Schemes in Antiques (古董局中局, 2021)

Schemes in Antiques (古董局中局, 2021)

Director: Derek Kwok

Cast: Jiayin Lei, Xian Li, Zhilei Xin, You Ge, Tao Guo, Mei Yong

Adapted from Ma Boyong’s novel of the same name, the film tells the story of a series of adventures that occurred when the descendants of the five veins made a wish to find out the truth about the Buddha head of Wu Zetian Mingtang in the Tang Dynasty. – IMDB

It’s always nice to have a film that delivers exactly what it says. Literally. Schemes in Antiques is exactly a plot revolving schemes in antiques. This Chinese film is a treasure hunt adventure which touches on a little bit of Chinese history and antiques. While the structure of the plot isn’t exactly novel, the approach using the Chinese antiques and following the characters to solve the puzzles to go to the next clue to find the elusive Buddha head that caused the main character’s family history to be tainted, leaving him in the undignified state that he lives in. There are secrets and twists and adventure plus a bit of family drama in the backstory that works well together.

Schemes in Antiques may seem like very straightforward just from its title alone and probably taking away a bit of the mystery itself. However, it has its own sort of fun elements. Its a plot which centers around a race to finding the truth behind this artifact that was supposed given to Japan but turns out to be fake. As two descendants go on this hunt, their different strengths lead them in different pacings on the trail. Both of these two characters have their own family legacies to fight for with the main character Xu Yuan having a much more direct motive: to find out the truth behind whether his ancestors did disgrace their family name.

The cast itself is pretty decent. The main character, Xu Yuan played by Jiayin Lei is pretty well-casted. While I haven’t seen this actor other than in variety shows, he does capture this role which floats between the constantly drunk electronic store owner with an exceptional antique knowledge living in the shadows of his disgraced family name from his grandfather and the neglect from his own father. However, his encounter with the daughter of one of the members of the antique society becomes an alliance that takes them for quite the dangerous adventure. In a film full of men, this character shines out played by Zhilei Xin who has her own motives to prove that a woman can also amount to purpose to break his father’s old-fashioned mindset. Their competition or opposition is played by Xian Li, the only cast here that I am familiar with especially after his burst of fame after Chinese TV drama series Go Go Squid! (one of my absolute favorite Chinese series as a side note) which has opened up the doors to a huge variety of roles in the past few years. He captures this role pretty well as his character straddles a line throughout as someone with ulterior motives but remains relatively mysterious right up to the end.

Overall, Hong Kong director and screenwriter Derek Kwok’s venture into the China market with this film is a pretty fun one. The runtime is a little wild at over 2 hours and at times feels a little lengthy but the adventure and action is pretty well done and adds in a little bit of comedy, which primarily is in the beginning. The film does build up a certain level of tension by the end and adds a decent twist to the plot in terms of character and the treasure hunt turnout for this antique. With a decent cast and a focus on the Chinese history and adventure based on some puzzle-oriented clues with some Chinese origins as well, it gives the film a unique angle to a fairly basic treasure hunt adventure film.

*Screener provided by Taro PR*

Red Notice (2021)

Red Notice (2021)

Director (and writer): Rawson Marshall Thurber

Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds, Gal Gadot, Ritu Arya, Chris Diamantopoulos

An Interpol agent tracks the world’s most wanted art thief. – IMDB

Directed and written from Rawson Marshall Thurber and the third collaboration with Dwayne Johnson, Red Notice is simply a popcorn flick. Its nothing too novel from the heist film and cops chasing bad guys and the bickering between the unlikely duo. Its an action comedy packed with some decent star power that probably makes it more attractive than the film actually is. Perhaps it is knowing that this director collaborated on previous films like Skyscraper (review) and Central Intelligence (review) before, that its not hard to feel very similar to those films for Red Notice. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed their previous collaborations very much as they each had their own dangers and dynamic between the main leads. It might not be anything deep but it does fulfill what it intends: some mindless fast-paced entertainment.

The story and execution of Red Notice is nothing too different or surprising overall. The film does move through different cities swiftly from their starting location in Italy and finally ending up in the tropical South America and they make a good few stops in between. The whole thing is a mix of a heist and treasure hunt film but also adds in a decent amount of action whether melee or weaponry. All of which are constructed fairly well. The whole film plot feels like its nothing too special but the ending was decent when it all comes together. While it never feels like there’s any crazy danger around the corner, it keeps the whole process fairly all light-hearted and fluffy but the whole story is glued together by its main cast.

