Ultimate Decades Blogathon Kick-off: Spirited Away (2001)

Welcome to the sixth annual Ultimate Decades Blogathon..well, the part 2 of it. Yesterday, my fantastic co-host Drew kicked off the Ultimate Decades Blogathon with his kick-off review of Bridesmaids. Today, its my turn to share my first pick as we kick off this blogathon with a slightly new format working with the decades ending in a different digit than an entire decade. As the first one, it suitably starts with years ending in 1. There’s a lot to look forward to for the upcoming entries.

First, let’s get this part 2 released as I share my review of Studio Ghibli’s 2001 Academy Award winning animated film, Spirited Away.

Spirited Away (2001)

Director (and writer): Hayao Miyazaki

Voice Cast (English Dub): Daveigh Chase, Jason Marsden, Suzanne Pleshette, David Ogden Stiers, Susan Egan, Paul Eiding, John Ratzenberger, Bob Bergen, Tara Strong, Rodger Bumpass

During her family’s move to the suburbs, a sullen 10-year-old girl wanders into a world ruled by gods, witches, and spirits, and where humans are changed into beasts. – IMDB

After much consideration, Spirited Away is an animated movie well worth a mention as it is the movie held onto the highest grossing film in Japan until 2020. It also won the Academy Awards as the only non-English and first handdrawn animation to win the Best Animated Feature award. For someone like myself that grew up with Hayo Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, it almost feels like the movie that acted as the perfect stepping stone for the world, especially those unfamiliar with anime, to finally get to know Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki.

There’s a lot to love about Spirited Away. It really does embody a lot of the trademarks and drawing style of Hayao Miyazaki as all the characters are drawn in a familiar way especially when it comes to the old lady roles, they always feel fairly similar to each other. Spirited Away is about a little girl who wanders into a world of spirits and basically goes on an adventure to rescue her parents and escape this world. This world can be mistakenly wandered in during the day but at night, the river floods the path and what they thought was an amusement park turned out to be something completely different. With a huge bathhouse as the main building and streets with stall after stall of food that spirits busily chomp away along with the colorful and odd world of the interior of the bathhouse from its boiler room to the bathhouse rooms and the big boss’s headquarters plus so much more, Spirited Away is a beautifully constructed world with so much to explore that offers a glimpse at the fantasy imagination and creativity that Hayao Miyazaki has to offer. As we follow Chihiro (or later known as Sen) go through the building looking for the job, there’s a sense of how big this world is which makes it rather impressive plus the clientele of the bathhouse are unique types of spirits.

There is an array of interesting little creatures and spirits to meet and a story that actually surfaces later on as a little twist. There’s no doubt that other than the story itself, the characters are a real star here whether its Chihiro who has to remember her name after she turns into Sen in this world or the witch Yubaba that runs this bathhouse right down to Kamaji in the boiler room and Sen’s friend Lin who works with her and especially Haku, a dragon that is Yubaba’s henchman. No Miyazaki film’s fantasy world is without its fair share of odd creatures whether its a giant baby or heads hopping around right down to another form of soot monsters (we saw them first in 1988’s My Neighbor Totoro) and so much more. Plus, the spirits themselves also have some interesting encounters that design especially for the two big parts with the Stink Spirit and another spirit No-Face who grows to have a liking for Sen.

Paired up with Joe Hisaishi’s music, Spirited Away is definitely a fun little adventure. Fantasy, magic, spirits all wrapped up into one. What makes it stand out is not only the colorful art and design and world building but the characters that they meet. While the bathhouse is a starting spot and has its own story as a foundation but the story that stems from there also adds a sense of mystery. Is it the best Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli film out there? That’s definitely debatable however, it is the movie that takes the first step for the world to know this amazing film studio with an creative director Hayao Miyazaki.

For further reading, you can check out my list ranking of Hayao Miyazaki’s work HERE.


That’s it for the kick-off post! Tomorrow we start off over at Drew’s Movie Reviews with the first guest entry. For the full list of entries, updated daily during the blogathon, you can find it HERE.

Double Feature: Over The Moon (2020) & Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018)

Welcome to the next double feature! This time is something of a musical double feature as we look at Netflix animated film Over The Moon and the Mamma Mia sequel, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. Let’s check it out!

