Fantasia Film Festival 2021: Midnight (2021)

Midnight (2021)

Director (and writer): Kwon Oh-seung

Cast: Wi Ha-Jun, Jin Ki-Joo, Park Hoon, Kil Hae-yeon, Kim Hye-yoon

Midnight is a 2021 South Korean thriller about a deaf woman Kyung-Mi who becomes the target of a psychopath serial killer Do-Sik when she interferes his murderous plan for another woman So-Jung in the neighborhood. In a night of constant changes, the killer makes a sudden change in his target from Kyung-Mi’s mother to So-Jung which leads to a night of a heart-pounding fast-paced cat and mouse chase between him and Kyung-Mi as a mother and daughter tries to escape the killer while So-Jung’s brother tries to find his sister and get tangled into the whole situation.

South Korean thrillers are really quite something. This directorial feature debut for Kwon Oh-Seung which absolutely grabs from start to finish is no exception. It lives up to the standards of a great thriller. The pacing, execution, location and the sound design all comes together very well to create a thrilling experience. The pacing and execution pretty much goes hand to hand as it doesn’t give the story a lot of time to breath but also have those quieter moments to really build up the tension mostly because of how the cat and mouse elements along with the deaf elements are put into play. With that, the sound design becomes very important. As the balance between when the silence and the heart pounding score has to achieve a balance to make it feel natural as it shifts between the deaf main character and the chase sequence to build up the tension. While the deaf element is a pretty big part, in reality the biggest contribution to this film might be its setting mostly in this neighborhood full of dark alleys which it becomes this web of paths that the characters can navigate through. The whole cinematography becomes a huge focus on camera work on it follows through the chases from different perspectives to make it flow well. All these elements are done really well put together.

If there was anything to criticize for Midnight, it probably would be related to the script itself. It falls into its own trap of making these characters feel a little too naive and lacking in common sense at time when it comes to being aware of surroundings and the dangers lurking around them or having a sense of self-protection might be the better way to warn. The most obvious being its opening sequence that introduces this serial killer who preys on a woman walking alone at night and sets up a scene to lure here which seems a little too obvious that most people, especially women would probably just call the police based on their suspicions and not approach it. Of course, during the flow of the main plot, these moments to occur where it becomes a tad frustrating to watch but at times, it does add this sarcastic humor element (at least to myself) which brings up the incompetent police or the insensitivity and lack of knowledge towards the deaf community as well as a general miscommunication or perhaps even going further (and I might be overthinking this), a sense of unawareness to the general surroundings because of our technology aka our cellphone.

Putting that point, the plot itself is very straight-forward. Its a pure thriller which is adrenaline pumping and pulls of some great moments that push its tension and edge of the seat moments. Its truly and amazing feeling to experience. The great part of this one is that it pulls from the basics. It sets up the brother and sister relationship from the start and then sets up the mother and daughter relationship and then introduces the killer in a very quick format. They don’t need to be deep characters but its their relationship between them that makes them matter more than their story. It makes these people very human with a pure sense to survive and protect their loved ones. Much the killer is very simple and yet, his character shifts in tone so much like a chameleon that it makes him have an unpredictable element right down to the ending where it takes a very interesting turn in the final act. All the characters pull of their roles very well. The killer played by Wi Ha-Jun really does deserve a special mention because his role does have a lot of change and he grasps its so well.

Overall, Midnight is a fantastic thriller. Its well-executed and straightforward. Sometimes filmmakers forget that the most basic things carry forward the best and in this case, this is achieved with so much balance. While the script might be a little lacking in some parts, everything else really does make up for it with engaging characters and fast-paced well designed, smoothly flowing cinematography. Being a directorial feature debut, this film is fine job.

