Double Feature: Time (殺出個黃昏, 2021) & American Girl (美國女孩, 2021)

Time (殺出個黃昏, 2021)

Director: Ricky Ko

Cast: Patrick Tse, Petrina Fung, Suet Lam, Suet-ying Chung, Sam Lee, J.J. Jia, Belinda Yan, Zeno Koo

Once famous for his quick blade, a retired assassin can no longer earn a living with his cut-throat skills. Summoned again, he partners with his chauffeur to carry out special missions – fullfilling the wishes of old people looking to kill themselves. When commissioned by a young girl who has been deserted by her parents and lover, the “Elderly’s Angel” squad finds an arresting way to complete its task. – IMDB

Having missed this one during last year’s Fantasia Festival, its great to see this one creep into Netflix very quietly. Co-written by Ka-Tung Lam and the directorial debut of Ricky Ko (mostly credited with the camerawork for making of and assistant director in other projects prior), Time tells the story of a retired assassin team that now struggles with their own lives as they become elderly: being phased out of work, loneliness, neglect, loss of health, etc. They find new purpose when they use their skills as the Elderly’s Angels performing euthanasia for the lonely and sick elderly. That is until their services are requested by a teenage girl Tsz-Ying who wants to die by all means and slowly gets acquainted with Chau, the lead assassin of the crew now in his 80s.

There is no doubt that Time’s main draw is its stacked cast of main leads who are acting veterans in all regards dating back to their hey-days back in the 60s. Patrick Tse was once the heartthrob of films and a main leading man in Hong Kong TV while Petrina Fung was known as the “Shirley Temple of Hong Kong” in the 60s. It also adds in the consistent supporting man of Suet Lam who seems to find himself in a lot of Hong Kong films in so many different roles and in this one scores himself a main role as the driver for this assassin team. However, this roles takes a much more dramatic turn of events.

Aging is a theme that matches to this leading cast and gives them a platform share their acting skills especially for Patrick Tse who is already in his 80s when filming this one and gives him a chance to reunite briefly with Chow Chung (currently 90 years old) in his cameo role as one of the elderly seeking the help from the Elderly’s Angels. The film executes the topic of aging and the elderly in the form of a dramedy. The drama and the humor does keep a decent balance. The drama is in these three characters lives as they deal with all the struggles that aging has brought for them, at the same, it also reflects bigger societal issues and the modern day values or lack thereof. Between all this, there are some bits that do come across in its dark humor or even a little silly at times that makes for some decent laughs.

Time is not your typical Hong Kong film filled with action and crime. However, this one shows off a wonderful talented cast when the basic Hong Kong acting pool is honestly growing a little thin. The story itself is relevant to the current society towards the elderly (and even dabbles into the topic of teen pregnancy). The film does give it a heartwarming overall feeling as old friends and unlikely acquaintances open up a whole new world for each other as life deals each of these elderly assassins a serious negative dose of aging.

American Girl (2021)

Director (and co-writer): Feng-I Fiona Roan

Cast: Karena Lam, Caitlin Fang, Kaiser Chuang, Audrey Lin, Teng-Hui Huang, Kimi Hsia

During the SARS outbreak of 2003, 13-year-old Fen returns to Taiwan. – IMDB

American Girl is the directorial feature debut for Feng-I Fiona Roan who tells a semi-autobiographical story of Lily Wang, a mother who returns to Taiwan from USA with her two daughters after she is diagnosed with breast cancer. Between adjusting to her life back in Taiwan which proves especially hard for her two daughters especially her eldest with her school work and making friends, the 2003 SARS outbreak also hits causing their alert to be high.

