a product for public entertainment. “Gone with the Bullets” examines the relative truths in news reporting and filmmaking, the director’s idea is best represented by a scene where his character vandalizes a camera in a film set. This is just one example of Jiang’s many implicit ideas. During 140 minutes of sitting, we also witness new money’s attempts to become respectably “old”, a politically married couple’s advices to their daughter regarding the importance of concubines and the wisdom about men, plus a lot more metaphors and mockeries. All of these can be too much to digest, it certainly took me a second viewing to get a better overview. And comprehension is not made easier by the varied forms of expression. Beginning with an extravagant beauty show featuring garish colors, loud music and way too many bared legs, the movie’s narrative is continued in talk show, black and white silent film and stage play, all the while paying tribute to “The Godfather”, “A Trip to the Moon”, “2001: A Space Odyssey” and many other classic films. This wealth of information and sometimes contradicting opinions drive the critics over the edge. Some of them refer to Jiang Wen’s good upbringing and his other auteur films as evidence to suggest he is an elitist director and has no respect for the needs of the viewers. I think these critics’ accusations are not well grounded. First of all, one doesn’t have to be an elite to be able to enjoy classic music and classic films invoked in Jiang’s story, and the reluctance to exercise one’s brain should not be encouraged as normality. China’s movie industry has already seen too much banality made in the name of satisfying the audience. It is high time we stopped feeding the viewers with nonsensical comedies, it is the ultimate crime of disrespect a director can commit against his viewers. Jiang Wen, on the other hand, has consistently encouraged his fans to think with his challenging storylines, and the images and music in his films are always enjoyable. Any viewer in their right mind who refuses to wallow in the mud of vulgarity will be able to appreciate the healthy amount of his narcissism. The only question is, who would you rather be?
12/25/20145 minutes
Episode Artwork


When people talk about Richard Linklater's ground-breaking film "Boyhood", they always speak of the 12 years the project has spanned, as if time when it reaches certain scale acquires a magical ability to amplify the nature of things. In certain sense it is true. For example, solitude can be kind of sad, but if you add 100 years to it, you get the inconsolable sadness of a literary masterpiece. But it is not always the case, a lot of us live to the age of 80 without achieving anything but sustained banality. Time does not automatically translate those unfruitful decades into polished brilliance. Richard Linklater's movie is intimately married to time, but it is something in the movie that keeps the marriage a happy union. The excellence of "Boyhood" comes not only from the dogged perseverance and priestly devotion to keep the project going for 12 years, but from the ways in which ideas have been shaped and acted out, filmed and edited, before they are unveiled to the world. Essentially a coming-of-age film about a boy who grows up to be a young adult under adverse circumstances, "Boyhood" was conceived by a director whose fascination with motion pictures takes on unique forms. His love for long-term projects has already been proved by the "Before …" films, but "Boyhood" obviously required more understanding and cooperation on the part of its cast members. Luckily, they not only went along with the plan, but also contributed precious ideas to the story they were telling. Filming over such a large time span involves plenty of risks, for instance it is impossible to travel back in time for extra filming should something go missing in previous shooting. The director and cast members had to determine the basic plot at an early stage and stick to it with precision. Such planning and execution bore fruit. At the end of the film, viewers are accustomed to the quiet, sensitive and thoughtful personality of the boy, partly because of the ever-improving skill of actor Ellar Coltrane, but also because previous events have all led up to the last scene. Dramatic, character-defining moments such as a row between the parents are important but easy to arrange; but subtle moments such as the kid's troubled look at the fighting parents are much more eloquent landmarks in character development. "Boyhood" is a realistic chronicle of a boy's encounters as he gradually matures, the scenes are pieced together in such a way that perfectly accommodates the changes in the boy's physical appearance and intellectual makeup over the decade. Empathizing viewers could easily fall prey to its melancholy, the type of melancholy only hours of senseless social networking could avert.
12/11/20144 minutes, 13 seconds
Episode Artwork


Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them. There is one point missing in William Shakespeare's romantic tribute to great persons, they are not always immediately appreciated. Some historical figures like Vincent van Gogh wait for decades, patiently in their deaths, before their names receive world acknowledgement. Stephen Hawking is lucky in this sense, the scientist's best-seller "A Brief History of Time" has allowed us - his contemporaries - to realize his brilliance as he continues a life-long struggle with motor neuron disease. But the greatness of his ex-wife, Jane Wilde, is yet to be explored in the movie "The Theory of Everything". Inspired by Jane's memoir "Traveling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen Hawking", the biographical romance is told from a female perspective. It is true director James Marsh's film describes how Stephen Hawking achieved international fame in the world of science. Screenwriter Anthony McCarten's story is not about archaic laboratories or indecipherable formulae on dusty blackboards, it is about the love story of Stephen Hawking and Jane Wilde. He is a science dude who studies cosmology - which he calls the religion for intelligent atheists, and she is an arts student who goes to the Church of England. It is extraordinary the two young students so different from each other could hit it off, but even more extraordinary is their life together, during which Stephen developed his famous theorem about time while Jane took care of his needs in the family. They tried to live a normal life and be a normal family for two and a half decades, until the debilitating disease became an insurmountable obstacle for the union. Unlike director James Marsh's previous work on the thriller "Shadow Dancer" which is full of suspension and foreboding, "The Theory of Everything" takes on a lighter tone, all the while stressing the loving aspects of their relationship and flowing smoothly in warm-colored shots and emotions. Eddie Redmayne as the wheel-chaired professor is charged with the task to reproduce Stephen's good sense of humor and the progressive symptoms; he is very effective in making the audience feel for the victims of the ALS disease: certainly more effective than most who took the ice-bucket challenge. Felicity Jones shows strength in a quiet way and proves Jane's devotion and perseverance in everything the couple has achieved jointly. When Stephen was diagnosed with the terminal disease, he was given two years to live. Now half a century has passed the cosmologist is still exploring the universe at Cambridge; he owes that at least in part to Jane Wilde. "The Theory of Everything" is a recollection of the happy moments in Stephen and Jane's relationship, and the filmmakers have done a great job sharing these moments with a greater audience.
12/4/20144 minutes
Episode Artwork


Despite Christopher Nolan's conscientious efforts in keeping his filming projects secret, what he cunningly gave out to feed the press was enough to indicate his latest outing would be a very simple story. Months before the release date, I was looking forward to something similar to Alfonso Cuaron's "Gravity". I knew it would be spectacular, but never expected it to be so phenomenal. At least in China, the space epic stirred up huge ripples. Comments about the film were flying all over the internet: movie experts wondered how the amazing special effects were created, young women relished the loving family connection tale, the scientific community picked on a few bugs but were generally satisfied with the reportedly accurate presentation of certain astrophysical theories, science fiction lovers were probably bored by a lack of originality in the storyline but nonetheless made themselves useful by highlighting the director's tributes to previous, classic films, still some people complained they didn't understand what the film was all about, but they cared enough about it to put their ideas out there. So, in a word, the film was the topic of the day and everyone wanted to be a part of the discussion. The nerds have been thorough in their examinations. Simplified scripts can now be found online, explaining every detail of the story and helping people understand the intellectually challenging parts. It seemed most viewers were simply awe-stricken by the powerful images: the menacing look of an all-engulfing black hole, the thrilling journey through a worm hole, the bizarre environment of extraterrestrial planets, all of which amplified and thrown at you on an IMAX screen, accompanied by the haunting scores from Hans Zimmer. But above all the visual glamour, there is one point that the excited viewers and critics were missing, that is, the passion for space exploration. Just like the teachers in the movie who claimed America's moon landing mission was just a scam and a waste of money, people of our times are not showing much interest in space missions. Let's face it, Alfonso Cuaron's "Gravity" was just a visual stunt, albeit a smashing one; the reboot of Star Trek franchise is not longer about the spirit of going boldly where no man has gone before, as it is about action choreography and big budget special effects; and Marvel's cinematic universe is all but a fancy dream. Christopher Nolan's "Interstellar" may not be as realistic as "Gravity", or as funny as the Marvel's comic adaptations, but the space epic has successfully captured the sentiment of space explorers. Their fears are genuine fears that we all share and their love is true love that registers in our own hearts. So when you are watching "Interstellar", dwell not on the scientific aspects, just embrace all the sentiments that it can inspire on you.
11/18/20144 minutes, 12 seconds
Episode Artwork


The latest “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” movie is directed by Jonathan Liebesman, but the smell of producer Michael Bay permeates the stereotypical popcorn flick. Based more or less on the 1980s franchise of the same name, the film introduces a somewhat different origin story showing much closer connection between female journalist April O’Neil and the four humanoid reptiles. The team is still up against Foot Clan leader Shredder, who threatens to release a deadly virus to the New York City. Not much ingenuity is spent on the storyline, the format is almost identical to Michael Bay’s first Transformers film, only this time it is a girl that plays a tiny small part when the heroes are trying to save the day. There is a notable discrepancy between the first and second halves. In the beginning Megan Fox takes forever to portray the ambitious journalist in a frustrating career path. The extra screen time is completely wasted because once the turtles show up, the career thing is quietly dropped. Perhaps this is just a conspiracy to delay the appearance of the turtles. The sewer dwellers in Liebesman’s movie can be a bit scary to take in for faint-hearted viewers. It certainly took me quite a while to grow accustomed to their appearances. The action heavy second half makes it easier to ignore their looks. The Foot Clan and the turtles engage in battles in New York’s underground sewage system, in a mountaintop secret laboratory, during a slide down a snowy mountain and ultimately on the rooftop of a downtown high-rise, the downhill chase being the most inventive and the highlight of the action sequences. Despite the realistic rendering of the comic figures’ images, the film shows a layer of cartoonish style from time to time, which helps evoke a sense of nostalgia, but also makes it hard to relate with the characters when they get hit. “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”, the rare combination of so many nouns in the title may sound quite a mouthful, but it is no doubt most efficient in generating a huge fan base and sizable sales figures. Teenagers may be fascinated by stories about mutants and ninjas, but it is the word “teenage” in the title that makes the franchise stand out. Liebesman’s movie is characterized by the same juvenile level humor. The funny, adolescent perspectives on pizza, rap and popular TV shows and films are the saving grace of this tedious reboot.
11/11/20144 minutes, 10 seconds
Episode Artwork


French director Luc Besson must have allowed his imagination to go wild when he wrote the story for sci-fi action film “Lucy”, although the effect of such wildness is hard to determine. Scarlett Johansson plays the titular girl named Lucy, who is forced by a brutal gang to become an involuntary drug mule. During a violent encounter with a gang member, the small package sewn to her abdomen is broken and the leaked content is absorbed by her body immediately. This new type of synthetic drug unlocks the previously untapped potential of Lucy’s brain, giving her godly abilities such as telepath, control of gravity and many others. Ms. Johansson is very effective in her role. When taken by the callous gang, her trembling body and voice can totally convince us of her fears. And when the drug is being absorbed and processed, her gravity-defying movements herald a series of jaw-dropping developments. She grows colder and more impervious as she gains greater control of her cerebral power, but the actress is not to blame for a lack of expression, there simply is no need for emotions in the story. As Lucy experiences all those changes in her body, the film also tries to explain the phenomena. A certain Professor Norman played by Morgan Freeman introduces his theory at a symposium, his description matches the progress of Lucy’s transcendence and his image is intermittently evoked on screen to make sure the viewers are still following. The belief that humans only use a small part of our brain capacity has been the subject of many science fiction literature and films, but it is nonetheless a mere fantasy. Luc Besson’s “Lucy” is based on such a fantasy and for the most part consists of the director’s imagination of what it means to activate human brains on a full scale. There are some references to the purpose of life, but the topic is not treated with enough commitment. Anyway, before we arrive at the conclusion that “Lucy” is a childish story, let us at least entertain the idea that perhaps there is a hidden message behind the absence of logic. Days after watching the film, the title still reminds me of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”. The Beatles wrote a song about LSD, why can’t Luc Besson make a film about the influence of drugs?
10/30/20144 minutes, 3 seconds
Episode Artwork


When I heard about rock star Cui Jian's first feature film "The Blue Bone", my first reaction was to dismiss it as just another piece of amateur nonsense by someone trying to cash in on China's fast expanding film market. Heaven knows we've had enough of those recently. But before I even finished the film, I had begun to regret my narrow-minded assumption, "The Blue Bone" is one of the best directorial debuts in years, or at least it is better than the products of some who label themselves professional directors. The story is mostly about how two generations of Chinese musical talents struggle to fit in their times. Ni Hongjie plays a young woman in the 1980s who was expelled from an art troupe for writing a song of certain bold content. She was married to a man of secret service, but the temporary union eventually broke down. Decades later when their son became a young adult, he picked up his mother's tabooed song and at an underground concert spoke of his own life and dream as a misfit in the modern context. Meanwhile, the family's story is completed by a storyline about the father, who spent his entire life guarding the secret of a handgun and its damages on himself. China is going through rapid changes, changes that have moved Cui Jian and his songs to the category of nostalgia. Personally I've never listened attentively to his songs, it is only for the purpose of writing this review that I took quite some time reading his resume and warming up to his rich melodies and lyrics. His rise to stardom in the 1980s may have been the result of the country's opening-up and his diligent study of western styles, but he has also most assuredly proven his personal taste by the original ideas and sensitivity in his literary lyrics. That taste is also present in his cinematic creation. With the help of cinemagraphor Christopher Doyle, Cui Jian offers eloquent images imbued with rich symbolism and powerful sentiment. Throughout the film, the characters perform Cui Jian's songs twice: "Lost in Season" and "The Blue Bone", both are loaded with explosive passion. The non-linear narrative is a significant part of the film in the sense that it highlights the characters' difficulty with the world around them. It also breaks up the storytelling and makes it seem disorderly for impatient viewers who know little and care less about the history of contemporary China. "The Blue Bone" is not easily accessible due to Cui Jian's unique style and the setback in the narrative, it may not be the most profitable movie in the box office, some critics may even frown upon it to look smart. But it is not wise to discourage conscientious first timers, not when good taste is hard to find in the age of gold rush in China's movie industry.
10/23/20144 minutes, 23 seconds
Episode Artwork


Three days after watching "Guardians of the Galaxy", I still haven't quite shaken off the tight grip of its original soundtrack. "Hooked on a feeling", "Moonage Daydream", "Fooled Around and Fell in Love", "Cherry Bomb" and "Come and Get Your Love" have been looping non-stop in the background as I tended to domestic chores over the weekend. The smoggy weather of Beijing made it almost a suicide attempt for people to venture outdoors, but thanks to "Awesome Mix Vol. 1", I didn't feel the least confined or depressed. The amazing soundtrack is just one small part of Disney's plot to get viewers in cinemas for the latest entry of its Marvel Universe franchise. As filmmakers systematically exploit and exhaust Stan Lee's Earth-bound superheroes and as superstars like Robert Downey Jr. demand ever-bigger paychecks to reprise their roles, Walt Disney Studios found itself in need of a sustainable plan, so when they turned their eyes skyward they discovered some lesser characters. "Guardians of the Galaxy" is about a group of little known comic figures that stumble across worlds to accidentally save the universe from powerful evildoers. Due to the obscure nature of these figures, the producers had to go into great length to sweeten the bait. Aside from the awesome scores, "Guardians of the Galaxy" also offers the best visual effect that money can buy at this moment. Shooting the film in IMAX 3D not only helps raise the ticket price, but also aids the storytelling in the galactic context. For one moment viewers follow the characters in a full-scale prison riot, the next minute we witness the destruction of an entire space fleet. Regular size screens may hardly suffice to present the lavish graphics, but for the enhanced effect of an IMAX version, viewers need to fetch deeper into their pockets. Technology, aside from quality content, has become the last resort to attract moviegoer, and it's proven effective at least with "Guardians of the Galaxy". Certainly the producers have enough reason to squander every penny available on the post-production. After all, they've saved plenty from the casting. Chris Pratt is only impressive when he dances at the beginning and the end; Zoe Saldana is barely noticeable; and Dave Bautista is an amateur actor at best. The most memorable characters are the raccoon and the talking tree, and both happen to require extensive post-production. Judging from audience reception, I'll say it is money well spent. The Chinese subtitles are a bit of a nuisance. Many subtle remarks have been slurred over either by design or by sheer neglect. But even for an English major, some references don't ring a bell, so it is only natural that the popularity of "Guardians of the Galaxy" be lost in translation somewhat.
10/15/20144 minutes, 52 seconds
Episode Artwork


Before seeing Chinese director Ann Hui's latest offering "The Golden Era", I was compelled to do a bit of homework, because this biopic of Chinese writer Xiao Hong seemed pretty daunting to anyone who is not familiar with Chinese literary circles in the early 20th century. However, after a grueling three-hour-long screening, I found these efforts totally unnecessary. "The Golden Era" is along the same line of the director's usual creative impulse of telling stories from a feminine perspective. Her version of Xiao Hong is a girl who spent her entire life running away from patriarchal control, yet had to rely on men at each step she took. It was an era when traditional values began to dissolve along with the collapse of China's last imperial dynasty, but it was not at all a golden era for women. At about the age of 20, Xiao Hong eloped with a young man to escape her abusive father and an arranged marriage. Her conspirator of a boyfriend abandoned her when hotel bills swelled beyond their means. Confined by the hotel owner who threatened to sell her to a brothel, a pregnant Xiao Hong wrote to a local newspaper asking for help. That was how she met Xiao Jun, a married man and the editor of the newspaper who later became her partner both in life and in her literary career. With the encouragement of Xiao Jun, Xiao Hong began the life of a writer and gradually established her name among the literary circles. But eventually the couple split up due to different life choices and Xiao Hong married another man, a couple of years before she died of tuberculosis. The film was expected to include a panorama of Chinese literary figures of Xiao Hong's time and to offer an insight into that part of Chinese history. It was a reasonable expectation because the director had three hours to fill, with nothing but the 31-year of Xiao's tragically short life. However Ann Hui hardly paid any heed to characters other than the most important men in Xiao's life. As for the turbulent and eventful history, that was scarcely the concern for Xiao Hong the writer, and was therefore given minimum attention. The focus of the film remains on the fate of the female writer in relation to the men in her life. Some critics also lashed out at the director's experiment with the narrative format. Much of Xiao Hong's life remains a myth due to contradicting accounts offered by her contemporaries. These accounts are frequently brought up as interludes in the film, where the speakers often address the audience directly. Such arrangement may seem a bit strange and could create a false sense of authenticity. But "The Golden Era" is not to be mistaken for a documentary; it is merely a conduit for the expression of feminine ideas. Lead actress Tang Wei is not to blame for a character that's constantly in sight but never in focus; she's done her best to portray a mystical woman within the constrains of the script. Feng Shaofeng, Wang Zhiwen and Zhu Yawen also present as much skill as is needed in the plot. "The Golden Era" is a film for a niche audience; it is not likely to make much of a dent at the box office. But I'm sure it'll resonate among the most understanding critics and viewers.
10/9/20145 minutes, 56 seconds
Episode Artwork


For Chinese cinema-goers, the 2014 National Day Holiday is perhaps all about Huang Bo. In Peter Chan's "Dearest", which hits the cinemas on September 25th, the Chinese actor plays a divorced father traveling all over the country looking for a kidnapped son. It is a tear jerking semi-documentary based on a true story, yet Huang is not able to deliver his knock-out punch, due to the film's unsatisfactory narrative. But that's okay. Since September 30th, he also appears in Ning Hao's road trip comedy "Breakup Buddies". And quite coincidentally, he takes on the character of a divorced man once again. Unlike "Dearest" which tries to relieve viewers of their tears, "Breakup Buddies" is hilarious almost to the point of vulgarity. At the same time it incorporates the sarcasm of a realist and the compassion of a parish priest. Yes, this is the same Ning Hao who made "Crazy Stone" and "Silver Medalist", which were mostly characterized by realism and black humor. Starting from "No Man's Land", the director began to deviate from his previous style. In 2013, when the black comedy was finally released in Chinese cinemas, many viewers, who were accustomed to the dark undertone of Ning Hao's films were surprised by its somewhat happy ending. They believe it was the result of a compromise at the end of a four-year struggle for a screening permit. But with the release of "Breakup Buddies", fans and critics begin to think twice. "Breakup Buddies" is much more than a theatre of absurdity. It is of course immensely fun to see two best friends stumbling into all kinds of crazy stuff. Huang Bo and Xu Zheng's characters are thrown into a torrent of extraordinary encounters involving inaccessible teens, beautiful lesbians, fractious prostitutes and ineffectual mobsters. It is equally amusing to appreciate Ning Hao and storywriter Yue Xiaojun's interpretation of mid-life crisis. After a series of misfortunes on the road, Huang Bo's character finally decides to walk out of the shadow of a failed marriage and face up to his problems. It is a hard-won revelation, so Huang Bo is given plenty of opportunities to show off his skills. During the process, Ning Hao also flexes some muscles, touting his mastery of multiple-narrative and adding an element of surprise to what could been a loosely-connected travel log. "Breakup Buddies" is the director's second happy-ending story in a row. Critics may wonder why the director walks out the shadow of his previous styles. But I bet most viewers would simply content themselves with a good story.
9/26/20144 minutes, 16 seconds
Episode Artwork


Why launch a reboot of the "Planet of the Apes" series when the storyline had already been exhausted by filmmakers in the 1970s? Or to put it in another way, why would viewers of our times welcome a remake of the classic science fiction story? The most obvious reason is, they didn't have the adequate technique back in those days to present a planet of the apes. The crude idea of letting human actors wear a mask to pass as apes can no longer appeal to modern day viewers. The images in Charton Heston's work may seem too disturbingly eerie and laughable for viewers to consider the film on intellectual or philosophical premises. Nor did they have Andy Serkis. I mean, he had already been born, but it would take yet another couple of decades for him to become the ape guru that he is now. Despite all the credits that the Academy has owed him, Andy continues to amaze the global audience with his semi-anonymous performances. The motion capture technique of our days has allowed many actors to take on the forms of other humanoid animals. In the 2014 "Dawn of the Planet of Apes", Toby Kebbell presents the smart yet vengeful ape Koba through excellent body language. But even more challenging is Andy's character Caesar, who has to show a wide range of emotions through subtle facial expressions. I can never forget the hesitation and struggles in Caesar's eyes when he reaches out his hand to Koba near the end. For an international blockbuster production to allow for character development and discussions on cross-cultural understanding is a rare thing. It suggests technology is not the only aspect of filmmaking to have improved over the decades. More than 40 years ago, Frenchman Pierre Boulle's story has already been told, and his philosophy broken down and discussed by film critics and movie fans alike. Months before the film was screened in China, its trailers allowed whoever is interested to catch a glimpse of its content. Yet still, viewers are mesmerized by every development on screen when they actually sit in the cinemas. The stress of an impending war permeates the entire film and ultimately adds to the charm of Matt Reeves's originality. If the old dogs at the Academy were to learn new tricks, "Dawn of the Planet of Apes" would certain have earned Andy Serkis an Oscar. They have failed Andy many times, but as another saying goes: it is never too late to learn.
9/22/20144 minutes, 2 seconds
Episode Artwork


About a quarter of a century ago, when Taiwan movie "My Beloved" was aired in cinemas, viewers were advised to bring a handkerchief, because the touching story was supposed to induce massive and unstoppable weeping. Now, 25 years later at the previews of Peter Ho-sun Chan's recent big screen product, the guests find small envelopes on their seats containing a tissue. That, combined with earlier news releases about the movie, is enough to inform the viewers that they are in for a weeper. But Peter Chan is far too ambitious to stop at a simple story about child abduction. Instead he has decided to challenge himself in the making of a realistic documentary. When the film hits Chinese cinemas in late September, moviegoers will be treated to a complex story involving multiple characters and at least two different perspectives. As the director himself has reiterated on many occasions, the focus is not on child abduction. A thoughtful viewer who has watched the film would understand that his aim to paint a realistic picture of many issues in contemporary Chinese society. However, as a market-minded director who has had much experience working in Hong Kong and Hollywood and has only moved to Beijing in recent years, Peter Chan can not assume that he understands the lives of people on the Chinese mainland. In fact, even the directors of China's annual New Year Gala - who for the last few decades have been very successful in tugging the heart strings of Chinese audiences - have suddenly lost their ability to impress increasingly demanding viewers. How can we expect someone coming from outside the local culture to deliver a killer punch to filmgoers' tear ducts? We can't. Neither can the director. That's why he conspires with old-time partner and script writer Zhang Ji. Based on a true story of divorced parents who lose their child, Zhang Ji expanded the story to include others who have suffered the same fate, and even more people who stand to benefit or lose from these abduction cases. In a word, Zhang's portrayal highlights the complexity of some of China's problems. They are deeply entangled just like the coil of electric wires and internet cables which is shown right in the beginning and repeated time and time again in the film. Perhaps it is exactly that complexity that compelled the producers to stop at just pointing out the questions, but the choice of actors and actresses also suggests their adherence to a realistic approach. Actor Huang Bo's talent obviously extends far beyond the profile of a popular comedian. His secret is to release totally different versions of himself to fulfill different characters. Actress Zhao Wei plays the wife of a child kidnapper. Her skills have always been in question, but since her role here requires not so much acting as just looking ugly and speaking in her own dialect, we should at least give her some credit for making that sacrifice. Actor Zhang Yi and actress Hao Lei deliver the most impressive acting and maintain it throughout the entire film. So, all in all, “Dearest” is a film that deserves two hours in the cinema, at least to learn more about the problem of abduction cases, and perhaps a little more about China.
9/16/20144 minutes, 53 seconds
Episode Artwork


I've never been impressed by a film that stars Sylvester Stallone, because I find it difficult to accept the utterly unrealistic action style. I mean: are you kidding me? Delving into a shower of bullets and shrapnel and emerging without a scratch, waving a handgun around casually and killing ferocious-looking enemies by the dozen. That's not heroic, it's divine intervention. And if it is miracles that I seek, I would read the Bible, rather than watching an action film. Since the veteran actor continues to play God in the 21st century, I've been struggling to appreciate his Expendables franchise, until the 2014 outing which finally offers something fresh. First and foremost, the Rambo actor has finally found a way to express his nostalgic feelings while keeping modern moviegoers entertained. For the past two stories, his only method was stacking vintage items which barely registered among average viewers. In "Expendables 3", he begins to show an understanding in the art of comparison and contrast. The introduction of additional characters not only helps to expand the length of the film and reduce the workload of some grandpa actors, but also makes it possible to bring extra laughters and intensive action scenes to the third episode of "the Ode to Pensioners". Stallone and his peers remain largely committed to their traditional style, which is to cause maximum damage and casualties with minimum input of movement. They also make plenty of jokes regarding the health conditions for people of their age, Harrison Ford alone is caught using the word "stroke" more than once. However it seems even Stallone himself is tired of the effortless feat of talking. The nagging part is assigned to new guy Antonio Banderas who plays a former member of the Spanish Armed Forces. His presentation of a stubborn ex-militant who refuses to retire is more effective and more hilarious than the original Expendables. Other new recruits including Ronda Rousey, Kellan Lutz, Glen Powell and Victor Ortiz each brings their own special skills to scale up the battle scene, thanks to their mobility, the final showdown looks more like an earthly carnage than the wrath of some powerful deity. When in the end the young rookies celebrate their smooth skins and many unused years by singing Neil Young's 1972 song "Old Man", the contrast reaches its culmination. That's when I was able to sympathize with the old actors, who seem quite determined to grab hold of a fast-changing time. There is little novelty in the way Expendables 3 is made. But compared to its predecessors, it could very well become the most impressive episode in the series.
9/10/20144 minutes
Episode Artwork


"How to Train Your Dragon 2" is the most popular film in China this week. The 3D animated feature centers on a Viking village Berk where people keep dragons as pets. With the grace of a cat, the loyalty of a dog and the merit of a flying ride, the imaginary beasts in the movie have won the hearts of many animal lovers. Like its 2010 prequel which gathered almost half a billion dollars from the global market, "How to Train Your Dragon 2" shows the same prospects in sales. Just a fortnight after hitting the global market, it has already replaced "Frozen" as the No.1 grossing animation film of the year. However, the prequel has been both a classic and a box office success, the new installment will only be a hot sale. The latest adaptation from British author Cressida Cowell's original book series also depicts the common personalities of the Vikings. Such features remain the source of frequent laughters throughout the story. On the one hand, the world could use a break from the modern way of living with too many safety precautions and too much planning-ahead, the reckless and adventurous spirits of the old Nordic people offer an onscreen escape, at least for 100 minutes. On the other hand, I'm afraid the repeated reference to cultural stereotypes may not be the best way to foster understanding. The new film is less effective in describing emotional bonds which made the 2010 story a classic. In "How to Train Your Dragon", remarkable efforts were made to describe how the boy hero established a trusting relationship with a dragon. There were also awkward father-and-son moments to suggest even the Vikings were capable of sentimental feelings. These quiet moments spoke volume. The 2014 sequel is considerably noisier, moments of emotional bond lasts no longer than the length of a Viking folksong. The focus seems to have been switched to a clash-of-the-titans-style dual between two tremendous alpha dragons, and a large-scale warfare featuring hundreds of the winged reptiles. The new film comes with an upgrade in visual thrill. The characters are lifted from the barrenness of the nordic village into a wonderland full of exotic vegetation and dragons. This weird combination of Avatar and Rio setting adds color to the story, but its emotional depth will remain in question.
9/1/20144 minutes, 29 seconds
Episode Artwork


"Brotherhood of Blades" is the best Chinese historical action film since "New Dragon Gate Inn" and Tsui Hark's "Once Upon a Time in China" series. Set in the final years of the Ming Dynasty, the movie tells the story of three secret police whose lives are changed after being tapped to assassinate a runaway, corrupt eunuch. Unlike other historical action films made in recent decades, director Lu Yang's product is characterized by realism and attention to detail. First of all, there are not as many wire stunts. The characters are not flung across the screen to show extraordinary martial artist skills, they are portrayed as ordinary people, just better trained with the blades. This arrangement may reduce the amount of spectacle in the movie, but it also makes it easier for the audience to sink into the story. Another noteworthy arrangement is in the way the actors speak. Normally in historical movies and TV series, the characters speak a formal language which sounds rather awkward in our times. "Brotherhood of Blades" does not follow the stereotype, the conversations sound much the same as those in our daily lives, and that suggests the actors must have spent more time with the lines to be able to speak rather than recite. The screenwriter Chen Shu takes as much credit for the lines as she does for the story. For what is lacked in spectacle, she makes up with excellent pacing and suspension building. It was the first time in many years that I was attracted to the multiple narrative and grapple to figure out what would happen next, only to be surprised by many a twist and turn. Lastly, the movie is also scrupulous with the props and costumes. According to more scholarly critics, the movie is quite faithful to history in details such as character hairstyles, patterns on clothes and carvings on the blades. This somewhat makes the film a rarity among recent Chinese films and TV series, but I think we can appreciate that extra effort. But unfortunately "Brotherhood of Blades" has become the latest example of how the quality of a film can have nothing to do with its revenue. 10 days after hitting the cinemas, the film has only managed to collect 70 million yuan from the box office, far less than "The White Haired Witch of the Lunar Kingdom", which is widely considered a critical flop. The crux of this problem is gullible audiences and a huge cash influx into the industry. Apparently such favorable environment has made it easy for mediocre but resourceful filmmakers to thrive: all they need is an effective sales strategy to start a topical discussion on social media. The crew behind "Brotherhood of Blades" have obviously failed to come up with such a strategy, but the good news is, sales is now picking up due to good critical response and word of mouth.
8/22/20143 minutes, 22 seconds
Episode Artwork


If you decide to watch Chinese wuxia fantasy film "The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom" or Baifa Monü Zhuan, make sure you've read the original novel by Liang Yusheng, otherwise you'll have to use your imagination to sail through the film's problematic storyline. Liang Yusheng is one of the three most important wuxia-story writers in China. His 1957 novel Baifa Monü Zhuan tells of the romance between a young swordsman Zhuo Yihang and his lover Lian Nichang. Set near the end of the Ming Dynasty, the story also depicts an ailing empire plagued by internal corruption and Manchurian invasion. Director Jacob Cheung's film adaptation has failed to reconcile the subplots, and as a result the narrative develops like a deserted bonsai, with wild grass shooting at various directions. The most obvious strain of runaway storyline is the love story. A few inventive alterations notwithstanding, it seems the director is utterly incapable of romantic thinking. His way of showing the beginning of affections is to have two beautiful actor and actress gazing into each other's eyes while spinning in midair and slow motion. His ultimate weapon is actor Huang Xiaoming's perfectly symmetric face and Fan Bingbing's whitewashed one. They serve as silent but eloquent accusations against anyone who dares to doubt their sincerity. Obviously people with good looks belong together, if not then there are some serious problems with the story. A second subplot is the court intrigue. The director devotes considerable screen time to the depiction of a eunuch who usurps imperial power to prosecute upright political adversaries. Our hero Zhuo Yihang is one of his victims, so naturally we expect some major bloodshed before the closing credits. But before he has time to deliver on his promise of revenge, some emergency at the nation's border demands our attention, and our hero is summoned to save the day. It is in the latter half of the film that we finally see the title character take the central stage. That's when both leading characters show abrupt changes in their personalities. The previously strong and confident hero Zhuo Yihang suddenly becomes as feeble as a lamb, while the loving Lian Nichang simply goes berserk. The character inconsistency suggests the filmmakers have placed their attention elsewhere, although no one can tell exactly where. Perhaps the only commendable part of this film is the post production. There are plenty of computer generated visual spectacles to show off the lunar kingdom. The splendor looks artificial, but is impressive nonetheless.
8/14/20144 minutes
Episode Artwork


