Double Feature: Great White (2021) & The Reef: Stalked (2022)

Halloween month kicks off with an Australian shark film double feature. I couldn’t think of a better way than to pair up my fave horror subgenre to kick things off! Let’s check it out!

Great White (2021)

Director: Martin Wilson

Cast: Katrina Bowden, Aaron Jakubenko, Kimie Tsukakoshi, Tim Kano, Te Kohe Tuhaka, Jason Wilder, Tatjana Marjanovic

A fun filled flight to a remote atoll turns into a nightmare for five passengers when their seaplane is destroyed in a freak accident and they are trapped on a raft, 100 miles from shore with man-eating sharks lurking beneath the surface. – IMDB

Great White is an Australian shark film which is mostly similar to The Reef (review), playing on the more serious shark film style where it builds up on tension and atmosphere. The story takes form with the group stranded in open waters and being circled by sharks in a lifesaver as they gradually paddle their way to the closest land. In theory, the film holds a lot of potential since this formula does work well. The emptiness and loneliness of the location plus the unknown elements at play all contribute to that formula. However, what puts Great White in disadvantage is that the story and writing itself is not well-executed and the characters mostly feel a little lacking.

Looking at the story and writing, there’s some big execution issues here. If you follow the time stamps on the film, there’s a decent set up for the situation where the bad stuff happens also relatively quickly. In usual circumstances, that’s a rather decent pacing. However, where things fall apart is that the events focus heavily on the group of stranded characters and the many hidden emotions they have with each other which leads to the story, despite the presence of the shark in the background being a threat, it also brings up on the human side a lot where some characters truly become a very grating experience and wondering when the next attack would be. Thing is, once they start off, things do happen but they do have a great deal of time together in this floatation device before the shark makes a move. The shark attack themselves are rather fun especially since a good part of the film is in the dark so the unknown becomes even more apparent.

The writing issue touched on the characters themselves and Great White has a cast of some good and some bad characters. On one side of the spectrum, there are the knowledgeable resourceful people and on the other hand, the whiny and annoying character (one truly stands out) who is filled with some jealousy in his mind that causes him to act out with some dire consequences. If there was any sort of redemption, its that the final face off with the shark, because there always is one, was really fun to watch. A little wild but still an exciting way to wrap up this whole thing while tying together some of the story pieces together.

Overall, Great White is a more serious shark film that leans on tension and atmosphere. In this case, this was counterbalanced by its human interaction which had its pros and cons. The shark bits themselves were done really well however there were some petty human relationships and conversations that ended causing a lot of nuisance to the story as a whole.

The Reef: Stalked (2022)

Director (and writer): Andrew Traucki

Cast: Teressa Liane, Ann Truong, Saskia Archer, Kate Lister, Bridget Burt

After her sister’s murder, Nic, her younger sister and two friends seek solace through a Pacific island kayaking adventure. Hours into the trip the women are stalked by a shark and must band together, face their fears and save each other. – IMDB

For those who have seen The Reef, this one has no connection to it other than featuring a shark who stalks its characters. The Reef: Stalked plays a little faster pace than The Reef which was a much more slow-burn experience. Looking at this one, the pacing and more frequent action bits adds to the shark film experience while the part which lowers it might be the obvious lower budget Go-Pro camera filming and the very odd cuts from one scene to the next at times including the snippets of the shark, however the shark does make a good few appearances. As much I am comparing the two, its truly to give a general picture for those who have seen The Reef, like myself. The Reef sequel wasn’t really necessary but it can be appreciated.

Taking the approach of films like 47 Meters Down which takes their sequel in a new story with a similar shark concept, The Reef: Stalked definitely finds itself in a different sort of film. This time, the characters are at sea coping with a loss with different members having different experiences and know-hows which contribute or hinder the group’s progress as they go out on kayak. Its mostly focuses on the flotation devices at this point from kayaks to boats to balances which can create their own dangers with the shark’s appearance. Its a neat element for sure as a lot of the more mainstream shark films haven’t played around with kayaking yet so it feels fresh in that sense. The shark also is more active in this one so the danger hits much quicker. Trading in relationship issues, this time the main character is torn between a tense sister relationship and something like post-traumatic stress disorder from a past event creating its hindrance as well.

The acting here is okay for a shark film. No one here feels like they are super awkward but its adequate to get the role across. The dialogue has some decent moments and some that truthfully feels a little hard to digest. It does have a moment which calls sharks “men in grey suits” which of course, that character gets offed first because we all know to not mock sharks in silly descriptions and strip them from their danger element in these films. There is also a moment of childhood endangerment that also creates a rather tense piece which has somewhat of a callback to various other shark films but fits well in this piece to kick off the final act to not only seek help. It is a rather awkward transition of events when the group decides the only way to escape is to kill it which feels like an oddly sudden deduction of events for their situation.

The Reef: Stalked is an average shark movie overall. Compared to its first film, this one is probably easier to get into because it has more action and shark attacks and things move along much quicker after the first scene is established to build up its main character. However, the film does have some moments which transition awkwardly from the weird shark footage cuts to some odd decisions from its characters, its not exactly unpredictable but there are a few good moments.

What’s Up & Adventures – September 2022

ADVENTURES

Halloween Marathon

Its the time of year again, even if I think its a bit hard to believe we’re already here. I’m going to admit right now that this may go very bad with very little output as mostly my sporadic lack of sleep does affect my writing efficiency. However, Halloween Marathon is something that I truly enjoy and with some changes in circumstances, via a one-month sub of a streaming service that I will talk about in the Movies section, I have some great choices to add to the line-up plus Netflix and Shudder has some nice stuff to watch as well. If you follow me on Letterboxd, you know what I’ve been watching and what reviews will be coming up. With that said, the first post for the marathon starts tomorrow. Expect TV binges and Double Features in the line-up.

Baby Update

Triple V has been quite a bundle this week as he passes his 3 months. For Chinese people, we like to celebrate 100 days so my mom got him some little gifts. On top of that, his 100 days also signified a change because he’s a whopping 15lbs now which means he can’t sleep in his bassinet anymore and had to be moved to the crib. The transition was the biggest highlight since we had just mastered some great sleeping habits in the bassinet to find that the transition to the crib felt almost like it was starting all over again, which was a little deflating on our already lack of sleep and slowly gaining back sleep stage. However, as I write this post, it was really only the first few nights with the first where Triple V decided he wanted to explore the ENTIRE space and started going in circles and then getting himself stuck and woke up and cried. A few days later, he is still doing it but all the trying to flip over and the getting stuck and waking up is done. He now wakes up mostly in desperate hunger and some weird need for attention in the early mornings but mostly he can go back to sleep fairly well or get himself out of the corner on his own. Slowly we will get there…

Exercise Update

Its been over 3 months so I’ve been taking longer walks now. I’m not jumping into intense exercising (not that I’ve done that in a long while) so its mostly morning and evening strolls with Triple V and they are gradually getting a bit longer. While I can’t remember to track everything,

Broadwalk “Hiking” – Marais de la Rivieres aux Cerises

Marais de la Rivieres des Cerises

With the whole exercise chat, we decided that we would go for a little fall foliage since we seem to always miss it when we go during Thanksgiving. However, this year it seems everything is a little delayed so we were a tad early. There were some areas with a lot of trees that had changed colors but a lot of places that didn’t really have it yet. It was nice to take a little easy hike even we had already been here before (probably about a decade ago) but this time it was a little first road trip adventure with Triple V.