Fantasia Film Festival 2021: Hand Rolled Cigarette (2020)

Hand Rolled Cigarettes (2020)

Director (and co-writer): Kin Long Chan

Cast: Ka Tung Lam, Bipin Karma, Michael Ning, Ben Yuen, Tai Bo, Siu-Ho Chin, Tony Ho, Pak-Hong Chu, Aaron Chow, Bitto Singh Hartihan, Yin-Gor To

Hand-Rolled Cigarette is a 2020 Hong Kong drama filmed entirely during the pandemic and tells the story of a retired British-Chinese soldier Kwan Chiu and an East Indian local Mani that gets caught up in misfortunes with the same triad society, Boss Tai. Both caught in their own difficulties, the story is about those forgotten and abandoned from the Hong Kong society on both a historical level during the 1997 Handover but also the modern day where they need to find their own means to survive. Kwan Chiu (Ka Tung Lam) resorting to being a middleman between triad societies and striking side deals to skim some more money while Mani (Bipin Karma) helping his cousin Kapil (Bitto Singh Hartihan) out dealing drugs to help support his little brother.

This directorial feature debut for Kin Long Chan is a fascinating and meaningful film experience. He dives into the backdrop using a slice of history in Hong Kong for army veterans who have contributed a lot to the country between the handover but was essentially forgotten with no passports being stuck neither here or there. While diving into strong messages of racism present in the society in the current day of 2019, contrasting the past with the present with black and white palette and color respectively. He also utilizes a lot of far shots pulling the camera and audience to a third person perspective and ending with a final brawl that features an impressive long shot watching the fight move from one room to the next using the doorways and windows to add additional depth.

Triad society stories and crime thrillers are very common especially in Hong Kong cinema and yet, Hand Rolled Cigarette takes a different angle, injecting it with themes that are not as frequently discussed like racism exists everywhere but rarely discussed in Asian films. Much like how it uses certain locations in Hong Kong which are more known but with a different perspective like Chungking Mansions, which is a fantastic choice considering the low budget businesses and the dense population that inhabits its building. The set locations aren’t too many but they do make the most out of these locations whether its Kwan Chiu’s apartment where Mani is allowed to hideout or Boss Tai’s headquarters where all the brutal and violent interrogations take place in search for where his stolen drugs have gone. Its easily comparable to Johnnie To’s Election which also featured a lot of violence, if anything this one takes it a step further in many cases usually leaving the brutality to the audience’s imagination leaving things going on behind doors or cut away from the set up of certain situations.

As much as its a thriller, the story is focused on these two people who essentially are trying to just get through life and has no choice but to do what they are doing. Kwan Chiu dealing with being left to their own devices during the 1997 Handover but also a mysterious fallout with his army buddies but having to handle these dangerous dealings between the triad societies while smoking his hand rolled cigarettes. Much like Mani, who crashes into his life to hideout which he offers for compensation but ends up being something of an anchor for this young man who really just wants his brother to have a better life and a future instead of the life he has to face. Ka Tung Lam delivers a fine performance here as its much more than just a crime thriller but adds some depth to his character which doesn’t exactly say a lot but as the little things get exposed, Kwan Chiu is such a righteous and loyal man. However, Bipin Karma’s debut as Mani is also outstanding as he fits well into the role capturing the character really well, creating a sort of contrast with the character of Kwan Chiu. Mani has this innocence and panic that makes him feel very realistic like a lost boy caught up in something much more than he can handle. The friendship between these two characters are absolutely the highlight for Hand Rolled Cigarette.

Overall, Hand Rolled Cigarette is a fantastic debut. Whether talking about the cinematography, the storytelling and the character development, there is a lot to love. The story packs together some Hong Kong history but also talks about the topics that aren’t frequently discussed in Hong Kong films. It also brings in another community and nationality which to be honest does form a part of the Hong Kong population. It balances the drama and crime thriller elements incredibly well and doesn’t shy away from going to the extremities in violence. It also brings a positive themes of friendship, loyalty and comradery. With that said, I’m definitely looking forward to see what Kin Long Chan’s does next.

Double Feature: The Crossing (2018) & Mank (2020)

The last double feature for 2020 is here! Today is a big day like previous years so this is the first post, a little different since I usually just have that one post for the annual wrap-up which will be the adventures post coming up a little later. This pairing was a little tough but I had to review Mank at some point (since the David Fincher season for Movies and Tea still has a way to go before we get to that episode) and I’ve paired it up with probably one of my favorite discoveries this year and that’s 2018’s The Crossing.

Let’s check it out!