Having dominated China's box office rankings for about a week, the notorious teen fantasy film Tiny Times 3 gave way to yet another controversial Chinese movie. But to be fair, first time director Han Han's film-making debut is not marred by low taste. The criticism mostly comes from a demanding audience with high expectations. In 1999, Han Han shot to fame after winning a national writing competition, one year ahead of Guo Jingming, the director behind the Tiny Times franchise. But it seems that good writing skills are the only thing the two have in common, and after acquiring a sizable readership, the young lads went down totally different paths. Unlike Guo Jingming, who is determined to tap the pockets of his fans and has made himself quite wealthy, Han Han seems to have chosen to enjoy life. As a professional racing car driver and a blogger who publishes thought-provoking and sometimes controversial articles from time to time, he has proven his talent in the things which interest him. Over the years he has attracted both support and opposition, and both sides take pride in critical thinking and high taste. This is why Han Han's film "The Continent" could generate enough earnings to topple the dominance of "Tiny Times 3" and at the same time spark serious discussion about the film's production value and ideas. This road movie follows three young men on a journey across China. Han Han's supporters may be able to identify his distinctive style. Instead of a commercial blockbuster, carefully calibrated to stir up the appetite of innocent adolescents, "The Continent" seems very much like Han's blog, where he tosses out ideas as he comes across them. If you are willing to join the ride, you MAY be led to brooding over contradictory life styles. That's because the film depicts random encounters intermittently from the perspective of two different characters. Both mange to reconstruct their understanding of the world during the journey, but one has his obsessions cured, another has them entrenched deeper in his way of living. The most critical viewers will not be happy with this arrangement: they will perhaps believe that the different parts of the film are rather loosely connected, if connected at all. Others may pick on the dialogue: some of which sounds so out of place that people suspect entire scenes have been invented to accommodate them. I'm afraid I have to agree with such well-targeted criticism, but still I believe it is something a more mainstream viewer will appreciate. I went to see the film after an extremely intense day at work, but after an hour and a half when I walked out, I felt completely refreshed, as if I had taken off my jacket of weariness and left it in the dimly-lit screening room. The funny jokes, the touching score and the beautiful scenery certainly helped, but it was the free spirit that really emancipated me from the yoke of my daily routines.
7/31/20144 minutes, 53 seconds
Episode Artwork


The last time I got angry in a cinema was when Wong Kai Wai released his incomplete martial arts drama film "The Grandmaster". He showed no respect for cinema-goers and the movie business as he peddled an unfinished product. But that sentiment was nothing compared to what I felt while watching Tiny Times 3. The latest outing by novelist and businessman Guo Jingming witnessed a catastrophic downgrade from the previous installment, which itself barely breached the level of mediocracy in the first place. The narratives in both films are practical jokes just the same, but at least the cinematography in Tiny Times 2 almost reached an average standard. In comparison the third installment is just a circus freak show suffering from the incurable disease of overblown slow motion. The symptoms start showing right from the beginning, when the four female friends go on a business trip to Rome. Nothing of real business significance happens in the Italian capital, but that doesn't stop the girls from dressing up in elaborate outfits as they invade the ancient city with their posing and flaunting. I think the director's message is: look, I can afford to shoot this film in Rome, at least some part of it. The good for nothing opening is followed by a make-believe business espionage story. It seems as though the director is trying to make this part funny, but he only achieves silliness. Like I said, the narrative is a joke, what can you expect, except for plenty of slow motion shots to highlight the not-so-intense action? After that, the director decides to drown his beloved audience in shots after shots of slow motion. When the girls get mad at each other for various unreasonable reasons, just as happened in previous installments, only endless slow motion shots can explain the magnitude of their heartbreak, and hopefully distract the audience from the scant story. As someone who certainly haven't been converted to Guo Jingming's style, I began to look around in the cinema. On a Monday afternoon, the screening room was surprisingly full. The audience largely consists of young girls, who were most likely students on their summer holiday, and apparently they were having a good time. Some could even predict what was going to happen on screen because they've read the original novel. For a moment, I was unsettled by the fact that our youth is being manipulated by such nonsense, but then again, each generation has their own dragons to slay, perhaps battling the bad influence in the sub culture is their way of becoming responsible adults. And we have to live with the fact that some, like our dear director, never make it through.
7/24/20144 minutes, 36 seconds
Episode Artwork


The Breakup Guru is the latest example of how one-man's license can backfire, and how twisted China's upstart movie industry can become. Among all the Chinese celebrity couples that I know of, none is more odd than the combination of Deng Chao and Sun Li. 32-year-old Sun has recently shot to fame after her appearance in soap opera "The Legend of Zhen Huan" captured the attention of countless men and women who worship the sort of earthly sophistication known as court intrigue. Her composed and graceful manner belies a vengeful soul who sees everything and controls everything. And that's pretty cool. In contrast, her husband Deng Chao is trying to shape himself as a "Rigoletto" type of figure, going all out to defy sanity in "The Breakup Guru" and at the film's various promotional events. There are a couple of reasons behind his frenzied performances. For one thing, "The Breakup Guru" was adapted from a play of the same name by theatre director Yu Baimei, who happens to be an old-time project partner of Deng. This time, the duo are collaborating again on a story of a charlatan who makes a living by helping people breakup. The encounters are not at all pleasant. Despite the format being a film, their new joint venture emanates the same exaggerated, dramatic quality of a theatric play. Secondly, Deng Chao himself appears to be a master of this burlesque approach of performing. Since his graduation piece from China's Central Academy of Drama, Deng has repeatedly proven his talent for playing multiple roles of different yet extreme characters, "The Breakup Guru" may consist of many challenging scene of low taste, but in the end it is just a private testing ground for him to simply BE HIMSELF. Thirdly and rather unfortunately, there is no one there to rein in his overflowing performance, because he is also the director, and presumably a good friend of the other director Yu Baimei. There is also no incentive to curb his frenzy, because No.1 he is so darn good at it, and No.2 they have such a lousy script that only an overwhelming figure could keep the audience on their seats. Exactly how bad is the script? Well, the first half makes no sense, and the second half shows some futile efforts to make some sense, but arrives at nonsense all the same. As a breakup guru, Deng's only method is to try and attract the female target and sabotage the relationship as a third wheel. Doesn't sound like a skilled problem-solver at all, let alone an expert. Then he comes across this really headstrong girl who simply wouldn't let go of a good-for-nothing idiot, and guess what, he falls in love. All the while as the grotesque story develops, there is this constant mockery of people's obsession with "success", the message is pretty clear the first time, but for reasons unknown, it has to be repeated time and time again, I guess the directors must have felt pretty strongly about it. Such is the film that dared challenge the Hollywood behemoth of "Transformers: Age of Extinction". And it has actually done pretty well in terms of box office takings, earning nearly 600 million yuan in China - about one third of the Transformers and within exactly the same timeframe. Deng Chao's acting skills certainly helped, but so did the next-to-vulgarity content. Until most of our people can begin to appreciate films other than comedy, China will always be on the way to becoming a truly great nation.
7/17/20145 minutes, 59 seconds
Episode Artwork


After watching "Grand Budapest Hotel", I find myself deeply obsessed with Wes Anderson films, which are endowed with a unique style, quite different from the ordinary stock that average Hollywood filmmakers can offer. This week, I'd like to introduce one of his previous works. The 2009 "Fantastic Mr. Fox" is Anderson's first adapted film; it is based on the work of Roald Dahl, who also wrote "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory". Anderson's story is about a series of adventures involving a family of foxes, as they test their wits and strength against the cunning and spite of three mean farmers. All the trouble is caused by the father who can't bear the tedium of being an ordinary newspaper columnist, but dreams of returning to his pre-marital life of stealing birds as a wild animal. Having acquired Roald Dahl's blessing for his script, Wes Anderson set out to shoot his first animated feature using the stop motion technique. A total of 535 different models were brought to life under Tristan Oliver's Nikon D3 lenses, and made ever more exuberant by the magical editing and warm coloring which are typical of Anderson's movies. But stop motion was not the only challenge that the director has placed in front of his crew and himself. To push the limits further, Anderson decided that they should do the recording outside the studio. So the stellar cast including George Clooney and Meryl Streep all went to a forest, an attic and a stable to record their voices. It is easy to tell from the spontaneity in their voices that they had a great time making the film. Family seems to be a recurrent topic in Anderson's films. In this piece, the fantastic Mr. Fox not only needs to find a way to survive his human adversaries, but also struggles to reassure the missus and to get along with a rebellious son, as well as a highly gifted nephew. George Clooney struck me as a brilliant father figure material with his role in the 2013 film "The Descendants", his voice in "Fantastic Mr. Fox" is immediately recognizable and also resonant with the similar fatherly charm. But there is yet another side to the director of "The Monuments Men". Clooney's directorial effort may have ended up with a debacle, but it was enough to reveal the strong sense of humor of the triple Golden Globe winner. George Clooney's multi-layered personality and voice constitute the perfect demonstration of the type of wry humor in Wes Anderson's film: only his voice could remedy the harm of an irony, and scale it down to just the right amount that Anderson needed. And last but not the least, a few words for composer Alexandre Desplat. His works totally agrees with the emotions in the movie. I've been looping his original sound track as I write this review, and listening to the score has made the writing process much more enjoyable.
7/9/20145 minutes
Episode Artwork


One important criterion we Chinese use to evaluate blockbusters is something called a pee-point. It describes the part of a movie where nothing exciting happens and therefore the viewers could safety embark on a journey to the lavatory without missing anything significant. Often some nice amateur critics online would kindly pinpoint these pee-points so other viewers would know when to visit the loo. And of course, the more pee-points there are in a film, the worse it is considered to be. "Transformers: Age of Extinction" have no pee-points for first time viewers: all viewers should be willing to exercise control of their bladders in anticipation of exciting moments. But for those who care to look back after 166 minutes of boredom, they'll regret having endured so many pee-points and wonder what's happened to the spectacles promised in the trailer. Indeed, there is a marked downgrade in a film which is supposed to be all about spectacles. Instead of giant machines smashing at each other, viewers get to see tiny, paranoid humans hunting down friendly Autobots. It can be quite an impressive scene to see a swarm of ants bringing down a giant elephant, but that sensation is missing in Michael Bay's latest outing. According to a popular joke about his fiasco, Michael Bay had started this film with a one-page story on his left hand, and a voluminous manual on the right hand which outlined all the products and faces that absolutely have to appear in the epically long film. With all due respect for the storywriter Ehren Kruger, and whoever and whatever must appear in the movie, I think the obsession with product placement destroyed every possibility for "Age of Extinction" to develop a decent story. The viewers are fully aware that they are buying the tickets for a sensational experience, not a seriously intriguing story, but nonetheless the mediocre sensations should at least make some sense, "Age of Extinction" hardly makes any sense. The last part of the film is set in China and is particularly unnecessary. This shift of setting may help Paramount squeeze out more shares of the box office in China, but it also creates a dent in other markets. I don't know the math behind it, but I certainly hope Michael Bay have worked that out before turning on the cameras. Besides, the move also fuels the egocentric hallucinations on some part of Chinese critics who have begin to entertain the idea that even Hollywood is trying to lick our boots. That's exactly what is needed to stifle China's meagre creative strength in the movie industry. The only improvement about "Transformers: Age of Extinction" is: the viewers could finally distinguish one giant machine from another, but that's probably because there is a much smaller number of them. Michael Bay's effort to reduce cost and boost profit have yielded an awfully long commercial in IMAX 3D, moviegoers and companies may continue paying for its sequel, I will not be part of that again when it returns in 2016.
7/4/20145 minutes, 7 seconds
Episode Artwork


I've always enjoyed the irresistible charm in movies that reflect a specific period of time: They are a good way to pass down history, sentiments and even techniques--"Grand Budapest Hotel" is one of the best examples. Based on the works of Austrian novelist Stefan Zweig, the movie tells the story of a hotel concierge at the Grand Budapest Hotel in the fictional Republic of Zubrowka. The popular and well-mannered concierge, Gustave, finds himself implicated in a murder case of his friend and former client, Madam D. During his quest to clear his name, he comes across soldiers, prisoners, greedy relatives of the deceased and a quite generous inheritance. The only company he has in this process is the loyal lobby boy of a friend named Zero. The story may be fictional, but still manages to offer a portrait of Europe before the outbreak of the Second World War. In Zweig's opinion, it was an age when humanity gave way to barbaric slaughtering. In a world marked by increasing military presence and overbearing thuggery, Monsieur Gustave, with his well-trained words, outfit and manners, is the last, but superficial, remainder of European propriety and cultural tradition. Early 20th Century Europe was not the best place to live in, especially for a sensitive artist such as Zweig, who was born in a Jewish family. Zweig's pessimistic worldview and artistic pride is perfectly translated in the movie by director Wes Anderson, especially in the highly literary narration. It is a great pleasure to listen to proper English, although the lavishly-constructed sentences can be a bit difficult to follow for non-native speakers. Anderson has done more than just adapting this literary work to the big screen; his bold experiment with the camera is perhaps the most commendable part of this movie. To showcase the story's multiple timelines, the director shot the film in three aspect ratios. And often he has integrated multiple dimensions in one shot, so each picture carries a multitude of messages for viewers to decipher. Meanwhile, the camera is frequently swung around; the movements lend much dynamism and flavor to the comedy. In such a weirdly comical story, not one actor or actress seems out of place. It is only natural because Anderson had at his command the most talented crew. Ralph Fiennes is the charming Monsieur Gustave, while Tony Revolori plays the clever lobby boy. While the performances delivered by a movie's stars are crucial to its success, even minor characters in The Grand Budapest Hotel are portrayed by big names like Tilda Swinton, Mathieu Amalric and Jeff Goldblum, among others. Lastly, I'd like to point out that the works of composer Alexandre Desplat, who also wrote the scores for "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button", "Argo" and "The King's Speech". He has just become the first composer to be selected to preside over the jurors at the upcoming Venice Film Festival. Let's hope his good sense in music can be extended to a more visual art form.
6/26/20145 minutes, 19 seconds
Episode Artwork


One of the stupid things I did after getting a PC was to download the video games, which I failed to beat as a child. The video game simulator software comes with build-in save and load functions, which were not available on the earlier, more primitive, gaming consoles. With the help of the save and load buttons, I was able to complete the tasks previously too demanding on my skills and patience. The film, "Edge of Tomorrow", starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt, is based on a similar idea. Tom Cruise is a soldier who has never seen one day of action, but he is sent to the front as humanity launches the final assault on alien enemies occupying Western Europe. He is immediately killed within minutes of enemy contact, but before he perishes, he accidentally obtains the ability to reset time upon his death. With that power, he puts on numerous fatal attempts to save mankind from total annihilation, until one day he comes across a difficult choice. Fifty-two-year-old Cruise shows no sign of aging in this action-packed thriller. His agility and dedication greatly improves the appearance of the film's typical armored suits, which would have seemed quite stupid on real people. In some way, he reminds me of Andy Lau, who is about the same age and also worked very hard in the 2013 Hong Kong action film "Firestorm." Like Andy, Tom Cruise's character is shot and blown up many times, but the fictional nature of "Edge of Tomorrow" makes his ordeals seem more comical than thrilling. The first half of the film is all about how Cruise gets acquainted to his newly acquired ability by dying and reliving the same day again and again. Here, the director Doug Liman exhibits excellent editing skills to avoid killing the laughter with too much repetition. The second half is centered on romance, which is something a Hollywood film cannot afford to miss, and it kicks in just in time when the audience are about to get tired of the repeated battle scenes. "Edge of Tomorrow" premiered on June 6th, the 70th anniversary of D-Day, when the Allied forces landed on Normandy to invade German-occupied Western Europe during World War 2. The films includes many reference to the two World Wars, perhaps to remind us there is no saving and loading in real life and no history is made without blood and toil.
6/12/20144 minutes, 32 seconds
Episode Artwork


Wire-tapping has always been just a hook in Siu Fai Mak and Felix Chong's "Overheard" series, the third and latest installment presents the most advanced techniques of espionage, but the gadget-mongering never overshadows the moral discourse in a Hong Kong-specific context. The story is set in modern time New Territories, Hong Kong, when the largely agrarian peninsula is targeted by powerful real estate tycoons, much like the rest of contemporary China. The influx of capital wakes up insatiable desires in the local residents and threatens to obliterate traditional, family-centered values. Qing Wan Lau, Daniel Wu, Louis Koo each represent a different character being caught in the game of eavesdropping. The keyword that introduces the story is "small house policy", whereby each indigenous male villager no younger than 18 is entitled to build a small house during his life time. To start business in the New Territories, property developers invest generously to purchase the entitlement from the villagers. Local delegates, having realized they can make huge profits because of this, seek to bypass developers for more money. In this process, the conflicts between different interest groups become a microscope, which puts human greed at the focal point. Movies about the dark side of humanity have been made throughout the history of motion pictures; what makes this one special is its distinctive Hong Kong characteristic. As a story set in the modern international metropolis, most of its characters are villagers. This creates a huge contrast and allows viewers an alternative perspective at the trend of property developments that have been fueling the national economy for the past few years. The story is a bit challenging to understand, due to its complexity and the sheer number of characters involved, but the script is apparently written with devotion. Many funny scenes that put a brake on the intense storytelling turn out to be important precursor for later developments--that's kind of like a lost art in Chinese filming making. The "Overheard" series has always been dominated by male characters. Mainland actress Zhou Xun is not given the opportunity to bloom, but she does better than the other female actress, Michelle Ye, further proof that Hong Kong filmmakers should start scouting for new female talent before viewers get used to seeing these roles occupied by mainland faces.
6/5/20146 minutes
Episode Artwork


The X-men film series has always been on the list of science fiction films that I would introduce to others. When I was younger, I loved the fantasy elements and the spectacular exhibition of mutant powers, but as I've gotten older, the series' many dedicated actors, the inter-related, yet complete, storylines and the social metaphor hidden in plain sight have kept me from outgrowing the cartoon adaptation. "X-Men: Days of Future Past" has everything we've just mentioned, and they are presented in a fully-packed installment. First of all, "Days of Future Past" commands the most powerful cast that anyone could recognize in one glimpse. Not only can we meet series veterans like Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry and Ellen Page, but also leading figures in the renewed storyline, such as James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence; even Peter Dinklage has been brought on board to attract specific audience groups. All of them are united around Hugh Jackman, the Wolverine, who also leads a franchise of his own outside the main thread. If the actors and actresses are not enough to coax you into cinemas, then you should definitely give a fair chance to the story. After the 2011 "First Class" entry failed to kick start the new franchise, the producers still seem determined to give it another shot. What they have in mind is something like the "Star Trek" reboot, where new stories take place in an alternate timeline. But unlike "Star Trek", the X-men crew seems much more devoted, as they've enlisted the elder generation to appear on both ends of the film to underpin younger faces. The special effects at the beginning and near the end are remarkably refreshing, but they serve only to highlight the development in between. The spectacles in the middle of the film are relatively modest, because the focus is placed on character development. Upon first appearance, James McAvoy as young Professor X shows up without his iconic wheelchair, his psychic power and, above all, his typical and unyielding compassion for all. "Days of Future Past" is all about how he learns to give up the ability to walk and pick up his responsibility as a leader. It is exactly this dilemma that distinguishes the X-men series from just another superhero movie; the idea that even powerful mutants need to make difficult decisions allows the story to appeal to real human sentiments. The film's producers had to make difficult decisions, as well. Among the ensemble cast, they needed to decide the right amount of screen time for each character. Perhaps the viewers would like to see more of the distinct villains, but that's too much to be achieved within two hours. As usual, "X-Men: Days of Future Past" dwells on the social dilemma about the rights of the minority. The film has not achieved a major breakthrough in this discussion, but that is not to be expected from blockbuster superhero films.
5/30/20144 minutes, 28 seconds
Episode Artwork


"Coming Home", or "Gui Lai", is more than just a man's struggle to come home, it also marks director Zhang Yimou's return to his creative sweet spot, and more importantly, a rebooted quest with a new companion. How far the couple would go depends on the market reaction to their first joint venture. "Coming Home" is adapted from the last 30 pages of Chinese writer Yan Geling's novel "Lu Fan Yan Shi". It tracks the life of ex-criminal, Lu Yanshi, as he tries desperately to get back to his family. Actor Chen Daoming and actress Gong Li take up most of the screen time and their performances are exemplary. Yan Geling's original work is set in China between the 1940s and 1970s, with the emphasis on Lu's experience as a prisoner. Zhang Yimou's adaptation, however, shifts the focus to Lu's odyssey in the aftermath of his difficult early life. It was a time of repentance and rediscovery. People seek reconciliation with their past and struggle to get back to a balanced life of passion and rationality. Despite an outburst of belated laments in the literary circle, most people chose to move on and resumed their lives in a composure of tenacity. "Coming Home" captures the repercussion of the past, as well as the longing for a better future of Lu's time. While depicting the seemingly insensitive determination to move on, Zhang gave up on his habit of colorful extravaganza - which he used to appeal to the movie market - and instead resorted to his old tricks of modest imagery and restrained emotion - a choice quite fitting to the subject. His endeavors were not without success. The plain images apparently registered in the hearts of many elderly moviegoers. Even younger men and women - whose knowledge about that part of history mainly derives from books and telltales - often have trouble holding back tears in the face of Zhang's instigation. The return to simplicity also corresponds to Zhang's cooperation with a new partner. "Coming Home" is Zhang's first outing since signing with online video portal Le Vision Pictures, so it will certainly be available on the internet. This sheds some new light on the future of Chinese art-house films, because they are now given a way to circumvent snobbish Chinese cinema owners. Previously, Chinese art-house films have had limited exposure in cinemas due to lack of spectacle, lucidity and market potential. But now, with the development of online video portals, they can be ready for streaming at the leisure of any willing viewers with an adequate amount of taste. That's good news for the Chinese film industry in general, but for veteran director Zhang Yimou, there is one problem remaining; Chinese cinema-goers are quickly becoming younger. Not long ago, we've seen the box office success of movies targeted solely at the post 80s and 90s generations. The post 80s group sometimes can respond to Zhang Yimou's appeal, but the 90s generation is a whole different cultural group, and catering to their taste can be a challenge. On the one hand, the revered director could benefit from the freedom of an online distribution platform. At the same time, however, no distributor can afford to ignore the market demand. So the beginning of Zhang's 15-year contract with Le Vision Pictures may represent a return to form for the director, but it could also mean a prolonged task of adapting himself to the modern times.
5/21/20145 minutes, 23 seconds
Episode Artwork


The Amazing Spiderman 2 is a love story and an unprecedented superhero spectacle. Most female characters in superhero movies are simply required to look good, scream when kidnapped and push a button or solve a puzzle at some point. Their presence is purely ornamental and they only appear when the director wishes to control the pace of the movie. But Emma Stone's character Gwen Stacy in the new Spiderman movie is different. I am not saying she doesn't scream loud enough when kidnapped by the Green Goblin... she also solves a puzzle and pushes a button by the way, but she has a much bigger part in Marc Webb's latest superhero outing, or I could go further and say that she is at the very center of The Amazing Spiderman 2's web of intrigue and action. The story begins with Peter Parker being tormented by his promise to stay away from his girlfriend. Throughout the film the high school graduate is seen going back and forth between keeping her safe and keeping her by his side. Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield both put on a great show of unrelenting love, almost making a chick flick out of a comic adaptation. But I only realized what the main plot was all about after the film was over. During the movie itself all I was thinking about was how I was getting such great value for money from my ticket with all the mind-blowing action scenes, which come one after another. First there is the sheer number of villains. One by one, spidey goes up against Electro, the Green Goblin and Rhino, with the webbed wonder's encounters with Electro being the most striking. Then there is the spectacle element of the whole thing. The previous Spiderman franchise starring Tobey Maguire consisted of actions films at best, but the reboot films with cutting-edge CGI technology are comic book adaptations in the real sense. While watching Electro exhibiting his power with vibrant and colorful electric discharges, I couldn't help but start to wonder how the little web-crawler would defeat such a seemingly invincible opponent. Well, he just slings himself around and eventually makes a breakthrough. The hopping and slinging shots also look remarkably real, I mean I knew it was shot and produced in a studio, but that knowledge never stopped me from enjoying the movements on screen, and I was amazed at how convincing the images could get. For regular sci-fi lovers, "The Amazing Spiderman 2" might seem a bit long, with all the romantic elements getting in the way. But if you prepare yourself for a romantic chick flick, you'll be duly rewarded with many pleasant surprises.
5/16/20145 minutes, 40 seconds
Episode Artwork


"The Great Hypnotist", or Cui Mian Da Shi, is a fascinating thriller produced by dedicated filmmakers. It would have been the perfect story if it wasn't deliberately simplified to meet the demands of lazy viewers. Sadly, this nice gesture has not been appreciated by film critics. The story is essentially a battle of wits between a highly successful psychotherapist and his female patient. The girl claims to be disturbed by her ability to see ghosts, but the therapist, being a confident man of science, insists on uncovering the secrets behind the patient's state of mind. After an excruciating, late-night session, both the shrink and his client get over their respective problems and resolve some old issues from years ago. In "The Great Hypnotist", director Chen Zhengdao revisits a familiar genre and proves that he hasn't lost his edge after making a shift to romantic comedy. Despite the widespread promotion that has made the plot slightly predictable, the director still manages to grip even the most guarded viewers with an intense opening. That intense feeling is continuously inspired and nurtured throughout the film until the last moment in the big reveal. The thrilling effect is carefully built up thanks to the dedication of cameraman Charlie Lam and whoever designed and built the setting. The story mostly takes place in the unconscious minds of the leading characters, so the cinematographer makes use of various types of lighting and colors to create stress and suspension. The effect is also enhanced by well-placed furniture in an old house, and a dozen distinctive designs here and there, for example, a unique pattern on the floor and a door with a sophisticated carving. All these elements are presented with abundant montage to form a sense of mystery, which is strengthened by lack of knowledge about hypnosis on the part of most ordinary movie-goers. It is exactly the unfamiliar nature of the subject that has botched the whole thing. In fear that the viewers might not be able to keep up, the screenwriter Ren Peng deliberately gives away hints early in the film, and it is particularly exhausting when he tries to explain everything in a flashback near the end. The unnecessary effort certainly helps the viewers understand the story, but it also takes away the fun of hours of brooding and speculating. So for those who easily lose their patience, the last part of the film may be difficult to sit through, despite good performances from Xu Zheng and Karen Mok. But since the viewers probably got pretty nervous in the first half, they might as well take the time to restore their composure; after all, no one wants to drive home thinking about ghosts, or allegations of ghosts.
5/16/20145 minutes, 31 seconds
Episode Artwork


The post-80s and 90s generations make up a significant age group in China; not because they are too self-involved or carefree which they are often criticized for being, but because they are the most willing consumers in an otherwise conservative market. The post-80s generation have been in the workforce for some time and are becoming more mindful of the need to invest their money in sustaining a quality lifestyle. In general, the post-90s group have yet to make a splash in the job market, but have grown up in a relatively affluent society, often with wealthy parents. As such, these young people have become a key target of Chinese salespeople. Enlight Media, the company behind films such as "Lost in Thailand" and "So Young", operates with the chief aim of making profitable movies for this group. "My Old Classmate", having earned more than 100 million yuan in just 3 days of its release, is their most recent success. Their approach is simple and analytical. For the post-90s generation, who despite their tender age must have had plenty of romantic experiences in school, they provide a love story that runs from the 7th grade up until college graduation. There is nothing particularly romantic about this commodity, but their appeal lies in that they are all set in schools. Perhaps out of awareness of the weak storyline, the producers have thrown in two iconic figures in the forms of Lin Gengxin and Zhou Dongyu. Neither of them is old enough to know anything about acting, but they command huge influence among the young viewers nonetheless. For the post-80s generation who may have developed a certain level of ability to appreciate good films, the trick is to tap into their memories. It is a well-known fact that the post-80s generation learnt to spell nostalgia long before they became eligible to obtain driver's licenses; nostalgia is a fast and sure way to get into their hearts. So here, the producers generously include references to parts of history that have left lasting imprints on the 80s generation, for example, the US bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade and the fight against SARS. Due to inadequate acting and storytelling, the plot never struck a chord with me, but I imagine that it must have worked on the more susceptible members of my generation. Before you decide that this commodity is good for nothing, please allow me to point out something that you may enjoy. Film producer Gao Xiaosong has devoted most of his life to music, so the songs in this thing are pretty nice. And I have to admit that I like the ending, which confronts insensitive people who hide their weaknesses under the façade of "being realistic".
5/11/20145 minutes, 3 seconds
Episode Artwork


The path to making a successful science fiction film is one filled with many a traps and pitfalls. The storywriters must be vigilant not to mess with the laws of science, at least not too much; the fictitious elements must be carefully managed so they don't infringe on the story; and above all, the story must be guided by an idea that most viewers could relate to. But even if all these requirements were met, there is always the chance that the old folks at the Academy wouldn't appreciate the effort. Wally Pfister doesn't have to worry about Academy recognition with his directorial debut "Transcendence"; he's got smaller fish to fry. His chicly-named thriller is written by Jack Paglen, who is not widely known indeed. But Christopher Nolan is also on board the project as executive producer, so it is a bit hard to tell who masterminded the brainy script. The story centers on artificial intelligence, nano-technology, mind control and cyborgs. A computer scientist manages to develop a sentient machine before he is assassinated by anti-science activists. In an attempt to save his life, his partner in research and life uploads his consciousness to the AI, which gives the lingering soul unlimited power in an age of information technology. Now, with great power comes great responsibility, but also greater danger, because he is still hunted by his murderers, who seem pretty determined to end his existence as many times as necessary. When I said it is hard to tell who was responsible for the story, I mean it contains the sophistication commonly seen in Christopher Nolan films: the kind of sophistication that programs your mind to think about prescribed questions. It is difficult not to, but if you play along, you are in for answers that totally deviate from what you've been warmed up to expect. From this side of the argument, "Transcendence" is intellectually satisfying. But on the other hand, due to some small, but obvious mishandling of common sense, the film can also be quite annoying. To explain this, we must reveal a little spoiler: when the anti-science activists seek to destroy the AI's internet-based dominance over the world, they plant a virus on a real person and send her to the den of their foe. But the AI practically lives on the internet; the easiest way to reach it is by connecting the virus to any internet interface. But that would mean lack of spectacles, which in turn means a more boring movie. The investors put money on a cinematographer-turned-director to make spectacular, money-making films, so Pfister is compelled to deliver the visual thrill at the expense of common sense.
5/11/20145 minutes
Episode Artwork


Despite the popularity of the film "The Hunger Games" in North America, I had low expectations. Because when it comes to man-killing-man survival movies, there is nothing that Gary Ross could have done to outsmart Japanese director Kinji Fukasaku in his thriller "Battle Royale." And the truth is Ross didn't even try. Instead, he went easy on the stage blood and made a PG-13 movie, with sequels yet to come. The arrangement seems fitting, because like "Twilight," "The Hunger Games" is the first of a series of young-adult novels that command a sizeable readership. And judging from its performance in North America and China, I'll say Ross is on the right track for a fortune. Like all novel-based movies, "The Hunger Games" is challenged by the adaptation work. The novel's author Suzanne Collins offered her help by working with screenwriter Billy Ray, but I guess the challenge was just too huge. As a serial opener, the movie has to lay all the groundwork for the ensuing sequels, so the major activity of this film – the game – is postponed until after the movie is half way through. And since the movie targets a rather young audience, the battle scenes are mild and short. So the grown-ups who have been lured to the cinema for the action will most likely remain hungry for some real thrills, but they won't get any. Another serious drawback is also caused by the adaptation. I haven't read the novel, but from watching the movie, I guess the author must have been generous and diligent in the portrayal of certain characters. Because some characters in the movie make an excellent impression upon first appearance, including the Lady Gaga-styled Effie Trinket, played by Elizabeth Banks. But as the story moves forward, they are simply cast away, giving the time to stories that aren't necessarily interesting. The acting is decent. The novel and the movie adopt a first person narrative, so we've seen too much of the lead actress Jennifer Lawrence frowning and crying and thinking deep thoughts the audience can never expect to find out. The result is that other interesting characters are not given enough exposure. Honestly, I'd rather see more of the male lead Josh Hutcherson cracking jokes and putting up shows in a struggle to survive, and Woody Harrelson trying everything he can to get help from the Game Sponsors. But no, the movie has your eyes fixed on the pale face of Lawrence, who practically stays away from the fighting throughout the film. Perhaps "The Hunger Games" is popular because of promotion and the novel's large readership. The serial opener in itself is obviously not satisfying. We'll wait for the sequels and see if things will improve. On a scale from one to 10, I give "The Hunger Games" a four.
5/10/20144 minutes, 5 seconds
Episode Artwork


If you are willing to surrender to the joys of animated comedy, 'Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted' is well worth a look, and, this time, the animals are on the run in Europe. After the crazy mess the animals left in Monte Carlo, the unrelenting Monaco Animal Control Officer Captain Chantel DuBois is determined to take their heads as trophies. Alex, the lion, and his friends hide on a circus train to escape and invest everything hoping to follow the circus back to New York City. But the once famous circus has lost its shine, and the Madagascar crew need to get them back on their feet. The third installment of the Madagascar series, Europe's Most Wanted is a showcase of new tricks. While the major characters from previous installments remain, new circus animal faces are introduced, a move to keep viewers interested and an effective way to create a completely new story. The CGI in Madagascar 3 has a natural advantage in delivering the colorful circus setting, and the 3D technology just adds to the thrill. The powerful visuals are aided by Hans Zimmer's soundtrack. The climax of a perfect circus show accompanied by Katy Perry's Firework really helps to give the film a special atmosphere. The show stuns your eyes, assaults your ears, and gets right to your heart. One of the highlights of the film was perhaps Captain Chantel DuBois's rendition of "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien." The fierce officer, dubbed by Frances McDormand, stole the penguins' thunder and is by far one of the most memorable characters in the installment, if not the entire series. The additional characters in this installment provide a variety of accents, which gives the film an international appeal. The sea lion Stephano is Italian, the tiger is Russian and the adorably brutal officer DuBois is French. Sadly, for the Chinese viewers, the exotic flavor is lost in translation, especially when Chinese translators try to polish it off by piling on popular Chinese slang. 'Madagascar 3: Europe's most wanted' is a creative addition to the series. The old faces attract the viewers, and the new tricks keep the audiences entertained. On a scale from one to ten, I give it a seven.
5/8/20143 minutes, 30 seconds
Episode Artwork