WHAT’S UP

Books

  • The Summer I Turned Pretty (Review)

Currently reading: Cress (The Lunar Chronicles #3), Kiki’s Delivery Service, Howl’s Moving Castle

Look at me and reading. I can’t really recommend The Summer I Turned Pretty and you can read all about it in the review. In terms of YA novel content, The Lunar Chronicles does a better job as Cinder is a stellar book and its sequel is passable so I decided to start that one up but then got attracted to my new purchases of Kiki’s Delivery Service (which I never read the source material before) and Howl’s Moving Castle (which I have but wanted to re-read). I should finish a part of that list during October, let’s hope.

Movies

  • Spirited Away (2001 rewatch)
  • The Reef: Stalked (2022)
  • Howl’s Moving Castle (2004 rewatch)
  • The Little Mermaid Live (2019)
  • Waitress (2007)
  • Hocus Pocus (1993 rewatch)
  • Mary Poppins Returns (2018 rewatch, review)
  • Sheng Wang: Sweet and Juicy (2022)
  • Death On The Nile (2022)
  • Turning Red (2022)
  • The Maze Runner (2014 rewatch, review)
  • Do Revenge (2022)
  • Monsters University (2013)
  • Incredibles 2 (2018)
  • Jennifer’s Body (2009)
  • Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
  • Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (2015, Review)
  • Underwater (2020)
  • Maze Runner: The Death Cure (2018, Review)
  • Antlers (2021)
  • Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
  • Captain Marvel (2019)

Currently watching: Nightmare Alley

As I mentioned before, I got a one month subscription to Disney Plus for the Disney Day deal for $1.99. Last year I got it, I forgot that it existed and didn’t really make use of it too much so we’re making back for it this year. There’s quite the catalogue even outside of the Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars content so it was pretty good. There’s still a little less than half a month left so you will probably still see some more of this service’s titles pop up in the next month.

With that said, its been a very low amount of reviews written mostly because a lot of this is prep work for the Halloween Marathon or for Movies and Tea podcast. If its not, you should see those soon, probably after October’s marathon month. I do have an ambitious goal of catching up with Marvel’s films since I stopped at Infinity War so I buckled down to do it. You can see that I’m already slowly catching up.

My recommendations this month goes to Turning Red, Do Revenge, Underwater and the Maze Runner trilogy.

TV

  • I Just Killed My Dad (Limited Series, 2022)
  • The Oasis鄧錄圓魚洲
  • The Rap Of China中國説唱巔峰對決
  • The Real Bling Ring: Hollywood Heist (Limited Series, 2022)

Currently binging: Great Escape Season 4 密室大逃脫第四季, Love Between Fairy and Devil 蒼蘭訣, Call Me By Fire 2 披荊斬棘的哥哥, Heart Signal Season 5心動的信號, Hello Summer Relationship相遇的夏天, Rock & Roast Season 5脫口秀大會,

Oh boy, TV series will be hard to talk about unless you have a massive interest in Chinese Variety shows or dramas. Its honestly just the time of year where all the shows I like have gathered together to be released at the same time. Most of them are currently playing in the currently binging one. The standout is always Great Escape where Season 4 has truly notched up the fun element and they expanded and blended the Escape Room with other game elements.

I actually was planning on finishing Love Between Fairy and Devil before Netflix added it but got lured to watch other stuff and never got around to resuming it however, its a pretty great show and if you have Netflix, it makes it so much easier to watch.

Games

  • A Plague Tale: Innocence (to be finished)
  • Coffee Talk (Review)
  • AI: The Somnium Files (not finished)

I’ve been taking a little more time on gaming when I have the time to spare. I mean, I have a fixed amount of time where I can do my own stuff when the little one naps or goes to bed at night so its not really a ton of time. However, with a lot of the Game Pass catalogue leaving during September, I tried to get through the ones that I wanted to play hence the unfinished two games. A Plague Tale: Innocence is actually pretty good but I saved myself the rush mostly because I didn’t realize that my husband bought it on Steam so I will get back to that eventually. AI : The Somnium Files is a pretty good game and super expensive to buy in general but its a visual novel with investigative elements and you can’t really rush those so I unfortunately didn’t get to finish it. I was pretty much a third into the game at that point looking at some of the game chapter breakdown. This one’s a little quirky and odd but there are some pretty graphic murder scenes in this one.

Now, lets talk about something that I did finish: Coffee Talk which is also a visual novel and once where you brew coffee while listening to what goes on with the customers. Its a relaxing game to say the least plus there are some fun drink blends that they include which were fun to discover as well.

Double Feature: Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (2015) & Maze Runner: The Death Cure (2018)

If you haven’t seen the review for the first film, you can check it out HERE.

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (2015)

Director: Wes Ball

Cast: Dylan O’Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Ki Hong Lee, Giancarlo Esposito, Dexter Darden, Alexander Flores, Jacob Lofland, Rosa Salazar, Patricia Clarkson, Aidan Gillen, Lili Taylor, Barry Pepper, Alan Tudyk

After having escaped the Maze, the Gladers now face a new set of challenges on the open roads of a desolate landscape filled with unimaginable obstacles. – IMDB

The Scorch Trials picks up right after the events of the first film when they escape the maze and is flown away to a closed compound which they eventually realize has ulterior motives which takes them on the run again. With both WCKD and the new dangers in the new desert landscape in the midst, the group has changed a little but still they are working together in hopes to find a rumored safe haven.

Its no secret that I’m a big fan of The Maze Runner books so its even more exciting to see that the films do live up to the world building and atmosphere of each desolate place that Thomas and the Gladers traverse. Much like its first film, The Scorch Trials excels in creating those two elements really well. The second film has a lot more than just an empty space with an ever-changing maze, this time its a vast desert landscape but shows the deterioration of time and battles and such with its ruins scattered around. It gives a better idea of what the world has now become and the dangerous creatures called Cranks that have inhabited it which are basically zombies. They are the reason that WCKD is looking for the cure with belief that the kids are immune. While the film market is saturated with zombie films at this point, perhaps its the fact that Scorch Trials brings out the “zombies” as an unexpected element adds to the surprise element a little.