There is really no doubt that when you look at the main casting roles that the dynamic and banter between the characters will be the highlight of the film. Dwayne Johnson always has that very fun one-liner goofy tough guy sort of role which has this toughness but also has this entertaining element. Much like after Ryan Reynolds did Deadpool where his ability to toss out those funny lines has crafted a lot of this roles now making this one as a world class thief also have a fun appeal especially when he pairs up with Dwayne Johnson as a cop-thief duo who has the same goal of chasing after The Bishop for their own reasons. They bond together throughout. Their encounters with The Bishop, played by Gal Gadot also adds a lot of sassy dynamic as Gal Gadot doesn’t only have the beauty but also has this really entertaining element to her character as she seems to always be ahead of them and setting them up in impossible situations. The three mesh together really well in all their banter and encounters throughout.

Overall, Red Notice isn’t really anything too special but its also is a decent entertainment. Of course, I’d really only recommend it to people who don’t mind a normal flick. At this point, its easy to know what type of films Dwayne Johnson makes and his other collaborations with this director and the enjoyment of those films might be a good hint whether you’d enjoy this one as well. For myself, I did have fun with those two so this one was suitably entertaining.

Raging Fire (怒火, 2021)

Raging Fire (怒火, 2021)

Director (and co-writer): Benny Chan

Cast: Donnie Yen, Nicholas Tse, Lan Qin, Angus Yeung, Patrick Tam, Ben Lam, Deep Ng, Henry Prince Mak, Tak-Bun Wong, Jeana Ho, Ken Lo, Simon Yam, Ray Lui

Cheung Sung-bong is an officer of the Regional Crime Unit who worked in the front line for many years. His protege, Yau Kong-ngo, respects him and manage to reach up to him. However, fate pits them against each other. – IMDB

Benny Chan’s final directorial effort is this Hong Kong action crime film which he also co-writes. Raging Fire hones a fantastic cast full of acting veterans and crafts a rather familiar crime action tale but still manages to make it an engaging film experience with great action choreography and even some rather over the top moments and adds in the casting of Donnie Yen in the leading role facing off a vengeful character played by Nicholas Tse. The film’s credits also paying tribute to the director with their filming snippets instead of the commonly seen bloopers or behind the scenes.

Raging Fire itself feels a little like the story that was crafted in New Police Story and has the twist of this year’s earlier release of Thr Fatal Raid but with better execution. The immensely better casting and the wonderful use of the cinematography and set design all contributes to it being a very engaging sort of film experience packed with some explosions and even one or two ridiculous Fast and the Furious level car chase execution. It sounds like a lot but it does keep a good balance and pacing between the two sides of the story, the police and the villains as their whole story gradually gets revealed right up to an ending with a question about whether things would have been different if roles were switched.

With that said, the cast is a rather packed cast with a lot of familiar faces for people who do watch a decemt amount of Hong Kong crime action films. You have some less frequently seen but once big names like Raymond Lui or cameo roles from Simon Yam. With the power of Tencent Pictures behind the production, it also includes a popular actress Lan Qin playing Donnie Yen’s character’s wife. All that aside, we all know the selling point of this film is the two main leads: Donnie Yen and Nicholas Tse. For most people everywhere in the world, it really might just be the former. However, they both deliver fantastic roles as as Bong and Ngo respectively.

As their story reveals, there is a lot more depth to these two characters especially the opposing side wreaking all the havoc with Ngo and his team which feels like they are out for some type of unknown revenge as they gradually do things that almost feel like they are one step ahead of the Ngo and his cops. Ngo (Donnie Yen) is a rather familiar character who is a righteous cop with very set standards on how he believes in the law and doing things the right way, no shortcuts or selling favors to move up in his ranking to the higher ranking police chiefs and he does a great job at the whole thing and packs in some fantastic action sequences as well. Nicholas Tse on the other hand, shows a lot of growth in his acting as he dives into this more villainous role with strong plans and a very defined team. Ngo is a character that has a silent sort of unwinding and breaking point as he deals with everything quietly and calm and yet with purpose but shows signs of betrayal. Both of these lead roles being well-executed overall.

Raging Fire might seem like the normal action crime film and its general plot is very familiar right down to the plot points or even the little moment when everything comes together. However, the execution is solid from all angles whether its the cinematography, the action choreography (gun fights, hand to hand combat, car chases, etc), the pacing and the acting quality. It is a very good final work by Benny Chan and definitely brings up a desire to revisit all his previous works.

Raging Fire is currently available on Digital, Blu-ray and DVD and Hi-Yah!, The Martial Arts Channel!