The Crossing (过春天, 2018)

Director (and writer): Xue Bai

Cast: Yao Huang, Sunny Sun, Carmen Soup, Elena Kong, Hongjie Ni, Kai Chi Liu

*Originally posted on Movies and Tea – Friday Film Club*

The Crossing is a 2018 coming of age drama about a 16 year old student Peipei (Yao Huang) who makes plans with her best friend Jo (Carmen Coup) to go to Japan during Christmas break but struggling to raise funds due to her living situation, she ends up getting caught up with her best friend’s boyfriend Hao (Sunny Sun) who works for a lady Hua (Elena Kong) who is the business of smuggling iPhones across to Mainland China. Being someone who lives in Shenzhen but goes to school in Hong Kong, Peipei crosses the border everyday unsuspectingly making her a great asset to their operation while being able to make lots of money for her Japan trip so that she can finally see snow. However, when she realizes that the operation is more than just phones and Hao has other plans and she has a growing connection with Hao, things start to fall out of her control.

The Crossing is a solid directorial debut for Chinese female director Bai Xue. Its a slow-burn, quiet and subtle sort of film that explores youth from a fresh angle. It looks at the straightforward desires of being young and not caring about other things but being single-minded focused on certain goals while also looking at the relationship of youth and money. At the same time, it looks at the landscape and situation between the border of Shenzhen as a connection of Mainland China and Hong Kong and the smuggling situation. Whether its the characters and their relationships, a lot of it is between the lines and discovered through Peipei’s observation as the movie is shot from her point of view. There is a good shift and development from her character and Hao from the beginning to the final moment.

One of the standout point of the film is in its arthouse style of cinematography playing a lot with lighting and focusing on sounds and choosing a decent soundtrack and pairs well with the scene playing out. Not to mention there’s this great scene of tapping cell phones to their body that is much sexier than it should ever be. The dialogue also is well-written and matches to their young characters and the more young adult characters Hao. However, there is some great veterans here like Elena Kong and Hongjie Ni (playing Peipei’s mother) in supporting roles.

I probably should note that The Crossing isn’t an easy movie to find. I’ve only found it on the Tencent app/viewer after depleting all other possibilities (with English subtitles for those interested). Maybe its been distributed in other countries but at least for Canada, I haven’t found it anywhere else. However, if you do find it, this one is a hidden gem.

Mank (2020)

Director: David Fincher

Cast: Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, Lily Collins, Tom Pelphrey, Arliss Howard, Tuppence Middleton, Joseph Cross, Charles Dance, Tom Burke

1930’s Hollywood is reevaluated through the eyes of scathing social critic and alcoholic screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz as he races to finish the screenplay of Citizen Kane (1941). – IMDB

My Mank review will be a little different from others. For someone like myself who hasn’t seen Citizen Kane or know of the screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz, Mank is less of a biopic and more of simply a film for exactly what it is. With that said, it saves all the comparisons that others might have. Mank is also a very different film in David Fincher’s filmography. Visually stylistic along with some beautiful outfits set in a black and white film, Mank does deliver on style alone as well as the quick dialogue between the characters also delivering a much wordier film than usual in Fincher’s films but perhaps it had a lot to do to keeping the essence of the screenplay written by his late father, Jack Fincher.

One of the standout elements of the films definitely does go to the cast that embodies these characters. Can you call them characters if it is based on real people? I don’t know but you get what I mean. They definitely do come to life as Gary Oldman delivers a stellar performance as Herman J. Mankiewicz surrounded by an array of people whirling in and out of his life running on the past and present, cleverly portrayed with timestamps whenever it hops from one place to the next. Other than Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried’s portrayal of Marion Davies is absolutely charming particularly the one scene where Marion and Mank has a walk in the garden. Marion is married to Hearst which becomes a rather big topic as Hearst does have an interesting character that creates some contrast and incredibly well done by Charles Dance even if the role is a little more in the backdrops. Of course, there are other roles by Lily Collins as the secretary typing up Mank’s screenplay and Joseph Cross playing Charles Lederer and the list goes on. Because of the heavey dialogue, the characters play a huge part in the movie’s enjoyability and for the most part the quick conversations do add quite a bit.