Usually, I’d complain about the runtime as this one does go over the 2 hour mark. However, The Scorch Trials keeps things action-packed and builds up on the tension of each scene, making the film very entertaining and captivating to watch for the most part as it moves from one quick-paced scene to the next from one dangerous situation and escape to the next one. These spaces where the action is taking place also range quite a bit from dilapidated buildings to sewers to vents. Even the Cranks themselves have their own evolution in having a variety of two as we can see from the film. The visuals here do add to the whole environment and setting for the film.

Despite its long runtime, character development does leave a bit to be desired. All the characters don’t really expand a lot on terms of personality. The focal characters, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) extend their storyline a little to build up their purpose and where they stand after the events of the maze. Aside from them, in my opinion the characters that felt more well-constructed through his actions is Minho (Ki Hong Lee). This film brings out a lot of where the loyalties lie. While the lack of character development was acceptable in the base movie, it feels like the supporting characters could benefit from a little more depth especially for Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) who was a fun character in the first film and while this film gives him more screen time still feels like it doesn’t quite do justice to his character completely. Breaking out of the maze also means that they now have new groups of people to deal with including one group led by Jorge, played by Giancarlo Esposito and the other led by Vince, played by Barry Pepper. Both of these creating their own dynamics.

As someone who has read the source material (review), the film does capture most of the big moments and the atmosphere up to the world-building elements. What’s good about The Maze Runner trilogy really is that even though they aren’t completely self-contained, each book starts with a new area and phase so while the other movies would help to complete the image, its not incredibly hard to follow except for the character alliances in some cases.

Maze Runner: The Death Cure (2018)

Director: Wes Ball

Cast: Dylan O’Brien, Ki Hong Lee, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Dexter Darden, Will Poulter, Rosa Salazar, Giancarlo Esposito, Patricia Clarkson, Aidan Gillen, Barry Pepper, Walton Goggins

Young hero Thomas embarks on a mission to find a cure for a deadly disease known as “The Flare”. – IMDB

Taking place a little while after the end of events in The Scorch Trials, mostly able to tell with the unitedness of the three crews of last once and the mid-length hair that Brenda, a new female character from the previous film, The Death Cure is a last hurrah which continues on with the quick-paced action-packed world. Attempting to keep this spoil-free, the previous film flipped a lot of things around with Minho being caught and Thomas keeping his promise to never leave him behind, Brenda bringing a little love triangle but not really while betrayal is the center of how things are the way they are with WCKD.

This film’s adventure starts off with a bang with a rather adventurous and daring rescue plan to hijack a train car which ends up leading them off to their new setting this time, the Last City aka the headquarters of WCKD and meeting the rebellion group in that area lead by Lawrence played by Walton Goggins and they see an old face, Gally who has mellowed out a little and willing to help them. The Last City is a pretty good new setting as it differs from the previous two in a metropolitan setting full of tall skyscrapers and guarded to protect from Cranks and those infected by the Flare. The contrast of the rebellion group in the outside area in their underground dark and gloomy base to the sci-fi WCKD headquarters, this movie adds a lot of scope.

The big finale brings a lot of big moments as the characters start pivoting more and having a little more screen time. The atmosphere is still captured very well from the characters in the WCKD building following orders and having a one track mind to create a cure while the other group with Thomas is planning to not only rescue but also steal the cure. The dangers gives this group another chance to navigate this cityscape maze, something we haven’t talked about is each place having its own maze. The first one being an actual maze whereas its all a maze as they navigate the unknown in the desert landscape of Scorch Trials and the cityscape and WCKD headquarters of Last City.

In some ways, the big finale does get harmed a little by the lack of character development since the ending does create quite the event. For a little comparison, the book (review) does a much better job in that scene (if I remember correctly, its been a while). However, the final film of the trilogy does achieve quite a bit with some pretty fantastic scenes especially the elaborate rescue and escape plan in Last City which creates some gripping moments.

Overall, The Maze Runner is a pretty entertaining adaptation. Its not exactly the same as the book and some of the character development leaves a little to be desired which makes the ending lack a little of the punch that it wants to deliver, however the world building and the settings along with the gripping atmosphere and the visuals really are the elements that stand out quite a lot.

What’s Up & Adventures – August 2022

ADVENTURES – AUGUST 2022

Welcome to the adventures for August 2022. Honestly, I should just change this coming year into baby adventures more than anything. Considering I’m on maternity leave right now, there’s really nothing else in my life more important than taking care of my newborn and making sure the house doesn’t slip gradually into chaos. With that said, there were some nice little baby updates which includes no pictures and we did have family visit which is quite the unusual since we really haven’t seen anyone out of town since before the pandemic.

Baby Updates

Triple V had a few little adventures of his own. For one, he had his 2 month vaccinations which went as well as could be expected with both of his thighs getting vaccines for various illnesses. Despite some crying, he did calm down fairly quickly and fell asleep so I consider him quite the champ. Considering that this month, we’ve also experienced some crazy evenings with some intense crying and a hard time pinpointing what was the issue.

With that said, he also had his first medical check-up. Yay to our healthcare system where you can’t find a family doctor anymore so the 2-4 weeks check-up turned into a 2 months old check-up. Luckily, all is well and he is growing up quickly. Apparently, we have a “big baby”, which I’m pretty sure I didn’t need the doctor to tell me since he was pretty big in my belly already and then he waited until the last day so he spent some quality time growing before he hit the outside world.

On that front, we are getting in some more exercising. More that I’m taking him out for strolls when its not raining or heat wave. August has been rather abundant in those two fronts. However, its quite relaxing to get out of the house every now and then and get some fresh air. At least for myself, it feels like I’m getting a part of my own active lifestyle back. Its going to take a while but I’ll eventually get back there to some form.

Podcast Update

With that said, I guess I should mention a little update on the podcast which probably is the only thing really goin on track in the case of these projects. Podcast recording is gradually back in production. Much like my post before I went on leave announcing a semi-hiatus, I had pretty much said that it wouldn’t affect it to much and it didn’t since we created quite a bit of backlog for both Movies and Tea and Game Warp so its just a matter of getting those out one by one. I will get back to reposting those. In the meantime, you can always check out both podcasts on most podcast platforms. Those places will have the most recent updates.

As things calm down gradually hopefully, I am starting to think about getting that revamped version of my solo podcast off the ground again. I’m still working out how to approach the content but I have a solid list of topics for the episodes already and it will be really relevant. If my plans go well, you might see something soon-ish. I’m not so worried about recording as it is finding time to edit. I’ve been thinking about it more and more so it should at some point happen.

WHAT’S UP – AUGUST 2022

Books

Currently reading: The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han

As I spend more time at home now, I am gradually wanting to expand during baby’s naptime to do something other than watching TV so I’ve literally just cracked open The Summer I Turned Pretty. There’s not too much to say. My expectations for it: An equally entertaining time as Jenny Han’s previous book To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before. Might be a tall order but hey, who knows, right?

