TIFF 2013: Rigor Mortis (2013)

After starting this write-up the night after I saw the movie, I decided to stop and really think about it a bit more and thats why its coming out even later than the more recent The Wind Rises that I saw. Rigor Mortis is definitely one that has sparked my thoughts quite a bit and even my best friend and I spent a good amount of time discussing it the days afterwards.

Rigor Mortis

Rigor Mortis

Director: Juno Mak

Cast: Siu-ho Chin, Richard Ng, Kara Hui, Hoi-Pang Lo, Anthony Chan, Nina Paw

An ominous-looking public-housing tower is the final rest stop for a miserable former movie star (Chin) who’s mourning the loss of his wife and son. Filled with the old, the weary, and the forgotten remnants of society, this last chance hotel nonetheless contains many comforts of Hong Kong life — a noodle shop, a seamstress and a Taoist monk. Ghosts and spirits already haunt its hallways, but when a distraught widow tries to bring her husband back from the dead, the tenement is plunged into a dark storm of supernatural chaos. – Tiff.net

There really isn’t much I can say without ruining the movie plot anymore, so I just present it with the plot summary from TIFF website. Surprisingly, I was not sure whether there would be a good story behind it. I’m happy to say that the story behind Rigor Mortis and down to every detail actually pays tribute to a lot of Chinese lore or maybe a  more suitable word is superstition or beliefs about ghosts, spirits and more importantly, Chinese “hopping” vampires.  However, for the majority, maybe the appreciation won’t be as deep if you haven’t watched some of the Mr. Vampire movies that were made a while back.

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What very much is amazing is that they retain a part of the old cast.  The main actor was part of every Mr. Vampire movie except for the very first, I believe.  He’s not very known or popular in Hong Kong right now but he carries the role: the drama, the sorrow and rises up to carry something stronger.  I was actually really impressed at him and the style he brought to the movie.  That also leads us to look at the other actors involved.  There were not a lot of characters but the few that were brought in has had a long and outstanding work in the Hong Kong movie industry. Kara Hui is magnificient as a troubled mother and fighting to care for her son and not get evacuated.  Richard Ng’s return to the industry has made me see him a different light with recent movies and this one definitely has to be the best so far.

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Aside from a very well-chosen cast that interpreted the material really well, I have to say that the most surprising thing was Juno Mak’s directorial debut has made me seen the growth in him.  A few years back, Juno Mak was a singer who faded fairly quickly and had many rumors of not holding up his own but rather having a rich family to support his work.  As he came back this time with a movie that was part of TIFF, I was a bit skeptical but the trailer made it look extremely promising.  The best part was the way he directed the movie,  He gave it a very dark feeling and added on a good amount of gore.  Lets say for some scenes, I was happy that we chose to eat AFTER the movie.  The eerie feeling and the old traditional folksongs/chants (I’m still trying to figure out the word for it) that reflected the spirits and vampires to set the tone of the movie right from the start. A new take to hopefully revive a respected comedic series.  Visually, this was incredibly well done.  It have to applaud the efforts of the creepy effects, the ghosts, spirits and the vampire itself.  Although, Chinese vampires are something like zombies to me.

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Another thing I am very impressed with is the detail.  Many Chinese people will catch onto it as the movie progresses starting from the cursed room number of 2442.  4 sounds like death in Cantonese and 2 sounds like easy.  Next we have talismans that detail the scenes for praying and Buddhism in temples, and the instrument that the vampire hunters use that is how everyday people believe that its to repel spirits, etc.  I’m actually quite surprised this movie made it through to an International festival especially when there is so much that the audience needs to know to fully experience the message sent.  Even when looking at the translation, it doesn’t really grasp the vulgarity of the language used.  Cantonese in itself is already quite a slang Chinese dialect in itself but in this, they implement a lot of vulgar slang to focus probably on the type of people that live there, sarcastic in their seemingly bland life despite all the the abnormality to others who are new to it.

rigor mortis hunter

After some long reflection, I think that I would recommend Rigor Mortis.  One, it packs a lot of scares (although I’m not particularly the right person to ask).  Its not jump scares but rather it builds up on the gore and disgust as it unwinds itself in a creepy way.  The tone is set really well to emphasize the atmosphere Juno Mak wants the audience to feel.  The cast is well-balanced, renowned and really help make the movie and the story engaging and mysterious. Sure, there are flaws, especially in the ending with some bad CGI but to me, it was meant to be that way to complement the ending. Telling you that would be going into spoiler territory and so far,  I’ve done pretty well at staying away. Even with that, most of the movie has some really impressive visuals that work well with everything.  If you can see some Mr. Vampire before, that would be good, but even if you didn’t, I think this one won’t disappoint. Give it a shot, there’s definitely something good about it.  A good directorial debut for Juno Mak in my book and I applaud all the hard work of researching for the depth and symbolism in this.  I respect that a lot!