*Film provided by Taro PR in exchange for honest review*

TADFF 2021: Nightshooters (2018)

Nightshooters (2018)

Director (and writer): Marc Price

Cast: Adam McNab, Nicky Evans, Rosanna Hoult, Jean-Paul Ly, Richard Sandling, Kaitlyn Riordan, Mica Proctor, Nicholas Aaron, Ben Shafik, Doug Allen

An action thriller about a group of filmmakers who find themselves on the run from a violent horde of criminals after witnessing a brutal gangland execution. Unable to flee the derelict building they have been shooting in, the hapless film crew must use their technical skill and cinematic knowledge to defend themselves. The stunt man is a martial arts master, the special effects guru disregards safety and sets lethal traps, and the sound department strategically lay radio mics to detect when the hoodlums are on their way. Cue lots of thrills in a cat and mouse game of survival. – IMDB

For fans of The Raid and Snatch, there’s a lot to love about Nightshooters, a low budget action thriller that takes place in one location, a soon-to-be demolished building which almost feels like some kind of the real situation being reflected in a more fictional setting but similar as the story also features a group of filmmakers making a low budget film in a soon to be demolished building with a few hours countdown. This right away sets up this urgency that this will come into play as the two groups goes up against each other. While there is not actual counter, its a little detail that really does bring the setting as a constant reminder.

When the crew ends up witnessing a crime execution in the other side of the way and the criminals goes after them in this building, its all a great set-up in the first act which sets the tone especially in terms of the dark comedy and the characters involved and their basic characters and abilities. Much like how it naturally flows into some fantastic action sequences and choreography when it gets into the criminals against filmmakers running and hiding through this building which is both dangerous as it already has all its demolishment explosives in place which could easily be triggered but also the criminals being rather a wide group of characters and lethal in their own ways as well.

Talking about the characters, there’s so much to love about them as well especially when it comes to the film crew themselves. This group is definitely the characters which are meant for the audience to connect to a lot more. Their different roles and their abilities and know-how come into play as they try to survive the chase from the other criminals. With a lot of the action sequences powered by a fantastic action choreography and sequences with Donnie played by Jean-Paul Ly (also, could the name be a nod to Donnie Yen?), there’s some exceptional moments here through these fight scenes.

However, not only their more professional fight sequences are great to watch but also a moment where the more amateur fight moments like one with the character Kim (Mica Proctor) which was a lot of fun but the other character encounters also leading to some creative death sequences as they defeated the criminals one by one. There are some really cool effects executed there. The stand-out characters has to be the three girls of the film crew as they are very resourceful especially Ellie (Rosanna Hoult) who has some foreshadowing in what she will use at the beginning but also a lot of other know-hows that effectively come into play. Of course, for much more personal reasons, Kim is a character I rooted for (considering I’m also a Kim and she kind of reminded me of myself).

Overall, Nightshooters is a really entertaining low budget action thriller. Its effective in what it achieves as the setting and the tone is used really well. There are definitely nods to other films throughout that are rather apparent but also fit incredibly well and adds to the film itself. There’s a cast of characters that have their own value and personality which adds contrast and makes them all stand-out and fun to watch. Nightshooters has a very straightforward plot which works well with what they are trying to do.

*Nightshooters is available on Toronto After Dark Film Festival from October 13th to 17th on their virtual platform. You check it out HERE*

TADFF 2021: Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It (2020)

Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It (2020)

Director (and co-writer): Yernar Nurgaliyev

Cast: Daniar Alshinov, Asel Kaliyeva, Azamat Marklenov, Yerlan Primbetov, Dulyga Akmolda, Almat Sakatov, Rustem Zhaniyamanov, Yerkebulan Daiyrov, Bekaris Akhetov

Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It is a 2020 Kazakhstan horror comedy that tells the story of Dastan (Daniar Alshinov), a husband awaiting the birth of his child. As his wife Zhanna (Asel Kaliyeva) hounds him over the name for their first child, he suddenly decides to take a day trip to escape with his two friends, Arman (Azamat Marklenov) and Murat (Yerlan Primbetov) to go fishing on the countryside. As they start their fishing, they end up seeing something that they shouldn’t have and from then on, their fishing trip takes a dangerous turn as they need to run for their lives to not get caught and get out of this predicament alive.