Movies

  • Purple Hearts (2022, Review)
  • The Lorax (2012 rewatch, Review)
  • Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989 rewatch)
  • Wedding Season (2022, Review)
  • Bewitched (2005)
  • Porco Rosso (1992 rewatch, Review)
  • Look Both Ways (2022, Review)
  • Princess Mononoke (1997)
  • Inside The Mind of a Cat (2022)
  • Yokai Monsters: Spook Warfare (1968)

Packed with a few rewatches and some new films from Netflix for the most part, the movies I watched this month were relatively good. Netflix rom-coms are always about the same but then I did already write the reviews so you can check those out. Among that pack of films, Look Both Ways definitely stood out as its not exactly a rom-com. Other than that, I FINALLY watched Princess Mononoke which was a Studio Ghibli title that my friends have been hassling me about not having watched for years. You will hear my extended thoughts on that on Movies and Tea in a good while. For the most part, I really liked it for the scope of the film and compared it to Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind but didn’t quite resonate with the characters as much. Wrapping up the month is a new Netflix documentary about cats called Inside The Mind of a Cat which was super fun to watch and gave me some terms to attach to cats and some extra knowledge that explains some of my own cat’s behavior.

TV

  • Boo, Bitch (Limited Series, 2022)
  • Twinkle Love Season 2怦然心動20嵗第二季
  • The Most Hated Man On The Internet (Limited Series 2022)
  • Never Have I Ever (Season 3)
  • Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn’t Exist (2022)
  • Wonderland Season 2五十公里桃花塢2
  • I Hear You 最動聽的事
  • Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives (2022)
  • The Puppet Master: Hunting The Ultimate Conman (2022)

Currently watching: I Just Killed My Dad, Great Escape Season 4 密室大逃脫第四季, The Oasis登錄圓魚洲, Love Between Fairy and Devil 蒼蘭訣, The Rap Of China中國説唱巔峰對決, Call Me By Fire 2 披荊斬棘的哥哥, Heart Signal Season 5心動的信號

I have to give myself a nice pat on the back for creating a decent mix between the Chinese drama and variety shows versus the English content, even if most of the English content are all limited series for Netflix crime documentaries. Its my latest thing that I’ve really liked seeing as Netflix has some pretty strong crime documentaries and are pretty consistent in quality. The four gave me an array of emotions: Most Hated Man was very upsetting and fit its title, Girlfriend Who Didn’t Exist was truly well done and had a nice message about forgiveness, Bad Vegan made me question whether someone would truly believe something like that or its all excuses (still contemplating that one) and Puppet Master was just a wild ride since its unbelievable how someone can get away doing that stuff.

Onto more lighthearted stuff, I had a ton of fun with teen series Boo, Bitch and Season 3 of Never Have I Ever. They were so entertaining and still had some pretty good moments. Both of those TV binges are almost done so you should see them soon. I lack of TV series review writing inspiration currently happening. As for Chinese series, a lot of the currently watching TV shows are about to end but man, Wonderland Season 2 was a such a great one. I didn’t watch the Season 2 so currently debating if I should, hopefully it isn’t under VIP since I don’t want to subscribe to another streaming service, although I probably will at one point to WeTV since I have a lot of series that is locked in VIP that I missed before and I don’t really like watching them on YouTube.

A fun update is that I’m currently watching Love Between Fairy and Devil (yes, the title is stupid but the series honestly isn’t) which will land on Netflix in September some time (I can’t remember the date so if you want to check out Chinese fantasy dramas, this one is good and not too long. Netflix has been doing a good job at picking up some of this year’s heavy hitters. Now, maybe they can also get Love Like The Galaxy, which is another breakout series currently playing which is on my watchlist.

Games

  • Spiritfarer: Farewell Edition

After starting up Spiritfarer last summer, I finally went back to it to play through the rest of the main content plus all the updates in 2 weeks. The updates were really great since the last one did give it such a well-rounded ending to the whole experience which adds so much to the narrative element of the game itself which plays a big part. There’s so much to love about Spiritfarer. Even though I finished the game with probably the most amount of hours and the closest I’ve ever gotten to 100% of the game content, I still am considering picking up this game at one point and revisiting it just for the beautiful world and stories that it tells.

Double Feature: Wedding Season (2022) & Look Both Ways (2022)

Wedding Season (2022)

Director: Tom Dey

Cast: Pallavi Sharda, Suraj Sharma, Arianna Afsar, Sean Kleier, Veena Sood, Rizwan Manji

Pressured by their parents to find spouses, Asha and Ravi pretend to date during a summer of weddings, only to find themselves falling for each other. – IMDB

The latest Netflix romantic comedy plays into the Indian culture as it revolves around a summer full of weddings and two kids who are set up together and decide to fake a relationship to avoid all the chatter. Asha (Pallavi Sharda) is the main character who is the central point of view where the plot is concerned. In some ways, it plays along a generation gap and culture gap that drives with kids born and raised in another country and while some details aren’t quite the applicable, the general story does apply to a lot of immigrant families. Its a fun angle to take for the story even if the romantic comedy of fake relationships turning real isn’t exactly a really unique idea overall and honestly has been done to death a lot, much like when I talked about the same general concept with another recently released Netflix film Purple Hearts (review).

Despite the predictable elements, the characters and cultural elements are pretty fun. The nagging parents and the whole wedding scenes all in different styles and the fun banter between the two leads are fairly entertaining. Its probably where the charm of this film is mostly centered on. Asha’s character is done pretty well as she plans this own thing because she wants to achieve better things in work and forgets about the core values of the project she is working on so as she tries to distance herself from her background because of growing up in the Western society, she eventually realizes a little something more about herself that exceeds that of just romance in the whole picture of the film. There’s a certain depth for Asha as her mindset shifts especially as her and her sister also have a lot of moments which eventually derives to a deeper understanding for the arranged marriage and relationship between her parents as well.

This is a romantic comedy so its time to take a look at the male character Ravi, played by Suraj Sharma. Honestly, I haven’t seen this actor since Life of Pi (podcast discussion). He definitely plays the more chill and fun character here but there is a definite secret that he and his family are trying to keep away that gets revealed by the end. Its a rather silly secret but the reaction from it is on one side fairly comedic because it did feel a little over the top but also a bit annoying because it felt like something that shouldn’t have gotten the reaction from Asha seeing as she is more modernized in her thoughts. Regardless, Ravi does have some fun bits and does also represent a certain other group of immigrant children who take on their own path against their parents’ wish.

To be fair, Wedding Season isn’t a bad film overall. The romantic elements actually are the weaker links here as the cultural elements take over to make the film more unique in this area. That’s not saying that the chemistry for the two main leads isn’t there as there definitely is even if some bits feel like it just jumps over fairly quickly. However, the film shines with the family moments with Asha, her sister and parents as well as the supporting characters from the nosy auntie to the judgmental views of others. There’s some truly charming elements here.

