TV Binge: Never Have I Ever (Season 1, 2020)

Never Have I Ever (Season 1, 2020)

Never Have I Ever

Creators: Lang Fisher & Mindy Kaling

Cast: Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Darren Barnet, Jaren Lewison, Poorna Jagannathan, Lee Rodriguez, Ramona Young, Richa Moorjani, Niecy Nash, Adam Shapiro

The complicated life of a modern-day first generation Indian American teenage girl, inspired by Mindy Kaling’s own childhood. – IMDB

While I haven’t been following Mindy Kaling’s career and probably only have seen one movie with her (Ocean’s Eight) and haven’t been exposed to her humor a lot, Never Have I Ever has a fun and unique script and layout. For one, a lot of shows that puts together cultural background with teenage coming of age do create a good effect. This show is no exception. When you look at the different elements of this teen coming of age comedy, there’s a lot to love.

For one, the script itself really brings these characters alive. Its not only Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) who has her spotlight even if she is a major focal as this season focuses heavily on her desire to be different whether its acting out from a deeper issue stemmed from her father’s death. At the same time, her two best friends Eleanor (Ramona Young) and Fabiola (Lee Rodriguez) have their own unique quirkiness that makes the three of them really fun to watch together. Much like the two boys, Paxton (Darren Barnet) and Ben (Jaren Lewison) which also have their differences that separate them significantly as they start stepping more into Devi’s life. However, the show is much more than that as the cultural elements come with majorly with Devi and her family which consists of her mother and her pretty older cousin. As she navigates through school, family, grief, friends and boys, her life is narrated charmingly by John McEnroe with a special episode narrated by Andy Samberg for an episode focused on Ben. A great part of the series charm and humor does come from these voice-over bits as they are a little sarcastic, judgmental and analytical of the whole situation.

The main plot of the story with Devi almost links to films like The Edge of Seventeen (review) where it focuses on a high school girl trying to pursue a school hot guy to lose her virginity where Devi is in the same situation where she tries to break out of her nerdy and invisible presence at school with her friends and try to start the school year after a year of being mysteriously handicapped as her body’s defense mechanism after her father’s death, making her having the wrong kind of spotlight. With that mind, the three set out to pursue the good-looking popular guys which gives revelations on multiple levels as Fabiola embraces her sexual orientation while Devi starts building affections that exceed that of pure appearances as she starts to know Paxton more but also getting to find the points that she can connect with her school competition Ben. Much like Paxton and Ben also have their own set of issues with their own lives. Each of these characters are full of personality as they start to revealing them bit by bit giving them a lot more substance.

What makes them more relatable is that they aren’t perfect especially when looking at Devi who makes some of the worst judgment calls. It all builds up from her sessions with her psychiatrist which highlights the unsolved issues she has as she still hasn’t completely coped with the loss of her father which also has its weight especially in the family segments particularly her conversations with her mother. The family segments giving a lot of weight as it brings in a more dramatic side which definitely hits Devi harder especially with her mother (Poorna Jagannathan) while with her cousin Kamala (Richa Moorjani), its more of an envious side as she believes that her beauty covers up how nerdy she is which is something that she doesn’t think that she has. Devi turns into a rather unlikeable character at one part and needs to slowly redeem herself and these moments are constructed really well much like the character’s development all progress consistently and does make sense.

In many ways, Never Have I Ever’s first season is a pretty fun season to build a foundation for the show. The characters are built up well and there’s a good sense of how the relationships and chemistry with everyone as they can easily develop further from where they end at this point. Running at 10 episodes, Never Have I Ever is absolutely binge-worthy as its both fun and comedic. It has a really strong script giving a lot of memorable characters. There are some very awkward moments but then it does feel normal for a bunch of awkward teens making questionable decisions. Plus, while its mostly about an Indian American teenage girl acting out and pissing everyone off (its literally the title of one of the episodes), the story has a lot of depth and meaningful moments as it also deals with family, grief and loss which definitely adds to the whole story.