First off, let’s go on the record that this is definitely the first Kazakhstan film that I’ve ever seen. Being completely new to country’s offerings, this was a really great first film experience. The film starts off setting the tone pretty well with a lot of comedy between the couple quarrelling over their newborn baby and the name that they should give it. From the reactions to the facial expressions to the whole interaction, it gives a good idea of the main character Dastan right away and also sets up the comedy tone right away. The film is not about this couple though because shortly after, Dastan runs off for a fishing trip with his two buddies. During the car ride, it reveals a lot about these three guys and the ridiculousness and in turn, the hilarity that will ensue especially when the truck is full of sex dolls that ends up being turned into a makeshift raft when these three going on a fishing trip and know nothing about fishing.

At the same time, the film also focuses on a group of mobs/psychopaths living in the area that is bringing their hostage to settle some issues with them when they end up angering a killer in the vicinity who goes after them one by one. As this group crosses with Dastan’s group and they witness something that they shouldn’t, the mob ends up chasing their group as the one-eyed killer goes after them and then all three get tangled with each other. Thing is, the film’s horror comes from the one-eyed killer hunting down them and the different ways that he kills them right up to the end. At the same time, it mixes in these hilariously ridiculous moments that are so over the top that its hard to not find it funny even if some of it is so silly and absurd. And yet, somehow it works so well and creates a fantastic balance between the comedy and the “horror”.

The film does have really good pacing. Its executed really well as it does pick up as it moves along especially when these guys are all chasing after one and another. Right down to some pretty well-choreographed action sequence in the final act as they all reconvene in a tight space trying to get out of this. There are some other moments where this feels very apparent with their action sequences. It almost feels a little comedic like one moment where one of the friends flies through the window and then ends up coming back through the other window on the other side almost feeling like a cartoon.

Overall, Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It is this fun little slice of life horror comedy especially for these friends as they experience this whole predicament which feels too ridiculous to believe. As usual, comedy is a rather subjective thing so perhaps this feel might feel dumb to some people but I’m a big fan of over the top absurdities and this film is a absolute trip, an awesome one at that!

*Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It is available to stream across Canada on Toronto After Dark Film Festival’s virtual platform throughout the festival from October 13th to 17th. You can check it out HERE along with the rest of the schedule.*

The Fatal Raid (不義之戰, 2019)

The Fatal Raid (2019)

Director (and co-writer): Jacky Lee

Cast: Patrick Tam, Jade Leung, Min Chen Lin, Jeana Ho, Elaine Tang, Michael Tong, Sin-hang Chiu

An ultraviolent cops vs. gangsters bloodbath leaves casualties on both sides. Fast-forward 20 years as surviving team member Madam Fong leads a new squad in pursuit of reckless young anarchists terrorizing Macao. An apparition from that fatal day falls into the fray, bringing everything full circle for a serpentine and explosive final confrontation.  – IMDB

The Fatal Raid is a 2019 Hong Kong crime action film telling a story which mixes girls with guns and justice vs. anarchy set in Macau before and after its handover. The selling point of this film is pretty decent. In fact at first glance, for fans of 90s and 00s TVB series would probably recognize faces like Patrick Tam, Jade Leung and Michael Tong who is a focal core of the story in The Fatal Raid as their characters talk about justice and are all affected by the Macau face-off that causes their lives to all go out of control as the government tries to hide the failed operation to the public causing the colleagues who lost their lives to be credited for but also promoting those who were involved and survived despite their irresponsibility in some cases, making those who survived question. The premise itself is pretty good also as it brings in a little bit of the history of Macau using the handover as an anchor point and bringing in some action and crime as its focus. Unfortunately, the film has some serious issues whether in script and post-production.

Let’s start with the first issue which is actually the least serious but is understandable considering its co-scripted by three people who seemed like they didn’t really sit down to make something more coherent. It ended up affecting the tone of the film and the story didn’t end up focusing as much in what it was trying to sell where it had moments of extreme drama as Patrick Tam was very serious (but Patrick Tam is a pretty tense actor in general) but also touched on various things but never felt enough to bring this character fully understandably in his end game. Jade Leung was also a rather bland character making the portrayal feel a little lacking. Its not the acting so much as her character seemed rather one dimensional. The best character having a decent moment had to go to Michael Tong who not only carries some good action moments but also had a really good scene that carried the drama well.

The other side was girls with guns being a major selling point and while the young ladies were around and they were rather sexy, they were more dressed with little clothing than selling them in a more realistic action sequence, other than the opening where they were undercover and that made more sense but they also didn’t have as much time in front of the camera making their characters just shallow female portrayals to come to a slow motion changing scene to see them all in their sports bras standing around. While the tone also tried to bring some abrupt absurd comedy which was just a few random cuts in sudden happy upbeat music with one of the investigators mesmerizing over one of the young lady cops. This created some execution issues where the flow of the whole story was disjointed.