Look Both Ways (2022)

Director: Wanuri Kahiu

Cast: Lili Reinhart, Danny Ramirez, Aisha Dee, Andrea Savage, Luke Wilson, David Corenswet, Nia Long

On the eve of her college graduation, Natalie’s life diverges into parallel realities: one in which she becomes pregnant and remains in her hometown to raise her child and another in which she moves to LA to pursue her dream career. – IMDB

Look Both Ways is one of the latest Netflix films and balances really well the romance, drama and comedy elements of its story. The story itself while being compared a lot to Sliding Doors (a film that I haven’t seen yet) runs a parallel storyline which starts at the beginning when its main character is thrust into a situation following a quick decision when it bases around her pregnancy test on her graduation night. On one hand, the positive result turns her life around and the negative one takes her to execute her five year plan. Look Both Ways is a story about options in life regardless of what things may pop up accidentally and the positive message that it will all work out in the end as both sides of her realities lead to a different level of success and achievement and its own set of challenges as well.

With that said, a film like with alternating realities is heavily reliant on its execution and flow. In this case, it does a pretty good job. There is a logical bounce between the realities which is easily to follow and is a long enough set piece that doesn’t feel like the jumping from one reality to the next is too abrupt or lacking in delivering the feelings of the scene. It does help that the storyline keeps itself simple. On one hand, the planned reality focuses on the workplace challenges while the other side sticks to the challenges of a having a baby and the mixed feelings and responsibilities that come with it as well as how to rebuild her own life. While its a very hypothetical element to give the story two outcomes and their own timeline, these two timelines still feel rooted in a lot of realistic feelings and trials and tribulations especially when even the planned moments in life will have their unplanned obstacles. The positive message is truly what makes this film a fun one, despite perhaps a few plot point flaws here and there which doesn’t take away from the feel-good elements.

Look Both Ways stars primarily Riverdale’s Lili Reinhart, an actress that is very underrated as she does a great job with the role of Betty in Riverdale and despite the supporting role was pretty good in Hustlers (review) as well. In Look Both Ways, she is the focal character and all the events revolve around her and she gives both sides of the realities a really good portrayal and connects really well on both ends with the sentiments at that moment. Its nice to know that destiny doesn’t play a big part here mostly as both realities sees her end up different romantically as well. In reality, the two parts actually play together to create the full person that she becomes. Much like the LA career five year plan focuses on her career and friends more, letting the story focus more on her friendship, the pregnancy sidetrack takes her back home where it brings in a lot of nice conversations between her parents (Luke Wilson and Andrea Savage) as they have to also accept this new reality and gradually despite their disappointment also brings their own form of support.

Overall, Look Both Ways is a pretty good film. The cast is pretty decent especially with Lili Reinhart doing a great job at portraying her character. Its also a film with a wonderful positive message that ends in an open-ended way which gives the film a good thoughtful ending as well. Perhaps, its a good point of view for life in general to explore the reality that when things don’t quite go as planned that it will work out one way or another.

Double Feature: Persuasion (2022) & Purple Hearts (2022)

Persuasion (2022)

Director: Carrie Cracknell

Cast: Dakota Johnson, Cosmo Jarvis, Henry Golding, Richard E. Grant, Yolanda Kettle, Ben Bailey Smith, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Mia McKenna-Bruce

Eight years after Anne Elliot was persuaded not to marry a dashing man of humble origins, they meet again. Will she seize her second chance at true love? – IMDB

Based on Jane Austen’s novel of the same name (review), Persuasion tells the story of Anne, a woman well past her prime for marriage who ends up moving to Bath due to his father’s frivolous spending as the return of a man she once refused marriage after persuasion due to status returns to town after 8 years and brings back her inner struggle as they attempt to run in the same circle as friends.

Years ago when I did a Jane Austen books read, Persuasion was one of the hidden gems considering Pride and Prejudice is the most talked about. The Netflix adaptation is a little odd in execution. Dakota Johnson is rather suitable in her role as Anne and she remains the narrator of her own story as it brings in some fourth wall breaking elements as she speaks her feelings to the audience throughout the film. Unlike the clever use in Enola Holmes, it keeps her character development amusing but still feels almost  little too modernized. However, the attempt to make this unique is a good effort, considering this is one of the key elements of the execution.

Persuasion is a story that embodies a deeper and more mature story as a love slowly rekindles and Anne and Captain Wentworth need to get through their past differences from the failed proposal years ago. The issue here is that these two have no chemistry and part of it is the film execution with how their encounters are written but the other part is that Cosmo Jarvis as Captain Wentworth doesn’t quite have the acting depth to interpret those quiet brooding stares as he observes or as they exchange glances. Arguably, the best moment between them, a lot thanks to some nice cinematography, is their final moment as they rekindle their romance and realize that they both still love each other.

Persuasion does hit a lot of expected elements of a period drama like the setting and the soundtrack are pretty good, much like the costumes themselves are decent as well. Some of the supporting cast including the other suitor played by Henry Golding also does a good job. Where the film falls short is in its tone which adds in a bit of silliness and humor as well as breaking the fourth wall which is a unique take but the script might have let it down a little, much like the romance which felt like it didn’t have the chemistry it needed to make it more memorable.

Purple Hearts (2022)

Director: Elizabeth Allen Rosenbaum

Cast: Sofia Carson, Nicholas Galitzine, Chosen Jacobs, John Harlan Kim, Kat Cunning, Linden Ashby, Scott Deckert, Anthony Ippolito, Loren Escandon

In spite of their many differences, Cassie, a struggling singer-songwriter, and Luke, a troubled Marine, agree to marry solely for military benefits. But when tragedy strikes, the line between real and pretend begins to blur. – IMDB

At this point, Netflix delivers a good amount of romance films a year in whatever genre and usually its a pretty mixed bag and truly a test of chemistry and casting rather than script. Purple Hearts is the latest offering as a romance drama which sets a premise of a marriage out convenience for a young soldier being shipped out very soon and a waitress/musician, both with their own hardships that this arrangement would offer.

Deal is, as someone who watches a lot of Chinese drama, marriage before love premise has been done to death over the past two years in all kinds of premise. Of course, it usually is more humorous and light hearted at the beginning rather than the dramatic twist here. While the general premise is fairly predictable, the use of a soldier and his situation that gives him a purple heart is one that makes this journey much more memorable as while it isn’t so much about war, Luke finds meaning in becoming a Marine through it despite the danger and connects more to his father (Linden Ashby) because of this choice despite the bad decisions he had made prior.

Much like Cassie who as the child of an immigrant family also makes her reconsider her feelings about the sacrifices the Marines are making as she learns more about Luke as they do what they need to do to keep up appearances. This understanding also helps her find inspiration to write powerful music which brings her growing success. This brings in the additional music element which is probably the purpose to cast Sofia Carson. While I don’t avidly listen to Sofia Carson, the two songs that she performs here are pretty good and fit the story well. In some ways, it does tie to the story itself in a meaningful way so its a way for her character to express herself despite the arguments and banter between her and Luke.