Tranquil Dreams Podcast #21: What’s Up 2021 August Recap (Week 32-35)

Welcome to the next episode of Tranquil Dreams Podcast as we still try to catch up with the What’s Up 2021 as we cover the month of August (aka Weeks 32 – 35). Between catching up on reading and maneuvering through bigger blogging priorities, this month was heavily focused on TV series while still getting some gaming done in co-stream with my friend BrandelSavage on Twitch.

Thanks for listening! Hope you enjoy!

The next few episodes will still be some form of catch-up in the next week! Keep an eye out for the next episode which is a little special as a do a Fantasia Festival coverage (a little later than expected but still deserves some attention).

Related Links

Hope – Book Review
Blackthorn – Book Review
The Visitor – Book Review
Brandel Savage – Twitch Stream (I co-stream on Friday’s for horror and co-op games)

Music in the Episode:
There It Is by Kevin MacLeod
Link: https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/song/4519-there-it-is
License: https://filmmusic.io/standard-license

Listen to the Show:
Anchor
Spotify
Google Podcasts
Breaker
RadioPublic

Book Review: The Visitor by Terry Tyler

The Visitor
By: Terry Tyler

Genre: Mystery/Post-Apocalyptic

In 2024, a mystery virus ravages the entire world. ‘Bat Fever’ is highly contagious and a hundred per cent lethal.

A cottage tucked away in an isolated Norfolk village seems like the ideal place to sit out a catastrophic pandemic, but some residents of Hincham resent the arrival of Jack, Sarah and their friends, while others want to know too much about them.What the villagers don’t know is that beneath Sarah’s cottage is a fully-stocked, luxury survival bunker. A post-apocalyptic ‘des res’.

Hincham isolates itself from the rest of the country, but the deaths continue―and not from the virus. There’s a killer on the loose, but is it a member of the much-depleted community, or someone from outside? As the body count rises, paranoia sets in; friend suspects friend, and everyone suspects the newcomers.

Most terrifying of all is that no one knows who’s next on the list… – Goodreads

Having read two books before by Terry Tyler, The Visitor continues on being able to showcase her ability to craft engaging murder mystery thrillers. The Visitor’s plot benefits from our current pandemic situation as it sets itself in the future after another pandemic has struck the world which is 100% lethal and much more brutal but sets it in a little village where another threat has hit them simultaneously in the form of a murderer which causes the fear to grow in its inhabitants. The backdrop is one that feels almost like it could happen in our current landscape with variants popping up in our current landscape, making it hit home a little more.

There’s a lot to love about The Visitor other than its familiar backdrop. One of them is a familiar form in Terry Tyler’s books which focuses around the point of view from a few of its core characters. In this one, its from the view of the few inhabitants living in the cottage and bunker who ends up there through some connection whether it is the leftover family and companions of friends that had gotten the invitation. As they gather in the bunker and keep it secret, they observe the people around them and get to know the different members of the village. As they each struggle with their own loss and current situation, they each have their own speculations. The benefit of jumping between characters is that it leaves some blind spots and blank spaces giving the unknown to spark. At the same time, who actually knows the depths of someone’s mind although the killer’s perspective usually does draw certain clues from one chapter to the next and slowly does give an idea of who is behind it by the end.

The Visitor also crafts really good characters. The group in the bunker themselves having their own differences and backgrounds and how they get there is one that definitely sets their own character as much as what they do after the settle into the village and each having their own pursuits and responsibilities. Two of them being best friends but also old flames, one of them being a survivalist (but also could be viewed as selfish), one dealing with her massive loss but navigating through being more of a loner: add in their own sort of purpose and personality that grows throughout the story as they get more involved into the village’s affairs and the villagers themselves, human nature is a tricky thing to say the very least.

The great part is how the focus of the novel smoothly shifts from its beginning of the big threat with this mystery virus which takes the front seat and determines their own means to survive and the desperation of the whole situation due to its lethal nature. However, subtly the story shifts to the murder and slowly the routine of surviving through this “post -apocalyptical” world becomes secondary as the murders become more frequent. It almost blends the two together so well that the story and character plot shift is done incredibly well.