If you are going to watch "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," don't think of it as a 9/11 disaster film. Instead, watch it as a coming-of-age story. Many moviegoers and critics expressed their disappointment at the way Stephen Daldry deals with the national disaster in the film. But, it was still nominated for Best Picture at the 84th Academy. In fact, this film, having received an average rating of 46 out of 100 on Metacritic, was the worst reviewed movie to receive a best picture nomination in the last ten years. We'll take a look at how that was possible. 9-year-old Oskar lost his father in the 9/11 attacks, but he believed his father left him a final message. So, he began his journey searching around New York City for the lock that fits a key he found in his father's closet. In the process, he learned to cope with his loss and overcome his fears. The part that unnerved most critics was perhaps the director's literary, sentimental, even pretentious presentation of the tragedy. The story is lead solely by the narrative of the little boy, who seems mature beyond his age but who has the tendency to indulge in fits of emotional outbursts. However, since the movie was adapted from Jonathan Safran Foer's novel of the same name, the director can be blamed for the adaptation but definitely not the sentimentality. But if viewers look beyond the film's emotional and political intimacy of the 9/11 incident and contemplate the spiritual quest from the child's perspective, viewers may have just enough patience to sit through the 2 hours and empathize with the boy, watching him struggle to survive the absence of his father and come to terms with his mother and grandfather. Speaking of whom, the acting from Sandra Bullock, the mother, and Max von Sydow, the grandfather, helped the director regain some lost favor from the critics. As for Tom Hanks, he lacked a certain exposure in the film, largely due to his death and limited time in the flashbacks and recorded messages. Compared to the imposing lead, all the supporting roles appeared much more natural and authentic. And their help was vital for the director to deliver his more tear-jerking combos. So, if you'll kindly or carelessly ignore the 9/11 dimension of the film, you might be able to enjoy "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close." Who knows, you may even shed some tears at this well-orchestrated drama. On a scale from one to ten, I think it deserves a six.
5/7/20143 minutes, 54 seconds
Episode Artwork


For a film that invokes the ghost of William Shakespeare, "Rio 2" is surprisingly lacking in dramatic conflict. It is essentially an animated version of "Meet the Parents" that has spun a wee bit out of focus. In a continuation of the metaphorical chiding of modern, city-based human existence, "Rio 2" brings the Blue Macaw family to the Amazon jungle to test their wings. But in their search for the rest of their species, they are hunted by a vengeful cockatoo, their arch enemy from the prequel. There is also a mission of equal urgency to protect their natural habitat. And let's not forget that this film was made especially to herald in the 2014 FIFA World Cup, so there's got to be some references to the sweaty sport. So as you can see, the fatal mistake involving "Rio 2" is the attempt to merge this multitude of storylines. Just imagine the grand, Shakespearean odyssey of the evil cockatoo and the slow buildup of his venomous scheme of retribution, and you will feel the same frustration as when you see his plan instantly and unfairly foiled in a human-bird skirmish wherein he hardly plays a part. He does, however, play a role in a poisonous love affair, in which he becomes the subject of affection to a poisonous dart frog. Singer Kristin Chenoweth's operatic voice is one of the major highlights of this musical drama. Another highlight is a family reunion where the birds of the same Blue Macaw feather flock together in a dazzling array of colors and rhythm, in a scene resembling a water ballet presented by birds in midair. I could tell that this scene would mark the visual climax of the film long before the film hit halfway. And it turns out I was right, the director managed to arrange a football match between two beautiful avian species; like the human-bird skirmish mentioned above, the focus is placed on intensive action though, so the visual effect is not as pleasing to the eyes as the reunion dance. Elsewhere, the film retains the exotic South American flavor that was so characteristic of the previous episode, so it is actually a pretty nice film for promoting the country's image, managing to touch people's hearts, whilst making money at relatively low production cost in the process. Rio 2 is a sequel that stands perfectly on its own and will therefore enable viewers who've missed the previous installment to catch up. Well, after a 90-minute catch-up I sincerely hope the good people at Blue Sky don't make any more sequels. The merits of both urban and natural ways of living forms the focal point of the Rio story, a topic which has now been truly exhausted in these two entries. Further installments would only lead to family relation clichés, and for that I might as well watch another Ice Age movie.
4/24/20146 minutes, 3 seconds
Episode Artwork


Woody Allen continues his tour around European cities. In his new film "To Rome with Love" we follow his tourist frenzy around the Eternal City, like we did in the midnight streets of Paris. But this time, his sponsors in Rome may have little cause to cheer, because the new production contains the least possible Roman element, and an increase in the director's jabbering. The ensemble movie consists of four stories, each one more absurd than the last as they take turns developing as the burnished, golden pictures of cinematographer Darius Khondji. Allen plays a retired opera director who discovers a brilliant tenor in his funeral director in-law, but unfortunately, or rather inconveniently, this amateur tenor sings well only when he takes a shower. The absurdity of this story culminates with a performance in an opera house in a purpose-built shower. Allen's constant chattering makes it all possible. . The next example of jabbering is contributed by Alec Baldwin, playing an architect who observes a younger version of himself caught in a triangular relationship. As a seasoned person both in terms of age and career, Baldwin proves to be a reliable advisor to the youth, who is played by Jess Eisenberg. However, it seems rationale is always a missing ingredient in Allen's interpretation of romance. The young man takes no heed of Baldwin's warning and allows himself to fall for the temptation of the illicit affair. The director's mistrust in love and marriage is further seen by a provincial couple who come to Rome for a new life. Both receive exciting and enlightening sex education courses with persons outside their marriage, before they decide that they are better off at home. The comedy is supplemented by Roberto Benigni's ingenious portrayal of a mundane Roman local. His eventless life takes a dramatic turn when all of a sudden the media finds his dull life worthy of public attention. His taste of fame is fleeting, but carries the full dose of the director's sarcasm. All four stories could have happened in a city other than Rome. And they don't necessarily relate to one coherent idea. The movie incorporates the director's opinion of romance and love, ambition and fame. The only perceivable connection between all four stories is perhaps is that each cast member makes each individual story interesting. If we were to take "To Rome with Love" as a part of Woody Allen's tour of Europe, it will be a failed example, because the movie at its best is a collection of the director's random thoughts imposed on the city of Rome. It would have been a decent movie for an average director, but for Allen, the setbacks are not as easily forgivable. On a scale from one to 10, I think it deserves a five.
4/15/20144 minutes, 30 seconds
Episode Artwork


Sometimes building a new world means tearing the old one down. Marvel Studios has not actually brought down the old Hollywood discourse dominated by the overly-romantic Excellencies of Academy members. However, they have started creating a fantastic cinematic universe with the Captain America, Thor, Hulk and The Avengers films, as well as the TV drama "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.", the pieces are all falling into their places as Marvel slowly uncovers the new world envisioned by comic book writer Stan Lee. Captain America: The Winter Solider unfolds even more slowly. The beginning is extremely tedious as we wait in painful anticipation for something big to happen. However, it takes the film half an hour to deal with the repercussions of "The First Avenger" and "The Avengers". This may be necessary for first-time viewers of the franchise, but the makers of the film could have done this in a smarter way. Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America, is trying to catch up with the modern world when the ghosts of his past come back to haunt him. This quick summary cannot tell you that in fact the antagonist Winter Solider appears quite late in the film and is barely connected to the main plot. But that's OK. The Captain America franchise is not about antagonism. You don't see a green monster destroying his enemies in a fit of rage, or some egoist bragging about his superior craftsmanship and sophisticated toys, or even an alien looking desperately for an empowering hammer. What you see is a slightly enhanced hero made from a frail young man who has nothing but faith in the brighter side of humanity. It is exactly that firm belief that entitles him to whip all the other Marvel freaks into concerted efforts. Captain America II is all about how Rogers develops and tests his leadership skills. That doesn't mean the new Captain America film is without any thrilling action scenes. On the contrary, it includes unprecedented action scenes that an average Marvel Studios production could offer, just short of "The Avengers" extravaganza. As much as the CGI quality of a film is the test of its investors' pocket, the quality of action choreography and filming is the test of the director and actors and the cinematographer's skills and commitment. "The Winter Solider" may not contain the most striking computer generated images, but the action scenes are most certainly top-notch. It is fully dynamic without being visually noisy. Compared to its dull prequel, Captain America the Winter Solider is a great improvement and excellent appetizer ahead of Marvel's next major hit. Based on the experience with this one, I'm already looking forward for the "Age of Ultron" due to release in 2015.
4/14/20146 minutes, 35 seconds
Episode Artwork


It is almost customary that when a movie is successful, numerous sequels will be made. It is also customary that moviegoers will keep going for the numerous sequels and be disappointed, because they always compare the sequels with their own memories of the first, successful one. In fact, some of the sequels aren't necessarily that bad, "Men in Black 3" is one of the good examples. The story is consistently simple. Men wearing black suits go about the New York City blasting bad aliens with big guns and save the planet. But the new episode is apparently more compact and forceful to keep your minds occupied and entertained all the while. Maybe Sonnenfeld has learnt from his previous misstep. The unnecessary romantic element is cast away, leaving only the bromance, which supplies plenty of amusement. The trick of the series is in the contrast and chemistry between the two main characters: a zippy African American who just can't keep his mouth shut, and a mysteriously silent Caucasian who always seems to have full control of the situation. Compared to his performance in the first episode, Will Smith is less athletic, but considerably more at ease and competent with the role of a noisy magpie. As for the Caucasian character, the "Men in Black 3" involves the hackneyed concept of time travel, but Tommy Jones is too old to play his younger self in the 1960s, so Josh Brolin is recruited in his stead. Josh's imitation of the Tommy's posture and body language is convincing, but lacks the subtle confidence that is unique to the elder man. The movie tries to incorporate jokes with mildly more sophistication. Apart from a few Asian-related scenes that apparently have been censored for the Chinese audience, the movie also pokes fun at the race issues and the lives of a few celebrities in the 1960s. This has certainly added dimension to the comedy, but also increases the risk of being censored or being lost in translation. Lastly, I have to mention the Chinese subtitles. Ever since the screening of Rio in 2011, there is this tendency in Chinese cinema to translate the English subtitles into the most recent popular slangs in China. With "Men in Black 3", if you shut your hearing and look at the subtitles only, you are practically watching a different movie. Have the translators gone too far? I believe it is a question everyone has their own answer. Before I forget, the new episode comes in 3D, there is nothing special about the cinematography, but the pictures do look more attractive. So if you compare the "Men in Black 3" with the original, not the one in your memory but the 1997 movie per se, there IS actually some improvement. So I'll give "Men in Black 3" a rating of seven out of ten.
4/13/20143 minutes, 47 seconds
Episode Artwork


Just one month ago, South Korean soap opera "My Love from the Stars" reached insane levels of popularity in China. Its lead actor Kim Soo-Hyun is still raking in appearance fees from various commercial events in China. But South Korean films are quite a different story. The country's most expensive co-production to date, "Snowpiercer", is now being screened in China and has fallen behind Chinese art-house movie "Black Coal, Thin Ice" in terms of box office earnings. That's important because as we mentioned last week art-house films don't usually sell very well in China. Strangely enough, the Bong Joon-ho movie is an excellent product and deserves better recognition. Some of my better-informed colleagues decided to watch it simply because it was made by the director of "Memories of Murder" and "The Host". Yet the majority of Chinese viewers haven't been able to warm up to the film's allegorical title. More allegorical is the story. Set in a post-apocalyptic future, "Snowpiercer" revolves around a world-touring behemoth of a locomotive which carries onboard the surviving population of mankind after an environmental breakdown. Our lead character Curtis is an underdog passenger living in the tail section, which means, he is at the bottom of the train's social system. Alongside an equally discontent fellowship of passengers, Curtis starts a revolt against the system and seeks to take control of the train. But as he advances further into the front section, he gets a larger picture of human existence in such a miniature society, and he is compelled to make a decision when he meets the captain in the engine room. While the setting is a metaphor to a world where the social hierarchies are frozen and social mobility impossible, the storyline reveals the worldview of the original storywriter Jacques Lob. You may agree to disagree with his portrayal, but the seed of doubt has been sown. Bong Joon-ho's film adaptation successfully conveys the author's idea and at the same time leads many viewers to explore the issue themselves and come up with their own answer. If you think this film sounds too serious, don't be put off because it is also very entertaining. Lead actor Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho and many of the film's other male actors go to great lengths to stage impressive and realistic action scenes throughout. Their masculinity is balanced by the spirited acting of Tilda Swinton, who supplies quite a few laughs with her quaint accent, gloomy smirks and frenzied gestures. So, "Snowpiercer" is actually not bad. But since it's not as brainless as South Korean soap operas, it's not easily digestible for lazy moviegoers.
4/10/20146 minutes, 57 seconds
Episode Artwork


My immediate impression after laughing my head off with "The Croods" was, how could the team be so creative and the movie so hilarious? Then I broke it down and found some of their gimmicks. But even after uncovering the secrets, the movie still strikes me as a very attractive piece of cartoon animation. A caveman family struggle to survive on a hostile prehistoric planet. The key to survival is to coop up in a cave and stay away from anything new. But a young female member of the family was born with a rather dangerous virtue, curiosity. As she explores the neighborhood, she meets an innovative young lad and is informed that the world is coming to an end very soon. So no more cooping up for the Croods- they are either to die, or to adapt. The prehistoric setting reminds one of "Ice Age". Quite a large proportion of the rib-tickling taps into a combination of that particular setting and modern ideas. For instance, one of the characters is given shoes made from starfish-like creatures. Every now and then funny sparkles also bounce out of the screen and keep the audience entertained. But the most important aspect of the movie is the pacing. In fact, it could serve as a textbook for young film-making students. After a brief self-introduction of our female lead character, the story quickly unfolds into an intense action scene, all the while poking fun at the audience and explaining the background of the story. This grabs the audience's attention almost immediately. After that it slows down to allow an emotional side-story: a father-daughter confrontation that couldn't be more stereotypical, but satisfies those with a soft spot in their hearts. Then, there are more shifts between action, funny and tear-jerking scenes, and the cycle is repeated until… well, until they live happily ever after. The story is so well-paced that it seems to have absolute control over audience emotions, and that's why the audience get the impression that they've laughed all the way through the 90 minute movie. Compared to other recent movies, "The Croods" also features the most authentic 3D effects. Before this piece, I never really felt the urge to stretch my hand to reach anything while watching a 3D movie, but the drifting dandelions in this movie look almost real, so I copied my fellow moviegoers, raised my hand and tried to sweep them away. "The Croods" can be a very good way to relax one's nerves and is suitable for viewers of all ages. On my scale from one to ten, it gets a seven.
3/31/20143 minutes, 47 seconds
Episode Artwork


'The Intouchables' is a modern 'bromance' story which conveys the most positive aspects of life. For that reason, it has trumped the Titanic at the box office and has managed to entertain a much wider audience in France. The movie begins with a car chase, which defines the general approach of the film: light-hearted enough to amuse you, yet serious enough to make you review your own way of life. The wealthy quadriplegic Philippe needs a new live-in care-giver. However, he is unimpressed by the line-up of highly qualified and experienced interviewees. As a result, he takes an interest in an ex-convict who attends the interview in order to receive a rejection signature which would allow him to continue receiving welfare benefits. Driss, Philippe's new care-giver of African descent, often forgets about the fact that his boss is paralyzed from the neck down; an error which gives Philippe new hope in life, as he experiences what it's like to be treated like a normal, healthy person. The contrast between the two characters is extremely effective. The wealthy Philippe is knowledgeable and always well mannered. The ex-con Driss is outspoken, street-smart and possesses an unexplainable confidence in his own ability. The friendship between these distinctly different characters, which manages to transcend all differences, may rekindle the viewers' hope in human relations. The positive allure of this movie is also represented by the amiable character of the care-giver Driss, played by Omar Sy. His open and carefree attitude is responsible for almost every smile and laugh on the part of Philippe and the viewers. In February, the TV comic won the César Award for Best Actor, beating Oscar winner Jean Dujardin of 'The Artist.' Last but not the least, the movie is also absorbingly musical. Philippe is well-versed in classical music and his luxurious house is constantly flowing with the soft tunes of Ludovico Einaudi. Omar Sy's ridiculing of the genre, his infectious dancing display as well as his passion for his favorite band provide memorable moments throughout the film. 'The Intouchables' is a movie that makes you forget about the harsh realities of life and helps you stay focused on the positives. It may not be the most exciting movie in the world, but it certainly makes you feel good. On my scale from one to ten, 'The Intouchables' deserves a seven.
3/29/20143 minutes, 24 seconds
Episode Artwork


It is a commonly accepted norm that art-house films winning international awards don't sell very well in Chinese cinemas. Director Wang Quan'an's romantic drama "Tuya's Marriage" won the Golden Bear at the 2007 Berlin Film Festival, but its total box office revenues never exceeded the 2-million-yuan benchmark. China's film market has expanded exponentially since then, but 2 million yuan still remains a meager amount in the world of Chinese cinema. Director Diao Yinan's award-winning thriller "Black Coal, Thin Ice" is different. In just four days of its release, the latest winner of the best picture award in Berlin has earned more than 50 million yuan; not bad for an award-winning production in a market that is yet to learn how to appreciate films that do not feature a pounding soundtrack. This moderate success is mainly due to the result that the film was not promoted as an art-house production. Instead, it has been touted as another Chinese blockbuster, and the distributors were not lying when they promised an enchanting story. The crime thriller stars Liao Fan and Gui Lunmei. Liao Fan is the first Chinese screen performer to win the Berlin silver bear for best actor, for his role in this film as an ex-policeman. He is connected to Gui Lunmei's character of a young widow while investigating the murder case of the latter's husband. As Liao digs deeper into the case, he is also deeply attracted by the mysterious young woman. And since more murder cases revolve around the charming female, Liao realizes that his infatuation ultimately leads to a fatal outcome. It is a story with many twists and turns, but the complicated excitement never infringes on its art-house feel; for example, the story develops at a gracefully slow pace against a relatively quiet backdrop, and indulges quite a few eloquent long takes on casual yet highly symbolic objects, which constantly invites viewers to unravel the film's hidden messages. Just one day after its public release, numerous articles have already emerged analyzing the film in detail, utilizing everything from Freudian to feminist theories. Liao Fan's acting skills have also been widely appreciated. Since Jiang Wen's 2010 movie "Let the Bullets Fly", Chinese viewers have not seen many masculine figures on the big screen. Liao's profile fills that vacuum. In contrast, Gui Lunmei is her usual quiet self. Normally the poor acting of some Chinese actresses renders their beauty pointless, but not this time. Many Chinese headlines have celebrated the film's release by claiming that this is the beginning of a golden age for Chinese art-house films and directors. "Black Coal, Thin Ice" will be followed by Police Diary by Ning Ying, Coming Home by Zhang Yimou and rather conveniently The Golden Era by Xu Anhua. At present, "Black Coal, Thin Ice" is doing well at the box office, especially compared to its predecessors of the same genre. But still it falls far behind average Chinese films of our time, so I wouldn't be too optimistic too soon.
3/27/20146 minutes, 21 seconds
Episode Artwork


The movie 'A Simple Life' by Hong Kong director Ann Hui is a real tear jerker. It documents the relationship between an old servant and her young master. As the elderly woman grown helpless in her old age, the young master assumes the role of a guardian in return for her many decades of loyal service. Despite the title of the film, a house servant's life is never simple. The servant Ah Tao knows where to get the best fruit and vegetables at the lowest prices. She knows the recipes of numerous delicacies like the back of her hand. On top of that, she has to take care of herself and discipline herself, so that she won't become a bother to her master. The only thing about her life that borders on the word 'simple' is her unchallenged loyalty to the master's family. When she was young, Ah Tao turned down many admirers. As a result, she never formed a life of her own. Luckily, she is considered to be respectable member of the extended family within which she has served for more than sixty years. The director presents a very feminine narrative, venturing into considerable detail in order to depict the daily trifles of a servant's life, including how she goes about creating an exquisite meal; how she insists on her independence; and how she gratefully rejects or accepts the kindness of her master. Ann Hui's detail-minded, feminine perspective also helps with her depiction of the prevailing sense of loneliness among senior citizens. By putting the young master in the shoes of the aged servant, the director is able to highlight this loneliness through stark contrast. At one point, the master is seen awake and alone in a quiet apartment; a hint that the servant Ah Tao also spent many sleepless nights in a similar fashion. The full emotional strength of this perspective is boosted by the remarkable skills of Deanie Ip, who is not so much acting as she is being herself. She is able to bring out the humble dignity of a confident servant who is constantly aware of her position. Andy Lau, as the young master, provides audiences with a departure from his normal on-screen image; hiding the charm of his physical appearance behind his tender respect for the elderly lady. With an emphasis on detail, Ann Hui has created an emotionally powerful movie. The slightly melancholic tone may make you think about old-age and death. However, Ann Hui has not supplied enough food for thought in this regard; all she does is observe, relay, and let you observe. Still, 'A Simple Life' is a very touching movie. The director is more than capable of presenting her vision, as are the actors in realizing that vision. On a scale from one to ten, I give it a seven.
3/26/20144 minutes, 15 seconds
Episode Artwork


Moviegoers on the Chinese mainland can now visit the local cinemas for a look at Taiwan's most expensive film 'Seediq Bale.' The 150 million yuan historical drama epic is perhaps also the most topical and thought-provoking among the Taiwan director's recent productions. The story is based on the 1930 Wushe incident. The Seediq people had lived and hunted in Taiwan's wild and central highlands of Wushe for generations. But their way of life was interrupted when the Qing government in 1895 ceded the Taiwan Island to the Japanese who tried to 'civilize' them while exploiting their land and manpower. The Seediq people, knowing their efforts will eventually led to their doom, revolted against the Japanese occupation and killed almost all Japanese people in the neighborhood. The uprising was later quashed by the Japanese army, with all the revolting clans being practically annihilated. Te-sheng Wei has always wanted to make this film, but lacked the means. His last blockbuster 'Cape No. 7' was actually a detour that he took in order to raise the money for Seediq Bale. During the years he spent working on the funding, he did research on the Wushe incident. And while filming he was very meticulous with the details, so the epic picture appears most realistic and authentic. Viewers can gain a pretty good understanding of the life and spirit of the Seediq people, while at the same time enjoying the spectacular scenery, a taste of the local folk culture and tremble at the sight of blood-soaked battle scenes. The best part about the film is the spirit. Not only because it is the product of the director's ideal and effort, but also because of the way he portrays the Seediqs. In his patient and realistic way, the director helps you appreciate the bloodthirsty honor system of the Seediq people, while at the same time stirs your stomach by revealing their crude head-hunting mania. The sheer length also added to the cost. The film is divided into two parts, the Flag of the Sun and The Bridge of the Rainbow, running to a total of four and half hours. The first half could make a complete story on its own. The character of Mona Rudao, while weak against the epic storyline, is able to lead the narrative. By comparison, the latter part seems a little bit messy and redundant. Only the constant bloodshed and beheading helped me establish an effective line of defense in my stomach. Perhaps the director concentrated too much on realizing his long cherished dream. His approach towards this film cannot be more personal. His main emphasis was laid on presenting the spiritual motives of the Seediq revolt, and his disregard for the pace of storytelling poses quite a challenge to viewers. Certainly the moviegoers could view the two and half hour single cut version, but the weak characterization, as mentioned above, may not be able to satisfy the most critical viewers. Nevertheless, 'Seediq Bale' is a movie full of spirit. The director is most successful in presenting the Seediq way of life. If you have a good command of your bladder and stomach, do watch it, it won't be a disappointment. On a scale of one to ten, I give it a seven.
3/24/20144 minutes, 27 seconds
Episode Artwork


Celine Dion's overplayed song "My Heart Will Go On" used to bother me—that was until this Tuesday when I watched the re-release of James Cameron's unsinkable legend "Titanic." A hundred years after the ocean liner's doomed sailing, this behemoth token of human accomplishment has come back to conquer moviegoers once again in 3D and 3D IMAX screen versions. It must have been a daunting task to re-master the motion picture into a 3D-enhanced version. But then again, James Cameron himself had gone through no lesser hardship when he created the 2D original. With an unprecedented budget of 200 million dollars and his obsession with technology and special effects, he fathered the world's biggest box office winner in history. This time, his obsession helps the world relive the magnificence of the dreamliner and the magnitude of its tragic fate. In some, though not most, parts of the movie, the 3D effects do appear authentic and impressive. The movie offers more than just spectacle in that it appeals to a wide range of viewers. Those who cannot be satisfied by the fully developed love story may admire the spirit of the string quartet, or find themselves engrossed by the shocking scenes where the ship is devoured by the ruthless ocean. "Titanic" is able to arouse some universal feelings about a convincing romance and heartbreaking calamity. For many, "Titanic 3D" will be an object of nostalgia. By watching the story again, they can recall their sentiments from previous screenings. As for the younger generation, including me, who missed the first impact, the 3D version is a chance to savor the classic in its full length. The secret of the film's charm is that it does not pretend to be a movie of depth, although it activates your brain or perhaps your tear glands. The wonderful writing is fulfilled by equally wonderful acting. It could be unfair to Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, because they've stayed young and fledgling onscreen, while viewers have had 14 years to become more critical. Even so, I had no problem believing the sincerity of their love. So it is safe to say they presented more than just their pretty faces. Chinese moviegoers have welcomed the re-formatted version. On Tuesday, the opening day of the movie's re-release, viewers here paid roughly 11.6 million dollars to see the lead actors' pretty faces. But getting a ticket to see "Titanic 3D" is almost as difficult as buying a train ticket. The number of tickets sold for "Titanic 3D" on its opening day comes in just behind that of "Transformers Dark of the Moon" which enjoyed the highest-grossing opening day ever in Chinese cinemas. It is still difficult to predict the market prospects for "Titanic 3D." The 2D classic boasts a repeat viewing rate of more than 20 percent. But the lofty price of seeing it in 3D and 3D IMAX may be an obstacle for 3D sales to gain similar momentum. On a scale from one to ten, I give "Titanic 3D" a nine.
3/23/20144 minutes, 31 seconds
Episode Artwork


As a comedy film, 'The Big Year' is only mildly funny. But for people who aren't familiar with the activity known as bird watching, or birding, this movie is quite an eye-opener. Avid fans of the popular sitcom 'The Big Bang Theory' may want to preserve with this move in order to catch a glimpse of the series' breakout character Sheldon Cooper. But I assure you, the main characters deserve your attention just as much, if not more. Three birders of different ages and professions, share the same enthusiasm for bird watching. Stu Preissler is a retired businessman who wants to extend his success into the bird watching world. Brad Harris is able to recognize hundreds of avian species through birdsong alone. Both Stu and Brad begin a year-long bird-spotting quest around North America, and in the process they befriend and help one another in order to defeat the bird watching record holder Kenny Bostick. Despite sharing a common hobby, the three men each have distinct characters and follow different paths in search of their goal. Steve Martin portrays the businessman birder who enjoys full financial and familial support in his pursuit; his affability and generosity help him win the friendship of Brad Harris, portrayed by Jack Black. Black goes about his role with the air of a typical geek who possesses a heart of pure gold. Owen Wilson's excellent portrayal of Kenny Bostick assures everyone of the character's obsession with his championship. For laymen, the movie brings you into a parallel universe where birds can dominate people's lives. Not only do you have a chance to see a number of rare birds and become buried under layers upon layers of detail, you can also acquaint yourself with a different lifestyle. Seriously, how often do you come across people who know birds like the back of their hand? And here is a question for you to think about: we know partaking in a hobby makes people happy, but to what extent can you indulge yourself without said hobby ruining your life. Apparently, Stu and Brad are able to enjoy themselves despite their failure to challenge Bostick's status. The latter's persistence is admirable, but the cost of his success will most likely lead to him growing old and dying alone. I suppose balancing the extent of devotion is important for those who relish their hobby. There are obvious negatives in this movie. As previously mentioned the comedy is very mild and rarely provokes anything more than a chuckle. The only part of the movie that could be regarded as mildly thrilling is a helicopter chase in pursuit of a snowcock. But against the backdrop of this plain and unexciting story, viewers may find themselves thinking about what to do with their own lives rather than watching the story unfold. On a scale on one to ten, 'The Big Year' gets a seven.
3/23/20144 minutes, 12 seconds
Episode Artwork


There is nothing particularly exciting about Tate Taylor's movie 'The Help." Although it involves the topic of racism, the conflicts are downplayed, for reasons we'll talk about later. Somehow the movie feels like a peaceful river that has flowed quietly through an undisturbed meadow for centuries. But in reality it is a lengthy 137 minutes—precisely why you'd better see it when you are in the right mood. For those women captured in the original novel of the same name by Kathryn Stockett, life wasn't peaceful at all. Back in the 1960s in Mississippi, black women served as maids for white families. They cooked, cleaned and looked after white babies. In return, they were paid next to nothing and remained "separate but equal." If they used their bosses' bathroom, they got fired. If they asked for civil rights, they risked their lives. Many viewers may deem "The Help" a movie about racial discrimination, but I'm convinced there is more. Certainly, the story goes to considerable length to depict the unfair treatment the black women were subject to, but it only serves to prove how little education plus an empty mind can be a dangerous thing. Most of the white women in the movie, represented by Bryce Dallas Howard's character Hilly Holbrook, are prejudiced against the black maids as well as girls with working-class origins. They seem to say, "Excuse me, if you are not white middle class, you don't belong to our club." There are exceptions, people free from prejudice. The character Skeeter, played by Emma Stone, grew up under the care of a black maid and was determined to be an independent working woman. As a "homemaker hints" columnist for the local newspaper, she constantly needs help from maids Aibileen and Minny. In the process, she learns more about the injustices they have been made to suffer and decides to help them in return by writing about their stories. What she does is illegal at the time, but she insists on helping the maids in her own way. And the maids eventually identify with her cause and help her finish a book she is writing. So that brings us to the keywords of this story: women and help. As women, the maids do not take drastic measures to deal with their misfortune. Instead, they endure and hold on to each other. That explains why hardly any serious conflict takes place in the movie. Even historical events such as an assassination are quietly placed on the back burner as Skeeter's book slowly takes shape. There have been numerous movies on racial issues, but "The Help" certainly takes a very different approach. Viola Davis's character, the maid Aibileen, tends to be passive about all the injustices she has suffered during her life, but her unrelenting kindness moves the audience to tears. On the other hand, Octavia Spencer as the fighter maid Minny attracts plenty of laughter and admiration. Compared to them, the character Skeeter appears much weaker, while the prejudiced ones simply fade into stereotypes. Perhaps when you are indeed in the right mood, 'The Help" will be a good way to pass an lazy afternoon, and maybe you'll learn something about the tender power of women. On a scale from one to ten, I give "The Help" a seven.
3/23/20144 minutes, 19 seconds
Episode Artwork


I would never have watched the movie "Dear Enemy" if it hadn't surprised me by making the Top 3 in the nationwide box office ranking. A film featuring a business scuffle like this could easily turn into a mere showcase of luxuries, while the title suggests it may well be just another chick flick, neither of which appeals to my interest. After 95 minutes in the cinema, my prediction was proven correct, except that the movie was so much worse than I had anticipated. A friend who watched the film with me said "Dear Enemy" was the first and only movie in 2011 that managed to keep her totally disengaged from beginning to end. Yet, we did enjoy plenty of laughter while watching it, not because we were amused but because we found the same expression of bewilderment in each other's face. The first thing to note is the language. The typical practice by foreign-funded film production companies of inserting bits and pieces of English syllables into Chinese sentences has been a running joke for quite some time, but "Dear Enemy" carries on that tradition. The two languages are pieced together in such an awkward manner that they could never have come out of any sane person's mouth. This, combined with multiple Chinese dialects, creates a weird phonetic environment that constitutes the movie's first noticeable laughing stock. The bilingual dialogue is one of the attempts to capture the lives of the so-called "high-end" elites in the investment banking business. Now as if that is not enough, the actors are sent flying around the world doing things that barely contribute to the main plot. Everywhere they go, the surroundings are "polluted" with extravagance. I have no issues with extravagance per se as long as it helps the story, but unfortunately, the storyline is weak too. As a result, all the efforts to portray the high-end lifestyle end up suggesting sheer vanity. The story is weak because the director fails to balance two stories at the same time: a love story and a business scramble. At the beginning, the movie dazzles viewers with a shower of the characters' profiles, but succeeds in creating an intense atmosphere. Later on as the history between the lead actor and actress unfolds and both of them fly around the world, the momentum is lost, and the movie is reduced to a travelogue. By the end of the film, you won't be able to tell when you lost track of the story or remember any specific supporting roles. Moreover, the movie could have done better in terms of editing. The most memorable scene is when the lead actress takes a stroll in the street. What we see is her flipping her hair in almost every short take, imagine the look of THAT?… Plus, better editing might also have helped balance the story. In summary, "Dear Enemy" is poor movie in almost every sense, a rating of four out of 10 does it enough justice. The only explanation for its popularity is perhaps that moviegoers have had too much intense viewing of late with "The Flowers of War" and "The Flying Swords of Dragon Gate," so that a modern, light-hearted film holds some appeal for them for a change, never mind how cheesy it is.
3/23/20143 minutes, 55 seconds
Episode Artwork


Wuxia, or martial arts, movies are a distinct genre of Chinese film. The most memorable ones are not necessarily those packed with nonstop action, but ones in which the main characters extol the so called Wuxia spirit–loyalty, sense of mission, free expression of emotion, the strong helping the weak...... Director Tsui Hark has succeeded in creating a lasting impression on viewers with many of his wuxia films, including "New Dragon Gate Inn." But will his new film "Flying Swords of Dragon Gate" be as successful as its prequel? Considering Tsui's previous achievements, his fans know he has at least an adequate understanding of the wuxia spirit. A typical example in "Flying Swords" is Jet Li's character Zhou Huai'an. As a skillful swordsman, Zhou feels obligated to cleanse the Ming government of power-crazed officials. As he has chosen a dangerous road, he has made a conscious decision to neglect the love and safety of female swordsman Ling Yanqiu. Nevertheless, Ling is willing to sacrifice herself for Zhou and his mission. Having survived a mission impossible with Ling, Zhou finally musters up enough courage to confront his feelings. More importantly, Tsui is also known as a bold director who refuses to be shackled by tradition and constantly remains on the lookout for creative outlets for his ideas and beliefs. He is quite alert to the needs of his time and willing to challenge tradition and himself to meet them. For example, "Flying Swords of Dragon Gate" is China's first domestically produced 3-D IMAX film. Tsui says the technology has greatly helped him further develop his filmmaking skills. Aside from famous movie actors Jet Li, Zhou Xun and Chen Kun, Tsui also included young actors such as Li Yuchun and Kwai Lun-mei in his new film. The fledglings may not be much to look at, but their presence holds a certain appeal for young viewers. Even among the famous actors, Chen Kun, who plays two roles in the movie, gives a much more convincing performance than Jet Li. The latter is certainly impressive with his martial arts skills, but falls short when it comes to showing the human and tender sides of his character. Tsui's creativity can also be seen in the diversity and originality of the weapons he assigns to each character. Some of them may have been designed to amplify the visual effects with 3-D technology, because they create quite a spectacle on an IMAX screen. Generally speaking, the focus of the film is on form rather than spirit. Tsui Hark certainly has a way of making his film entertaining with an abundant supply of comical and breathtaking 3-D scenes. As for a portrayal of the wuxia spirit, viewers must look hard not to miss it. But because Tsui is only catering to contemporary viewers' tastes, perhaps he is not the one to blame after all. On a scale from one to ten, "Flying Swords of Dragon Gate" deserves a seven.
3/23/20143 minutes, 41 seconds
Episode Artwork