Over The Moon (2020)

Directors: Glen Keane, John Kahrs

Voice Cast: Cathy Ang, John Cho, Edie Ichioka, Ruthie Ann Miles, Sandra Oh, Robert G. Chiu, Margaret Cho, Phillipa Soo, Ken Jeong

In this animated musical, a girl builds a rocket ship and blasts off, hoping to meet a mythical moon goddess. – IMDB

Over The Moon tells the story of a Chinese girl Fei Fei who is told the story of the Moon Goddess who takes a potion of immortality and is sent to live on the moon with her Jade Rabbit and waits for her lover there. A story that has its own different versions but has its own set of life lessons. Living with her parents who make moon cakes for a living, her life eventually falls apart when her mother is sick and eventually leaves her and her father as well a little pet bunny Bungee. Years later on Moon Festival, her father introduces her to Mrs. Zhong, a woman that will be her stepmother and Chin, a weird little boy who thinks he has the superpower to run through walls to be his stepbrother. Her father and family judge her for her belief in Chang’e and she goes to build a rocket to go to the moon which takes her a crazy journey when Chang’e and the moon isn’t all that she imagined, especially when she finds that Chin has tagged along for the ride. 

Using the legend of the Moon Goddess and a quick look at the Moon Festival as a jumping point for the story, Over The Moon’s delivers a message about moving on and family. With some colorful imaginative parts especially from the part of building the rocket and flying to the moon and the whole sequence on the moon with Chang’e and all of the moon’s occupants, it’s a fun little adventure and the studio’s take on what the Moon Goddess is doing after being sent to the moon. The animation and creativity in those sequences are pretty good but perhaps the parts of the animation with the Fei Fei’s mom at the beginning with some watercolor/Chinese painting coming to life stands out even more just based on how beautiful those scenes are executed. 

Over The Moon also has a great voice cast with John Cho, Margaret Cho, Sandra Oh and Ken Jeong even if some of the roles might be a little smaller. Fei Fei is voiced by Cathy Ang and does a pretty good job much like Chang’e is voiced by Phillipa Soo. This is a musical so the songs are pretty fun for the most part. It’s not quite as memorable as other musicals but some of the scenes are pretty nice as well. Talking about voice casts and languages, the film actually took some time for the Mandarin voice casts and script to have little changes that cater to their own audience especially with the comedic elements, which is a cool little detail seeing as this is American-Chinese but it is based on an animated film set in China. 

Overall, Over The Moon is a fun little animated film. It might not be particularly as deep and probably caters more to children with its cute little elements of Bungee and the dog on the moon Gobi and other little colorful creatures on the moon. It is rather heartwarming.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018)

Director (and co-writer): Ol Parker

Cast: Lily James, Amanda Seyfried, Andy Garcia, Alex Davies, Jessica Keenan Wynn, Dominic Cooper, Julie Walters, Christine Baranski, Hugh Skinner, Pierce Brosnan, Josh Dylan, Jeremy Irvine, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard, Cher, Meryl Streep

Five years after the events of Mamma Mia! (2008), Sophie prepares for the grand reopening of the Hotel Bella Donna as she learns more about her mother’s past. – IMDB

Being a fan of the first movie, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is released ten years after and its a rather good look as the characters have all gotten older as well just like Sophie and her return. In some ways, the movie does feel like a fun little jump back into the story especially for fans of the musical since they got back a lot (if not all) of the original cast of the first one and the sequel adds a little something as it fills in those pieces of the first movie, like how Donna met her three suitors and ended up with Sophie and staying on the island. For sure, its not exactly a needed story to tell but as much as I had my own doubts about it, it still has that feel-good vibe of the first film that left me really happy as I watched the musical and the musical numbers play out one by one.

With that said, one of the best things for sequels is having the original cast show up for this one. It shows the family essentially being separate but each on a different path in this future but the island and the family pulling them all back together. These characters are rather fun and charming. Fluctuating between the past and the present does add a lot of fun to it. The younger cast still manages to carry the film fairly well especially as Lily James plays the young Donna. It also comes with a cameo of Cher and Meryl Streep which is also pretty cool.

Overall, I honestly feel that Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is for the fans of the original film. If you didn’t care of it, this sequel probably will do nothing for you. While its story is fairly straight forward that you don’t really need to know the first film to catch on to the story (maybe it will hinder the relationships of the characters in the present time), its still just a feel-good musical with those fun ABBA songs. Its just a fun time for those who enjoy musicals. Plus, I really liked the Waterloo performance in those outfits at the end of the first film and they did it again for this one in a slightly different way which was also entertaining.