American Girl focuses mostly on the mother Li-li (Karena Lam) and the eldest daughter, Fen (Caitlin Fang) as they navigate through this new life. Li-li struggles with her illness and feeling herself again as she fears the breast cancer getting worse and death causing her to become a rather depressing sort of character which transfers over to her family. Fen in turn doesn’t quite understand all this but despises the negative energy causing her to fight with her mother constantly especially being stuck in Taiwan where its hard to be accepted by friends or the lack of understanding at her school when she falls behind. She also struggles with identity as well when she constantly is referred to as “American Girl”. While both Li-li, Fen or even her father (Kaiser Chuang), they each are flawed characters. Its easy to understand their position but also feel a little frustrated that they each lack the communication to fully portray their feelings properly in this time of adjustment after years of living apart.

The situation feels realistic and the film chooses to set itself during the 2003 SARS outbreak in Asia which is something fairly relatable in our reality. The fear of infection and a mother’s own situation as her own health issues creates a sense of hopelessness when something happens to her younger daughter. There’s a lot of mixed feelings going on but each of these situations and how these characters deal with them help build up these characters and make them realistic. In fact, some of these things are happening as other things are, just like in real life.

Don’t get me wrong though, American Girl isn’t just a depressing slow-burn film. In fact, it is rather heartfelt in many ways. It might not be a film for everyone in terms of pacing or sentiments. There are certain elements that feel like it happens a little late in the story but it does however gives these characters the moment they need to reflect. There’s no big moments in this film and everything is fairly everyday life from conversations at the dining table between the family or arguments in the bedroom or classroom interactions however, it reflects the differences between certain cultures in Taiwan (an East versus West mentality, especially in the school setting) and the film does have some good moments when they do little things together as simple as it all feels.

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*

Fantasia Film Festival 2021: Tiong Bahru Social Club (2020)

Tiong Bahru Social Club (2020)

Director (and co-writer): Bee Thiam Tan

Cast: Thomas Pang, Guat Kian Goh, Jalyn Han, Jo Tan, Munah Bagharib, Noorlinah Mohamed

Ah Bee goes on a comedic odyssey through Tiong Bahru Social Club, a data-driven project to create the happiest neighborhood in the world. Little by little, his encounters with the neighborhood’s residents reveal the absurdity of life. – IMDB

Tiong Bahru is a Singaporean comedy film set in Tiong Bahru in a little community that aims to build an algorithm that will generate the most happiness whether its the people, the employees or the environment and activities offered right down to an AI in the room that tries to keep them positive. Yet, this world with all the colorful pastel environment and the smiles at every corner points out a very odd and awkward vibe where happiness is an inner thing and not so much one based on an algorithm.

While its easy to see influences of films like The Grand Budapest Hotel, Paradise Hills or video game We Happy Few (in a less sinister way), whether its from a visual style, color palette or even tone, Tiong Bahru feels a lot more simple and even odd. Perhaps when any community tries to create happiness, it always feels a little overdone and forced and that brings a lot of awkwardness and yet, as the main character Ah Bee leaves his current job to be an employee at the Tiong Bahru Social Club, his already rather simple life with his mother becomes even less fulfilling despite all the positive remarks from his AI or the happy co-workers around him and the happiness workshops, his assigned client Mrs. Wee, an elderly woman who loves cats and thinks of herself as a cat but is very sarcastic about the entire social club concept. As rude and direct that Mrs. Wee is towards everyone, she is almost the anchor of reality in this community and because of that, her character is one that stands out. Much like the two female co-workers Orked and Geok who each of have their own roles in his life with the former having some odd but feels natural and happy interactions versus Geok which eventually is deemed as his “perfect match” and is an awkward interaction where they follow the rules to pursue a happy relationship right down to a nifty little animated scene about having sex.

The film in general focuses on the main character Ah Bee (Thomas Pang) who shares his inner thoughts and remains fairly quiet throughout with the others around him about his thoughts on society and how that’s changed his view of life from the modern society providing too many options that create a difficulty to make decisions to viewing a simple party question of shoot, shag and marry into a philosophical question. Ah Bee is a character in all his oddities and awkwardness. He feels like a person that wants to please those around and trying to break out of his normal routine life to find a whole other sort of routine life in the Social Club that allows him to finally make a decision. Thomas Pang does a great job at carrying this role throughout as there are some very odd moments and probably his most notable connection is with the Tiong Bahru cat (I honestly remember it being how they addressed the cat) which leads to an fantastic scene of him eventually getting a bunch of elderly residents helping him look for a cat. Being a cat person, its both funny and heartwarming. Especially when all these residents were initially there to talk to him about complaints. So much for being a happy community when you think about all the random complaints everyone has.