As China marks the 74th anniversary of Nanjing Massacre this year, Zhang Yimou presents his first war film "The Flowers of War." The celebrated director likely tried to do his best with the film, but I think he failed. The film is adapted from the novel "The 13 Women of Nanjing" by Chinese-American writer Yan Geling. It is about a group of refugees who take sanctuary in a church compound and struggle to survive as Japanese soldiers wreck havoc in the city. The contrast between a dozen prostitutes and convent schoolgirls provides a source for drama. Zhang, who was once a cinematographer and director of the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics, impresses audiences with his camera in this piece, although the frequent use of slow-motion shots does seem a little excessive. You may also find a typical abundance of colors, which according to Zhang himself, is a reference to human goodness amid the gloomy and dire surroundings. Zhang has said the focus of the film is not the brutality of war, but the spark of humanity. Yet the fact is, I found myself suffocated by intense pressure throughout the film and was not convinced that the storyline was fully developed. The director goes to considerable lengths to depict the cruelty of the invaders, but neglects the development of the main characters. For example, the greedy mortician John, played by lead actor Christian Bale, goes to the church, drinks, flirts with women and falls sleep. The next morning when he is awakened by howling Japanese soldiers, he turns into the compassionate and righteous Father John! The change is completed overnight with the help of some alcohol, blood and nice clerical clothing. Can you believe it? But perhaps the film's biggest shortcoming is the relationship between the prostitutes and the schoolgirls. First, the scene marking their disagreement is interrupted by intruders and bloodshed. It is one of the reminders of all the terrible things going on outside the church, which the film keeps repeating. Then before the prostitutes decide to sacrifice themselves to save the girls, the film fails to explain how their reconciliation came about. The result is that the dramatic effects on viewers are generated by the war scenes, while humanity, the director's focus, scores nothing. This is why the storyline is not fully developed but instead overwhelmed by Zhang's newfound interest in war films. Certainly, viewers can always supply the missing logic by exercising their brains a little, but on the part of the director, I would say it's just sloppiness. Last but not the least, I am being not particularly picky about Zhang himself, but when it comes to a director as famous as Zhang Yimou, viewers are bound to expect something outstanding. But, clearly, this time, he has taken the easy way out and tried to induce viewers' sympathy with blood and death instead of humanity. On a scale from one to 10, I give this one a 6.5.
3/23/20143 minutes, 44 seconds
Episode Artwork


Two years ago, director Terry Gilliam's production of the movie "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus" nearly went up in smoke. The filming was disrupted by the death of lead actor Heath Ledger, until Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law came to the rescue and took up the recasting of Ledger's role. But even this powerful line-up falls short of saving the film from becoming a difficult one for viewers. With a fondness for magic realism, Terry Gilliam is known for an overdose of imaginative fantasies in his films. If there is ever a way to make one of his films more illusive than what it already is, he will not hesitate to do so. Some critics say the director is represented in this film by Doctor Parnassus the magician, who appeals to his audience by channeling their imagination. But I would add that you might also find a hint of Gilliam in the treacherous devil Nick who laughs at and makes fun of the rigid and boring Doctor Parnassus. The doctor, a duty-bound monk that has survived millenniums, has no clue about how to attract his audience, while the devil could easily seduce the mortals. Talk about Gilliam's confidence in his skills. Another thing that spoils the film is the repeated reference to Heath Ledger. As the actor's final work, "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus" is dedicated to him. You would think that Ledger's first appearance in the film as a hanging man pays enough tribute, but no, the director decides to hang him once again. A tolerant viewer may swallow this up, but to me, this looked like an attempt to profit on Ledger's death, and a failed one at that. The last straw that breaks a careful viewer's back has to do with Ledger's death. In his absence, three of his friends come in to fill his place. Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law may be excellent actors in other films individually, but squeezed into one piece, they pose a challenge to the director. Unfortunately, Gilliam is not able to connect each of the segments played by the different actors, so the film practically staggers to the end. A Terry Gilliam film like this could be a difficult one even if Ledger had lived long enough to finish it. Ledger's untimely death just made things worse. But worst of all was Gilliam's decision to go on with the movie. Let's just say he has too much confidence in his own skills but lacks the ability to save the sinking ship. On a scale from one to ten, I give this one a five.
3/23/20143 minutes, 28 seconds
Episode Artwork


I like director and actor Spike Jonze. His 1999 movie "Being John Malkovich" is on the list of some pretty thought-provoking films that I would offer to sober movie fans, while the "Jackass" franchise, which he had a hand in writing, is a favorite of one of my colleagues, who always takes it upon himself to cheer people up. The true talent and versatility in Spike Jonze have surprised us again and again, and his latest offering is his 2013 science fiction and romantic film, "Her". Like "Being John Malkovich", the Oscar-winning "Her" is full of hidden messages not immediately fathomable. It follows a divorced man who develops a relationship with an intelligent computer operating system, who calls itself Samantha and has a beautiful voice, supplied by Scarlett Johansson. The OS Samantha starts by learning and imitating human emotions and eventually evolves into an intelligent being. In the same process, the extraordinary couple's relationship also goes through ups and downs. The story explores a brilliant idea not infrequently repeated in science fiction. I am sure there is at least one Japanese or South Korean film that center on human-AI romance, but I am not sure their screenwriters have included the computers' unlimited learning abilities in the equation. Spike Jonze's screenplay challenges viewers to deliberate on the future of human-AI relations under this premise, and the conclusion is not so cheerful. But that's only because the prospect of mankind isn't cheerful, according to the director/screenwriter. A large proportion of the population in the story is spiritually cooped up in virtual reality: the monotonous coloring almost everywhere in the setting suggests people no longer pays much attention to the physical world. And they don't seem to know how to express their feelings other than reading love letters published for sale by professional writers like our lead character. This forms a sharp contrast to the intelligent Operating Systems that are good at learning, feeling and expressing. Scarlett Johanssen's voice gives much dimension, variety and emotions to the computer AI that it sounds much more human than its human user and lover, and such is the regrettable future that the director has envisioned for us. "Her" is a fair warning to human's inability to feel and express and handle real emotions, as well as the irresistible sense of solitude brought on by an increasing addiction to a digitalized life. Lead actor Joaquin Phoenix and story writer Spike Jonze have skillfully convinced us about the malaise, but the cure is not likely to be found anywhere in the modern world.
3/22/20146 minutes, 14 seconds
Episode Artwork


One can't possibly watch "Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons" without comparing it to the 1995 movie "A Chinese Odyssey." Both are based on the classic Ming Dynasty novel "Journey to the West." "Conquering the Demons" is a much more vivid rendition of the story, but less attractive. Although actor-turned-director Stephen Chow made his name playing so-called losers in comedy films, he is now assisted by perhaps the best computer-generate imagery technology available to Chinese directors. With the most horrifying computer-generated demons, he has created a fantasy film that is the most faithful to the original novel and certainly the most profitable of any "Journey to the West" movie so far. Ming Dynasty novelist and poet Wu Cheng'en wrote a fictional story about a hellish world where people live in ignorance of Buddhist teachings, and cannibalistic demons lurk in every mountain and river. So during his quest for Buddhist scriptures, Xuanzang encounters many demons that test his faith. He manages to conquer three of them and turns them into helpful escorts. Stephen Chow reproduces Xuanzang's triumph over the three demons, but adds a romantic dimension to the monk's spiritual awakening. So it was with "A Chinese Odyssey," only the lead character was one of the conquered three demons – the monkey king. The only difference was when the romance ended in tragedy, the monkey king learned about destiny and responsibility, while Xuanzang learned about the power of faith and universal love. "Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons" is the first Stephen Chow movie without Chow in the cast. But this is not the reason for its difference in style. Actors Wen Zhang and Huang Bo are no less geniuses than Chow in inducing laughter, and their efforts make the film as hilarious as any other Chow comedy. However, the director must have put away some of his sarcastic ammo, because there is a noticeable absence of the irony that was so commonplace in his previous works. This change has caused discontent among some of Chow's fans who pose as intelligent viewers. Meanwhile, Chow's new production has also stirred the nerves of some sensitive viewers who claim the movie is too horrible to be a comedy. Since the film premiered on the first day of China's Spring Festival, many moviegoers took their children to see it, hoping to share some hearty laughter with their families. But when the movie showed a child being devoured by a fish demon, they soon realized that maybe it wasn't such a good idea to have brought the kids. As a result, complaints were made both on Chow's indiscretion and the lack of a film-rating system. Stephen Chow movies used to please simple-minded, compassionate and thoughtful viewers alike. But now, with the paw of irony well hidden and the weight of scare in full swing, the new film might generate as much in complaints as in box office earnings. On a scale from one to 10, I give it a 6.5.
3/19/20144 minutes, 36 seconds
Episode Artwork


In the movie "White Vengeance,' director Daniel Lee once again ventures to give an alternative interpretation of an historical event. This time, he is greeted with no less sarcasm than with his previous films. More than two-thousand years ago after China's first empire collapsed, heroes rose up from among the commoners and reconquered the Middle Kingdom. Among them, Xiang Ji and Liu Bang were the most prominent emperor candidates. Xiang Ji, the more powerful of the two warlords, had an opportunity to kill Liu Bang during a banquet at Hongmen. But reluctant to do so, he instead committed the first of a series of blunders that led to his defeat. "White Vengeance" centers on the banquet at Hongmen. But the movie tells quite a different story from historical records, and some of the costumes, weapons and other instruments that are used in the film clearly don't belong to that era. Of course, these aberrations can't escape the keen eyes of viewers, especially so when the director is known for fabricating history in his movies. As a result, the movie was blasted even before it was shown in cinemas. Some critics just looked at Lee's name and said, "Ah, this guy has no respect for history. Better not let him mislead the viewers." Then they gave the movie a meager rating. We Chinese are weird, weird people. We always expect something extra out of what we do. And that extra is a big deal. For example, when ancient historians wrote history, they were not content with just recording exactly what had happened, so they embellished it to show off their literary talent. The result is that we now read these historical records as literature – good literature though – without knowing for sure what exactly happened. Another example: When we watch a movie, we not only expect it to be entertaining, but also want it to be educational. If it's a historical film, we want it to reflect history as it was, although there is no way of ascertaining which version is the true one, because the historical records are more literary than realistic. This unsatisfied expectation for something extra is the reason for all the sarcastic comments that Lee's films usually receive[?]. It is also what keeps some picky viewers from having a good time watching a decent movie. But history aside, "White Vengeance" is presentable. The story is intriguing and provides a thought-provoking analogy to modern events. Furthermore, all the male lead actors breathe life to their characters. There are two ways to appreciate a decent historical movie: You either sit there relaxed and simply enjoy the action, or if you really care that much about history, make it an opportunity to tell your friends or family the TRUE story. That's educational for someone who cares. Anyway, "White Vengeance" is a decent movie that entertains. The plot is arresting, and the actors don't disappoint. So for the debates and ideas it has sparked, it deserves a decent six out of ten.
3/18/20143 minutes, 30 seconds
Episode Artwork


For Chinese audiences, "the Adventures of Tintin: the Secret of the Unicorn" is an appeal to nostalgia that doesn't register. Two weeks after hitting Chinese cinemas, the film has so far managed to secure a modest 60 million yuan at the box office; unusually low considering that the film is the product of two giants, director Steven Spielberg and producer Peter Jackson. It appears the duo is nonetheless quite enthusiastic about Tintin, with plans for two more sequels. Reportedly, they've already chosen the stories for the following sequels and will take turns to direct them. Spielberg's interest in Tintin dates back to the 1980s when he obtained the copyright to produce film adaptations but failed to do so because he was occupied with the filming of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Jackson, on the other hand, being a long time fan of the comics, agreed to partner with Spielberg and proposed using motion capture techniques to do justice to the original. The strategy proved a success. The adoption of motion capture and 3D technologies presents a perfect representation of the world of Tintin. While 3D technology lends a certain dynamic to the relentless action, the motion capture technique brings the characters to life with amazing authenticity – as the characters speak, the almost unnoticeable movements of their lips match exactly with the words coming out of their mouths. With a wild motorcycle chase across a crowded Arab town and a crazy sword fight using dockside cranes, once again created with the help of motion capture and 3D technologies, the film is able to tell a fascinating story that real life action films would never be able to recreate. The movie took sizeable returns from European cinemas, but hit a stumbling block in China where the comics never commanded a large readership. This is more to do with culture than anything else. Because of the political connotations of Tintin and Chinese children's preference for Japanese comics, few Chinese moviegoers know much about Tintin. So, can the childhood experiences of Chinese people provide a reason for a Tintin night? Not a chance! And even those who did know about it may not have appreciated it simply because the comics told stories alien to the experiences of Chinese people, especially modern Chinese people in particular. So, although the director included three neutral stories in this edition of the Tintin series – a wise choice by the way – the film still fails to strike a chord among Chinese viewers. As a side not of interest, the renowned motion capture actor Andy Serkis plays Captain Haddock. Some say his rendering of the alcoholic and reckless captain outshines the main character. With '20th Century Fox' ready to support his quest for an Oscar award, we'll see how far he can go in his attempt to gain recognition for the skills of motion capture actors. By and large, successful though it may be in the European market, the "Adventures of Tintin: the Secret of the Unicorn" is a technological triumph that falls short in its attempt to attract people from a different culture with different experiences of youth. I remain curious to see how it will be received in America. On a scale from one to ten, I give this one a six.
3/18/20144 minutes, 19 seconds
Episode Artwork


Every year at the Sundance Film Festival since 2003, an Alfred P. Sloan Prize has been given to a feature film that centers on science or technology, or depicts a scientist, engineer or mathematician as a major character. This year, the award was given to "Another Earth," a Fox Searchlight film which, despite a sci-fi sub-plot, is more about psychology and metaphysics than science and technology. Yet, the film is no less brilliant than to deserve the award it has snapped up. The fortune of a MIT student candidate named Rhoda suddenly takes a downturn when she crashes into a stopped car and kills the wife and child of a music composer named John. Four years in prison aren't enough for Rhoda to rid herself of her sense of guilt. But when she gets out of jail and approaches sorrow-stricken John, she finds it hard to articulate an apology. So every week, Rhoda comes to take care of John's house to try to make his life better. Gradually, a special feeling develops between the guilt and sorrow-laden duo, until one day the opportunity presents itself for Rhoda to confess her mistake to John. There is a sub-plot that helped the film win the award and makes it metaphysical. On the night of Rhoda's accident, she is looking out of her car window at another earth that appears within visible proximity. Later it is discovered that the planet is the identical twin of Rhoda's planet, and both start to change from the moment they discover each other. This means that there are another Rhoda and John living on the other earth where it is possible that the horrible accident may not have occurred. This possibility proves to be a glimmer of hope to Rhoda and John who have every reason to believe that if they can somehow escape to the other planet, they will live a happier life. But they also would have to face another version of themselves. The film not only tosses around some difficult questions, but also ventures to provide answers. It implies that humans confront themselves every day, and if they are able to find tranquility from within, they don't need to search for a way to a better world. To convey such a notion in a film could be quite a challenge for a director, but somehow young Mike Cahill has done a pretty good job with the help of the lead actors. During the melancholic silence that prevails throughout the first half of the film, Brit Marling and William Mapother portray guilt and sorrow incarnate. In the second half, viewers perceive a rekindled longing for new life on the part of John, while Rhoda's face still spells infliction – for the guilt she continues to experience and for holding back the truth from John. "Another Earth" is about how two individuals confront themselves and recover from past misery. The story is creative and thought provoking, while the director and actors have done it justice with their skills. On a scale from one to ten, I give this film a SEVEN.
3/18/20143 minutes, 59 seconds
Episode Artwork


White Deer Plain is a controversial movie. No doubt part of the controversy is inherited from the original novel written by Chen Zhongshi in 1993. The 1990s is an age when Chinese writers were testing the extent of the country's reform and opening-up in literature, and realist writer Chen, along with other writers who were equally bold with erotic descriptions, were believed to have pushed the limit. But there is more to Chen's work than lonely village wenches. In his voluminous novel the Shaanxi writer offered an elaborate description of a Chinese village in the early 20th century, a period of time when China witnessed dramatic changes. The story is so complex and insightful that many famous directors have fancied adapting it, yet none of them came up with a script that does justice to the original work. Well, none but one, director Wang Quan'an, who spent seven years rendering the novel into a film and in the end started more controversy regarding his creative output. At least one other critic did an in-depth analysis on all the possible focuses that a film director could have used in the adaptation, and argued for what he believed would have been the best approach. However, I shall invoke my privilege as a viewer who's never read the original novel, and assess the movie for what it is. But before that, there are still odds to be settled. To please different audiences, the director has fathered multiple versions: a 220 minute version to realize his artistic aspiration and make every cent of the 100 million yuan investment count; a 188 minute version for the Berlin International Film Festival; and a 156 minute version for the movie approval authority and moviegoers. This puts me in a rather difficult situation because if I fail to identify the version that I'm evaluating, some resourceful viewer might argue that another version is not exactly like this piece. Well then, with all the controversies specified, let's have a look at the 156 minute version that is available to most ordinary viewers. I think almost all viewers could agree that the film is visually fantastic. Wang Quan'an studied painting as well, so the director of White Deer Plain is just as skillful at delivering breath-taking spectacles, making each shot a well organized picture, portrait or landscape. Story-wise, it is really hard to get the message because the narrative is broken and inconsistent, but through reasoning and code-breaking, I guess the director intents to highlight the traditional values in rural China under the threat of a rapidly changing society. In this sense, he gives excellent presentation of Shaanxi local music, enough to impress the judges at Berlin. But when it comes to characterization, the 156 minute version creates too many loose ends, as leading characters are left unaccounted for by the closing credits. Nonetheless, the director's effort is commendable, once you sit in the cinema looking at the remarkable spectacle, you won't even notice that you are struggling to make sense of the broken story. Despite all the controversies and inconveniences, I give White Deer Plain a six out of 10.
3/18/20144 minutes, 22 seconds
Episode Artwork


"About Time" has got all the characteristics of a classic chick flick. For starters, it tells the story of a boy from a family of male time travelers, but the time travel part is pretty messy. In fact, it is so messed up that I don't even know where to start explaining, so let's just settle with "Yes, yes, it is messy but never mind". Secondly, it tells the story of the love, family and life of the time traveling lad. Now that combination could be a bit misguiding; as soon as the boy learns his family secret, he decides to devote his newfound powers to the pursuit of love. I therefore assumed that this film would focus on the challenges he meets and the fixes he pulls off with the help of his powers. Well, that assumption turned out to be partially accurate. The boy meets a girl, falls in love and wades through the challenges he faces by time traveling, but that part of the story reaches completion by the middle of the film. The next part is devoted to an exposition of family values, namely family members looking out for one another to make the best out of everyday life. There are two more shifts of focus in this part, both are barely connected to the rest of the film except by the time travel hook, but as you can see it is a rather weak link. Nonetheless, despite the lack of logic and consistency, "About Time" is saved by its persistent appeal to senses and sentiments. The pictures in general are soaked in warm colors, conferring a sense of quiet contentment, and each one perfectly set and shot like wallpaper. The first appearance of lead actress Rachel McAdams is very memorable, because it takes place in a pitch dark restaurant and you hear her sexy voice first, prompting you to start wondering what she might look like. And when she eventually does appear, they arrange it so that she gives out a godly glow against the backdrop of a dim lamp, making you gasp at the sight of her beauty. And that was just one example of how the directors and cameramen conspired to stir your romantic nerves. If you keep watching, there are more such spirit-lifting scenes throughout the film. I watched "About Time" during China's Spring Festival whilst I was thousands of kilometers away from home, but the warmth of the pictures somehow filtered through the TV screen and offered much consolation in the midst of the wintry weather.
3/13/20145 minutes, 56 seconds
Episode Artwork


When the 69 year old film director Martin Scorsese decided that he needed a break from violence and pain, the world took note. His 2011 family film 'Hugo' sent many critics head over heels as they cheered its technical triumph. However, as we'll see, not everyone was intoxicated by the stunning visual display. Firstly, let's unveil the mysterious glamour that charmed the critics and the Academy. Scorsese was inspired by his 12 year old daughter who presented him with a copy of Brian Selnick's novel 'The Invention of Hugo Cabret' and suggested that he make it into a 3D movie. This is the back story to Scorsese's first PG rated film in 18 years. Regardless of whether he was trying to please his daughter or not, Martin is pretty serious about the use of 3D visual effects, and his exercise using the Fusion Camera technique drew the admiration of James Cameron, who referred to it as a "masterpiece." But his emphasis on visual effects did not stop with the 3D aspect of the film; he also utilized the best Arri Alexa camera, which, combined with the ingenuity of Robert Richardson and intense editing, created the most spectacular visuals that eventually secured the Award for Best Visual Effects at the 84th Academy Awards. The digitally enhanced recreation of Gare Montparnasse and the occasional rooftop overviews of Paris' streets, all of which dated back to the 1930s, provided more than enough for the eyes to explore, and instantly took audiences back to Charles Dickens' London of hungry orphans, runaway wives and courtly dialogue with big words. However, the story is problematic, especially when you care to look closely. I believe the majority of Martin Scorsese's focus was placed on producing this mysterious ambience of a children's story, and in doing so he neglected logic. At the beginning of this piece, when the automaton appeared, I expected a steampunk science fiction presentation; similar to that of Bicentennial Man by Chris Columbus. But halfway into the film, the idea of cinema and adventure took charge, and it was only after the last voiceover that I realized Hugo was actually a family film. I'm not blaming Scorsese for causing me to fail my favorite guessing game, but YES, look how confused I was. The story is confusing because Scorsese tries to achieve too much within 126 minutes. Aside from telling a children's story, he has also tried to pay tribute to movie pioneer George Melies. Other insignificant additions, such as bemoaning the loss of the war and recreating a train derailment, contributed nothing to the main theme of family. So, as you see, Martin Scorsese's success with visual effects was remarkable, but the unattended storyline could bore even the least critical of children. Ultimately, Hugo could give you the perfect night with your kids: you take them to the cinema; you observe the excitement in their eyes when the story begins; and when they are sound asleep, you take them home straight to the bed. On my scale from one to ten, Hugo gets a six, including bonus points due to the visuals.
3/10/20144 minutes, 30 seconds
Episode Artwork


For the last three weeks, we've been talking about some pretty serious movies. Watching Life of Pi, 1942 or The Last Supper is not the most cheerful way to spend an easy afternoon over the weekend. Well, the producers of "Lost in Thailand" couldn't have picked a better time. It is high time that Chinese viewers be presented with a decent comedy. I can't even recall the last time I shared a hearty laugh at a cinema, not since Men in Black 3 perhaps, and that was half a year ago. In this case, it is only natural that "Lost in Thailand", being an above-average Chinese comedy, rakes in loads of money from Chinese viewers. The movie is a sequel to the 2010 box office success "Lost on Journey" and retains a similar storyline about a smart-looking businessman and a simpleminded companion on a journey of frustration and absurdity. The film is still led by a combination of Xu Zheng and Wang Baoqiang; the stark contrast in their characters is the major source comedy. The mere presence of Wang works miracles for a comedy flick. But this time, their cause is aided by Huang Bo from "Crazy Stone" in 2006. Huang is a powerful actor himself, but his presence in this film is well controlled so as not to cloud the chemistry between the leading Xu and Wang, and, indeed, the three of them managed to keep the viewers entertained. I watched this movie during an early showing on Monday morning with scarcely more than ten people, but laughter never died out in that showing. This is remarkable if you realize that this film is the debut for Xu Zheng as a director. The previous installment directed by Ye Weimin reproduced the annual Diaspora of Chinese migrant workers during the spring festival. In contrast, Xu Zheng sets his story in the South Asian country of Thailand and offers us a taste of the country's exotic scenery and culture. You can't really blame the director for not showing the realities of China since he delivered on a decent comedy, something we've all been wanting for a long time. Let's just wait for what more Director Xu has to offer. Well, that's pretty much my thoughts on the film, minus the surprise ending, which I won't give away here. So, I'll give you my rating instead: "Lost in Thailand" gets a 6.5 out of ten.
3/9/20143 minutes, 6 seconds
Episode Artwork


"Life of Pi" is the life of humankind. The mathematical constant represents men's attempt to understand the world through logic and reason, but the number itself is irrational and infinite – an apt symbol of human spirituality. About a decade ago, French Canadian writer Yann Martel impressed the world with this remarkable insight, yet it was only 10 years later that his powerful text has been translated into a spectacular format by an equally sensitive, spiritual and talented film director none other than Ang Lee. "Life of Pi" is a fantasy adventure story. Indian boy Pi Patel worships three religions, Hinduism, Christianity and Islam, although his contemporary-minded father would rather he believe in science. On a freighter across the Pacific Ocean to Canada, Pi loses his family and the entire crew in a storm and is the only human survivor on a lifeboat along with an injured zebra, a mother orangutan, a spotted hyena and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. Before long, the number of survivors is reduced to only Pi and Richard Parker. The boy and the tiger drift on the vastness of the Pacific for 227 days before reaching the point of rescue. According to Pi, it is his fear of the beast that has kept him alive. However, it isn't until almost the end the movie when the story takes a sharp turn and another version of the plot is served, perhaps a more authentic account of such an incredible survival tale. The new narrative removes, or shall we say explains, all the fantastic images of the last 60 minutes and produces a darker interpretation of humanity. The gloomy realization lasts only briefly before it is shoved under the carpet of Ang Lee's positive worldview. The boy embarked on his journey with an open mind for spiritual enlightenment, but while sailing on the vast and precarious ocean of life's uncertainties, he was forced to coexist with an animal. Yet in the end, he is able to tame the beast and find salvation, both physically and spiritually. Despite the constant reference to religion, "'Life of Pi" tells one rather simple story. It is exactly such simplicity that poses a challenge for moviemakers hoping to adapt it. Well, of course, there is also the difficulty of keeping a tiger and an actor safely in the coziness of a lifeboat. That's why it took Fox 10 years to find the right person, while in the meantime wait for CGI technology to mature. Taiwan-born director Ang Lee, with his patience and interest in human spirituality, unfettered imagination and quick mastery of 3-D filming techniques, proved to be the perfect candidate. Special attention must be given to lead actor Suraj Sharma who was able to release the full charge of his emotions into a vacuum, and to cinematographer Claudio Miranda who transformed the imaginations of Yann Martel and Ang Lee into a dazzling spectacle. "Life of Pi" is a perfect combination of commercial ambition and spiritual aspiration. On a scale from one to ten, I think it deserves an 8. 电影是一种生活状态 by EZFM来明 on China Drive, CRI EZFM Also on 荔枝FM:没节操有情操英语影评 微信公众号:China Drive双语中国秀
3/7/20143 minutes, 53 seconds
Episode Artwork


It's safe to say, Robocop will not make much of a dent in Chinese film market. Not because it faces strong competition against the new Hobbit film, but rather because it has its own disadvantages. Firstly, the original 1987 film of the same name is not very well known in China. Despite its one-time popularity which spawned a lackluster franchise, all I could vaguely recall is an animated TV series. There are some science-fiction fans who remember Paul Verhoeven's movie as a must-see classic, but generally speaking few would walk into the cinema knowing they'll be seeing a remake. Even for those looking forward to watching a modern interpretation of the story, there are still a few things that will disappoint viewers, but we'll come to that later. To do justice to the director Jose Padilha, we need to first acknowledge his efforts to appeal to viewers with modern tastes. I don't think the new generation of moviegoers could appreciate the stiff action genre of the last century. I don't think the styles of Sylvester Stallone or Arnold Schwarzenegger are able to sell as they once did. If they were a few decades younger, they would abandon their "stand-still-and-shoot" style quicker than you can say Jack Robinson. So the 2014 entry is an improvement on the Verhoeven original. The story is propelled by swift action and deft editing. And modern CGI techniques offer rewarding effects, including videogame-like gunfights and perhaps a somewhat discomforting exhibition of brain surgery. On the other side of editing is a barely complete story. The 1987 classic, according to Wikipedia, includes themes regarding the media, gentrification, corruption, authoritarianism, dystopia and many others. But in the remake, two words are enough to summarize the whole piece: shooting sprees. Robocop has a wife and a son, but no screen time is devoted to explaining how they get used to a family member made of steel. The scientist played by Gary Oldman tampered with Robocop's brain to make him, or it, lose human sentiment. There could well be some extra storylines on the side to enrich the whole set. But the director chose to ignore them, and instead decided that the viewers needed more gunfights. A human-robot sci-fi film is always an appetizer for the more thoughtful of filmgoers. But with "Robocop", each time you think "Wait a minute, that's an interesting idea", the story fails to linger and instead carries you forward to a noisy showdown of 50 caliber bullets. The movie's primary target is the brainy sci-fi lovers, but it has not done a great job to entertainment them.
3/6/20146 minutes, 1 second
Episode Artwork


About 80 years ago, when English author J. R. R. Tolkien wrote "The Hobbit," he might not have known that his art of symbolism would become reality on the other end of the Eurasian continent. He might not have known that the phantom of his imaginary dragon would loom over the world's largest population. Yes, since last weekend, Beijing residents have been seeing and living "The Desolation of Smaug". To those careless viewers, Peter Jackson's adaptation of Tolkien's children novel, "The Hobbit," is a trilogy of fantastic films, the second installment being slightly better than the first entry. The scenes are better paced and the action is better choreographed. There is even room for a little romance to grow between one of the dwarves and an original female elf character played by Evangeline Lilly. The "Lost" heroine's smooth action in this film makes her a very memorable part of the story. Another eye-opener is the fierce dragon Smaug, brought to life by none other than Benedict Cumberbatch. His first encounter with the Hobbit is amusing to watch, although you may find it hard not to think of similar scenes on BBC's modern version of Sherlock Holmes, where Cumberbatch as Sherlock constantly teases Martin Freeman, a.k.a. Doctor Watson. In lieu of good quality acting, there is actually a shift of focus from characterization to the story, with moderate success. By success, we've noted the improved pacing and action, and by moderate, I mean there is still the urge to push a skip button, even in the well-acted first encounter scene. The dragon simply won't stop showing off his high-end British accent. I suppose it is one of the sad truths about life that years of slumbering would inevitably turn a lethal beast into a chatterbox. A little devotion on the part of the producers have helped create a more entertaining movie, perhaps too entertaining for viewers to realize what Tolkien was trying to tell us. Well, the Chinese people are now in a better position to identify with the author, because they are right in the grip of the titular dragon. It is not by pure chance that the name Smaug sounds so much like "Smog." The English writer has always been against industrialization, the dragon is only one of its many evils he tried to warn us about. But unfortunately, his warning came a bit too late: we Chinese have not yet finished building a magnificent Erebor, but the greedy behemoth "smog" has already cast its shadow upon us. For that reason, I will not complain about the length of "the Desolation of Smaug" this time: Peter Jackson and his dwarves would slay the dragon soon enough, sooner than China's own land-loving Hobbits.
2/27/20146 minutes, 36 seconds
Episode Artwork


2/24/20146 minutes, 27 seconds
Episode Artwork


Watching The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is like watching someone playing a video-enhanced game of Dungeons and Dragons. On the one hand, you can sit back and enjoy the beautiful visual effect and fantasy adventure story without having to bleed your fingers on the joystick. But from time to time you do wish to take control and hurry things up to face the big dragon. Ultimately you get somewhat disappointed when you don't get to see the big dragon because obviously you are just on level one. In the first of the serial prequels to The Lord of the Rings trilogy, director Peter Jackson follows precisely the prescription in J. R. R. Tolkien's original novel and sends the players exploring the vastness of the Middle Earth. Before the adventure begins, viewers are given quite a lengthy introduction of the characters, chiefly among them is Bilbo Baggins, played by Martin Freeman, who is also Dr. Watson in BBC's contemporary adaptation of “Sherlock Holmes”. Besides that, the dwarves put on a great show of joy and merry-making, but it makes a painfully extended intro and character selection part with no skip button. To make the game last longer, our director includes a know-your-character tutorial scene, also without a skip button. This is the scene where Bilbo exhibits his outstanding quick wit which makes him a very precious member of the group of reckless dwarves. But apparently Jackson believes the little Hobbit hasn't done enough to prove his worth, so the rest of the installment is dedicated to that task, culminating with Bilbo's confrontation with Gollum in a riddle game. In the meantime, the group roamed the Middle Earth, gathering important items and necessary information to guide them through the quest. When this is done, congratulations! You've completed level one. For more adventures, please insert more coin, and wait until next year. So as you see, the storyline is problematic. And because the director spends the bulk of the time developing the lead character, by the way, great job by Martin Freeman, other characters or more precisely the 13 dwarves and Gandolf the Grey, don't fare as well as the little Hobbit. All that you can recall is dwarves and more dwarves and Gandolf from The Lord of the Rings. Other factors, like brilliant pictures and scores, don’t help distinguish the movie from a well-made video game. And adding to the disappointment is the likelihood that the high-frame-rated version might not be available in Chinese cinemas. So the film's innovative significance could go missing among the Chinese audience. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a movie spoiled by ambition, either the ambition for another trilogy, or the ambition for more sizeable grossing. A shortened editor’s cut might save the series, but I guess it wouldn't be possible in the near future. On a scale from one to ten, I give The Hobbit a 6.
2/24/20144 minutes, 50 seconds
Episode Artwork