Double Feature: An Affair To Die For (2019) & Tears of Steel (2012)

Next double feature is here with two movies that were relatively spontaneous choices. The first being a thriller called An Affair to Die For and the second is a short film called Tears of Steel. Let’s check it out!

An Affair To Die For (2019)

Director: Victor Garcia

Cast: Claire Forlani, Jake Abel, Titus Welliver, Nathan Cooper, Melina Matthews

A secret rendezvous. A man cheats on his wife. A woman cheats on her husband. And then everything goes bad, quickly. – IMDB

It seems like January is the peak time when I successfully hunt down some really lackluster movies in the Netflix list. Honestly, I don’t even rememeber putting this movie on the list as this genre of film generally hasn’t bode well. With that said, An Affair to Die For was a fairly below average experience.

The deal with An Affair to Die For isn’t so much the plot. In fact, after some thought, it does land on that twist element to a certain extent but the execution and timing left the pacing feeling a little unbalanced to the ending. At a certain point, the body count really dies narrow down who else is left for the big “mastermind” at the end who pulls a Saw-like ending. The other part is the dialogue and the characters themselves. In this case, I do have to say that while I do think there’s some overacting, its how the main female actress Claire Forlani delivers her dialogue that bothers me. It feels almost like the combination of a flawed script and oddly constructed characters pulls this film down as well.

An Affair To Die For is really quite a lackluster experience overall. The movie starts off feeling like an erotic thriller and takes a turn into a much more focused thriller element is not a bad idea, its just that anything like that also takes some careful pacing and this one lacked in that department.

Tears of Steel (short 2012)

Director (and writer): Ian Hubert

Cast: Derek de Lint, Sergio Hasselbaink, Rogier Schippers, Vanja Rukavina, Denise Rebergen

He just wanted to be awesome in space. – IMDB

Running as a swift 12 minutes short, Tears of Steel is rather interesting in concept. It plays a little with time travel or time manipulation. The world is a future where its being dominated by robots because of what leads back to one interaction in the past between a boy and girl. The whole concept is done rather well especially with the world building. Even in the little bit of the time, the destruction and the state of the world is shown really well. The effects in particular definitely look polished.

For a short film, this one does stand out a lot and really has a great concept and world building and it would be interesting to see perhaps a full story on this world. Whether its the technology or the ability to change the past that is used or even how the world came to be seems like such a good angle to dive further into the content.

What does make me wonder a little more is that this short film on Netflix is set as a season where there’s the original movie and then a 2 hour loop and an 8 hour loop of the movie. I’m just thinking about who is sitting around looping this short film and where this desire to do this came from. Its just something I wouldn’t do so I find it rather curious.

To All The Boys: Always and Forever (2021)

You can check out the review of the first 2 movies of this trilogy below:

To All The Boys I’ve Love Before
To All The Boys: P.S. I Still Love You

To All The Boys: Always and Forever (2021)

Director: Michael Fimognari

Cast: Lana Condor, Noah Centineo, Janel Parrish, Anna Cathcart, Ross Butler, Madeleine Arthur, Emilija Baranac, Trezzo Mahoro, Sarayu Blue, John Corbett, Henry Thomas

Continuing the romantic life of the teenage girl and facing her good and hard times with her friends and family. – IMDB

As we reach the last movie of the To All The Boys trilogy on Netflix, this is based on the third book of the trilogy of the same name. The third book is focused around Lara Jean but this time, unlike the first one where its about facing up to her feelings despite making herself vulnerable or the second book that its about choosing between two guys, this one is dials back to her as she struggles with choosing between a college that she wants to go to and the guy that she loves, worrying about the future of what might happen if she chooses one love over the other or a more suitable future over her love life, despite having to face up to changing plans and the consequences related to it. The story itself centering back to the basics of family, her future and her love life.

While its not a complete change back to its first film and lacks somewhat of the same type of charm, Always and Forever is a definite step up from the second film. However, that’s not to say that this one has some issues as well as it has a feeling piecing together montages a lot and jumping from one sequence to the next rather quickly creating a little sense of disjointedness. Where this film does carry back its fun elements is bringing back more screen time for the three sisters and the relationship they have while each also having their own sense of settling with a new situation to come with their father remarrying. There is no doubt that a big part of what works for this trilogy is the family element especially when the other sisters are charming characters along with their father.