With that said, Mank is a tad on the long side. It almost feels like it could be cut down a little bit to give it a tighter execution. Very rare movies make me feel like its worth over 2 hours of watch time without it wearing on its pacing a little (but that is definitely my own issue). There is no doubt that Mank has great production value and the movie itself has a lot of charming elements and there’s something much deeper here. I do wonder whether watching Citizen Kane and having a greater knowledge of the source material and what the biopic revolves around would make it a more or less enjoyable experience. As of now, as a standalone piece without any comparisons, its definitely one that I would recommend seeing as its pros almost outweigh its cons.

FNC 2020: Mamà, Mamà, Mamà (2020)

Mamà, Mamà, Mamà (2020)

Director (and writer): Sol Berruezo Pichon-Riviere

Cast: Agustina Milstein, Chloé Cherchyk, Camila Zolezzi, Matilde Creimer Chiabrando, Siumara Castillo, Vera Fogwill, Jennifer Moule, Shirley Giménez, Ana Maria Monti, Florencia Gonzalez Rogriguez

A veil of sadness lies over the oppressively hot summer days. Cleo dives into daydreams with her cousins, the girls share secret signs and rituals. Flowing gently, in impressionistic images, the empty space that the death of Cleo’s sister has left in the family is poetically encircled. – IMDB

After doing an entire season of Movies and Tea Podcast on Sofia Coppola, the description comparing it to The Virgin Suicides is essentially what sold this Argentinian drama as one of my top must-see picks for this year’s Festival du Nouveau Cinema. Running at a short 65 minutes, Mamà Mamà Mamà is definitely comparable to Sofia Coppola’s films. For one, it has the slice of life storyline about a young girl Cleo dealing with the loss of her younger sister Erin in the days that follow under the companionship of her cousins and the care of her aunt while observing at a distance her mother’s pain from this ordeal. The family of girls and women all sit together through rituals and little games and everyday things while all coping in their own way. Grief is different for everyone and yet as Cleo goes through her own changes while dealing with it along with the neglect from her mother who is grieving immensely on her own with the comfort of her own sister, she stews in her memories of her sister by herself while watching and participating as her cousins all go through their own fun summer hobbies without a care in the world while sharing secret rituals and daydreams.

The cinematography and execution of this film is what truly gives it that arthouse spin but also adding in a tone with a dull palette of colors dimmed and subtle. There’s a gloom over each scene whether its the quiet times when all the girls are sitting together doing their own thing or when Cleo’s mother has her crying outbursts with the different triggers. And yet, one of the deeper bits is when Cleo falls into her little memories of her sister and even reliving the moments of her death as the camera is off-centred with moving parts of her sister’s lifeless arms or her mother’s body swimming across the screen. It all pieces together what happens. At the same time, the movie starts off with a recording that is a conversation with Erin and a few of these recordings happens as Erin’s asked about death and fear where it seems like Cleo dreams up Erin in an imaginary world by herself while putting those scenes in between her memories of her time with her sister in each other’s companionship. These moments might seem mundane and yet it adds a lot of depth to what Cleo is going through in her own mind and perhaps the loneliness she feels despite having her cousins around even if they all have their way of caring for her and offering her another type of companionship.

There’s something really special about Mamà Mamà Mamà where these few days spent with this cast consisting solely of the ladies and girls of this family. Everyone knows what’s going on and yet every cousin at their different age has their own understanding of it and whether its the aunt or Cleo’s mom or the mother’s mom all end up in this space as the adults help each other grieve while the children have their own way of transitioning through it and yet its a little heartbreaking are the little moments when Cleo calls out to her unresponsive mother who is the one person that truly will understand each other’s loss the most and yet its also surprisingly sweet to see her cousins, each of them in the first scenes doing their own things but each slowly bonding with Cleo in their own way and helping her forget a little about what’s going on. Everything might be through the eyes of Cleo in this story and yet every character has their own space and purpose as they build their own connection.

What might seem like a grim story about grieving about the loss of a sister actually turns out to be a rather bittersweet experience. Mother and Cleo both are in their own sorrow and yet, everyone staying with them helps breath life back into this space. As a directorial debut for a young female director Sol Berruezo Pichon-Riviere, it does definitely feel like a piece delivers a lot of depth for the story that its trying to tell and an impressive bit of writing and execution and leaves her a director to look out for.