Usually, I don’t talk about post-production. However, in terms of sound editing and subtitles, there are some major issues here. This is a foreign film being distributed to North America making that equally as important to get it right so the audience can understand it. Perhaps the sound editing where the voices are rather off from the person talking seems not as important but makes a difference as I understand Cantonese however, the subtitles also have a few spelling mistakes and inaccurate translations. There’s not a lot to say here other than the revision not being as thorough as it should have been.

Overall, I really wanted to like The Fatal Raid because the premise felt like it could be a really fun action romp. It didn’t even need to be deep as the angle they took felt like it would have some silly elements. While the whole nostalgia for the older cast and the general premise was good, the action sequences had some decent choreography, the film was too imbalanced in tone to be enjoyable. It wasn’t sure whether it wanted to be serious and discuss topics like justice and anarchy in the evolving political atmosphere and crime but it also didn’t know whether it wanted to be full-on silly and mindless entertainment. A pity as either angle they could have chosen if expanded a little more probably would have been a decent film, albeit two drastically different stories perhaps but still decent concepts if they had executed and scripted it better.

The Fatal Raid is currently available on Bluray and VOD via Well Go USA. Click HERE for more info!

*Film provided by TARO PR*

Fantasia Film Festival 2021: Baby Money (2021)

Baby Money (2021)

Directors: Mikhael Bassilli & Luc Walpoth

Cast: Danay Garcia, Michael Drayer, Joey Kern, Taja V. Simpson, Jean St. James, Robert Mammana

When a home invasion turns into a bloody shoot-out, a pair of ragtag fugitives take refuge in the house of a single mother as they wait on their fiery (and very pregnant) getaway driver to hatch an escape plan in time for a major payday. – IMDB

Baby Money is a 2021 crime thriller using the angle of a very pregnant girl Minny (Danay Garcia) who gets looped into helping her boyfriend Gil (Michael Drayer) with a break-in for some money to kickstart their life with a baby. Of course, things go awry and suddenly, she is caught in a situation where she is the only one to help get the situation settled when Gil and another guy doing the break-in Dom (Joey Kern) takes refuge at a single mother (Taja V. Simpson) and her son’s (Jean St. James) home. Baby Money is a pretty simple thriller set-up. Simple does fit this thriller pretty well as it has constant elements that change the situation right down to the end. Its not exactly unfamiliar in terms of plot points but the characters are rather interesting as each have their roles and reaction when facing this desperate situation.

Perhaps the better way to put it is that the characters all are unbalanced in their own way. Each of their unknown factor that could suddenly switch the trajectory or create change whether its Minny being able to get a car and bring the phone in time for the deal to work out so that the entire night hasn’t gone to waste and the obvious situation that she is pregnant or Gil’s ability to control the situation and get out of this whole mess or even Dom’s unstable personality which creates the danger that he might just shoot everyone in panic. The same goes for their hostages who is a mother trying to protect her son with cerebral palsy who could have seizures at any minute and not be in a life-threatening situation more than they already are. Everyone has something to lose and the characters all have their own end goal.

Baby Money is executed rather well. While there isn’t some wild ending that boggles the mind, the story stays relatively grounded. The build-up in tension with the whole break-in gone wrong is a pretty engaging watch. The basic elements are all work together well enough especially as the “what’s in the box” is brought up but never really addressed, making that part also something of a mystery that passes by quickly. If there was anything to nitpick about the film would be the whole turning point in the relationship of Gil and Minny that seems a little silly en lieu of what’s going on but then its a common plot point to use to give these characters a more dramatic turn of events. That of course is more of a script point than the cast issues as the cast does a pretty good job.

Overall, Baby Money is a fun thriller. Its nothing too deep but doesn’t exactly need to be as it still manages to stay relatively engaging, focusing less on the twists but more on the characters and their behavior and reaction. It is rather refreshing to see a simple thriller. Its a good premise and angle for sure and yet, it does feel like the whole baby element and pregnancy seems to almost be put in the background which has its pros and cons in the big picture.