For Lara Jean, the center back to her and her friends along with the idea of how to go for the future she wants in terms of college and think a little more about making the decision suitable for her comes into play. Of course, To All The Boys is also about Peter and Lara Jean’s relationship and there is a decent balance of it here as well especially as they each face their own insecurities about a future that might involve them being apart from each other and finding the courage and confidence to face those problems together. In some ways, for Lara Jean, its a lot about how she decides to be true to what she wants and for Peter to be able to support her choices even if it means taking a harder route for them.

To All The Boys: Always and Forever also packs in a really nice soundtrack that definitely matches with everything. There is a use of romantic comedy references which is pretty fun as well as the concept of Peter and Lara Jean’s meet-cute. The script here fills in those pieces of what hasn’t been talked about in previous two books while also tying in Lara Jean’s love for romantic comedies that makes it feel like it fits well. It also brings back a snippet of the first film’s use of having her talking to an imagined version of Peter Kavinsky as she struggles to tell him the truth behind something was misinterpreted. With that said, the charming characters of Lara Jean and Peter Kavinsky as their own characters and as a couple is still one of the highlights of the film, which also makes perhaps some small little details feel very touching to watch, especially the near ending scene that is probably one of my faves and gives a nice feeling of the series coming full circle.

Overall, To All The Boys: Always and Forever is a pretty good sequel. Its a nice way to wrap up the trilogy and manages to bring everything back to a nice feeling from the first film. It addresses all the characters in Lara Jean’s circle for the most part and sees a progress throughout the time being in school and how they’ve also changed as well or made amends in other cases. Its about growing up and these characters definitely feel like they have. Its a satisfying ending and a great way to wrap up the trilogy.

The Yin-Yang Master: Dream of Eternity (晴雅集, 2020)

The Yin-Yang Master: Dream of Eternity (晴雅集, 2020)

Director (and writer): Jingming Guo

Cast: Mark Chao, Allen Deng, Olivia Wang, Duo Wang, Jessie Li, Kaicheng Xu, Chenjun Sun, Kurt Huang, Jusper

Qing Ming, the Yin-Yang Master, took his master’s last wish and went to the Captial Tiandu City to attend the heaven ceremony. – IMDB

Adapted from novel series Onmyoji written by Baku Yumemakura, The Yin-Yang Master: Dream of Eternity is a 2020 Chinese fantasy film acquired last year by Netflix before its theatrical release starring some well-known main leads Allen Deng (2018 popular drama Ashes of Love) and Mark Chao (2017 popular drama Eternal Love) and directed and written by Edward Guo, an author, director and screenwriter whose work has been adapted frequently especially his Tiny Times movie series.

Seeing as the IMDB summary is a bit vague, here’s a synopsis: The Yin-Yang Master: Dream of Eternity tells the story of Qing Ming (Mark Chao), a disciple of Zhongxing which has been put in charge of representing their sect as one of the Four Guardians to attend the ceremony to seal the Evil Serpent from breaking out of its vessel along with 3 other masters from other sects. Its here that he meets one of the other masters, Bo Ya (Allen Deng) who views the slaying of demons differently and gets off on the wrong foot. When one of the Guardians dies mysteriously before the ceremony, Princess Chang Ping (Olivia Wang) assigns a new master He Shouyue (Duo Wang) to replace him in order for the plans to carry on. As Qing Ming and Bo Ya both investigate the murder, they come to realize that there’s a much bigger plan underway that might lead to someone trying to release the Evil Serpent.

Chinese fantasy films and TV is a fairly popular genre in general. The Yin-Yang Master: Dream of Eternity is executed pretty well. Its runtime is a tad long at over 2 hours and it feels like some parts are stretched a little long but the story does have a decent complexity to carry it. Its not exactly novel in its realm and some parts are fairly predictable however, the character development and building up the foundation for these two main characters, Qing Ming and Bo Ya is done well. The movie itself has great production value especially with the cinematography which is great whether in the contrast and saturation, mood and atmosphere of each scene or the score and even the costumes. However, what deserves recognition definitely is in some well done computer effects for the monster design and movements.