Overall, The Visitor is a fantastic murder mystery. Not only does it have well-developed characters but it also builds a great post-apocalyptic world that is not only relatable in the current age but also pushes it further. Perhaps at times it feels a little bit too soon to be already diving into it but it also adds to the unsettling and uneasiness. Smooth plot transition and executed well, The Visitor is a well-paced and engaging thriller to dive into.

The Kissing Booth 3 (2021)

The Kissing Booth 3 (2021)

Director (and co-writer): Vince Marcello

Cast: Joey King, Jacob Elordi, Joel Courtney, Molly Ringwald, Taylor Zakhar Perez, Maisie Richardson-Sellers, Meganne Young, Stephen Jennings

It’s the summer before Elle Evans is set to head off to college, and she has a big decision to make. – IMDB

The final film of The Kissing Booth trilogy takes place the summer before college which pretty much picks up almost after the last film. With college decisions, friendship and love to balance out, Elle is stuck trying to please everyone but not exactly being able to achieve it especially when she has to accept her father also moving on and finding himself a girlfriend who seems to want to replace her mom. If you have seen my review of the first (review) and second (review) films, you will probably know that I am not a big fan of the films, in fact The Kissing Booth getting 2 more films after the first one was a pretty surprising development overall. Still, there’s always hope that it can get better since the second one was a tad better than the first. Who knows, right? With the mentality to finish up the trilogy and to keep on track with Netflix releases (since I’m not going to the theatres yet), here we go!

The Kissing Booth 3 feels pretty much exactly how I felt about the previous two. The story itself is pretty basic. The characters are not really too likeable and the dialogue itself feels a little forced. The chemistry is mostly not too great between Noah and Elle. It really feels like I’m being a bit harsh with the film but I’m not trying to. Its not all bad to be fair. Every single film has one highlight event and that usually lands pretty well. Much like the second movie’s dance competition preparation, this film was all about Lee and Elle’s summer bucket list. That part was a ton of fun as it really focused on their friendship and the fun ideas that they had, no matter ridiculous or silly that it would be. Those moments packed in some fun surprises overall.

These films really are at its worst when it focuses on the deeper feelings as it just doesn’t carry well. In fact, they become really frustrating to watch in general. I’m usually pretty easy to please in this department (considering I watch Asian dramas which are probably the most formulaic). However, Elle and Lee has this solid friendship that seems to easily break apart when life throws them curveballs and Elle doesn’t choose Lee in some situations, which on some level is understandable. Elle and Noah is just an annoying relationship as their chemistry isn’t too great and the arguments increase with each film over the same issues essentially. Its this vicious cycle that whether its one person being careless about the other or they are fighting for each other, it just feels like something is missing between them while they seem to pair up much better with their other friends.

With that said, the character development here is visible. For Elle, she’s a much more likable character as she is working hard to balance everything even if some moments still sees her being a little insensible as she’s overwhelmed but there are shining points of her that truly get shown here. Its the same for Noah and Lee individually. Perhaps the most heartwarming moments are the family ones especially the conversations between them and the parents. Molly Ringwald’s character as Mrs. Flynn is one that truly shines when she acts as a parent figure for Elle much like Elle and her dad’s conversations also are pretty heartfelt as well. However, I do want to mention that the character of Marco, played Taylor Zakhar Perez is pretty good even if his role here is even lesser than his previous one. He is a pretty good second male interest which is a likeable character overall.