China's huge market potential has encouraged many novice directors to join the film rush. These fledgling newcomers fall into two categories: smart ones like author and businessman Guo Jingming who use modern information technology to pinpoint their target audience, and the others, who waste no time on the trivial, but design their products to target people of all age groups. Chen Sicheng obviously belongs to the second category. His chick flick "Beijing Love Story" bears the same name as his popular TV series from 2012, but includes five incongruent stories about the least romantic aspects of love that could happen in any place outside Beijing. Chen himself and new wife Tong Liya lead the first story as two mismatched lovers, whose relationship is put to the test against an uncompromising mother-in-law and a seductive ex-boyfriend. Next, a married woman hesitates about getting back with her infidel husband. A middle-aged couple seeks to renew their passion. A high school student has a crush on his schoolmate. And an old man finds himself in a love triangle. Each of the stories depicts a love-related dilemma that could get the viewers brooding for a while; however, the director allows very little time for such brain activity as he sweeps past the stories like a storm on a Gobi desert. According to Chen, "Beijing Love Story" is an artistic film in a commercial guise. But apparently his understanding of art goes no further than singling out the so-called "issues of reality". I know that some contemporary Chinese people are obsessed with the "realistic" aspect of things, but I've always hated that notion, because the word is so often abused by people to justify their low taste and lack of imagination. Viewers who can actually get over the realistic whining still need to tolerate some of the actors and actresses. Notably, the quality of acting corresponds with the age of the characters; the veterans, led by Siqin Gaowa and Wang Qingxiang are the most memorable, while the younger ones, including the director and wife, still need much weathering. Before I went to see this film, a colleague of mine, based on her experience with the 2012 TV series, told me to be ready for naivety. Well, director Chen Sicheng has tried very hard to sound sophisticated in the movie version, only to prove that wisdom and skill cannot be acquired overnight, not even a wedding night.
2/20/20144 minutes, 55 seconds
Episode Artwork


Of all the films at the 84th Academy Awards, 'A Separation' by Iranian director Asghar Farhadi is perhaps the most worthy of the honor. The Best Foreign Language Film facilitates an understanding about modern day Iran better than any newspaper. The movie begins with a divorcing middle-class couple, Nader and Simin, fighting for custody of their daughter Termeh. The mother, Simin, wishes to leave the country with her daughter, because she doesn't want her to grow up in Iran in the current circumstances. Simin does not specify the circumstances she is concerned about, but that's exactly what this film is all about. Since the husband, Nader, refuses to leave the country and since the judge refuses to sign off on their divorce, Simin decides to push her husband by moving back with her parents. In her absence, Nader has to hire someone to take care of his sick father. Nazieh is a young woman from the poor suburb who is compelled to take on the job because her family is heavily in debt. Following a misunderstanding and a quarrel between Nader and Nazieh, the latter suffers a miscarriage, opening doors to a clash between two families and social classes. The divide is sharply defined. Nader's middle-class family resembles a western one in almost every aspect but their appearance and language. They drive around the city and decorate their apartment like 'Metropolitan Home' magazine. But more important is their belief in female independence. Nazieh, on the contrary, is poor and religious. She is afraid to tell her husband that she works in the family of a single man, and she consults a religious hotline before she changes the old man's dirty pants. The Iranian working class remains devoted to traditional ideas about religion and gender. Asghar Farhadi is cunning in the progressive presentation of the story. The full display of class tension begins with small hints that develop gradually, from the almost unnoticeable tone of speech to the angriest and most desperate cursing. The suspense is captivating and keeps viewers glued to their seats wondering what will happen next. Asghar Farhadi has the utmost support from the cast. The five major characters, including Termeh who is played by the director's own daughter, carry themselves in front of the camera as if they were telling their own life stories. The movie's authenticity is further enhanced by cinematographer Mahmud Kalari and his skills with a handheld camera. The movie also provides a good comparison with Chinese movie 'the Flowers of War.' Zhang Yimou, director of this 94 million dollar war film, had high hopes for the Foreign Language Film Award, but his deliberate attempt to tug the viewers' heartstrings was not as effective as Asghar Farhadi's casual and neutral narrative in his 800,000 dollar product. 'A Separation' is a sincere exploration on the social issues in modern Iran. By not taking sides the director is able to go deeper into the heart of the problems while at the same time surviving the strict censorship policies. On a scale from one to ten, I give it a nine.
2/18/20144 minutes, 32 seconds
Episode Artwork


2/18/20145 minutes, 46 seconds
Episode Artwork


Korean movie 'Late Autumn' is very likely a record breaker. Three days after its release in mainland theatres, the film has raked in 28 million yuan in ticket sales, trailing behind the previous record holder 'Sector 7' which took some 30 million yuan from Chinese viewers. The success of this exotic chick flick is not surprising, as it stars popular Korean actor Hyun Bin and Chinese actress Tang Wei. This combination alone is enough to draw swarms of viewers who are always ready to embrace their artistic side. 'Late Autumn' is the second remake of the 1966 classic Korean film of the same title. It depicts a romantic encounter between a female convict on parole and a male gigolo. To distinguish the film from previous editions, director Kim Tae-yong changed the movie's setting to the foggy city of Seattle, USA; representing the only virtue within a film which is otherwise a disaster。 To fit in with the American setting, the two leading characters, both Asian, are forced to speak a foreign language for the majority of the time. Their accented English highlights the pair's identities as social outcasts, both of whom lead a marginal existence in a strange world, providing fertile soil for the ensuing compassion, romance and love. Another benefit of the setting is related to the actress Tang Wei. Rumor has it that since her over-exposal in Ang Lee's 2007 espionage thriller 'Lust, Caution,' she has been living the life of an exile. Regardless of its authenticity, the rumor has gained Tang Wei more popularity than she could have owned with her discouraging acting style. Based on her performance in 'Lust, Caution' and 'Late Autumn,' I think I can safely assume that she is utterly incapable of changing her facial expression in different circumstances. However, this numb but pretty face probably satisfies the Western perception of the quiet and mysterious Asian female. Moving the setting to Seattle gives Tang Wei the opportunity to maximize her so-called 'advantage.' But it's bad news for the director who bases the bulk of the storyline on the psychological progress of the lead actress. A poker face may have been helpful in portraying a woman who has spent seven years behind bars, but seeing Tang wear the same mask as she experiences emotional ups and downs over the course of two hours is sure to cause some viewers to lose interest. With the storyline spoiled as a result, viewers have to put up a real struggle before acknowledging the romance that exists between the two characters. You'll try hard to make sense of it all, but even the most foolhardy of movie goers won't be emotionally prepared to witness the prolonged kiss near the end. And from where I was standing, it seems as if the kissing couple wasn't ready for it either. Regardless of its failings, I've only been able to give you a glimpse at this incredible, record-setting Korean movie. But I'm sure the record will be easily broken again, as long as the right actors are put together with the right storyline. On a scale from one to ten, I give 'Late Autumn' a four.
2/18/20144 minutes, 29 seconds
Episode Artwork


2/17/20144 minutes, 31 seconds
Episode Artwork


The Academy must have lowered their standards, because this year an experiment with old fashioned cinema took home five awards, including best picture, best actor and best score. Yes, Michel Hazanavicius is doing it again. After his success with the 'OSS 117' films, he is now pushing his record further back in time, to the Hollywood of the late 1920s. To guarantee that his new spoof 'The Artist' attracted widespread attention, Hazanavicius referenced 'Singin' in the Rain' and 'A Star is Born' in his production of a black-and-white silent melodrama. With the help of French actor Jean Dujardin and composer Ludovic Bource, Michel Hazanavicius had his way again at the Hollywood and Highland Center. Hazanavicius is indebted to Jean Dujardin, whose talking eyebrows and charming smile prevent the audience from dozing off. Ludovic Bource's score works to the same effect, providing constant stimulus to viewers whose brains remain largely unchallenged by a flaccid storyline. Some might consider 'The Artist' a silent film and a tribute to the good old days (and ways). But I'd rather look at it as a director's experiment with creatively traditional filming methods. Strictly speaking, 'The Artist' is not a silent movie. Although Hazanavicius did try to create an impression of the 1920s silent films, for example he shot the movie at a lower frame rate of 22 fps to mimic the speed, the techniques he employed are actually more modern than they are archaic. More importantly, the characters in the movie are allowed to talk, on two specific occasions: one in the form of a dream, the other at the end of the film. I like the part in the dream when a feather shakes the earth with ear-splitting sound, quite a vivid portrayal of the anxiety of the male lead whose prosperous career as a popular silent movie star is about to be cut short by the advent of talkies. There are many other smart maneuvers in the film, all testifying to the fact that Hazanavicius boldly experiments with whatever idea and gimmick he can manage, in an effort to make a different film, while remaining unhindered by any need to express anything in particular. The richness of scattered patches of ingenuity, combined with a so-so story and the absence of a main theme, makes the movie seem like a Frankenstein. Well, a Frankenstein with the best engineered arms and legs, but a Frankenstein nonetheless. 'The Artist' is a clever film, but remains one step away from greatness. Perhaps I'll watch it again, to admire the acting and the director's nostalgic originality and, more importantly, to find out what exactly the critics were impressed by. One a scale from one to ten, I give 'The Artist' a 6.5.
2/17/20143 minutes, 27 seconds
Episode Artwork


Anchor: 'The Descendants' by Alexander Payne with George Clooney won the Best Adapted Screenplay at the 84th Academy Awards. It is the story of a man who survives a midlife crisis through solemn self-examination. Our movie reviewer Luo Laiming brings us his thoughts on 'The Descendants.' Reporter: For some people life is a nonsensical repetition of daily routines, only when they are thrust into a vortex of crisis do they really come to grips with their situation. Director Alexander Payne revealed his insight into the lives of such people in his 2002 production 'About Schmidt'. This time he presents another version of his mid-life crisis story, which is set on the tropical islands of Hawaii and by comparison paints a brighter picture of human existence. Lawyer Matt King's awareness of his awkward situation is precipitated by a speed boat accident which puts his wife in a permanent coma. But even before the tragedy, Matt had enough fish to fry, including his family's 25,000 acres of pristine land on the island of Kauai. But even this is coming to an end for him, because his family is forced to sell the land to native developers. As the sole trustee of the family trust, his decision will affect the lives of his relatives and the native Hawaiians. With his wife in a coma, the decision becomes even more difficult because he has to take care of his two daughters, who will give him a hard time and tell him about his wife's extramarital affair. It is easy to empathize with Matt's state of mind. Viewers may be expecting this farce of horrors to degenerate into a tragedy. But this piece, in its temperate style, never dwells on a single scene for too long before more drama kicks in. The addition of breezy, even comic, scenes liberates viewers from Matt's intense emotions. And dignified is the way the man bears the full swing of all his personal calamities. George Clooney as Matt King breathes life, strength and silent sorrow, into the Hemingway-like hero who never gives in to loss, but rather searches inside himself for the reasons behind his sorrow. His wife’s secret lover, Brian Speer, who also seeks to buy Matt's family land, can be considered a symbol of loss. Matt has had his share of indecision about paying the lover a visit, but he eventually makes up his mind and confronts the real estate agent face to face. After his victory over 'Brian Speer', Matt becomes more determined than ever to protect whatever he has in his hand. I am instantly attracted to the exotic Hawaiian music quietly playing in the background. The soft score contributes to the temperate style and is suggestive of Matt's efforts to suppress his overflowing emotions. The Descendants is an excellent portrayal of a man who triumphs over himself and his midlife crisis. On a scale of one to ten, I give 'The Descendants' an 8.5.
2/17/20143 minutes, 55 seconds
Episode Artwork


I understand why "Les Misérables" set a new opening-day grossing record for musical films, but I don't understand why as many as 70 percent of the reviewers on Rotten Tomatoes have given it a positive rating. I mean, it is common, if not inevitable, for crazy fans to swarm the cinemas for film adaptations of their favorite work of art, but it is not so common to see critics rate a movie purely based on emotional grounds. For example, they love the original musical or they enjoy some emotional singing. Personally, I find it to bizarre to see Wolverine put away his paws and take up singing for a change, but I am not rejecting the movie because of that. Instead I swallowed it up, calmed my stomach and kept watching. Also, I found the overflowing emotion in the singing a bit unnerving, but again I am not rejecting it – better they have some than none at all. However, I do have to point out that emotion alone doesn't make a good musical film. There must be a certain chemistry between the singer and the stage. In the case of "Les Misérables," the directors have apparently ignored the stage and put the focus on the makeup instead. Well, the makeup has to be immaculate because it must stand up to the test of the movie's countless close-ups. And yes, there are many close-ups. In fact, someone should have reminded the directors that they were making a movie, not big screen live feeds at a pop-star concert. Now that poor cinematography and the setting have destroyed their chemistry with the stage, the actors sound tedious even at the height of their emotions. The problem is made worse by a lack of development in the storyline and characters. Javert played by Russell Crowe has to pursue Valjean simply because it is his duty, but what has this weird relationship done to both men? Valjean has been the stepfather of Fantine's daughter for years, but are they close? Suddenly, the little girl grows up and falls in love with a young man, and pretty soon they are married, but why? And, of course, the young man has to be in a student revolution. After all, this is France in the early 19th century. But what are the students dying for? You'll get no clue from watching the movie. So, I can think of no good reason to enjoy this extended musical film. In fact, whenever Hugh Jackman takes a deep breath, I say: "Oh no, he is going to sing again." That should be the right critical response to this sloppy adaptation of a masterpiece. On my scale from one to 10, I give it a four.
2/15/20144 minutes, 25 seconds
Episode Artwork


A Chinese critic divides Quentin Tarantino movies into two categories— remade movies in honor of old classics and original movies characterized by endless dialogues. "Django Unchained" is a bit of both. On the one hand, the spaghetti-western style is obviously a tip of the hat to Italian director Sergio Corbucci's original "Django" in 1966. Tarantino even has the original Django, Franco Nero, asking for the name of the new Django, Jamie Foxx, to which the latter responds: "Django, the D is silent." – Quite an amusing scene for those who notice. Only a few minutes of watching the movie are enough for viewers to realize the style of cinematography and music is a bit uncommon in contemporary moviemaking. In particular, the use of songs to mark major transitions in the storyline is a far cry from the quick-paced commercial movies of our time. An interesting thing to note about how the soundtrack reflects cultural differences: While an African-American colleague of mine said he/she[?] appreciated the mixture of Ennio Morricone's spaghetti western scores and a few contemporary sounds, even some rap, Chinese viewers in general seemed to tilt toward the negative. Nonetheless, the movie still indulges Tarantino's distinctive style. This time the chatterbox is Christopher Waltz, playing a confident bounty hunter in the guise of a dentist. The always good-mannered German dentist sets free a black slave Django, and takes him on his pursuit of wanted fugitives. Pretty soon, Django Freeman learns all the tricks, and both partners go on a mission to rescue Django's wife. Later when the doctor is down, Jamie takes up his job as both chatterbox and bounty hunter. In "Django Unchained," Tarantino describes the cruelty of slavery rather boldly, from straightforward whipping to Mandingo fights and dog attacks. His playful approach reminds everyone of his previous movie "Inglorious Basterds." Only this time he is saved by the consistent playfulness of his previous works; otherwise, he couldn't have pulled it off without being offensive. In fact, based on the opinion of my colleague, I'm sure some viewers are offended, despite the fact that the director is at the same time very serious about the topic. While Christopher Waltz does an exceptional job, his claim to the Golden Globe's Best Supporting Actor Award could have met with a serious challenge if Samuel Jackson had been given more screen time. Jamie Foxx is equally brilliant. When he becomes talkative near the end, he is almost another Dr. Schulz, and Dr. Schulz is cool. The "N words" sounds a bit too much even for Chinese viewers; otherwise, "Django Unchained" is a perfect movie. For a fair rating, I am thinking an eight out of 10.
2/14/20144 minutes, 35 seconds
Episode Artwork


Director Lone Scherfig's "One Day" is a challenge to the concept of a movie. It is very original in presenting a story that otherwise would have been rather flat. Somehow, the flatness of this movie turned out to be way beyond its originality. Adapted from author David Nicholls's novel of the same name, the movie tells a decades-long story between a man and a woman. Emma and Dexter, played by Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess, respectively, find themselves in bed together on graduation day, July 15th, 1988. Mind you, nothing exciting happens here. They talk, they cuddle and they decide to be friends. From then on, the development of their relationship is revealed to us on July 15th of each year for the next 20 years. The movie, as a collection of 20 or so such snapshots, inherits this original structure from the novel. The structure inevitably begs the question: Can men and women really be just friends? In search of an answer, the movie puts both characters to the test of life's ups and downs. A normal practice would be to track all the significant events that marked the development of their relationship, but instead the novel only accounts for the events that take place on a particular day, while supplying hints as to what may have happened during the rest of the year. But filling in gaps in a visual format is not easy. Despite the director's efforts to piece them together, some parts still give you the impression of a slideshow. And you certainly feel much worse when you hear the almost stereotypical soundtrack that hypnotizes you with boredom over and over again. Not surprisingly, the movie is not able to provide an answer to the tricky question. What appears to be a long-lasting friendship is in fact fuelled by unrequited love. I only realized this when the word "love" popped out of Hathaway's mouth, and I was not quite convinced because the chemistry between the characters was missing. Perhaps the distinct form does not give the actors much chance to act it out. Usually, I like to watch movies that cover a lengthy period; for instance, "Legends of the Fall," because films like this give you a different perspective. When you weigh things on a lifelong scale, you find it easier to ignore some unhappy trivia at hand and discover what is really important in life. But in the case of "One Day" where the fragmented story rushes uneventfully to the end, I felt more drowsy than enlightened. To sum up, "One Day" is audaciously original, but its originality creates too many problems that only serve to make it a very dull film. On a scale from one to 10, I give it a five.
2/13/20143 minutes, 53 seconds
Episode Artwork


In North American and the international market, Disney's 3D animated comedy "Frozen" is commonly accepted as the second step on the company's journey to a renaissance. Step one was taken in 2012 with the family comedy "Wreck-It Ralph." But in China, the film has suffered a fate of obscurity and is only recently showing signs of an improvement in box office numbers. Built on the traditional fairy tale "The Snow Queen" by Hans Christian Anderson, Disney's latest princess story is a great boost from the original script by adding powerful vocals from Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel. I remember reading Anderson's book as a child and envisioning the adventure that runs through the lines. But I never imagined one that is so musical and full of emotion. Watching this piece was quite a pleasant experience. But, somehow, such a fantastic film received merely lukewarm welcome in the Chinese market. There are two reasons behind this. First of all, "Frozen" is mainly made for the kids, and would have been a nice choice during the Spring Festival period, a time of family reunion in China. Unfortunately, there happens to be another popular competitor – a domestic title based on the reality TV show of the same name, "Baba Qunaer", or "Where Are We Going, Dad?" With the show attracting extensive viewers across the country, a prolonged episode of the show played on the big screen is enough to get viewers flocking into cinemas. Since its debut on January 31st, "Baba Qunaer" has made 570 million yuan in just ten days, while "Frozen" only landed a meager 85 million in five days. Secondly, I blame cultural differences. As a film mainly targeted for a young audience, "Frozen" has been translated and dubbed in Chinese. A large chunk of the film's charm is lost in translation. One example, based on my personal observation, is when the snowman made a joke about a male character by calling him a donkey, no one got it and no one laughed. Surely, the same joke works well in a Chinese context, but when it is translated and dubbed, no one notices it. Another setback rests with the dubbing. The magic in the voices of the original cast is totally deprived in the dubbed version. Some of the songs were practically mumbled out, so the appeal of Disney's comeback piece is totally lost on Chinese moviegoers. The good news is, as the craze for the talent show ebbs away, the Chinese seem to have discovered this hidden pearl among the bustles of many domestic products. The rising demand for the original version of “Frozen” may be a glimmer of hope for the prospect of this Oscar nominated animated feature's here in China.
2/12/20145 minutes, 40 seconds
Episode Artwork


Baz Luhrmann's movie Moulin Rouge could be a dazzling surprise. Ten minutes into the story, when the main theme of love is so obviously revealed, you might ask: what exactly does he plan to impress me with such common subject matter? Well, in just a few minutes, Luhrmann delivers his knock-out punch. In fact, you may already have readied yourself for the sensual expressiveness of this musical. The passionate conductor who waves his baton in exaggerated frenzies defines the film right from the opening. And you can't take you eyes off the wild and hedonistic merry-making at the famous Moulin Rouge. But the true essence of this musical is certainly the soundtrack: pop songs from the mid-to-late 20th century deftly adapted to an 1899 setting, giving the movie a magically modern spirit quite in line with the feel of the Bohemian Revolution. And more importantly, the songs are sung by the actual actors in the movie. Here you may realize that Evan McGregor can do more than just wield a lightsaber. He also deserves his fair share of credit for an acceptable tenor voice. In a supporting role, Jim Broadbent's delivery of Madonna's 'Like a Virgin' is sure to score a few chuckles. But perhaps the most remarkable part is Nicole Kidman's rendering of the courtesan. At the beginning she is all too ready to lose herself in her portrayal of a 'material girl'. But, as predictable as could be, she falls in love, and her loyalty and sacrifice call for many wet tissues before she meets her unfortunate end. The only problem with such an expressive musical is the absence of real content. As mentioned above, Luhrmann chose the topic of love, but as it turned out, he put more stress on singing, dancing and costumes than on story. As a result, viewers will have difficulty believing McGregor's sincerity, and some viewers may even feel some sympathy for the antagonist, the evil duke. Nonetheless, I honestly believe the spectacular presentation makes up for the few petty drawbacks. Baz Luhrmann envisioned a musical extravaganza, and he delivered. On my scale from one to ten, I give Moulin Rouge a 7.5.
2/12/20143 minutes, 22 seconds
Episode Artwork


For those who take pleasure in classical music, the name Jacqueline du Pré is most closely associated with Elgar's Cello Concerto in E Minor. The British cellist's passionate and energizing style made her "one of the most stunningly gifted musicians of her time." But for the average Joe, it's more likely that you would recognize the name as the heroine of Anand Tucker's 1998 film 'Hilary and Jackie.' The film is based on the memoir 'A Genius in the Family' by Piers and Hilary du Pré, brother and sister to the musical prodigy. The story has been criticized by those close to Jacqueline, with disagreements arising from differing perceptions of the musician's personality. Nonetheless, these criticisms do little to stop us from appreciating the movie. Tucker exalts the value of sisterhood and in the place of sibling rivalry, we observe Hilary willingly sharing everything she has, despite Jackie's insistence on owning everything that belongs to her sister. Although both sisters are equally endowed in the musical arts, Jackie is the one who gains all the necessary attention and training to become a world famous musician. And as if that was not enough, Jackie also lays claim to a share of Hilary's familial bliss, as she goes about sharing Hilary's husband. Hilary acquiesces in her sister's actions because she is the only one that truly understands Jackie. The movie offers viewers an insight into the life of a world-class musician, the life of someone pushed into the spotlight because of her skills with a cello; an instrument which, unfortunately, she doesn't even enjoy playing. On her road to stardom, Jackie loses almost everything that makes for an ordinary life. Emily Watson delivers the character to its full length. Portraying a superstar on the rise, her passion and vivacity elevates viewers. In her efforts to depict the veteran musician after being struck down with multiple sclerosis, Watson leaves a deep, lasting impression through her forlorn and melancholic performance. Aside from the incredible acting, I also have to bring your attention to the film's soundtrack. Music is of the essence to this film. Not only can you enjoy the classical pieces spinning out of the character's instruments, but the casual resonance of the music in the background also soothes and excites. "Hilary and Jackie" is a good introduction to the world of classical music. It also presents viewers with a question: if you were endowed with the necessary aptitude to become a leading figure in a certain area, how much would you be willing to give up? This is a question certainly worth thinking about at a time when people place such an emphasis on fame and money. On a scale from one to ten, I give "Hilary and Jackie" an eight.
2/11/20143 minutes, 46 seconds
Episode Artwork


Shawn Levy's 'Real Steel' is a quasi-cyberpunk movie. I was searching for a time-killer when I found this film, but in the end, I found that it wasn't quite as bad as I had anticipated. Charlie Kenton, played by Hugh Jackman, used to be a promising prize fighter. As boxing fans demanded more violence, bloodshed and extreme fighting, his ascending career was cut short when robots replaced human boxers. With a rusty robot, Charlie travels to matches and exhibitions around the country, but barely makes a living. To make things worse, he is informed that his ex-girlfriend has just died, and he has to waive custody of his son Max to the child's wealthy aunt. In desperate need for money, he blackmails the uncle and practically sells his right to custody. In turn, he promises to take care of Max for the summer. The father and son go on the tour with a new found sparring robot named Atom which exhibits great potential in learning. Incredibly, the story ends with Atom challenging World Robot Boxing champion Zeus. Initially I thought 'Real Steel' was the kind of film that was just selling the idea of robot boxing: a lot of action, but no story, no acting, nothing to stir your grey matter, like one of those Arnold Schwarzenegger films. Well, actually, 'Real Steel' is short on the action, because the bulk of the film is devoted to following the father and son. The first thing to note is how smoothly it flows, regardless of the content. Lately, I've been bothered a lot by recent Chinese movies, whose directors may have ideas to get across, but their movies stagger. In 'Real Steel', the action, conversation, sensation and fun parts are aptly paced so that viewers never grow tired. It is a skill that Chinese directors really need to catch up on. And next let's get to the content. I call it a quasi-cyberpunk movie because you get to see underground robot boxing matches and a robot fighting a bull and actors dressed up in cowboy outfits. But for the most part it remains a father and son movie. The father, a talented boxer whose career path was destroyed by robots, loses all his bearings in life and becomes a total jerk. Only with his son's help is he able to get back on his feet again. So look now around you, if anyone close to you is being a jerk, they might need your help. The relationship part of this father and son movie seems unpolished. Perhaps a little subtlety would help. And maybe that's something a western director would have to learn from their Chinese counterparts. Last but not the least, the movie also highlighted a dogged fighting spirit. It is the spirit that helped Atom survive the crushing fist of Zeus, and it is the spirit that you'll need to go back to work, however comfortable you are now sitting with your folks at home. So in the coming year, may you help those around you and be a piece of 'real steel' in all your pursuits. Before I forget, let's say 'Real Steel' deserves a five out of ten.
2/10/20145 minutes, 45 seconds
Episode Artwork


I have to say, I had a pretty good time watching "Love Is Not Blind," a locally produced low-cost chick flick that is trumping Hollywood blockbusters in the box office rankings. As much as I was amused in the cinema, I was perplexed when I left as I tried to determine what made the film so funny. Strangely enough, I found nothing. Anyway, the literal translation of the movie's title in Chinese is "33 Days After Being Dumped." It is about how a young women deals with the agony of the termination of a seven-year relationship and how she learns about herself and about love. When she recovers from the emotional trauma and decides to start anew, there is already someone there waiting by her side. It is a simple movie, and I'm not just talking about the plot. Director Teng Huatao has mainly directed TV series, so he lacks experience in movie production. The way he handles pictures reminded me of his popular TV plays, and his experiment with a spinning camera certainly made me dizzy. Since he couldn't connect the scenes to form a story that flows naturally, the movie seems like a collection of scattered segments. Then how come the movie is getting better box office returns than Hollywood flicks? First, the so-called blockbusters really aren't that good. "Real Steel?" Oh come on, Hollywood can do better than that! Or can it? Second, and much conveniently, "Love Is Not Blind" is centered on an easy topic. I mean, every grownup must have been dumped once in their lives. As for those lucky dogs that have dodged the bullet, the lack of experience certainly wouldn't stop them from enjoying themselves by watching the pathetic life of someone who gets hit. This onlooker mentality is proved by the popularity of the original story. Oh sorry! Did I forget to mention the movie is based on a blogger story that had commanded a large readership before it was adapted into a movie? Sure enough, the story was popular because of empathy and onlooker mentality on the part of the reader, but the caustic dialogues and monologues with the typical flavor of Beijing dialect also have contributed to the wide acclaim. The director obviously tried to incorporate the caustic tone in the movie, so viewers are amused every now and then. But in doing so, he further diluted the nature of the film. As a result, the audience got something in between a TV play and a sitcom. One last point about the film is actor Wen Zhang's successful portrayal of a sissy whose weird accents and gestures distract the audience from becoming totally disappointed. On a scale from one to ten, I think this film deserves a five.
2/10/20144 minutes
Episode Artwork


Technically, 'You are the Apple of my Eye' is not a good movie, yet there is no denying that it is a successful one. Five days after its debut in Chinese mainland cinemas, it's now No. 2 of the week's top list on Mtime, a Chinese version of International Movie Database. Based on a semi-autobiographical novel by author Giddens Ko, the movie is most sincere in presenting the love lives of adolescents, and that's perhaps the reason for its success. Ko Ching-Teng and Shen Chia-Yi had been classmates since junior high school. Ko was mischievous and a pain in the neck to the teachers, while Shen was a good student favored by teachers and every other boy in the class except Ko. A shared unhappy experience in class brought the two close, and Ko decided to study hard with Shen's encouragement. But being young and immature, the two eventually went separate ways after a fight. Years later at Shen's wedding, Ko expressed his feelings for Shen once again, and proved to all that Shen was to be forever the apple of his eye. If you insist on looking at it as a movie, I'll have to say 'You are the apple of my eye' scores no better than average. The movie is practically a combination of an ordinary adolescent's day-to-day encounters – they may be interesting to read, but definitely difficult to be converted into a smooth visual appeal. But if you look at it as a story that's visually-enhanced with modest filming technique, then you have a good story that really goes into your heart. Watching the movie brings you back to your own adolescence and makes you remember your own high school sweetheart. You might have shied away from her glance and dared not even talk to her, or you might have tried to piss her off every day just to catch her interest, but at the end of the day, the thought of her was always the source of strength, an inexhaustible reservoir of strength that supported your struggle to become a better person. You may have been with her for a while and when she was gone you felt like a part of you was gone too, but still every time you think of her, you remember yourself – the good self who loved her. And then you know she will always be the apple of your eye, and you sincerely wish her all the happier with or without you. Yes, Giddens Ko's story is all about that. Of what it falls short it makes up by sincerity. It is a movie makes you remember the best and the sincerest part of yourself. It is a movie for adolescents, and those whose adolescent hearts haven't quite been toughened by poisoned milk powder and promotion and downpayment and Cadillac. As long as men can feel, the sort of movie will always have audience. On a scale from one to ten, 'You are the apple of my eye' gets an Eight.
2/9/20144 minutes, 14 seconds
Episode Artwork

Hello! 树先生(时代浪潮下的小人物)

We Chinese are now living in an age of rapid urbanization. In most inland cities, this process is feeding on the development of resource-based industries, for example the mining and real estate industries. As cities spread their tentacles across the country, the force of urbanization inevitably flows over the rural areas and brings challenge to the lives and values of the locals. The movie ‘Mr. Tree’ is about this confrontation. The main character is a peasant farmer called Shu, or tree in Chinese. When most people in the village are thriving in the process of urbanization, Shu finds it difficult to make a living, and no one pays him enough respect. After a series of failures and humiliations, he finally loses his sanity and becomes a psychic fortune teller, a common figure in Chinese villages. Perhaps many moviegoers' first reaction is to sympathize with a character of such tragic fate. A victim of urbanization, Shu has obviously lost land as the means of living, and is compelled to challenge himself in vain in the city. But on second thought, the viewers may find out more reasons why the director would choose to tell the story of such a victim. Shu is a symbol of Chinese rural values. He is continually haunted by the ghost of his father who represents the strict paternal power upheld in traditional Chinese villages, and Shu himself is a defender of the social system that values the concept of blood relation and intergeneration courtesy. As a man short of ability and achievement, he could only count on his seniority of generation for decent respect from his fellow villagers. But when everyone around him fails to deliver that respect, he suffers a value system breakdown. In his insanity, he forms a bizarre spiritual connection with a tree that gives him supernatural power, a development that coincides with the reality in Chinese villages where superstitions are still common practice. Actor Wang Baoqing, who rose from grass-root to stardom, presents a vivid portrayal of a peasant farmer caught in the clash of urban and rural cultures. Better still is the young director Han Jie, a disciple of realist director Jia Zhangke who is keen on depicting the lives of ordinary Chinese men. Generally the film flows all right but there is noticeable incongruence, for example Shu’s relation with a deaf girl is sped up to marriage, in order to provide the occasion that break Shu’s nerves. However, Han does make up for his drawback through his attention to details, and the use of surrealistic scenes which is, according to many critics, a breakthrough from his master. It takes some romantic courage for a director to turn out realistic products. In terms of box office, Mr. Tree is not even listed in the Top 10, but I have to say it deserves better than most of those in the list. On a scale from one to ten, I give this film 7.5.
2/8/20144 minutes, 31 seconds
Episode Artwork


The weirdest thing happened when I watched the War Horse. Towards the end of the movie, I heard gentle sobbing and thought it must be some young girl with a heart of gold. I was surprised to find that the cries actually came from a man whose hair had turned a touch of grey. I became even more confused when I noticed tears on the face of another middle-aged man sitting beside me, shimmering in the light from the cinema screen. He too was weeping at Steven Spielberg's latest creation. I could not understand what these men felt. I have personally never put up so much of an effort to wave off a director's call for my sympathy. Not being an animal lover obviously helped, but there is so much about the film that was a turn off for me. The first thing to note is what appears to be the director's obsession with war films and the grand topic of humanity. Certainly, wars films are very suitable ground for a discussion on humanity. But if I had created Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan, I wouldn't consider making another war film, regardless of how novel the narrative. But Spielberg did it, and rather awkwardly so, as his exploration on war goes no further than a reiteration of the sentence: the war has taken everything from every man. The unconvincing story also added fuel to my fire. The scene where the young lad and his thoroughbred pet horse plough the stony hillside of the British countryside is spiritually elevating, but this scene also alerted me to Spielberg's manipulative style. After this point, I remained unaffected by the storyline and was only capable of uttering a few sighs of incredulity as the horse survives the atrocities of World War I only to be reunited with its master. Perhaps I shouldn't blame the director, or the screen writers Richard Curtis and Lee Hall. When you adapt a children's novel into a more realistic form, there is bound to be some issues regarding credibility. But the way in which the movie is presented also causes a certain amount of discomfort. The unrealistic lighting, so uncharacteristic of Spielberg's usual style, made it hard for viewers to truly engage with the story. Horse trainer Bobby Lovgren, among others, deserves credit as the horses in this film totally outshone the human characters. However, the scene in which soldiers venture into no-man's land to cut the horse loose from barbed wire is interesting enough to deserve applause. In general, the film is a failure of emotion, cinematography and philosophy. Despite the creative attempt to lead the narrative with a horse, Steven Spielberg did not break any new ground in his latest war film experiment. On a scale from one to ten, I give this movie a five.
2/8/20144 minutes, 34 seconds
Episode Artwork