Honestly, I’m not too hard on romance dramas. In reality, a predictable story is acceptable when they can deliver a believable chemistry between the two main leads. In this case, the chemistry between the two could definitely be better since their characters are fairly thin in development, however the premise and the execution gives this story a little more than just a love story so with everything rounded together, the two coming together from despise to leaning on each other to their revelation that they love each other by the end , its a pretty decent heartwarming and touching journey between the two. A romance where two people help each other grow in one way or another creates their chemistry subtly and a story with this premise of living the “in sickness and in health” part of the vows despite the fake marriage at the beginning.

To be fair, when it comes to romance films and I’ve seen quite a few of them being the sappy romantic that I am, this one might come up fairly average but it still works for various elements. The ending even had me feeling rather connected with Cassie and Luke’s love when these two finally figure out their feelings.

What’s Up & Adventures – July 2022

Adventures – July 2022

Motherhood and Recovery

If you were here for last month’s update, you know that I am now in the adventures of motherhood with my 1.5 months old newborn who as this post goes up is in his 6 weeks and the supposed peak of the fussy and crying phase and that’s a true adventure as we put on talent shows and silliness to try to keep him entertained as he refuses to sleep. However, we did get a few fun things especially since I am now basically feeling much better and mostly recovered. I did have a C-section so the wound feels mostly recovered but nothing too exciting to happen yet. However, we did start getting back to going out for little strolls and slowly lengthening them as my energy gets better.

Gardening Update

What’s our summer without a little gardening update. Our little container gardening isn’t really going too hot at the moment. The crazy swing in weather with the heat and the torrential rains aren’t exactly helping the situation. We did harvest 2 cucumbers and a little bucket of tomatoes and 4 strawberries. While the actual vegetable patch looks like an out of control nightmare which is going to be fun to fix up next year or even in the fall hopefully, the little bee garden is still surviving. The season of lavenders are here so its been lovely and I’ve been cutting some to put in the house.

That’s really it for adventures so let’s move on…

What’s Up – July 2022

Books – No time to do any reading this month…

Movies

  • It’s A Boy Girl Thing (2006)
  • Girl In The Picture (2022)
  • Banana Split (2018, Review)
  • Persuasion (2022)
  • Untraceable (2008)
  • Ma (2019)
  • Fifty Shades of Grey ( 2015)

Slowly picking up on some movie watching. Most of it were movies leaving Netflix in August. I do have to say that they were decent watches. Nothing spectacular but rather entertaining. Even Fifty Shades Of Grey was acceptable but in comparison to the novel, which I read quite a few years ago and my opinion has changed gradually over the years, it lacks some good bits of the novel but the film still highlights the essence of the story in general. Although my recommendation this month goes to Banana Split which was feel good and charming as a teen comedy. As for Persuasion, while its had a lot of grief from the general ratings, I felt it wasn’t all that bad. My review for it is coming out so I won’t dwell too much on it but its a rather lackluster adaptation mostly due to Captain Wentworth having a rather wooden performance and the chemistry just didn’t deliver. I mean, the movie did make me want to re-read Persuasion which is pretty much in the same level of love as Pride and Prejudice in terms of Jane Austen.

With that said, my fave watches of the months went to Netflix documentary Girl In The Picture which was a fascinating mystery and investigation to say that very least, which made me dig into the original exposure on Unsolved Mysteries. I also recommend teen comedy Banana Split which was my Friday Film Club pick. It looks at an unlikely friendship but still has some really fun feel-good vibes.

TV

  • Stranger Things (Season 4, Review)
  • Infinity and Beyond 聲生不息
  • Resident Evil (Season 1, Review)
  • Court Lady 驪歌行
  • Mom, Don’t Do That! 媽,別閙了!
  • The Chef Show (Volume 1)
  • Never Have I Ever (Season 2, rewatch)

Currently watching: Great Escape Season 4 密室大逃脫第四季, The Rap Of China中國説唱巔峰對決, Twinkle Love Season 2怦然心動20嵗第二季

TV has been an interesting month with a lot of new releases that I was able to catch up on while still trying to make my way through some new Chinese variety/reality shows and dramas. Stranger Things Season 4’s final episode came out and it was quite the season finale, unlike Resident Evil series that was fairly disappointing even if it had the right idea. The surprise series of the month had to go to Netflix Taiwanese series Mom, Don’t Do That, which I literally finished a few days before this post so the review is still in the works. That series was a ton of fun which takes a good look at mother-daughter relationships as they seek out out their own relationships.

Games

  • Lost Words: Beyond The Page (Review)

Currently playing: As Dusk Falls

Its been a decent month considering I still find some little moments to game. Lost Words: Beyond The Page is a fun little platformer which is mostly straightforward and linear. Its a word puzzle game and does a decent job at implementing it. The story itself is pretty good as it does a parallel of fantasy and reality. I’m currently playing As Dusk Falls which I literally just started for about 30 minutes. Its narrative heavy and choice-based so 30 minutes is basically just a set-up of the beginning right now. So far, its rather decent and I can’t wait to find more time to get back into it. This one is pretty good since it can have up to 7 players to join in via app on cellphone.

That’s it for this month’s What’s Up!
What have you been up to lately?

Double Feature: Profile (2018) & Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark (2019)

Profile (2018)

Director (& co-writer): Timur Bekmambetov

Cast: Valene Kane, Morgan Watkins, Christine Adams, Emma Cater, Amir Rahimzadeh, Shazad Latif

An undercover British journalist infiltrates the online propaganda channels of the so-called Islamic State, only to be sucked in by her recruiter. – IMDB

Released as part of the initial three Screenlife films aka cyber found footage along with Searching (review) and Unfriended (review), Timur Bekmamtov delivers Profile, a film about a UK journalist Amy (Valene Kane) who goes undercover and engages into an online conversation with a jihadist Bilel (Shazad Latif) to learn about their ways of recruiting religious converts, their operations and how these converts are transported. As she uses her alias profile Melody to talk to Bilel, a leader who wants to woo her, she starts to blur the reality of her assignment with this new relationship during the process and things go out of control with both her boyfriend and her boss. 

Screenlife is a fascinating subgenre that fits very well to the modern world we live in and breathes new life into the found footage genre. The three Screenlife productions by Bekmamtov all vary in scenario and genre, showing the potential of the variety of stories it can tell in a convincing way through the screen of someone. The cyber element used here focuses heavily on the accessibility of information at our fingertips and the ability to multitask while in a conversation. It exposes a world of danger that resides online. Unlike the other screenlife stories, this one is based on a non-fiction book In The Skin Of A Jihadist. The fact that its based on a real event makes it even more captivating. 