*Baby Money had its world premiere at Fantasia Film Festival on August 10th*

Fantasia Film Festival 2021: Seobok (2021)

Seobok (2021)

Director (and writer): Lee Yong-ju

Cast: Gong Yoo, Park Bo-Gum, Jo Woo-Jin, Park Byung-eun, Jang Young-nam

Ex intelligence agent Ki Heon is tasked with safely transporting Seo Bok, the first ever human clone, who holds the secret of eternal life. Several forces try to take control of Seo Bok to serve their own agendas. – IMDB

Seobok is a 2021 South Korean sci-fi action thriller which tells the story of an ex-intelligence agent Ki-hun who is asked to take on the task of safely transporting the first ever human clone Seobok who has been genetically engineered to not only have eternal life but also carries the possibility of eternal life and cures for all kinds of diseases. As Ki-hun tackles with his own illness that tortures him and isn’t expected to live long, he is offered the chance to be a part of the clinical trial in return for successfully completing the task. As the plan incurs different changes due to other parties trying to take Seobok for their own plans and goals whether out of fear or greed, Ki-hun and Seobok start to bond as they escape from one situation to the next.

Seobok is a fairly straight-forward science fiction action thriller. In terms of the science fiction and the human clone, the story itself along with its supporting characters have a fairly predictable trajectory. Immortality and eternal life is something that feels almost too good to be true and that brings on its own plans from different organizations and people involved and that is expected in a plot like this. However, Seobok stands out because it spends a lot of time building up the relationship and chemistry between the two main characters, Ki-hun and Seobok played respectively by Gong Yoo and Park Bo-gum.

Gong Yoo is probably most known for his role in Train to Busan where he takes on a rather different role. This role takes on a more rough and angry sort of character which is frustrated with a lot of things happening to him and around him and in turn, this tense character is faced with Seobok, a human clone who has never seen the outside world and is fascinated with everything that he sees. As the plot unfolds, the two grow through Seobok’s fascination but also the constant straight-forward conversations about his human clone, his abilities and immortality down to human nature giving it some fun fish out of water moments that help break through the intense action scenes. The conversations build up these two characters a lot giving them both sufficient back story to make them both truly connect to its audience. The two carry on almost like a father-son and mentor-student sort of relationship which becomes rather endearing as Ki-hun starts changing his mind about Seobok and understanding his pain. While also struggling with Seobok’s telekinesis powers which increasingly grow out of control as he starts facing more dangerous situations and making some questionable judgments.

What makes Seobok stand out other than the chemistry is absolutely the role of the concept of immortality and the character of Seobok, fittingly so as the movie is titled after him. Seobok is played incredibly well by Park Bo-Gum who carries the blank expressions and calmness as he faces all the crazy situations happening around him to the point of disregard when everyone seems to be threatening but also asking all the right questions and giving off the image of how clear-minded he is right down to the powerful ending when the revelation that he understands the entire situation and actually just wants something very human and simple but the fact that he was created to fulfill a purpose and the discussion of whether a human clone is considered a person. The human elements of Seobok grounds this film and that is the charm of South Korean films when they are executed well to be able to carry out these moments. The moral and ethics of human clones and how they should be treated is what essentially what makes this film really hit hard making the ending pack such a huge punch and makes the audience think about this whole immortality, eternal life, playing God and the right and wrong of the situation and whether the whole thing could have been resolved in another way.

Overall, Seobok is an incredibly well-executed film. The two main characters have such a powerful presence in the film. The story is a lot more profound than the basic science fiction film but actually focuses itself on the morals and ethics of the whole situation which packs a bigger punch because Seobok is portrayed so well. A big part of the film is also in how well-written and focusing on the conversation dialogues more than the action. That’s not to say that the film doesn’t have its own share of action-packed sequences which all increases in intensity as Seobok’s power comes into play. Seobok is an absolute gem: well-crafted, well-executed and poses some excellent questions that will linger far after the film is finished.

*Seobok is playing on demand on Fantasia Film Festival virtual platform from August 5th to 25th. You can find more info HERE.*

Double Feature: Monster Hunter (2020) & The Witches (2020)

Welcome to the next double feature! Its been a while since we’ve done one of these! This time, I’m going to talk about two movie rentals that I’ve watch lately of 2020 movies. The first is Monster Hunter, a 2020’s video game adaptation directed by Paul W. S. Anderson and the second is The Witches a 2020’s Roald Dahl adaptation of a novel of the same name. Thinking about these two movies, I feel like they do pair up well as its two directors with films that really fall in line with the style of films that they are known for. Let’s check it out!