Overall, The Kissing Booth 3 is one that I felt pretty indifferent. It delivers about the same feelings as the previous two films. Its not a complete loss but its really not my type of film. While some bits are fun to watch, it never adds to the story as a whole. It might be a script problem or an acting problem or just the cast and chemistry issue. Its hard to really say at this point. As a little spoiler (highlight to see if you have seen the film or don’t mind reading it) and a general thought about the ending: the best part of the film was breaking up the characters at the end and if the film had kept them broken up as the big finale, years down the road, it would have landed so much better. But then, it wouldn’t fit the film genre and turn into some romantic drama, I suppose. If you’ve liked the previous 2 films, you will probably like this one, if you didn’t, then its really up to you whether finishing the trilogy is worth it or not.

The Fatal Raid (不義之戰, 2019)

The Fatal Raid (2019)

Director (and co-writer): Jacky Lee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Film provided by TARO PR*

He’s All That (2021)

He’s All That (2021)

Director: Mark Waters

Cast: Addison Rae, Tanner Buchanan, Madison Pettis, Rachel Leigh Cook, Matthew Lillard, Peyton Meyer, Isabella Crovetti, Annie Jacob, Myra Molloy

A teenage girl sets out to give a nebbish classmate the ultimate high school makeover. An updated remake of the 1999 film, ‘She’s All That’. – IMDB

Its been 22 years since She’s All That, He’s All That is a remake which uses the same premise as its 1999 counterpart but with flipped female and male character roles set in our current social media modern world where the girl takes on a bet to makeover a guy instead of the original where the popular guy makes over a geeky girl because of a bet to turn her into the prom queen. It definitely feels like making movies where its the same premise, swapping roles or modernizing it feels really redundant. In fact, it shows a lack of creativity for something new. Sad to say that He’s All That is pretty much exactly that. Of course, that’s coming from myself who only did see She’s All That (review) about a decade ago for the first time for this blog in its early days well past my high school days when the film was released and probably would have been more impactful and just ended up falling a tad flat overall. So, He’s All That being released felt like it was banking on a lot of nostalgia which I also didn’t have. Of course, that’s all on a rather subjective level but looking at it on a more objective level as a standalone film, it also doesn’t hold up too well.

Teen romantic comedy films have had its hit and misses over the years. Much like romantic comedy films, its based a lot on the chemistry and the characters itself. Right off the bat, it feels like there’s a lot of very unnatural and lack of chemistry between the two leads, Addison Rae and Tanner Buchanan playing respectively, Padgett and Cameron. The two characters aren’t badly written as they do fit into the current social media landscape as it makes Padgett out as a middle class single mom family trying to pretend that she is part of an upper class family to fit into her school while also being a successful influencer which shares lifestyle tips and other advices where right off the bat, it all is a bit staged, making her life especially the popularity she built feels rather fake. There’s something really over the top with this character that its a little unbearable at times however the script that give her some more real moments when she interacts with Cameron, a photography-obsessed, against the current outcast of the school life with essentially one best friend who dreams for high school to end so that he can go travel the world. The two together is the typical opposite attracts sort of story. In reality, Cameron is a pretty decently written character and well acted for the most part individually. The moments where Cameron and Padgett just feels too rushed and disjointed to actually feel like these two have the chemistry together.

For the teen high school elements of the film, it does reflect it well enough especially when the current social media heavy world is a big part of it as Padgett’s life is upholding her influencer status. Of course, a part of it is her trying to keep it so that she can build up her college fund and help out her family which makes her character likable. How high school changed with the help of social media community is also well-portrayed. In some ways, it also reflects that whether in the past or the present, the high school dynamic doesn’t change too much. Obviously, I’m not in high school anymore so I’m not exactly the person to talk about how high school environment is right now but it does feel like other than bad news spreading even faster through the help of social media and technology advancement, its rather the same. But then, the high school dynamic is centered on the people in it: fake friends, betrayal, people trying to get prom king and queen, the shallowness of teenagers, exes and of course, the best people being the characters’ friends or sibling which adds positivity in the low times. The better moments of the film truly revolve around the other characters interaction rather than focusing on Cameron and Padgett as their storyline is just done to death over the many years of teen rom-coms.