While the director gets criticized a lot for his directing style, I actually quite like his style and how he films (especially after watching variety show Everybody Stand By 2) plus the story he tells has definitely grown from the beginning and he does have a lot of details in his writing and execution. There’s a definite growth from the earlier works that were adapted to this adapted screenplay of The Yin-Yang Master. Aside from that, the cast here is really great. Mark Chao and Allen Deng work really well in their respective roles. I do feel that Mark Chao’s characters are rather similar from the ones I’ve seen before while I do like Allen Deng’s Bo Ya a lot more especially with this costumes and character design whether its his weapons and such. Much like the characters specifically for this instalment like Olivia Wang and Dou Wang (who takes on two roles here). The whole concept of Spriti Guardians and their appearances especially for the design of Kaicheng Xu’s Kuang Hua Shi and the other two at the end with the characters of Killing Stone (Chenjun Sun) and Snow Dog (Jasper).

The Yin-Yang Master: Dream of Eternity was a pleasant surprise to say the very least. With a decent cast and a fairly decent twist plus some great demon/creature designs, the story packs in a lot of fantasy mixed with mystery and action. Plus, the new thing especially after the success of The Untamed definitely is adapting movies with two male leads. For this one, these two are equally good actors plus for fans of Allen Deng from Ashes of Love, its a good throwback of him in CGI wings again. Chinese fantasy films might not be for everyone but if you do like to try out something new, this one is a decent one to check out and just got released on Netflix, which is always a plus.

TV Binge: Bridgerton (Season 1, 2020)

Bridgerton (Season 1, 2020)

Creator: Chris Van Dusen

Cast: Phoebe Dynevor, Regé-Jean Page, Jonathan Bailey, Ruby Barker, Nicola Coughlan, Ruth Gemmell, Adjoa Andoh, Claudia Jessie, Luke Newton, Luke Thompson, Polly Walker, Golda Rosheuval

Wealth, lust, and betrayal set against the backdrop of Regency-era England, seen through the eyes of the powerful Bridgerton family. – IMDB

Based on Julia Quinn’s first book of the Bridgerton book series called The Duke and I, Bridgerton’s first season is like a Regency London’s era of Gossip Girl. Its scandalous and there’s a mystery lady called Lady Whistledown writing on everyone’s gossip and spreading her speculations about different situations. Set during the beginning of the season where the debutantes go into society to look for their suitors, the first season is all about Daphne, the oldest daughter of the Bridgerton family as she enters into society and navigates her way through everyone’s different opinions before hatching a plan with the newly arrived Duke Hastings who wants to craft a fake connection with her to avoid having to deal with other mothers of available daughters as he doesn’t want to marry while creating the smoke screen for Daphne that will make other men desire her more because of already being desired. Of course, its no doubt that Daphne and Duke Hastings form a real connection eventually and it becomes quite the push and pull relationship, full of drama and soapy elements as well as the many sex and intimate scenes going on.

Bridgerton is thoroughly a guilty pleasure. There’s no other way to put it. Its not exactly untapped territory especially for myself that watches a ton of Chinese dramas which revolve around crafting fake relationships that turn into real connections and so on so forth. What makes Bridgerton fun is of course the Regency London era with its beautiful houses and lovely clothes and the very innocent and protected debutantes who are protected from everything about sex and intimacy. At the same time, the world that its crafted is a racially integrated Regency era London where (according to Wikipedia because I haven’t read the source material) it differs from the book’s setting. However, they do a great job and justifying how it all came to be briefly in conversation. The story itself definitely has those expected frustrating moments where the two misunderstand each other and then there’s some scheming that creates them to diverge in their feelings and its a whole roller coaster ride in terms of the few months of the season that Daphne and Duke Hastings go through.

Other than the setting, Bridgerton is all about the characters. For starters, the main couple Daphne and Duke Hastings has a ton of chemistry and that reflects well as their connection grows stronger and they love each other more. The sex scenes are done incredibly well and very believable. Above all of it though, its about Daphne’s sexual awakening and the gradual revelation and learning about how sex works and how getting pregnant works and all that comes together that crafts her character in a certain way. Aside from these two, the story does also deliver some other great characters. The favorite going to Lady Danbury (Adjoa Andoh) who is Duke Hastings aka Simon’s mentor. Hands down the best character in the whole first season. The first season also laid down the foundation of the Bridgerton family whether its their widowed mother Violet or the three brothers, Anthony, Benedict, Colin and Gregory or the younger sisters Eloise, Francesca and Hyacinth who all make an appearance, big or small. Seeing as the following seasons will be about the other members of the family, that foundation is rather important plus the first season also follows some of the relationships and character development for a few of the siblings especially for Anthony, Benedict, Eloise and Colin.