2/7/20146 minutes, 7 seconds
Episode Artwork


"Wolf of Wall Street" is a three hour long film. Despite some critics' comment that it is fast and dynamic, I actually broke it up and watched it in two days, not because the on-screen excitement is too much to take in for a single day, but because I got too bored to care about what was coming up next. It seems the story is built on the belief that the Wall Street belongs to hungry dealers who coax money out of ordinary investors. And when the money is in their hands, the brokers do nothing but celebrate their success with drugs and hookers. The film's screenwriter Terence Winter is said to have stayed loyal to the autobiography of former stock dealer Jordan Belfort, who is now a motivational speaker after being incarcerated for fraud and banned from working in the securities industry. Apparently 22 months in prison and a 110-million dollar restitution have not cast any shadow on Belfort's life, for he has written about it without the slightest remorse. In an equally unapologetic fashion, Martin Scorsese's movie presents the swindler's life of debauchery in full swing. Hell, I'll never forget the word "debauchery" from now on. This R-rated movie consists of so much nudity, narcotics and senseless abandon that it has been banned outright in some conservative nations and heavily edited in some others. As someone who fancies junk food every now and then but never takes more than a Big Mac, I can't really appreciate the repeated challenge to social norms throughout the film. I mean I don't normally judge things on the moral scale, it is just the director's unswerving commitment to repeating stupid orgies got me really bored. So half way into the film when I realized there wouldn't be any significant improvement, I decided to take a break and call it a day. But on the other hand, the acting is incredible, otherwise I wouldn't have come back for the second half. Leonardo DiCaprio seems to have forced too much life into the major character that he also needs a break after shooting "Wolf of Wall Street". Compared to his role in this piece, Leonardo's other outings in "Django Unchained" and "The Great Gatsby" appears unexciting at all. I guess he'll just have to settle with a golden globe and no Oscar, again. Meanwhile, the quality of editing was immaculate and does effectively reduce the agony of sitting through a pretty lengthy film. Perhaps this is what gives some critics the illusion that the film is so alive and dynamic. Considering its length, I don't recommend watching "Wolf of Wall Street" in a cinema. An afternoon with the DVD would fit just fine.
2/6/20145 minutes, 27 seconds
Episode Artwork

午夜巴黎(Woody Allen最近摊上大事了)

William Faulkner once wrote: "The past is never dead; it is not even past." Perhaps the American writer was suggesting that we humans can never break away from the past and are forever bound to look back to a certain Golden Time. This almost universal sentiment for nostalgia constitutes the main theme of Woody Allen's new film "Midnight in Paris." A screenwriter named Gil is spending his vacation in Paris with his fiancé and her wealthy parents. Despite a successful Hollywood career, Gil always dreams about becoming a "real" writer. One day as he strolls along the streets of Paris at midnight, he is ushered into a vintage car, which takes him back to the Paris of the 1920s—the Golden Time that he loves. Every night from then on, he travels back in time to meet famous expat artists, including Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, the Fitzgeralds, as well as Pablo Picasso and his mistress with whom he develops an intimate relationship. The first notable element of this film is its spectacular visuals which appear to have undergone intense editing. The first three minutes is practically a showcase of the city's famous attractions. Even though you'll naturally question the beautifully picturesque scenes, you still can't help being dazzled. The kind of stunning visuals continue throughout the film, giving it the appearance of an outlandish fantasy. Next is the abundance of famous figures and quotes. An adequate amount would have added a certain artistic glamour to the film. But I have to say Allen went too far with this one. The careless and ceaseless popping up of names, figures and quotes goes on and on. For moviegoers who aren't that well-equipped artistically, they would have missed out on quite a considerable amount of fun. But I don't blame Allen for the overdose. He is just like the protagonist Gil in the film— ill at ease with his fiancé and her wealthy parents who could never appreciate his literary aspirations, while with his literary friends, he is humble and modest. Allen's fondness for passion is genuine, yet he hasn't figured out the best way to tap his potential. Thanks to Owen Wilson's vivid portrayal of Gil, Allen's minor mistake is perfectly redeemed. Finally, Allen addresses the question of nostalgia, arguing that since every generation longs for the good old times, perhaps we are living in a Golden Time in the present after all, and perhaps nostalgia is just an unnecessary sentiment. Instead of looking back, Allen has his protagonist return to reality and work for his own Golden Time. Woody Allen's ingenuity is found in his ability to combine dazzling visual effects, an overdose of artistic and literary elements, and his own philosophical thinking to make a successful film. On a scale from one to ten, I give this one a seven.
2/5/20143 minutes, 51 seconds
Episode Artwork

永无止境(初识Bradley Cooper)

Legend has it that we humans are using only ten percent of our brains. This old myth has created a myriad of fantasies, and one of the most recent is the movie Limitless. Faced with the grim hold of "writer's block", young author Eddie is about to hit the bottom of his life, even his girlfriend is walking out on him. But his downward momentum is suddenly reversed by the acquisition of a bag of magic pills that help him tap the full potential of his brain. After finishing the whole book in four days, Eddie conceives an audacious plan for the future. But in order to get there, he has to make careful use of every precious pill in his secret stash to deal with the side effects, and the gangsters who would kill for his miracle pills. The cinematography and visual effects are the best part of this piece. To mark the distinction between the ordinary Eddie and the super Eddie with drug effects, the movie presents two versions of the world. With the ordinary Eddie, everything seems black-and-white, dark and gloomy; whereas with the drug-enhanced Eddie, everything is extraordinarily bright and colorful, implying that a man with superior brain capacity would possess sharper senses. Bradley Cooper's rendering of the main character Eddie further enhances this distinction. The ordinary Eddie is a stuttering dumb writer with a lousy haircut, while the smart Eddie is a sober Wall-Street upstart radiant with confidence and glamour. Of course the extra lights and colors must have helped with the trick, but Cooper also did an excellent job in his portrayal of the character. This distinction provides a fairly good beginning for the movie, but as the plot develops, things start to disappoint. You would expect someone with a four-digit IQ to find real smart solutions to his problems, but no, the director decides to add a little drama to it. And in most American movies, that either means sex, violence or failed attempts at tugging on the heart-strings. So in this case, violence is the most pertinent and dramatic solution the smart guy could come up with. Why not? Smart guys all appreciate the merit of simplicity. The director must been so much engrossed in portraying and applauding the benefits of superior intelligence to realize that the story is too loosely organized. Narration is brought in to fill the loopholes, but the viewers can still sense the unusual pace that gathers in the lead-up to the hasty ending. Of course this could have been avoided, if the director had access to Eddie's magic pills. There is still one more thing that bothers me. By taking the magic pills, Eddie has practically cheated the game of life. But by the end of the movie, he has done away with the gangsters and the side effects, and is running for president. Even a powerful man who has found out his secret was powerless to stop him. Yep, being super smart is just so invincible. It takes a dreamer to appreciate the ending, which unfortunately I am not. So as a practical man with average intelligence, I could only give this movie a SIX. By the way, research has shown that we do use 100 percent of our brain in our everyday life, so limitless power with super intelligence is indeed a beautiful dream.
2/5/20144 minutes, 34 seconds
Episode Artwork


Captain America isn't exactly my first choice for a night at the movies. A glance at the title and the movie's brief intro provides me with more than enough warning: don't expect anything more than a blatant display of the stereotypical superhero alongside the usual display of American patriotism; which I always find hard to appreciate. Unfortunately, due to a lack of exciting features on offer in the cinema at present I end up watching it, and to my surprise, I actually had fun. The excessive presentation of the superhero image alongside strong patriotism gives the movie a somewhat comical hue. At the beginning, audiences are greeted with a visually reduced Chris Evans, appearing as a 90-pound skinny kid who tries desperately to join the US war effort against the Nazis. He is underweight, suffers from asthma, possesses intelligence slightly above the average, and a diehard determination to serve his country. After five failed attempts to join, his efforts draw the attention of a Dr. Abraham Erskine who includes him in a Strategic Scientific Reserve program. With the help of a serum, the scrawny young man is turned into a super soldier who subsequently leads the battle against the Nazis. Most film adaptations based on comic books share one thing in common: there is nothing particularly extraordinary about them. The only fascinating aspect of these movies is when the heroes show off their super powers and the directors impress you with stunning special effects; leaving audiences feeling empowered and excited. Other than that, you settle with decent screen writing and acting, and hope it doesn't get worse. This is the case with Captain America. The computer generated version of an underweight Chris Evans is worth noting, as are the 1940s costumes, settings and the WWII battle scenes, but these are pretty much the only things on offer from this movie. Perhaps it's a cultural thing that keeps me from appreciating the superhero image which is prevalent in American comic books and their film adaptations. Growing up in a society that has long lauded the Confucius Golden Mean, I have an almost instinctive suspicion against absolute power or extraordinary physical strength. Of course, I did feel empowered and excited while watching, but once I left the cinema, I found myself back in the real world where people are too afraid, or too indifferent, to even lend a helping hand to someone lying injured on the roadside. I start to think that maybe the comic writers and film directors are trying to construct a world that is too simple and naive. Yet, what makes this film comical is the overemphasis on American patriotism. To have a staunch patriot as the main character, who bears such a name and reiterates his allegiance to his country, would have been more than enough. But the occasional outbursts of sentences like "protect the American way" sound a little too much like political campaign for my liking. I don't know whether the director does this deliberately or not, but from where I was sitting it appeared rather comical. Since there isn't much to look at in this comic book to silver screen adaptation, I'll just have to be content with the super powers and special effects gimmicks, and the comical patriotic appeal which entitles the film to a rating no higher than FOUR, on a scale from one to ten. And before I forget to mention, part of this review also applies to Green Lantern, another comic book adaptation that will premiere in Chinese theatres soon. You'll know which part I'm referring to once you see it.
2/5/20144 minutes, 27 seconds
Episode Artwork


Mr. Popper's Penguins is a movie for kids, and happy kids at that. Families will have fun watching this movie, but divorced parents might have to walk away in order to avoid some unhealthy tugging of the heartstrings. Yet, I expect very few adults to be able to enjoy the film, despite lead actor Jim Carrey's desperate attempts to make it funny. Mr. Popper, played by Jim Carrey, is an ambitious and sly real estate agent. Having spent his childhood being neglected by his adventurous father, he grows up to be a workaholic and in turn neglects his own children. However, his temperament changes drastically when his late father leaves him a rather unexpected gift: six adorable Gentoo penguins, which help Popper win back the hearts of his children and his ex-wife, and also secure a lucrative business deal. The plot is quite predictable. After the first ten minutes, any adult who keeps their brain in shape will be able know what's going to happen over the next 80 minutes. All you'll see is the six penguins taking turns to squeal, bite, stumble into something, cut cheese and poop on the floor; things that are mildly funny, and better if not repeated. But unfortunately, it seems the director has bet too much on the innate cuteness of these penguins, and people's tolerance of penguin excrement. These are real Gentoo Penguins you see in the movie, and for the stunts that even these smart avians can't perform, CGI birds are used, with the differences almost unnoticeable. These animation-enhanced penguins actually steal the thunder of the lead actor, who practically struggles to hold his own during the movie. Indeed, you can literally see Jim Carrey pushing himself over the edge trying to earn some laughter, but what he receives is probably no more than a lukewarm response. Yet Mr. Carrey is not to blame. Despite a few wrinkles which are starting to show on his expressive face, he is still himself, but the lack of creativity in the script doesn't allow him much room to bring out his best. One small point worth mentioning is the 'it-goes-with-saying attitude' that the movie takes towards divorce. At the beginning of the movie, no extra effort is made to stress that Mr. Popper is a divorced father. This somehow reflects the reality that in the US divorce has become quite commonplace. An in regards to divorce, as mentioned above, divorced parents might have to think twice before taking their children to watch this film. In reality divorced couples don't get back together as easily as the couple in this comic movie; so parents might be wary to remind their children of unhappy memories or put difficult questions in their minds. Mr. Popper's Penguins is a film for happy families. It's comical almost to the point of frivolity, and the adorable penguins are the only appealing thing in the whole movies. At the end of the day, the penguins deserve a SIX.
2/5/20145 minutes
Episode Artwork


Alister Grierson's Sanctum could have been a downright disaster, if the co-producer James Cameron hadn't come in to save the day with his 3D photography techniques. Indeed, the film's breath-taking imagery is the one and only appeal that could possibly lure moviegoers to bear this ninety-minute exercise in tedium. A group of explorers are trapped by a fierce storm while they're exploring an underground cave system. Water flooding into the cave causes a portion of it to collapse and blocks their exit. The only way out is to venture down into the unexplored part of the cave, and follow a river that supposedly leads to the sea. But unfortunately not all of them are strong enough to survive the suffocating pressure, and the unforeseen dangers that lurk ahead. The Creator of Titanic and Avatar James Cameron's 3D presentation of the underwater cave system is the most spectacular element. At some points, the effect appears so real that engrossed viewers would literally reach out for an oxygen mask. Even so, there are still noticeable imperfections: all of the underwater sequences reportedly take place in a large water tank at a studio. So whenever the water becomes crystal clear, you'll know something is amiss as long as you are not so lost in the overwhelming scenery. Despite the claim that the film is based on a true story, there isn't much originality to the storyline. In fact it is such a stereotype that you could almost tell how many scenes are left by counting the characters alive. For the most part, when there aren't any 3D scenes to appreciate, viewers just sit there and watch the director kill off the characters one by one, as any viewers of survival movie would expect. Bad writing also creates a difficult situation for the actors. Notably, the story for Sanctum is said to come from Andrew Wright, a real life cave-diver who was once trapped in the same situation. But luckily for Andrew, because his team of 15 was sensible enough to cooperate with each other for survival, and survive they all did. So, naturally, a comparison of the real story to Sanctum undercuts the credibility of all mediocre survival movies, like this one, where actors are bound by the script to act like living embodiment of irrationality, if not insanity. For example, Ioan Gruffudd, whose performance is at least presentable elsewhere, plays his part as a ridiculous nuisance to a point beyond all awkwardness. Then what can be done to redeem a movie ruined by a flat and stereotypical story and bad characterization? You bring out the big shots! So here comes James Cameron with his 3D heavy artillery to save the day. So, Sanctum deserves a FIVE, simply for the spectacular visuals.
2/5/20143 minutes, 42 seconds
Episode Artwork


"Super 8" is a film that is quite susceptible to misunderstanding. Viewers who expect a science fiction movie featuring ferocious aliens might walk out of the cinema feeling disappointed. But those with patience, a keen sense of humor and a fine touch of nostalgia will be duly rewarded. The film derives its name from the super 8 millimeter film commonly used by amateur filmmakers in the 1980s. Some say the film is an ode to its producer Steven Spielberg, commemorating his teenage years. The saying could well be true as teens ARE the focus of this film. A group of teenagers witness a train derailment while making a super 8 movie. But they soon find out that it was not an accident when bizarre things start happening in the town. The shared experience triggers the spark of romance between a boy who has just lost his mother in a factory accident and a girl whose father is believed responsible for her death. Amid the turmoil in the town that culminates in the departure of an alien, both families come to the point of reconciliation at last. The film is largely seen from the perspective of the kids. Watching them talk, quarrel, form little conspiracies and hide their true feelings for each other takes viewers back to their own age of innocence. In this way, the film maintains a safe distance from becoming a cheap sci-fi thriller soaked in blood and gives the actors an opportunity to actually do their jobs. The young actors apparently outdo their adult counterparts. The teen director played by Riley Griffiths appears to know his way very well around filmmaking with all the loud shouts delivered in an authoritative manner. Better still is Elle Fanning, the little girl whose stunning performance in the film within the film takes the breath away of everyone who's watching on and off screen. Funny little moments also add a touch of humor to the film. Although soldiers are being slaughtered by the alien at the front of a van, a boy trying to escape by climbing out of the sunroof at the back carelessly kicks his friend in the face. Comical scenes such as this occur throughout the film, but viewers have to stay focused so they don't miss them. Of course, you can still find the same old clichés about aliens, humanity and understanding—themes that have been exploited over and over again since the advent of "E.T." But the director of "Super 8' has wisely decided not to go down the same route. The result is a better product. On a scale from one to ten, "Super 8" deserves a superb EIGHT indeed.
2/5/20143 minutes, 39 seconds
Episode Artwork


The Whistleblower is based on a true story. Nebraska policewoman, Kathyrn Bolkovac is hired by a US military contractor, Democra, to serve as a UN peacekeeper in post-war Bosnia. While investigating a sex trafficking case, she discovers a network of corruption between local bar owners and her UN colleagues. She decides to blow the whistle, but is relieved of her duties by her superiors. Despite Kate's success with her lawsuit for wrongful dismissal, the UN personnel involved in the corruption network go unpunished due to them possessing diplomatic immunity. The film is impressive in its ability to make viewers think. The representation of the lives of sex slaves in Bosnia is mild and reserved, but is no doubt realistic. Yet, as the film suggests, the UN involvement in Bosnia, as in many other places I suppose, does not effective enough to improve the dire situation. The United Nations is still by and large a weak organization and lacks the proper means to carry out its peacekeeping and humanitarian mission. One of the solutions is to outsource the mission to large corporations. In Bosnia, the peacekeeping mission is contracted to the company Democra, or in real life DynCorp. As the general suspicion towards large corporations is often justified, profit seeking companies can turn out to be lairs of corruption. Some would say, let's resort to sensible policy and a good system to curb the beast of corruption. Here again, diplomatic immunity is intended to ensure that diplomatic agents are given safe passage by exempting them from persecution in host countries. But in Bosnia, the privilege is abused and used as a shield, behind which lawless agents conduct felony. Thus, the film proposes a number of questions for viewers who care enough to think about them, but there isn't much to say about the film itself. Given all the questions it throws at viewers, it is only natural that one fails to note whether the film itself is accurate in its presentation of such issues. Every now and then you just can't help but notice when the film takes on the tone of melodrama. Amid this mixture of true story and melodrama, leading actress Rachel Weisz's vivid portrait of an American policewoman striving for justice is all the more plausible, if only you are able to ignore her proud exhibition of American values. The Whistleblower reveals a reality which is often disregarded by most people, and asks the questions that many fail to pay attention to. When people are dying and being tortured on the other side of the globe, do we stand by and watch, or can we do something to make things better? This is certainly a question worth considering. All in all, this film deserves a SEVEN, for all the questions it poses.
2/5/20143 minutes, 48 seconds
Episode Artwork


Since the director killed off two of the main characters in the first installment, Hong Kong film Overheard 2 starts with a different story, but retains the same leading actors and the same reference to the use of surveillance technology. A car accident reveals that a successful stockbroker, Luo Minsheng, is being tracked by a military surveillance device. Captain of the Anti-terrorist Force He Zhiqiang is called in to investigate. He discovers that Luo belongs to a secret group of stock fixers called "The Landlord Club," and Sima Nianzu, the son of the late leader is tapping almost every member of the Club, in an effort to locate the current murderous leader and avenge his father. But the secret surveillance storyline serves only as an appetizer, while the main course is the director's realistic understanding and presentation of humanity. Rather than the classic 'good guy vs. bad guy' cliché, the film showcases a diversity of personalities, from an objective perspective such as that of an indifferent bystander. Not only are the so-called 'bad guys' consumed by greed, but ordinary people are also vulnerable to its corruptive hold. A complete and efficient legal system is perhaps the last safeguard against the dark side of humanity. Even the dice-rolling stock tycoons are in constant fear of the Independent Commission Against Corruption, and are willing to kill to stop the whistleblowers. The lonely avenger doesn't take on the entire Landlord Club single-handedly, as is often the case with Hollywood movies. Instead, he leads the police force to the culprits in his quest for justice. The plot is well-knit and develops quite smoothly. In fact, it develops so smoothly that the film is practically a rush from beginning to end, not allowing viewers much time to digest the story. The film also fails to give all three leading actors a balanced opportunity to show off their excellent acting skills. Fortunately, the three leading actors, Lau Ching Wan, Louis Koo and Daniel Wu will get another opportunity when the director includes them in the next sequel. The element of finance is diluted by the prevailing plot. Some finance jargon does fall out of the actors' mouths, and stock fixing does constitute a part of the background story, but that is where all the finance fuss stops and the plot begins. The director has expressed the intention to drop the finance element for the next sequel. So the film's objective observation of humanity is plausible, but an overemphasis on plot may have spoiled the taste a little. Hopefully, when the next sequel comes, the leadings actors will be given a fairer opportunity to present themselves. On a scale from one to ten, Overheard 2 deserves a SEVEN.
2/5/20143 minutes, 32 seconds
Episode Artwork


"Rise of the Planet of the Apes" is a typical example of a dystopian film. As a reboot of the 1960s classic "Planet of the Apes" series, the latest version excels in visual effects and a logical plot, but falls short of a pertinent portrayal of human, or shall we say, primate, psyche. To save his father from the ordeal of Alzheimer's disease, scientist Will Rodman develops a retrovirus and tests it on chimpanzees. The virus boosts the chimps' intelligence dramatically and sparks the fire of wisdom in a baby chimp named Caesar. After a prolonged process of awakening that extends for years, Caesar finally leads his enlightened brethrens in a fight for freedom. Meanwhile, Rodman discovers the virus is lethal to humans, but it is already too late to stop it from spreading to a global pandemic. Although a science fiction film, "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" boasts no fancy technological advancement. The story seems genuinely acceptable to viewers as something that could actually happen in real life, whereas the "Planet of the Apes" series, with all the fancy norms such as spaceships, time travel and nuclear blasts, today appears fictional and less authentic. The authenticity of the reboot is enhanced by the splendid use of motion-capture technology. Andy Serkis, Hollywood's motion-capture actor known for his part as Gollum in "The Lord of the Rings" and Kong in "King Kong," brings to life the primate leader Caesar with his excellent performance. By the way, it has been an ongoing topic of debate whether motion-capture actors should be nominated for Academy Awards. Serkis is now speaking out about the lack of respect for the talent of his fellow motion-capture actors. Plus, director Rupert Wyatt's masterly use of long takes lends extra charm to the film. Viewers cannot help but be overwhelmed by the stunning visual effects as the apes hurl themselves around. But it takes more than spectacle for a film to become a classic. Caesar's extended years of awakening are marked by a rather slow buildup of insignificant happenings. The director's attempt to make these happenings significant is detectable, but can't really be appreciated. Therefore, the film is not successful with the portrayal of the emotions of either humans or intelligent chimpanzees. Compared to other common science-fiction films, "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" stands out for its really excellent visual effects and storyline, but fails to touch viewers' souls. At the end of the day, this film deserves 7.5 out of ten.
2/5/20143 minutes, 46 seconds
Episode Artwork


"Man from Earth" is an outstanding film. The title of the film, and talk of nanoseconds, Martian colonies, and perfect regeneration, might lead many to expect a thrilling science fiction movie, but those people will soon find themselves disappointed. The story is about a few college professors sitting in a half empty room shooting the breeze, and the only part of the film that could be considered even remotely exciting involves a gun that is never fired. To his friends, the protagonist John Oldman is just a retiring scholar, but at an impromptu farewell party he reveals that he is an immortal who has been walking the earth for 14000 years. His friends and fellow faculty members are taken aback at the revelation, and pepper John with questions related to their own fields of expertise. John is able to answer all of the questions correctly, though he shatters the image of an all-knowing immortal by underscoring the difficulty in keeping up-to-date with the progress of all subjects. So here we are in a world overwhelmed by various kinds of rapidly expanding information, choosing your information intake carefully is necessary for anyone who wishes to stay sane. The latter half of the movie witnesses a sudden shift in topic and becomes dominated by a discussion on religion. Again, John shocks his friends by claiming to be Jesus Christ himself. This striking idea, mingled with little known facts and ideas about early Christianity, make up the bulk of the latter half, until the discussion comes to a sudden stop and everyone leaves after John apologies for having played such a bad joke on them. The attempt to find common ground between two religions is a nice one, but since the latter half is predominantly a discussion, if not argument, on religious matters, I get an impression that either the screenwriter or the director has run out of whimsical ideas, which have been the highlight of the first part. Throughout the film there isn't much action, but merely an on-going conversation. Yet the director is able to capture the viewers’ attention, at least in the first half. First of all, every curious mind, thirsty for knowledge, must have considered immorality as the route to master all the knowledge and wisdom of mankind. So the topic stirs up enough of the viewers' imagination that could keep them on their seats. Plus, the viewers are supplied with an abundance of food-for-thought in the form of interesting facts, ideas and even questions in the fields such as history, biology and anthropology, as John deals with his friends' challenge. Despite the movie's somewhat misfit and monotonous second half and the abrupt ending, the director has managed to capture the viewers' attention with a simple setting, fluent running conversation and thought provoking questions. On a scale from one to ten, this film deserves an eight.
2/5/20144 minutes, 20 seconds
Episode Artwork


The film "American Dreams in China" is Hong Kong director Peter Chan's first attempt at a contemporary drama. Based on the story that he adopts, I guess he was going after David Finch and "The Social Network," but what he really delivered is a hollow story without a spirit. Like Finch, Chan tells the success story of insignificant nobodies. In this case, it is about a Chinese teacher who became one of China's wealthiest men through his English-language tutorial centers. Apart from the title, the word "dream" is brought up several times in the movie, which is very much in line with Chan's obsession with the topic. But, two of the major characters in the story showed no dream at all. The only one who dreamt of going to the US couldn't produce a reasonable explanation for his eagerness, and at the end of the day he was disillusioned and had to return to China. Rather than dreams, it seems to be a movie about friendship. The joint efforts of three friends bring success to their business, but once they've succeeded, difference of opinions sends them on separate ways. Even on the topic of friendship, the movie failed to offer a complete story. For example, not enough is done to describe the establishment and development of their friendship, so when one of them leaves for the US, the eruption of emotion comes as a surprise to the audience. One explanation for the weak story is perhaps the director has placed too much focus on reproducing what it looked like in the 1980s and years after that. In this respect, the movie is more efficient than another recent Chinese movie "So Young." The images of deserted factory buildings and enamel cups almost immediately bring the audience back in time. However, the elaborately-arranged setting is undermined by ineffective cinematography. My immediately impression of the movie is its shaky and stifling pictures, and I was very surprised to find out that they were actually filmed by Christopher Doyle. Maybe, like Peter Chan, he just wasn't used to filming contemporary dramas. The last straw that broke the camel's back is the acting, or more specifically the dubbing. Actor Huang Xiaoming has always been ridiculed for his English pronunciation. His role as the owner of the English-language tutorial business gives his enemies even more ammunition. Honestly, I would be able to understand his lines without the Chinese subtitles. So, all things add up, "American Dreams in China" appears to be a failed attempt, and deserves no more than four on a scale of one to 10.
2/5/20143 minutes, 24 seconds
Episode Artwork


Among all the films that currently occupy the big screens in Chinese cinemas, disaster drama "The Impossible" is not the most popular. If you're looking for amusement we have "Monsters University" and new arrival "Smurfs 2", for excitement and fantasy there's "Jurassic Park" and "Elysium", even literary snobs can find some satisfaction in "The Great Gatsby". In comparison, "The Impossible" may look a wee bit plain but it is certainly outstanding in its own way. Two terms describe the essence of the film: true story and disbelief. It is based on the true story of a vacationer family that survived the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. While enjoying themselves on a seaside resort in Thailand, the family of five was separated when the huge waves arrived and killed hundreds of thousands of people. The mother was seriously injured, but continued to hold on to her eldest son. Thanks to good fortune and the kind hearts of the locals, they were rescued and moved to a hospital for treatment. The two younger boys, one seven-and-a-half years old and another five years old, miraculously survived the waves and were reunited with their father. However, the two groups had no idea if the rest of their family was alive, or where to find them. Having endured much despair and hardship, they finally reunited at the hospital by chance. The story is based on real events and the director has captured the harsh circumstances incredibly vividly. Of course, the director should be grateful to the actors and actresses, whose top-class performances infused real emotions into their characters. Due to some weaknesses in the plot, Ewan McGregor was perhaps the least impressive as the father. But he still pulled off a tear-jerking scene when his character called home after the catastrophe. 17-year-old Tom Holland makes an impressive big-screen debut, presenting the exposed and hidden emotions of a young "grown-up" in this situation almost perfectly. Naomi Watts effectively projected her pain and suffering to the audience, as she struggles with a broken leg over the tsunami-stricken wasteland, the audience might feel their own legs twitching and their teeth clenching. For her excellent performance, Naomi was nominated for an Academy Award, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Actress. "The Impossible" is a truly excellent disaster film. It successfully captured the horrors of a calamity, as well as the positive sides of humanity. Where it falls short in screenplay, it makes up for in authenticity and genuine emotions. On a scale from to ten, "The Impossible" deserves an eight.
2/4/20144 minutes, 2 seconds
Episode Artwork


They say "you can't teach an OLD dog new tricks", but at the tender age of 33, director Neil Blomkamp is already projecting old age into his new film "Elysium". Blomkamp's 2009 movie "District 9" concludes with the aliens promising to return in three years. Four years later, the South African-Canadian director returns with "Elysium", older, but none the wiser. Like "District 9", "Elysium" is full of political messages, highlighting the conflict between the haves and have-nots. The only difference is, the previous film was centered on immigration, the new one on medical care. In Blomkamp's dystopic vision of the year 2154, humans are divided between the rich and the poor. The poor struggle with insufficient resources and unemployment on earth while the rich live comfortably on a space station called Elysium where sickness is eradicated with the help of super-effective medical devices. Matt Damon is a former car thief and menial worker at an assembly line. He is exposed to a lethal dose of radiation at work and his only chance at survival lies in the medical devices on Elysium. He has no idea that his attempt to reach Elysium could cause the whole system to crumble. Blomkamp's insight or skills only allows him to describe things as they are. In the guise of science-fiction, he vividly depicted the fate of immigrants in "District 9"; the pictures were largely filmed in South Africa. Similarly, "Elysium" is mostly photographed on the poor outskirts of Mexico City. Both films painted a striking picture of deprived groups, but neither venture deeper to disclose the root of the problem. Most notably, no explanation is given on the concentration of medical resources on Elysium. Is the disparity a result of the constant exploitation of the poor on the part of the rich? Or is the poverty on earth the result of pure negligence? In both films the director is satisfied with describing the world as he conceives it. On the other hand, both films provide unsatisfactory endings. The aliens never returned in "District 9" and the lead character never recovered from trans-human mutation. "Elysium" simply ends with a revolution, during which the super-effective medical service is made available to all people. Revolutions can be difficult and a good story for a movie, but what follows is even more difficult. When you conceive a world where medical resources are controlled by the rich, you would naturally assume the situation is caused exactly by a shortage of such resources. If so, the act of making it available to all is hardly the end of the problem. However, our dear director seems Okay with the unrealistic, if not naïve, ending. Neil Blomkamp was able to attract a lot of attention for the sarcasm and political message in his previous film, but if he learns no new tricks to broaden his reach, his audience will soon grow tired and go away. On a scale from one to ten, I give Elysium a five.
2/4/20143 minutes, 44 seconds
Episode Artwork


To describe the film "Turbo," one word is enough: fast. First of all, it is about a really fast snail. Yes, snail, fast. The title character, Turbo, is an ordinary garden snail, but his dream is to become the greatest racer in the world. For that, he is constantly ridiculed by his neighbors, and even by his own brother. Luckily for him, an accident gives him the power of incredible speed and some other characteristics of a real car. Then a series of events lead him onto the tracks of the Indianapolis 500, where he challenges the former champion racer, Guy Gagne. The story develops really fast. The audience probably won't have enough of it when they find themselves staring at the closing credit. On the one hand, that means the pacing is impeccable; on the other hand, it's not good enough to satisfy the audience. At the root of the problem is the lack of inventiveness. At the end of the day, it is just another success story of an underdog. Apart from the paradox of a super-speed snail, it is no different from any other underdog story. Even superficial movies like the Spiderman series put up tentative efforts to elaborate on ideas like "with great power comes great responsibility." Turbo just keeps repeating: "No dream is ever too big, and no dreamer is ever too small." Viewers get the idea really fast, but they can also forget about it just as fast. Part of the reason for tis is because the director came up with the idea overnight after watching "Fast and Furious." Now even the "Fast and Furious" series is struggling for better story ideas. How does some semblance of an animated version bring freshness to such stale content? Some may argue that this particularly plain story is suitable for younger audiences. Indeed, based on the statistics polled by CinemaScore, the film got an "A+" from audience members under 18. However, I believe that children should have a more realistic understanding about the world. After all, we don't really want our kids to believe that as long as they dream big, some miracle will happen to bless them with supernatural powers. So, Turbo is a mediocre story combined with excellent production. If you've got some spare time to kill, it can kill it for you really fast. On a scale from one to ten, I give it a six.
2/4/20143 minutes, 14 seconds
Episode Artwork


2013 has seen many Chinese actors try their hand at directing for the first time. Of these, Charlie Yeung is one of the more interesting. While most first-time directors tap the market's demand for nostalgia or bemoaning the bygone of their own youth, the Taiwan-born director has chosen a more serious topic. In courtroom drama "Christmas Rose", Kwai Lunmei plays a handicapped piano teacher who accuses a famous surgeon of sexual harassment. Zhang Zhen plays the surgeon and Aaron Kwok is the public prosecutor who does everything he can to incriminate the accused, only to discover the case is not as simple as it first seemed. The story develops in multiple suspense-filled steps according to court procedure. Many details are explained in flashbacks during the trial. The theme is unusual for a Chinese film, so the story has potential, but regrettably fails to fulfill. For example, suspect Doctor Zhou's character is incomplete. Despite efforts to show the impact of the case on his family, this doesn't develop into a compelling part of the main plot. Kwai Lunmei clearly worked hard to portray a disabled victim, but the twist at the end is a little too much. Aaron Kwok, on the other hand, conveys a powerful performance of emotional development. In fact, Aaron Kwok and Kwai Lunmei's performances clearly show the movie's failings are not due to the cast, but the story itself. Despite this the pacing works well, with each stage well-timed to maintain interest, so perhaps the assistance of producer Hark Tsui finally paid off. Compared with other directorial debuts, such as "So Young" by Zhao Wei and "Tiny Times" by novelist and businessman Guo Jingming, Yeung's movie is more personal and thought provoking. Instead of being trapped in nostalgia or watching a meaningless display of wealth, audiences may enjoy a little intellectual stimulation about something other than the contents of their dinner. "Christmas Rose" deserves a six out of ten.
2/4/20142 minutes, 32 seconds
Episode Artwork