When dealing with cyber found footage, this one is centered around two main people, Melody aka Amy and Bilel. Their characters become the focal point especially for the former as it’s all from her point of view aka her computer screen. Her character is fantastic as the contrast of nervousness of setting up the first conversation to the ease of diving into believing Bilel to the big finale makes her character rather complex or perhaps gives a nod to how convincing the character of Bilel is. He becomes a real and convincing person when he seemingly can offer so much and knows the right things to say: shedding a bit of personal information at the right time and sharing an insight of the positivity that surrounds him as well as the dangers. However, it’s all an expectations versus reality situation that drives to a rather intense finale. There are some sudden character shifts and it has to do with the subtle and fast moving timeline however the interactions between the two along with Amy’s research along the way is some shocking stuff.

Profile might not quite hit the epicness of Searching in the Screenlife films by Bekmamtov, however, it definitely packs a punch with the narrative. A lot of these films do work so much better watching it on a computer screen than the big screen in terms of involvement. Much like documentary films like Caught In The Net which tries to lure out its predators in a real situation, this adapts a true story into a believable scenario with this format which suits the whole investigation very well. It’s definitely worth a watch. 

Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark (2019)

Director: André Ovredal

Cast: Zoe Margaret Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush, Austin Abrams, Dean Norris, Gil Bellows, Austin Zajur, Natalie Ganzhorn, Lorraine Toussaint, Kathleen Pollard

On Halloween 1968, Stella and her two friends meet a mysterious drifter, Ramón, and uncover a sinister notebook of stories. – IMDB

Based on the children’s book series of the same name by Alvin Schwartz, Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark was co-produced and the screenplay co-written by Guillermo Del Toro. The story follows three friends as they find a sinister notebook of stories which writes itself and eventually, the people around her start disappearing. As danger creeps closer to themselves, Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti) has to act quickly to find out the truth about the girl Sarah Bellows (Kathleen Pollard) who lived in the haunted house where they found the notebook in order to hopefully put an end to the string of events which as befallen them.

In some ways, Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark almost plays out like a horror anthology. The different stories being written throughout the story reflect a different segment for the different characters who are Stella’s group of friends. While the film focuses on the angle from Stella’s point of view as she is the one who took the book and asked for its help in the first place, it becomes an “evil” that she can’t get rid of even after regretting her choice. Its also because of these moments that the film’s main storyline around Stella and finding out about the Bellows history becomes what strings along the story but its hard to not feel like there is a sense of disjointedness when the strength is in the little stories themselves and this isn’t meant to be an anthology. That is coming from a person that hasn’t read any of the source material so maybe its the issue of adaptation.

The cinematography is the standout element for the film. While the stories themselves might not be all that scary in execution, the horror elements is mostly from the different forms of the horror figures that it brings to life in a varying dark and creepy atmosphere that somewhat exceeds that of what you’d expect from a children’s book adaptation. Each story has their own horrific element and as the story is being written and the actual events are going down, it leaves space for anticipation of what comes next and what horror is waiting for that character. Most of them are great imaginations and as they come to life really add in the darker element for this film set around these simple horror stories to scare children. Perhaps its the simplicity that makes them work even more.

Overall, Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark is visually appealing especially when bringing to life the horrors of the stories. The premise itself is also quite good as a foundation especially for a children’s books series and actually some of the horrors in the film feel almost too much for children however, the execution does leave a little to be desired. While the separate stories are really fun to see come to life, the main plot line isn’t quite as well told and with the teen cast, some bits are still rather silly.

What’s Up & Adventures – June 2022

June 2022 Adventures

If you hadn’t caught my mid-June announcement/update, you can find that HERE.

The biggest event of June which has consumed most of the month is that: I had a BABY BOY!

I’ve been kind of a bit hush hush on the whole thing on the blog and just dropping little hints about the nursery and such in the adventures post since the beginning of the year. Obviously, if no one read it then they probably never quite realized it was a thing in my life. It also explained the lesser amounts of posts in the past 8 months or so since the first trimester was just a fatigue filled sleep fest. I wanted to sleep all the time. With that said, I couldn’t complain a lot since I had a pretty smooth pregnancy with no cravings, almost no nausea or food aversions except for fish and nothing came back bad in any of the tests and checkups.

Where things started to go wrong was the actual birthing process where things got a little scary for a moment and didn’t go as planned resulting in a C-section. However, everything is so far so good and as I sit here recovering and the husband and I are on our maternity/parental leave , its been quite a journey for the past 2 weeks or so with a newborn. The surgery meant that I basically can’t do a whole lot of stuff except for caring for the baby without having a lot of discomfort. Luckily things are getting better day by day.

If you take a look at the announcement/update post, basically things will remain fairly slow for at least the next month or two. However, my other projects with my fantastic co-host who is holding down the fort and our hard work in creating a huge backlog in our production means those projects are still going out. If you ever want to hear some podcasts, Movies and Tea is currently in its Quentin Tarantino season and Game Warp is also having scatters of reviews and non-E3 2022 coverage.

To be fair, I haven’t had a vacation from work in the past 3 years (partially pandemic- related) so I’m taking the leave to relax a little and enjoy my time with my newborn, we nicknamed him Triple V so if I mention him again, may be under that name from now on.

Basically June’s adventures was half the month waiting to birth the baby and the second half is taking care of the baby. Its crazy how fast time goes by.

What’s Up – June 2022

Books

Currently reading: The Woman in Cabin 10

Recently started up The Woman in Cabin 10. Literally one chapter in so I will talk about it more next month. Maybe by then, I will have finished it.

Movies

  • My Neighbor Totoro (1988 rewatch)
  • The Night Clerk (2020)
  • Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark (2019)
  • Rogue (2007, Review)
  • Trust (2021, Review)
  • Bill Burr Presents: Friends Who Kill (2022)
  • Girl’s Revenge (2020, Review)
  • Cyber Hell: Exposing An Internet Horror (2022, Review)
  • Hellboy (2019)
  • Constantine (2005 rewatch)
  • The Tale of Princess Kaguya (2013)
  • Profile (2018)
  • Adrift (2018)

Sitting at home for maternity leave for the entire June gave time to catch on some movie watching (among many other things) especially before our baby arrived. I was able to catch up on some titles I hadn’t seen before. As usual, highlighted titles are the ones I personally recommend. Reviews are on the way for some of these. Special mention goes to 2007’s Rogue which was a ton of fun for a creature feature and Profile, a Screenlife title which I thought worked really well also. Much like Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark which was a fun little kids horror adaptation.

TV

  • Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Part 3, Review)
  • Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Part 4, Review)
  • The Floor is Lava (Season 2)
  • Riverdale (Season 2, Review)
  • Midnight Asia (Season 1)
  • Iron Chef: Quest For An Iron Legend (Season 1)
  • Yes I Do (喜歡你我也是, Season 3)
  • Riverdale (Season 3)
  • The Umbrella Academy (Season 2)
  • The Umbrella Academy (Season 3)
  • Camping Life (一起露營吧)

Currently binging: Day Breakers 暗夜行者, Nightflyers, Infinity and Beyond聲生不息, Love The Way You Are 愛情應該有的樣子, The Great Canadian Baking Show (Season 5)

With a ton of TV binges in the works right now from the past month, here we are. We started Nightflyers which was good but I had to stop as we hit a part of the series which triggered the pregnant me a little so we took a pause on that. Chinese variety shows were my jam with Infinity and Beyond taking the lead bringing back a ton of Cantopop nostalgia. Finished up Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and got back into Riverdale and now Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa seems to be haunting me as I look around and its just shows that he is working or worked on. Having never seen even one episode of Iron Chef, the Netflix version was so much fun. Highly recommend if you like cooking competition shows. Finally we finally caught up with The Umbrella Academy with the third season recently being released, no better time than now, right?