There’s not a whole lot to say about the 10 episodes of the first season of Bridgerton. For those who like Regency era London settings, this one is a pretty decent choice. The first season’s most compelling parts are the scenes that build up the relationship between Daphne and Simon. The slow connection and the comfort; the change from disapproval to love; the fake relationship to real; what they teach other and grow together: it has its frustrating moments but then it also has some well-crafted moments. The second compelling element has to be trying to figure out who is Lady Whistledown especially when she’s voiced by Julie Andrews. When I finished watching it the first time, I had some mixed feelings about it but when I watched it a second time around, I realized that there is something there that does work.

As an aside, Season 2 has been confirmed and its going to follow the brother Anthony who had his tangent in season 1 although, I was rather lukewarm to the whole thing. However, the season ended hinting that it would be focused on him finding a wife so we will see where that goes. In the meantime, I’m going to catch up with the series when I have a moment see how the series match up to the source material.

Double Feature: Shanghai Fortress (2019) & S Storm (2016)

Time for the next double feature! Its a pairing of a Netflix Chinese Sci-fi film Shanghai Fortress with the sequel of Hong Kong crime thriller Z Storm called S Storm. Let’s check it out!

Shanghai Fortress (2019)

Director: Hua-Tao Teng

Cast: Han Lu, Qi Shu, Godfrey Gao, Liang Shi, Sen Wang, Vincent Matile, Jialing Sun, Yu Cheng

In 2035, aliens have wiped out mega cities around the globe to get their main source of energy, Xianteng. Will Shanghai be able to defend itself and maybe even launch a counterattack? – IMDB

Looking solely at the premise, Shanghai Fortress has a great setting. Think a little like the Chinese version of Independence Day with elements of Ender’s Game and hints of Pacific Rim. The whole setting in the future and the world being destroyed where Shanghai wants to counterattack and the world coming together to try to eliminate the alien invasion is a good premise to say the very least. Where Shanghai Fortress has more issues is in its execution and some of the CGI effects especially when it comes to the aliens which looks like toy action figures in some scenes (a lot of it when its attacking from the sky).

Where the movie does its best story bits is with its sci-fi elements as it talks about the war and the reality that the world now dwells in. The source of energy that is being fought for and the reality that the world now dwells in while still a bit lacking in detail still works for the most part and even with the technology that the world now has and the team that they put together to try to fight them as well as their secret weapon. With that said, where the story falls apart is putting in the romantic arc of the main lead trying to win the heart of a superior. It almost felt unnecessary as it was put there to give them a dramatic element but then, they already had the whole team and friendship that was done in a more natural way.

Despite the story, the cast is fairly alright. With the material they had, the main cast does deliver well enough. Qi Shu brings in the role of the captain and is the crush of the main male lead played by Han Lu, who is the leader of the little “task force” (not sure if that’s how you call it) that got brought up after they come together to help an attack. Godfrey Gao also takes part in this film as one of the last few movies in his career before his unfortunate death in 2019. There are some more familiar faces that work out including the rest of the “task force” and friends that I’ve seen appear and are relatively well in their roles.

Overall, its quite disappointing that Shanghai Fortress had such a good premise but just couldn’t deliver a better script and execution, which made a little harder to get into it completely whether it was the war or the human relationships.

S Storm (2016)

Director: David Lam

Cast: Louis Koo, Julian Cheung, Ada Choi, Vic Chou, Bowie Lam, Dada Chan, Janelle Sing, Sau Sek, Hoi Pang Lo, Jacky Cai

No sooner is a team at ICAC set up to investigate irregularities in soccer official betting in Hong Kong before a suspect is assassinated. – IMDB

The sequel to 2014’s Z Storm (review) takes on another corruption story and this time its within the Jockey Club with the soccer betting system. The ICAC end up following the clues from one lead to the next to realize that each of the suspects are being killed before they get there. S Storm is a fairly decent thriller. The only issue is that it adds too much to the equation that it almost feels like there’s too many characters to go through. It does keep it fairly engaging since there’s always a next step and in the beginning, its a race between the ICAC and a disrespected homicide detective’s team for the trail.

S Storm excels because of its talented cast. The ICAC being lead by Louis Koo’s character who is a staple in many Hong Kong thrillers in the past decade (if not 2). The homicide team lead by Julian Cheung, a singer and actor that I personally like quite a bit as well. The assassin is played by Vic Chou and the former F4 member and had his debut in the original Taiwanese version of Meteor Garden as Hua Ze Lei, the 2nd male lead. Its been a while since I’ve seen him in anything so this role does feel small and very quiet but his character is missing some depth perhaps. Other roles like Ada Choi, Bowie Lam, Sau Sek are all familiar faces in TV mostly but have dabbled in film before and all give fairly decent supporting roles.