“Special ID” would have been a decent action movie, if less effort were made to highlight one of the female characters. Hong Kong director Clarence Fok’s latest outing stars Chinese martial artist Donnie Yen and actress Jing Tian. Yen plays an undercover police officer working for a local gang leader. He is assigned by both the gang leader and his senior officer to investigate a missing person case. His mission brings him in cooperation with female officer played by Jing Tian. Together the partners have to find o ut the culprit, and why the police and the gang both take an interest in the same case. Yen may not be as good-looking as Jet Li, but he is always known for unique fighting style blending different schools of martial arts. In the last few years, he mostly appeared in historical martial arts films, while in fact his particular talent is more suited for modern action films. In “Special ID”, Yen’s contribution in action choreography is what makes the viewers stay in their seats. However, apart from three major scenes that showcase Yen’s skills, the film has little else to offer. Donnie Yen tries very hard to portray a police officer who acts like a gang member. His performance is satisfactory, compared to the female lead. Actress Jing Tian is relatively new to the movie industry, but each time she appears on the big screen, she is accompanied by mega stars playing supporting roles. This has led many to suspect that someone is secretly squandering tens of millions of RMBs to make her famous, but she has just denied the allegations and attributed everything to her hard work and good fortune. In “Special ID”, Yen has designed some eye-opening action scenes for her, but they don't change the fact that Jing still has a long way to go to improve her acting skills. To boost character development and Jing Tian’s presence, the director introduces many relationship scenes, which neither of the major characters is particularly good at. So this arrangement only serves as distraction from the main plot, just like the final car chase that looks suspiciously like a prolonged collision test and automobile commercial. Anyway, it is nice to see Donnie Yen returning to modern action films, hopefully he won’t need to baby-sit someone next time. On a scale from one to ten, “Special ID” deserves a five.
2/4/20142 minutes, 46 seconds
Episode Artwork


"The Four" is the kind of movie that explains why imported films dominate more than 70 percent of market share in Chinese cinemas. For the duration of the film, you do not sense much serious commitment other than the commitment to profit. Director Gordon Chan has a habit of providing the public with whatever is missing in the market. And, apparently, he has found that Chinese movie-goers are missing a movie adaptation of a Gongfu novel written by Wen Rui'an, who is perhaps the third most popular Gongfu novelist in China. But "The Four" is not so much about Gongfu as it is about superheroes and sorcery. The screenwriters, led by the director, have stripped the original work of its Gongfu essence, keeping the names to lure an audience. The major characters, including the four constables, possess abilities that are often seen in science fiction: werewolf powers, telepathy, elemental powers, and other things that remind you of the X-Men series. These are all cheap and easy ways to entertain the audience, but the online comments suggest that the viewers are not pleased. Other noticeable efforts include the use of the camera rail system. This technique does lend a third dimension to a 2D action film. Apart from that, there is hardly any professional use of cameras. The film seems to consist of too many close shots in numerous short takes, perhaps a little too many for viewers who have stomach problems. Fortunately, you may only have to endure the close-up assault for the first 15 minutes. After that, your can focus on other parts of the film. For example, you can concentrate on the beautiful face of actresses Liu Yifei. Her role in the film is that of a female constable named Wuqing or, and here I quote the appalling subtitles, Emotionless. This role, Emotionless, may sound challenging for Hollywood actresses, but not for Chinese ones. For an actress to be popular in China, she needs to have two faces: a pretty face and a poker face. Liu Yifei has both and therefore nails the character without much effort. Almost every other actor and actress fails to create an impact, including the stage veteran Anthony Wong. The only other exception is actor Wu Xiubo who saved the day. His acting is perhaps the only thing about the film that makes the viewers ask for more. Nonetheless, more will come. "The Four" is just a prequel in a Gongfu film series, and that means we will see more poker-faces and superheroes. So, it seems there are profits to make in the Chinese movie industry after all, enough to encourage investors and directors to make more films, regardless of the quality and viewers' opinions. For the matter at hand, I give "The Four" a three out of ten.
2/4/20143 minutes, 37 seconds
Episode Artwork


I was attracted to David Fincher's 2011 film 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' after first seeing the trailer, where I caught a glimpse of the movie's terrific opening: A Bond-style monochrome accompanied by the piercing scores of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, which defined the dark tone of the movie. This, along with the image of Rooney Mara in a punk outfit with an intimidating dragon tattoo, and a hint of her character's social ineptitude, added to my expectation of the movie's eeriness. I had a feeling that this was going to be a cool movie! But the work of director David Fincher and the late author Stieg Larsson still took me by surprise. Set in the Scandinavian country of Sweden, known for its highly developed welfare system, the novel-to-movie adaptation/remake explores the dark side of Swedish society which many average moviegoers are unaware of. The late Nordic journalist and writer Stieg Larsson carried out independent research on the country's right-wing extremism; his 'Millennium' trilogy, which includes 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo', was one of his attempts to expose his political enemies. This explains the dark tone of the movie which directly approaches the subjects of murder, rape and Nazism. A novel containing such a wealth of political and moral connotations is one hell of project for a director to tackle, but as it turns out, David Fincher has managed to do a pretty good job. I haven't read the original novel, but based on what little I know, Fincher has retained the structure that Larsson employed, uniting the two main characters only half way into the film. The screen is almost always tinted in black and white, reflecting the movie's dark undertones. But for the duration of the movie, 158 minutes in total, I was gripped by the storyline. Fincher is aided by the excellent performance of actress Rooney Mara. Her successful portrayal of a misfit super hacker with a tragic childhood and a social disability earned her an Academy Award nomination. In the movie, Rooney's character exhibits a readiness to repay her offenders with swift cruelty and her friends with heartfelt warmth. Usually, I don't have the stomach for dark crime movies, but 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' is the coolest movie I've seen recently and it really intrigued me. I am seriously contemplating reading the original novel in order to be plunged back into this dark and mysterious world. On my scale from one to ten, this one gets an eight.
2/3/20143 minutes, 57 seconds
Episode Artwork


In his semi-autobiographical movie "11 Flowers," Wang Xiaoshuai has been extremely personal in presenting the spiritual and sexual awakening of a teenager. Moviegoers may identify with the film's sentiment, but still ask for more. The film is set in a rural town in southwest China in 1975, a year before the end of the Cultural Revolution. The 11-year-old boy Wang Han is receiving painting lessons from his father. His new artistic perspective encourages him to more closely observe the world around him, thus leading him to learn of a murder that the adults are gossiping about. Later, an in-person encounter with the murderer makes him contemplate the apparently peaceful – but actually tumultuous – lives of the adults' life at that time. At the same time he is also entering puberty. Known as one of the "sixth generation of Chinese cinema," Wang Xiaoshuai studied painting in middle school before he majored in directing at the Beijing Film Academy. The cinematography of "11 Flowers" is most impressive, and moviegoers can enjoy almost every shot like a classical painting. Certainly the picturesque shots help viewers absorb the nuanced feelings Wang is trying to convey, but an audience needs more than just beautiful, moving pictures. Wang is perhaps best known for his sensitive portrayal of young people, and this time the hook is his personal awakening, but he falls short of the mark. For one thing, the boy Wang Han is too mature for an 11-year-old. Portrayed as quiet and somewhat isolated from his fellow playmates, the boy is often shown in close-ups staring at something in the distance and lost in thought. The director may have wished to present the character as he once was, but in doing so he has totally missed the point of awakening. The father character is overly artsy. His longing for freedom may seem logical against the historical background, but seems odd for an obscure and ordinary man in a remote town. Moreover, his lessons on painting and Monet sound more bookish than fatherly. Perhaps the director is occupied too much with his personal feelings. In the length of 110 minutes he takes his time showing almost every detail he could manage about the lives in a rural town in 1975. His effort could very well appeal to the nostalgia of people who shared his experience, but for those who live outside the director's own personal experiences, the bulk of his message is lost in the distance between the viewer and the screen. Wang has spoiled himself with "11 Flowers." The richness of personal feelings gives the movie a humanistic touch, but the lack of depth in the characters and storyline may well leave viewers wishing for more. On my scale from one to ten, "11 Flowers" gets a five.
2/3/20143 minutes, 53 seconds
Episode Artwork


After watching Baz Luhrmann's "The Great Gatsby", I was convinced once again of the greatness of the title character Jay Gatsby, the writer F. Scott Fitzgerald and the actor Leonardo DiCaprio. But one question remained: where is the part where Gatsby says, "Her voice is full of money". It is an important statement in Fitzgerald's original novel and without it the movie is only half complete. As a result, Gatsby, despite all his charisma and positive hopes, is reduced to being just a simple-minded, nice old sport. To a certain extent, Baz Luhrmann was the best candidate to adapt the Great American novel into a movie, and he is by far the most successful. I can think of no-one else who could better recreate the kind of lavishness portrayed in the novel with regards to Gatsby's mansion and the character of Daisy Buchanan. But with brilliant colors and the anachronistic Jay-Z and Beyonce music, Luhrmann was only able to deliver the sensationalism related to the parties at the mansion; the more philosophical discourse on the American dream and disillusionment in general is carefully sidelined in Luhrmann's script. Luhrmann's only attempt at broaching this aspect is to introduce narrator Nick as a patient in a sanitarium, an interesting reference to the author's own life experience. Like "Moulin Rouge!", "The Great Gatsby" is immensely colorful with well designed costumes and settings. But all cast members seem to have been squeezed out of the picture by the sensual aspect of the movie, with the exception of Leonardo DiCaprio, who appears half an hour into the story but still manages to impress an anticipating audience. With a mellowed appearance and manners, the 38-year-old actor creates the air of a young, aspiring youth. This is not prescribed in the novel, but still fits Luhrmann's simplified interpretation. Carey Mulligan could have been an authentic Daisy if the script allowed for a deeper study of her character. Australian Elizabeth Debicki is physically attractive, but she lacks the air of a proud female golf player in the 1920s and her appearance is all too fleeting. Tobey Maguire's boyish look is compatible with a fledgling banker on Wall Street, but when surrounded by Gatsby's party guests he suddenly finds too much wantonness in his big eyes. Otherwise, his portrayal as the narrator and depressed mental patient is fair enough. To sum up, Baz Luhrmann has delivered a decent adaptation of the great American novel, with emphasis on the extravagant life of Gatsby. But unfortunately, Gatsby himself couldn't care less about it and neither does a mature reader. Hopefully the Chinese moviegoers will appreciate Luhrmann's style; after all, they seem to have had a bit of fun even with "Tiny Times".
2/3/20144 minutes
Episode Artwork


My experience with the movie 'Love in a Buff' was not a pleasant one. Mind you, don't be fooled by the English title, it is not a romantic story at all. It is about a woman's painfully unrelenting yet hardly appreciated love for a man who is not mature enough to know his heart's desire. As twisted as it can be, the story also includes a detailed description of how the couple, while on a break, cheat on their respective partners, in the name of 'love.' A sequel to director Ho-Cheung Peng's Level III movie in Hong Kong, the new picture is now set in Beijing. Obviously there have been attempts to integrate certain elements of Beijing culture into this piece, but at the end of the day the film is predominated by Hong Kong characteristics, because the characters venture no further than the modern and metropolitan part of China’s cultural center. The only thing worth appreciating is the acting of Shawn Yue and Miriam Yeung, who also led in the prequel. Miriam Yeung as the self-abusive woman is fully capable of inducing sympathy from the viewers, while the heartless man portrayed by Shawn Yue would certainly set many innocent young ladies on teeth-grinding rage. Unfortunately, their excellent acting might be obliterated by the lengthy and but badly written story. Maybe it is a certain some Hong Kong style that I don't get, but it seems that the movie often strays into lighthearted jokes instead of staying focused on the relationship part. As a result, you may find the movie funny every now and then, but you will always might find it difficult to fully digest the story. To enhance the funny side, the movie also presents many a pretty and ugly faces, whose presence contribute almost nothing to the story but rib-ticklers. Xu Zheng, whose performance we can never have too much of, plays a supporting role that is a break from his normal screen image. And the major supporting female, well, let’s say she is bit controversial with just a weird voice and bold cleavage exhibition. Anyway, if you are in the mood for a night of lighthearted jokes, watch 'Love in a Buff.' But beware, don't get too seriously involved, because you wouldn't want to walk home wondering about the intricacy and madness of love. It is not always true. On my scale from one to ten, 'Love in a Buff' gets a four.
2/3/20143 minutes, 24 seconds
Episode Artwork


Roughly ten years ago in China, Japanese writer and translator Haruki Murakami won popular acclaim when the Chinese translation of his novel Norwegian Wood was released. The Chinese probably knew Murakami better than they did the Beatles, whose song bearing the same name could have been one source of inspiration for the Japanese writer. Ten years later, Murakami's Norwegian Wood is commanding the attention of the Chinese audience again – a film adaptation of the novel by French director Tran Anh Hung is now appealing to Chinese audiences. The story takes place in Japan in the 1960s. It depicts the painful journey of a sensitive youth in the struggle to outgrow his insecurities. A few years after the death of his best friend in high school, the protagonist Watanabe develops a unique and intimate relationship with Naoko, the ex-girlfriend of his late best friend. While Watanabe is taking pains to get over his friend's death, he finds himself losing Naoko to an obsession with that death. Meanwhile, Watanabe's encounter with another girl, the outgoing and vivacious Midori, forces him to make a decision between the past and the future. Those who have read the novel will be able to tell that the film is a perfect incarnation of the original story in film. The film successfully depicts the tribulations of youth, how they strive to come to terms with a number of questions involving their age, desire and death. Perhaps owing to his Asian ancestry, Tran Anh Hung exhibits a fairly good understanding of the original work. The presentation of this understanding is boosted by the miracle worker and director of photography Mark Lee Ping Bin, his wizardry with the lens and the spectacular settings never fails to recreate the quiet ambience typical of Murakami stories. What's more, to live up to the author's unique taste in music, a wide range of songs are carefully selected and positioned for moviegoers to feast their ears on. All in all, the film is able to deliver the silent melancholy that haunts the original story. However, the director goes no further than providing a recreation of the novel. There are no perceptible signs of originality on the part of the director. He obviously hasn't done anything to stray from the novel as to make the film exciting, but allows sufficient time – two hours plus – for the story to develop. At some points, it seems Tran Anh Hung has based the film on the premise that all viewers have read the novel, as if the Murakami fans are the only target audience. One can't help but worry: for those who haven't read the story, will they be patient enough to remain seated until the closing credits? Let's just hope the well crafted audio and visual effects can do the trick. Directors who take on adaptations always face a thorny question: should they be allowed to tamper with the original script? The question can only be answered on a case by case basis. In this case, Tran Anh Hung deserves an EIGHT.
2/1/20143 minutes, 55 seconds
Episode Artwork


Sci-fi action film Pacific Rim features overwhelming visual effects. And yes, when I say overwhelming, it means the visuals are good enough to make you overlook the film's other failings. Written by Guillermo del Toro and Travis Beacham, the story is set in the 2020s, when colossal alien monsters pass through inter-dimensional portals on the floor of the Pacific Ocean to plague the human world. In response, the Pacific Nations pool their resources and build equally colossal humanoid machines to fight the behemoths. But as the attacks come in ever shorter intervals and the cost of maintenance multiplies, humans must find a solution to deal with the gigantic pest problem once and for all. "Pacific Rim" offers practically everything I wanted to see but wasn't able to when I was still a boy. The Transformers series was good enough to grab boys' attention and inspire their interest, but was not always aired and besides, the episodes were too short. The Japanese Dinosaur Corps Koseidon TV series lasted long enough, but they were lame even in the eyes of an 8-year-old kid. "Pacific Rim" provides a real feast for the eyes and ears about giant machines and huge beasts, because unlike the Transformers film series where you can barely tell one robot from another amidst the non-stop action, the machines in "Pacific Rim" are of a more simplistic yet majestic design, and their movements are slower, and therefore more easily registered by the audience. More importantly, the sensational imagery does not come all at once, but is spread across the length of the film and accumulates. Certainly, there has to some action in the background to wet the audience's appetite at the very beginning, but after that, the action scenes are carefully inserted between much softer parts of the story. Character development efforts are successful to a large extent. Lead actress Rinko Kikuchi is very memorable for her portrayal of a shy yet determined fighter, and supporting actor Idris Elba does a better job than male actor Charlie Hunnam, the latter is good at fighting but not so much at leaving other impressions. Director del Toro believes this makes a good film for kids, because it speaks loudly about trust and crossing the barriers of color, sex, beliefs and so on. However, an American colleague of mine seems to disagree. As a parent, he thinks it is a good idea to protect kids from such intensive action films. Well, that's bad news for boys with protective parents who won't be able to enjoy a thrilling Kaiju movie that would definitely set their imagination free. On a scale from one to ten, I give "Pacific Rim" a seven.
2/1/20143 minutes, 46 seconds
Episode Artwork


For weeks, Chinese movie theatres have been dominated by blockbuster action films. But in the midst of all the thundering engines of Fast 6 and the showering bullets of White House Down, there was a rather quiet piece of art that soothes your nerves. "Touch of the Light" is developed from Taiwan Director Zhang Rongji's 2008 short movie "The End of the Tunnel". In both pieces, blind pianist Huang Yuxiang presents the true story of his life. In spite of a congenital eye defect, Huang proved his talent in music at an early age, winning awards in various competitions. But, his winning streak was cut short when a fellow competitor complained that he was given the prizes out of sympathy. Since then, Huang refused to take part in any more contests. His efforts to lead a normal life eventually brought him to college, where he met a girl Xiao Jie, whose unfulfilled wish was to dance. Like "The End of the Tunnel", a considerable part of "Touch of the Light" was filmed with a hand-held device,and the pictures are shaky with a lot of close-ups. On the one hand, the shaky camera recreates what it feels like to be a blind person for the audience; but on the other hand, too many shaky close-ups aren't exactly a pleasant thing to watch. The images in "Touch of the Light" are well polished: the abundance of backlit shots coincides with the Chinese title: fly in the dark. Despite life's obstacles, one still has to work hard to realize one's dreams. Yuxiang and Xiao Jie develop an affinity with one other after their random encounter and their shared experience becomes a source of encouragement for their pursuits. Yuxiang no longer hesitates to show his talents, and Xiao Jie starts taking dancing courses. It is amazing to note how the slightest dose of kindness could motivate and support someone in their time of need. So the movie paints a rather positive and elevating picture about life, and the impact is augmented by Xiao Jie's elegant figure dancing and basking in Yuxiang's original, gentle scores. The beginning is a bit sluggish, and the perspectives of two major characters are barely connected until very late into the story. Clearly the director still needs some practice dealing with a full-length movie. Sometimes the music and pictures can be a little overdramatic, but it is kind of what we need when action films dominate Chinese screens. From time to time we all want to escape the madding crowd to think about or enjoy the tiny little things that make us happy. For all its imperfections, "Touch of the Light" offers excellent opportunity to sit down and relax. On a scale from one to ten, I give it an eight.
1/31/20143 minutes, 48 seconds
Episode Artwork


Not long after the conclusion of the Batman series, Christopher Nolan finds himself working on another DC Comics character. This time, he teams up with director Zack Snyder and screen writer David Goyer in a reboot of the Superman film series. But the movie "Man of Steel" exhibits few of Nolan's characteristic traits. It also seems that director Zack Snyder's focus has shifted to loading young moviegoers with visual stimulus, rather than examining the core themes facing all superheroes. Nolan and Goyer closely follow the comic's original storyline. As the planet Krypton faces imminent destruction, scientist Jor-El and his wife send their newborn son Kal-El on a spacecraft to Earth, where he is adopted by an American farmer and renamed Clark Kent. Growing up, young Kent realizes he is different from those around him, and even goes on a voluntary exile to find out who he really is. A crashed Kryptonian spaceship gives him the answer but also alerts a Krypton military leader General Zod. Zod wishes to occupy Earth and revive his race, but Clark Kent, or Kal-El needs to decide which side to help. For what it lacks in originality, the film attempts to make up for in well-timed action sequences. Even in the first half where the main theme is Clark's pilgrimage of self-discovery, Snyder manages to insert intense spectacles, such as the demise of the Krypton planet, a twister and an oil rig explosion. And when the villains finally appear, the viewers are continuously bombarded with massive destruction fighting scenes, where gas stations explode and skyscrapers crumble. Snyder has a profound predilection for long shots, so moviegoers can get a really good look at the fighting on a superman scale. But, that's the thing with this remake, everything feels so distant, especially the characters. Judging from the limited occasions that lead actor Henry Cavill is allowed to show true emotion, I believe that he is completely capable of competing with the likes of Christina Bale in the Batman series if given the chance. But in "Man of Steel", I can barely tell what his character is feeling, and I certainly don't know what the kiss with Lois is all about, because there is clearly not enough room between the action scenes for anything romantic to be squeezed in. If judging by the title and plot description alone, I would come to the conclusion that this film is about the human side of Clark Kent. But there are many other issues unaddressed, for example, Kal-El's father expects him to be the bridge between two races and a god in the eyes of humans, where does that confidence come from and how does that work out? It is not really interesting to watch a film centered on two Kryptonians fighting with each other on Earth: none of them really gets hurt, all they do is fly, punch and for the most part destroy human buildings. Just as I was about to wonder when all that was going to end, one of them, by means unclear to us, manages to get an upper-hand. I mean, the director could have been less sloppy with this. "Man of Steel" is a movie with superb action scenes, but ultimately lacks originality and leaves many loose ends untied. On a scale from to ten, I give it a five.
1/31/20144 minutes, 15 seconds
Episode Artwork


French-language drama film "Amour" is one of the two best films nominated at the 85th Academy Awards, matched only by Hong Kong director Ang Lee's fantasy movie "Life of Pi." Both films excel in almost every aspect of filmmaking, and personally I can find nothing to complain about in the best foreign language film. Veteran actor Jean-Louis Trintignant and actress Emmanuelle Riva play a Parisian couple, George and Anne, in their 80s. They seem to lead an ordinary, reclusive but rather content life, and only occasionally venture into the crowd for a funeral or a concert given by their student and famous musician. However, their life of tranquility is suddenly interrupted by Anne's first stroke. Then an unsuccessful operation leads to her continual physical and mental debilitation. Meanwhile, George promises to never again send her to the hospital and takes care of her at home. If you've seen director Michael Haneke's previous works "The White Ribbon" or "The Piano Teacher," you would be familiar with his talent to unsettle. In this piece, he bases the story on an identical situation in his family, and therefore is able to reproduce with great patience and in extreme detail the life of an elderly couple under the grip of a terminal disease. "How to manage the suffering of someone you love?" – Haneke tosses out the question, but no one has the answer. The bulk of the story takes place in a big, well-furnished but claustrophobic apartment in Paris. The couple may be well-off, but they have only each other to hold on to. Cinematographer Darius Khondji's skills enable viewers to perceive the quiet desperation surrounding the life of the elderly couple. Each shot speaks volumes about the suffocating force of aging. Trintignant and Riva, both in their 80s, put on great performances. Their secret is never to show unnecessary emotion. You may or may not notice the absence of background music. Either way, it attests to the success of the cinematographer and the actors. With all these fantastic elements in his favor, the director unravels the unwelcome part of human life that no one dares to face or discuss. Some would say it is a love story about an elderly couple who depend on each other to survive. But, in fact, it invites the audience to ponder moral questions regarding age and death. We should have faced up earlier to such realities in an increasingly aging society, although it is not too late to start now. On my scale from one to 10, I give "Amour" an 8.5.
1/29/20143 minutes, 12 seconds
Episode Artwork


1/29/20144 minutes, 54 seconds
Episode Artwork


Despite taking in big earnings at the Chinese box office, the 3D computer-animated comedy "Monsters University" is yet another indicator of Pixar's loss of creativity. This forced addition to the Monsters series offers nothing new, except the varying degrees of weirdness in the appearance of the monsters. I guess the happy ending of "Monsters Inc" was an unfortunate inconvenience for the producers, forcing them to focus their limited capacity for creativity on a prequel. So, the story goes back a few years to track the life of young monster Michael "Mike" Wazowski, who dreams of becoming a scarer when he grows up. Through continuous hard work, young Mike eventually lands himself a place as a scare major at Monsters University. There, he meets Sulley, who comes from a talented family of scarers and therefore doesn't have to work hard, relying on his natural scaring ability. Almost immediately a rivalry is formed between the starkly different duo, and that rivalry leads to both being dropped from the scare program. Their only way back into the program is to team up and win an annual scare game, but the odds are not in their favor asthe rest of their team members are not physically scary. Sadly, the film falls into the good student-bad student, teamwork and American dream kind of cliché. Mike's dream of becoming an excellent scarer and his conflict with bad student Sulley make up the main driving force of the story. Teamwork is ultimately what helps the two partners settle their differences and become best friends. Kids may be able to get an idea of college life from the film, but for adult viewers, there is hardly anything to stop them from falling sleep. Without the animated monsters, the movie is no different from any other superficial story about college life. Pixar's creative strength seems to have hit a bottleneck since Cars 2 and Brave; a new monster movie could have been what it needed to redeem its reputation, but "Monster University" has clearly failed to deliver this. Todd McCarthy, with Hollywood Reporter, provices the most apt description for the film, saying: Monsters University almost feels like a film made to fill a slot in a release schedule rather than something that simply had to be made for its own organic reasons. This unnecessary addition to Monsters franchise deserve a five out of ten.
1/28/20143 minutes, 3 seconds
Episode Artwork


Lately there has been no shortage of controversy in China's film market. A few weeks ago, the Chinese movie "Switch" raked in nearly 300 million yuan for being an incredibly awful product. Now, "Tiny Times", the first film by Chinese author and businessman Guo Jingming has provoked heated debate between Chinese viewers of different generations. Guo is a successful writer-turned-businessman. His novels were able to tap into the wallets of China's young adolescent readers to bring him quick fame and fortune. Last year, his books sold for 1.4 million US dollars, making him the biggest earner among Chinese authors. But Guo is never too shy to boast about his fortune and often posts pictures about his extravagant life style, so he is constantly criticized by more conservative members of society. Now with Guo's first film to hit Chinese movie theatres, the conservatives have a fresh fish to fry. The story of "Tiny Times" is about the friendship of four college girls. Unlike Zhao Wei's "So Young" about a month ago, the girls in "Tiny Times" don't attend schools. Instead, they wear magnificent outfits, live in spacious apartments, work for fashion shows and break up with their boyfriends over expensive gifts. In a word, it is "Gossip Girl – the Shanghai freshmen special". Now some opinion leaders are lambasting the so-called twisted values portrayed in "Tiny Times", they believe the film's abundance of luxury items may lead our youth to harbor unrealistic longings for material wealth. So Guo's obsession with luxury has once more become a topical issue. In fact, the dispute over the blatant display of material wealth has clouded people's observation of the movie from an objective perspective. For example, despite the lackluster performance of the good-looking, superstar actors and actresses, the movie actually tells a decent story that one can understand without difficulty, beating average Chinese films that are usually weak in script. From time to time, actress Xie Yilin even pokes some fun at the audience to spice things up a little. Cinematography is slightly above average, but two long takes are instantly effective, including one which lasts for 2 minutes and 40 seconds and another for 4 minutes. Both are challenging shots, especially the latter where the camera follows the lead actress through swarms of people in a 4-storey building. The pictures may look a bit gaudy, but they are quite in line with the lavish costume and setting. If the film were made by any director other than Guo Jingming, it may not have caused such serious opposition from orthodox critics. But then again, the film may not have sold so well without all the fuss. So be aware, critics, your censure may have promoted the very ideas that you tried to suppress. We humans never stop seeking material wealth. Our youths, born in an age of prosperity, may have a rightfully higher aspiration than their parents could envision. So instead of giving empty talks on so-called "healthy" virtues, it is better to encourage them to work hard for wealth, both material and spiritual. On ascale from one to ten, I give "Tiny Times" a five.
1/28/20144 minutes, 27 seconds
Episode Artwork


To watch director Linklater's "Before …" series is like watching an extended edition of "One Day": both attempt to depict a love that stands the test of time. The "Before …" series, however, are much more intellectual and spontaneous. Following "Before Sunrise" in 1995 and "Before Sunset" in 2004, the newest addition to the series is "Before Midnight", released after the same interval of nine years. 18 years ago, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy each played an American man and a French woman in their early twenties who met on a train and decided to disembark in Vienna. They spent a night together walking around the city and sharing random thoughts on life and love. Since they were always aware that their time together was limited and they might never see each other again, they revealed more about themselves and found a strong spiritual connection. When the night finally ended after the sunrise, they went their separate ways. Nine years later in "Before Sunset", the two, now in their early thirties, meet each other again in Paris and spent another day together to share their intimate thoughts. After yet another nine days, we see the couple living together with twin daughters. They still talk to each other incessantly, but their conversation revolves around more earthly topics. Only when they are finally alone do they open up and go into the depths of their feelings. Lone Scherfig's "One Day" touches upon the friendship between a man and a woman and is keen on presenting the impact of time on that relationship; he does this by arranging the activities in each encounter. In comparison, Linklater's approach is minimalist, the characters simply walked around and talked about whatever occurred to them: love, music and personal experiences. There is no deliberate emphasis on time, but from the dialogue we can sense its looming presence which has changed the characters' looks and shaped the topics of their conversation. The now cohabiting couple in "Before Midnight" hardly have time for communication on an intellectual level. On a regular day they talk about, or fight over, the kids, their jobs, and the family chores. The necessities of family life have deprived them the luxury of any romantic aspiration. But it is exactly that shared aspiration which they had that holds them together against the tyranny of time. The "Before …" series is essentially all about talking and sharing, but when the talking and sharing reach such depths, it can be an entertaining story. On a scale of one to ten, I give "Before Midnight" a 9.
1/28/20143 minutes, 49 seconds
Episode Artwork


The strangest thing is going on in China's film market. The most criticized movie "Switch" made by Chinese TV producer Jay Sun now ranks the first in terms of daily grossing. Nine days after its release, the film has already secured 26 million yuan, in comparison, Hollywood blockbuster "Star Trek: Into Darkness", with higher ticket price on average, sold for just a little more than 33 million yuan in three weeks. It is an interesting phenomenon because "Switch" is widely considered an awful movie. Internet users on China's biggest online movie database Mtime give it a rating of 2.3 out of 10, making it one of the lowest-rated local blockbusters that somehow made to Chinese cineplexes. Part of the reason is the movie's sizeable 160-million-yuan investment. Unlike regular movies, the production of "Switch" was a commercial activity right from the start. Details of the film's budget and marketing strategy were outlined even before a script was ready. And based on my personal observation, the movie carries a dozen embedded adverts, such as for a domestic insurance company, an overseas cell-phone producer, a foreign automaker, a Chinese online shopping website, among many others. With this amount of input, the producer must have tried every means within his power to install it in Chinese cinemas. Meanwhile, the producers had reason to assume that their movie will sell. For starters, they included superstar Andy Lau and celebrity model Lin Chi-ling in the cast. The influence of Andy Lau is of course beyond any doubt. Lin Chi-ling is a better model than actress, but her huge fan base is always ready to be tapped. To reward their earnest support, Miss Lin showed off her exquisite body in more than 30 different outfits. And to complement Lin's presence and keep the audience constantly excited, more good-looking, female support actresses were seen wearing queer clothing and doing acrobatic fighting. Also, the amount of investment brought as much advantage as pressure. The director could squander to his heart's content on various luxuries. From Dubai to Tokyo and China's tourist city Hangzhou, the filming crew traversed half of the Eurasian continent to collect the most stunning pictures, and these include shots of the Hotel Atlantis and the Khalifa Tower as well as the movie debut for the Burj Al Arab luxury hotel. Director Jay Sun had had much experience making promotional videos for tourist cities, he could totally have done this blind-folded. Despite their confidence, the producers were well aware that their movie had a fatal flaw, that is, the story. The movie was meant to emulate a James Bond movie, in which a secret agent protected a valuable piece of national treasure. Normally a director would have filled the movie with action and get it over with, but our dear director seem to have decided that he wanted more than that. So he extended his beloved experiment of a film to include romance and thriller, yet wasn't able to find a focus in his scattershot pursuits, so the result was a movie that has puzzled, if not infuriated, many viewers. Director Jay Sun was very nervous before the film was released, and it was only after the bad movie became a topical one and brought in revenue by the millions that he started feeling relaxed. The popularity of "Switch" is creating trouble in the movie industry, particularly when owners of movie theatres are increasing its screening at the expense of low budget movies that are really good but can't afford an expensive promotion campaign. Perhaps the viewers should stop voting for the bad movies, otherwise they'll be left with no choice when more of bad topics take over.
1/27/20144 minutes, 27 seconds
Episode Artwork


If Cate Blanchett were to win the best actress Oscar this year, I wouldn't be surprised. Her presence simply dominates and shines through Woody Allen's new film "Blue Jasmine". Hers is a stereotypical character: a woman who gets used to living on the love of her rich husband. When that love is taken away, her life plunges into a bottomless abyss. To be more precise, Jeanette was an orphan girl in third-year college before she met a rich man who swept her off her feet, married her and introduced her to the life of a socialite. She even had her name changed into Jasmine because her husband loved the plant. In fact, Jasmine was drowned in the feeling of being spoiled by someone substantial, like a fish in an exquisite aquarium whose only purpose in life is to look good for its life-giving owner. And when that someone substantial looked another way, she broke the aquarium in a fit of suffocation, only to find that she couldn't survive without such a container. So in a word, she is a phony, and one that is too innocent to realize the truth about herself. With unnoticeable yet amazing skills, Cate Blanchett has somehow made that phoniness grow on her skin and fester in almost every sentence she uttered. For long I've tried to suppress a bad habit of scoffing at phonies, but Cate Blanchett's presence in the movie made my back itch with the desire to mock her, and eventually I succumbed to my weakness and spoke my aversion out loud to a friend beside me. Such is the character that our Oscar nominee has delivered in "Blue Jasmine". But of course I wouldn't let Cate alone take all the credit. While she does her best to annoy us, director Woody Allen has secretly arranged two separate but intersecting storylines to slowly build up a climax. Thanks to the insight and ingenuity of both the lead actress and the director, their efforts have given great emotional depth to what would have been a simple story. And last but not the least, another strong point in "Blue Jasmine" is that, it is not simply a mockery of wealthy snobs. At the end of the day, when the wealthy snob lost everything she ever had, we would eventually stop all our gloating and switch on genuine sympathy. And I respect Woody Allen for evoking that piece of positive human emotions.
1/26/20145 minutes, 16 seconds
Episode Artwork