Tiong Bahru Social Club is a pretty fun film. In reality, it never really feels like there’s any turning point or whatnot to Ah Bee’s slice of life working and living in this community but when he decides to leave, that probably is where the character’s subtle changes in his mentality is most vibrant. Perhaps not exactly an exciting movie to watch for many as there doesn’t seem to be a lot going on and even the science fiction, while some parts making it feel a little suspicious, isn’t exactly fleshed out except for the technology that runs the social club. However, the visuals, color palette and the cinematography sets a pretty decent mood for this film. In all its deeper messages about modern society and happiness, Tiong Bahru Social Club is a rather feel-good sort of film.

*Tiong Bahru Social Club is screening on demand on Fantasia Festival’s virtual platform throughout the festival from August 5th to 25th. You can check out the info HERE.*

FNC 2020: Moving On (2019) /Wisdom Tooth (2019)/The Thief’s Daughter (2019)

In an effort to wrap up the FNC 2020 coverage, the final reviews will be in multiple movies. The first is a trio of family dramas, each with their own angle and premise that makes them rather unique (and all three that I did enjoy) plus a focus on a female main character.

Moving On (2020)

Director (and writer): Yoon Dan-Bi

Cast: Choi Jung-Un, Yang Heung-Ju, Park Hyeon-Yeong, Park Seung-Jun

After her parents get divorced, Okju, her father and her little brother move in with a grandfather she barely knows. Life in the new family unit proves challenging for the already traumatized teenager. – Festival du Nouveau Cinema

A lot of Moving On is about coping. Coping with change in a world that feels like everyone is trying to move on as nothing had happened before and dealing with the inner feelings of neglect and loneliness. That is what Okju is dealing with throughout but not only her has some issues, her father also has some tough decisions while her aunt who has moved into the home as well have her own issues. Everyone tries to act like nothing is wrong in fear of their grandfather knowing about all their issues as he also has his own health issues that they worry about. And yet, in all this, the little brother seems to be the one that has escaped all these feelings. He gets a lot of the attention but at the same time, seems less scarred by these effects.

Moving On is a subtle films that focus on everyday people going through everyday issues and as they stay together in this home, they get to know each other’s issues and what bothers them or lingers in their thoughts from the past and present. As the family connections come into play, they each have their form of conflict and struggles that craft these characters especially the main teenage girl Okju who spends a good part of the movie trying to seek attention despite her quiet personality from small things like fighting to have a room to herself and her personal space to getting the attention of a boy that she likes and even the little moments that she shares with her father and aunt that all makes her feel special for little short moments.

Its hard to explain Moving On that makes it not feel like its fairly mundane however, the best movies (arguably) are those that use an everyday life premise and create believable characters and relationships. In this case, its one about a family going through divorce, break-ups and a change in living situation. The subtlety of how its executed really does give a lot of focus on an outstanding premise and story, heavily focused on each of the characters, especially with Okju.

Wisdom Tooth (2019)

Director (and writer): Ming Liang

Cast: Xingchen Lyu, Jiajia Wang, Weishen Wang, Xiaoliang Wu

Gu Xi and her half-brother Gu Liang lead a hardscrabble life in a village in northern China, where they struggle to make ends meet. Their unusually intimate relationship takes on a new dimension with the arrival of the charismatic QingChang, daughter of a rich businessman.  – Festival du Nouveau Cinema

Wrapped up in both a family drama featuring a close sibling relationship where the brother and sister’s life revolves solely around each other. However, as their lives take a turn for new opportunities, Gu Liang meets a new girl which opens up a mostly behind the scenes romance. Viewed mostly from the point of view of Gu Xi, she needs to adapt to a world where she isn’t the center of her brother’s world as an outgoing rich girl QingChang gets into the picture. Call it an unusual love triangle if you want but aside from the family/romance side, a fairly more subtle subplot lies in the little details of the dealings that Gu Liang and his best friend are involved in in the fish business as well as her boss’s issues due to her undocumented status.