Monster Hunter (2020)

Director (and writer): Paul W.S. Anderson

Cast: Milla Jovovich, Tony Jaa, Ron Perlman, T.I., Diego Boneta, Meagan Good, Josh Helman, Jin Au-Yeung, Hirona Yamazaki

When Lt. Artemis and her loyal soldiers are transported to a new world, they engage in a desperate battle for survival against enormous enemies with incredible powers. Feature film based on the video game by Capcom. – IMDB

At this point, whether for better or worse, Paul W.S. Anderson is known for his video game adaptations. Of course, mostly everyone remembers Resident Evil series in particular. He has however done a few other ones and never shies away from adapting video games that he loves but Anderson is much more than Resident Evil and has shown that he has his own directorial style and trademarks. How do I know? Well..an entire season of Movies and Tea Podcast as a retrospective on his work would do it. How about that, eh? A shameless plug for another project where you can check out HERE. With that said, being relatively supportive of Anderson’s work despite his shortcomings and being absolutely unfamiliar with Monster Hunter games in general, I decided to give Monster Hunter a shot and if you are familiar with Anderson’s work, it pretty much will be fairly enjoyable.

Starting with some positives as a complete newbie to this world. Monster Hunter does create a wonderful visual element for this dangerous world that the soldiers end up where every surface has its own monsters hidden from plain sight. Being a creature feature fan, monsters are pretty much a fun element of any movie when well-designed. That makes this world building and creature design all the more engaging to be watching especially with the bird’s eye view shots that Anderson is especially known for and being able to showcase architecture really well which definitely comes into play here with the surroundings. Being fans of Milla Jovovich and Ron Perlman, this was also quite the treat. Plus, a few other supporting characters which were fairly smaller characters. However, the character developed on all fronts were pretty thin overall.

With that said, the shortcomings of the film are fairly more apparent. From the action standpoint, a lot of the fighting choreography cuts away quite a lot so its not too engaging to watch. As mentioned before, the main plot is pretty thin. That does have to do maybe with the whole open world game that it adapts itself from so the story is straightforward but feels somewhat bland, which leads to my previous point about the characters also being poorly written as well.

With that said, the film is pretty below average. As a one time watch and turn off your brain sort of video game adaptation, its still fairly enjoyable since I do enjoy the world building in movies and visually, the world is shown so very nice. However, in substance, its rather lacking overall. The one takeaway I did have from this is that I’d really like to try out a Monster Hunter game soon.

The Witches (2020)

Director (and screenplay co-writer): Robert Zemeckis

Cast: Anne Hathaway, Octavia Spencer, Stanley Tucci, Chris Rock, Jahzir Bruno, Brian Bovell, Josette Simon

A young boy and his grandmother have a run-in with a coven of witches and their leader. – IMDB

I’ve read some Roald Dahl when I was younger and while I feel like I’ve read The Witches, I can’t exactly be sure so we’re going into this pretty much saying that I haven’t read the novel or have seen the first adaptation back in the 90s. Robert Zemeckis is a great director to be adapting a film like The Witches. The story itself and the fantasy elements all make some wonderful fun but with a little darker twist. Plus, the CGI work here is on point which of course can all be expected with past directorial works by Robert Zemeckis.

The Witches is a really cool story about witches versus humans to a certain extent. Well, its more about the witches despise towards children and wanting to execute a huge plot to change them all into rodents. Why rodents? Because they are hated by humans as well and probably will be killed anyways. At least that’s my interpretation from the whole thing. When a grandmother and his grandson tries to run away to a hotel to get away from the witch they believe are bothering them, they end up realizing they are staying in the exact location of a disguised witch coven meeting. When the grandson gets caught, he gets turned into a mouse along with another English kid and then realizes his pet mouse is also one of the witches’ victims. All three of them with the help of their grandma try to stop this plot. The story is so fun to play out especially as every element is done so well especially with the design of the witch as their masked human appearances get reveal to their true form and that’s where the CGI comes into play to make the appearance a tad creepy but still having some silly moments to keep it in line as a family film (or at least I think its a family film. Correct me if I’m wrong in the comments, okay?)

A lot of what makes this movie is fun is the cast. The Witch Leader is played by Anne Hathaway which is pretty fun overall as she captures the character in an entertaining way. It does feel like she loses the accent in some parts of the dialogue but overall, she carries it well enough. The grandmother is played by Octavia Spencer who is one of my favorite actresses ever since seeing her in The Help and then every role she does is just so amazing, no matter what it is. The film overall is narrated by Chris Rock as the older version of the grandson as he recounts the story of his encounter with the witches. Stanley Tucci appears also in supporting role but personally, I love seeing him appear in random roles in so many movies. He is such an underrated actor especially with the diversity of roles he has portrayed over the years. The kids are pretty good as well but the core of their role is in voice acting when they get turned into mice and the whole thing is pretty exciting with a little bit of tension.