While there are some issues with S Storm, its a series that I do enjoy for the corruption case angle. Its more about the clever dealings and inner network of people and such. This one does have a decent amount of action as well considering its about gambling so the triad and such gets involved. The audience gets the story step by step in bits and sees the danger before the ICAC and homicide gets there even if it doesn’t always reveal the culprit, leaving that in the dark for a while. Some good elements and some not so good ones but its an alright thriller overall.

As a side note, it would be interesting to check out what other stories will come in the other movies in the series and how it links to the letters they use really does make me wonder sometimes.

Double Feature: Crazy Rich Asians (2018) & Line Walker (2016)

I’m having this sudden urge to get through these Asian films. Crazy Rich Asians kind of counts, I guess which happens to be one of the double feature picks and just for the comedy element, I paired it up with Line Walker which is something of a crime action thriller with comedy elements. Let’s check it out!

Crazy Rich Asians (2018)

Director: Jon M. Chu

Cast: Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Gemma Chan, Lisa Lu, Awkwafina, Ken Jeong, Sonoya Mizuno, Chris Pang, Jimmy O. Yang, Ronny Chieng, Remy Hii

This contemporary romantic comedy, based on a global bestseller, follows native New Yorker Rachel Chu to Singapore to meet her boyfriend’s family. – IMDB

Adapted from the novel of the same name by Kevin Kwan (which I haven’t read), Crazy Rich Asians is romantic comedy with a really great cast. The movie itself should be looked at from two parts: Romance and Comedy. The romantic parts are exactly funny and actually to me, they are a bit weak whereas the comedy elements is what stands out. Of course, comedy is also very subjective so the best way may be to see whether the many comedians involved in this are ones that you normally enjoy or the cast itself. Not to mention, Crazy Rich Asians highlights the beauty of Singapore so much from the food to the scenery and captures the upper class society glamor as well as the Asian prejudices between each other whether its Asian-born or American-born which brings in the East versus West differences/culture clash.

Looking at the cast, its absolutely stunning. Its the first time watching Constance Wu for myself and while I have certain issues with her, she is rather decent in capturing that roles especially in the beginning and the ending parts where her character Rachel really gets a nice development. I can’t say her chemistry or the focus on the romance between her and Henry Golding’s character stands out a lot but her interaction with some of the other characters especially Peik Lin played by Awkwafina is absolutely awesome. Awkwafina carries a good part of the film every time she shows up especially when she first talks about the Youngs and how rich they are. Hands down my favorite part. Comedians involved have Ken Jeong, Ronny Chieng and I think Jimmy O.Yang also counts (even though I haven’t seen any stand-up shows of his). They each have very different types of character bringing in a different sort of comedy and they do a decent job. However, while not there for the comedy, Michelle Yeoh is fantastic and a stunning actress that I love to watch on screen. This role seems a little different from what I’ve seen of hers before however she still delivers.

I was a little hesitant to watch Crazy Rich Asians but I’m pretty happy that I did. There’s a lot to love about it. The way that its filmed and the little execution that they use even from the first scene that highlights how rich the Youngs are to the end where Rachel shows how she isn’t how the family sees her as despite where she grew up. Overall, its a fun time and earned quite a few good laughs even if the romantic elements were fairly flat.

Line Walker (2016)

Director: Jazz Boon

Cast: Nick Cheung, Louis Koo, Francis Ng, Charmaine Sheh, Shiu Hung Hui, Moses Chan

Several cops went undercover. Due to some issues, all undercover identities were wiped clean from the police database. – IMDB

Done as a spin-off from the Hong Kong TV series of the same name (that I haven’t had a chance to watch yet but recently found uploaded to Youtube so will catch up very soon), Line Walker is something of a comedy crime thriller. For what I see, it doesn’t require a whole lot of knowledge of the actual series to understand but its a little loopy as well as the network of undercover cops is quite extensive as the plot reveals itself throughout. In reality, the biggest issue is what the movie wants to be. At times, its comedic and over the top and then it will change in the next scene to a crime thriller serious sequence. It makes the film feel out of balance and maybe even disjointed. The moving parts of everything work as an individual sequence but together, it just doesn’t seem to work that well.