Movies and Tea #25 – The Father Knows Best Trilogy

Movies and Tea has officially begun its SEASON 4! This season we are doing a retrospective of Ang Lee’s films. The first episode is our heavier one as we dive into his debut films which make the Father Knows Best Trilogy: Pushing Hands, The Wedding Banquet, Eat Drink Man Woman.

Head over to Movies and Tea blog to listen to our discussion of these films. Let us know whether you’ve seen these films and your thoughts on them!

Movies and Tea

Season 4 kicks off with a Lee’s first three films which are commonly refered to as his Father Knows Best trilogy with the three films connected by thier themes rather than characters.

Pushing Hands – Moving from Beijing, elderly tai chi master Mr. Chu (Sihung Lung) struggles to adjust to life in New York, living with his Americanized son Alex (Ye-tong Wang) and daughter-in-law, Martha (Deb Snyder), a writer who seems to blame him for her own paralyzing inability to focus. But when Chu begins teaching tai chi at a local school, his desire to make a meaningful connection comes to fruition in the most unexpected of ways.

The Wedding Banquet – Wai-Tung (Winston Chao) and his boyfriend (Mitchell Lichtenstein) are living happily as a gay couple in New York City even though Wai-Tung has not come out to his Taiwanese parents (Sihung Lung, Ah-Leh Gua). To get his…

View original post 165 more words

FNC 2019: J’ai Perdu Mon Corps (I Lost My Body, 2019)

J’ai Perdu Mon Corps (I Lost My Body, 2019)

J'ai Perdu Mon corps

Director (and co-screenplay): Jeremy Clapin

Voice Cast: Hakim Faris, Victoire Du Bois, Patrick D’Assumcao

A story of Naoufel, a young man who is in love with Gabrielle. In another part of town, a severed hand escapes from a dissection lab, determined to find its body again. – IMDB

French animated features always seem to have a darkness to its overall premise. In this case, this upcoming Netflix France Original film (according to this poster is set to release in the end of November) follows two sides of a story. The first is the story of Nafouel, a pizza delivery boy having a bad day that ends up having a random conversation with a girl through a building intercom during a rain storm outside and is intrigued by this stranger and finds a way to approach her while on the other side, it follows a severed hand trying to go through the city to reunite with the body it belongs to. Its easy to see that these two stories are linked together and who this severed hand belongs to and yet, alternating between the two and having it converge at the end gives this film so much charm. Perhaps of the timeline jumping back and forth between the two that the story sometimes does have moments of disjointedness.

Somehow French animated films have such good grasp hitting those bizarre themes and finding just the right balance of humor to make it work. J’ai Perdu Mon Corps is a fine example of this. While Naoufel’s side of the story feels a bit awkward and maybe a tad sketchy if you think about the almost stalker-ish way he chooses to approach this girl. At the same time, he is somewhat of a rather unpleasant character or simply flawed and fairly shallow which is where this film falls short slightly. It all depends on how his character is viewed although there are some believable moments of clumsiness and his trying to work hard to get her attention and some missteps that he does which makes some funny moments. As I always like to mention, flawed characters to begin with makes for the better development characters as they have so much more room to grow and that definitely applies in this story.

Where it does shine right from the beginning is starting with how the severed hand is introduced and the moments of how it goes from location to location. There’s a lot of dark humor to be had, especially as it meets all kinds of things and dangers along the way and is essentially defenceless. Some come out with mostly unexpected outcomes and that just makes each step of its way back to the body that it belongs to even more rewarding in the end.

Overall, J’ai Perdu Mon Corps is exactly as its title hints at. The winning factor here is how it uses the whole concept of a severed hand and can create a rather charming and humorous story out of it. It fits into the whole charm of French animation that is a tad odd but still works out overall to have those dramatic moments as well. As a feature-length directorial debut for Jeremy Clapin, its definitely one that lands very well and has a unique premise.

J’ai Perdu Mon Corps will be hitting theatres for a limited release in US (November 15) and UK (November 22) and also hitting Netflix (for most countries) on November 29th (all based on research on the Internet, so please check or correct me in the comments if you have other more accurate info).