Games

  • How To Say Goodbye (Demo)
  • Paper Trail (Demo)
  • The Last Stop (Review)

Currently playing: Backbone, Lost Words: Beyond the Page

Gaming finally picks up again! Beginning of June saw the non-E3 2022 happen as Game Warp covered some out of our highlights from various showcases that peaked our interest. It also brought along Steam Fest which meant a lot of demos for upcoming indie games to check out. The two I played were How To Say Goodbye and Paper Trail. Both were pretty decent concepts although Paper Trail has a bit of the Gorogoa vibe except with paper as the item of manipulation, which I absolutely adored.

I am mostly catching up with Game Pass titles at this point. Last Stop left Game Pass at the end of June so I played it through. My first game review in eons is on the Game Warp blog if you wanted to check it out. I am focusing on smaller games and less brain involving ones so its why I put Backbone aside and started up a simpler word-based platformer Lost Words, which I had tried the demo before. About halfway through the game as this post goes up.

That’s it for this Adventures and What’s Up for June 2022!
What have you been up to?

Double Feature: Girl’s Revenge (哈囉,少女, 2020) & Cyber Hell: Exposing An Internet Horror (2022)

Girl’s Revenge (哈囉,少女, 2020)

Director: Weica Wang

Cast: Yu-Ping Wang, Yuri Chen, Shiny Yao, Pii Liu, Mike Lin, Edison Song, Teng-hong Xia, Moon Lee

Bullying. Humiliation. An ugly truth. She’s standing up for her friend. But her retaliatory quest is about to unravel. After a sex video subjects her friend to mockery and bullying, a transfer student sets out to reveal the truth as campus secrets come to light. – IMDB

There’s been a really big focus on bullying in Asian film and TV lately in the past few years from Girl From Nowhere, Better Days and Cry Me A Sad River, etc. A lot of these films focus on the extremities of the situation. Girl’s Revenge takes it from another angle which looks not only at bullying but how social media plays a big part in the modern school environment when a sex video leaks from a party gone out of control. Its more of emotional bullying than a physical one.

Girl’s Revenge is basically set up in 2 parts. The first focuses on the new transfer student Yun-heng and her bond with her new group of friends leading up to the birthday party where one of her friends Li-Chia gets involved in this sex video being taken and distributed after an edgy party game. The second part is how Yun-heng teams up with other students to try to figure out what actually happened at the party to give some justice to her friends. It all dials down to walking the line between whether Yun-Heng’s justice for her friend is making her into the bullies that she despises by giving them a taste of their own medicine.

Girl’s Revenge runs at a tight 81 minutes and for that, it has its pros and cons. The story keeps itself very quick-paced and moves forward from Yun-Heng’s transfer to making new friends and drawing those lines of certain other classmates. The conflict happens quickly much like the investigation itself but the quick-paced also keeps it focused on the situation at hand. On the other side, the tighter runtime sacrifices a little on building up more on the characters as there just isn’t enough time to do it. There’s a basic background of what happens and hints of Yun-Heng’s past as to why she’s been transferred to this school which affects her decisions in the end, especially when its exposed at the end. Its somewhat of a twist to the story itself which at one part does push a little too far and becomes slightly apparent where the plot wants to take it.

The cast here is pretty close-knit, focusing on a few key characters from the three friends, the in-running class ambassador, the boy pursuing Yun-Heng, another classmate who initiates the investigation and the school teacher and principal. The roles are pretty clear-cut and the characters here faced with this situation do work well, especially for the character of Ke-Chien, the class ambassador who is the main suspect of what goes down as she seems to be a wolf in a sheep skin trying to be nice to everyone but also having the resources to make it seem like the subconsciously exposes other student’s secrets but acting innocent about it. Its never been so clear that someone is a suspect but then, its these characters that do create some good friction especially since there is no outward and obvious bullying, so how do you subject such a person to what they’ve done. The film takes a good approach in this situation.

Girl’s Revenge might lack a little bit of character depth but its portrayal of this form of bullying in the modern world in a school setting is one that doesn’t forget to make sure we know that these are high school students in the set-up who find joy in life’s simple things but also that easy accessibility of social media is one that can easily be misused and it no longer has to be a physical act but an emotionally disturbing one.

Cyber Hell: Exposing An Internet Horror (2022)

Director: Jin-seong Choi

Anonymous and exploitative, a network of online chat rooms ran rampant with sex crimes. The hunt to take down its operators required guts and tenacity. – IMDB

Continuing on the online crime investigation documentary angle, Netflix recently delivers Cyber Hell, a South Korea n crime that involves a mystery chat room, the dark web and a slew of police officers, reporters and hackers working together to trace down hidden manipulators who use compromising footage of young girls to make them do bad things to themselves which gets shared online with paying members. As internet becomes our main form of connection more and more, these real life horror stories really do deserved to be shared, not focused on the killer themselves but both the devastation of its victims but also bringing attention to the dangers lurking in the deep dark corners of the web and condemnning not only those who created the space but also those who create the demand for it.

Unlike other limited series, Cyber Hell is executed as a 2 hour documentary film. It fits the investigation really well as it moves through the time frame of how they track the culprits down from the angle of the police and others who are simply reporting the investigation to bring awareness to the public about such crimes. This investigation is also one that is much closer to the present as it took place starting in 2018 and follows each step that they discuss until the eventual capture of the culprits. The documentary focuses heavily on the process and the hardships of looking for a killer in today’s online space especially with the advancement of technology and the more securitized software or online chatrooms which provides a safe space where information isn’t saved but also can be a useful tool for those who mean harm to others, much like creating spaces like the Nth room.

As it moves from one interviewee to the next, it makes it more real that some of these people remain hidden while others are from various fields of job willing to join the case at the time. Luckily, the ones involved were eventually caught and the final highlight of the issue didn’t talk about those who did it but also who else is responsible and bringing in a bigger point of how easily what we consider safe information can be used to blackmail.

Much like ‘The Blue Whale Challenge’ which was made into a Russian film #Blue_Whale (review) which was adapted to talk about the issue of the dangers of online darker spaces, Cyber Hell achieves that by telling the story of the hunt from those involved from their online interactions with the ones involved to those actually implicated into the situation and afraid to talk about it and being used to delay the investigative work. Considering its something in South Korea and wasn’t exposed further, it was an intriguing case to learn about and well worth a watch.