The Witches is a fun little family children romp. Its not for very young children, I’d think as the witches are pretty creepy in appearance even if some of it for adults might come off as being silly. The film is done pretty well and has its exciting bits and the CGI is done so well that its pretty cool overall.

TV Binge: Resident Evil : Infinite Darkness (Season 1, 2021)

Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness (Season 1, 2021)

Creator: Hiroyuki Kobayashi

Voice cast: Nick Apostolides, Ray Chase, Stephanie Panisello, Jona Xiao, Billy Kametz, Doug Stone, Joe Thomas, Brad Venable

Federal agent Leon S. Kennedy teams up with TerraSave staff member Claire Redfield to investigate a zombie outbreak. Based on the popular video game series of the same name by Capcom. – IMDB

Running at a swift 4 episodes of approximately 26 minutes each, Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness is probably the quickest and shortest TV binge that I’ve done as its about the length of an average movie so pretty much a one sitting sort of series. The premise of the story pulls away from being heavy on zombies but rather takes a turn for a more political conspiracy and investigative nature following two storylines. The first following Leon who is called in to be a part of a team that will investigate the recent hacking of internal systems and zombie outbreak in the White House and the second follows Claire Redfield who looks further into Penamstan’s civil war six years ago that might be a government cover-up for a zombie outbreak.

Most people come into a Resident Evil entry to see zombies and its not wrong but taking the side of padding out a bit more of the bioweapon backstory is pretty nice and moving away from Umbrella and focusing more on a political angle. Sure, there’s still zombies and action but this animated series proves that there is more stories to tell and so much more of this world that can be expanded on that can give it more depth. Not to mention, the animation is done so well, comparable to that of the recent game remakes, that it almost feels like a live action series. Not only the setting and locations but even the characters all look realistic. With that said, Leon has always been a good-looking guy but somehow this one, he seems even better (but then, I haven’t played Resident Evil 2 remake yet so it might be a similar model just a little aged as this is set between the Resident Evil 4 and 5 games).

Talking about the story and characters, the execution is well-structured. As the story progresses in the present story line, it almost going back to tell the story of the past for each of their new characters specifically Leon’s new teammates, Jason and Shen May as their story helps contribute to the current story but also helps their character development also. Each having their own motives as to why they are on the team and on this specific mission. Of course, Leon and Claire’s story is already fairly familiar to fans so its only touched upon quickly and not lingered on for a long time. Perhaps for new viewers to the franchise, it might leave them feeling less structured. However, the story itself is set years after their first appearance so doesn’t need too much backstory to support them although knowing about it will help connect with their characters better, considering new viewers won’t have the knowledge that these two are key and beloved characters in the games.

This is an animated series so voice cast is a big part of the immersion. Both Claire and Leon are voiced by the Resident Evil 2 Remake’s game voice cast, Stephanie Panisello and Nick Apostolides respectively. They both capture the two characters incredibly well. Voicing Jason is Ray Chase, a voice actor who has a lot of experience when looking at his extensive voice cast roles in many video games perhaps the biggest and recognizable as Noctis in Final Fantasy XV along with known roles other popular games like NieR: Automata, Horizon Zero Dawn, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, etc. Jason is a key character here and probably one that incurs the most change throughout especially as his back story is pretty intriguing. However, that’s not saying that the voice actress Jona Xiao voicing Shen May, who has less experience looking at her filmography doesn’t do a pretty solid job as well. There are some little moments that the characters, especially the political discussions where it feels a little over done but overall, the English voice casting is done really well.

Whether its character designs or the zombies and the atmosphere and setting for the overall show, its done incredibly well and keeps it paced quickly so it stays both entertaining and immersive to want to find out who is behind this and what is actually going on. In a franchise that feels like there’s been a lot of different directions that’s been taken both in the movies and the games itself, the series is refreshing because it reminds its viewers what the actual story is about. Sure, there’s zombies and there’s mutated big monsters and Umbrella but in the depth of all of this, its about the creation of bioweapons and the consequences that its brought to the world. This is a viral outbreak and how the world is handling it so it makes sense that this one strays further from being heavy on big zombie action scenes but goes back to focusing on the political side of the whole ordeal and the conflicts between countries so on and so forth.

Overall, Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness is an awesome series. Its short and sweet and a fantastic little binge. I’m a big fan of Resident Evil so I might be a little biased but looking at this new direction with some new characters, it shouldn’t be too hard for new viewers to the franchise to get into it the story either.