One of the best elements of Wisdom Tooth is the link of Gu Xi’s wisdom tooth issue at the beginning that pulls back to it at the end as she finds back her way. At the same time, its the execution of the premise from the lighthearted sibling relationship at the beginning that defines them right away to its gradual addition of QingChang and the best friend which leads to a friendship between WingChang and Gu Xi as they try to bond together which all comes crashing down one day and she needs to make a huge decision. Set in the 1990s China backdrop and its cold weather in a part of a more northern China (I can’t remember the exact location) but the looming winter adds a lot to the setting and cinematography.

Aside from that, this story is heavily focused on its characters and the relationships between each of them. With that said, the entire cast does an outstanding job. The standout goes out to crafting the character of Gu Xi, played by Xingchen Lyu who is followed throughout as she starts to find herself by the end and her independence. At the same time, Gu Liang played by Xiaoliang Wu is also done really well. His struggle between his sister, his love relationship and his “career” is well-portrayed. The ending of the story is done in a fairly unique manner that I quite liked. If there was one little element that held the movie back, it would be the imbalance of how it treated the mixed genre of family drama, romance and crime thriller.

A Thief’s Daughter (La Hija de un Ladron, 2019)

Director (and co-writer): Belén Funes

Cast: Greta Fernandez, Eduard Fernandez, Alex Monner, Tomas Martin, Adela Silverstre

Her father is a convicted, her boyfriend rejects her, her brother is troublemaker, her baby needs money and she’s half-deaf of one ear. Bad times to be Sara. – IMDB

A Thief’s Daughter is a movie about coming to terms with what is the current situation and striving for a better day than settling for the life with a criminal. Sara, played by Gerta Fernandez is the central character as she moves through her various responsibilities as a mother, a girlfriend, a sister, an employee and as a daughter. The relationship between her and her father is the plot that constantly builds throughout the film. However, Sara’s life is a struggle in general. As she finds a more stable job to support her desire to get her younger brother’s custody, her relationship with her father is further worsened along with her brother’s attachment to their father. The feeling of loneliness is what gradually becomes more apparent as she ends up dealing with everything on her own, whether its her own doing or the better choice to keep away from the trouble.

A Thief’s Daughter has relatively decent pacing. The different relationships she has all outlined and built upon throughout to give them all purpose and depth. Her father’s presence although not completely apparent, it appears with enough context to highlight their issues. Its a great work of the writing that gives this looming sense of dread that something bad could happen to Sara when her one good thing being finding a stable job at a school kitchen due to all the conflicts that happens to her throughout. In the end, it becomes a worry that hits her about whether she will be alone for the rest of her life, a rather heartbreaking revelation for Sara, a character that tries her best to do the right thing by everyone but rarely seems to get treated with the same about care from others. There’s a lot that’s done very well in A Thief’s Daughter. Its subtle and quiet but Sara’s character really does end up being rather powerful. Especially when faced with people that don’t seem to stick around her life and her father who she finally stands up to about her own feelings.

That’s it for this Festival du Nouveau Cinema features.
A good batch of family drama with central female characters overall which are all well worth a watch.

Ultimate 2010s Blogathon: Train to Busan (2012) by John Rieber

The first guest review of Ultimate 2010s Blogathon is for 2016 South Korean zombie film, Train to Busan by John Rieber, who runs a blog under his own name. He covers a lot of really fun topics from movies, TV and all things pop culture along with spectacular food and travel. Its truly a wonderful one stop for a lot of variety of topics and he always has a nice and refreshing angle in how he shares it! Remember to stop by to check out his blog and give him a follow HERE.

Train to Busan

The Terrifying “Train To Busan” Is Now Departing!