Being a film that banks on nostalgia, they also bring in some characters played by the original cast. The most notable being Rachel Leigh Cook as Padgett’s mother and Matthew Lillard as the principal. These two characters are pretty decent supporting characters and probably add the most point to the film. Its not from a nostalgia element for myself but would for fans of She’s All That but they also have some fun characters. They add some color to this film overall even if they don’t have a big role overall. Much like there’s some fun makeover montage moments of trying out clothes with the crew that was pretty fun right down to a dance battle sequence during prom night that felt out of place but still okay.

Overall, He’s All That is a pretty forgettable experience. Its not quite as good as the first film. The acting is not particularly good. It lacks chemistry between the main leads. While its not a complete destruction, there’s a lot of issues with the script and dialogue (or maybe I’m just not in with the young crowd which is highly probably). Addison Rae is a huge part of the story as she is the main focal point and the film is from her point of view and yet she doesn’t seem to be able to hold up the film enough even if some of the other side characters are rather entertaining to watch. As a final note, movies likes this really feel like its unnecessary as the resources could be in making more original stories rather than just rehashing and that bothers more than the film not being good as I didn’t really have high expectations in the first place.

Fantasia Film Festival 2021: Glasshouse (2021)

Glasshouse (2021)

Director (and co-writer): Kelsey Egan

Cast: Jessica Alexander, Kitty Harris, Anja Taljaard, Adrienne Pearce, Hilton Pelser, Brent Vermeulen

Confined to their glasshouse, a family survives The Shred, a toxin that erases memory. Until the sisters are seduced by a Stranger who shatters their peace and stirs a past best left buried. – IMDB

Glasshouse is a 2021 South African science-fiction thriller set in a dystopian future when the world has now settled into a permanent confinement due to an airborne dementia-inducing toxin. Living in a glasshouse for many years, a family led by a mother with her three daughters and a son under a set of strict rules to avoid strangers coming in to break the balance. However, when the eldest daughter Bee ends up doing that when she brings home an injured man, the man starts breaking down the family dynamics one by one.

Suffice to say that Glasshouse is the type of thrillers with lot of twists and turns. In fact, it actually does build both the dystopian world incredibly well while giving this family dynamic a whole other system to discover that presents surprise right down to the very end. Its a very clever thriller and well thought out while bringing in a more sensual and suspenseful sort of plotline keyed around survival. Using the Stranger as a threat plus the family structure gives it a very strong The Beguiled feeling right from the start and that extends to the careful choice of costume design to the soundtrack and especially the Stranger’s situation and how his character progresses but Glasshouse still creates its unique view as like mentioned before, the world building specificially the world outside the Glasshouse infected with this toxin Shred becomes an influential factor of how much these characters are willing to risk it knowing its effects.

Much like the characters in the story which also have been well-developed throughout giving them their own spot as they all differ in personality making their choices also differ. Romantic eldest daughter Bee, responsible Evie, the youngest is carefree Daisy which in tow is Shred -affected brother Gabe who all starts off living in harmony with their own rituals and harvesting or tending while singing together, really finding their own balance. As the plot unfurls, each has their own secrets. It brings up memories from before that has been hidden away and eventually pulls them apart as feelings and plans all come into play. With that said, the talented cast here does a fine job and making these characters come to life.

There’s a lot to experience in Glasshouse that is best profited with as little knowledge of the film as possible to not have anything ruined. As Kelsey Egan’s directorial feature debut, this film is really well done. A lot of it has to do with the world-building and the glasshouse. The single location of the glasshouse is one that has its own character as it holds its own secrets and each area having their own function. The schemes, the secrets and the Stranger all create a haunting thriller..