Have you ever seen any movies with Chinese hopping vampires? Do you know much about Chinese beliefs/superstitions about spirits, ghosts and undead?

TIFF 2013: The Wind Rises (2013)

After being able to get my tickets for Hayao Miyazaki‘s newest animation The Wind Rises, the news that it was his last movie came out that evening (at least when I knew about it). It made the whole wait so much more worthwhile and the excitement to see this tripled (if not more).  The showing I saw was the last showing on the last day of TIFF at 9am in the morning.  Right before I had to head back home.

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Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Cast: Hideaki Anno, Mirai Shida, Jun Kunimura, Miori Takimoto, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Masahiko Nishimura

Based on the life of Jiro Horikoshi who was the chief engineer of Japanese fighter plane designs, the story is about his life as a young boy who dreamed to be a pilot but due to his nearsightedness, he learned that he could be a aeronautical engineer.  He followed his passions and graduated which lead him to work in Mitsubishi Combustion Engine Company Ltd.  From there, we look at his life and his genius talents of creating the jets that would eventually fight in World War II and his path to the success to his first creation.

Le vent se leve. Il faut tenter de vivre – Paul Valery

That quote on the top is the essence of the movie based on a quote by Paul Valery translated: The wind rises, we must try to live.

To be clear, I’m not a very knowledgeable person of Japan’s historical figures especially not during World War II.   Therefore, how accurate this story is of Jiro Horikoshi is unknown to me but doing a bit of research before writing this up, its apparently very much fictionalized.  Probably because of the romance thats inserted in it and well certain events, such as the roots of his imagination and creation that inspires and motivates him throughout the movie.

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As many of you know, I’m a huge fan of Miyazaki.  Above everything, this movie was a feast for your eyes.  The animation is absolutely stunning.  I’ll try to show a few of the screenshots that don’t reveal too much as to not ruin the experience if and when you end up seeing it.  As we move through Jiro’s life, we see the background color match the tone that the movie wants to take.  Every scenery, catastrophe, backdrop, etc, every single detail is done really well. Its enchanting at times and dramatic at others.

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One of the first things that captured me was the passion. You can feel the love of airplanes in Jiro.  His love for everything related to it and the aspiration to be the first to make Japan stand out instead of being called copycats of European technology.  The conversations between the characters left with a bit of irony at times but also a lot of encouraging messages to follow your dream especially because time is limited (to sum it up).  Its interesting to see the portrayal of the main character be absorbed in the way that not only in real life, he revolves around figuring out how to make great fighter planes but also he would dream and visualize his plans as he draws them.  I’m not an engineer so I wonder if thats how the thought process works.

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The supporting characters themselves, aside from Jiro are charismatic and give us a lot to love.  They bring in an array of emotions that really touch the audiences heart whether through laughter, smiles or even sorrow.  I actually enjoyed the introduction of how he meets his love interest and the things that they did.  The concept of living despite the hindrances in life that do occur.  Being able to balance between passion and love and understanding how to do things with no regret.

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If I were to criticize one thing for The Wind Rises, I’d have to say that the story falls short a little.  I found the story still very well done but its not as clean cut and easy to understand as other Miyazaki movies.  In this one, the years jump forward unannounced throughout the movie and we have to assume the time frame that everything happens and for a bit in the middle, it somewhat drags a little.  Maybe it was because I was tired but I’ve never felt that way for any Miyazaki movies before.  Although, having an overemotional couple sitting next to me sniffling even in the not yet dramatic part all the way till the end did affect my overall movie experience.  However, only for that little while of about a 15 minute frame, it felt a bit longer but before and after that part, the story is engaging to watch.

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I can’t help to think that this also includes a farewell to the audience especially when the dialogue of artist saying something about an artist’s creativity peaks for 10 years or something along those lines.  Plus, he places an artist in the movie as well. Maybe there’s more to it.  I probably will have to get it when it eventually comes out and watch it again to grasp the meaning a bit more.

The Wind Rises may have a bit of a little not as fluent storytelling, however the way its told is compelling and engaging.  Witnessing the events that affected Japan as they slipped downwards and the sudden preparation for WWII in the background of giving the biopic of Jiro Horikoshi. Even though it may be fictional, Jiro’s portrayal was done well and also supported by a great set of characters. I recommend this movie because of the passionate “follow your dream” messages as well as the visually stunning animations that almost bring every devastation to success to life whether it be humans, animals, planes, nature and other landscapes.

**On the side note, this being Miyazaki’s last film affects me quite a bit.  Its also contributes to bit of bittersweet feeling as the movie was ending.  As much as I’d love for him to continue making movies, he is getting older and after listening to a bit of his press conference, I somewhat understand that its probably what he feels he needs.  This project really reflects him and his passion for airplanes, especially his respect and praise for Jiro Horikoshi. I’m really grateful that I managed to see this on the big screen.  If you happen to get a chance to see it, I urge you to try and get tickets!**