Looking back at a decade of great cinema, I’m always interested in seeing films that take an established genre and bring something fresh to the table.  That is certainly the case with “Train To Busan”.

South Korean Director Sang-ho Yeon delivers a modern zombie classic, blending terrific action sequences with rich character development.  

I had heard about this 2016 South Korean thriller, but hadn’t gotten around to seeing it until recently – and it blew my mind!

Train to Busan” takes place as a zombie apocalypse suddenly breaks out in the country – and a group of train passengers must band together until they reach safety – hopefully – in the city of Busan…little do they know that there is no guarantee they will be let in, and the zombies on the train are multiplying!

zombies_train_to_busan.jpg

The characters are all terrific:  a Father, played by Gong Yoo, takes his small daughter back to his estranged wife – he chooses the train.  Su-an Kim plays the young girl, and her acting is terrific: she makes the most outrageous aspects of the zombie attack seem real.  Also on the train is Dong-seok Ma, who plays a beefy tough guy who must protect his pregnant wife, played by Yu-mi Jung.

Each character is fully realized without sacrificing any action, which begins shortly after the train departs.  As they are leaving this station, the young girl notices someone on the platform seemingly sick – then is shocked to have a bloody hand slam against the train’s window.  And they are off!

One of the most unique aspects of the film is how quickly someone can be killed and turned into a Zombie – and of course, one sick person manages to get on board the train, infecting the other passengers – so the pack just grows and grows and grows! 

In a world where the “coronavirus” exploded onto the world’s stage with sudden ferocity, watching the infected zombies multiply is even more sobering: and each train car takes drastic measures to try and keep the zombies out.

As the train hurtles toward Busan, the plot continues to evolve as the survivors dwindle and the zombie pack grows.  Each of the main characters are given an important plot point – and it’s a film that never lets up on the suspense. One of the best set pieces is when the Conductor stops at a station because he’s been told that the military is there…an incredible action sequence.

Train To Busan” has set a high bar for all zombie films to come, and one of the most exhilarating films of the 2010’s.


Thanks to John for his great review for this South Korean zombie film. Its definitely a wonderful choice as Train to Busan is also one of my top movies of this past decade.

Head over to Drew’s Movie Review to see the next guest review tomorrow!

You can find the list of reviews for the blogathon updated daily HERE.

Podcast: Guest on Asian Cinema Film Club for God of Cookery

Its with great pleasure that I get invited onto my Game Warp co-hosts other podcast project with Stephen of Eastern Kicks to talk about 1996’s Stephen Chow comedy God of Cookery. While its probably not my favorite of Stephen Chow movies, our discussion was a fun one as we got to share our love for his work and what works for this movie and why this might be a good entry point for many that shows off who Stephen Chow is at his best before his outstanding directorial and/or acting roles in Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle as well as 2016’s The Mermaid.

As I figure out a great way to introduce Hong Kong cinema into my blog, guest duties on Asian Cinema Film Club definitely made me feel all great about it because Stephen Chow was my entry into film initially.

Since embedding Podomatic players don’t exactly work here (or I haven’t figured it out yet), here’s the link:

https://www.podomatic.com/podcasts/acfilmclub/episodes/2018-01-17T14_43_23-08_00

Thanks for listening!
If you love all kinds of Asian Cinema, remember to check out the AC Film Club’s other episodes!

Podcast: MBDS Showcase#39: S.P.L-Kill Zone & Infernal Affairs

Do you all know my Game Warp co-host Elwood Jones? He is the blog owner of From the Depth of DVD Hell and also the podcast host of MBDS Showcase. MBDS stands for Mad Bad and Downright Strange. He asked me to join him as a guest to talk about two movies and I chose an Asian double feature with S.P.L. (aka Kill Zone) and Infernal Affairs. We talk about the two features but we also dabble in a discussion on modern horror, Nymphomaniac and in general, the rise of podcasting.

Check it out!

http://mbds.podomatic.com/entry/2016-05-15T12_52_28-07_00

Hope you enjoy! 🙂