*Glasshouse had its world premiere at Fantasia Film Festival 2021 on August 16th.*

Fantasia Film Festival 2021: Hello! Tapir (2020)

Hello! Tapir (2020)

Director (and writer): Kethsvin Chee

Cast: Run-Yin Bai, Lee-zen Lee, Hsueh Feng Lu, Charlie Yeung

8-year-old Ah Keat sets off in search of the mythical nightmare-eating creature in the forest, hoping it will bring his father back to life. – IMDB

Hello! Tapir is a 2020 Taiwanese fantasy drama that also happens to be Taiwan’s first live action animated film. Films that tackle young children tackling family trauma or grief and loss with their imagination is a wonderful premise. It reminded of another Taiwanese film adaptation called Starry Starry Night but if above anything, this film actually draws a lot of parallels to My Neighbor Totoro both in premise and even some of the shots are set up. Tapirs are actual animals that exist however, the fact that they use this in a story that spans from a father’s childhood encounter with the magical tapir living deep in their town’s forest that extends to a promise between a child and their father as the little boy Ah Keat waits for his father to come home while the adults, mostly his mother and his grandmother also have their own side of dealing with this family loss while trying to keep it a secret from Ah Keat without realizing that he actually is dealing with it in his own way.

The execution of the film overall is really great as the structure of the film is presented as a fragmented storyline or perhaps more as a parallel. The present is shown moving forward in time starting from the day that the father was lost at sea and the night before in his last few conversations with his family. The whole structure builds up the father’s character and his relationship with those around him but most importantly, also builds up Ah Keat’s character and why he insists on finding the Tapir. With that said, the cast does a great job. Ah Keat is played by Run-Yin Bai who captures the childhood innocence for a little boy really well but also giving those dramatic parts very good as well, carrying through the loss and confusion that he is feeling as well towards the situation. Playing his mother who comes to help from Taipei after the situation is Charlie Yeung, a rather famous Hong Kong actress who captures her role as she deals with this whole thing while trying to draw a little closer to her son, much like the distance between her and her ex-mother-in-law is very obvious as well while still hiding the loss of her ex-husband and has hit her hard as well as she stays strong for the family. The grandmother and father role, played respectively by Hsueh Feng Lu and Lee-zen Lee also are great performances. A part of it is that they are a great cast but also that these characters are scripted really well. All their dialogue contributes in the every detail to make them draw closer together or build them up.

This magical Tapir is also well-designed as its exterior is fantasy-like in itself as it has the body of a pig, ears of a horse, the trunk of an elephant and feet like rhinoceros. Anywhere with the Tapir, there is no danger and it wanders the streets of the town after everyone has fallen asleep to eat their nightmares. Its essentially a protector of the town. One that protects people from their bad thoughts. The interaction with the Tapir and Ah Keat is truly cute and heartwarming. The childhood innocence in Ah Keat and the motions of this magical world with illuminated bubbles floating around filled with all sorts of nightmares which also link to the characters in the film like Ah Keat’s best friends who follow his suit to think up silly ways to create enough glowing light to attract the tapir together. Plus, there’s a big Tapir and a baby Tapir which is almost a little reflection of the parent and child relationship focused in this story.

There’s honestly a lot to love about Hello! Tapir. The script is fantastic and builds such wonderful characters to a beautifully crafted magical beast. The whole idea feels almost healing to watch. Despite its heartstrings tugging moments where certain details get unveiled as the story unfolds whether its promises seemingly unfulfilled between father and son or the family structure or even facing this grief and loss together and learning to let it go and live with it, there is a lot of positivity that the concept of a magical creature like the Tapir brings. It brings forth the many worries in the world from the news headlines that are narrated as the dream bubbles float right down to the little adventures and simple hope that kids believe in. Not to mention the little fantasy-like score/song that plays when the Tapir shows up that makes it all the more magical. Sure, the story is about family, grief and loss but it also balances the fantasy and adventure plus childhood innocence so well that the ending makes it all the more heartwarming.

Being a fan of live-action animation films and stories like My Neighbor Totoro, this film was like a homage but at the same time also created a beautiful little fantasy tale also that was both emotional and heartwarming. Everything was done with such detail in its script to how the beautiful shots are framed to the very fun little conversations that all call back to each other from the past to the present in context that its really hard to not praise the cinematography, the script and the overall direction of Hello! Tapir!

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.