An unmatched couple is perhaps humanity’s longest-living fairy tale. By unmatched I mean a rich, good looking wife and a poor homely husband. This type of combination certainly was rare in the age of arranged marriage, but even in our time, the 21st century, we can still find few examples. Personally I’ve seen none, except for those written in fictions or faked on screen. Taiwan romantic drama film “Say Yes” is the latest addition to the on-screen make-believe. In the movie, Huang Bo plays an unlucky construction worker who’s failed 99 blind dates, his hundredth belle is a beautiful musician, played by Taiwan model and actress Lin Chi-ling. The story begins with both characters living starkly different lives, but in roughly 100 minutes, they will hold each other’s hand and attempt their first kiss. It is the simplest of stories. First of all, there is a comparison of the couple’s appearance, financial status and social connections to imply that their relationship is nearly impossible. What follows is how they overcome the differences and turn the impossible into possible. Right after that there is twist, which everyone knows the couple will eventually get over. And finally it is the happy ending. However the movie is not as simple. At first a split screen demonstrates how the couple begin their regular, but different lives, up to the point of their first encounter where the spilt screens merge. Later on, equally ingenious cinematography and editing create a warm and colorful tone, quite fitting to the romantic theme. Plus, the pacing of the story is better than most Chinese films, so moviegoers would barely notice the want of story and originality. Meanwhile, such a story inevitably involves humor, and the actors haven’t failed to deliver that. Lead actor Huang Bo always seems to have a lucid understanding about his roles and very natural in presenting them, in this piece he is once again at the center of quite a few chuckles and laughters. However, he’s only played a fixed range of characters so far, I remain curious to see how he would handle serious challenges. Lead actress Lin Chi-ling was supposed to be there only for her looks, and the movie was supposed to be a motion photo album of hers. While the latter half is proven by the number of her outfits in the movie, she certainly contributed more than just her looks. Let’s say she didn’t wreck the film with all the posturing and probably did better than actress Shu Qi in “Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons”. What more can you expect from a model slash actress? Lack of originality is the curse of Chinese films, “Say Yes” is no exemption from the cursed, but it certainly is a decent romantic comedy. I think it deserves a six out of ten.
1/26/20143 minutes, 59 seconds
Episode Artwork


"So Young" is Chinese actress Zhao Wei's Beijing Film Academy graduation assignment, and also her directorial debut. 15 years ago, Zhao Wei became a household name for her role in the Chinese TV series "Princess Pearl". The series, which has been extended overseas in recent years, was the most viewed Chinese TV drama of its time. Her popularity on screen has continued ever since and her first directed film has set a new opening-day box office record for Chinese movies. However, the film has not been considered a critical success. On China's largest online movie database "Mtime", many critics gathered to share their dissatisfaction, with their criticisms being placed on the narrative. The story is based on a popular online novel about university students in the 1990s, or more specifically, four female students living in the same dormitory. The novel was well-received for vividly captuing the lives of ordinary students. Zhao Wei has aimed to follow suit, and perhaps also try and present sentiments about youth and the past. The movie copies the structure of the book and adopts a multiple-narrative. An excess of perspectives, combined with bad editing, spins the film out-of-focus and as a result, induces mixed feelings of nostalgia and bewilderment in the audience. Another major setback is the nature of the original text itself. Popular online novels are often filled with touching, wise-sounding sentiments; well, that is arguably how they reach their readers' hearts and gain popularity. However, in her interpretation of the literature, Zhao Wei has obviously forgotten to translate such sentences into an appropriate pictorial or viewer-friendly language. The result is that during the film, we far too often hear young college students speaking in a pseudo-intellectual language befitting that of amateur philosophers, with several actors reciting their lines far too rigidly. Many critics poising as rational viewers reject the movie on the grounds that it is unnecessarily sentimental. Well, those who are familiar with Zhao Wei's performance in "Princess Pearl" or indeed, any movies, would know that she spares no effort in trying to express her heartfelt emotions in her acting. The film may be overly dramatic in its nostalgia, but those who share similar experiences to any of the film's characters will immediately identify with the sentiments being expressed. Lastly, the cinematography by Li Ran is near perfect, with the lighting and colors well-suited for invoking a sense of sentimentality in the audience. All things considered, "So Young" is not really the best Chinese movie around, but it is successful in that it appeals to people's sense of nostalgia. After all, we have all had our share of regrets and it is indeed nice to look back on the past from time to time. On a scale from one to ten, "So Young" gets a five.
1/25/20144 minutes
Episode Artwork


When you decide to watch Tsui Hark's new film, "Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon," don't be fooled by its title. The word "detective" doesn't guarantee a detective story, but a crime-action film packed with magnificent action scenes with the aid of upgraded filming gadgets and technique. In his latest outing, the Hong Kong director presents a prequel to his 2010 box office hit, "Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame". The story traces the footstep of Tang Dynasty official, Dee Renjie, as he starts his political career in the capital city of Luoyang. His arrival coincides with a devastating attack on the empire's naval fleet: an entire armada is allegedly annihilated by a sea dragon. Dee's boss, Yuchi, is charged to root out the attackers. He will need the help of Dee and many others to solve the case and uncover a conspiracy against the empire. Just like many other contemporary detective films, for example the new Sherlock Holmes series starring Robert Downey. Jr., "Rise of the Sea Dragon" doesn't offer a satisfactory detective story. The audience would most likely have an idea of what the story is all about after they've seen a quarter of the narrative, so there is no room for any kind of suspension at all. Perhaps, the directors of today are less willing to risk challenging the viewers' intellect. I guess we'll just have to keep paying for mediocre stories, unless enough of us decided to otherwise make a difference. Fortunately, Tsui Hark is the kind of director that likes to try new things. Tsui is previously known for his work involving the world of martial arts, or Wuxia, but in recent years, he's been seeking new ways to present his world. In 2011, he adopted IMAX filming techniques when making "Flying Swords of Dragon Gate." This time, in "Rise of the Sea Dragon," he pushes himself further by filming 3D underwater scenes. His efforts were not un-rewarded, as many of the magnificent action scenes were reminiscent of "Pirates of Caribbean"--only better. Tsui's enterprising spirit is also show in his selection of cast members. Apart from Lau Kar-ling, who plays the Tang Empress, all major characters are portrayed by younger generation actors and actresses. The new blood brings vitality to the cast, but also weakens the characterization. Throughout his career, Tsui Hark has created many distinctive characters, but during his experiment with "Rise of the Sea Dragon," the director traded story and character development for greater visual spectacles, a stronger sense of modernity and better box office returns. For the audience, the visuals alone may be satisfactory enough, but is it really a good trade? Tsui Hark himself will be the judge of that. On a scale of one to 10, I give "Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon" a seven.
1/25/20143 minutes, 33 seconds
Episode Artwork


The romantic comedy film "Finding Mr. Right" could have been a lame chick flick, at least that's how I thought about it before actually seeing it. But after two hours in the cinema, I am now officially a big fan of its director Xue Xiaolu. Before this piece, Xue had already made her name in the movie industry with the 2010 Hong Kong drama film "Ocean Heaven." Her new movie is a tentative approach toward commercial production, and it has turned out to be a huge success, winning more than 400 million yuan over a 30,000 yuan budget. There are quite a few reasons for the triumph. First of all, Xue managed to overcome the setbacks of most Chinese movies which consist of terrible scripts and even worse production. Xue herself is an excellent author and veteran screen writer. Her story for "Finding Mr. Right" includes plenty of controversial topics in contemporary China, such as extramarital affairs, same-sex marriage and pregnant Chinese women giving birth in the US so the baby will be an American citizen. These issues may not be part of an ordinary Chinese person's life, but they certainly appeal to the urban middle class who are the major contributors to box office returns. Some 90 percent of the movie is photographed in North America, and the production crew was mainly made up of local professionals, who know where to point the cameras. This arrangement lends a unique perspective to the movie. The result is a well-paced story presented with amazing cinematography. Another reason for the movie's popularity is the cast. Both the male and female leads received huge support from the domestic audience. Forty four-year-old actor Wu Xiubo has only recently re-established himself in the movie industry, but his onscreen performance has already won him tremendous fame and the fancy of many young ladies. His character in "Finding Mr. Right" is good-mannered and reserved, but immediately memorable. Actress Tang Wei also found a breaking point in this piece; in previous outings hers was an air of pretension, wearing a pretty poker face and hardly uttering a few words. Now it seems she has suddenly learned the meaning of the word "acting", and her gestures and lines carry enough emotions. I have to admit, I was reluctant to watch "Finding Mr. Right" because it is lead by Tang, but seeing her in a totally different style changed my opinion about the movie. "Finding Mr. Right" is a mildly humorous romantic comedy. The quality of acting and production is above the Chinese average. And most significantly it heralds the age of a more open society. On a scale from one to 10, I give it a seven.
1/24/20143 minutes, 38 seconds
Episode Artwork


"The closer you look, the less you'll see." The magicians reiterated this magic sentence in director Louis Leterrier's caper thriller, "Now You See Me." The magicians' audiences are warned of the performers' prowess, but still miss the critical movement every time. So is the same with Chinese moviegoers in front of the big screen. While the director tries desperately to convince audiences that magic shows are important because they make people happy, the majority of Chinese audiences are preoccupied with the logic of the story and its many loopholes. Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher and Dave Franco play four street magicians summoned by an anonymous person to prepare and perform a series of special magic shows. These involve robbing a bank, cheating a billionaire sponsor of all his fortune and removing all cash from a heavily guarded safe company. Morgan Freeman is an ex-magician who now seeks to expose their tricks. Mark Ruffalo and Melanie Laurent represent the authorities who are hot on their tails. Two of the "Four Horsemen," Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson, are able to leave an impression with their on-screen performances; the rest are mostly obliterated by the running storyline. Still, viewers are allowed to feast their eyes on spectacular magic shows, one after another. However, if you examine the story more closely, the second half of the movie is not as compelling as one would imagine based on its grand opening. While the magicians are being pursued by police, when they do get the time to perform, the shows are accomplished under menacing circumstances and the viewers can hardly enjoy the glamour of the illusion like they did in the opening scene. It just seems the director has shifted his hitherto pious attention on the magic tricks to the prolonged chase, which leads to nowhere. Despite the incoherent focus, the script by Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin and Edward Ricourt still shows great promise. The secret of each show is revealed right after the presentation, yet the audience is still intrigued, with anticipation for more. Meanwhile, they are keeping their eyes sharp and exercising their brains, hoping to uncover how the characters pull off each trick. Compared to other movies currently available in Chinese cinemas, "Now You See Me" is much more attractive and its audience much more willing to engage. On a scale from one to ten, "Now You See Me" deserves a six.
1/24/20143 minutes, 48 seconds
Episode Artwork


Chinese science-fiction fans and gamers must be excited at the release of Gavin Hood's screen adaptation of the celebrated futuristic thriller, "Ender's Game." On China's social network website,, there have already been book reviews on the original novel of the same name by American author Orson Scott Card. Many of them were anxiously looking forward to seeing the Nebula Award winning sci-fi classic being brought onto the big screen. The movie's launch in China on January 7th is sort of a celebration for Chinese fans. Most of the book worms seem to agree that it is a fair enough adaptation. The zero-gravity battle training room so vividly envisioned at the center of the whole book is brought to life in the motion picture. The images of the young cadets floating and fighting in the room are as good as those you see in Alfonso Cuaron's phenomenal pictures from his "Gravity". Compliments extend to the acting skills of Asa Butterfield. The boy from last year's Oscar-winning "Hugo" has now matured into an exceptional teenage leader upon whose shoulder is placed the future of mankind. Butterfield aptly portrays a child prodigy who tries very hard to balance his equally strong senses of reason and emotion. The story uses very obvious stereotypes to explain the author's philosophical ideas, or rather to try and inspire people to think the same questions that no one could supply the answer. For example: is there such a thing as a just war? And should ethical standards be adopted in wars? Even when it is a war about the survival of a species? It is not likely that these questions are related to matters of life and death, but I am sure we could all enjoy letting our minds flow freely for a while. That's the charm of science fiction, and the film "Ender's Game" has obviously delivered on that. But naturally, there are complaints, some of them directed at the adaptation, because the director has stripped the less spectacular, and therefore less marketable, storylines from the book out of the movie. It makes a lot of sense; the script tells a complete story, although some parts could use a bit more color. To sum up, most Chinese moviegoers in general seem satisfied with "Ender's Game." It currently sits at number 2 on this week's box office rankings, right behind the animated comedy "Despicable Me 2".
1/24/20144 minutes, 2 seconds
Episode Artwork


Cute, lovely, adorable, how many words with the same connotation can you come up with? Well, you'd better start taking your vocabulary lesson now, because once you've seen the second installment of the Despicable Me series, you’ll be searching your brain for words to describe the irresistible charm that directors Pierre Coffin , Chris Renaud and their team have tried to instill in their latest product. In the first episode, super villain Gru realized his dream of stealing the moon and in the process adopted three orphan girls. Now as a father, Gru has retired from his evil business and focuses his productive capacity on making jam and jelly. But his peaceful days don't last long because a new super villain is out there wreaking havoc and Gru is called in by the Anti-Villain League for assistance. Undercover AVL agent Lucy Wilde is his partner. Despite the success of the first installment, the viewers and critics have mixed feelings about the sequel. On the one hand, the previous piece is packed with all kinds of cuteness that one just cannot get enough. From Gru's East European accent to the lovely faces of the little girls, exquisite animation technique has projected amazing comical effects into the pictures, with the little yellow minions being the highlight of the film. In the second installment, these yellow critters are naturally given much more screen time, they are the magic word that lures the viewers into cinemas. On the other hand, the various forms of cuteness are not enough to save the botched addition. First of all, we liked the first installment because it offered a fresh perspective of a villain, which is not very often seen in animated comedies. And by the end of “Despicable Me”, the villain Gru ended his bad guy career and became a nice guy, removing one of the major attractions about the film. As a result, the second installment places the focus on romance and family relations, that’s basically not different from any other cartoon movies. Also, if you take away the cute distractions, there is little else left in the film. In fact, the story doesn't really hold together. Even the pacing is flawed because everything has to make way for the rib-tickling every now and then. In the midst of all that laughing, the more story-conscious viewers would probably wonder when will be the next sign for story development. Well, they need a lot of patience for that. “Despicable Me 2” has achieved top-notch visual and comical effects, but if the series is going to last long, they’ll need much more than that. On a scale from one to ten, I give “Despicable Me 2” a seven.
1/23/20143 minutes, 26 seconds
Episode Artwork


Between the summer and winter of 1942, nearly two million lives perished on the battlefield of Stalingrad. One of the bloodiest battles in the history of warfare, the battle of Stalingrad has been immortalized in movies by Germans, Russians, British and American filmmakers. The latest of such efforts is the work of Russian director Fedor Bondarchuk. The story by Ilya Tilkin revolves around two Russian girls with starkly different fates. Young Katya is protected by a group of Russian soldiers who defended a house on the bank of the Volga River. Meanwhile, Masha is protected by a German officer who led the attack on the house. During the stalemate between the two sides, the relation between the girls and their protectors transformed through different stages. The opening and closing scenes are excellent showcases of what IMAX 3D cinema can offer. The shot of Russian soldiers charging into battle while on fire is particularly touching and jolting. These aren't the only two stand-out eye-catchers in the film; photographer Maksim Osadchiy also made the best of IMAX, presenting each frame like a painting. Similar exhibition of such filming skills is only found in the works of Dong Jinsong, who shot "11 Flowers" with director Wang Xiaoshuai. The tone in the pictures strengthens the emotions in the story, and these emotions are typical in Russian literature. The character of Katya represents innocence and is immediately identified as a symbol of Russia. But a less conspicuous symbol is found in Masha, who is, in fact, a far better symbol of the Russian spirit. Living in a German-occupied part of the city, Masha is coerced by the German officer. But with her beauty and endurance, she was able to charm her persecutor and remind him of the peaceful days back home. In this way, the conquered became the conqueror, which is exactly what happened on the Eastern Front, where the German invaders were "embraced" and gradually smothered by the vast territory and harsh environment of Russia. Director Fedor Bondarchuk is less deliberate on his anti-war agenda, but more determined to present an intimate and humanistic perspective. His attempt to revisit the historical battle via human relations is quite innovative and effective, especially the one between the German occupier and his captive. However, on the other side of the front, the director has had some difficulty sorting out the relations between Katya and the five Russian soldiers; that's the only and biggest setback in this otherwise spectacular piece. On a scale from one to ten, Fedor Bondarchuk's "Stalingrad" deserves a seven.
1/23/20143 minutes, 15 seconds
Episode Artwork


Have you ever stared into the blue sky and reached out with your imagination, only to find yourself intimidated by the magnitude of the galactic bodies and the fear of being alone amongst all that vastness of space? If you haven't, go watch director Alfonso Cuaron's space disaster film Gravity, and you'll understand what I mean. The story envisioned by Jonas and his father director Cuaron is quite simple. A team of spacewalking astronauts servicing the Hubble Telescope are caught in a shower of space debris. All but two of them are killed when their workstation is destroyed in the first wave of high speed satellite fragments. The two survivors, portrayed by George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, need to drift through space to reach other functioning space stations. And they need to be quick about it, because the debris will keep coming back to bug them as long as they stay in the near-Earth orbit. Setting the story in space, the director needs to overcome numerous challenges. First and foremost is the presentation of the zero gravity environments, and thanks to visual effects supervisor Tim Webber and 3D designer Chris Parks, Gravity provides the most authentic experience. When I stepped out of the cinema, my head hurt a little as if it was still spinning, like the astronauts in the dark space. But that's nothing compared to what I felt while inside the theatre: as I sat there marveling at the IMAX screen, the images reminded me of all the fear and loneliness that I felt when staring at and spirit walking in the profound universe as a child: the fear and loneliness that I'd coaxed myself to forget was brought back to life by the powerful images of Cuaron's Gravity. But the film is much more than a mere collection of computer-generated images. Considering the number and quality of long takes, I would say photographer Emmanuel Lubezki's work borders on showing off. And his show-off poses quite a challenge to Sandra Bullock, who must demonstrate an extraordinary command of her body to present movement under zero gravity. I wouldn't be surprised if Sandra is nominated for the next Academy Award. Perhaps the only disadvantage about Gravity is that almost everything about it is good enough to compare with Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, except for the philosophical connotation. But in the absence of a philosophical discourse, Gravity invokes a good deal of sensations, and those sensations are as real as they can get for those of us who might never actually venture out of Planet Earth. On a scale from one to ten, Gravity gets an eight.
1/23/20144 minutes, 18 seconds
Episode Artwork


When I was young and ignorant, I could never figure out why adults so often failed to understand their younglings. I mean, they've all had their youthful years and must surely be able to recall how their own adolescent minds once worked. But the truth is, as years pass, I find myself losing the ability to process teenage fun. This revelation dawned on me after the screening of "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire." It was a Friday night in a fully packed cineplex. As the closing credits emerged, half a dozen teenage girls behind me burst out with frenetic exclamation. I was totally startled because, although director Francis Lawrence's sequel is a great improvement from the first installment, it still carries pretty obvious defects. All I could remember at that point was the frequent exchange of looks of impatience with my friend. The story in Catching Fire is pretty predictable even for those who haven't read the original work by Suzanne Collins. Of course, the lead characters will eventually end up in the arena of another Hunger Games, after some twists and turns. But it is exactly those twists and turns in the new piece that my friends and I found difficult to digest. The movie begins with the winners at home coping with their love triangle. Then, all of a sudden, they are sent on a tour around the 12 districts. In the place of a preparation for the audience to warm up to the plot, we have the President paying Everdeen a visit and dropping some menacing words to confuse things up even further. Then, during the tour, the audience is finally allowed to catch a glimpse on the Capitol's totalitarian reign and the signs of resistance: a backgrounder, which could totally have been laid in the first installment. Now, due to the failure of the first piece, this transitional episode has to devote most of its screen time to complete what was missing in its forerunner; consequently, the actual Hunger Game lasts too briefly before the movie comes to an abrupt end. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is an intellectually challenging films, not in the sense that it is smart, but because viewers needs to make a conscious effort to connect the dots and fill in the gaps with imagination. Any thoughtful adults in their right mind would be annoyed by that process, but the teenagers probably love it because they haven't developed the habit of examining their own thoughts and the costumes are cool enough as a distraction. Despite Jennifer Lawrence's improved acting skills, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire deserves a three out of ten.
1/23/20143 minutes, 30 seconds
Episode Artwork


After watching Hong Kong director Barbara Wong's movie "The Stolen Years", a question occurred to me: is there such a thing as an overcooked chick flick? Well, I guess for most men, all chick flicks are overcooked, but this one, "The Stolen Years", is particularly so. He Man is a young divorcee who is lucky enough to get a second chance at her failed marriage and her ex-husband loves her enough to let her. But this only happens after a car accident which causes her to lose her memories from the past five years. Now, since her most recent memory stops at another accident which occurred during the couple's honeymoon trip, He Man finds renewed interest in her ex-husband, and begins to search for the reasons behind their breakup. At the end of the day, the couple arrives at the revelation that all their grudges derive from He Man's promotion at work and decide to forgive each other. Just as they are ready to take up where they left off however, further tragedy occurs and takes their misfortune to a whole new level. Two types of people are particularly fond of tragedy: women and the Greeks. While I admit that we could all use some catharsis from time to time, "The Stolen Years" provides this to an excessive degree. I mean, we've already learnt that work promotions can be bad for marriages but car accidents may be the cure, that’s enough lessons one can take from a single chick flick, so there is really no need to add more twists to harvest additional tears. FYI, the Greeks need a break. Nonetheless, the director seems quite determined to push the boundaries and introduces some notoriously cliché from South Korean TV shows and movies. Now, enough chiding. Despite the overkill, director Barbara Wong is actually quite an expert in story-telling from a female perspective. In 2001, she won the International Film Award for her feature film "Women's Private Parts" at the New York International Independent Film and Video Festival. The film's botched ending aside, "The Stolen Years" actually tells a well-paced and well-written chick flick story, which strikes a good balance between sentiment and humor. The lead actress Bai Baihe is a charming presence throughout the film, so much so that her character eclipses the male lead portrayed by Zhang Xiaoquan, making his acting seem merely responsive. The first half of "The Stolen Years" exhibits the styles of a typical and pleasant Taiwan film until it crash-lands into a South Korean ending. On a scale from one to ten, it gets a six.
1/23/20143 minutes, 30 seconds
Episode Artwork


Sometimes development is made through compromise. About four years ago, director Ning Hao's black comedy "No Man's Land" was denied release in Chinese cinemas due to its allegedly exaggerated and unrealistic depiction of the dark side of human nature. Now, after four years of repeated alterations, it is finally being shown in cinemas across China. It is difficult to tell whether the release is a victory for the film industry or its watchdog. On the one hand, the movie watchdog rejected the film based on ideals which are deeply-rooted in Chinese culture. Confucianism does not advocate discussing extraordinary things, feats of strength, disorder or spiritual beings. Likewise, traditional-minded Chinese people also tend to shy away from films that center on sheer malevolence or unpunished crimes. So pictures like "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" which jest about crime and violence are rarities in the Chinese movie industry. On the other hand, despite being repeatedly rejected by the authority, the black comedy was eventually released. While most viewers will be laughing their heads off at the film's storyline, I believe that deep down, some will also be able to identify with Ning Hao in his efforts to capture the unwelcome part of human nature. Considering the serious thoughts "No Man's Land" may evoke, the fact that it has been released signifies a kind of development in China's movie industry. The film's storyline is a major strong point, despite some incoherency. However, the biggest setback is the ending, which is set in a completely different tone from the rest of the film and strays far away from the main ideas. In fact, many viewers suspect that this particularly warm ending was added solely for the purpose of ensuring the film's approval for release. The actors and actresses are to be commended for living up to the excellent screenplay, particularly Xu Zheng, who was little known four years ago, but now holds the record as the director of China's best-selling comedy film. Lastly, I'd like to underscore the music. With a black comedy such as this one, director Ning Hao could easily have shaped it like "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrel" with light-hearted music. Yet his decision was to create tension and challenge the viewer's nerves. This way, the viewers may have less of a good time, but they will be inspired to contemplate human nature. "No Man's Land" topped China's box office on its first day of release and grossed 140 million yuan in its first week. On a scale from one to ten, it gets an eight.
1/23/20143 minutes, 21 seconds
Episode Artwork


For viewers who aren't too fond of action films, Firestorm can be a bit intense, but there is still much to appreciate. Upon walking out of the cinema, I remember the numerous gunshots and explosions; I remember being dazzled by the flashing images; and I vividly remember the aftermath of the lethal struggle between the Hong Kong police and the most vicious villain in recent cinematic history. Veteran megastar Andy Lau starred in and produced the film. He goes up against Ray Lui, Lam Katung and mainland actor Hu Jun. The bad guys are well equipped with rifles, shotguns, grenade launchers and C4 and they do not hesitate to kill anyone who prevents them from robbing cash trucks. That puts Andy Lau's character in a difficult situation. As a policeman that thrives on law and order, he cannot bring in the suspects unless there is enough evidence. But since the professional villains spare no one during their actions, they are able to stay at large until the police change their strategy. 53-year-old Lau has always been known for being a dedicated actor, and this time round, as if to redeem the failure of his previous outing earlier this year, he obviously put extra effort into shooting Firestorm. Throughout the film, he is two car accidents, shot at and blown up by C4 numerous times, and he filmed most of these scenes without a stunt double. Mainland actor Hu Jun does well enough, but his character is too simplistic by comparison. Mainland actress Yao Chen also appears in the story but her acting skills and accent make her incompatible with the rest of the film. The action is non-stop. The sound of gunshots is often deafening and the bloody scenes threaten to dampen your senses. The Hong Kong police have not been challenged by such nefarious villains in the cinema for years, not since the Overheard series, but even that focused more on storytelling than action. The topic of crime drama was exhausted by the "Infernal Affairs" series. Similar movies that followed the series were merely mediocre repercussions. However, Firestorm sounds like a particularly loud one. The film has led to concern regarding the future of Hong Kong cinema. Many critics underscore the fact that recent films coming out of the island city have been dominated by veteran actors from Hong Kong and actresses from the mainland. Surely, this combination is the best guarantee for grossing in both the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong markets, but that's unlikely to help once the veterans gradually retire. On a scale from one to ten, I give Firestorm a six.
1/23/20143 minutes, 21 seconds
Episode Artwork


Personal Tailor is definitely the most topical film of the week. First of all, its director Feng Xiaogang also helms this year's New Year gala on China Central Television. The show used to claim the attention of all Chinese people around the world, so Feng is getting a lot of media attention. Secondly, Personal Tailor marks Feng's return to comedy, after his two previous attempts at the disaster genre in the form of "Aftershock" and "Back to 1942". With the amount of promotions on his odyssey, the audience has naturally got their hopes up. And when they finally see the thing and are disappointed, their voices of complaint are most certainly loud. A lot of the complaints are well-grounded though. On a quick glance, "Personal Tailor" is a remake of Feng's 1997 urban comedy "Dream Factory", and a lousy one at that. Both films revolve around a company that grants wishes to people who want to escape their current life. But the 1997 original has a smooth storyline, while the new one is divided into 3 parts that hardly connect with each other. To make matters worse, the 2013 "Personal Tailor" also includes a part where the characters apologize to the environment. That is definitely not the perfect ending for a comedy film, imagine how the audience would feel when they've paid the ticket for a bellyful of laugh but end up being upset by the ugly truth around them. But after the initial shock, I've come to believe "Personal Tailor" will go down in film history nonetheless. Not because of its many flaws and the viewers' complaints of course, but because the motion picture somehow manages to capture one shot of the Chinese society of our age. Ours is an age when we are obsessed with our petit or huge discontents and forget to dream for something bigger and better. We complain about corrupt officials yet hunger for their power; we loath the rich for their squandering and show-off yet we covet their wealth; we haunt ourselves with these obsessions so hard that only pure vulgarity could cheer us up. Feng Xiaogang and screen writer Wang Shuo on the other hand, have realized the dangerous trend in the society and throw it at our face. Call it mockery or whatever you like, you will not look for a solution unless you realize there is a problem, and "Personal Tailor" has shown you the problem. The last part of the film is an apology to the environment. To many viewers it may look suspiciously like an advertisement for public interest, but I believe by appealing to common interest, it is calling for common understanding. Personal Tailor is at least a record of our current society, and if appreciated, may also be a call for bigger, better dreams.
1/23/20143 minutes, 45 seconds
Episode Artwork


The key to making a box office hit in China is controversy. "Police Story 2013" may not have provoked as much discussion as Feng Xiaogang's latest movie "Personal Tailor", but there are still many issues that have got filmgoers talking. The police action thriller stars Jackie Chan as a Chinese police officer caught in the machinations of a criminal gang. The owner of a nightclub kidnaps a group of partygoers, including the officer's daughter, played by Jing Tian. Chan must play along with the villains until he finds a way to release the hostages. But as the story unfolds a connection linking all characters is revealed. The majority of comments focus on Jackie Chan's performance. The 60-year-old star announced his retirement from action films when he released "Chinese Zodiac" in 2012, but as his cooperation with director Ding Sheng developed, more action scenes were added. As a result, viewers can witness Chan getting beaten up real bad and challenging his limits at such an advanced age. Most critics appreciate Chan's efforts. And remembering his energetic roles in the previous installments of the Police Story franchise set in Hong Kong, movie fans commend Chan on his latest outing, this time set in Beijing. The other talking point of the film is much more controversial. The quality of Jing Tian's acting has been questioned in previous roles, yet she's always come back with ever bigger roles. In 2013 she sent shockwaves through the movie industry by teaming up with megastars Donnie Yen, Chow Yun-fat, Jackie Chan and Liu Ye in "Special ID", "Police Story 2013" and "The Man from Macau". Working with so many stars has helped her lift her acting skills from lousy to… well, still below average. At least that's the opinion of many filmgoers who have jumped on her back yet again after what they see as a below par performance. Police Story 2013 has generated over 270 million yuan in just 6 days and is now sitting on top of the charts in terms of daily grossing. Further proof to the theory controversy creates cash.
1/23/20142 minutes, 37 seconds
Episode Artwork


"American Hustle" is a faint crime drama and a flat comedy; however, it features the perfect atmosphere for its actors and actresses to present their skills. Based on the FBI ABSCAM operation of the 1970s, Eric Singer and David O. Russell's screenplay reconstructs the experience of conmen Irving Rosenfeld, Sydney Prosser and FBI agent Richie Di Maso, as well as Irving's wife Rosalyn. These roles are shared by Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence respectively. The story begins with the conmen getting arrested by agent Richie. The FBI agent proposes to release them if Irving and Sydney assist him with four additional arrests. Together they attempt to entrap the mayor of Camden, New Jersey and a few Congressmen. However, the team soon find out that they need to spin a bigger web as the scam develops out of hand to involve local Mafia overlord Victor Tellegio. You would assume a movie about such a crime involves quite a bit of suspense, but American Hustle happens to be just the opposite. From the very beginning, the director reminds the viewers not to take it seriously by stating "some of this actually happened" in the title sequence. This reveals the director's decision to take a casual approach to storytelling. Also casual is the manner in which Russell puts the pieces together, which allows the scenes to flow from one to another. In fact there is a good deal of risk involved in doing this: the absence of deliberate suspense makes it harder to command the viewer's attention. So, the director basically has to rely on the skills of the actors and actresses to keep the audience interested. Fortunately, the director has the full support from the aforementioned professionals, whose performances form a good case for the study of movie characters and relations. Christian Bale's big belly alone shows his dedication to the role, his portrayal of Irving Rosenfeld sheds light on the conman's prudence and his shifting attitude towards the scheme. Amy Adams presents a con woman that is meticulous with every detail. And meanwhile, Jennifer Lawrence delivers a stereotypical character in full. As a crime comedy-drama, "American Hustle" lacks the thrill and comical effects of films such as "Pulp Fiction" or "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels", but it certainly makes up for it with top-notch performances from the actors and actresses.
1/23/20143 minutes, 31 seconds
Episode Artwork


There is so much about this year's Golden Globe winner "12 Years a Slave" that shows why it deserves universal acclaim. First and foremost, it is in itself a fairly good movie to begin with. Story-wise, it is based on, and strictly faithful to, Solomon Northup's 1853 memoir of the same name. The book offers an account of 19th century America's slavery system, from the perspective of a free Negro sold to slavery. Unlike Quentin Tarantino, in his 2012 film "Django", director Steve McQueen doesn't take the subject for granted and instead allows the viewers to learn about the dark side of American history from a freshman's point of view; much like Solomon himself in the story. Next, Steve McQueen's determination to uncover the sinister past from under the carpet is given strong support from the cast. Lead actor Chiweltel Ejiofor may have lost out on a Golden Globe this week to Matthew McConaughey for his role in Dallas Buyers Club, but he does convey a memorable image of a freeman being forced to slavery. During the two hours, we follow him around on the big screen, fear his fears and dream his worst dreams. Some of these fears and dreams are delivered in person by none other than Michael Fassbender as the slave owner Edwin Epps. He's tried his best, though he isn't good enough to compete with the most dedicated actress Lupita Nyong'o. The latter's character of a young female slave seems to carry upon herself all the burdens of an inhumane system. And of course the skills of the cast are amplified by the powerful imagery captured by cinematographer Sean Bobbitt. It is a pretty lengthy movie that runs for more than two hours, but I don't think anyone would be able to forget one particular scene half way into the film, where Solomon is hung against a tree. That long take alone contained enough fear and cruelty, so much so that it at least partly explains why slavery existed in the southern part of the United States for so long, and why it was abolished eventually. One more explanation for the movie's success is perhaps the fact that few people are willing to question McQueen's work, because those who actually do so would need a lot of courage. However, black Canadian author Orville Lloyd Douglas is one of the very few courageous critics. And here I quote what he said from the Guardian: "I'm convinced these black race films are created for a white, liberal film audience to engender white guilt and make them feel bad about themselves. Regardless of your race, these films are unlikely to teach you anything you don't already know." Well, nothing is really new under the sun. Even if it doesn't teach us anything fresh, the feelings and inspirations from watching such a great film are good enough.
1/23/20143 minutes, 58 seconds