The highlight of Line Walker definitely has to be the stellar cast. With some names like Charmaine Sheh and Moses Chan, the latter in a cameo role rather popular names in Hong Kong series and bigger movie thriller actors like Nick Cheung, Louis Koo, Francis Ng and Shiu Hung Hui, its full of renowned actors who are well-known for their work in movies in similar genre. In reality, its quite a great thing to see Charmain Sheh being the only female lead here and paired up with Francis Ng as one side as the obvious undercover pairing and an undefined relationship between the two while having the much more intriguing pairing between Nick Cheung and Louis Koo’s characters as its a question about which one of them is actually an undercover cop that has lost his file and police status in the police system. Its the main focus for these two as they start questioning each other’s loyalty. At the same time, the movie is full of undercovers as one after the other gets revealed. The standout definitely has to go to Louis Koo and Nick Cheung’s characters as they do bring in the most balanced roles as well as their little bit of dark/sarcastic humor dialogue injected in the performance. It contrasts that of Charmaine Sheh and Francis Ng which adds a more comedic element.

Line Walker is an odd one. The cast makes it worth a watch but the script and the execution of the whole undercover and double crossing and whatnot in the crime world of who is on which side and all the undercover cops that scatter over the crime world almost feels like it doesn’t make that much sense. There are some clever bits but overall, it feels like the movie does fall short. On the other hand, its given me the boost to go catch up with the TV series since its garnered quite a bit of popularity.

Still the Water (2020)

Still the Water (2020)

Director (and writer): Susan Rodgers

Cast: Ry Barrett, Colin Price, Spencer Graham, Christina McInulty

The men in a broken family reunite many years after a domestic tragedy drives them apart. – IMDB

Still The Water is a fairly straightforward family drama. It tells the story of three brothers that have grown apart because of their past. This past is the mystery that carries the story forward for the most part as no one truly addresses it in full. As the pieces fall into place, the division between the brothers, especially the older two Nicky (Colin Price ) and Jordie (Ry Barrett) come into the play. A part of the division that is further emphasized because of the neighbor Abby (Christina McInulty) when Jordie comes back to town.

Set in the beautiful and rarely filmed Prince Edward Island, the setting itself adds a lot to the small town feeling and yet the beauty of the land that they are in. The film was at its best when it was about the family drama as they try to get through the past and reconcile while the present has its own challenges that is breaking one of them apart as well. The other bits with Abby seems more of a necessary stressor that feels like the character is almost there with too much of a purpose and the romantic elements there but never fleshed out enough to connect. With that said, there is plenty of family drama as the movie does focus on the brothers and their father a lot as well as the dynamic of Jordie come back and how he affects each of them a different way as well as the changes in him.

With that said, Still the Water is powered by its cast, most notably the two lead actors, Ry Barrett and Colin Price. For both, its a change in pace as these two actors frequented my own watch list in various horror films which never had this much drama. This film is a fairly quiet one and really shows off their acting skills as they both carry their role incredibly well. The dynamic in their performances do connect very well especially for Colin Price’s Nicky that goes through the most development throughout the film as his character almost breaks apart by the end. Ry Barrett’s character is the main lead in this story as most of it revolves around him, his coming back and the impact that it has with everyone and yet his character is a contrast since it is a lot more quiet despite the character’s beginning parts that show his anger management issues. Its also great when they almost use hockey, boat repair business (I think that’s what it is) and the lobster fishing as means that not only connect to the setting but as a means of how the two brothers express themselves.

Still the Water has some issues of story flow. However, it also adds in a nice soundtrack that matches well with the area and the tone of the film. At the same time, there is a nice addition of this mystery cat that never shows its face living at the house the Jordie temporarily stays which becomes almost a little fun moment of questioning when or whether the cat will show up. These little bits of detail do add to the overall film plus the family drama does piece itself together in a nice way especially as it carries itself with the mystery of what happens and building up to what happened at the end. Its a well thought-out execution for the storyline.

Overall, Still the Water is a decent family drama. The setting, the soundtrack and especially the two main leads adds a lot to the movie as a whole. The family drama is also done well in execution and pacing. Where the movie has its issues is in some of the flow especially with the romantic tangent. Still the Water is well worth a watch as a family drama especially since, without any spoilers, has an ending that I personally like quite a bit.

You can also listen to Movies and Tea movie discussion of Still the Water below: